Prophethood: Its Nature and Necessity
God has most graciously provided man with all that he needs in this Universe. Generally every new-born child arrives in the world endowed with eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell and breathe, hands to touch, feet to walk and a mind to think. All those potentialities, powers and faculties that a man needs or can need are most carefully provided and marvellously set in his tiny body. Every minute requirement is foreseen and provided for.
It is the same with the world he lives in. Everything essential for his life is provided: air, light, heat, water and so on. A child on opening his eyes, finds his food in his mother’s breast. His parents’ love him instinctively and in their hearts has been implanted an irresistible urge to look after him, to bring him up and to sacrifice their all for his welfare. Under the sheltering care of His system of sustenance the child grows to maturity and at every stage of his life obtains from nature that entire he needs. All the material conditions of survival and growth are provided for, he finds that the whole Universe is at his service.
Furthermore, man is blessed with all those powers, capacities and faculties – physical, mental and moral – which he requires in his struggle for life. But God has not distributed these gifts equally. This would have made men totally independent of each other and would have excluded mutual care and co-operation. Thus, although mankind as a whole possesses all that is needed, between men capacities are distributed unequally and sparingly.
Some possess physical strength and prowess; others distinguish themselves for their mental talents. Some are born with a greater aptitude for arts, poetry and philosophy, some possess sharpness of tongue, others military acumen, commercial intelligence, mathematical keenness, scientific curiosity, literary observation or philosophical bent. These special aptitudes make a man distinct and enable him to grasp those intricacies which elude the common man. These insights, aptitudes and talents are the gifts of God. They are innate in the nature of those men whom God has destined to be thus distinguished. They cannot be acquired merely by education and training.
Reflection on this disposition of God’s gifts also reveals that man’s talents have been distributed in a marvellous way. Those capacities which are essential for the general maintenance of human culture have been endowed to most people, while extraordinary talents which are required only to a limited extent are given only to a small number. There are many soldiers, peasants, artisans and workers; but military generals, scholars, statesmen and intellectuals are comparatively few. The general rule seems to be: the higher the capacity and greater the genius, the fewer people who possess them. Supergeniuses, who leave an indelible mark on human history and whose achievements guide humanity for centuries, are fewer still.
There must clearly be someone to tell man the purpose of creation and the meaning of life itself: what man himself is and why he has been created; who has provided him with all the powers and resources and why; what are the proper ends of life and how are they to be achieved; what are the proper values of life and how they can be attained.
Our reason refuses to accept that God, Who has provided man with even the smallest of his requirements, would not provide for this greatest and most vital need. It can never be so. And it is not so. While God has produced men of distinction in arts and science, He has also raised men with deep vision, pure intuition and the highest faculties to know and understand Him. To them, He revealed the way of godliness, piety and righteousness. He gave them the knowledge of the aims of life and values of morality and entrusted them with the duty to communicate Divine Revelation to other human beings. These men are the Prophets and Messengers of God.
The Prophets distinguish themselves in human society by their special aptitudes, natural bents of mind and a pious and meaningful way of life, more or less in the same way as other geniuses in art and science distinguish themselves by their extraordinary capacities and natural aptitudes. The genius in man is its own advertisement and automatically persuades others to recognise and acknowledge it.
Thus, a Prophet’s mind grasps problems which defy other minds; he throws light on subjects which no one else can; he has insights into such subtle and intricate questions that no one else would have even understood after years of deep thought and meditation. Reason accepts whatever he says; the heart feels its truth; and experience of the world testifies to every word that flows from his mouth. If, however, we ourselves try to produce the same or a similar work, we inevitably meet with failure. In all affairs his attitude is that of truthfulness, straightforwardness and nobility. He never does or utters wrong, nor does he commit any evil. He always encourages virtue and righteousness, and practices himself what he preaches to others. Neither his words nor his deeds are prompted by self-interest. He suffers for the good of others, and never makes others suffer for his own good.
When it becomes quite clear that a person is a true Prophet of God, the natural dictate of this realisation is that his words should be accepted, his instructions followed and his orders obeyed. It is illogical to accept a man as God’s true Prophet and yet not to believe in what he says and not to follow what he ordains; for your very acceptance of him as God’s Prophet means that you have acknowledged that what he says is from God, and that whatever he does is in accordance with God’s Will and Pleasure. Disobedience of him is disobedience of God -and disobedience of God leads to ruin.
Therefore, the very acceptance of a Prophet makes it incumbent on you to follow his instructions unconditionally. You may not be able fully to grasp the wisdom and usefulness of this or that order, but the very fact that an instruction has emanated from a Prophet is sufficient guarantee of its truth. One’s inability to understand it does not mean there is something wrong with it. Rather it is our understanding which is at fault. Some men admit the integrity and truthfulness of a Prophet, but do not put faith (Iman) in him, nor do they follow him in the affairs of their life. Such men are not only Kafirs, but imprudent: for not to follow a Prophet after admitting him to be true means that one knowingly follows untruth. And what folly can be greater than that!
Some people declare: “We do not need a Prophet for our guidance and we can ourselves find the way to truth.” This, too, is a wrong view. You have probably learnt geometry, and you know that between points there can be only one straight line; all other lines must be crooked or will fail to touch the points in view. The same is the case with the way to truth, which in the language of Islam, is called the Straight Path (al-Sirat al-Mustaqim). This path begins from man and goes straight up to God, and this path can by definition be one and only one; all other paths must be aberrations. This Straight Path has been indicated by the Prophets, and there is and can be no straight path besides that. The man who ignores that path soon finds himself lost in the maze created by his own fancy.
If you go a little deeper into the matter, it will become clear that a person who disbelieves in a true Prophet cannot find any way, straight or otherwise, to God. This is because a man who refuses to believe the advice of a truthful man adopts such a perverse attitude that he ceases to understand the difference between truth and falsehood and becomes a victim of his own obstinacy, arrogance, bias and perversity. This refusal may be due to false arrogance, or blind conservatism and obstinate adherence to the way of one’s forefathers, or to slavery to the lower desires of the self, whose gratification becomes impossible by submission to the teachings of the Prophets.
On the other hand, if a man is sincere and truth-loving, the road to reality opens up to him. He will find in the teachings of the Prophets the very echo of his own soul and discover himself by discovering the Prophets.
Above all, a true Prophet is raised by God Himself. It is He Who has sent him to mankind to convey His message to His people. It is His Command that one should put one’s faith in the Prophet and follow him. Thus, one who refuses to believe in God’s Messenger refuses to follow God’s Commandment and becomes a rebel. There is no denying that one who refuses to acknowledge the authority of the viceroy of a sovereign actually refuses the authority of the sovereign himself. This disobedience turns him into a rebel. God is the Lord of the Universe, the true Sovereign, the King of Kings, and it is the bounden duty of every man to acknowledge the authority of His Messengers and Apostles and to obey them as His accredited Prophets. Anyone who rejects the Prophets of God is a Kafir, be he a believer in God or a disbeliever.
Brief History of Prophethood
Now let us look at the history of prophethood. Let us see how this long chain began, how it gradually unfolded itself and finally culminated in the prophethood of the last of the Prophets, Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him).
The human race began from one man: Adam. It was from him that the family of man grew and the human race multiplied. All human beings born in this world have descended from that earliest pair: Adam and Eve.1 History and religion are agreed on this point. Nor do scientific investigations into the origin of man show that originally different men came into being, simultaneously or at different points of time, in different parts of the world. Most scientists conjecture that one man would have been brought into existence first and the entire human race might have descended from that one man.
Adam, the first man on earth, was also the first Prophet of God. He revealed His religion – Islam – to him and told him to convey and communicate it to his descendants: to teach them that Allah is One, the Creator, the Sustainer of the world; that He is the Lord of the Universe and He alone should be worshipped and obeyed, that to Him they would have to return one day and to Him alone they should appeal for help; that they should live righteous lives in accordance with God’s pleasure and that if they did so they would be blessed and if they did not they would suffer both here and in the hereafter.
Those of Adam’s descendants who were good trod the right path, but those who were bad abandoned their father’s teachings. Some began to worship the sun, the moon and the stars; others took to the worship of trees, animals and rivers. Some believed that air, water, fire, health and all the blessings and forces of Nature were each under the control of a different god and that the favour of each one could be won by worship. This was the age when Adam’s progeny had spread over the globe, and formed different races and nations. Every nation had created a different religion for itself, each with rituals of its own. God – the one Lord and Creator of mankind and the universe – was forgotten. Every kind of evil custom grew; many evils began to be considered right and many right things were either ignored or condemned as wrong.
At this stage God began to raise Prophets among every people. Each one reminded his people of the lesson they had forgotten. They put an end to idol-worship and the practice of associating other deities with God (shirk), did away with all customs of ignorance, taught them the right way of living in accordance with God’s pleasure, and gave them laws to be followed and enforced in society. God’s true Prophets were raised in every land and among every people. They all possessed one and the same religion – the religion of Islam.
The Methods of Teaching and the Legal Codes
No doubt the methods of teaching and the legal codes of different Prophets varied.
- This is a very important and revolutionary concept. Its logical outcome is unity of mankind and the equality of human beings. It is stupid to distinguish and discriminate between men on grounds of class, colour, race or territory. In an age when nationalism. narrow racialism and bloodthirsty anti-Semitism have torn the world into shreds. this creed of the unity of mankind is a powerful ray of hope for the future.
- This view of the history of religions is diametrically opposed to the so-called evolutionary view of religion which regards nature-worship as the first stage. More modern scientific studies are confirming the view that worship of one God (Tawhid) was the earliest form of worship and all other forms are perversions of that original religion. Those who want to pursue the topic may refer to Prof.W. Schmidt’s valuable research treatise, The Origin and Growth of Religions, English translation by H. J. Rose (London, Methuen). in accordance with the needs and the stage of culture of the people among whom they were raised. The particular teachings of each Prophet were determined by the kind of evils which he was trying to eradicate.
When people were in the primitive stages of society, civilisation and intellectual development, their laws and regulations were simple; they were modified and improved as the society evolved and progressed. Such differences were, however, only superficial. The fundamental teachings of all the religions were the same, i.e. belief in the unity of God, adherence to a life of piety, goodness and peace, and belief in life after death with its just mechanism of reward and punishment. Man’s attitude towards God’s Prophets has been strange. He has ill-treated them and refused to accept their teachings. Some of the prophets were expelled from their lands; some were assassinated, some, faced with indifference, preached the whole of their lives without winning more than a few followers.
Their patient determination at last succeeded: large groups of people and nations were converted to their creed. The false tendencies, born of centuries of deviation, ignorance and malpractice, now took another form. Though they accepted their Prophets during their lives and practiced their teachings, after their deaths they introduced their own distorted ideas into their religions. They adopted novel methods of worshipping God; some even took to the worship of their Prophets. They made the Prophets the incarnations of God or the sons of God; some associated their Prophets with God in His Divinity.
In short, man’s varied attitudes in this respect were a travesty of his reason and a mockery of himself; he made idols of those very persons whose holy mission was to smash idols. By intermixing religion, rituals born of ignorance, baseless and false anecdotes and man made laws, men so changed and perverted the teachings of the Prophets over the centuries that they became lost in a welter of fictions to the extent that it became impossible to distinguish the grain from the chaff. Not content with this, they made up so many stories about their Prophets that real and reliable accounts of their lives became impossible to discern. The idea of God and of life after death was assimilated in some form or other. A few principles of goodness, truthfulness and morality were accepted throughout the world.
- There is a common misconception, mostly among Western writers. that Islam owes its origin to the Prophet Muhammad (Blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and some of the writers even go to the extent of calling him ‘the founder of Islam’. This is a travesty of the truth. Islam has been the religion of all the Prophets of God and all of them have brought the same message from Him, Prophets have not been the founders of lslam, they have only been the messengers of it. Islam consists of the Divine Revelation conveyed to mankind by the truthful Prophets.
In addition, the ignorance of the early nations was so great that it had given different forms to their moral aberrations and distortions of Faith. It was, therefore, necessary that different Prophets be raised to preach the Truth to them and win them over to God; to gradually eradicate evils and aberrations; to root out ignorance and teach them the simple, pious and righteous life. God alone knows how many thousands of years were spent in thus educating man, and developing him mentally, morally and spiritually. With the progress and spread of commerce, industry and the arts, intercourse was established between nations. Great conquerors appeared, extended their conquests far and wide, established vast empires, and knit many different nations under one political system. Thus nations came closer and closer to one another, and their differences became less and less.
It became possible under these circumstances that one and the same faith, envisaging a comprehensive and all-embracing way of life, meeting the moral, spiritual, social, cultural, political, economic and other needs of men and embodying both religious and secular elements could be sent by God to the whole ‘of mankind. More than two thousand years ago mankind had reached such a mental awareness that it seemed to be craving for a universal religion.
At such a crucial stage of human civilization, when the mind of man was itself craving for a world religion, a Prophet was raised in Arabia for the whole world and for all nations. The religion he was given to propagate was again Islam – but now in the form of a complete and fully-fledged system, covering all aspects of the life of man. He was Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him)!
The Prophethood of Muhammad
If we cast a glance at the world atlas, we find that no other country could have been more suitable than Arabia for the much-needed world religion. It is situated right in the middle of Asia and Africa, and Europe is not far away. At the time of Muhammad’s (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) appearance central ‘Europe was inhabited by civilised and culturally advanced nations; these people were about the same distance from Arabia as were the people of India.
Great nations of the world had long been struggling for world supremacy; as a consequence they had exhausted their resources and vitality. The Arabs were a fresh and virile people. So-called social progress had produced bad habits among the advanced nations, while among the Arabs no such social organisation existed, and they were, therefore, free from the inactivity, debasement and decadence arising out of luxury and sensual satiety.
The pagan Arabs of the fifth century had not been affected by the evil influence of the artificial social systems and civilisations of the great nations of the world. They possessed all the good human qualities of a people untouched by the ‘social progress’ of the time. They were brave, fearless, generous, faithful to their promises, lovers of freedom and politically independent – not subject to the hegemony of any of the imperial powers. There were also certain undesirable aspects of their life as well, as we shall mention later on, but the reason for this was that for thousands of years no prophet had risen among them, nor had there appeared a reformer who might have civilised them and purged their moral life of its impurities.
Centuries of free and independent desert life had bred and nourished extreme ignorance among them. They had, therefore, become so fixed in their traditions of ignorance that to humanise them was beyond an ordinary man. At the same time, however, if some person of extraordinary powers were to give them a noble ideal, they would readily rise to act for the achievement of such an ideal. They would be prepared to face the hostility of the entire world in the cause of their mission. It was just such a young, forceful and virile people that was needed to disseminate the teachings of the World Prophet, Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him).
Take also the Arabic language. The more you study its literature, the more you will be convinced that there is no other language more suited to express high ideals, to explain the most subtle aspects of Divine knowledge, and to impress the heart of man and mould it into submission to God. Small phrases and brief sentences express a whole world of ideas; they are so powerful that their very sound can move men to tears and ecstasy. They are so sweet that it is as if honey were being poured into one’s ears; they are so full of harmony that every fibre of the listener’s body is moved by their symphony. It was a rich and powerful language such as this that was needed for the Qur’an, the Great Word of God.
It was, therefore, a manifestation of God’s great wisdom that He chose Arabia as the birthplace of the World Prophet. Let us now see how unique and extraordinary was the blessed personality chosen by God for this mission.
Muhammad’s Prophethood: A Rational Vindication
If one were to close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in the world of 1400 years ago, one would find that it was a world completely different from ours. How few and far between were the opportunities for the exchange of ideas! How limited and undeveloped were the means of communication! How meagre was man’s knowledge! How narrow his outlook! How enveloped was he in superstition and wild ideas!
Darkness held sway. There was only a faint glimmer of learning, hardly strong enough to light up the horizons of human knowledge. There was neither radio nor telephone, neither television nor the cinema. Railways and cars and aeroplanes were undreamt of, and printing presses were unknown. Hand-written books or copyists alone supplied what little literary material there was to be transmitted from generation to generation. Education was a luxury, meant only for the most fortunate, and educational institutions were very few and far between. The store of human knowledge was scanty, man’s outlook was narrow, and his ideas of men and things were confined to his limited surroundings. Even a scholar of that age lacked in some respects the knowledge possessed by a layman of today, and the most cultured person was less refined than the modern man in the street.
Indeed, humanity was steeped in ignorance and superstition. Whatever light of learning there was seemed to be fighting a losing battle against the darkness prevailing all around. People used to spend a whole lifetime acquiring the modest information which is now everybody’s heritage. Things which are classed as ‘myth’ and ‘superstition’ today were the unquestionable truths of that age. Acts which we now regard as barbarous were then the order of the day. Methods which appear obnoxious to our moral sense today constituted the very soul of morality; incredulity had assumed such proportions and had become so widespread that people refused to consider anything as sublime unless it appeared in the garb of the supernatural, the uncanny and even the impossible. They had developed such inferiority complexes that they could not imagine human beings possessing saintly souls.
The Rights and Duties:
- The right course for man is to live in obedience to God, and for such a life of obedience knowledge and faith are absolutely essential; knowledge of God and His attributes, His likes and dislikes, His chosen way and the Day of Judgement; and unflinching faith in this knowledge; this is Iman.
- God has graciously spared man the arduous task of acquiring this knowledge through his personal effort alone. Instead, He has revealed this knowledge to the Prophets He has chosen from amongst men and commanded them to convey the Will of God to other human beings and show them the right path. This has saved man from much great misfortune.
- The duty of men and women is to recognise a true Prophet of God, to have faith in him and his teachings and to scrupulously obey him and follow in his footsteps. This is the road to salvation.
Arabia – The Abyss of Darkness
In that benighted era, there was a territory where darkness lay even heavier than elsewhere. The neighbouring countries of Persia, Byzantium and Egypt possessed a glimmer of civilisation and a faint light of learning. But Arabia stood isolated, cut off by vast tracts of desert. Arab traders travelling great distances, which took them months, carried their wares to and from these countries, but they had little chance to find out anything about them. In their own country, they did not have a single educational institution or library. No one seemed interested in the cultivation and advancement of knowledge.
The few who were literate were not educated enough to understand the existing arts and sciences. Although they did possess a highly developed language capable of expressing the finest shades of human thought in a remarkable manner, a study of the remnants of their literature reveals how limited was their knowledge, how low was their standard of culture and civilisation, how saturated were their minds with superstitions, how barbarous and ferocious were their thoughts and customs, and how decadent were their moral standards.
It was a country without a government. Each tribe considered itself to be an independent sovereign unit. There was no law except the law of the strongest. Loot, arson and murder of innocent and weak people was the order of the day. Life, property and honour were constantly in jeopardy. Tribes were always at daggers drawn with one another. Any trivial incident was enough to spark off a ferocious war. Indeed, Bedouins from one tribe thought they had every right to kill people from other tribes.
Whatever notions they had of morals, culture and civilisation were primitive in the extreme. They could hardly discriminate between pure and impure, lawful and unlawful. Their lives were barbaric. They revelled in adultery, gambling and drinking. Looting and murder were part of their everyday existence. They would stand stark naked before each other without any qualms of conscience. Even their women-folk would strip nude at the ceremony of circumambulating the Ka’bah. They would bury their daughters alive lest anyone should become their son-in-law. They would marry their step-mothers after the death of their fathers. They were ignorant of even the rudiments of everyday life such as proper eating, dressing and washing.
As regards their religious beliefs, they suffered from the same evils which were playing havoc with the rest of the world. They worshipped stones, trees, idols, stars and spirits; in short, everything conceivable except God.
They knew nothing about the teachings of the Prophets of old. They had an idea that Abraham and Ishmael were their forefathers, but they knew next to nothing about their religious preachings and about the God Whom they worshipped. The stories of Ad and Thamud were to be found in their folklore, but they contained no traces of the teachings of the Prophets Hud and Salih. The Jews and Christians had passed on to them certain legends relating to the Israelite Prophets. They presented a harrowing picture of those noble souls.
Their teachings were adulterated with the figments of their own imagination and their lives were tarred black. Some idea of the religious conceptions of those people can still be got today by looking at those Israelite traditions which Muslim commentators of the Qur’an have conveyed to us. The picture presented of the institution of prophethood and of the character of the Israelite Prophets is the very antithesis of all that those noble followers of truth stood for.
The Saviour is Born
In such a dark age and in such a benighted country a man is born. His parents die when he is very young and a few years later the sad demise of his grandfather also occurs. Consequently, he is deprived even of that scant training and upbringing which an Arab child of his time could get. In his boyhood he tends flocks of sheep and goats in the company of Bedouin boys. When of age, he takes to commerce. All his associations and all his dealings are with the Arabs alone, whose condition has just been described. He is completely illiterate and unschooled. He never gets a chance to sit in the company of learned men, for such men were non-existent in Arabia.
He does have a few opportunities to go out of his country, but those journeys are confined to Syria and are nothing more than the usual business trips undertaken by Arab trade caravans. If he meets any learned men there, such random – meetings are so rare as to play no part in the forming of his personality. Nor can they be the means of the acquisition of that profound and vast knowledge which transformed an unlettered Bedouin into a leader not only of his own country and age but of the whole world and of all ages to come. These journeys cannot have given him those conceptions and principles of religion, ethics, culture and civilisation: they were non-existent in the world of those days. And they cannot have created that sublime and perfect
Diamond in a Heap of Stones
We may now look at the life and work of this noble man in the context not only of the Arabian society but also of the entire world as it stood in that period. He is totally different from the people among whom he is born and passes his youth and early manhood and attains finally his full stature. Even his worst enemies never accuse him of telling a lie. He never uses obscene and abusive language. He has a charming personality and winning manners with which he captivates the hearts of those who come into contact with him.
In his dealings with people he always follows the principles of justice and fair play. He remains engaged in trade and commerce for years, but he never enters into any dishonest transaction. Those who deal with him in business have full confidence in his integrity. The entire nation calls him Al-Amin (the Truthful and the Trustworthy). Even his enemies deposit their valuable belongings with him for safe custody.
He is the embodiment of modesty in the midst of a society which is immodest to the core. Born and bred among a people who regard drunkenness and gambling as virtues, he never touches alcohol and never indulges in gambling. His people are uncouth, uncultured and unclean, but he personifies the highest culture and the most refined aesthetic outlook.
Surrounded on all sides by cruelty, he himself has a heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness. He helps orphans and widows. He is hospitable to travelers. He harms no one; rather, he suffers hardships for others’ sakes. Living among those for whom war is bread and butter, he is such a lover of peace that his heart melts for them when they take up arms and cut each other’s throats. He stays aloof from the feuds of his tribe, intervening only to bring about reconciliation. Brought up in an idolatrous race, he regards nothing in the heavens and the earth worth worshiping except the One True God. He does not bow before any created thing and does not partake of the offerings made to idols, even in his childhood. Instinctively he hates all worship of any creature and being except God.
In brief, the towering and radiant personality of this man, in the midst of such a benighted and dark environment, may be likened to a beacon-light illumining a pitch-dark night or to a diamond shining in a heap of dead stones.
A Revolution Comes
After spending a great part of his life in such a pure and civilised manner there comes a revolution in his being. He has had enough of the darkness and ignorance around him. He wants to swim clear of the horrible sea of corruption, immorality, idolatry and disorder which surround him. He finds society out of harmony with his soul. He withdraws alone to the hills, spending days and nights in total seclusion and meditation. He fasts so that his soul and his heart may become still purer and nobler.
He muses and ponders deeply. He is in search of a light to melt away the encompassing darkness. He wants the power to bring about the downfall of the corrupt and disorderly world of his day and lay the foundations of a new and better world.
He addresses to the people: “The idols which you worship are a sham. No mortal being, no star, no tree, no stone, no spirit is worthy of human worship. Therefore bow not your heads in worship before them. The entire universe with everything that it contains belongs to God Almighty. He alone is the Creator, the Nourisher, the Sustainer and, consequently, the real Sovereign before Whom all should bow down and to Whom all should pray and render obedience. Thus worship Him alone and obey only His commands. “Loot and plunder, murder and rapine, injustice and cruelty – all the vices in which you indulge – are crimes in the eyes of God. Leave your evil ways. He hates them all. Speak the truth. Be just. Do not kill anyone. Do not rob anyone. Take your lawful share. Give what is due to others in a just manner.
“You are human beings and all human beings are equal in the eyes of God. None is born with the slur of shame on his face; nor has anyone come into the world with the mantle of honour hung around his neck. He alone is high and honoured who is God fearing and pious, true in words and deed. Distinctions of birth and race are no criteria of greatness and honour. One who fears God and does good deeds is the noblest of human beings. One who does not love God and is steeped in bad ways is doomed.
“There is an appointed day after your death when you shall have to appear before your Lord. You shall be called to account for all your deeds, good or bad, and you shall not be able then to hide anything. The whole record of your life shall be an open book to Him. Your fate shall be determined by your good or bad actions. In the court of the True Judge – the Omniscient
God – the question of unfair recommendation and favouritism does not arise. You will not be able to bribe Him. No consideration will be given to your pedigree or parentage. True faith and good deeds alone will stand you in good stead at that time. He who has them shall take his abode in the Heaven of eternal happiness, while he who is devoid of them shall be cast in the fire of Hell.”
This is the message with which he comes. The ignorant nation turns against him. Abuse and stones are showered on his august person. Every conceivable torture and cruelty is perpetrated on him; and this continues not for a day or two but uninterruptedly for thirteen long, troubled years. At last he is exiled. But he is not given respite even there. He is tormented in various ways in his place of refuge. The whole of Arabia is incited against him. He is persecuted and hounded continuously for fully eight years there. He suffers it all, but does not budge from the stand he has taken. He is resolute, firm and inflexible in his purpose.
Why all that Enmity?
One might ask: how is it that his nation became his sworn enemy? Was there any dispute about gold and silver or other worldly possessions? Was it due to any blood-feud? Did he ask for anything from them? No! The whole enmity was based on the fact that he had asked them to worship the One True God and to lead lives of righteousness, piety and goodness. He had preached against idolatry and the worship of other beings besides God, and had denounced their way of life. He had cut at the roots of priestcraft. He had inveighed against all distinctions of high and low between human beings, and had condemned the prejudices of tribe and race as sheer ignorance; and he wanted to change the whole structure of society which had been handed down to them from time immemorial.
The Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) had to face tempests of adversity in the cause of truth. He faced all the opposition and oppression with a smile. He stood firm. undeterred by criticism and coercion. When the natives saw that the threats failed to frighten him and the severest tribulations heaped upon his person and his followers could not make them budge. they played another trick – but that too was destined to fail!
A deputation of the leading Quraish called upon the Holy Prophet and tried to bribe him by offering him the worldly glory they could imagine. They said: “If you want to possess wealth, we will amass for you as much as you wish; if you aspire to win honour and power we are prepared to swear allegiance to you as our overlord and king; if you have a fancy for beauty. You shall have the hand of the most beautiful maiden of your choice.”
But they wanted him to abandon his mission. The terms were extremely tempting for any human mortal. But they had no significance for the Great Prophet. His reply fell like a bomb shell upon the deputation: “Pray! I want neither wealth nor power. I have been commissioned by God to warn mankind. I deliver His message to you. Should you accept it, you shall have joy in this life and eternal bliss in the life hereafter, should you reject it, surely God will decide between you and me.”
On another occasion he said to his uncle, who, under pressure from the leaders of Arabia was trying to persuade him to abandon his mission: “O Uncle! Should they place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left in order to make me renounce this mission, it would not be so. I will never give it up till it should please God to make it a triumph or I perish in the attempt.” This was the character of the Prophet of Islam!
The faith, perseverance and resolution with which he led his movement to ultimate success is eloquent proof of the supreme truth of his cause. Had there been the slightest doubt and uncertainty in his heart, he could never have been able to brave the storm which continued unabated for twenty-one long years. This is one side of the revolution wrought in his being. The other is even more wonderful and remarkable.
A Changed Man at Forty – Why?
For forty years he lived as an Arab among Arabs. During that long period he was not known as a statesman, a preacher or an orator. No-one had heard him imparting gems of wisdom and knowledge as he began to do hereafter. He was never seen discoursing on metaphysics, ethics, law, politics, economics and sociology. Let alone being a great general, he was not even known as an ordinary soldier. He had uttered no word about God, the Angels, the Revealed Books, the early Prophets, the bygone nations, the Day of Judgement, Life after Death, Hell and Heaven.
Although he possessed an excellent character and charming manners, and was highly cultured, there was nothing so striking about him which could make men expect something great and revolutionary from him in the future. He was known among his acquaintances as a sober, calm, gentle, law-abiding citizen of good nature. But when he came out of the cave with his Message he was transformed.
When he began preaching his Message the whole of Arabia stood in awe and wonder and was bewitched by his wonderful eloquence and oratory. It was so impressive and persuasive that his worst enemies were afraid of hearing it, lest it should penetrate deep into their hearts or the very marrow of their beings and convert them from their old religion and culture. It was so unique that the whole legion of Arab poets, preachers and orators of the highest calibre failed to match it in beauty of language and splendour of diction when he threw the challenge to his opponents to produce even a single line like the ones he was reciting.
His All-embracing Message
Along with this, he now appeared before his people as a unique philosopher a wonderful reformer, a renowned moulder of culture and civilisation, an illustrious politician, a great leader, a judge of the highest eminence and an incomparable general. This unlettered Bedouin, this desert dweller, spoke with learning and wisdom, the like of which none had said before and none could say after him.
He expounded the complex problems of metaphysics and theology. He delivered speeches on the decline and fall of nations and empires, supporting his thesis with historical fact. He reviewed the achievements of the old reformers, passed judgements on the various religions of the world, and gave verdicts on the differences and disputes between nations. He taught ethical canons and principles of culture. He formulated laws of social culture, economic organisation, group conduct and international relations whose wisdom even eminent thinkers and scholars can grasp only after lifelong research and vast experience of men and things. Their beauties, indeed, unfold themselves progressively as man advances in theoretical knowledge and practical experience.
This silent and peace-loving trader who had never even handled a sword before turned suddenly into such a brave soldier that he was never known to retreat however fierce the battle. He became such a great general that he conquered the whole of Arabia in nine years, at a time when the weapons of war were primitive and the means of communication very poor. His military acumen and his ability to transmit the skills of war to a motley crowd of Arabs (who had no equipment worth the name) meant that within a few years he had overthrown the two most formidable military powers of the day and become the master of the greater part of the then known world.
This reserved and quiet man who, for fully forty years, never gave any indication of any political interest or activity, appeared suddenly on the stage of the world as such a great political reformer and statesman that, without the aid of the media, he brought together under one banner, one law, one religion, one culture, one civilisation and one form of government the scattered inhabitants of a desert of twelve hundred thousand square miles – a people who were warlike, ignorant, unruly, uncultured and plunged in internecine tribal warfare.
He changed their modes of thought, their customs and their Morals. He turned the uncouth in the cultured, the barbarous into the civilised, the evil-doers and bad characters into pious God-fearing and righteous persons.
Their unruly and obstinate natures were transformed into models of obedience and submission to law and order. A nation which had not produced a single great man worth the name for centuries gave birth, under his influence and guidance, to thousands of noble souls who went forth to far-off corners of the world to preach and teach the principles of religion, morals and civilisation.
He accomplished this feat not through any worldly lure, oppression or cruelty, but by his humanity, his moral personality and his teaching. With his noble and gentle behaviour he befriended even his enemies. He captured the hearts of the people with his unbounded sympathy and the milk of human kindness. He ruled justly. He did not deviate from truth and righteousness. He did not oppress even his deadly enemies who were after his life, who had stoned him, who had turned him out of his native place, who had set the whole of Arabia against him – nay, not even those who had chewed the raw liver of his dead uncle in a frenzy of vengeance. He forgave them all when he triumphed over them. He never took revenge on anyone.
Although he became the ruler of his country, he was so selfless and modest that he remained very simple and sparing in his habits. He lived poorly, as before, in his humble mud-cottage. He slept on a mattress, wore coarse clothes, ate either the simplest food of the poor or went without food at all. He used to spend whole nights standing in prayer before his Lord. He came to the rescue of the destitute and the Penniless.9 He felt not the least insult in working like a labourer.
It would be instructive to refer here to an important speech of Jaffar ibn Abi Talib. When the oppression of the Muslims of Makka reached its height, the Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) asked some of them to migrate to the adjoining state of Abbyssinia. A group did so. But the Quraish who were perpetrating every conceivable oppression against the Muslims did not sit by idly.
They pursued the Muslims and asked King Negus of Abyssinia to forcefully return his immigrants. In the court of King Negus, Jaffar made a speech which threw light on the revolution that the Holy Prophet had brought about. He said: “O King! We were ignorant people, given to idolatry. We were used to eating corpses even of dead animals, and to doing all kinds of disgraceful things. We did not carry out our obligations to our relations, and ill-treated our neighbours. The strong among us would thrive at the expense of the weak, till, at last, God raised a Prophet for our reformation. His descent, his righteousness, his integrity and his piety are well known to us all. He called us to the worship of God and exhorted us to give up idolatry and stone-worship.
He enjoined us to speak the truth, to make good our trusts, to respect ties of kinship, and to do good to our neighbours. He taught us to shun everything foul and to avoid bloodshed. He forbade all manner of indecent things: telling lies, misappropriating orphan’s belongings, and bringing false accusation against the chastity of women. So we believed in him. followed him, and acted upon his teaching..”
On the occasion of the Battle of Uhud, Hinda, the wife of the chief of the pagan Arabs, actually chewed the raw liver of the Prophet’s uncle, Hamza. The Prophet said: “Anyone who, dies in debt or leaves behind dependents who are in danger of becoming destitute should come to me because I am their guardian.” His whole life bears ample testimony to this and mighty in him.
He never sought any reward or profit for himself, nor left any property to his heirs. He dedicated his all to his Millah. He did not ask his adherents to earmark anything for him or his descendants, so much so that he forbade his progeny to receive the benefit of poor-tax (Zakah).
His Contribution to Human Thought
- It was he who turned the course of human thought from superstition-mongering, love for the unnatural and the inexplicable, and monasticism towards a rational approach, love for reality, and a pious, balanced worldly life which regarded only supernatural happenings as miracles and demanded them for the verification of the truth of a religious mission, urged that rational proof should be the criterion of truth.
- It was he who opened the eyes of those who had been accustomed to look for the signs of God in natural phenomena.
- It was he who, in place of groundless speculation, led human beings to the path of rational understanding and sound reasoning on the basis of observation, experiment and research.
- It was he who clearly defined the limits and functions of sense perception, reason and intuition.
- It was he who brought about a rapprochement between spiritual and material values.
- It was he who harmonised Faith and Knowledge and Action, who, in short, evolved true religiosity on the basis of the scientific spirit.
- It was he who eradicated idolatry, man-worship and polytheism in all forms so thoroughly and created such a firm faith in the Unity of God that even those religions which were based entirely on superstition and idolatry were forced to adopt a monotheistic approach.
- It was he who changed the basic concepts of ethics and spirituality.
- It was he who brought home to man his true worth; those who acknowledged only a Godincarnate.
- It was he who stressed the point that no person could claim holiness, authority and overlordship as his birthright and that no-one was born with the stigma of untouchability, slavery or serfdom.
- It was he and his teaching which inspired thoughts of the unity of mankind, equality of human beings, true democracy and real freedom.
Laws and Principles
Laws which he gave have penetrated deep into the structures of society, and this process continues up to this day. The basic principles of economics which he taught have ushered in many a movement in world history and hold out the same promise for the future. The laws of governance which he formulated brought about many upheavals in political theories and continues to have influence even today. The fundamental principles of law and justice which bear the stamp of his genius have influenced to a remarkable degree the administration of justice in the courts of nations. This unlettered Arab was the first person to formulate a framework of international relations and lay down laws of war and peace. No one previously had even the remotest idea that there could be an ethical code of war and that relations between different nations could be regulated on the basis of common humanity.
The Final Testimony
One may say that there is nothing peculiar about his Message, that it is the product of his own mind. If this is so, then he should have proclaimed himself God. And if he had done so at that time, the peoples of the earth who did not hesitate in calling Krishna and Buddha gods and Jesus the Son of God, and who could without compunction worship such forces of nature as fire, water and air – would have readily acknowledged him as such.
But he argued just the opposite. For he proclaimed: I am a human being like yourselves. I have not brought anything to you of my own accord. It has all been revealed to me by God. Whatever I possess belongs to Him. This message, the like of which the whole of humanity is unable to produce, is the message of God. It is not the product of my own mind. Every word of it has been sent down by Him and all glory to Him Whose Message it is. All the wonderful achievements which stand to my credit in your eyes, all the laws which I have given, all the principles which I have enunciated and taught none of them is from me. I find myself incompetent to produce such things out of my sheer personal ability and capabilities. I look to Divine Guidance in all matters.
Whatever He wills I do, what He directs I proclaim. Hearken! What a wonderful and inspiring example of honesty, integrity, truth and honour those sentiments are! Liars and hypocrites often try to take all the credit for the deeds of others, even when they can easily be found out. But this great man does not claim any of these achievements for himself even when no-one could contradict him as there was no way of establishing the source of his inspiration.
Such was our Holy Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him). He was a prodigy of extraordinary merits, a paragon of virtue and goodness, a symbol of truth, a great apostle of God and His Messenger to the entire world. His life and thought, his truthfulness and straightforwardness, his piety and goodness, his character and morals, his ideology and achievements – all stand as unimpeachable proof of his prophethood. Any human being who studies his life and teachings without bias will testify that he was the true Prophet of God and the Qur’an – the Book he gave to mankind – the true Book of God. No serious seeker after truth can come to any other conclusion.
It must also be clearly understood that now, through Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) alone can we know the straight path of Islam. The Qur’an and the life-example of Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) are the only reliable sources that are available to mankind to learn God’s Will in its totality. Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) is the Messenger of God for the whole of mankind and the long chain of Prophets has come to an end with him.
He was the last of the Prophets and all the instructions which it was God’s Will to impart to mankind through direct revelation were sent by Him through Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and are enshrined in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Anyone who seeks to become a sincere Muslim must have faith in God’s last Prophet, accept his teachings and follow the way he has pointed out to man. This is the road to success and salvation.
The Finality of Prophethood
This brings us to the question of the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him). The life and teachings of the Prophet are the beacon to guide a people to the right path, and as long as his teachings and his guidance are alive he is, as it were, himself alive.
The real death of a Prophet consists not in his physical demise but in the ending of the influence of his teachings. The earlier Prophets have died because their followers have adulterated their teachings, distorted their instructions, and besmirched their life-examples by attaching fictitious events to them. The life-histories of the earlier Prophets have been so mixed up with fiction that an accurate and authentic account of their lives has become impossible. Their lives have become tales and legends and no trustworthy record is available anywhere.
By this criterion no-one can deny that Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and his teachings are alive. His teachings stand uncorrupted and are incorruptible. The Qur’an – the book he gave to mankind – exists in its original text, without a word, syllable or even letter having been changed. It is as though it all happened yesterday rather than thirteen centuries ago. The biography of no other human being is so detailed as that of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him). In everything affecting our lives we can seek the guidance of Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and the example of his life. That is why there is no need of any other Prophet after Muhammad, the last Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him).
None of these conditions exist today. The teachings of the last Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) are alive, have been fully preserved and made immortal. The guidance he has shown onto mankind is complete and flawless, and is enshrined in the Holy Qur’an. All the sources of Islam are fully intact and each and every instruction or action of the Holy Prophet can be ascertained without the least shadow of doubt.
Secondly, God has completed His revealed guidance through the Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) and Islam is a complete religion for mankind. God has said that, “Today I have perfected your Faith – religion – for you, and have completed my bounty upon you,” and a thorough study of Islam as a complete way of life proves the truth of these Qur’anic words. Islam gives guidance for life in this world and in the hereafter and nothing essential for human guidance has been left out. There is no ground for new Prophethood on the plea of imperfection.
Lastly, the Message of Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) was not meant for any particular people, place or period. He was raised as the World Prophet – the messenger of truth for the whole of mankind. The Qur’an has commanded Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) to declare: “O mankind, I am God’s Messenger to all of you.” He has been described as “a blessing for all (the people of) the world” and his approach has been universal and human. That is why after him there remains no need for new prophethood and he has been described by the Qur’an as Khatam-an-Nabiyyin (the last of the chain of the true Prophets).