x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Ali Column: How the end of the world fascinates

Why December 21 last year was a date worth noting.

Few friends were surprised why I didn't comment on the December 21 event that made the whole world expect that some sort of judgement was about to take place on that date.

Apocalyptic prophecies are nothing new but rather an ambivalent phenomenon that appears in various forms of expression in any century, culture or religion.

Remember the stories about Halley's Comet in 1910 or the vision of the year 1999 from Nostradamus? Obviously, none of the apocalyptic prophecies that have ever existed have become reality, but frequently reappear in the media and in many popular movies, such as Armageddon, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.

These movies show how obsessed humans have always been about apocalyptical visions and ideas. Many religions and cultures follow the same mindset but the movies actually allow people to act out their fantasies and mentally process the issue.

But the problem is the more people believe in such prophecies, the more the hype expands: people start to fear the worst.

The December 21 date has been interpreted as an apocalypse from other cultures and not from the Mayans themselves. In the Mayan culture, the Mayans follow their own calendar that is structured by certain cycles called b'ak'tuns, which are all connected with each other by the never-ending cycle developments. Since the number 13 has a strong meaning in the Mayan culture, they even design their calendar according to this number. The end of their 13th cycle was to take place on December 21 last year. After 13 comes the number 1 and a new cycle continues. Accordingly, their calculations are used to determine favourable days for weddings, building pyramids, harvesting and sacrifice rituals.

According to Islam, there are signs of the end of days that have been written down, but not all of them have appeared yet; for example, when the grass will start to grow again in Saudi Arabia. But many other signs cause associations with the apocalypse, such as political turmoil, wars, economy crises, many killings without a reason, many sicknesses and many unexpected natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and floods.

Visions of the future represent a cultural phenomenon that can change the direction of where a culture is going, but we should stay goal-oriented. With every vision, we need to try to focus on creating a better future. We can learn from the apocalypse mindset if we recognise that it reflects so much about ourselves and our hopes and dreams. At the same time, we can use this time for a spiritual transformation and become better human beings.