Two days after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers a colleague of mine walked up to me and handed me a translation of various quatrains of Nostradamus. As expected, he chose to give me those which spoke of an attack on the “New City” and those pertaining to the Antichrist. He, being a Hindu and my other colleague who was standing with him, an atheist from China, began to ask me about the concept of “Antichrist”. I can only assume that they asked me knowing that I had previously been Christian and had now embraced Islam (in ’93). Our conversation regarding these matters occurred over the next few days, lasting hours at a time.
Now, it must be said, that I believe that there is only one God, Allah. And I believe that Muhammad (peace be upon him), the son of Abdullah, is Allah’s servant and final messenger. This is important because it is through this lens that I view the writings of Nostradamus. When my colleague first presented this to me, I thought that answering his questions would be sufficient. However, having studied the life and writings of Nostradamus at length in the years prior to my acceptance of Islam, this conversation made me look back at the library I had on Nostradamus. I also began to check out what the internet had to say about recent events in light of Nostradamus’ writings. In so doing, I stumbled across websites about Nostradamus that had more than 50,000 hits every single day following the attack on NY and the Pentagon.
In short, then, I was amazed at the degree of interest that this event sparked in Nostradamus. It is for this reason that I feel that the perspective of a practicing Muslim be known regarding the writings of Nostradamus. It should be noted that I am a Muslim, but I am not a scholar. These are my own personal insights in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. My views may or may not be the views of other Muslims. And further, the Book of Allah is the only perfect text. If there are any mistakes in what follows, I am open to criticism and suggestions.
Michel de Notre Dame
The eldest son of a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism, Michel de Nostredame (Michael of Notre Dame) was born on December 14, 1503 at St. Remy in Provence, France. As a youth, he was taught at home by his grandfathers and prior to starting his formal education, he was already well-versed classic literature, history, astrology, and medicine. In short, once formally educated in medicine and philosophy, he quickly became well known for his attempts at treating the plague and for his refusal to use the practice of bleeding, which was widely accepted at that time.
It is said that Nostradamus’ success in treating the plague was well recognized and once it’s threat had diminished, that one city in the France offered him a lifelong pension. Despite his success, however, he lost his wife and two children to the plague in 1537. Approximately ten years later he remarried and had six children. He reportedly had a room devoted to study, which some say was laiden with magic devices and texts. He would retire to this study and would stare into a bowl of water which rested on a tripod. He would do this as a form of meditation.
It is during such meditation that Nostradamus reportedly began to experience visual and auditory phenomena which he then put in the written word. He wrote down these experiences in a poetic form called aquatrain which consisted of four lines. He wrote them in an older form of the modern French which he spoke, and he mixed in Latin and Greek words. He first began to publish his quatrains in an almanac which gained wide acceptance early on. Eventually, in 1554 he began the work for which he is most famous, The Centuries. This text consisted of ten volumes of 100 quatrains each.
There are many throughout history who have deemed The Centuries to be a prophetic work, that it accurately predicted things such as the French Revolution, the advent of America, the Kennedy assassinations, the advent of Hitler, etc. Nostradamus has also had his critics who say that his writings were cryptic, could be applied to events in any age, and contained too much room for interpretation.
Translation & Interpretation
As mentioned above, Nostradamus wrote in three languages, often using all three in the same sentence. And in addition to these three, he often interspersed words from Italian and Provencal. He utilized a non-standard word order with the frequent use of anagrams and references to astrological and mythological terms. All of these factors make his writings difficult to interpret and translate.
Evidence of this can be seen in the various translations that exist for any given quatrain. The differences from one source to the next often demonstrate more the view of the translator than the actual meanings implied by Nostradamus. See the two translations below. Which one do you think was translated by a Hindu nationalist?
|Quatrain 59, Century III
The empire of Islam by Hindus overthrown,
|Quatrain 59, Century III
Barbarian empire usurped by the third,
So, even before examining whether or not Nostradamus could accurately see into the future, we see that his writings are fraught with hurdles which present problems with translation, interpretation, and verifying their accuracy. Proof of this is that all of these things, when applied to current events and events in history, can only be applied retrospectively. And even then, often with a stretch, requiring the reader to accept inaccuracies in a year or a number of people involved, etc.
So what we find is that once interpretted to reflect events yet to come, when the years pass, new interpretations and applications are needed. Anyone who saw a movie that released in the early 1980s calledThe Man who saw Tomorrow would realize that all of the events that were predicted to occur up until this point (ie between the early 80s and now), have proven false. The Antichrist did not rear his ugly head in 1985 as expected. 1985 came and went. So new interpretations and predictions emerged.
If one were to finish this article and then go to the nearest bookstore and seek out books on Nostradamus, his books would not be found in the “religion” section of the bookstore. They would be found in the “New Age” section. And this is very appropriate. His writings are loaded with references to astrology and to ancient myth. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all in agreement as to their rejection of astrology and pagan myths. Therefore, it is only appropriate that his writings be placed in the New Age section with books of magic, witchcraft, “psychics”, and mythology.
The Qur’an, ahadith, and the Old and New Testaments all warn believers against involving themselves with astrology and the like. It is very clearly forbidden, but despite this, we know that belief in these things will increase as we near the Day of Judgment. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that among the signs of the Hour is that people would believe in the stars. He (peace be upon him) also said:
Whoever goes to a “psychic” (‘arraf) or fortune-teller and believes what he says has disbelieved in what has been revealed to Muhammad. (Abu Dawood)
Indeed, in The Reliance of the Traveller listed under Ibn Hajar Haytami’s “List of Enormities (Sins)” are astrology and going to someone who claims the ability to see into the future.
The Question of Prophecy
For me, clearly, there is no question. I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship except the One True God, Allah. And I testify that Muhammad is His final messenger, sent for all of mankind. While we expect Jesus (peace be upon him) to return in the End of Time, we do not believe that he will bring a new book or religion. He will testify to the finality of the message of Islam.
So given the finality of prophethood, the interpretation/re-interpretation cycle, the need for retrospective analysis, the difficulties in interpretation and translation, and given the Qur’anic injunctions against fortune-telling, magic, and psychics, I do not believe Nostradamus to be a prophet. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
In the nations before you were people who were spoken to (ie inspired) though they were not prophets. If there is any such person in my Ummah it is Umar ibn al-Khattab. (Bukhari)
Whether or not Nostradamus is from these people, I do not know. My intuitive guess is no, given that the hadith cited above is in the past tense. For this reason, I feel that it is best to leave his writings alone. The Prophet equated believing in psychics with kufr, disbelief. That alone should be enough. Furthermore the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
Part of the good of one’s Islam is that he leaves off that which does not concern him. (An-Nawawi’s Forty Ahadith)
We have been granted the final revelation, al-Qur’an and our Prophet (peace be upon him) has enumerated hundreds of prophecies regarding the Antichrist, the signs preceeding the Day of Judgment, etc. Knowledge of the Unseen, which includes the future, is with Allah alone.
The Question of Antichrist
I mentioned in the beginning of this article that my interest in Nostradamus was rekindled by the papers handed to me by my colleague and the realization that belief in these prophecies as true is quite widespread. One of my main areas of interest regarding the prophecies of the End of Time is the Antichrist, al-Masih ad-Dajjal. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) described him in great detail…his physical appearance, his deceptions, the events preceeding his arrival, his being killed by Jesus (peace be upon him), the son of Mary, etc. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) even mentioned the land from which the Dajjal would come and who his followers would be.
This is actually pretty important relative to Nostradamus, because according to some interpretations of his writings, the Third Antichrist would arise from the “land of Muhammad”. These were the words used in The Man who saw Tomorrow. I am quite sure that this aspect of Nostradamus’ Centuries will become widely spread among the non-Muslims and the Muslims as an attack on Islam – as an attempt to stem the tide of conversions to Islam and to win over the hearts of the weaker Muslims.
But what many non-Muslims, and even Muslims, are unaware of is that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) siad that the Antichrist would arise from a place in the east. He was referring to east of Arabia. This includes the lands of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. So, whether or not Nostradamus said that the Antichrist would come from “the land of Muhammad” is of no consequence. Prophet Muhammad himself (peace be upon him), said that the Antichrist would arise in a land in the east and he would be followed by thousands of Jews from the city of Isfahan. Isfahan is a city in Iran near the border of present-day Afghanistan.
The point here, is that the Antichrist will come from these lands, but he will not be Muslim. Numerous other ahadith state that the Antichrist would be a Jew. So when the enemies of Islam attack us with the writings of Nostradamus, we should not feel any dissonance.
So, to sum up. Nostradamus was not a prophet of God. The final messenger (peace be upon him) has already come with the final revelation, the Qur’an. The true prophets of the past warned the believers against the words of “psychics”, witchcraft, fortune-telling, magic, etc. Nostradamus’ writings present major difficulties with translation and interpretation and are therefore unreliable in and of themselves.
What is striking is the huge market for imposter quatrains, never written by Nostradamus. Immediately following the World Trade Center disaster on September 11, 2001, for example, a quatrain which many alleged predicted the event began circulating. Those who have studied the writings of Nostradamus recognized it as a forgery almost immediately. But what of the populace, who know very little regarding Nostradamus?
Governments know how the masses react to Nostradamus’ writings all too well. During World War II the Germans dropped leaflets of his prophecies in the streets of France in an attempt to demoralize the people. Then, it was being used as a source of propaganda. And this is partially why I am even writing this today. It will likely be used again in the “War on Terrorism”.
With references to Nostradamus’ Third Antichrist coming from “the land of Muhammad”, I am quite sure that many will utilize this in their attack on Islam. This is one of the many reasons why it is important for modern day Muslims to know what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said regarding the Antichrist, al-Masih ad-Dajjal.
Allah knows best.