False prophecy in the Qur’an? A cataclysmic judgement that never arrived?


This is a rather tentative post, but I just wanted to highlight an issue that I have rarely heard raised in Muslim-Christian discussion. Do feel free to comment on the post itself or below 🙂



Categories: Islam

19 replies

  1. In Surah 54 of the Quran, Allah describes the divine punishments that came upon the previous nations, then he threats Quraysh

    “Now, are you ˹Meccan˺ disbelievers superior to those ˹destroyed peoples˺? Or have you ˹been granted˺ immunity ˹from punishment˺ in divine Books? Or do they say, “We are all ˹a˺ united ˹front˺, bound to prevail.”? ˹Soon˺ their united front will be defeated and will turn their back.”

    So here we see that in Makkah, the Quran prophecized a military conquest as their punishment. So we see the Quran was warning them of punishment, whatever form that may have been in.

    Further, there is a hadith where Muhammad (SAW) says to the Quraysh in Makkah, “I have brought you slaughter”. Here we see the prophet (SAW) again warning them in Makkah that their punishment would be by the sword. You can check it out the hadith out here https://islamqa.info/en/answers/135590/is-the-hadeeth-i-have-brought-slaughter-to-you-saheeh-and-how-should-it-be-understood.

    Thus the idea that their is development is wrong because they were already warned of a military punishment in Makkah.

    Finally, I wanna mention the natural disasters the Quran describes as punishment, one may say that these are not divine punishments just natral things- after all, they’re even called “natural” disasters. However, the point in the Quran is that Allah is highlighting the metaphysical realities behind these disasters- that in reality, they were divine punishments- and Allah himself sent these things or he sent angels that aided in the destruction of these people (For example in the hadith- its Jibreel the angel (AS) who puts mud in firawn’s mouth so he doesn’t say words that would cause Allah to accept his repentance). You can check out the hadith here https://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/PrintFatwa.php?lang=E&Id=337408

    Similarly, the Quran is sure to point out that the military defeats also had a metaphysical dimension to the; in that angels came down and fought together with the muslims. Just like natural disasters, someone may say the military defeats were naturalistic; but the Quran highlights their metaphysical realities.

    For example, “[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip. That is because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger – indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. “That [is yours], so taste it.” And indeed for the disbelievers is the punishment of the Fire.” (8:12-15)

    Another example is, “[Remember] when you were asking help of your Lord, and He answered you, “Indeed, I will reinforce you with a thousand from the angels, following one another.” And Allah made it not but good tidings and so that your hearts would be assured thereby. And victory is not but from Allah. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise”. (8:9-10)

    Finally, this example, “And you did not kill them, but it was Allah who killed them.1 And you threw not, [O Muḥammad], when you threw, but it was Allah who threw2 that He might test the believers with a good test.3 Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (8:17)

    So just like the Quran highlights the metaphysical realities behind the natural punishments, it highlights them with the military conquests.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Btw i wanna mention the “i have brought you slaughter” was directed to the leaders of the disbelievers in makkah as the link mentions which is what happened according to surah 9 12 “And if they break their oaths after their treaty and defame your religion, then combat the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them; [fight them that] they might cease”.

      Also remember, a difference between the Arabs and those other nations is that the Arabs generally ended up believing in Muhammad (SAW) unlike the other nations described.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Also in case anyone doesnt get arabic; the verse I quoted from surah 54 (43-45) are talkign about a military conquest because the term turn their back is an idiom in arabic it means fleeing from a battlefield.

        ““Now, are you ˹Meccan˺ disbelievers superior to those ˹destroyed peoples˺? Or have you ˹been granted˺ immunity ˹from punishment˺ in divine Books? Or do they say, “We are all ˹a˺ united ˹front˺, bound to prevail.”? ˹Soon˺ their united front will be defeated and will turn their back.”

        The Quran mentions this idiom many places for ex. in surah 59 11-12

        “Have you not seen those who became hypocrites, saying to their brethren who denied among the People of the Scripture, “Indeed, if you are evicted, we will certainly depart with you and not obey anyone against you, ever, and should anyone combat you, we will certainly support you”? But Allah bears witness that they are certainly liars. Indeed, if they are evicted, they will not depart with them; and indeed, if anyone combats them, they will not support them. And(even) if they do support them, they will(then) certainly turn their backs, then they will not be supported.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Proving Islam, thank you so much for taking the time to give your comments, which are very thought-provoking 🙂

    Let me deal with a couple of minor points before dealing with I think the key passage:

    1) You appeal to the Hadith to establish that Muhammad had already made a warning of military action in Mecca. The hadith is classed as Hasan, and the best collection it is included in seems to be Ibn Hanbal’s Musnad. I think a lot of Muslims I know might be reluctant to put so much weight on such a hadith! Furthermore, Western scholars like David Marshall and myself will be unconvinced of the value of a hadith if it seems to contradict what otherwise the Qur’an seems to teach. So I don’t think we will agree on the merit of this hadith.

    2) Marshall does actually note in his book that there is a contrast between the Qur’an and later Muslim sources (the Sirah, can’t remember if he mentions the Hadith too). So this hadith would tie in with that point.

    3) I fully agree, and briefly mention in my article, that the Qur’an sees military action as supported by and made successful by God’s active involvement. This applies to natural disasters too, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

    Now I think you’re really onto something interesting with Q 54:43-45. David Marshall, nor Mark Durie, seem to have anticipated this passage and its potential objection to their theories. So I’m very grateful to you pointing it out 🙂

    I think the key question is whether this section does indeed suggest the Meccans will be punished by military action. And I’m not sure:

    1) You say ‘the term turn their back is an idiom in arabic it means fleeing from a battlefield’, and yes it often does (e.g. you highlight Q 59:11-12). But it doesn’t seem to have this meaning in Q 17:46. The parallel phrase in Q 4:47 (that this is a parallel, see Q 5:21) likely isn’t military either.

    But even if Q 54:43-35 is using military language, which it may well be, the Qur’an seems to use military language and themes to describe non-military situations. Similar to Q 54:44, where the disbelievers trust in their own strength, so too in Q 41:15 do they boast in their own strength; but the following verse says they are destroyed by ‘a furious wind’ rather than military battle. Muntasir in v. 44, although it sounds like they are considering a military resistance, occurs in Q 18:43, 28:81, 51:45, 54:44. In every other one of these instances God strikes with a natural disaster, not with military force. And so that makes me wonder if the same is true in Q 54:44.

    So it is an interesting verse, but I’m not sure it’s enough to overturn Marshall’s thesis. But it should definitely be factored in to the equation.

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    • Hi Richard,

      I think 17 46 is a weak argument cuz just look at the context of that ayah lol I don’t think you can use that.

      I also don’t think you can use 4 47 cuz again look at the context lol it first says we will obliterate their faces then its says “fa” turn them on their backs. Fa means “so”. So its obviously related to the faces being obliterated. This what as saadi says “heir faces would be obliterated as they had obliterated the truth, and their faces were to be turned backwards, so that their faces would be on the back o f their heads, and this is the worst punishment”. I think his words are easy to understand.

      But regardless, an arabic speaker would easily recognize this idiom as being about a battlefield especially in this context. It’s used all over the Quran and the meaning is very obvious. Even the early Muslims understood this; Aisha (RA) in a hadith (you can check this in the tafsir of this ayah in ibn kathir) was bragging about how this ayah was revealed in Makkah before any fighting. I mean its just very obvious what it means in this context lol. Even the prophet Muhammad (SAW) was repeating this ayah on the day of badr because he knew this ayah was about military conquest. Again you can check this in the tafsir. So I think its weak argument to suggest it means otherwise here especially because when early muslims all interpreted this (as well as the prophet) to be about the battlefield.

      Remember also how the hadith mention the prophet (SAW) prophecizing over and over how islam would have military conquests over arabia and yemen and egypt and jerusalem etc, etc.

      Now I know you’re not a muslim so you don’t accept hadith but frankly that’s irrelevant to me because I accept the hadith paradigm and I think the discussion on hadith is to be had on the reliability of hadith because if the hadith can be shown to be reliable, then that’s as good as that. So that’s a discussion to have with the scholars of hadith and its a discussion we welcome. Also a hasan hadith is quotable I don’t think you can just throw it away based on the grading hasan is sound.

      Over and over in the Quran turning on their backs means battle fields.

      Lemme show you more examples- verse after verse where turn on their backs means military

      Quran 48:22 “And if those [Makkans] who disbelieve had fought you, they would have turned their backs [in flight]. Then they would not find a protector or a helper”.

      Quran 5:21 “O my people, enter the blessed land [i.e., Palestine] which Allah has assigned to you and do not turn back and [thus] become losers.” Btw the context here is military, Ill give verse 24 as a proof “They said, “O Moses, we will certainly not enter it, ever, as long as they are in it. So go ahead, you and your Lord, and combat. We are surely staying behind right here.”

      Quran 3:111 ” They will not harm you except for [some] annoyance. And if they fight you, they will show you their backs; then they will not be aided.”

      Quran 8:15-16 “O you who have believed, when you meet those who disbelieve advancing [in battle], do not turn to them your backs [in flight].For whoever turns his back to them on that day, except while maneuvering for combat or to side with another battalion, then he has surely incurred wrath from Allah, and his shelter is Hell—and what a miserable destiny!”

      Quran 59 11-12 “Have you not seen those who became hypocrites, saying to their brethren who denied among the People of the Scripture, “Indeed, if you are evicted, we will certainly depart with you and not obey anyone against you, ever, and should anyone combat you, we will certainly support you”? But Allah bears witness that they are certainly liars. Indeed, if they are evicted, they will not depart with them; and indeed, if anyone combats them, they will not support them. And(even) if they do support them, they will(then) certainly turn their backs, then they will not be supported.”

      Quran 33:15 “And they had already promised Allah before not to turn their backs and flee. And ever is the promise to Allah [that about which one will be] questioned”.

      Quran 9:25 “Allah has already given you victory in many regions and [even] on the day of Ḥunayn, when your great number pleased you, but it did not avail you at all, and the earth was confining for you with [i.e., in spite of] its vastness; then you turned back, fleeing”.

      Now lets go back to Surah 54 and see its pretty clear ““Now, are you ˹Meccan˺ disbelievers superior to those ˹destroyed peoples˺? Or have you ˹been granted˺ immunity ˹from punishment˺ in divine Books? Or do they say, “We are all ˹a˺ united ˹front˺, bound to prevail.”? ˹Soon˺ their united front will be defeated and will turn their back.”

      Yah anyway so I think its pretty obvious lol and I think to try and argue against this is stretching. Thanks 👍

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Proving Islam,

    ‘I think 17 46 is a weak argument cuz just look at the context of that ayah lol I don’t think you can use that.’ – that is precisely my point, the context of the ayah, that the phrase in question is not ALWAYS (though it often is, as you highlight) used in a military context.

    Regarding Q 4:47, we’re going to have to disagree about the hadith. I do not expect you to adopt my methodology, and I’m afraid vice versa. I think the verse on its own could be taken either way – it is possible that it warns of coming military conflict, but it more seems to be about a supernatural disfiguring curse from God. It alludes to those who were cursed for breaking the Sabbath, Q 2:65, where there is no military intervention but divine punishment and disfigurement.

    I’m not saying you can’t quote a hasan hadith – hadith of different strengths can be used for different purposes. But I’m just highlighting that if, from my perspective, the Qur’an seems to say one thing, and the hadith another, particular if that hadith does not have the highest rating, then that will weaken the case for that hadith.

    Thank you for the examples, I am aware that the phrase very often is used in a military context. I’m just trying to say not always. I also don’t think you’ve dealt with the part of my argument where I give examples of where the Qur’an seems to use military language figuratively, to refer to what are actually not (in a literal sense) military contexts:

    ‘But even if Q 54:43-35 is using military language, which it may well be, the Qur’an seems to use military language and themes to describe non-military situations. Similar to Q 54:44, where the disbelievers trust in their own strength, so too in Q 41:15 do they boast in their own strength; but the following verse says they are destroyed by ‘a furious wind’ rather than military battle. Muntasir in v. 44, although it sounds like they are considering a military resistance, occurs in Q 18:43, 28:81, 51:45, 54:44. In every other one of these instances God strikes with a natural disaster, not with military force. And so that makes me wonder if the same is true in Q 54:44.’

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  4. Also, even if I am mistaken, I try very hard to be polite and to spend a lot of time trying to understand the Qur’an and Islam. I do appreciate the time you have put into your response, but might I suggest less use of ‘lol’ – it comes across as a bit rude

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  5. I don’t think you can try and reverse the usage of a clear arabic idiom here in a very clear context because of a verses that are obviously using the phrase literally. Like both 17 46 & 4 47 are obviously literal. But Quran 54’s usage is not literal.

    “Now, are you ˹Meccan˺ disbelievers superior to those ˹destroyed peoples˺? Or have you ˹been granted˺ immunity ˹from punishment˺ in divine Books? Or do they say, “We are all ˹a˺ united ˹front˺, bound to prevail.”? ˹Soon˺ their united front will be defeated and will turn their back.””

    Like does it mean the city will be destroyed then after the destruction they will all turn around on their backs or run away? Like obviously not I mean idk what else to tell you its pretty clear.

    Even the other ayat you quoted are in totally different contexts- 18:43 etc. And your point on 41 is irrelevant because the point is after bragging theyre destroyed and here theyre bragging and it seems a military brag then theyre destroyed in a military verse.

    And again, your whole point is irrelevant anyway since Makkah believed wheras those other nations disbelieved. We also know the punishment on the children of Israel for disbelieving was the second temple’s destruction- and then after that they were expelled from the city and a pagan alter was out in jerusalem- they weren’t wiped out with a disaster. But yah anyway, the threat was for a disbelieving nation and Makkah didn’t disbelieve at the end of the day. The disbelievers were punished but the city wasn’t wiped out because Makkah was to believe.

    Like accept it or don’t accept it I don’t really care I’m just pointing out for people that for you theory to work you have to obviously stretch away from the clear meaning.

    Have a nice day and sorry the lols offended you.

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    • The phrase can be used literally but not always in a military context, by which I mean humans being defeated by other humans. In Q 17:46 its literal in that they do turn their backs and flee, but they flee from the reading of the Qur’an, not other humans on the battlefield. Q 4:47 is literal but seems to have quite a different meaning – this verse also talks about the effacing of faces and alludes to turning into pigs and swine, and so ‘turning them on their backs’ might have a biological meaning here, about twisting peoples bodies, rather than on the battlefields. It is not just me saying this – a number of translations here https://www.islamawakened.com/quran/4/47/ . Also unlike the other verses that talk about turning on their backs, this one has naruddahā ʿala adbārihā – the hā referring not to the people being turned back (which would be masculine or masculine plural) but to the faces being turned backwards (hence the feminine singular). This is my understanding of the Arabic, but correct me if I’m mistaken.

      So I’m making different points (1) the word doesn’t always refer to people running away (Q 4:47 has faces turned backwards), and (2) when people do run away, it’s not always on the battlefield (Q 17:46 has people running away from the Qur’an).

      I then supplemented this point by noting that muntaṣirun in Q 54:44 is always elsewhere associated with people (i.e. that they do not have a muntasirun) and God sends a natural disaster upon them. You are right that Q 18:43 is not a military context, though that kind of makes my point, but that doesn’t undermine my point that whenever we find muntasir there is a natural disaster. But in Q 51:45 there is a sense of rebellion against God – ‘they rebelled against the comand of their Lord’. And so Q 54:55 perhaps fits into this paradigm.

      Who knows how it will happen, maybe earthquake, maybe clay from heaven, maybe a wind. People will try to run from it but be destroyed.

      That’s an interesting point about Mecca believing. I would need to read more about the Qur’anic portrayal and the other historical sources about the degree to which Mecca freely believed or the degree to which they accepted Islam once Mecca was conquered, and the degree to which the leaders of Mecca believed or disbelieved. But if Mecca substantially came to believe, then yes that would make Mecca different from those other places. Good point 🙂

      Good point about the Temple’s destruction too (Q 17:7). Marshall doesn’t seem to have taken that into account. Durie does, which makes me realise he does have a section where he lists other verses before the hijrah/transition where ‘the possibility that believers could act as the instigators of Allah’s “nearer punishment” has also not been completely absent from the Messenger’s mind.’ (Durie, 58). These are Q 16:126-127, 7:167, 17:5-7, 6:65. Marshall doesn’t interact with these verses. For what it’s worth Durie does have a similar theory to Marshall, but clearly he thinks the shift is pre-empted in the Meccan period (as does Marshall).

      So while I think Q 54:45 is up for debate, I’m not saying your reading is wrong – it may well be correct! And it seems like there are other passages that might either challenge or modify Marshall’s theory.

      So it is still up to the interpreter to determine whether there is still a shift in the Qur’an, even though it is not a black and white shift before and after the Hijrah. The reasons for that can also be debated (e.g. is the pattern for Mecca different because some of the Meccans believe?). But you’ve convinced me that one should be careful when considering Marshall’s theory, especially as there are some relevant verses that seem to have been missed.

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      • I have added this to my original post on my blog –

        ‘NB: This was always a tentative post, and true to that, some helpful comments that have made me rethink Marshall’s thesis can be found here. At the very least they suggest that even if Marshall has detected broad trends, certain verses (Q 16:126-127, 7:167, 17:5-7, 6:65, taken from Durie, 58. The helpful commentator highlighted Q 17:7 and Q 54:44-45, though we debate the meaning of the latter) should be the added to the list of Meccan passages which foreshadow the shift that is to come. It should be noted that both Marshall and Durie do acknowledge some verses before the hijrah/transition that anticipate later shifts. Whether such anticipations simply foreshadow a genuine shift or challenge whether such a shift occured, will be in the eye of the beholder based on the totality of relevant verses on this topic. Readers are still encouraged to read Marshall and Durie’s works.’

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  6. God has chosen for Meccan to embrace Islam rather than being punished. Those meccans were the relatives of the immigrant moslems to Medina. When Mohammed entered Mecca, he forgave them all. They were astonished with the mercifulness of this new religion, something new at that time.
    Emissaries from all Arabian peninsula came to convert knowing about when they knew how Muhammad treated the Meccans.
    The threat to Meccans to be punished would have happened to them if they stubbornly repelled the message. But they did not and on the contrary they were one of the pillars for the message of monotheism to be spread all over.

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  7. God has chosen for Meccan to embrace Islam rather than being punished. Those meccans were the relatives of the immigrant moslems to Medina. When Mohammed entered Mecca, he forgave them all. They were astonished with the mercifulness of this new religion, something new at that time.
    Emissaries from all Arabian peninsula came to convert when they knew how Muhammad treated the Meccans.
    The threat to Meccans to be punished would have happened to them if they stubbornly repelled the message. But they did not and on the contrary they happened to become carriers of the message of Islam to be spread all over.
    Another way to look at it; that god has threatened people of punishment if they commit sins. Too many do sin, but they later repent, and god ultimately forgive them and award them. God didn’t create people to torment them.

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    • Thank you Tam, yes I think this is a good point, that perhaps Mecca is different from some of those other places because God had special mercy on them, and because they came to believe

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  8. The Quran
    (a) does not make a prediction regarding an inevitable supernatural punishment of Meccan pagans – it presents a threat, which can be diverted by repentance and submission, which eventually happens in 10 A.H. God makes some of them taste a partial punishment in this life (defeat in battle) before the punishment in the hereafter, to others He turns in mercy, in fact many Meccan pagan criminals repent and submit to God and later fight as Muslims in the Way of God (e.g. Amr ibn al-As, Khalid ibn Walid). In fact God reprimands Muhammad a.s. for desiring the punishment of his cruel persecutors, reminding him that it was not his decision to make and that God, if He so wished, could take his life first. The message is clear: God decides, men do not.
    (b) unlike NT prophecies in Paul and the Gospels, no time limit is mentioned expilcitly like Jesus will return ” before this generation passes”, “before you visit all the towns in Israel” , “when we who will be alive at that time” – I personally, as a Muslim, believe Jesus was misunderstood or mistranslated by Greek speaking Christians, he did not speak a false prophecy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cara, many thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right that the threat was conditional – but in the end Mecca was conquered more than converted, as far as I understand it. I know it was mostly peaceful, but to my knowledge the city did not pre-emptively convert and invite Muhammad in. And so one still needs to consider the evidence presented by Marshall and Durie about whether we can detect a shift in theme from threats of cataclysmic punishment to military judgement.

      On false NT promises, I think ‘preterism’ (the idea that many prophecies were in fact fulfilled in AD 70) solves many of the problems. Jesus did in fact return ‘before this generation passes’, in judgement upon the Jerusalem temple. His ‘return’ is apocalyptic language to express coming in judgement. This article here is a helpful intro – https://www.tektonics.org/esch/olivet01.php

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  9. God reprimands Muhammad in the Quran in 3:128, for wishing (according to hadith, asking God in the dawn prayer) the punishment of the cruel and relentless persecutors of innocent believers. Indeed, Muhammad a.s. was advised not be like Jonah, the prophet who wished the destruction of wrongdoers he was sent to forewarn (68:48; Jonah 3:4; 4:1). In a well-known hadith, when the companions asked him about his status among the prophets, he said “do not say that I am better than Junus…”.
    Now, Jonah did not make a false prophecy, he made an explicit threat, he presented the possibility of punishment. It was God who decided otherwise, when the wrongdoers repented and submitted.

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    • Good points. Q 3:128 might itself hint though that Muhammad (and/or the believers) did want to see military judgement come upon the unbelievers. The caution against this may be to help explain why it hasn’t in fact come yet. So I think this can fit with Marshall’s paradigm.

      Q 68 is early Meccan; but even if it were later, it is not inconceivable that someone can both have hopes of judgement (or ‘justice’ from their perspective), but also a compassionate desire to see them mend their ways. But the fact that God tells Muhammad not to be like Jonah may suggest he was having some of those similar desires for judgement.

      Agreed, the threats in the Qur’an are conditional. But I think the key issue is what the threats are – are they threats of sudden divine judgement, or are they threats of military defeat.

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