‘Fire of Hijaz’: How Prophet Muhammad foretold the discovery of oil

Mahad Ahmed, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
Fire of Hijaz Hadith Hejaz Fire scaled
Image: Library

Among the signs of the truthfulness of Islam and the Holy Prophetsa are the different prophecies of the Holy Prophetsa regarding the end times, also known as the Hour (as-sa‘ah). Among these, there is a prophecy of the Holy Prophetsa mentioned in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim:

‏لاَ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ حَتَّى تَخْرُجَ نَارٌ مِنْ أَرْضِ الْحِجَازِ تُضِيءُ أَعْنَاقَ الإِبِلِ بِبُصْرَى

“The Hour will not be established until a fire emits from the earth of Hijaz, which will illuminate the necks of the camels at Busra.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 7118; Sahih Muslim, Hadith 2902)

This prophecy of the Holy Prophetsa was fulfilled for the first time in 654/1256 when volcanic eruptions occurred at Harrat Rahat, located near Medina. The volcanic flows erupted for approximately three months. The hadith states that the fire would “illuminate the necks of the camels of Busra”, meaning that the effects of the fire would be visible from as far away as the city of Busra (a city in modern-day Syria), which is located approximately 900 kilometres from Medina.

However, prophecies often have multiple aspects. The Holy Prophetsa stated:

أُعْطِيتُ جَوَامِعَ الْكَلِمِ

“I have been bestowed upon pithy phrases (jawami‘ al-kalim).” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-masajidi wa mawadi‘i s-salah, Hadith 523a)

The term jawami‘ al-kalim denotes concise speech where the words are few but the meanings are abundant, meaning that the Prophetsa was given words and phrases that are comprehensive and pithy due to their fewness in terms of words and abundance in terms of meanings.

This statement underscores the profound meanings in the Holy Prophet’ssa blessed words, with prophecies potentially manifesting in diverse ways. The prophecy on the fire of Hijaz exemplifies this kind of saying.

Two meanings of the ‘fire’ of Hijaz

First, I will examine the historical event of 654/1256 in the Hijaz and then explore its modern manifestation.

In the month of Jumada al-Akhirah (also called Jumada ath-Thani) in 654 AH or June 1256 CE, a fire emerged in the Hijaz region, more specifically in the Harrat Rahat region, which to this day is a large volcanic field located to the southeast of Medina. Imam Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449) links this occurrence with the prophetic words of the Prophetsa regarding the fire in Hijaz. He writes in the commentary of this hadith:

“Al-Qurtubi said in at-Tadhkirah: ‘A fire appeared in Hijaz, Medina. It began with a big earthquake on Wednesday night (3 Jumada al-Akhirah 654). It continued until the morning of Friday. The fire appeared in Qurayzah on the outskirts of al-Harrah.’” (Fath al-Bari, Vol. 13, p. 85, Cairo, 1986)

The fire is also mentioned in great detail in a book of Abu Shamah al-Maqdisi (d. 665/1267), a Muslim historian and scholar who lived in Damascus. Abu Shamah is particularly known for his writings about the Crusades and the Abbasid Caliphate. In Dhayl ar-Rawdatayn, he writes:

“A lot of letters began arriving in Damascus from Medina talking about earthquakes and a massive fire which turned the sky dark.” (Abu Shamah al-Maqdisi, Tarajim rijal al-qarnayn as-sadis wa-s-sabiʻ: al-maʻruf bi-dh-dhayl ʻala r-rawdatayn, 1974, Beirut: Dar al-Jil, p. 190)

He further writes, “In the beginning of the month of Sha‘ban (two months after the incident, which is likely the time it took the letters to reach them) in the year 654, letters from the city of the Messengersa of Allah were received in Damascus, which explained a great matter that occurred in the city [of Medina], confirming that which is in the Sahihayn [Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim] from the hadith of Abu Hurairahra. The Holy Prophetsa said: ‘The Hour will not be established until a fire emits from the earth of Hijaz, which will illuminate the necks of the camels at Busra.’” (Ibid.)

This shows Abu Shamah also believed the prophecy was fulfilled with the 654/1256 volcanic activity. He adds: “Someone from among those whom I trust, who saw it [the fire], wrote: ‘And we were in our homes those nights, and it was as if there was a lamp in each of our houses, yet it had neither heat nor flame despite its enormity. Instead, it was a sign from among the signs of Allah.’” (Ibid.)

Another letter he received from Medina reads:

“On the night of Wednesday, the 3rd of Jumada al-Akhirah in the year 654 AH, a great sound was heard in Medina. Then, a tremendous earthquake occurred, shaking the earth, walls, crevices, wood, and doors. This continued hour after hour until Friday, the 5th of the mentioned month. Then, a great fire appeared near Harrah, close to Quraizah, visible from our houses within the city as if it were near us. It was a massive fire; its light was more than that of three lighthouses.” (Ibid.)

He further writes: “In another letter, it is mentioned that on the first Friday of Jumada al-Akhirah [the same Friday mentioned in the last letter, i.e., Friday 5th], in the year 654, a massive fire erupted in the eastern part of Medina, exploding from the ground. A stream of fire flowed from it until it reached a valley near Mount Uhud. Then it stopped and returned to the source. People did not know what it would do next. At the time of its appearance, the people of Medina rushed to their Prophetsa [i.e., his grave], seeking forgiveness and repenting to their Lord Almighty.” (Ibid., pp. 190-191)

These eyewitness accounts from the people of Medina shed light on the events of that time. A closer examination of the detailed descriptions suggests that the fire was an extraordinary volcanic eruption. Volcanic eruptions often result in the expulsion of red-hot lava into the air, resembling flames shooting from the earth’s surface. The mention of “a massive fire that turned the sky dark” in Dhayl al-Rawdatayn supports this. Major volcanic eruptions, such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland, can darken the sky for extended periods over vast areas. This eruption, which sent lava and ash nine kilometres into the sky, caused widespread air travel disruptions across north-western Europe, comparable to those seen during World War II. A volcanic eruption is commonly followed by a stream of lava flowing from the vent of the volcano, and this is alluded to in the words recorded above in Dhayl al-Rawdatayn: “A stream of fire flowed from it until it reached a valley near Mount Uhud.” The mention of “a tremendous earthquake” that “occurred, shaking the earth, walls, crevices, wood, and doors” leading up to the eruption is a common phenomenon when a volcano erupts.

Taking all these details into consideration, it can be said that it became clear to the people of that time who saw this fire emerge from the earth and also to the people who heard about it, that this event was in accordance with the words of the Holy Prophetsa and this is evident from the statement of Abu Shamah.

Another renowned Islamic scholar, Abu ‘Abdullah al-Qurtubi (d. 672/1273), wrote in at-Tadhkirah bi-ahwal al-mauta wa-umur al-akhirah:

“A fire occurred in the Hijaz, near Medinah. Its bedouins experienced a severe earthquake on the night of Wednesday after the third darkness of Jumada al-Akhirah in the year 654 [3 Jumada al-Akhirah 654] and continued until the forenoon of Friday, when it subsided. It appeared near Qurayzah at the edge of Harrah, visible in the vastness of the land. […] The accumulated debris formed a mountain-like structure. The fire reached close to the city, yet a cool breeze still came to the city. This fire was observed boiling, similar to the boiling of the sea. Some of our companions told me they saw it rising in the air for about five days. I also heard that it was seen from Mecca and the mountains of Busra.” (Al-Tadhkira bi ahwal al-mauta wa umur al-akhira, first edition, 2000, Riyad, p. 1236)

Both Abu Shamah al-Maqdisi and Abu ‘Abdullah al-Qurtubi were alive during the year 654/1256. Despite residing outside of the Arabian peninsula – Abu Shamah in Syria and al-Qurtubi in Egypt – they were well-aware of the widespread news of the event. Their inclusion of the incident of this fire in their writings suggests that the news of the volcanic explosion, seen as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Holy Prophetsa, had circulated extensively throughout the Islamic world at that time. an-Nawawi even stated, “The knowledge of the emergence of this fire was widespread among all the people of the Levant and beyond.” (an-Nawawi, ash-Sharh ‘ala Muslim, 1930, Beirut: Dar Ihya Turath al-‘Arabi, Vol 18, p. 28)

Later scholars in the Islamic world also held the same view that the volcano eruption fulfilled the hadith. Some of them include Ibn Kathir (774/1373), who wrote about it in his book al-Bidayah wa-n-Nihayah, and as-Samhudi (911/1505) mentioned it in detail in his book Wafa’ al-wafa’ bi-akhbar dar al-Mustafa.

The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas also confirmed this view and mentioned the fire of Hijaz in his work Testimony of the Holy Quran. He wrote:

“Every sane person agrees that even if a hadith is ahad and has not been widely acknowledged but contains a prophecy that is fully or partly fulfilled at its appointed time, there remains no doubt about the authenticity of such a hadith. For example, the hadith recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim that a fire will break out in the Hijaz is undoubtedly among the ahad [those ahadith which only have one chain of narration]. But after the passing of nearly 600 years, this prophecy was fulfilled clearly, and even the British admit it. This prophecy was fulfilled hundreds of years after the compilation and publication of the books in which it was recorded.” (Testimony of the Holy Quran [Shahadat-ul-Quran], pp. 15-16)

Western academia also records this volcanic eruption. E.g., The Seismicity of Egypt, Arabia and the Red Sea: A Historical Review (1994), among a wide range of other works, speaks of the eruption in great detail. Among volcanologists, this eruption is commonly known as the 1256 Volcano Eruption.

The discovery of oil and the fire of Hijaz

As the Prophet’ssa words can have deeper and multiple meanings, and prophecies, in particular, are known to manifest in various ways, we will explore how these words of the Holy Prophetsa were fulfilled again in more recent times.

In 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established, the territory of which includes the Hijaz area, and six years later, on 3 March 1938, in Dharan, an American-based oil company struck oil for the first time. The discovery of oil changed and shaped the course of history for Saudi Arabia and the world in general and this marked the beginning of a new era.

When we consider this fact alongside the coming of the Promised Messiahas and other signs of the Latter Days that also appeared in this era, it becomes evident that the discovery of oil in this region may well be another form of the fire prophesied by the Holy Prophetsa. Looking at the bigger picture, it is worth noting that on 26 May 1908, the first large deposit of oil in the Middle East was discovered in Persia. This significant discovery occurred in Masjed Soleyman, a city located in the Khuzestan province of Persia (modern-day Iran). The date of this discovery coincides with the date of the passing of the Promised Messiahas and the establishment of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya. This connection between the signs of the Latter Days and the establishment of a caliphate according to the way of prophethood (khilafah ‘ala minhaj an-nubuwwah) is something to ponder over. This is not merely a claim; to back this up, we shall look at the writings of the Promised Messiahas.

The Promised Messiahas mentioned the hadith of the fire of Hijaz in his writings twice. The first instance has already been discussed, referring to its literal fulfilment in 654/1256. In the second instance, the Promised Messiahas elaborated on the different properties of fire. Heas states:

“For instance, fire inherently possesses the property of burning, a characteristic that we have tested countless times, and this property is established through our consistent experiences and observations. However, despite this, it is possible that some medicine or ointment might be discovered that, when applied to a body part or any other object, prevents fire from exhibiting its burning property. It is also possible that fire itself, by the command of God, could undergo internal or external changes preventing it from burning. Similarly, it is also within the realm of possibilities that a type of fire could emerge from the earth or the sky that differs in its properties from the fire know, such as the fire of Hijaz, the appearance of which was foretold by the Holy Prophetsa 652 years before its occurrence, and which was recorded and published in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim 500 years before its manifestation. In short, hundreds of such situations may arise due to terrestrial or celestial influences, and internal or external factors that could disrupt the existing observed properties of a thing. The door to modern sciences, which is wide open in a limitless and infinite manner, is based on this very premise. I do not say that you should blindly accept my words as the foundation of your own judgement. Rather, I urge you to thoroughly examine, scrutinise, and distinguish between right and wrong. Observe carefully what time is revealing to you with open eyes. Then, if this opinion appears predominant and superior, (then, O youth of our nation), accept it.” (Surma-e-Chashm-e-Arya, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 2, p. 102)

The context in which the Promised Messiahas mentioned the fire of Hijaz is particularly interesting. He refers to it as a type of fire that emerges from the earth and possesses different properties than ordinary fire.

As I mentioned, prophecies have multiple aspects that manifest according to Allah’s command. The discovery of oil and fossil fuels may well be one aspect of the fulfilment of this prophecy. The Promised Messiahas emphasises in the above excerpt from Surma-e-Chashm-e-Arya that Allah’s powers are infinite and limitless, mentioning various forms of fire. Oil and fossil fuels are among these forms of fire, which, although not visibly burning, play a fundamental role in powering vehicles and other inventions essential to modern life.

When we combine this prophecy with the signs of the time of the Promised Messiahas – such as the news of the invention of vehicles and the abandonment of camels – it may well be that the prophecy regarding the fire of Hijaz has another layer of fulfilment. During the era of the Holy Prophetas, camels were the most efficient means of transportation. The prophecy’s reference to the illumination of camels’ necks through this fire may well indicate that oil and fossil fuels would bring about an extraordinary revolution in transportation and other fields, spreading light everywhere and symbolising widespread technological advancement. The possible fulfilment of this prophecy in these two cases may well serve as yet another proof of the truthfulness of the Holy Prophetsa and Islam.

In a time when people are turning away from religion and God altogether, these prophecies seem especially significant as they may help to strengthen one’s faith.

The prophecies of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa testify to God’s existence and the truth of Islam. When viewed objectively, these prophecies may well lead to the undeniable conclusion that Islam is true as no ordinary person could make such prophecies that are repeatedly fulfilled.

Once, while discussing prophecies, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said:

“Some youths or adolescent children – some even write to me, I received some letters just last week – asking how they can know if Islam is the true religion and that the Holy Prophetsa is the true prophet to follow as opposed to the other [faiths]? The society and environment here is affecting them and is causing them to have doubts about the truthfulness of Islam. They simply need to look back to history […]. Similarly, they need only to ponder over the prophecies which were made regarding our current times. Parents should also understand these prophecies so they may be able to teach their children. These prophecies are proof of the truthfulness of Islam. Indeed, there are thousands of proofs for the truthfulness of Islam. One need only increase their knowledge.” (Friday Sermon, 22 September 2023, Al Hakam, 20 October 2023, Issue CCXCII, p. 23)

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