Marcia Hermansen

Given the great interpretive diversity within Islam and the absence of a central institution that might limit and define authoritative doctrine, throughout Islamic intellectual history the tension between literal approaches to revelation and the interpretive limitations of human reason as respective sources of truth has been a recognised constant. Even today, disagreements on eschatological teachings often echo the early debates of ninth-century Baghdad between the Mu'tazila and the literalist Hanbalites, or reflect other tensions that emerged at various intermediate points of that spectrum. While the Qur'an and the prophetic legacy are the shared sources of all legitimate Islamic doctrine and symbolism, they have throughout history been read in disparate ways, reflecting sectarian and interpretive divergences. It would therefore be futile to present Muslim theological positions on eschatology as if there were a consensus regarding each detail of what is expected at the end of time. By their very nature, eschatological doctrines test the limits of our rational and customary experience, thereby reminding us of the fragility of our attachment to conditions that strike us now as unquestionably real.

Eschatology embraces not only teachings about death, resurrection, immortality and judgement, but also the tradition's understanding of beginnings, the meaning of history and the direction and purpose towards which everything in creation tends. Theologically it orients our ultimate purpose, and this should be central in its interpretation. The various symbols and elements found in revealed sources or woven into the tradition throughout history invite exegesis. In terms of determining the authenticity of any given interpretation one may consult the opinions of recognised classical scholars, not so much in terms of the specifics of their individual allegorical paradigms, but rather on the epistemological foundations of their constructions of truth. For example, the Sunni (and particularly the Ash'arite) position is to accept revealed truth, especially in matters pertaining to the realm of the

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