Author: Jubair Ali Al-Sayed
As 2012 winds to a close, and we bid farewell to this year with it's ups and downs, let us take a few minutes to focus on a pop-culture phenomenon which has become the subject of discussion and debate over the past several years, and which has certainly become a subject of great interest, this year in particular: The 2012 phenomenon.
The 2012 phenomenon is both an erroneous New-Age idea as well as an apocalyptic concept, and now that the month of December is upon us, we would do well to examine this false belief in greater detail, so that we may have a greater understanding of what is sure to be a theme that we will encounter in the mass media with greater frequency as we get closer to December 21st of this year.
Therefore, let us begin with the actual facts, starting with the vanished civilization of the Mayans.
The pre-Columbian Mayans were a fascinating people well-known by modern archeologists for their fully-developed writing system, their art, architecture and their highly developed mathematical and astronomical observations. Though the Mayan civilization itself is no more, the Mayan people still exist to this day and can be found in Guatemala, southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras; indeed, there are some seven million people of Mayan descent found throughout the Central American region. Their civilization reached its zenith between the years 250 to 900 A.D. and gradually declined over the following centuries.
Aside from the impressive ruins of great Mayan cities such as Palenque and Chichen Itza, the Mayans also bequeathed to those civilizations who followed them a legacy which has survived well into the 21st Century; the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar.
The Mayans themselves did not invent the Long Count Calendar; it is believed by most archeologists that it was actually invented by the Olmecs, an earlier vanished civilization. However, the Mayans adapted this calendar to suit their own particular mythological beliefs, and it is from the Mayan adaptation that the 2012 phenomenon begins. Thus, it behooves us to examine what the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar is, and how it functions.
The Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar is a linear calendar operating on a base 20 function. Thus, 20 days form a uinal; 18 uinals form a tun composed of 360 days (close to one solar year); 20 tuns make a k'atun, and 20 k'atuns form a b'ak'tun or a period of 144,000 days or about 394 solar years. Therefore, a Mayan calendar date of 18.104.22.168.12 represents 6 b'ak'tuns, 5 k'atuns, 2 tuns, 10 uinals and 12 days.
So what does this have to do with December 21st, 2012 in the Western calendar and some apocalyptic or transformative event? In short, very little. The Mayan calendar goes forward far beyond the completion of the 13th b'ak'tun, the cycle which comes to its end this year, as can be seen in the west panel of the Temple of Inscriptions in the ruins of Palenque; it calculates the date commemorating the coronation of the Maya ruler K'ininch Janaab' Pakal (which occurred on July 27th, 615 A.D) all the way forward to October 21st, 4772 A.D, which is over four thousand years forward from the time of that long-deceased king. Indeed, another truly fascinating, and genuinely mind-boggling example can be found on Stele 1, in the ruins of the city of Coba (present-day Mexico) which projects forward to a calendar date inscribed as 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.0.0.0.0, or twenty units above the b'ak'tun placing it at 41 octillion years in the future, which would be three quintillion times the known age of the universe according to astrophysicists. This represents a prodigious feat of mathematical computation, to put it mildly, and all the more so for a society which lacked metal tools, pulleys or for that matter, the wheel.
Then where does this belief in some apocalyptic event arise?
The Mayans left us with not only a written language, but a literary tradition as well. In Mayan literature and myth, there is a strong tradition of “world ages”; much of what we know about this stems from the Popol Vuh, a compilation of the creation myths of K'iche' Maya. In their creation accounts, the imaginary Mayan gods created three previous worlds, with our world being the fourth. The third world ended after thirteen b'ak'tun, or roughly 5,125 years. The Mayans Long Count “Day Zero” corresponds to August 11th, 3114 B.C.; this means the fourth world (our world) will reach the end of its thirteenth b'ak'tun on Mayan date 18.104.22.168.0 or December 21st 2012 in the Western Calendar.
And it is at this point that a good deal of speculation comes into play. How would the Mayans have considered the end of the cycle? As the end of time itself? Or perhaps as a reason to celebrate? Sadly, the available Mayan literature is largely silent on the matter, as it was more concerned with recording actual historic or past mythical events than it was with making prophecies. Students of Mayan culture and history, anthropologists, and other experts have almost no consensus as to what, if any, significance this turning of the 13th b'ak'tun would have had for Mayan civilization, as that civilization is no more. Indeed, the modern Mayans have openly and publicly ridiculed the notion that the world is coming to end on December 21st 2012, considering such ideas to be a grotesque misinterpretation of their culture, mythology and folklore. And in fact, there is only one reference in all of classical Mayan literature to the 13th b'ak'tun, which is to be found at the Tortuguero site in the southern part of the Mexican state of Tabasco on a monument known as Monument 6; sadly, the inscription itself has been partially defaced. Its translation is as follows:
It will be completed in the 13th b'ak'tun
It is 4 Ajaw 3 K'an'kin
and it will happen a [possibly the word “seeing”]
It is the display of B'olon-Yokte' [an imaginary Mayan deity]
In a great investiture.
There is debate among scholars as to what exactly this means. Some scholars have concluded that a person would be dressed up as this imaginary Mayan deity B'olon-Yokte' and paraded around; other scholars dispute this interpretation. Thus, we have no way of knowing with any certainty what the closing of the 13th b'ak'tun meant to the Mayans. So, if the Mayans themselves left no distinct record of the significance of this date, or even its meaning within the context of Mayan civilization, then how did this mistaken belief in some cataclysmic event occurring on December 21st 2012 come into being? For that, we must look not to the Mayans, nor other Mesoamerican civilizations, but rather a little closer to home.
European identification with the Mayans and the end of the world goes back all the way to the time of Christopher Columbus. During his voyage of 1502, he was at work writing a book called the Libro de las profecias when he first heard about the Mayans. Columbus believed that his discoveries of distant lands and peoples were prophesied, and that they were somehow signs of the Christian apocalypse. Indeed, during the time of the Spanish Conquest of the New World, eschatological fears were running riot throughout Europe, in particular a false astrological prediction for a second Great Flood which was forecast to occur in 1524. Of course, this didn't happen, nor did any other such world-shattering catastrophe. It goes without saying that in every age there have been predictions of doom, disaster, mass destruction and whatnot, and all of them thus far have maintained an enviably consistent record of being spectacularly wrong. Then in the early 1900s, German scholar Ernst Förstemann represented the end of the world coming about through a global deluge based on his interpretation of the last page of the Dresden Codex, a Mayan document found in the ruins of Chichen Itza. It is Herr Förstemann and the Dresden Codex which arguably forms the basis of the current obsession with the year 2012.
In fairness to both Christopher Columbus and Ernst Förstemann, neither of them mentioned the year 2012 or the 13th b'ak'tun whatsoever. Herr Förstemann also pointed out it was quite unclear as to whether the Dresden Codex itself is referring to a future event, or something that might have happened in the distant past or an event in Mayan mythology. However, Herr Förstemann's ideas were repeated (and considerably embellished upon) by the archeologist Sylvanus Morley in his book, The Ancient Maya, first published in 1946. These notions floated about in a rather nebulous form until the early 1970s, which saw the rise of the so-called “New Age” movement, that false and pernicious pseudo-religious movement in the service of the dajjal. It was the New Age movement, a crazy catch-all of false Eastern religions, superstitions, and crank ideas which seized upon the Mayan concepts and transformed them out of all recognition to the culture on which these ideas were based.
By 1975, the idea of the 13th b'ak'tun and its possible meaning was being explored by several New Age authors, who were generally of the opinion that a “global transformation of consciousness” would emerge at the end of the 13th cycle. Of course, this was combined with the “Age of Aquarius” notion that had become so widespread throughout American popular counterculture in the mid to late 1960s. Interestingly, the “Age of Aquarius” has no basis in science; it is purely astrological in origin, not astronomical. There are many interpretations of what this “global transformation of consciousness” will entail, from the occasionally sublime to the downright preposterous such as the Earth passing through a “galactic synchronization beam” which would result in “galactic entrainment” of people “plugged into the Earth's electromagnetic battery”. Others have spoken of the Earth's alignment with the center of our galaxy, or a planetary alignment; neither of these ideas are supported by astronomy. Astrophysicists will tell you that it's virtually impossible to calculate when the Earth will align with center of our galaxy, and they will also tell you there is no planetary alignment scheduled for December 21st, 2012.
Now certainly these ideas, though utterly false and unsupported by science, are far less dire than the recent slew of doomsday scenarios which have come to dominate the discussion as of late. In examining this aspect of the 2012 phenomenon, we have to look at a curious overlapping of disparate concepts, namely:
1) New Age superstitions
2) Secret knowledge
3) American Evangelical Christian eschatology
As noted earlier, the end of the 13th b'ak'tun in the Long Count Calendar will arrive on December 21st, 2012. However, as to what significance the original Mayan civilization would have assigned to this is purely a matter of speculation. For that which is unknown, there is always something to fill the breach, and the false New Age movement has certainly done that many times over. Rather than rely on scholarly interpretations from anthropologists, archeologists, linguists, and experts in the field, the New Age movement has created their own interpretations and impressions of Mayan civilization, and instead of being able to have a serious and intelligent discussion about Mayan culture with a non-academic, what we get instead is people whose heads have been filled with fatuous notions and pseudo-science; instead of a discussion of how genuinely remarkable the Mayans were at astronomic calculations, we are treated to discussions on how the Mayans were allegedly able to calculate not only the exact center of our galaxy, but that they also knew of the supermassive singularity which (it is believed) lies at its epicenter, something modern astrophysics has only quite recently come to hypothesize about. Instead of giving due credit and a sense of respect to the Mayans for erecting their pyramids, palaces and cities with little more than stone and wood tools and raw manpower, we are told that these pyramids and other impressive structures were erected not by the Mayans, but by telekinetic little green men. In this fashion, the New Age movement has distorted not only Mayan culture, but the historic record and achievements of Mayan civilization, and reduced the remarkable people of this ancient civilization to little more than colorful extras in a B-grade science fiction film.
The New Age movement also relies quite heavily on the concept of secret knowledge, which is essentially the idea of hidden or previously unknown knowledge from distant times and places. No doubt we have all heard of some charlatan who claims to have experienced their “past lives” in such fanciful locales as Lemuria or even perhaps on distant planets in other galaxies, or seen on television a spiritual snake-oil salesman who will disclose the secret of eternal happiness to you, which he gleaned by discussing the matter with some extraterrestrial being while zipping around Alpha Centauri in a UFO, for the mere sum of $2,500. Quite aside from the obvious fact that the entire New Age movement is nothing but the dajjal's way of leading mankind astray from our Almighty Lord, Allah (and the fact that it also serves to enrich it's peddlers beyond the dreams of avarice), the idea of secret knowledge holds a distinct appeal to those lost souls who are deeply suspicious of mainstream Western thought, and ultimately feel a good deal of antipathy toward the culture in which they live. As an example, a certain British author and public speaker has recently been selling out seminars in the United States where he disseminates his “secret knowledge” that our planet is nothing but a hollow sphere, that reptilian extraterrestrials are manipulating world events from their undersea bases, that the Moon is some manner of spaceship, and that the Queen of England, the U.S. President and other world leaders are, in fact, reptile/human hybrid monstrosities determined to enslave us all. That any rational human being would believe such lunacy (not to mention actually paying money to attend such a seminar in order to hear what are essentially the ravings of a paranoid madman) serves as a clear warning sign that something has gone terribly wrong in the sociocultural milieu. It is indicative of a deeply underlying cultural paranoia.
The third ingredient in this heady, if toxic, brew is American Evangelical Christian eschatology, and in particular the emergence of dispensational premillennialism as a dominant End Times scenario among certain sects of fundamentalist Christians in the United States and its accompanying cultural impact.
Briefly, dispensational premillennialism is the doctrine that the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) will return to take up Christians into heaven in an event known as the Rapture (it should be noted here there is nothing in the Gospel to support this point of view; those who believe in it generally cite First Thessalonians, Chapter 4, verse 17. However, mainstream Christians such as Orthodox Christians, the Roman Catholic Church, and mainstream Protestant churches maintain this particular verse is simply a general reference to the Day of Judgment), which will be followed by a seven-year period of war, death, pestilence, destruction, famine and general unpleasantness known as the Tribulation, after which the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) will return with the saints to reign for a thousand years.
Until the last quarter or so of the 20th Century, dispensational premillennialism was adhered to largely by Calvinists and assorted Christian fundamentalist denominations. However, starting in the 1970s, this peculiar (and erroneous) doctrine burst onto the public scene through the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, though it had been propagated earlier through the Scofield Reference Bible and Lewis Chafer's eight-volume tome Systematic Theology. After the 1970 publication of The Late Great Planet Earth, which was a bestseller (28 million copies), the doctrine entered mainstream American religious discussion and is still with us to this day; for example, the continuing popularity and cultural influence of the Left Behind series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. It has also been spread through the work of influential American evangelists such as the late Jerry Falwell, Ray Comfort, Dwight Pentecost, and a good many others.
This particular variant of Christian eschatology is exceptionally violent, and involves a good deal of suffering, destruction, and the shedding of oceans of blood (may Allah forbid). As Christian fundamentalists became a stronger force on the American sociopolitical and cultural scene towards the end of the 20th Century, it was perhaps quite natural that their particular interpretation of the End Times would come to have a cultural impact. And it has, indeed.
One particular example can stand out. Prior to the changeover from 1999 to the year 2000, there was much hysteria, particularly in the U.S., about the so-called “Y2K bug”, an alleged software defect that would supposedly cause trains to derail, airplanes to fall from the sky, the world's arsenal of nuclear-tipped ICBM's to spontaneously launch, and in short, cause us to all die horribly. Needless to say, this didn't happen. But there was certainly a distinctly apocalyptic scent in the air, for those readers old enough to recall that time. And there were quite a few fundamentalist Christians who maintained that “Y2K” was indeed the dread fulfillment of Biblical prophecy; many well-known Christian personalities took to the airwaves in the run-up to the changeover from 1999 to 2000 and spread a good many rumors, stories, false statistics and outright misrepresentations, which of course did nothing to allay fears. As it turned out, the only problems encountered were wholly insignificant and easily fixed.
Thus, through a trifecta of New Age nonsense, an increasingly paranoid society that is profoundly distrustful of its own institutions, and the cultural impact of a belief in a violent eschatological event, many find themselves looking ahead to a particular date toward the end of this year with a sense of the strongest foreboding. Though it may manifest itself in different hypothetical scenarios, from the arrival of the next solar maximum (actually not due until 2013), to our planet colliding with another celestial object (the so-called Planet X/Nibiru theory, easily debunked as an object the size of a small planet would already be clearly visible in the skies, even in daytime), to a host of other ideas including, but not limited to, an extraterrestrial invasion much like the film “Independence Day”, people are genuinely preparing for some kind of apocalyptic scenario to play out. This can be observed by the simple fact that recent statistics out of the United States show Americans are stocking up on:
1) Non-perishable foodstuffs
2) Firearms and ammunition
Indeed as to the latter, there has been a recorded 32% increase in the sale of firearms in the last quarter of 2011 according to the American F.B.I. Until quite recently, there was a major shortage of ammunition available on the American market, this shortage being created by overwhelming consumer demand. Similar sales increases corresponding to those of firearms have also been noted for non-perishable foodstuffs, including U.S. military surplus MRE's (Meals Ready-to-Eat) to civilians. This begs a legitimate question; what are people afraid of? Are Americans genuinely afraid that their civilization is somehow going to collapse in the next 12 months? Are they truly anticipating some kind of cataclysmic event? Is it merely widespread cultural angst reflecting a degree of political paranoia?
Or have they been deceived by the New Age movement?
If we take a brief look back at some recent trends in American pop-culture, we can see that a spate of television shows, films, and books have surfaced in the last few years, all of them dealing with the 2012 phenomenon. The History Channel, an American cable network, aired the following programs; Decoding the Past, 2012: End of Days, Last Days on Earth, Seven Signs of the Apocalypse, and Nostradamus 2012. A trip to any reasonably well-stocked bookstore will reveal scores of titles dealing with the subject, and of course, we must mention Roland Emmerich's hugely entertaining blockbuster disaster film, “2012”, which went on to gross over 750 million dollars worldwide. All of this amounts to a sort of conditioning; people begin to believe that some sort of unprecedented catastrophe is going to take place imminently which will lead to the either the destruction of the world, or at the very least the end of human civilization. If the sociocultural consensus comes to anticipate something so strongly, it creates an extraordinarily tense and doom-laden cultural atmosphere; the society which has allowed itself to become fixated on the certainty of a violent apocalyptic event basically becomes a powder-keg in search of a spark. This is the way of the dajjal. By poisoning the minds of men and turning them away from Almighty Allah, he inevitably guides them down the path which ends in their ruin.
Fortunately, some of our Christian brothers have recognized this danger, and have themselves launched a counter-offensive to tell people they have nothing to fear on December 21st 2012. They quote from the Gospel (correctly) that no man knows the hour of the Day of Judgment, as that knowledge lies with Allah alone. They point out that much of the fear associated with the Mayan Long Count Calendar is the result of deliberate New Age deceitfulness at worst, or a blatant misinterpretation of Mayan culture at best.
We, as Muslims, naturally look forward to the coming of Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh), and the Golden Age in which all mankind, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew will live together in harmony, peace, and prosperity. We look forward to the arrival of Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh) and the coming of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) not as events filled with terror, bloodshed, and violence, but as events as foretold by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saas) who said that Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh) would not even “awaken a sleeper” or “cause so much as a nose to bleed”. Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh) and Prophet Jesus (pbuh) will come soon, insha'Allah, and they will bring love, gentleness, and peace to the world. And surely that is something worth praying for, and we continue to do so five times a day.
One last note on the 2012 phenomenon. The government of Mexico is planning on using the year 2012, without its apocalyptic connotations, to hopefully revive Mexico's ailing tourism industry, which has been lately beset by difficulties caused by narco-gang wars and increasing crime. Their tourism initiative hopes to draw on the popularity of the ruins of the long-vanished Mayan civilization and their appeal. As tourism forms a good-sized part of Mexico's annual revenues, let us wish them well; many people, particularly in small towns and villages near the Mayan ruins, depend on the tourist trade for their livelihoods. And let us also hope that the tourists, in turn, will discover a far more honest and historically accurate representation of Mayan culture and gain a better appreciation of this fascinating people, who accomplished so much with so little.
Men ask you concerning the Hour. Say, “The knowledge of it is with Allah alone. And what may make you perceive? Perhaps the Hour is near.”
(Surah Ahzab, 63)