The Last Day

81 (Al-Takwir/The Enfolding) 14

1. When the sun shall be darkened,
2. When the stars shall be thrown down,
3. When the mountains shall be set moving,
4. When the pregnant camels shall be neglected,
5. When the savage beasts shall be mustered,
6. When the seas shall be set boiling,
7. When the souls shall be coupled,
8. When the buried infant shall be asked
9. For what sin she was slain,
10. When the scrolls shall be unrolled,
11. When heaven shall be stripped off,
12. When Hell shall be set blazing,
13. When Paradise shall be brought nigh,
14. Then shall a soul know what it has produced.


The imminence of the Last Day

Very many Qur’an verses refer to ‘the Last Day’, ‘the Day of Judgment’ or simply ‘the Day’ or ‘the Hour’. A number of these are emphatic that the end of the world is imminent:

{16.77}: ‘The matter of the Hour is as the blinking [or ‘twinkling’] of an eye, or nearer still’,


{53.57}: ‘The imminent is nigh’, and


{75.34-35}: ’So nearer to you! And nearer! Then nearer to you! And nearer!


See also {40.18}, {70.6-7} and {78.40}. In particular, it is repeatedly said of those who mocked the prophet that their disbelief would soon be confounded by the Hour (implying before the end of their expected lifespan):

{15.3}: ‘Leave them to eat and enjoy themselves and to be beguiled by hopes, for soon they will know’, (similarly {40.70}),


{24.6}: ‘Indeed they have denied it but there shall come to them tidings of that which they used to mock’,


and when it is asked ‘When will this promise come to pass if you are truthful?’ the Qur’an at first replies:

They await naught but a single Cry that will seize them while they dispute among themselves’, {36.48-49}, and


They knowledge lies with God alone … And when they see it close at hand the faces of those who disbelieved shall be stricken and it shall be said ‘This is that which you called for’, {67.25}.


So close is the end of days that a number of verses announce that ‘the Word of thy Lord’ or ‘the Word of punishment’ has ‘come due’, {10.33}, {22.18}, {36.7}, {39.71} and {40.6}; and Surah 97 , see 〈10.〉 , appears to give an account of the descent of God’s command to bring the peace of earthly night to an end and initiate the dawn of the Day of Judgement.


In other, later, verses however, the imminence of the apocalypse has become less certain:

{17.51}: ‘And they will shake their heads at thee and say when will it be? Say: ‘It may well be nigh’,

{27.72}: ‘Say: ‘It may be that some of what you seek to hasten is close behind you’,’


{33.63} and {42.17}: ‘Say: ‘Knowledge thereof (of the Last Day) lies only with God … Perhaps the Hour is nigh‘.’


Ultimately, in {72.25}, the Qur’an refuses to affirm that the Last Day is even close at all:

{72.25} Say: ‘I know not whether that which you are promised is nigh or whether my Lord has appointed a term.’


In possibly the last Quranic reference to the subject of the timing of the Hour, the anticipation of those who prayed to God to ‘hasten the punishment’ is dampened with the observation that ‘truly a day with your Lord is a thousand years of that which you reckon’, {22.47}.


Warnings of an imminent apocalypse, if believed, would be powerful in gaining an attentive audience and persuading them to examine their consciences and make amends, but if the Qur’an’s author had really expected that the end was nigh, it is hard to see what would have been their motivation to fight to regain the Masjid al-Haram and thereafter to expand the territory of Dar al-Islam, nor what purpose would have been  served by the announcement of laws for governing a community, including the regulation of divorce, weaning and inheritance, the settling of disputes, paying of taxation and the division of booty? As the Quranic community grew in numbers and strength it seems to follow naturally, that warnings of an imminent apocalypse would have become less helpful (as well as, with the passage of time, less credible). For this reason, the Qur’an author, after the early surahs shifted his message from warnings of global apocalypse to threats of localised punishment-narratives 〈26.〉, and, as his community grew stronger still, increasingly undertook the role of the instrument of divine wrath himself.


The events of the Last Day

Shortly before it does eventually arrive, the Qur’an tells us that the Last Day will be preceded by the return of Jesus as ‘a portent of the hour’, {43.61} 〈25.〉 Hadith accounts attributed to Muhammad, prophesy the appearance of two other supernatural figures who are referred to as the ‘Masīh ad-Dajjāl’ (the ‘false messiah’ or sometimes, adopting biblical terminology, the ‘Antichrist’) who will rule the world from Constantinople, and the Mahdi who will arrive with Jesus to defeat the Masih ad Dajjal and to drive evil from the world prior to the Last Day. Some also describe a pre-apocalyptic war between Muslims and Jews, in which the natural world will assist in achieving the latter’s annihilation:

The Hour will not begin until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims will kill them, until a Jew hides behind a rock or a tree, and the rock or tree will say: ‘O Muslim, O slave of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him’; except the gharqad (a thorny tree), for it is one of the trees of the Jews.

For most Shia Muslims, the Mahdi is also identified with the twelfth and final imam, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Askari, who is believed to have disappeared from human view c. 940.


The events of the Last Day itself shall commence with the breaking free of Gog and Magog 〈29.〉 A third fearsome creature, the ‘dābbat al-arḍ’ (‘the Beast of the Earth’) will also roam free ‘who will speak to unbelievers of how they were uncertain of God’s signs,{27.82} – and, some believe, brand them upon the nose to remind them of their faithlessness . The Beast of the Earth is, one assumes the same entity as the beast that emerges from the earth in chapter 13 of the Book of Revelations (13.11-18 ), to mark men with its number, 666. The Qur’an has, though, no equivalent of the biblical Beast of the Earth’s aquatic counterpart, the Beast of the Sea (Revelations 13.1-10 ).


Mankind will experience the Hour in the shaking of the earth {19.90}, {27.88}, {56.4-6}, {69.14}, {73.14}, {89.21} and {99.1} and the sky shall ‘bring forth manifest smoke covering the people’, {44.10-11}. In the heavens above him, man will see the sky ‘churn with great churning’ (‘spin dizzilyper Arberry), {52.9}, before it is ‘cleft asunder’, and the stars dispersed, {77.8-9} and {82.1}. The sun shall be ‘darkened’, literally ‘enfolded’ (per The Study Qur’an) or ‘shrouded’ (Haleem); alternatively, ‘the sun and the moon will join together’, {75.9}. God shall then take the earth and heavens in His Right Hand, {39.67}, and ‘roll up the sky like the rolling of scrolls for writing’, {21.104}.


At the blowing of a trumpet 〈9.〉, {6.73}, {18.99}, {20.102} and {39.68}, the bodies of those who have died will be resurrected, {23.100} and {39.68}, even if these have turned to stone or iron {17.50}. Mountains will pass away, {18.47}, ‘like clouds’, {27.88}, or ‘tufts of wool‘, {101.5} (per Abdel Haleem, Muhammad Asad),  creating a great plain, {84.3-4}, on which there is ‘no curvature nor crookedness’, {20.102-108}. This is the Plain of Qiyamah – upon which all peoples, {3.25}, {4.87}, {18.47-48}, {79.14}, jinn, {6.128}, and animals, {6.38} and {81.5}, that have ever lived will, having first been scattered like moths, {101.4}, or ashes, {20.105}, be gathered together to face judgment.