From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran

The Reckoning


51 Adh-Dhâriyât

In the Name of Allah,

the Compassionate, the Merciful

From Merchant to Messenger51:1 By the scattering winds, as they scatter:

51:2 And the clouds, bearing their burden;

51:3 And the smoothly cruising ships;

51:4 And the angels which apportion the Command (scholars have speculated that it means apportioning the water, others the wind and still others the sailing ships).

51:5 Surely, what you are promised is true;

51:6 And the Judgement shall come to pass.

51:7 By the heavens with its many tracks because the sky is often overcast with clouds of different shapes, which go on changing because of the wind, and no shape lasts nor resembles any other, or because at night one sees the stars scattered in the sky in many different combinations and no combination resembles any other combination, Moududi),

51:8 You are at variance in what you say.

51:9 From it (the Qur’an) are diverted those who would be diverted.

51:10 May the imposters perish (doomed are the conjecturers, Moududi)!

51:11 Those who are bemused in their perplexity.

51:12 They ask: “When is the Day of Judgement coming?”

51:13 The Day they shall be exposed to the Fire.

51:14 “Taste your ordeal; this is what you were trying to hasten.”

51:15 The God-fearing shall be amidst gardens and springs;

51:16 Availing themselves of what their Lord has given them. Before that time, they were beneficent.

51:17 They used to sleep but a short watch of the night;

51:18 And at daybreak, they used to ask for forgiveness,

51:19 And of their possessions, the beggar and the destitute had as share.

51:20 In the earth are signs for those of certain faith;

51:21 And in your souls too. Do you not see?

51:22 In heaven is your provision and what you are promised.

51:23 By the Lord of the Heaven and the earth; it is certainly true, just as your own speaking is true.

Muhammad was not so much a forecaster of the future but of the past. The events recounted in the Koran, except for Judgement Day, are all about what came before, with the exemption of the ubiquitous safe-bet prediction that is the bread and butter of doomsday prophets to this day: “the end is near, repent!”

Allah’s warnings that He would be bringing the curtain down on His creation sooner rather than later (without being more specific) left His spokesman holding the bag, so to speak. The Meccans dared Muhammad to ask the god for whom he claimed to speak to bring down the promised punishment then and there and get it over with, if he was really in communication with the Almighty.

11:8 And if We hold the punishment back from them for a fixed period, they will say: “What holds it back?” Surely, the day it will overtake them will not be turned away from them, and they shall be afflicted by what they used to mock.


13:6 And they ask you to hasten the evil before the good; yet there were punishments before them (prior instances of exemplary punishments from Allah, Moududi). Your Lord forgives people notwithstanding their wrongdoing, but your Lord is truly severe in retribution.

13:7 Those who disbelieve say: “Why has no sign been sent down to him from His Lord?” You are only a warner; and for each people there is a guide.


36:48 And they say: “When is this promise coming, if you are truthful?”

36:49 They are only awaiting a single cry (the blowing of the Trumpet on Judgement Day) to seize them, while they are feuding.

36:50 So they cannot make a testament nor return to their own people.

Allah is not a god who tinkers with what He has preordained, the ‘appointed term‘ in Revelation 29:53. All Muhammad could do was relay more warnings from on High of a looming Judgement Day.

29:53 And they urge you to hasten the punishment; but had it not been for an appointed term, the punishment would have certainly smitten them. In fact, it will smite them suddenly, while they are unaware.

29:54 They urge you to hasten the punishment. Hell shall surely encompass the unbelievers.

29:55 Upon the Day the punishment shall overwhelm them from above them and from under their feet and He says: “Taste now what you used to do.”

The End is Near

The 21st surah, The Prophets, begins with the attention-grabbing announcement that “Mankind’s reckoning is drawing near,” followed by more bragging by Allah about the many civilizations He has annihilated. Mecca’s destruction, if not the world's, is at hand, or so it would seem.


21 Al-Anbiyâ’

In the Name of Allah,

the Compassionate, the Merciful

21:1 Mankind’s reckoning is drawing near, but they are turning away heedlessly.


’The time of the reckoning of the people has drawn near.’ This is to warn the people that the time of Resurrection when they will have to appear before their Lord to render their accounts is not far. The coming of the Holy Prophet was a sign and a clear evidence of the fact that mankind had entered the last stage of its history. The Holy Prophet himself explained it by holding out two of his adjoining fingers and said, ‘I have been sent at a time which joins to the time of Resurrection just as these two fingers adjoin’. By this he meant to say, ‘No other Prophet is coming between me and the Resurrection. Therefore mend your ways now, for after me no guide is coming with good news and warning.’

21:2 No new reminder comes to them from their Lord but they listen to it while they are at play.

21:3 Their hearts are distracted. The wrongdoers say in secret: “Is this not a mortal like you? Will you then take to sorcery, with your eyes wide open?”

21:4 He (Muhammad) said: “My Lord knows what is said in the heavens and the earth, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”

21:5 “No”, they say: “It is just a load of dreams. He has rather forged it; he is rather a poet. Let him bring us a sign, just as the former [Prophets] were sent [with].”

21:6 No city We destroyed, before them, actually believed. Will they, then, believe?

21:7 And We did not send before you but men to whom We revealed. So ask those acquainted [with the Scriptures] if you do not know.

21:8 And We did not make them (the Messengers) as mere bodies that did not eat food; nor were they immortal.

21:9 Then We fulfilled the promise, and so We delivered them together with whomever We pleased, and We destroyed the extravagant.

21:10 We have indeed sent down to you a Book (the Qur’an) in which there is admonition for you. Do you not understand, then?

21:11 How many an unjust town We have levelled down and created in its wake another people.

21:12 Then, when they sensed Our Might, behold, they started running away from it.

21:13 “Do not run. Return to what you enjoyed of luxury, and to your dwellings, that perchance you may be questioned.”

21:14 They said: “Woe to us! We have indeed been wrongdoers.”

21:15 This continued to be their lament, until We [cut them down] to stubble, senseless.

Surah 21 began with a warning from Allah that the end is near. Toward the end of the surah, God instructs His spokesman to remind those who don’t care to listen that he does “not know whether what you are promised is near or far” (Revelation 21:109). What is going on here, one can only speculate.

21:106 Surely, there is in this (the Qur’an) a Message to a worshipping people.

21:107 And We have only sent you (Muhammad), as a mercy to the whole of mankind.

21:108 Say: “It is revealed to me that truly your God is One God; will you then submit?”

21:109 If they turn away, then say: “I have warned you all equally, but I do not know whether what you are promised is near or far.”

21:110 He (Allah) knows what you say openly, and He knows what you conceal.

21:111 I do not know whether if it is perhaps a trial for you, and an enjoyment for a while.

21:112 He (Muhammad) said: “Lord, judge rightly. Our Lord is the Compassionate Whose help is sought to counter what you (the Meccan unbelievers) allege.”

More revelations pointing to an imminent Judgement Day, the most significant being Revelation 15:99 where it seems clear that Allah intends to bring "the certain [Hour]" during His spokesman’s lifetime.

7:55 Call on your Lord humbly and secretly. He certainly does not like the aggressors.

7:56 And do not sow corruption in the land after it has been put in order. Call on Him with fear and hope. Allah’s Mercy is indeed close at hand for the beneficent.


15:98 So (Muhammad), celebrate the praise of your Lord and be one of those who prostrate themselves.

15:99 And worship your Lord, till the certain [Hour] overtakes you!


42:17 It is Allah Who sent down the Book in truth, and the Balance (of right and wrong) too. What do you know? Perhaps the Hour is near.

42:18 Those who do not believe in it ask you to hasten it, whereas the believes are in awe of it and know that it is the truth. Indeed, those who are in doubt concerning the Hour are in profound error.

42:19 Allah is kind to His servants, providing for whomever He wishes; and He is the All-Powerful, the All-Mighty.


50:39 Bear up with what they say and proclaim the Praise of your Lord before sunrise and before sunset.

50:40 And in the night and in the wake of the prostrations, glorify him.

50:41 And listen on the Day the caller shall call out from a nearby place;

50:42 The day they shall hear the Cry of Truth, “That is the day of rising again.”

50:43 It is We who give life and cause to die and unto Us is the ultimate return;

50:44 The Day the earth shall be rent asunder around them, as they hasten forth. That, indeed, is an easy mustering for Us.


53:56 This is one of the first warnings.

53:57 The Last Day is imminent;

53:58 It has, apart from Allah, no disclosure.

53:59 Do you then marvel at this discourse?

53:60 You laugh and do not cry;

53:61 While you are fully distracted.

53:62 Prostrate yourselves before Allah, then, and worship Him.

Has Allah forgotten, in Revelation 70:7, the date He preordained in Revelation 29:53, or is He simply being coy again?

70:1 A questioner asked about an imminent punishment,

70:2 Of the unbelievers, that none can avert;

70:3 From Allah, Lord of the Ways of Ascent.

70:4 Unto Him the angels and the spirit (Gabriel) ascend on a Day the duration thereof is fifty thousand years.

70:5 Bear up patiently then (Muhammad).

70:6 They think it is distant;

70:7 But we think it is close.

Again with toying about an imminent demise: “perhaps their appointed term may have drawn near?”

7:185 Have they not considered the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all the things Allah has created, and how perhaps their appointed term may have drawn near? In what other message after this (the Qur’an) will they, then, believe.

7:186 Whomever Allah leads astray will have no guide; and He leaves them in their arrogance to wonder aimlessly.

The Seal of the Prophets

33:40 Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but is the Messenger of Allah and the seal of the Prophets. Allah is Cognizant of everything.

Muhammad is the last of God’s spokesmen, the meaning of “the seal of the Prophets.” No other mortal will speak on God’s behalf. Muhammad is it! This admission is another clear indication that God was getting ready to wipe the slate clean. Allah will not destroy or punish a city until He has sent its inhabitants a spokesman on His behalf, and they either deny him or humble themselves.

10:47 Every nation has its Messenger; and when their Messenger comes, they will be justly judged, and they will not be wronged.

If the Day of Resurrection was not imminent, new nations or cities would have come into existence, requiring a visit from the prerequisite prophet of doom before Allah annihilates them. It's ‘in the Book’!

17:58 There is no city but We will destroy before the Day of Resurrection, or will punish terribly. That is written in the Book.

However, there are no more prophets of doom to come; Muhammad was the last and simply had to be patient for a while longer. Allah was preparing to judge, probably in his lifetime.

10:109 And (O Muhammad) follow what is revealed to you and be patient and steadfast, until Allah judges; for He is the Best of judges.


10:102 Do they, then, expect anything other than the like of the days of those who passed away before them? Say: “Wait on, I am with you one of those who wait.”

10:103 Then, We shall deliver our Messengers and the believers; it is only right that We should deliver the believers.

Moududi calls stupid those who claimed that Revelation 23:51 can only mean the coming of more messengers after Muhammad.

23:51 O Messengers, eat from the good things and do what is right. Surely I am aware of what you do.


The stories of some Prophets have been related as individuals, but in this verse all of them have been addressed together. However, it does not mean that they were present at one and the same place at the time of address. As a matter of fact, this way of address has been adopted to show that the Message of all the Messengers, who came to different countries in different ages, was the same and they all belonged to one and the same community. Therefore the Message to one Messenger was meant to be the Message for each one of them. In this verse, they have been addressed together as if they were present at one and the same place in order to emphasize this same aspect of the matter. But it is an irony that some stupid people of this age have concluded that this verse has been addressed to those messengers who were to come after Prophet Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him).

If Moududi’s explanation is correct—you don’t get the King Faisal International Award for services to Islam and Islamic studies for being wrong—God’s hastening of the bounties (Revelation 23:56) to those in “error for a while” so as to confuse them is still another strong indication of a looming Judgement Day.

23:52 And this your nation is a single nation and I am your Lord; so fear me.

23:53 But they broke up, regarding their affairs, into factions, each party rejoicing in what they had.

23:54 So, leave them in their error for a while.

23:55 What? Do you think that in what We provide them with of money and children.

23:56 We are hastening to them our Bounties? No, they do not understand.

As to those who rightly fear “that they are returning to their Lord” shortly, they can expect good things.

23:57 Those who are awed by the fear of their Lord,

23:58 And those who believe in the Revelations of their Lord,

23:59 And those who do not associate anything with their Lord,

23:60 And those who give what they give while their hearts tremble for fear that they are returning to their Lord;

23:61 All those shall hasten to do the right deeds and they are the first to attain them.

The Happy Ending

20:128 Did He not reveal to them (the Meccan unbelievers) as a guidance, how many generations before them We destroyed as they were walking inside their dwellings? Surely, in that are signs for people of understanding.

20:129 And but for a Word which preceded from your Lord and an appointed term, it (the punishment) would have been inexorable.

20:130 So bear (Muhammad) patiently what they say, and celebrate the praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and glorify him during the hours of the night and at the two ends of the day, that you may be well-pleased.

20:131 And do not allow your eyes to reach out to what We allowed some to enjoy of the flowers of the present life, so as to try them thereby. Your Lord’s provision is better and more lasting.

20:132 And enjoin your family to pray and be constant therein. We do not ask you for any provision; We rather provide for you. The happy ending is reserved for the righteousness (sic).

20:133 They say: “If only he would bring us a sign from his Lord.” Has not a clear proof come to them in the previous scriptures?

20:134 And had We destroyed them with a punishment before him (the Prophet Muhammad), they would have said: “Lord, if only you had sent us a messenger, we would have followed your Revelations before we were humiliated and disgraced.”

The happy ending promised in Revelation 20:132 can only be Judgement Day. All “the well-guided” have to do is be patient a little longer.

20:135 Say: “Everybody is waiting, so wait; and then you will know who are the people of the Straight Path and who are the well-guided.”

Muhammad and the Reckoning

In both the Koran and the hadiths, Muhammad expected Judgement Day during his lifetime or shortly after his death.

Narrated Sahl bin Sad As-Sa'idi (a companion of Allah's Apostle):

Allah's Apostle, holding out his middle and index fingers, said, "My advent and the Hour are like this (or like these)," namely, the period between his era and the Hour is like the distance between those two fingers, i.e. very short.

Bukhari 63.221

Narrated Anas:

A bedouin came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! When will The Hour be established?"

The Prophet said, "Wailaka (Woe to you), What have you prepared for it?"

The bedouin said, "I have not prepared anything for it, except that I love Allah and His Apostle."

The Prophet said, "You will be with those whom you love."

We (the companions of the Prophet) said, "And will we too be so?"

The Prophet said, "Yes."

So we became very glad on that day. In the meantime, a slave of Al-Mughira passed by, and he was of the same age as I was.

The Prophet said. "If this (slave) should live long, he will not reach the geriatric old age, but the Hour will be established."

Bukhari 73.188

One of the signs of an impending Judgement Day in the Koran is that the wall built by Alexander the Great to keep Gog and Magog at bay (see Judgement Day: “Gog and Magog on the Last Day,” Boreal Books) will be breached.

18:94 They said: “O Dhul-Qarnayn (Alexander the Great), surely Gog and Magog are making mischief in the land. Shall we pay you a tribute so that you may build a barrier between us and them?”

18:95 He said: “What my Lord has empowered me to do is better. So help me forcefully and I will build a barrier between you and them.

18:96 “Bring me large pieces of iron.” So that when he had levelled up [the gap] between the two sides, he said: “Blow.” And having turned it (the iron) into fire, he said: “Bring me molten brass to poor on it.”

18:97 Then, they (Gog and Magog) could neither scale it or make a hole through it.

18:98 He said: “This is a mercy from my Lord; but when my Lord’s Promise comes to pass, He will turn it into rubble, and the Promise of my Lord is ever true.”

18:99 And on that day we shall make them surge upon one another, and the trumpet shall be blown, and we shall gather them together.

18:100 On that Day We shall boldly set Hell before the unbelievers.

18:101 Those whose eyes were closed to My Reminder (the Qur’an) and they could not hear [it].

Visions of a breach in the wall were transmitted to Muhammad in lucid visions, such as the one he experienced while riding his camel around the Ka’ba during his last Hajj.

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

Allah's Apostle performed the Tawaf (around the Ka'ba while riding his camel, and every time he reached the corner (of the Black Stone) he pointed at it with his hand and said, "Allahu Akbar."

(Zainab said: The Prophet said, "An opening has been made in the wall of Gog and Magog like this and this," forming the number 90 (with his thumb and index finger).

Bukhari 63.215

More revelations about an imminent Judgement Day:

10:46 And whether We show you (during your lifetime) part of what We promised them or cause you to die, surely unto Us is your return; and then Allah is witness of what they do.

40:77 So, bear up patiently; Allah’s Promise is true. We will either show you (Muhammad) what We are promising them, or We will call you unto Us. Then unto us they will be brought back.


43:40 Are you able, then, to make the deaf hear or guide the blind and him who is in manifest error?

43:41 Were We to carry you off, We would then wreak vengeance upon them.

43:42 Or show you that which We have promised. For We certainly have power over them.

43:43 Cling then to what was revealed to you; you are certainly on a Straight Path.

From revelations and hadiths it is obvious from the preceding that Muhammad was expected to live to see Judgement Day, or die just before the opening act. The believers’ behavior after his death is the clearest indication that they now expected God to wreak the vengeance promised in 43:41. If it had not been for Abu Bakr, who would succeed Muhammad as leader of the believers, quoting a verse that none had ever heard—that Muhammad was going to die like everyone else—who knows what would have happened with people running around in terror thinking that Judgement Day was at hand?

3:144 Muhammad is merely a Messenger, before whom many Messengers have come and gone. If then he dies or gets killed, you will turn on your heels? Should any man turn on his heels, he will not cause Allah any harm; and Allah will reward the thankful.

Muhammad dying before the advent of Judgement Day would lead to a wholesale reinterpretation of what he had revealed about an impending doomsday.

When Muhammad died before the eschaton's (the end of the world) arrival and the Hour continued to be delayed, the early Muslims had to radically reorient their religious vision. The Hour was thus increasingly differed into the distant future, and in less than a century Islam swiftly transformed itself from a religion expecting the end of the world to a religion that aimed to rule the world.

Stephen J. Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet - The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.