I received a question that confirmed a concern I’ve had for a long time. That a disproportionate emphasis, even obsession with the signs of the end of time can result in despondence and render a person apathetic and passive.
The purpose of this genre of hadith is quite the opposite. Here is the question and my answer which I initially sent of quickly as a recording and have now written fully.
I was brought up hearing things about signs of the day of judgement; Dajjal, about a big Malhama (war) that will come towards the end of time and that there will be chaos and suffering. A lot of people are saying we are approaching those times, and the way the world is going seems so (at least, this is the popular narrative among Muslims these days). Given this fact of the nearing of end times and the chaos that will entail, is it wise for Muslims to settle down and get married, start a family and have kids? Who would want their kids to live through such chaos and bad times? I am coming to the age of marriage now and I am struggling to come to terms with this. What is to be done from an Islamic perspective?
Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah,
Signs of the end of time are mentioned in our authentic Hadith collections, organised under a chapter called fitan (tribulations). There are also whole books dedicated to this genre like the book called Fitan by Nu’aym Ibn Hammad (RA).
This obviously shows that this is an important chapter in our tradition. There are many reasons for this, of which some important ones are included here.
Signs of the hour (the end of time) are a matter of Iman for us and our fellow Muslims. This chapter strengthens our faith in the Qiyamah and the reckoning, and the life after this one. It also keeps our minds spiritually focused on the akhirah, the eternal live, and weakens our attachment to this temporary life, keeping us in perspective.
Allah (SWT) confirms that the end of time is indeed near in the Qur’an, and Allah (SWT) warns people, ‘Are they waiting for the hour that it comes to them suddenly for its signs have already arrived? But once the hour has actually arrived, what use it will it be then to take heed?’ (Muhammad 47:13) Thus another reason is for Muslims to take heed of Allah’s warnings that the end is sudden and the time to change and believe in Allah is now.
This does not mean they should anticipate the Qiyamah in a manner that it affects their ability to live their lives normally, it means that they should prepare for the akhirah as if the end of time is tomorrow. But preparation is to be done by living; living by the Shari’ah, which is what Allah (SWT) expects at all times.
The signs of the end of time are warning us of an unknown and unexpected event in the future, whose relative proximity, we are warned about but remain unaware of its precise time. The Prophet (SAW) warned about it but denied all knowledge of its time when asked by Jibreel in the famous hadith of Jibreel. We can only interpret its proximity based on signs. However, practically, all that is required of us is to live by our Deen: following the commands of Allah (SWT) and following the Sunnah of the Prophet (Saw). Neither the Qur’an nor the Sunnah are an obstacle to normal life. Therefore, having children, raising families, earning a livelihood, making plans and decisions about the future according to the Deen, are all among the constructive things Allah (SWT) and His Messenger have taught us to do. This is the only preparation we, as Muslims, can take for the hereafter. To do otherwise is to not follow the Deen and, therefore, not prepare for the end of time and for Qiyamah.
The concerns that you have, dear brother, of getting married and raising a family despite the possibility that Qiyamah could arrive soon, is not a concern Muslims are expected to have. We are taught the opposite; that no matter how close Qiyamah might be, even if we thought it was happening the very next day, we are still expected to live, that is to live by the Shari’ah, even if that means performing the sunnah of the nikah in war, during crisis, a pandemic, or with the end of the world staring at us. To not do so would be to abandon a sunnah of the Prophet that is half of faith. The truth is, Islam is not separate from normal life, Islam is normal life.
There is a Hadith in which the Prophet (saw) gives us very specific guidance in this regard. He says, “If one of you were to see the end of time approaching, and he has a sapling in his hand, then he must plant it.” (Ahmad) A tree can take years to grow. Why plant it if Qiyamah is right before you?
The Hadith is telling us many things of which I will mention two: one of them being that we have a requirement to live by Shari’ah and our Deen, and part of the guidance of the Shari’ah is to live our lives normally. The second is that even if something seems obvious, in this case a clear sign of the Qiyamah, it may turn out to be different, therefore you cannot stop living. Living normally requires optimism and a positive outlook to the future even when faced with apparent disaster. ‘Patiently persevere, the future belongs to those who have taqwa (awareness of Allah)’. (Hud 11:49)
Similarly, there is the issue of time. The Prophet (SAW) said that, “I have been sent [at a time] when the hour and I are like this,” and he indicated with his index and middle fingers. (al-Bukhari and Muslim) Two fingers are indeed physically very close, but how much time can they symbolise if 1400 years have already passed? More importantly, how much time is left? Thinking about this too much might indeed make someone anxious.
First of all, it is a symbolic gesture and is not supposed to be saying anything accurate. Secondly, the remaining time it symbolises is relative to how much time has passed before the Prophet (SAW). This is unknown. Any estimate would depend on when we measure time from. When should that be: since Allah first created the universe? Since he created the Earth? Since he first placed life on Earth? From the time Jinn were placed on Earth? Or perhaps from the time Adam (AS) was placed on earth? We do not know any of this. Even estimates range from billions to hundreds of thousands of years. They are all open questions; which means the blessed fingers of the Prophet (SAW) could represent any length of time. Tens of thousands of years on the one hand or it could be tens of years.
In my opinion, there is a very long time to go and the world will change many times in good and bad ways like it always has many times in the past. There are good reasons to believe that based on the signs of the end of time. But it is not my intention to discuss them in this answer.
In any case, if we cannot know, it does not matter. ‘Do not follow what you have no ˹sure˺ knowledge of. Indeed, all will be called to account for ˹their˺ hearing, sight, and intellect.’ al-Isra (17:36)
What matters is what we know for sure and we do. Three things are clear: that the end of time is closer than ever before, that it will arrive suddenly, and we are expected to keep on living normally. Therefore we have no right to allow the signs of the end of time to influence our actions beyond motivating us to work hard to live our lives according to the Shari’ah. We, as Muslims must carry on living even if Qiyamah is coming tomorrow.
Lastly, if we think carefully, the end of time for me and you personally is closer than you or I think. Bedouin men used to come to the Prophet and ask him when the hour will be, he would point to the youngest of them and say, ‘If this one lives, your hour will be upon you before he reaches old age.’ By ‘your hour’ he meant death. (al-Bukhari and Muslim) This meaning is also conveyed in a weak hadith attributed to the Prophet, and the salaf that, “Whoever dies, his Qiyamah has already begun.” This means that even if the end of time is ten thousand years away, an ordinary human will not live for ten thousand years. Everybody, individually, has their own Qiyamah to prepare for, because it begins for them the moment they die. Therefore, preparation for that, is always, and should be paramount in our minds. How do we prepare for that? By living normally according to the Shari’ah.