By Prof. U Muhammad Iqbal
Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (St. Luke, 11:28)
“We hear and we obey.” (Qur’ān, 2:285)
“He who belongs to God hears what God says.” (St. John 8:47)
Maulana Maudoodi, a great Islamic scholar, enunciates that there are four conditions which warrant the advent of a Prophet, whose primary duty is to convey under divine orders, God’s message to mankind. The conditions are as follows:
A community in whose midst a Prophet has not appeared and which has not been exposed to the divine teachings of a Prophet from another community is in dire need of a Prophet.
A Prophet is sent when the divine teachings of a preceding Prophet are either forgotten or altered to such an extent that it is no longer possible to follow in his illustrious footsteps.
A Prophet is sent to update the preceding Prophet’s teachings and further Prophets are needed in the process of perfecting the divine Message.
Sometimes, to strengthen the hands of a Prophet, one more Prophet is appointed. (Supplement to Chapter 33 in Tafhimul Qur’ān)
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) was sent to a community which did not have the benefit of a Warner for centuries. “(This Qur’ān) is a revelation from the Most Mighty, the Most Compassionate, so that you may warn a people whose ancestors were not warned before wherefore they are heedless.” (36:5, 6) (34:44). “You may warn a people to whom no Warner came before you. Maybe they will take heed.” (28:46). “You may warn a people to whom no Warner came before you. Perhaps they will be guided to the Right way.” (32:3) “And when the Truth came to the unbelievers they declared, ‘This is nothing but plain sorcery,” Whereas We gave them no Books that they could study nor sent to them any Warner before you.” (34:43,44) Prophets like Hadrat Hud, Hadrat Saleh, Hadrat Ibraheem, Hadrat Ismail, and Hadrat Shuaib (unto them be peace) had appeared in the Arabian Peninsula. And then for centuries no Warner had appeared. The Arab community was in dire need of a Prophet and the advent of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) was the fulfilment of this need.
There was a gap of nearly five centuries between Malachi and John the Baptist.
RESPONSE TO PRAYER
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) appeared in fulfilment of a prayer, “Our Lord! Raise up in the midst of our offspring a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Your Verses, and instruct them in the Book and in Wisdom, and purify their lives.” (2:129) He appeared more than five centuries after Jesus.
In the process of perfecting the divine message, Jesus Christ came but he had to depart saying, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears (from God), and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (St. John, 16:12-13)
This is a Prophecy of Jesus, according to Muslims. Jesus is a Prophet of a highly exalted nature. Allah exalts some Prophets above others. (2:253) As his message is incomplete, Jesus predicts the advent of another Prophet whose duty will be to complete the message. The immediate addressees of Jesus cannot bear more than what Jesus has taught them and so, when the Prophetic successor of Jesus comes, the addressees will be different. ‘The spirit of truth’ mentioned in the passage may be the man of truth referred to in St John, 7:18. “He who works for the honour of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” “He will guide you” is a clear reference to a Prophet because it is the duty of a Prophet to guide under God’s orders. “Into all truth” is a pointer to the fact that the successor’s message will be a complete message. “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears”. The Prophet hears from God; “What I have heard from him I tell the world.” (St. John, 8:26) “ The truth that I heard from God” (Ibid, 8:40) “ These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the father who sent me.” (St. John, 14:24) “He will tell you what is yet to come” is a reference to a gift of Prophecy that a Prophet is endowed with. The characteristics enumerated in the prophecy apparently refer to a human Prophet. However, God knows the correct import of the prophecy.
SPEAKS ON BEHALF OF GOD
The Qur’ān says about Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). “Nor does he speak out of his desire. This is nothing but a revelation conveyed to him.” (53:3, 4) After twenty-three years of his ministry, the Prophet was informed by God, “This day I have perfected for you your religion.”(5:3) The Prophecy, “He will guide you into all truth,” (St. John, 16:13) is fulfilled.
The role of God is stressed in the process of creation, protection and destruction beyond a shadow of doubt in the Indian religious tradition. However, the eminent role of God as a Teacher, as an Acharya, as an Adhi-Guru is not given the same prominence whereas, in the very first instalment of revelation, the Qur’ān portrays God as the Creator in two verses and then as the Teacher in the following three verses. If God is the Guide par excellence of mankind, it goes without saying that the basics of His guidance should be free from mutually contradictory elements. His guidance will not accommodate at once monotheism and polytheism, prophethood and Incarnation, the concepts of two lives and of numerous births. He will not prescribe idolatry for one community and proscribe it for another.
According to the Abrahamic faiths, God guides mankind by sending Books and Prophets. The Qur’ān, as a Scripture, has many advantages. One of them is that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him), who heard the Qur’ān and dictated it, ensured that the Qur’ān was arranged according to a particular pattern and it was memorised by many in keeping with that pattern. The Prophet himself recited the Qur’ān in the Prayers according to that pattern. So, the Qur’ān is a Scripture verified and authenticated by the Prophet himself in his lifetime. I am afraid, it is difficult to make such a claim about some other scriptures.
MANY PROPHETS, SAME MESSAGE
The message of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) is the message of all the preceding Prophets. “Ask all our Messengers whom We sent before you whether We had appointed any deities beside the Merciful One to be worshipped.” (43:45) As there had been Prophets before him, his claim to be a prophet cannot be a strain upon our credulity. His claim can be verified against the functions and characteristics commonly found among the Prophets. “Tell them: ‘I am not the first of the Messengers; and I do not know what shall be done with me or with you. I follow only what is revealed to me, and I am nothing but a plain Warner.”(46:9) The message of all the preceding Prophets is given a seminal shape in the Qur’ān. “(O Prophet), nothing is said to you but what was already said to the Messengers before you.” (41:43)
Jesus Christ says, “In your own law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid- I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the one who sent me- the Father.”(St. John, 8:18) He also says, “When the Counsellor comes… he will testify about me.”(St. John, 15:26) The testimony of the Father is more than enough. As the Qur’ān says, “Ask them: Whose testimony is the greatest? Say: “Allah is the witness between me and you; and this Qur’ān was revealed to me that I should warn you thereby and also whomsoever it may reach.”(6:19).
There are scriptural credentials galore for Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). “Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.” (48:29) “We have sent you to mankind, (O Muhammad), as a Messenger, and Allah is sufficient as a witness.”(4:79) “So put your trust in Allah for you are on the manifest truth.” (27:79) “You are certainly on Straight Way.”(22:67)”You are truly among Messengers on a Straight Way.”(36:3,4) “Surely you are on the Straight Way.” (43:43) “You are certainly on the most exalted standard of moral excellence”.(68:3) “He it is Who sent His Messenger with the True Guidance and the Religion of Truth that He may make it prevail over every religion. Sufficient is Allah as a witness (to this). (48:28)
Against this testimony, how can one afford to be indifferent to the Prophet’s claim and to be heedless to his call and to prefer others without such divine certificate of honour and reliability? That is why, the Qur’ān asks, “In what discourse after this (Qur’ān) will they, then, believe?”(77:50) “Who, after Allah, can direct him to the Right Way?” (45:23) “So leave Me, (O Prophet) to deal with him who gives the lie to this Discourse,” (68:44).
BELIEF IN PROPHETS
Some people are so audacious as not only to ignore a Prophet’s call but also to feel pity for him. W. S. Maugham speaks on their behalf through Larry, the protagonist of The Razor’s Edge. Larry says, “I have always felt that there was something pathetic in the founders of religions who made it a condition of salvation that you should believe in them. “ In Islam, God is the Founder of religion and Prophets are only Messengers sent by him. Accepting a Prophet is in reality accepting God Who sent him. Jesus says, “He that receives a Prophet in the name of a Prophet shall receive a Prophet’s reward.”(St. Matthew, 10:41) “Neither came I of myself, but He sent me”. (St. John, 8:42) “Whoever shall receive me, receives not me, but Him that sent me.” (St. Mark, 9:37) There is nothing pathetic in these statements.
Agnostics cannot understand that God is an embodiment of mercy and He is also the Saviour. He reaches out to mankind out of His mercy to save men by telling them that the obedient will be rewarded on the Day of Judgement and those who prefer to disobey God’s word and God’s Messenger will pay for their disobedience. Believing in the Messenger is a condition for salvation because such belief is a sign of obedience to God. Rejecting a good model of conduct is fraught with grave consequences; rejecting God’s guidance is a sign of ingratitude and it does not augur well. The Qur’ān says, “The Messenger is bound only to deliver the message.” (5:99) “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and beware.”(5:92) “Let him who refuses to follow the ordinances and directives of Allah know that Allah is swift in His reckoning.”(3:19) Even the Messenger says, “I have submitted my whole being to Allah.”(3:20) Allah advises the Messenger, “So render good counsel, for you are simply required to counsel and are not invested with the authority to compel them.” (88:21, 22) “We have not sent you as a keeper over them.”(4:80) “Surely we showed him (man) the right path, regardless of whether he chooses to be thankful or unthankful (to his Lord).” (76:3)
LISTEN TO THE FINAL MESSENGER
The Qur’ān drives home the fact that man is on trial and under surveillance, and that bliss and immortality await that man who adopts the Straight Way as spelt out by the Scriptures and by the long and illustrious line of Prophets sent to different nations at different times. So, instead of being dismissive and contemptuous of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him), discretion demands that one should listen to his call to surrender to God and ponder over his claim that he is God’s final Messenger. People thrown in hell will regretfully say, “If we had only listened and used our intelligence, we would not have been among the inmates of the Blazing Fire.” (67:10)
After rejecting the guidance offered by God and His Messenger, one has to follow one’s own preferences and pet ideas or follow other human beings whose intellectual superiority impresses one. The Prophet himself (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) is forewarned. “Should you follow their desires disregarding the knowledge which has come to you, you shall have no protector or helper against Allah.”(2:120) “Were you to follow their desires in disregard of the knowledge which has come to you, you will surely be reckoned among the wrong-doers.” (2:145) “(O Muhammad), if you obey the majority of those who live on earth, they will lead you away from Allah’s Path. They only follow idle fancies indulging in conjecture.” (6:116) “Were the Truth to follow their desires, the order of the heavens and the earth and those who dwell in them would have been ruined.” (23:71) “You are calling them to a straight way but those who do not believe in the Hereafter are ever prone to deviate from the Right Way.” (23:73, 74)
ONE HUMANITY, ONE RELIGION
If humanity constitutes one family, a single formulation for it cannot be a matter of objection. If millions can follow one religion, why can’t billions? To reject Islam because it talks of one saviour, one book and one Prophet is reflective of haste in Judgement. God is the Saviour and He is only one and second to none. Does anyone need any other help after securing God’s help? The Qur’ān is the only Book, valid for all times to come, according to Islam but then the Qur’ān is a compendium of all the Books revealed by God. “Has there not come to them a Book containing the teachings of the previous scriptures?” (20:133) After all, there can be only one constitution for a country. Similarly, for the governance of the world, there can be only one constitution. So the concept of one Book is not so narrow as it appears to be.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) is the one Prophet Muslims follow, but then, by following him they relate to all prophets that God had sent. “He has revealed this Book to you, setting forth the Truth and confirming the earlier Books, and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel before that for the guidance of mankind.”(3:3, 4) The Messenger and his followers believe, “in Allah, and in His angels, and in His Books and in His Messengers. They say: We make no distinction between any of His Messengers. We hear and obey. Our Lord! Grant us your forgiveness; to you we are destined to return.” (2:285) Muslims believe in the Messengers mentioned in the Qur’ān and in the Messengers not mentioned. (4:164, 40:78)
OBEY HIM SINCERELY
When once we relate to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) as his followers, the basis of our relationship with him should be sincerity. Imam Navavi explains, “Sincerity towards the Prophet encompasses the following: confirming his Prophethood, belief in his teachings, obeying his orders, assisting him during his lifetime and after his departure, being hostile towards his enemies and friendly towards his friends, reviving his Sunnah, propagating his message, popularising his Shari’ah, defending it against false propaganda, and disseminating the forms of knowledge associated with it, and reflecting upon its semantics, inviting people towards the Shari’ah, learning and teaching it with caution and skill, avoiding discussion about it without knowledge, respecting those who follow the Shari’ah sincerely.
Likewise sincerity towards the Prophet demands that we should emulate his edifying morals, adopt the etiquette shown by him, love his companions and the members of his household and keep a distance from people who are not enamoured of Sunnah.” (Quoted in Maroof and Munkar, by Syed Jalaluddin Omari, pp. 208-209; published by MMI Publishers, New Delhi, 2009).