Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Mayan Prophecy: Believers and Sceptics

The Mayan Prophecy: Believers and Sceptics
By: Yamin Zakaria ( 
As 2012 passed, many of us ridiculed the ancient Mayan prophecy predicting the end of the world on the 21st of December. Throughout history plenty of individuals and groups have made similar claims by pinpointing the date of Armageddon, thus, people naturally express cynicism towards these claims. Some of the academics contested that the Mayan scripture did not explicitly predict anything specific as such. It was deliberately exaggerated by the Hollywood industry, and formed part of the wider media sensationalism; the underlying objective was to increase revenue and it worked.
From the interest generated across the globe, it seems the subject of Armageddon is of interest to people of faith and no faith. This could be indicative of something deeper in our psyche about how we view our planet and the universe that it exists in. It implies that we see our planet as finite, with a beginning and an end, hence there is an expectation that the world will come to an end at some point in the future.   
Regardless of what the Mayans said, many around the globe did subscribe to the popular version of the Mayan prophecy to various degrees, and in places like Russia the figure was something like 10% to 20% of the adult population. However, the sceptics will partly blame the vodka! These believers are not some superstitious bunch living in some remote corner of the world, where western science and technology has not penetrated. Therefore, how does one explain this sort of behaviour in this scientific age where people insist on tangible evidence as proof?  This in turn raises the philosophical subject of sources of knowledge.  Is knowledge entirely based on our sense perception? What about historical narratives which cannot be verified by our senses?
It is not just prophecy, but the fascination with the wider subject of supernatural phenomena is rife within the western world, yet its philosophical outlook insists on tangible proof that can be verified by the senses or at least justified by reason. This seems like a contradiction or evidence of people subscribing to the view that knowledge has many sources, apart from what is acquired through sense perception and modern scientific investigation.   
The sceptics regarding the Mayan prophecy are of two types. The first category are the ones with an exclusively materialistic outlook, who argue that such a phenomenon cannot be subjected to scientific scrutiny unless it took place gradually showing various physical signs, reported by scientists from all corners of the globe, as was depicted in the Hollywood blockbusters like 2012, The Day After, Knowing etc.  To date there are no clear physical signs of an impending doomsday. Even weather forecasts cannot be predicted with 100% accuracy!
The other category of sceptics of the Mayan prophecy believes the world would end unexpectedly, which cannot be prophesied to a specific date or year or even a decade or a century. They are the religious faction, and they argue the cause will be a supernatural one.  According to the Islamic teachings, only God alone has this knowledge. People of other faiths, including Christians, also hold a similar view.
To believe something like Armageddon will take place in the future at some point, without any warning, is a matter of faith in the sources. But the question is why should people of no faith subscribing to an empirical view of the world embrace such an ancient prediction? Could it be that the human race knows that our humble planet had a beginning, thus it will also have an end at some point? In that case, is the whole episode of the beginning and the end of human civilisation merely a coincidence, devoid of any purpose?
The notion of unexpected events is not something unusual, we experience it every day; from natural disasters around the globe to everyday experience in our lives, for example, there is daily news of some individual being killed in an accident with no prior warnings. This raises another philosophical point about how much control we have over our lives. The unbelieving materialists assert that we are in full control, and thus when a calamity befalls them, they continue to suffer from the “what if” syndrome! If you had full control you would be able to foresee everything, and human society would not suffer from such types of events. On the other hand, many believers have become fatalists, subscribed to the idea that we have no choice in shaping our destiny; everything is the will of God. The will of God is not always coercive; clearly it was God’s will that has given us free will to choose our actions, otherwise the notion of reward and punishment for our deeds becomes meaningless.  
Hence, the correct position lies somewhere in between the misguided religious fatalists and the unbelieving materialists, and according to the Islamic teachings, the middle path is the best route.

Yamin Zakaria (
Published on 31/12/2012
London, UK


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