MONG THE QURANIC PROPHECIES relating to events and inventions of our age, there are some which are of outstanding importance and great global significance. One such prophecy relates to the impending danger of a nuclear holocaust.
This prophecy was made at a time when man could not entertain the idea of an atomic explosion by any stretch of his imagination. But as we will presently illustrate, there are certain verses of the Holy Quran which clearly speak of tiny insignificant particles which are described as storehouses of immense energy, as though the fire of hell was locked within them. Amazing as it may seem, this is exactly what is literally described in the following verses.
Woe to every backbiter, slanderer,
Who amasses wealth and counts it over and over.
He imagines that his wealth will make him immortal.
Nay! he shall surely be cast into the "hotamah".
And what should make thee know what the "hotamah" is?
Allah's fire as preserved fuel,
Which will leap suddenly on to the hearts.
It is locked up in outstretched pillars to be used against them. 1
This short Quranic Chapter is densely packed with astounding statements which lie far beyond the reach of the people of that age. Strange is it not, to read that the sinful people of a certain description would be cast into the hotamah, which means the tiniest of particles, such as we see floating in a beam of light which passes through a poorly lit room.
Authentic Arabic lexicons describe hotamah as possessing two root meanings; first hatamah, which means 'to pound' or 'pulverize into extremely small particles', and the second hitmah, which means 'the smallest insignificant particle'. Thus hitmah is the result obtained by breaking something down to its smallest constituents.
The two meanings just mentioned can rightfully be applied to any extremely minute particle which has reached the limits of its divisible potential. As the concept of the atom had not been born fourteen hundred years ago, the nearest substitute to it could only be hotamah which also sounds intriguingly close to atom. One hardly recovers from the shock of the claim that a time would come when man would be cast in the hotamah when another claim, even more bizarre, comes in its wake.
Explaining the word hotamah, the Holy Quran speaks of a blazing fire built within it and confined in extended columns. It goes on to declare that when man will be cast into it, this fire will directly leap upon his heart as though no intervening rib cage existed. This can only mean that this fire would be of a completely different nature which could directly kill the heart before it could scorch the body. Certainly no fire known to man of that age could be described as such.
These however are not the only elements of surprise about this description; what follows is even more astonishing. This fire is mentioned as having been locked up in outstretched columns waiting to leap upon man till such time as it is destined to be unleashed.
ONDER UPON WONDER is heaped in such a short space of a few simple statements. First the declaration that the time would come when man would be cast into the smallest particle, then the description of that smallest particle and what it contains. It contains a type of fire which is kept confined in some tiny vessels which could appear like extended columns.
The casting of man into this minute particle does not mean that a single man will be cast into it. Man is mentioned as a generic name and the casting indicates his subjection to that affliction to which he will be doomed. This has only become conceivable in the contemporary age when man has discovered the secret of the atoms and the immense stores of energy which they contain. This is the age when the fire contained in the smallest particles leaps out and engulfs large areas extending to thousands of square miles. Everything that lies within its range is engulfed, man and all. Hence, what seemed so unrealistic fourteen hundred years ago, has become a commonplace reality which even young children can understand.
The most hyperbolical expression of wonder fails to do justice to the greatness of this prophecy. No less wonderful is the fact that the people of that age failed to recognize the import of this short Surah Al-Humazah; or it would have leapt upon their beliefs and faith, rather than upon their hearts. How these amazing statements escaped their notice and went unchallenged defies logic. Perhaps they sought refuge in the belief that these verses do not apply to the events of this world, but relate to the mysterious realm of the unknown in the hereafter. Many a commentator simply avoided even an attempt to explain these verses. A few who took up the challenge, unburdened themselves by arbitrarily relegating the contents of these verses to the time of resurrection. Thus, not comprehending their meaning, they tossed them lock, stock and barrel over to the unknown.
Among the Western orientalists, Sale faced the same dilemma of how to translate the word hotamah literally. He simply mentioned a large number of people to be thrust into the hotamah without translating Al-hotamah at all. This left no danger for the English speaking people to express their incredulance at the impossibility of people being cast into a tiny particle. As they would have no idea what hotamah is, they would be free to imagine a vast hall of burning fire called the hotamah (the smallest particle). This strategy of Sale saved him from the embarrassment of this translation. Yet, at the same time, he failed to do justice to this amazing prophecy.
The fire described in this verse, whether it is a conflagration here upon earth or a raging fire in the hereafter, could in no way be pressed into the tiny space of the minutest of particles. But that is not the only dilemma which must have confronted Sale and other earlier commentators. What about the fire which is packed into tiny extended columns, a scenario altogether impossible to conceive until the dawn of the atomic era? Now the jigsaw puzzle appears to be finally resolved, with every piece settling into its right place.
Unless one is familiar with the scientific description of how an atomic explosion takes place and what changes are brought about within the nuclear mass, one cannot fully comprehend the meaning of the Quranic expression of 'extended columns'. Nuclear experts describe the state of a critical mass which is about to explode, as something elongating and pulsating with the immense pressure built within it. This pressure is caused by the elongation of the nuclei before they burst and in that process an element of high atomic weight is split into two elements of lesser atomic weight. The sum total of the atomic weight of the newly formed elements is less than the atomic weight of the original parent element, normally referred to as a heavy metal. The small portion of the atomic weight which is lost in this process is turned into energy. This is not the only model of a nuclear bomb but we have chosen this simple one to describe the process of the extended columns.
URNING TO the issue of how this fire could leap directly upon the hearts, the scientific description is given below:
At the instant of explosion, large quantities of gamma rays, neutrons and x-rays are immediately released. The x-rays raise the temperature immediately to meteoric heights creating a great ball of fire rising rapidly, riding the extremely hot atomic blast. This is the canopy of fire like a huge mushroom which is seen from far and wide.
|A Nuclear Explosion |
(click to enlarge)
The x-rays also travel sideways in all directions along with the neutrons, causing immense heat which burns everything on its way. The speed at which this heat front moves is many times the speed of sound which also creates shockwaves. But much faster and more penetrating than this are the gamma rays which outpace the heat front by leaping forward at the speed of light. They are so immensely vibrant that by the sheer force of their vibration they strike the hearts dead. So death is not caused by the intense heat generated by x-rays, it is the tremendous energy of the gamma rays which inflicts instantaneous death. This is exactly how the Holy Quran describes it.
Again in Surah Al-Dukhan (The Smoke), the Quran describes a lethal cloud which comprises a deadly radiant smoke:
Then watch for the day when the sky will bring forth a manifest smoke,
That will cast a shadow upon people. This will be a painful suffering. 2
The nature of this cloud is further qualified by the following verses:
'Now move towards what you have been denying,
'Move on towards a three-pronged shadow,
'Neither affording shade, nor protecting from the blaze.'
It throws up flames like huge castles,
As though the castles were dusky yellow camels. 3
The words 'move towards' indicate that mankind will be gradually carried into an era where it will confront this calamity of a tormenting cloud which offers no shade or protection. Shadows provide relief and shelter. The clouds stand between us and the blazing heat of the sun. In the above verse no sun is mentioned, just a fire, from whose blaze this shadow affords no protection. Rather, the shadow of this cloud becomes a means of transmitting the torment of the fire which emits it. Nothing under its shade is safe. This clearly is the description of a radioactive cloud. The event being described will throw up huge flames of a dusky yellow appearance, flames that are likened to castles and also have the appearance of camels. Perhaps, here it is not only the likeness to the colour of the camel, but also the shape of its hump which is highlighted.
People of the seventh century would not have been able to understand the significance of such a deadly cloud or smoke. It would have been beyond their comprehension. However, today we know of atomic explosions and can understand the images of radioactive clouds they produce.
This fateful description is also referred to in another verse of the Quran which reads as follows:
Woe on that day unto those who deny. 4
day' () can refer to the day of judgement, but it also refers to a time here on earth, when those who refuse to believe in the signs () will be tormented by a smoke that casts a deadly shadow over whatever lies beneath. It will be a shadow which will move on, from land to land, bringing no relief, but only a shade full of agony. That will be the age when having witnessed this Divine punishment of colossal dimensions, man would at last turn to God beseeching His favour to rescue him from this unbearable chastisement. But when the wrath of Allah overtakes people, the time for forgiveness and deliverance is already over. Thus the Holy Quran explains:
How shall a message be effectual for them, since a messenger has already come to them, explaining things clearly?
Yet they turn away from him, saying, 'He is tutored, a man possessed.' 5
ROPHETIC WARNINGS are only delivered to awaken man to the danger of calamities which are but the consequence of his own folly. The prophecies mentioned above clearly relate to our age. They speak of events which were completely unknown to the people of earlier ages. One wonders if the full implications of all such prophecies were revealed by God to the Holy Prophetsa in every detail. But the clarity with which he describes future events leaves a strong impression as if he were beholding them like a prophetic puppet show being staged in the hall of destiny. Yet mankind had to wait for more than a thousand years before these prophecies would begin to be realized. Hence, the real transfer of these events from the realm of the unseen to that of the seen, could only become possible in the nuclear age.
The enormity of the atomic catastrophe is horrendous, yet little attention is paid by man to investigate and identify the underlying roots of this evil. The sight of man seldom penetrates beyond the surfaces he scans. Few among them can introspect themselves to discover the hidden face of their evil intentions. This is a sort of blindness which is specifically related to the crookedness in man. Whenever he himself is responsible for causing suffering and spreading evil around him, he will not identify his own hand behind them.
Such is the chain of catastrophes of global impact we are examining. A scientist explains the underlying phenomenon of nuclear explosions only to the extent of material and physical causes. But when such enormously destructive devices are employed to play havoc with the peace of man, it is not the scientists who created them who should be blamed. The root cause lies elsewhere. It is the great world powers which are invariably responsible for such cruel and senseless decisions of global magnitude. Yet despite their greatness they are no more than mere pawns in the hands of the utterly selfish collective will of the masses.
The Holy Quran, though speaking of scientific events with great precision, does not assume the role of a mere scientific instructor. Rather it is the immoral causes of distorted human behaviour to which it draws our attention. It explains the phenomenon of a trigger indeed, but focuses our attention not on the trigger but upon the finger that pulls it. This is the purpose of Quranic warnings. As such, it repeatedly pronounces that for all the ugliness done to man, it is man himself who is to blame. Thus the preventive measures, according to the Quran, relate to the reformation of human character. It states that if people change their conduct and reform themselves in accordance with Divine guidance, this would create the healthy climate necessary for the survival of justice and fair play.
The lighthouse of the Quranic prophecies clearly shows what rocks to avoid and what channels to follow. Yet how unlikely it is for those who command the ship of human affairs to heed the warning and steer the ship across the impending hazards to the safe haven of peace. It is herein that the ultimate cause of disaster lies. Without a critical and realistic analysis of human behaviour at every level of its activity, no sound workable solution can be conceived of problems which confront man today. In simplest terms, it lies in the rehabilitation of basic human values such as truth, honesty, integrity, justice, fair play, concern for others, sensibility to the sufferings of people even when they are unrelated, and an overall commitment to goodness. Remove them as factors from human relationships and wait for the catastrophe to overtake you. It is the only logical conclusion.
Surah Al-Qamar (Chapter 54), explains this with reference to the history of earlier peoples who did not take heed of the warnings delivered to them by the Divine messengers of their time. As a consequence they, one and all, witnessed the tragic end that was promised to them, and their belated repentance was of no avail. The only purpose served by the warning is for the future generations to take heed. The Holy Quran thus points its finger at their tragedy so that the generations to follow may learn the art of life from the death of those who preceded them.
And there has already come to them the great news wherein is a warning—
Consummate wisdom; but the warnings profit them not. 6
If a people do not draw their lesson, then it is only they who are to be blamed for the disastrous consequences which await them.
The atomic holocaust to which we refer is also discussed in Surah Ta Ha (Chapter 20) in relation to its ultimate consequences. By implication, the verse also makes it clear that it would be the pride and arrogance of the great world powers of the time which will be broken, mankind as such will not be wiped out.
The relevant verse clearly predicts that this will not be a point of termination for mankind as such. It will be only the might of the arrogant political powers that will be shattered and laid low. From their graves will rise the new world order. The mountain-like superpowers will be pulverized and levelled as though into a vast expanse of sand. You will not detect any highs or lows, or aboves and belows in their contour.
And they ask thee concerning the mountains. Say, 'My Lord will break them into pieces and scatter them as dust.
'And He will leave them as a barren, level plain,
'Wherein thou wilt see no depression, or elevation.'
On that day they will follow the Caller straight, there being no deviation therefrom; and all voices shall be hushed before the Gracious God and thou shalt not hear but a subdued sound of footsteps. 7
|A Building after a Nuclear Explosion |
(click to enlarge)
It will be God, the Perfect Leveller, Whose hand will bring about this amazing transformation. The mountains are mere figures of speech, indicating powerful states, nations and people. The Quran predicts that once their pride is shattered and they are finally humbled and straightened, only then will they be fit to respond to the humblest of callers unto God, who has no crookedness about him. Such destruction as described could only result from a holocaust of the magnitude of hundreds of nuclear explosions, which implies that man will not learn his lesson and the head of his arrogance will have to be bent by the sheer weight of this enormity. Along with this grim message of warning there is also a glorious message of hope that mankind will ultimately survive and be ushered into a new era of light. Man will learn to mend his ways—if not before, at least after tasting some of the fruits of his follies and defiance to God.
In another Surah, the Quran speaks of cardinal geographic and climatic changes of such horrendous nature as would render the face of many tracts of land, countries and continents entirely desolate. This perhaps is related to the aftermath of the holocaust we have just discussed. Before that, the same lands were counted among the most scenic and beautiful parts of the world, uniquely rich in dazzling beauty. How we wish that of all the Quranic prophecies, this one at least will not have to be realized. This wish is certainly not a sign of disrespect to the prophetic Quranic warnings. It only springs from our unshakeable faith in the all-embracing graciousness of God—the All-Merciful, the All-Beneficent. All warnings, however categoric they may sound, are conditional to the response of man. The example of the people of Jonahas, who were spared the destined wrath of God after they turned to Him with profound repentance, kindles the flame of hope for us today. Despite the fact that there is no genuine justification for optimism in view of the consistent decline in human moral values, it is the only hope after all to which one may cling. The rest is a fearsome night of utter despair. But the cure for their deep-seated maladies no longer lies in the hands of godless messiahs. It lies in the hands of God alone—but only if our hands are raised in prayer before Him. Perhaps we are talking a language hard for contemporary man to understand. It runs counter to what his ears are attuned to hear. Allah knows best!
- Translation of 104:2–10 by the author.
- Translation of 44:11–12 by the author.
- Translation of 77:30–34 by the author.
- Translation of 77:16 by the author.
- Translation of 44:14–15 by the author.
- Translation of 54:5–6 by Maulawi Sher Ali.
- Translation of 20:106–109 by Maulawi Sher Ali.