Could the Katrina disaster be a portent of the last day foretold by our Prophet (saas)?
… It [the Last Hour] will not come until you see ten signs… landslides [with a sinking down, caving in, or displacement of the earth] in three places, one in the East, one in the West and one in Arabia… (Sahih Muslim)
It is revealed in the verses of the Qur'an that all animate and inanimate entities, the entire universe, will inevitably come to an end.
This end, the Last Day in other words, will be the final day of the life of this world, but also the beginning of the eternal life of the Hereafter. That day, as revealed in the Qur'an, is when "mankind will stand before the Lord of all the worlds" (Qur'an, 83:6). On the Last Day, the universe and all living things will be destroyed and that destruction will take place as the result of events that have never been seen before. In Surat al-Ma'arij our Lord reveals:
On the Day the sky is like molten brass and the mountains like tufts of colored wool. No good friend will ask about his friend even though they can see each other. An evildoer will wish he could ransom himself from the punishment of that Day, by means of his sons, or his wife or his brother or his family who sheltered him or everyone else on Earth, if that only meant that he could save himself. But no! It is a Raging Blaze. (Qur'an, 70:8-15)
It is a day when all people will comprehend the great might of God and will be a day of panic, fear and suffering for unbelievers. Our Lord reveals in the Qur'an that "the Hour is coming" (Qur'an, 20:15) and that it will take place suddenly, when people are least expecting it (Qur'an, 16:77 and 7:187). In another verse, our Lord has told us that certain signs will appear before the Hour:
What are they awaiting but for the Hour to come upon them suddenly? ITS SIGNS HAVE ALREADY COME. What good will their reminder be to them when it does arrive? (Qur'an, 47:18)
Our Prophet Muhammad (saas) has described these portents that will take place prior to the Hour in detail in the Hadith. In addition to signs of the Last Day, he has also made statements regarding the period immediately before it. This period, when the signs of the Last Day will appear, is the "End Times."
In the first period of the End Times the world is filled with material and spiritual problems; in the second period that follows, God will liberate people from degeneration, war and injustice by means of the Mahdi. In this period, known as the Golden Age, war and conflict will come to an end, the world will be filled with plenty, abundance and justice, and Islamic moral values will spread over the whole world and be widely lived by. Following the end of the Golden Age, the world will suffer a very rapid collapse, after which the Hour will come. However, it needs to be made clear that, as on all other subjects, we have no other information regarding the Last Day than that taught us by our Lord. Only our Lord knows the time of the Hour, which will inevitably take place:
Say: "I do not know whether what you are promised [the Hour] is close or whether my Lord will appoint a longer time before it." He is the Knower of the unseen, and does not divulge His unseen to anyone. (Qur'an, 72:25-26)
The Signs of the Last Day Are Coming True One after the Other
When we examine the Hadith on the End Times, we encounter a most extraordinary situation. The signs set out in detail by our Prophet (saas) hundreds of years ago are taking place just about everywhere in the world "in the age we are living in," one after the other and in the manner described in the Hadith. The slaughter, war and conflict being experienced all over the world, the increase in corruption, unlawful things being regarded as lawful, the acceleration of moral degeneration, the open denial of God, the abandoning of the moral values of the Qur'an, the grave difficulties being experienced by Muslims, the groundless killing of innocent people, the spread of poverty and hunger, the emergence of false men of religion, the popularity of magic and fortune telling, the rise in fraud, corruption and adultery, the emergence of false messiahs and many other signs all show that the period through which we are living bears a greater resemblance to the End Times than any other in history. (For detailed information, see The Signs of Jesus' (pbuh) Second Coming by Harun Yahya.)
Some of these signs of the End Times revealed in the Hadith have been seen to some extent at various times in Islamic history and in different parts of the world. However, this does not mean that any of those ages was the End Times.
Because in order for a period to qualify as the End Times, all the portents revealed by our Prophet (saas) must take place one after the other in the same period of time. This is set out in the Hadith:
Signs following one another like the pieces of a necklace falling one after the other when its string is cut. (Tirmidhi)
For example, one of the signs given in the Hadith is the solar and lunar eclipses during the month of Ramadan:
…The first one is the lunar eclipse in the first night of Ramadan, and the second is the solar eclipse in the middle of this month. (Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, Al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar fi `Alamat al-Mahdi al-Muntazar, p. 47)
Indeed, solar and lunar eclipses followed one another in the month of Ramadan in the years 1981 and 1982. It is beyond question that solar and lunar eclipses are very natural and frequent phenomena. The important thing, however, is that these should take place at 15-day intervals during the month of Ramadan, and for this to be repeated in two consecutive years. In addition, the fact that these eclipses took place at the same time as other signs stated above strengthens the likelihood that these eclipses are those being referred to in the hadith. Another extraordinary thing is the way that our Prophet (saas) informed us that a comet will appear immediately after these eclipses of the Sun and Moon:
The rise of that star will occur after the eclipse of the Sun and the Moon. (Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Al-Burhan fi Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir al-zaman, p. 32)
As stated in the hadith, Halley's comet passed close by the Earth in 1986 (Hijri 1406), in other words in the early 14th century. This follows the eclipses of the Sun and Moon that happened in 1981 and 1982 (Hijri 1401-1402). Therefore, the rise of this star coming at the same time as other signs, and just as described by the Prophet (saas), indicates that these phenomena may well be the signs referred to in the Hadith.
Another important element that must be borne in mind when examining the signs of the End Times is the size of the sign in question, its force and effect. For example, our Prophet (saas) has cited the rise in earthquakes as a sign of the Last Day. There is no doubt that earthquakes of various magnitudes have taken place at all periods in history. However, in the End Times, through which we are living, there has been a huge rise in the number and intensity of earthquakes worldwide. According to US Geological Survey (USGS) reports, the number of earthquakes registering greater than 5.0 in the 400 or so years between 1556 and 1975 is only 110. According to that same body, 1685 earthquakes registering more than 6.5 have taken place in the 23 years between 1980 and 2003 alone. This information confirms the account given by our Prophet (saas) and shows that the signs of the End Times have characteristics far more extraordinary than those of any comparable events that have taken place in other periods. Our Prophet (saas) has also given news of many other signs of the Last Day as well as just these.
Islamic scholars refer to some of these as minor signs, and to others as major signs. One hadith in which our Prophet (saas) imparts the tidings of the ten major signs of the Last Day is as follows:
… It [the Last Hour] will not come until you see ten signs… landslides [with a sinking down, caving in, or displacement of the earth] in three places, one in the East, one in the West and one in Arabia… (Sahih Muslim)
In this article we shall examine these signs in the light of certain major recent developments.
THE SINKING DOWN IN THE EAST: THE TSUNAMI DISASTER IN INDONESIA
One of the signs of the Last Day revealed by our Prophet (saas) is that of the "sinking down in the East."
The probable significance of this sign is the disappearance of an area of land or a human community. (God knows best.) This portent bears a close similarity to the 2004 tsunami disaster in Asia. Therefore, our Prophet's (saas) portent regarding the "sinking down in the East" may be indicating this terrible catastrophe. (Our Lord knows best, of course.)
Throughout history various disasters, earthquakes and tornadoes have struck Asia and the Far East. These wrought terrible destruction and large numbers of people lost their lives in them. However, the tsunami that took place on 26 December, 2004, in southern Asia and that resulted in the loss of more than 225,000 lives, was the worst of these disasters. During this dreadful catastrophe, the enormous energy released by 1000-kilometer breaks as a result of the movement of underground plates and shifting land masses, together with the enormous energy produced in the oceans, struck the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Maldives, the Seychelles, and even Somalia, 5,000 kilometers away.
This tsunami disaster in the End Times, when the signs of the Last Day are coming true one by one, affected a very wide area, and led to cities being flooded by sea water and to a new map of the world. Therefore, the expression "sinking down in the East" may well be referring to this disaster in southern Asia. (God knows best.)
THE SINKING DOWN IN THE WEST: THE "KATRINA" DISASTER IN THE USA
The terrible destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the US Gulf of Mexico last month brings to mind another of the signs of the Last Day mentioned by our Prophet (saas): "the sinking down in the West."
This "sinking" which our Prophet (saas) declares will take place in the End Times must necessarily be much greater and have a much greater impact than similar ones in the past. Indeed, the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina was far worse than that inflicted by similar phenomena in the past.
Throughout history great disasters have been experienced in Europe and America. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and terrorist attacks have cost the lives of thousands. However, none of these disasters have had such a terrible impact as Hurricane Katrina, causing millions of people to flee, tens of thousands to lose their lives, immense harm to three large states, and the flooding of whole cities. This makes Hurricane Katrina different from disasters of the past, and ensures it top place in the list of destruction in US history. For that reason, the Katrina catastrophe may well be one of the three incidents of sinking referred to by our Prophet Muhammad (saas). God knows best, of course.
The Dimensions of the Katrina Disaster
The Katrina disaster has been the subject of intense coverage in newspapers and on the television for around a month now. However, these reports fail to emphasize the multilateral effect of the disaster, both on the USA and globally. The true dimensions of the disaster are being hidden from people, and the scale of the destruction is being underplayed. The fact is that Hurricane Katrina led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people, life becoming impossible in almost all of three major states (Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi), the complete evacuation of one of the most important cities in the USA, the greatest air rescue operation in the US history, millions of people losing their homes and livelihoods, and damage in excess of $100 billion. Various writers have referred to the fact that such a disaster has not been experienced on US soil since the Civil War. This disaster, compared by some federal authorities to Hiroshima and the tsunami catastrophe in Indonesia, is expected to have long-lasting consequences for many years, and resulted in a large region sinking under the water, as described by our Prophet (saas) in the hadith.
The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina may be summed up as follows:
- Katrina was classified as a category 5 hurricane, representing the most violent category on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, falling to category 4 in some places. Only 3 category five hurricanes have made landfall in the US since records began. Yet none of those caused such massive damage as Katrina.
- The death toll could not be established with certainty in the wake of the disaster, though officials said the number could be tens of thousands. Material damage is expected to exceed $100 billion. This estimate excludes long-term damage (effects on the soil, sea, life and climate).
- Hurricane Katrina entered the American continent from the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, 29 August, and affected three states. Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi became virtually uninhabitable. The wind speed rose to 260 km/h. The area affected, a national disaster zone, is 233,000 km2 - an area almost as large as the United Kingdom.
- The hurricane first affected the state of Florida, where 13 people died and where the storm caused great material damage. It then headed for the state of Louisiana, causing terrible damage to the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Buildings on the coasts in particular suffered immense damage. It is estimated that more than 10,000 lost their lives in these three states; 80% of the city of New Orleans - the largest in the state of Louisiana - remained under water.
- The cities of Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi were flooded by waters rising up to 9 meters, and 90% of homes in this area were completely destroyed. Hotels and entertainment centers built on the shore were completely ruined. This brings to mind another sign of the Last Day reported by our Prophet (saas):
He asked: "What becomes of you when death meets people and homes become graves?" (Mukhtasar Tazkirah al-Qurtubi, p. 392, no. 726)
- Some 5 million people were left without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It has been announced that due to the terrible damage inflicted, it may take months for electricity to be restored to the whole city.
- America obtained 25% of its petrol needs from the Gulf of Mexico. Today, 91% of this area's total production capacity of 1.5 million barrel/day is unusable. 83% of the natural gas emerging has been stopped. 561 of a total of around 650 maritime oil platforms were evacuated in time by helicopter. 20 platforms either sank or were dragged from their moorings, and one continues to burn. Nobody knows what damage has been caused to those which have been abandoned. The resulting sea pollution is yet another aspect of the disaster. Eight refineries have been abandoned along the shores of the Mississippi River. Those still working have been closed down because the pipeline bringing oil to land from the Gulf of Mexico broke. The almost complete stoppage of oil production in the region has impacted on the US economy, and it is also expected to have permanent damage on the world economy.
- Hundreds of thousands of homes have been rendered uninhabitable, and hundreds of thousands have been badly damaged.
- The number of missing is estimated at around 35,000. More than 300,000 children in the region are estimated to have been made homeless.
- Electricity cuts, and the fact that telephone lines, mobile phones and the Internet no longer work has brought business life to an almost complete standstill. It is estimated that around 1 million jobs have been lost in all sectors.
- Educational institutions in the regions have been closed. A great many schools cannot be used, and great damage has been inflicted on others.
- Local newspapers and TV stations have abandoned their offices, and have been forced to continue working over the Internet.
- It is stated that it is only a matter of time until epidemics begin in flooded cities. The corpses that fill the streets, the toxic substances in the water, the chemical waste products from factories in the water, rubbish, and petrol wastes represent a severe threat to the flooded cities. The US Army plans to begin spraying using military planes against the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus and that multiply rapidly in stagnant water.
New Orleans Has Sunk to the Ground
While Katrina inflicted grave harm on many cities, it has made New Orleans uninhabitable. 80% of New Orleans, regarded as one of the centers of tourism and culture in the USA, was under water, which in some areas was more than 6 meters deep. Therefore, New Orleans has almost vanished by being buried under water. In the same way that our Prophet's (saas) portent regarding "the sinking down in the East" may refer to the tsunami disaster in Indonesia, the "sinking down in the West" may also indicate the disappearance of the city of New Orleans. God knows best, of course.
New Orleans is a city surrounded by Lake Pontchartrain, the River Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, and is founded about 2 meters below the sea level. However, some parts of the city lie up to 6 meters below the sea level and are protected against possible flooding by pumps, channels and levees. This system, regarded as one of the most expensive flood protection systems in the world, was constructed in stages since the 1800s, and has been regularly strengthened. However, the levees that run for some 560 kilometers around the city were designed to meet category 3 hurricanes. They could not withstand category 5 hurricanes such as Katrina (category 4 on some days). Thus Hurricane Katrina destroyed two of the city's most important levees, as a result of which water from the lake, the sea and the river flooded 80% of the city.
The shores of Lake Pontchartrain were almost entirely submerged.
Following the hurricane, these levees are planned to be repaired and the water pumped out of the city. However, very few of the 148 pumps are actually working, for which reason the pumping out of the floodwater that fills the city is expected to take months. One major difficulty is that since the pumps responsible for cleaning up the city are submerged, it is difficult to find anywhere to send the many meters of water covering the city. Another problem is the scale of the impact that the pumping of the waters, badly polluted by corpses and wastes, into the River Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain will have on life, which is expected to even worse in the years to come. The emptying of polluted water into the lake, river and sea in the region, regarded as one of the main ports of the US fishing industry, will do serious harm to maritime life.
However, officials state that there is no alternative and that pumping will go ahead as planned.
This is the worst disaster since the founding of New Orleans in 1718. The city has experienced a great many storms and hurricanes to date but this city, which directly encounters a hurricane every 14 years, has never been subjected to such destruction. The consequences of the New Orleans disaster may be summarized as follows:
- One million people fled New Orleans before the hurricane struck. Tens of thousands who remained sought shelter in the Louisiana Superdome Stadium and an exhibition hall. Others sought to protect themselves from the waters by climbing up to high elevations.
Thousands of helpless people who sought shelter on the roofs and upper floors of buildings waited days for help to arrive. Many people died from hunger, thirst and various illnesses. There have also been widespread reports of lootings, murders, beatings and rapes. When part of the roof of the Superdome, regarded as one of the safest places to shelter, collapsed, this too ceased to offer any safety.
- Some 9,000 people who were unable to evacuate the city and 550 National Guard troops were installed in the Superdome. Following the intensification of the hurricane this number rose to around 60,000 on September 1. Tens of thousands of people fought for their lives in the stadium, which was devoid of electricity, air conditioning and running water. As the evacuation was stepped up, New Orleans began being referred to as a "ghost town."
- A rapid rise in looting, rape, beating, suicide, robbery and drug dealing brought chaos to the city and those buildings in which large numbers of people were sheltering.
- 80% of homes in New Orleans are uninhabitable.
- Tens of thousands of people do not have enough to eat and drink. There is no clean water or food in the city.
- One million people are without electricity due to the powerful winds that uplifted trees and power lines, due to which it is reported that critically ill patients in hospitals are dying.
- The flood waters have lifted coffins out of graves in some cemeteries in New Orleans. Television broadcasts have shown coffins floating in the waters covering the city.
The disappearance of almost the entire city of New Orleans bears a close similarity to another sign of the End Times related by our Prophet (saas). This is revealed in these terms in the hadith:
Great cities will be ruined, and it will be as if they had not existed the day before. (Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Al-Burhan fi `Alamat al-Mahdi Akhir az-Zaman, p. 38)
A city really has disappeared under the water and been made uninhabitable.
Indeed, one of the ongoing debates in the USA these days is the possibility of completely abandoning New Orleans and founding the city in another place in the wake of the terrible destruction.
COULD THE "ARMY DISAPPEARING IN THE DESERT" BE THE THIRD SINKING?
Attention is drawn in the hadith of our Prophet Muhammad (saas) to "a third sinking in the Arabian peninsula," in addition to those in the East and West.
This sinking that will take place in the Arabian peninsula bears a close resemblance to another hadith:
An army comes to fight. Once they enter the desert, the one in the front and the back disappear, and the ones in the middle cannot save themselves. (Tirmidhi, Sunan Ibn Majah, Sunan Abu Dawud)
One of the most noticeable incidents of the 2003 Iraq War was the sudden disappearance of a large part of the Iraqi Army. Many newspapers and TV channels reported on the disappearance of the 60,000-man force known as the Republican Guard and 15,000-man force known as the Fedayeen. The fact that this is indicated in the above hadith shows that one of the signs of the Last Day may have taken place. Indeed, the finding in the days to follow of a part of their warplanes buried under the desert sands strengthens the possibility that the reference in the hadith of the sinking of an army in the desert may concern the Iraqi Army. (God knows best.) When we consider this hadith together with our Prophet's (saas) reference to "sinking down in Arabia," it may well be that the event in question refers to this extraordinary situation that came about during the Iraq war. (God knows best.)
THE IMPORTANCE OF REFLECTING ON THE SIGNS OF THE LAST DAY
Most people in the world are to a greater or lesser extent aware of the horror of the Last Day. Nonetheless, some people are unwilling to think or talk about such a vital matter. They make great efforts never to bring the fear that will be experienced when the Hour comes to mind. They are even unable to bear it when news of a catastrophe they read in the paper or a film depicting a disaster reminds them of the Last Day. They refuse to reflect on the fact that this day will inevitably arrive.
The same things happened in the wake of the Katrina disaster. People generally attempted to underplay the catastrophe, the terrible disaster was not reported in an unbiased manner, and people soon lost interest in this terrible destruction. People failed to learn about the horror experienced by hundreds of thousands as they should have.
Yet all these disasters and catastrophes are a warning, a reminder from our Lord. People who consider these disasters honestly, listening to the voice of their conscience, will easily realize the transitory nature of the life of this world and will turn to God. They will understand that it is not too late to live by Islamic moral values and will not be like those who ignore the reality that the Last Day will inevitably come to pass. Our Lord states the following with regard to the unbelievers who harbor doubts about the Hour:
When you were told, "God's promise is true and so is the Hour, of which there is no doubt," you said, "We have no idea what the Hour is. We have only been conjecturing. We are by no means certain." (Qur'an, 45:32)
Some people deny the Hour in its entirety:
But instead, they deny the Hour; and We have prepared a searing blaze for those who deny the Hour. (Qur'an, 25:11)
All these people who deceive themselves with regard to the Hour are making a terrible mistake. That is because in His verses God reveals that it is close at hand and that there can be no room for doubt regarding this:
We did not create the heavens and Earth and everything between them, except with truth. The Hour is certainly coming… (Qur'an, 15:85)
As we have already stated, the fact that the signs of the Last Day were fully described 1,400 years ago and are coming to pass one after the other is a matter of the greatest importance. This is definitive proof so that we might understand that in describing in detail 1,400 years ago the picture that would emerge our Prophet (saas) was referring to the present day and age. The reports of the End Times paint a most accurate picture of our own time. This, of course, is a miraculous phenomenon calling for deep reflection.