CRUCIBLE: Time and Revelation (1)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/22 July) – Given the temptation to talk on issues that are currently raging in the country and the Middle East, we would like to suspend our discourse about them in the meantime. In reverence of the Holy Month of Ramadan, we will continue to highlight subjects worthy of our contemplation particularly related to nuzulu l-qur’an or the revelation of the Qur’an.

We would like to pursue an angle of the subject we had previously underlined in our khutbah (discourse) about the Holy Month of Ramadan as the month where the Holy Qur’an was revealed including according to the hadith (Prophetic tradition) past revelations that were given to previous prophets before Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

Furqan

If the function of revelations (kitab) as set of rules whereby believers are able to delineate right and wrong or truth from falsehood, then practically all revelations speak the same theme – a reason why all revelations are called furqan or “clear signs for guidance and judgment.” For instance, in suratu l-imran, a verse reads:

“It is He who sent down to thee (step by step) in truth the Book, conforming what went before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this as the guidance to mankind, and He sent down the criterion (of judgment between right and wrong) (3).”

The Holy Qur’an, likewise, is not only referred to as Qur’an; it is more specifically referred to as furqan – the criterion between right and wrong. The verse we read repeatedly this month is: “Ramadan is the Month in which was sent down the Qur’an as a guide to mankind and also as clear signs of guidance and judgment (Baqarah: 185).”

There is thus regularity or uniformity in the function of revelations as furqan even before the finalization of the kitab that came to be known as the Holy Qur’an.

Straight line

If we draw a straight line and plot points where we take the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a landmark, we realize we are faced with two sides of the line. On one side, we have points close to, according to Islamic tradition or source, 124,000 prophets and messengers with their respective kitab or revelations starting from Nabi Allah Adam (AS) to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). When we look at the other side of the line, we’ll find nothing. It is because the Qur’an is already the final revelation and that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is already the khatamu l-anbiya or the “Seal of the Prophets.”

This is, at least, the bigger frame when we conceive a broad timeline between period of prophets and period without prophets. For the latter, it includes obviously our time and the future.

In the Holy Qur’an, the five verses in suratu l-alaq beginning with iqra (read!) which are, as you know, the first revelation revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was closed with the final verse that reads: “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion (Al-maida: 3).”

The revelation to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) happens within the period of 23 years. It captures or summarizes the whole teachings of previous prophets and their respective revelations. The Holy Qur’an puts into one receptacle or container their previous teachings and their revelations. The Qur’an in its last revelation declares the “perfection of religion and completion of favor.” As a consequence, no prophet and no revelation would come after Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

This is the reason why we said the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is a landmark in history. The implication in the closing of revelation is enormous. In the past, history has been mediated with revelation. After the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (SAW, the Qur’an was already compiled and the life story of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his teachings were also subsequently put together as shari’ah (Islamic law) was also instituted since then. To say the least, these developments and processes should have become the source of worldview and creative energy of the ummah or Muslim community through time and the world over. Moreover, as teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet through the various schools or madhahib, thinkers, and scholars spread, the ummah must have been inspired to live as close as possible to the ideals of their faith.

For sometime, however, what was previously the source of knowledge of the Greek, Egyptians, and Babylonians, and many others became the dominant frame that eventually shaped Western Civilization with reason as the anchor into which such civilization is based upon. Thus, the line of history without prophets but which has been partly shaped by Islamic worldview nevertheless began to contest with the rise of dominant ideology in the West that is culled generally from such sources like reason, nature, science and so on.

In the first line of history, prophets served as arbiters of history. During major events and intense contradictions, prophets usually resolved them by serving as harbingers of truth and guidance. And yet for another time, men would rebel then another prophets would be sent and so on and so forth. That has been the history before Prophet Muhammad (SAW), a reason why the number has reached that far of 124,000 if we follow certain source.

In the case of other side of history, there are no final arbiters that resolve conflict. History is made to function continuously or dialectically. Events – whether man-made or natural – do not appear cataclysmic enough to warrant end time scenario like the story of “The Flood” during Prophet Noah’s (AS) time. A case in point is the case of Yolanda, one of the strongest Super typhoons that hit the earth. Despite its magnitude and fury, it was not cataclysmic enough to be able to end history. Or, say, World War I and II: they were not cataclysmic enough to end the history of the world. In other words, even if there were no arbiters to determine and make the furqan supreme or resolve the contradiction in history, life goes on.

Meantime, what has become dominant is the reign of certain conception about man and the world and his relationship with nature where reason and science become the source of inspiration or salvation and where thinkers, philosophers, leaders, scientists, discoverers and inventors, serve as new “prophets.” They create marvels after marvels in the field of philosophical, scientific and technological advancement. It appears that this time, this period of history, is believed to be sustainable and could last for perpetuity even without the guidance of prophets and their revelations.

“Second Coming”

Peter Coates in his lecture, “By Way of Essential Meaning,” where he delivered at the Ibn Arabi Society few years ago, located the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his community between the birth of Jesus (AS) and what he considered as the period of modernization. It is interesting that Peter Coates tried to develop a new way in looking at history by reifying the role of Jesus (AS).  As a highly revered Prophet, Jesus (AS) was born unique in history. He was born without the agency of a human father. According to the Qur’an, he was not crucified; instead he was ascended. After sometime, he would return, which according to the Qur’an, “as sign for the coming of the Hour (Zukhruf: 61).”

This means that even if we say that that part of history after Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is a history without prophets and revelations, fact is, Jesus (AS) when he will come back will take a new role and will mediate history anew and will make the history of world a continuation of the history of the prophets.

When we try to, at least, identify some regularity or pattern if we may extend Peter Coates’s way of highlighting the role or time of Jesus (AS) with that of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it is quite difficult when we move backward and identify certain time duration. What is clear is that, at least, between Jesus (AS) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is a period of around 570 years. It is difficult however to identify the time duration between Jesus (AS) and Moses (AS); or, say, Moses (AS) and David (AS), Ibrahim (AS), Noah (AS), and so on. Obviously, there was still no calendar system available in those times. What archeologists, paleontologists, and those in Social Sciences could do is make some estimates of their dates.

But if we take the time duration between Jesus (AS) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and use it as a matrix in terms of identifying how many cycles between them until our time, we could say that there are now three cycles of 570 years from the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW); so that 2014, our time, is included in the third cycle. Of course, as we know, Jesus’s (AS) actual date of “Second Coming” is not revealed in the Holy Qur’an.

We feel this view is significant because it disproves the thesis that the world is already content with history without prophets. The history of Jesus (AS) will show that his Ascension will, at certain point, be completed when he descends. With this, we have to realize that our history is already within or part of this time frame or time duration, although we don’t know when and what specific part of the cycle will that happen.

Why are we highlighting this view?

Well, with new “developments” happening around, there are many “lesser signs” (signs of the times so-called) that are beginning to unfold and popularize in social media, for instance, saying that minor or “lesser signs” accordingly are already around.

Millenarian fear

We are hesitant to go into this subject.  It is very millenarian a view that connotes end-time history scenario. We feel, unless we are prepared, we have to have some ample time to discuss particularly sources including hadith (prophetic saying) that speak of many stories about the coming of Jesus (AS), the coming of the Mahdi, and so on. But even if we deny ourselves of the significance of this kind of hadith literatures, fact is, some current events appear to “reflect” what are otherwise considered as “lesser signs.”

For instance, the known hadith of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that says when Bedouin tribe will begin to build high rise building; or say, when black flags will be raised in some parts of the Middle East, and so on and so forth. We don’t want to sound prophet of doom. But we could not help and reflect if indeed we are already in the latter days or akhir zaman where the “lesser signs” are beginning to unfold more vividly. From a certain vantage point, to discourse on this subject would undoubtedly develop in us pessimistic view about life which, unless we are prepared we don’t want really to highlight. But this is what the Qur’an is saying: that the coming of Jesus (AS) will be the sign for “the coming of the Hour.”

How do we position ourselves in today’s seeming rise of phenomenon that reflects end-time perspective of history?  How do we look at the teachings of the prophets and the revelations in terms of how we are able fully grasp or understand our time? We could not discuss fully this subject now. In the succeeding jum’ah (Friday), hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. A slightly revised khutbah delivered at the UP-Institute of Islamic Studies on 18 July 2014. Julkipli Wadi is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines].

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2014/07/22/crucible-time-and-revelation-1/

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