Turmoil and Portents

Turmoil and Portents January 15, 2016

Although the Islamic Hadith are sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, many of them probably come from some decades after his time, and they are a goldmine of information on religious debate and interchange in these years. I have been posting about one apocalyptic section of a collection that is known as the Turmoil and Portents, or more fully, “Pertaining To Turmoil And Portents Of The Last Hour” (Kitab Al-Fitan Wa Ashrat As-Sa’Ah). In particular, I have raised the question of whether we see in these texts Christian influence, presumably mediated through recent converts from that faith.

These Hadith are in the news presently because ISIS/Daesh is inspired by an apocalyptic saying concerning the Syrian city of Dabiq. Oddly, though, the next two Hadith after that in the series present Muhammad as making a surprising statement about Christians. The saying appears in two closely related forms. In the first, Muhammad makes a statement about a coming Christian majority, which leads his listeners to try and understand just what virtues the Christians might have:

Book 041, Number 6925:

Mustaurid al-Qurashi reported: I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour would come (when) the Romans would form a majority amongst people. ‘Amr said to him (Mustaurid Qurashi): See what you are saying? He said: I say what I heard from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him). Thereupon he said: If you say that, it is a fact for they have four qualities. They have the patience to undergo a trial and immediately restore themselves to sanity after trouble and attack again after flight. They (have the quality) of being good to the destitute and the orphans, to the weak and, fifthly, the good quality in them is that they put resistance against the oppression of kings.

Book 041, Number 6926:

Mustaurid Qurashi reported: I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour would come when the Romans would form a majority amongst people. This reached ‘Amr b. al-‘As and he said: What are these hadith which are being transmitted from you and which you claim to have heard from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him)? Mustaurid said to him: I stated only that which I heard from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him). Thereupon ‘Amr said: If you state this (it is true), for they have the power of tolerance amongst people at the time of turmoil and restore themselves to sanity after trouble, and are good amongst people so far as the destitute and the weak are concerned.

Note that in the second saying, these last remarks stem from ‘Amr rather than Muhammad himself, but even so, we are looking at very early Islamic times.

Whatever their origins, these words represent a striking tribute to the “Romans.” The praise of Christian charity and good works is notable.



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  • MesKalamDug

    Observe it is ‘Amr who says good things about the Romans not Muhammad. If one ever tried to use this trope (one story in two versions) against a knowledgeable
    Muslim they would be called ignorant.

  • philipjenkins

    Fair enough. Having said that, do note that I have zero interest in using those sayings for polemical purposes, or scoring points about Muslims. I am just trying to explore attitudes at this historical moment.

  • MesKalamDug

    I think I am right about what I see as the point of the story:

    Amr said to him: See what you are saying?
    He said: I say what I heard from Allah’s Messenger.
    Thereupon he said: If you say that, it is a fact …
    Typical dialogue construction with alternating speakers

    But you are right with respect to the original prophecy about the Romans being most numerous.

    Many hadiths considered authentic do not explicitly say Rasul Allah said them. An attribution to Abu Hurayra, for example, is often considered enough.

    IMHO ‘Amr is not in the mainline of Islamic thought but that may make his testimony more valuable. The problem is that all the
    authentic collections have been scrubbed up and polished. None of the musnad collections which contain less respectable material has been translated into English but I think they have finally all been published and are no longer only in MS.

  • philipjenkins

    Thanks again – All good observations.

    Let me ask this. Surely the point of the hadith is to record the remarks and sayings of the prophet, and usually, the companions are cited just to provide interlocutors and support dialogue, rather than to make their own pronouncements? So why does ‘Amr get such a prominent role if those are just his sentiments?

    Anyway, I’m not arguing over this. It is a remarkably complex literature, and one thoroughly understudied by non-specialists in the west.

  • MesKalamDug

    The general idea is that originally – around 100 AH when
    hadiths (which just means stories) about early Islam were
    first collected – the hadith isnad ended at whoever was believed to be the one who told the story. Then just after 200 AH under the pressure of al-Shafi’i the isnads and matns were extended back to Rasul Allah. The old situation
    can be seen in the Muwatta of Malik ibn Anas – he even has
    two hadiths from Jesus.

    Good luck with your studies but don’t accept any easy

  • MesKalamDug

    I dunno whether it really belongs here but –

    I am not the only one who thinks Islam is the resurgence of the other Christianity –
    the Ebionites or Judeo-Christians who refused to accept the dogma of the Trinity and viewed Jesus, as in the Clementina, as the greatest prophet. One version of
    this take on matters assumes the Elchasaites were the missing link.

    At least one story in Ibn Ishaq’s biography of the messenger identifies the Muslims as Christians.