This world, as it would be in the future, in the Quran – 2
Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 25 August 2023
“and when the camels are abandoned, and when the wild animals are gathered together, and when the cities are made to swell, and when people are united, and when the one buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed, and when the books are spread, and when the heaven has its covering removed” — ch. 81, v. 4–11
وَ اِذَا الۡعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتۡ ۪ۙ﴿۴﴾ وَ اِذَا الۡوُحُوۡشُ حُشِرَتۡ ۪ۙ﴿۵﴾ وَ اِذَا الۡبِحَارُ سُجِّرَتۡ ۪ۙ﴿۶﴾ وَ اِذَا النُّفُوۡسُ زُوِّجَتۡ ۪ۙ﴿۷﴾ وَ اِذَا الۡمَوۡءٗدَۃُ سُئِلَتۡ ۪ۙ﴿۸﴾ بِاَیِّ ذَنۡۢبٍ قُتِلَتۡ ۚ﴿۹﴾ وَ اِذَا الصُّحُفُ نُشِرَتۡ ﴿۪ۙ۱۰﴾ وَ اِذَا السَّمَآءُ کُشِطَتۡ ﴿۪ۙ۱۱﴾
In last Friday’s khutba, I had covered up to verse 4: “and when the camels are abandoned”. I mentioned that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad put forward this prophecy in support of his claim, saying that at the time of his coming a new form of transport, the railway train, has emerged which has replaced the use of camels. He also wrote that this sign is being seen in Arabia itself with the start of the construction of a railway line to connect Madinah with Makkah. I also mentioned that this railway line was part of the Hejaz Railway being constructed by the Ottoman rulers of the region to run from Damascus to Madinah, and then further on to Makkah. However, the section from Madinah to Makkah was cancelled.
As I said last week, this gave an opportunity to the opponents of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to allege that the prophecy of camels being abandoned had not been fulfilled in his time. A well-known opponent of his, Maulana Sanaullah of Amritsar, wrote in his Urdu commentary of the Quran, entitled Tafsīr Sanā’ī, that although the railway from Madinah to Makkah would have been useful for Muslims, yet Allah stopped its construction in order to save Muslims from the error of believing that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was right that this prophecy was fulfilled. This is indeed a strange argument by Maulana Sanaullah, that Allah deprived Muslims of the convenience and safety of going to Makkah by railway train, just to falsify the claim that Hazrat Mirza sahib was making. Yet Allah had allowed European powers to build railway lines all over their colonies which facilitated Christian missionaries to go to those countries to spread Christianity, and this included their going to countries where Muslim were living, such as India under British rule, and defaming Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
Anyhow, moving on to verse 5, “and when the wild animals are gathered together”, again this can be seen fulfilled in our modern, scientific times. The public zoos, as we know them today, began to be established around 200 years ago. The first zoo created only for scientific purposes, rather than mere entertainment purposes, was London Zoo in 1828. Animals from all over the world were gathered in zoos in major cities, enabling people there to see animals from remote places. Then in recent years wildlife reserves have been developed around the world to provide protected areas for animals under threat of extinction by human development. This is also a gathering of wild animals. We are also familiar with television documentaries about the natural world which show us animals in their original environments. We can say that, in a sense, this means that animals from all over the world are gathered before us in our homes. And the main purpose of such broadcasts is to increase our knowledge.
Verse 6 has been translated by us as follows: “and when the cities are made to swell.” This has been so obviously fulfilled, not only now, but in fact it started being fulfilled shortly before and during the time of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. This was due to what is called the Industrial Revolution. In Europe and the USA cities grew to accommodate workers of the new factories who moved from rural areas to urban areas. The more common translations of this verse are along these lines:
(1) “when the seas are made to overflow (or to swell)”,
(2) “when the seas are set on fire”.
Taking the first version, the translation by Marmaduke Pickthall is: “when the seas rise”. His translation fits in with the rise in sea levels taking place in our times which is commonly mentioned in the news and studied in science. Pickthall produced his translation in 1930 when the rise in sea levels was largely unheard of, so he could not have been influenced by any knowledge about rising sea levels when he was translating these words as “when the seas rise”. Taking the second version, about the seas being set on fire, that also has been fulfilled by the naval battles of the 20th century. Ships were bombarded which would then be burning in the sea.
Verse 7 has been translated by us as follows: “when people are united”. The word here for people is nafs, which also means “soul”, and the word here for “united”, zuwwijat, also means to be paired or coupled. Those who apply these descriptions to the Day of Judgment usually interpret this as meaning that the souls of the dead will be united with their bodies, so that people will rise physically from the dead. If we take this verse in the sense of people becoming united, then again this has found increasing fulfilment during the last century, the 20th century. Of course, humanity remains divided into nations, sometimes at war with each other, but the need was realised for setting up international bodies in all fields of life, whether in human welfare, science, education or even politics, which bring people together from various sections of humanity who share some common interest or goal. There is also the United Nations, which, while being far from perfect in practice, reflects its aim in its title.
Taking this verse in the sense of pairing or coupling, consider the example of the telephone. It was invented in 1876 and came into public use very quickly. This was about the year when Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad first started writing articles and books. The telephone paired people together, one person on one phone, and the other on the other phone, talking to each other. These days at any time there must be billions of such pairs of people talking to each other.
Verses 8–9 say: “and when the one buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed”. The words “the one buried alive” refer to the infant daughters who, in pre-Islamic times, were buried alive due to a cruel custom prevailing in Arabia by which some people were ashamed to have daughters. These verses cannot refer to the Day of Judgment because those questioned about their deeds on that Day will be the wrong-doers, not the victims of wrong-doing. This expression simply indicates that people will become conscious that those baby girls who had been buried alive were entirely innocent and faultless, and killed without any justification whatsoever.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad immediately abolished and outlawed this custom as soon as he acquired power and rule over his people. In China and India, killing of baby daughters has been occurring from ancient times till today. One could say it has got worse because, with the advent of technology which enables the sex of a baby to be determined before birth, people have been resorting to abortion if the sex of the unborn child is known to be female. This is worse because, unlike actual child killing, the perpetrators feel that they have not taken a life. So these verses speak of the coming of a time when such customs will be universally condemned and outlawed everywhere.
Verse 10 tells us: “when the books are spread”. Those who apply these descriptions to the Day of Judgment interpret this as the books of deeds of every person being opened before him or her on that Day. Here too, it is easy to see how this has been fulfilled in the world in front of us. Before paper was available in Europe, writing materials were very expensive and books were hand-produced. About 800 years ago in Britain, the price of a book could be as much as the price of a house. Then paper came to Europe from the Muslim world. The Muslim world itself had learnt of the use of paper from China, but books were still calligraphed by hand. With the coming of paper to Europe and then the invention of the printing press about 500 years ago, books in Europe became much cheaper and plentiful, and spread to the ordinary public. This availability gave a huge impetus to education, learning, study and research.
It also made possible the production of newspapers and magazines, as these need to be printed frequently, unlike books. The word for “books” in this verse is ṣuḥuf, which means any kind of writing, and newspapers and magazines fall in this category. In Britain the first newspapers appeared about 300 years ago.
In the past forty years or so, with the development of digital technology, huge numbers of books are now available online, accessible to anyone whether they are at home or travelling. Books which were previously spread only as far as libraries and bookshops have now become spread at every location, wherever you may be.
The next verse, verse 11, says: “when the heaven has its covering removed”. Some other translations of this verse are: “when the heaven is laid bare”, “when the sky is stripped away” and “when the heavens are unveiled”. Again, while this has been applied to what will happen on the Day of Judgment, it easily applies to the modern world. Books and writings, as mentioned in the previous verse, disseminated knowledge and they had to be filled with new material. This encouraged, in fact it necessitated, the discovering of new knowledge through research. As a result, what was previously mysterious and unknown about the heavens above us became discovered and known to man, even with man remaining on earth. But with space travel, the heavens are now open to man to send spacecrafts to, both unmanned and manned.
And as we learnt this week, India, a country which the outside world associates with illiteracy, lack of education and poverty, and these are in fact widespread there, has successfully landed a space craft on a difficult to reach part of the moon. As the Quran says in a chapter two chapter before this: “And the heaven is opened so it becomes doors” (79:19).
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has written that these prophecies are mentioned in the Quran so that when they are fulfilled by these new developments in transport and communications, they should be used by us for spreading the message of Islam. Also mankind should realise that, just as by studying the world around us they have acquired unimaginable benefits for our worldly lives, similarly by studying the Word of God they can acquire unimaginable benefits for their moral and spiritual lives.