Many people make the claim that they can predict the future. Astrologists, clairvoyants and numerous religious scriptures put forward prophecies about the future. Is there any way that we can distinguish true prophets from the many liars and frauds that are out there? We can do so by analysing the nature of their prophecies. The predictions of false prophets are often vague in nature or lack a time frame. These characteristics make it easy for their followers to claim a fulfilment of prophecy when the inevitable happens – eventually something, somewhere, will occur which bears enough of a similarity to the prophecy that it will seem like the prophecy was an accurate prediction.
A good demonstration of this is the predictions of the 16th century French occultist Nostradamus, quite possibly the most famous and popular occultist in history. His prophecies contain French and Latin terms, historical allusions, anagrams, puns, odd spellings, partial words, inverted word order, and so on. In fact his prophecies can be so vague that they are often described as verbal jigsaw puzzles. Here are a few examples of such prophecies:
To support the great troubled Cappe; the reds will march in order to clarify it; a family will be almost overcome by death, the red, red ones will knock down the red one.  The great swarm of bees will arise, Such that one will not know whence they have come; By night the ambush, the sentinel under the vines. City delivered by five babblers not naked. 
To support the great troubled Cappe; the reds will march in order to clarify it; a family will be almost overcome by death, the red, red ones will knock down the red one. 
The great swarm of bees will arise, Such that one will not know whence they have come; By night the ambush, the sentinel under the vines. City delivered by five babblers not naked. 
Now, if Nostradamus were a true prophet, would he have needed to cloud his predictions with such vague and ambiguous language? In fact, what we find is that when Nostradamus does provide detail, such as specific dates, places and events, many of his prophecies are demonstrably false. In the following prophecy he predicted that disease, famine and war would devastate the human race by the year 1732 CE:
Even though he gave himself a window of 177 years for this prophecy to come true, it still failed to materialise. Moreover, thanks to the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century there were major advances in agriculture which resulted in the human population exhibiting unprecedented sustained growth, the exact opposite of what Nostradamus predicted! Just one failed prophecy is enough to disqualify a person from being a genuine prophet.
What then should we expect of prophecies from a genuine prophet of God? The purpose of spending some time looking at Nostradamus was to establish a benchmark to help us distinguish false prophets from true ones. Only genuine prophets of God, those who receive information from God, the One who has complete knowledge of the future, can get it right every time. This is the key difference between a false prophet and a true one. As we will see, by comparison the Qur’an contains accurate predictions about the future which are clear in meaning as they provide detailed information such as timelines, the names of people and specific places:
1. Against all odds: the Byzantine victory against the Persians.
The 30th chapter of the Qur’an, named “The Byzantines”, opens with the declaration of a prophecy about the victory of the Byzantines over the Persians:
This prophecy was made at a time when the Persian Empire was sweeping away everything before it. The once mighty Byzantine (Roman) Empire was suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of the Persians. The Byzantines could offer little resistance as they were being internally torn apart by political turmoil.
In order to fully appreciate the significance of this prophecy, it is necessary to understand the political context of the region shortly before the advent of Islam. These two superpowers of the region were at war with each other. For twenty years the Byzantine Empire was overrun by Persian armies as it had never been before. The Persians took Damascus in 613 CE. This was shortly followed by the capture of Jerusalem in 614 CE. The flood of Persian conquest did not stop with the capture of Jerusalem. Egypt was next conquered and then the Persian armies were knocking at the gates of Constantinople, the very heart of the Byzantine Empire. The humiliation of Byzantines had sunk to such low depths that the Persian Emperor Khosrau is said to have wanted to see the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius “brought before him in chains to the foot of his throne and was not prepared to give him peace till he had abjured his crucified god and embraced the worship of the sun.” .
It was in these circumstances that the Qur’an made the astonishing claim that the whole situation would soon be completely reversed by a Byzantine victory.
The first thing to note about the prophecy is the detail it provides. Not only does it give a clear indication of two nations that are at war, but it also declares a clear victor and provides a short time frame in which it will take place. If the author of the Qur’an were guessing, then surely they would have backed the seemingly unstoppable victory of the Persians. Moreover, wouldn’t the author have played it safe by making the prophecy vague and ambiguous, just in case it didn’t materialise?
2. Abu Lahab dying a disbeliever.
The 111th chapter of the Qur’an, named “The Palm Fibre”, declares that one of Islam’s great enemies, Abu Lahab, would die as a disbeliever: “May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined! May he be ruined too! Neither his wealth nor his gains will help him: he will burn in the Flaming Fire.” [111:1-3] Notice again how the Qur’an provides detail: it identifies a specific individual in the prophecy when the author could have played it safe by using more general language such as “a great enemy of Islam shall be ruined…” Now you may be thinking to yourself, what’s so remarkable about predicting that an enemy of Islam, specific or otherwise, would die as a disbeliever? In order to appreciate the magnitude of this prophecy, we have to understand the circumstances at the time.
This claim actually gave Abu Lahab the means with which to discredit the Qur’an and thus finish Islam once and for all, because the prophecy represents a falsification test. All Abu Lahab had to do was to outwardly pretend to be a Muslim and thus disprove the Qur’an’s prediction about him dying a disbeliever. For him to pretend to be a Muslim would not have been out of the ordinary as many prominent enemies of Islam had already converted to the faith. There were also hypocrites who pretended to be Muslim but in reality were disbelievers.
Moreover, had Abu Lahab been alive at the time of the Muslim conquest of his home city Makkah, which took place 6 years after his death, then he would have most likely accepted the faith anyway as the whole of Makkah, his own tribe included, embraced Islam. So not only did the author of the Qur’an know his personality well enough to predict that he wouldn’t convert out of arrogance, but they also knew the date of his death would be before the conquest of Makkah. Such a claim would be a huge gamble, unless of course the author of the Qur’an could see into the future!
3. The preservation of the Qur’an.
History has not always dealt kindly with Scriptures. Prior to the Qur’an, every other revealed Scripture has either been lost or tampered with. It is with this backdrop that the author of the Qur’an makes a bold prediction about its preservation: “We have sent down the Qur’an Ourself, and We Ourself will guard it.” [15:9]
As we’ve seen in other articles, such as here and here, the Qur’an has been flawlessly preserved throughout its history. How could the author of the Qur’an have guaranteed that it would be perfectly preserved to this very day, especially considering the many social and political changes that the Muslim world has undergone in 1,400 years since the Qur’an was first revealed? Examples of such change include disputes over the succession of leadership of the Muslim world after the death of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, the deaths of memorisers of the Qur’an, the incorporation of many foreign words into the Arabic language as a result of Islam spreading into foreign lands and mixing with new cultures and languages, and the sudden influx of non-Arabs into the religion, many of whom did not speak Arabic. The track record of all other revealed Scriptures throughout history proves that the opposite is the case: when faced with similar social and political changes to those which the Qur’an has endured, intervention with, or loss of, the text was the normal consequence. The Qur’an is the unique exception to this rule.
4. Construction of high buildings.
The next few examples of future prophecies that we are going to look at are not verses from the Qur’an but rather the prophetic traditions of Muhammad. The Qur’an informs us that Prophet Muhammad was tasked with explaining the revelation of God Almighty to mankind:
The companions of Prophet Muhammad, those who were responsible for memorising the Qur’an and learnt its explanation directly from him, understood the above verse to be a reference to the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad. These sayings and actions have been recorded for us in the prophetic tradition known as Hadith, which were memorised by those same companions. The Hadith contain many future prophecies, among them is the prediction about the construction of high buildings (please click on picture to enlarge):
“Now, tell me of the Last Hour,” asked the man. The Prophet replied, “The one asked knows no more of it than the one asking.” “Then tell me about its signs,” said the man. The Prophet replied, “That you see barefoot, unclothed Bedouins competing in the construction of tall buildings.” 
“Now, tell me of the Last Hour,” asked the man.
The Prophet replied, “The one asked knows no more of it than the one asking.”
“Then tell me about its signs,” said the man.
The Prophet replied, “That you see barefoot, unclothed Bedouins competing in the construction of tall buildings.” 
First, it’s worth noting the humility of Prophet Muhammad. When asked about the “Last Hour”, meaning when will the Day of Judgement commence, he stated that he did not know any more than the one asking the question. This is because only God, the All Knowing, has knowledge of the unseen. As the Qur’an informs us, Prophet Muhammad could not see into the future, he only had access to the information that God chose to inspire him with: “He is the One who knows what is hidden. He does not disclose it except to a messenger of His choosing. He sends watchers to go in front and behind.” [72:26-27]
Notice the detail in the prophecy: a specific people, the Arab Bedouins of the region, were identified. Prophet Muhammad could have easily played it safe by using more general language such as “you see competition in the construction of tall buildings…” which of course would be flexible enough to be applied to anyone in the world. Today we find in the Arabian Peninsula, the Arabs who used to be impoverished herders of camels and sheep are now competing to build the tallest tower blocks. Today the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is the world’s tallest man-made structure at 828 m. A short time after it was finished a rival family in Saudi Arabia already announced that they would build a taller one (1000 m) – the Kingdom Tower – currently estimated to be completed in 2019. They are thus literally competing with each other over who can build the tallest building:
Now what’s remarkable is that up until only 50 or 60 years ago, the people of the region hardly had any houses at all. In fact, most of them were still Bedouins, living in tents. It was only the discovery of oil in the 20th century that led to the prosperity and transformation of the region. Were it not for oil then chances are the region would still be the barren desert that it was at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an. If this were mere guess work on his part then the discovery of oil would have been a massive stroke of luck. Moreover, if Prophet Muhammad were merely guessing, then wouldn’t it have made more sense to relate this prophecy to the superpowers of his time, Rome and Persia, who (unlike the Arabs) already had a tendency to construct extravagant buildings and palaces?
5. Conquest of Persia.
One of the greatest hardships to befall Prophet Muhammad was the Battle of the Trench. In the year 627 CE, a coalition army of Pagan Arab and Jewish tribes, numbering 10,000 men, attacked the Muslim city of Madinah. The Muslims were outnumbered three to one, and for two whole weeks they were under siege. The Qur’an vividly describes the dire situation faced by the Muslims:
Shortly before the battle commenced, whilst the Muslims were digging a trench around the city of Madinah in preparation for the impending attack, when they were facing impossible odds and were staring certain defeat in the face, Prophet Muhammad made a bold prediction:
Prophet Muhammad made the astonishing claim that the Muslims would not only take the lands of Yemen and Greater Syria, much of which was under the occupation of the Roman Empire, but that they would also defeat the mighty Persian Empire, one of world’s great superpowers. Within just a few decades of Prophet Muhammad’s death, all of these events came true. They were witnessed by the very companions of Prophet Muhammad who heard him make this prophecy. What are the odds that the Muslims, who were small in number and lacked economic, military and political strength, could topple the superpowers of the world in such a short space of time?
6. The Mongol invasion.
Six hundred years or so after the death of Prophet Muhammad, the Mongols invaded the Muslim lands and massacred millions of people. A significant milestone in the invasion was the ransacking of the city of Baghdad. At that time, it was known as a city of learning and culture. The Mongols arrived in Baghdad in 1258 CE and spent a whole week spilling blood. They were hell-bent on demolishing the city. This was a major event in Islamic history, as thousands of books were destroyed and up to one million people were killed. The Muslims thereafter fought and continued to be defeated until the battle of Ayn Jaloot (1260 CE) when the Mongol dynasty did not have its potent effect as it had before.
The Mongols were non-Arabs whose primary distinguishing features were their flat noses, small eyes, and boots made of hair; the Mongols had fur covers over their boots called degtii. This was foretold by Prophet Muhammad hundreds of years before the Mongol invasion:
Here is a picture of the emperor Kublai Khan with a red, wide (shield-like) face – just as Prophet Muhammad foretold:
Comparing the prophecies found in the Qur’an and Hadith, to the likes of Nostradamus, is like comparing night and day. As we’ve seen, the prophecies in the Qur’an and Hadith are clear. We’ve only looked at a handful of examples, but the Qur’an and Hadith are filled with many such prophecies about the future which have either been fulfilled, or are transpiring before our eyes today. Purely from probability, it is impossible to accurately guess such events, spanning multiple nations and different time periods, many of which were outside of the sphere of influence of Muslims, without making a single mistake. This is strong evidence that the author of the Qur’an, the One who inspired Prophet Muhammad, has knowledge of the unseen.
It’s also important to note that these prophecies are not present for the sake of entertainment; they have a noble purpose. For believers they carry spiritual significance: many of them relate to signs of the coming Day of Judgement and so they serve as a reminder to Muslims that each fulfilled prophecy brings us one step closer to the momentous day when we will stand before our Creator. For non-believers they are a sign, and represent evidence not only for the truthfulness of the Qur’an’s claims of divine authorship, but also the inspiration of its messenger, Muhammad.
This article has been taken from the book “The Eternal Challenge: A Journey Through The Miraculous Qur’an” which can be ordered and downloaded here.
1 – The Centuries, Quatrain 8 – 19.
2 – The Centuries, Quatrain 4 – 26.
3 – Preface to The Centuries – a letter to his son.
4 – Historians’ History of the World, vol. 7, p. 159; vol. 8, pp. 94 – 95 & Enc. Brit. under “Chosroes” II & “Heraclius”.
5 – Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith #63.
6 – Sunan Al-Kubra, Hadith #8858.
7 – Sahih Muslim, Hadith #788