peace and blessings be upon him
The Meaning of Prophethood and
the Prophets’ Mission
God creates every community of beings with a purpose and a guide or a leader. It is inconceivable that God Almighty, Who gave bees a queen, ants a leader, and birds and fish each a guide, would leave us without Prophets to guide us to spiritual, intellectual, and ma-terial perfection.
Prophethood is the highest rank and honor that a human can receive from God. It proves the superiori-ty of that human‘s inner being over all others. A
Prophet is like a branch arching out from the Divine to the human realm. He is the very heart and tongue of creation, and possesses a supreme intellect that penetrates into the reality of things and events.
Moreover, he is the ideal being, for all of his facul-ties are harmoniously excellent and active. He strives and progresses steadily toward Heaven, waits upon Divine inspiration or Revelation for the solutions to the problems he faces, and is the connecting point between this world and the Beyond. His body is subject to and follows his heart, figuratively the seat of spiritual intel-lect, as does his heart. His perceptions and reflections are always directed to the Names and Attributes of God. He goes to what he perceives, and arrives at the desired destination.
A Prophet‘s perception, developed to the full—seeing, hearing, and thus knowing—surpasses that of
all other people. His perception cannot be explained in terms of different light, sound, or other wavelengths. Ordinary people cannot acquire a Prophet‘s knowledge.
Although we can find God by reflecting upon natu-ral phenomena, we need a Prophet to learn why we were created, where we came from, where we are going, and how to worship our Creator properly. God sent Prophets to teach their people the meaning of cre-ation and the truth of things, to unveil the mysteries behind historical and natural events, and to inform us of our relationship, and that of Divine Scriptures, with the universe.
Everything in the universe tries to exhibit the Names and Attributes of the All-Mighty, All-Encompassing Crea-tor. In the same way, the Prophets note, affirm, and are faithful to the subtle, mysterious relation between God and His Names and Attributes. As their duty is to know and speak about God, they enter into the true meaning of things and events and then convey it directly and sincerely to hu-manity.
Without Prophets, we could not have made any scientific progress. While those who adopt evolutio-nary approaches to explain historical events tend to attribute everything to chance and deterministic evolu-tion, Prophets guided humanity in intellectual—and
thus scientific—illumination. Thus, farmers tradition-
ally accept Prophet Adam as their first master, tailors accept Prophet Enoch, ship makers and sailors accept Prophet Noah, and clock makers accept Prophet Joseph. Also, the Prophets‘ miracles marked the final points in
scientific and technological advances, and urged people to them.
Prophets guided people, through personal conduct and the heavenly religions and Scriptures they con-veyed, to develop their inborn capacities and directed them toward the purpose of their creation. Had it not been for them, humanity (the fruit of the tree of crea-tion) would have been left to decay. As humanity needs social justice as much as it needs private inner
peace, Prophets taught the laws of life and established the rules for a perfect social life based upon justice.
The Qur‘an explicitly declares:
We sent among every people a Messenger (with
the command): ―Serve God and avoid evil.‖
But many people gradually forgot these Divine teachings and fell into such errors as deifying the Prophets and others or engaging in idolatry. Even ac-cepting that there must be a tremendous difference between the original and the current form of many religions, it is quite impossible to understand the con-ditions that caused Confucius to appear in China and Brahma and Buddha in India. It is equally difficult to guess what their original messages were and to what degree they have been corrupted.
If the Qur‘an had not introduced Prophethood to us, we would not have an accurate idea of the character, lives, missions, and teachings of many Prophets. One accurate hadith says: ―A Prophet‘s disciples will carry out his mission after his death, but some of his followers will later upset everything he established.‖ This is a
very important point. Many of the religions we now consider false turned to falsehood, superstition, and legend over time through the deliberate malice of their enemies (or the mistakes of their followers), despite their possible origin in the purest, Divine source.
To say that someone is a Prophet when he is not is unbelief, as is the case with refusing to believe in a true Prophet. We should consider what Buddhism or Brahmanism may have been in their true, original forms, as well as the doctrines attributed to Confucius or the practices and beliefs of Shamanism. Maybe they still have some remnants of what they originally were.
Many once-pure religions have been distorted and altered. Therefore, it is essential to accept the purity of their original foundation. The Qur‘an says:
There never was a people without a warner hav-
ing lived among them. (35:24)
We sent among every people a Messenger.
These Revelations declare that God sent Messen-gers to each group of people. The Qur‘an mentions the
names of 28 Prophets, out of a total of 124,000. We do not know exactly when and where many of them lived. But we do not have to know such information, for:
We did in times past send Messengers before you;
of them there are some whose stories We have
related to you, and some whose stories We have
not related to you. (40:78)
Recent studies in comparative religion, philosophy, and anthropology reveal that many widely separated communities share certain concepts and practices. Among these are moving from polytheism to monothe-ism and praying to the One God in times of hardship by raising their hands and asking something from Him. Many such phenomena indicate a singular source and a single teaching. If primitive tribes cut off from civili-zation and the influence of known Prophets have a sure understanding of His Oneness, though they may have little understanding of how to live according to that belief, a Messenger must have been sent to them at some time in the past:
For every people there is a Messenger. When
their Messenger comes, the matter is judged be-
tween them with justice, and they are not
As pointed out above, whenever people fell into darkness after a Prophet, God sent another one to en-lighten them again. This continued until the coming of the Last Prophet. The reason for sending Prophets Moses and Jesus required that Prophet Muhammad should be sent. As his message was for everyone, re-gardless of time or place, Prophethood ended with him.
Due to certain sociological and historical facts, which require a lengthy explanation, Prophet Muham-mad was sent as ―a mercy for all worlds‖ (21:107). For
this reason, Muslims believe in all of the Prophets and make no distinction among them:
The Messenger believes in what has been sent
onto him by his Lord, and so do the believers.
They all believe in God and his angels, His
Scriptures and His Messengers: ―We make no
distinction between any of His Messengers‖—
and they say: ―We hear and obey. Grant us Your
forgiveness, our Lord; to You is the journeying.‖
That is why Islam, revealed by God and conveyed to humanity by Prophet Muhammad, is universal and eternal.
Describing Prophethood and narrating the stories of all Prophets is beyond the scope of this book. By focusing on the Prophethood of the Seal of the Proph-ets, who told us about the other Prophets and Divine Scriptures and made our Lord known to us, we will make the other Prophets known and prove their Pro-phethood.
Belief in God, the source of happiness, and follow-ing the Last Prophet and Messenger of God are the keys to prosperity in both worlds. If we want to be saved from despair and all negative aspects of life and attain intellectual, spiritual, and material perfection, we must believe whole-heartedly that Muhammad is the Messenger of God and follow his guidance.
Peace and Blessings Be upon Him
If we were to imagine ourselves in the world of 1,400 years ago, we would find a completely different world. The opportunity to exchange ideas would be scarce, and the means of communication limited and undeve-loped. Darkness would hold sway, and only a faint glimmer of learning, hardly enough to illumine the horizon of human knowledge, would be visible. The people of that time had a narrow outlook, and their ideas of humanity and things were confined to their limited surroundings. Steeped in ignorance and supers-tition, their unbelief was so strong and widespread that they refused to consider anything as being lofty and sublime unless it appeared in the garb of the superna-tural. They had developed such an inferiority complex that they could not imagine any person having a godly soul or a saintly disposition.
The Prophet’s Homeland
In that benighted era, darkness lay heavier and thicker in one land than in any other. The neighboring coun-tries of Persia, Byzantium, and Egypt possessed a glimmer of civilization and a faint light of learning, but the Arabian peninsula, isolated and cut off by vast oceans of sand, was culturally and intellectually one of the world‘s most backward areas. The Hijaz, birthplace of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, had not passed through even the limited development of neighboring regions, and had not experienced any so-cial evolution or attained any intellectual development of note. Although their highly developed language could express the finest shades of meaning, a study of their literature reveals the limited extent of their know-ledge. All of this shows their low cultural and civiliza-tional standards, their deeply superstitious nature, their
barbarous and ferocious customs, and their uncouth and degraded moral standards and conceptions.
It was a land without a government, for every tribe claimed sovereignty and considered itself independent. The only law recognized was that of the jungle. Rob-bery, arson, and the murder of innocent and weak people was the norm. Life, property, and honor were constantly at risk, and tribes were always at daggers drawn with each other. A trivial incident could engulf them in ferocious warfare, which sometimes developed into a conflagration that would engulf the whole coun-try for decades. In The Arab Civilization Joseph Hell
These struggles destroyed the sense of national
unity and developed an incurable particularism;
each tribe deeming itself self-sufficient and re-
garding the rest as its legitimate victims for mur-
der, robbery and plunder.
Barely able to discriminate between pure and im-pure, lawful and unlawful, their concepts of morals, culture, and civilization were primitive and uncouth. Their life was wild and their behavior was barbaric. They reveled in adultery, gambling, and drinking. They stood naked before each other without shame, and women circumambulated the Ka‗ba in the nude.
Their prestige called for female infanticide rather than having someone ―inferior‖ become their son-in-
law and eventual heir. They married their widowed stepmothers and knew nothing of the manners asso-ciated with eating, dressing, and cleanliness. Worship-pers of stones, trees, idols, stars, and spirits, they had forgotten the teachings of earlier Prophets. They had an idea that Abraham and Ishmael were their forefa-thers, but almost all of these forefathers‘ religious knowledge and understanding of God had been lost.
Muhammad’s Life before His Prophethood
Thus was Prophet Muhammad‘s homeland where he
was born in 571. His father ‗Abdullah died before he
was born, and his mother Amina died when he was 6 years old. Consequently, he was deprived of whatever training and upbringing an Arab child of that time re-ceived. During his childhood, he tended flocks of sheep and goats with other Bedouin boys. As educa-tion never touched him, he remained completely unlet-tered and unschooled.
The Prophet left the Arabian peninsula only twice. As a youth, he accompanied his uncle Abu Talib on a trade mission to al-Sham (present-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan). The other time was when he led another trade mission to the same region for the widow Khadija, a wealthy Makkan merchant 15 years his senior. They got married when he was 25, and lived happily together until she died more than 20 years later.
Being unlettered, he read no Jewish or Christian religious texts, or had he any appreciable relationship with them. Makka‘s ideas and customs were idolatrous and wholly untouched by Christian or Jewish religious thought. Even Makka‘s hanifs, those who followed
some of Abraham‘s pure religion in an adulterated and
unclear form and rejected idolatry, were not influenced by Judaism or Christianity. No Jewish or Christian thought is reflected in the surviving poetic heritage of these people. Had the Prophet made any effort to be-come acquainted with their thought, it would have been noticed.
Moreover, Muhammad, peace and blessings be
upon him, avoided the locally popular intellectual forms of poetry and rhetoric even before his Prophet-hood. History records no distinction that set him over others, except for his moral commitment, trustworthi-ness, honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. He did not lie, an assertion proven by the fact that not even his worst
enemies ever called him a liar. He talked politely and never used obscene or abusive language. His charming personality and excellent manners captivated the hearts of those who met him. He always followed the prin-ciples of justice, altruism, and fair play with others, and never deceived anyone or broke his promises.
Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was engaged in trade and commerce for years, but never entered into a dishonest transaction. Those who had business dealings with him had full confidence in his integrity. Everyone called him al-Amin (the Truthful
and the Trustworthy). Even his enemies left their pre-cious belongings with him for safe custody, and he scrupulously fulfilled their trust. He was the embodi-ment of modesty in a society that was immodest to the core.
Born and raised among people who regarded drun-kenness and gambling as virtues, he never drank alcohol or gambled. Surrounded by heartless people, his own heart overflowed with the milk of human kindness. He helped orphans, widows, and the poor, and was hospita-ble to travelers. Harming no one, he exposed himself to hardship for their sake. Avoiding tribal feuds, he was the foremost worker for reconciliation. He never bowed before any created thing or partook of offerings made to idols, even when he was a child, for he hated all wor-ship devoted to that which was not God. In brief, his towering and radiant personality, when placed in the midst of such a benighted and dark environment, may be likened to a beacon of light illuminating a pitch-dark night, to a diamond shining among a heap of coal.
And What Was His Message?
Suddenly a remarkable change came over him. His heart, illuminated with Divine Light, now had the power for which he had yearned. He left the confine-ment of the cave to which he used to retire at regular