Eschatology – the word derives from two Greek roots meaning "last" (ἔσχατος) and "study" (-λογία) – involves the study of "end things", whether of the end of an individual life, of the end of the age, of the end of the world or of the nature of the happenings at the end of the age.
The majority of Islamic studies of eschatology are divided into two categories, the Minor Signs and the Major Signs. The Minor Signs are sometimes thought of as the equivalent of what Jesus referred to as “the birth pangs” which is to say that they are those signs that precede the Major Signs. To a degree this is true. The difference, however, is that many of the Minor Signs actually take place concurrently with the Major Signs. Thus the Minor Signs should not necessarily be thought of as the first signs, but rather the Lesser Signs. Some of the Minor Signs are quite interesting, but for the purpose of this study, we will not delve into them. Instead, we will move directly into the Major Signs.
The Major Signs
Crucial to this study is a clear understanding of just what Islam teaches regarding the Major Signs. The Major Signs or the Greater Signs, obviously speak of far more significant events than the Minor Signs. These signs relate to issues such as the coming of the Muslim Anti-Christ (Ad-Dajjal), or the return of the Muslim Jesus (Isa Al-Maseeh), or most importantly, the coming of the Muslim Savior/Messiah figure (Al-Mahdi). They do not relate to, for instance, the increase in immorality, religious ignorance, or other such general signs. While some of the Minor Signs are both fairly vague and debatable as to their legitimacy, the Major Signs are absolutely a non-negotiable entity to the Muslim mind. In order to understand the importance of the Major Signs to Muslims, one must first understand the importance of end-time belief among Muslims.
Priority Of The Last Days In Islamic Belief
The Quran mentions five things that a Muslim must believe in order to be a Muslim. These five things have, as a result, become a creed of sorts within Islam. From the Quran, we read:
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets…-Surah 2:177 (Pickthall)
Notice the order of the five tenets of belief:
1. Belief in Allah.
2. Belief in the Last Day.
3. Belief in angels.
4. Belief in the Scripture.
5. Belief in the prophets.
This is much different than with Christianity. Unfortunately, while end-time belief plays a prominent role in the New Testament and in the life of the early church, today belief in the last days has become essentially optional or generally ignored by most. But not so with Islam: There are no true Muslims who do not believe in the Last Day and the events which precede it. Understanding the Islamic perspective regarding the last days and specifically the Major Signs, therefore, is crucial if we wish to understand the central religious anticipations of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. It is to these core beliefs that we now turn.