Supernatural Knowledge or Lucky Guess? Comparing Two Major Prophecies in Islam and Christianity

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

Supernatural Knowledge or Lucky Guess? Comparing Two Major Prophecies in Islam and Christianity

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“Prophecy is an intercept from the mind of an all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful God.”

– Christian Apologist Joel C. Rosenberg[1]

            Prophecies about future events are regarded by many people to be evidence of supernatural or divine knowledge (if they come true), while others maintain skepticism that a person can accurately see the future (while occasionally getting one right here or there by chance). To Muslims and Christians, believing in the possibility of a person to accurately prophesy about the future is akin to believing in miracles. With God, all things are possible. Thus, it is no surprise that both faith traditions not only believe that prophets had been given knowledge of the future, especially regarding eschatological events, but that these predictions have or will soon come true. However, given the drastic differences in the beliefs of Islam and Christianity, it is unlikely that both are from God. Therefore, let us compare prophecies in Islam and Christianity to see if one or the other is undeniable evidence of a supernatural origin or just a lucky guess. In this article, we will compare one prophecy from the Islamic tradition with one from the Christian tradition, both of which have been fulfilled.

Construction of Tall Buildings vs. Destruction of the Second Temple

            The “hadith of Gabriel” is well-known for its declaration of important Islamic concepts, such as the meaning of Islam, ihsan, and iman. However, it also briefly provides some of the “signs” of the end times, and this has garnered more attention in recent times. According to the hadith, one of the “signs” of the “hour” is:

“…when the shepherds of black camels start boasting and competing with others in the construction of higher buildings.”[2]

As anyone who has been following events in the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia would know, it would certainly appear that the prediction in the hadith has come true. This is made even more clear with a hadith mentioned in Al-Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shaybah, which states the following:

“So when you see in Makkah that channels have already been dug (or tunnels built), and you see the buildings surpass the tops of the mountains, then know that the command (of the Hour) has already cast its shadow over you.”[3]

This amazing prophecy has obviously been fulfilled and it is clear that the prophecy was made well in advance of its fulfillment.

Mecca 1887 vs 2022
Figure 1: The picture on the left was taken in 1887, while the picture on the right, showing the now infamous Clock Tower, is from 2015.

In the New Testament of Christianity, it is written that the Jewish Temple would be destroyed. This famous prophecy is found in the so-called “Gospel of Mark”:

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’”[4]

Of course, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in the year 70 CE.[5] However, the “Gospel of Mark” was written sometime after the destruction of the Temple, probably in the same year (though conservative Evangelicals tend to date it between 64–69 CE). But for the sake of argument, let us assume that such a prophecy had been made beforehand.[6]

When comparing the two prophecies, we can ask some important questions. Which one is more likely to have come true by pure chance? Which one is unique and not made by other self-proclaimed prophets? In both cases, the answer seems to be the prediction of the Temple’s destruction. It was probably inevitable that the Jews would eventually rebel against Rome, and given Rome’s military might, it was also inevitable that the Jewish rebels would lose and pay a heavy price. In contrast, the prediction that some poor Bedouins, who were desert-dwelling nomads for thousands of years with little material wealth, would become so powerful that they could compete in the construction of bigger and bigger buildings would have seemed highly unlikely in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Furthermore, the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus records that a man named “Jesus, son of Ananus” also predicted the destruction of the Temple before it actually happened. It was a very real threat and concern among some Jews. In The Wars of the Jews, Josephus wrote that (emphasis ours):

“But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, (23) began on a sudden to cry aloud, ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!’[7]

Notice that “Jesus, the son of Ananus” even made the prophecy at a time when, according to Josephus, there was relative “peace and prosperity” (it is possible that Josephus was exaggerating). But what matters most is that it was made before the war with the Romans began. Therefore, the prophecy in the Gospel of Mark was not at all unique.

In contrast, the Prophet Muhammad’s prophecy was made at a time when the Arabs were still weak, poor, and most importantly, uneducated. In fact, in another hadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that his nation was “an illiterate nation”:

“Narrated Ibn `Umar: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘We are an illiterate nation; we neither write, nor know accounts. The month is like this and this, i.e., sometimes of 29 days and sometimes of thirty days.’”[8]

For him to have claimed that this “illiterate nation” would eventually compete in architecture and construct buildings that would even surpass the mountains of Mecca, was rather bold. The odds of this coming true by chance, even when allowed hundreds of years to be fulfilled, were still very low. It would be like saying that the Aborigines of Australia, who have lived the same way for tens of thousands of years, would become powerful and build a regional empire beyond Australia. One could say it is “possible” if enough time goes by, but how likely is it, especially given their current condition?

Also, when the Arabs conquered the Persian and Byzantine empires, they naturally acquired tremendous wealth. Yet, they still did not possess the technology to construct skyscrapers as they do now. Nor did they have access to modern architectural advancements. This only happened recently.

Thus, based purely on probability, it is highly unlikely that Muhammad’s prophecy would have “eventually” come true by pure chance, whereas the prediction of the Temple’s destruction was highly likely given the political situation in Palestine at the time. If Muhammad (peace be upon him) had said that the Arabs would remain an “illiterate nation”, poor and weak, until the end of the world, such a prediction would not be as bold, since that was their condition at the time (though it “could” change in the future given enough time). Instead, he said that the Arabs would become wealthy and powerful.[9]

In contrast, if someone had predicted in the 1st-century CE that the Temple would not be destroyed and would instead survive for hundreds of years, that would have been a bold prediction (and obviously would have failed), since it was more likely that a conflict would eventually occur that would favor the Romans and their military might. Yet, as we have seen, there was an expectation of war, and at least two individuals, both ironically named “Jesus”, predicted the destruction of the Temple in the 1st-century.

Conclusion

            In this article, we have compared two major prophecies, one each from the Islamic and Christian traditions, from a probabilistic perspective. The evidence presented has demonstrated that the prophecy of the “tall buildings” was unlikely to have come true by chance, even if enough time was allowed, while the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction was highly likely to have come true and was not even a unique one.

And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] http://m.christianpost.com/news/joel-rosenberg-warns-of-biblical-war-unfolding-between-iran-and-israel-69501/

[2] Sahih al-Bukhari 50, https://sunnah.com/bukhari:50.

[3] https://thedirorg.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/the-hour-has-already-cast-its-shadow/

[4] Mark 13:2 (ESV).

[5] While the prediction did come true, it only did so partially. Notice that Mark 13:2 states that “there will not be left here one stone upon another…” This part of the prediction failed since the Romans actually left the so-called “Western Wall” standing.

[6] It is likely that the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) did make this prediction and Muslims would have no problem with that.

[7] Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 6:5:3, http://earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/war6.html.

Robert Price also notes other parallels between “Jesus, son of Ananus” and Jesus in the New Testament:

“Jesus ben-Ananias comes into Jerusalem for one of the great feasts, just as Jews does periodically throughout the Gospel of John. Once there, he takes advantage of the huge, milling crowds to take his stand publicly and begin shouting prophecies, again, as the Johannine Jesus does…Jesus ben-Ananias warns of doom “against bridegrooms and brides,” just as Jesus does in Luke 17:26–27…Both Jesuses were beaten up for prophesying the destruction of the Jerusalem temple…Both endured their ordeals in stolid silence (Mark 14:61). Each was hauled before the Roman procurator, Pilate in one case, Albinus in the other, and flogged (Matt. 27:26). Each prokurator asks his Jesus, ‘Where are you from?” (John 19:9) ‘But Jesus gave no answer,” neither Jesus. Both men are, sooner or later, killed by Roman soldiers, and each expires with a mournful cry. And eventually, both Jesuses’ doom-prophecies on Jerusalem and the Temple are amply fulfilled” (Robert M. Price, Killing History: Jesus in the No-Spin Zone [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2014], pp. 182–183).

[8] Sahih al-Bukhari 1913, https://sunnah.com/bukhari:1913.

[9] Nevertheless, he also predicted that the nations of the world would gather against the Ummah as if inviting each other to a feast. When asked if this would happen because the Ummah would be small, he stated that it would be the opposite. The Ummah would be:

“…numerous at that time but you will be scum and rubbish like that carried down by a torrent, and Allah will take fear of you from the breasts of your enemy and last enervation into your hearts. Someone asked: What is wahn (enervation). Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): He replied: Love of the world and dislike of death.…” (Sunan Abi Dawud 4297, https://sunnah.com/abudawud:4297).

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