Ramadan, Syria, Climate Change And Gog-Magog Wars – OpEd


Ramadan this year may be more challenging than in years past. In ordinary years, almost one-third of Americans who die; would die from smoking, overeating and drinking, and physical inactivity. The lack of self-restraint so evident in much of modern life leads us first to pleasure-seeking, and then increasingly to self-induced suffering.

Millions of people spend billions of dollars on pills, diet books, and gym memberships but still lack the self-discipline to control themselves. In America, young people are leading the way in increasing self-indulgence.

We have largely lost the spiritual value of self-restraint that is so important in the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim traditions. That self-restraint was practiced throughout the year by following a restrictive diet, kosher for Jews and halal for Muslims, and by occasions of community fasting. So religions should restrict our pleasures of eating and drinking. That is why the Qur’an and the Torah decree days of fasting? (Leviticus 16:29, 23:27).

Tariq Ramadan states: “The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves; the better to free ourselves. To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.”

As Prophet Isaiah said, “The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. The kind of fasting I (God) want is this: remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless.”  (58:3-7) 

And as Prophet Muhammad said: “fasting is a shield against evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 2)

Fasting is an exercise in will-power. Most people think they can’t fast because it’s too hard. But actually the discomfort of hunger pangs is relatively minor. A headache, muscle pains from too much exercise, and most certainly a toothache, are all more severe than what hunger produces. 

The reason it is so hard to fast is because it is so easy to stop. The food is all around, and in easy reach; all you have to do is take a bite. Thus the key to fasting is the will power to decide again and again not to eat. And self-centered will power is what we need to overcome world wide climate change.

Public records show that since 1884, the top 10 hottest years in the UK have all been since 2002. And the Met Office estimates that the extreme heat we are feeling has been made ten times more likely due to climate change..

The arid Middle East is a global climate hotspot where temperatures are increasing much faster than the global average; and where declining rainfall will exacerbate existing water shortages and raise the dangers of water wars. In an average year this century, climate disasters in the Middle East and Central Asia have injured and displaced seven million people.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and the Environmental Defense Fund found that pollution from oil and gas venting and flaring results in $7.4 billion in health damages, more than 700 premature deaths each year and 73,000 asthma exacerbations among children annually. Oil and gas producers worldwide use venting and flaring to release or burn away excess natural gas in crude oil production.

Since the Syrian civil war began in mid-March 13 years ago, about 600,000 people have been killed – over half of them civilians – and 13.5 million Syrians have been displaced, half of these are refugees that fled Syria.

And UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warns humanity is choosing “collective suicide” with its failure to act on climate change saying: “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction,”

So are we headed toward a Gog and Magog hot climate war?

Various Christian sects have predicted the end of the world throughout the tumultuous 22 decades of the 19th-21st century; and in recent decades many Muslims have started believing that the Bible’s and the Quran’s war of Gog u-Magog in Hebrew, and “Yajuj and Majuj” in Arabic, will blow up in the 21st century. 

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that in South and Southeast Asia 55-60% of all Muslims believe in the Madhi’s imminent return; and in the Middle East and North Africa 51% are believers.

As two Hadith Islamic traditions state “Among the signs of the Hour are that knowledge will be taken away, ignorance will be widespread, and wine-drinking will be widespread.” [Bukhari]. And “The Hour will not come until a man  passes by a man’s grave and says: Would that I was in his place.” [Bukhari].

Yajuj and Majuj are mentioned both in Qur’an and hadith. In Islam their appearance will be one of the signs of the end times. These events will transpire after the arrival of Dajjal, Mehdi and Jesus. Gog and Magog (“Gog u-Magog” in Hebrew and “Yajuj and Majuj” in Arabic) are names that appear in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Qur’an. 

They are sometimes personified as individuals, sometimes identified as nations, or as terrible natural catastrophes: but all references in the Bible, Qur’an and Hadith (oral and then written tradition) clearly indicate that they are very numerous in number, and will come from the north at the end of times, before the Days of Judgement: 

“They said, “O Dhul-Qarnayn, indeed Gog and Magog are [great] corrupters in the land. So may we assign for you an expenditure that you might make a barrier between us and them?” (Qur’an 18:94) —[Dhul-Qarnayn] said, “This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord comes, He will make it level, and ever true is the promise of my Lord. And We will leave them that day surging over each other, and [when] the Horn will be blown, We will assemble them in [one] assembly.” (Qur’an 18:98-99)

A Hadith transmitted by both Imam Al- Bukhari and Imam Muslim, on the authority of Zainab Bint Jahsh relates that Prophet Muhammad once came to her in a state of fear and said: “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah. Woe unto the Arabs from a danger that has come near. An opening has been made in the wall of Gog and Magog like this,” making a circle with his thumb and index finger. 

Zainab Bint Jahsh said: “O Allah’s Messenger! Shall we be destroyed even though there are pious persons among us?” He said: “Yes, when evil persons greatly increase.”

It is true that human society changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last 250 years than ever before in history. Doctors saved the lives of millions. Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations are exploding in Africa and populations are declining in Europe. Technology produces both worldwide prosperity and worldwide pollution at the same time.  

Should we look upon the future with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Is the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday? Or are both occurring almost concurrently because breakdown is often a prelude to breakthrough?

Jews, whose prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures were the ones who first wrote about a future Messianic Age, recognize that the birth of a Messianic Age must be preceded by its birth-pangs. But the prophets of Israel also emphasize the glories of a future world living in peace and prosperity with justice for all. 

Ancient Jewish prophecies did proclaim that there would be an end to the world as we know it. But they did not prophesy that the world will come to an end, nor did the Prophets of Israel offer an exact date for the transition. 

The advent of the Messianic Age is not knowable because humans have free will and thus the exact time and manner of God’s redemption cannot be determined in advance. Much depends on what we humans do. 

The beginning of the Messianic Age marks God’s promise of a time of transition from one World Age into another. How we move through this transition, either with resistance or acceptance, will determine whether the transformation will happen through cataclysmic changes or by a gradual religious reform of human society; which will lead to a world filled with peace, prosperity and spiritual tranquility.  

In most religious traditions, redemption is defined in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation.  However, the Prophets of Israel presented redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community.  

This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age. The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves have helped bring about the Messianic Age.  

But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come anyway through social and political upheavals, worldwide military conflicts and generation gaps. The Messiah refers to an agent of God who helps bring about this positive transformation.  

The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (together with several forerunners and many disciples) will be a human being, a descendant of Prophet David, with great qualities of national leadership similar to Prophets Moses and Mohammed.  

The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer. 

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come. 

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided.

If we can live up to the ideal that religious hope for a peaceful future is the will of God, we can help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”… (Isaiah 19:23-5)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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