April 2004: Prophets, Prophecy, and the Unseen
The Nawawi Foundation is pleased to announce its upcoming weekend intensive, “Prophets, Prophecy, and the Unseen.” Featuring Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, this year’s program will be a sequel to last year’s event, “The Attributes of God in Islam.” However, it is not necessary to have attended last year’s series to benefit fully from this presentation. Attendance is open to the public, and all are welcome.
“The Attributes of God” focused on the first of the three major concentrations of traditional Islamic theology—belief in God. This year’s program will examine the remaining two: what Muslims believe about God’s prophets (nubuwwat or prophetology) and the Unseen (sam’iyyat or eschatology). Special reference will be given to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We will consider his rank among the messengers, the nature of the night journey and ascent, and his salvific role on the Day of Judgment. Regarding the phenomenon of prophethood in general, we will treat such topics as the nature of revelation, the divine books, prophetic infallibility, and miracles. The issue of sainthood is also germane to this discussion: What is a saint? How do they differ from prophets? Do they have miracles?
The third concentration, eschatology, is traditionally broadest in scope and content, including generic belief in the Unseen, angels, spirits, demonic beings, resurrection, heaven, hell, and the sacred geography of the hereafter like the Station of Waiting, the Traverse, the Balance, and the Quenching Pool. The Signs of the Hour are unavoidably prominent: the rising of the sun in the West, the closing of the Door of Repentance, the Eastern, Western, and Arabian earthquakes, the coming of the “Guided One” (mahdi), the emergence of the False Messiah (al-masih al-dajjal), and the second coming of Christ. Questions about the nature of time also arise: Is Islamic time linear as in the Judeo-Christian traditions? What are the implications of the realm of timelessness, pre-eternity, the unfolding of time in sacred and human history, the folding up of time in miracles, the end of time, and the eternity of the Garden and Fire? We will also discuss the meaning of life and death, the “intermediary world” (barzakh), and the rewards and punishments of the grave.
Finally, we hope to discuss a number of issues that are part of the traditional discourse but have taken on special relevance today, often because of their misuse: Who is or is not a Muslim? What is the gravity of declaring people outside the faith (takfir)? Is Islamic theology inclusive or exclusive or something else? What is the share of non-Muslims in the hereafter? Are we required to understand eschatological references literally? When is allegory allowed or even desirable? What standards are required in reading current moments in history—like the Arab-Israeli struggle—in apocalyptic, millenarian, or messianic terms? Are today’s events the culmination or fulfillment of particular prophecies and eschatological cycles?
Much of the most important content of Islamic faith comes under the rubric of “Prophets, Prophecy, and the Unseen,” and these concerns are as vital today as they were yesterday, although—like any aspect of faith—they require sound understanding and intelligent application.
Suggested Background Reading
- Imam al-Ghazali, The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife
- Imam al-Haddad, The Lives of Man
- Shaykh Nuh Keller, Reliance of the Traveller, pp. 807-825
- William C. Chittick, Faith and Practice of Islam, pp. 1-12, 47-54, 81-104, 119-127
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