The ulema of today evade the issue of who these people of the Latter Days are by saying these are the people who joined the Holy Prophet(sa) and his followers in the last years of his own life. The Holy Prophet(sa) has himself categorically refuted this interpretation. In Sahih al-Bukhari, there is a hadith—which, we believe, ranks at the ultimate point of authenticity. It states that when the Holy Prophet(sa) recited the verses under comment, one of his companions asked the Holy Prophet(sa), “Who are these people?” The first point that emerges from the response of the Holy Prophet(sa) is that these people would appear in the distant future— when darkness and ignorance would be prevailing—not in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet(sa).
In responding to the question, the Holy Prophet(sa) put his hand on the shoulder of Salman(ra)—the only non-Arab in audience—and not upon the shoulder of any Arab, and said:
If faith were to go up to the Pleiades some perfect men, or man, from these [people of Salman] would surely find it. (Sahih al-Bukhari Kitabut-Tafsir, Surah Jumu‘ah)
This answer by the Holy Prophet(sa) is most profound. The Holy Prophet(sa) is obviously talking about a distant time. During his lifetime such a loss of faith could not occur. He himself indicated that he is a sun of such brilliance that the glow of his spiritual light would continue for three centuries and people will continue to benefit from it. Thereafter a process of decline and darkness would set in. No one would be able to dispel it. Faith would have evaporated to the stars. How can the people of the time of the Holy Prophet(sa) be called ‘People of the Latter Days?’ Obviously this phenomenon belongs to distant future—the time about which the “Thinker of Islam” has said:
My wish is that Maulana Nizami’s prayers be heard and the Holy Prophet(sa) may come back again and teach the Indian Muslims his religion again. (Iqbal Namah, vol. 1, p. 41, addressed to Mr. Siraj-ud-Din Pal)
In the last few pages of his famous book, Introduction to Social Philosophy, Professor McKenzie makes a cogent point. He states:
There can be no ideal society without ideal men: and for the production of these we require not only insight, but a motive power… We need prophets as well as teachers… Perhaps we want a new Christ….
I will explain to you why I have chosen a non-Muslim for the above quotation. In his letter to Dr. Nicholson dated January 24, 1921 (which he has himself translated in his book Asrar-e-Khudi), ‘Allama Iqbal quotes these paragraphs and then writes: “How true are the words of Professor Mckenzie.”
What a confession by the Thinker of Islam. “He says How true are the words of Professor Mckenzie.” He seems to wish that he had said that himself.