The Prophet Muhammad (saw)
Prophethood
 

The Institution of Prophethood

CONCEPTS RELATED TO PROPHETHOOD

Belief in the prophets is an important principle in Islam and in other Abrahamic religions. In order to understand the information related to this issue, one must understand various concepts concerning prophethood. Among these are concepts such as nubuwwat (prophethood), revelation, nabi (prophet) and rasul (messenger prophet).

Prophethood

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Ahzab 45-46

Nubuwwat is an Arabic term that means "to give news that is unknown." The use of nubuwwat to mean prophethood in Islamic culture has the following definition: "The assignment of a person chosen by Allah, the Creator of the universe, as an intermediary with humans for the purpose of informing them about religious and worldly issues and announcing the orders of Allah." Through revelations Allah has provided knowledge to the human being He chose to be messenger and has commanded them to inform mankind about all the issues that are necessary for humanity to know; among these are His own existence, His attributes, the creation of the universe with all the living and the nonliving creatures, its formation and the purpose of its creation, its system and its end, the afterlife, and the role, significance and duties of humanity among the other creatures, methods of knowledge, and the main rules that need to be obeyed in the world to ensure the happiness of individuals and societies.

As a consequence, the revelation is an essential element in the idea of nubuwwat, and nubuwwat represents the relationship and communication between Allah and His creatures. Well, then "What is the revelation?"

Revelation

a) The Definition of Revelation

The literal meaning of the word revelation is "to secretly inform, or a word that is secretly conveyed.As a term it means "an uncovering of information related to various issues via direct communication from Allah or through His messengers in the form of words or meanings." The prophet who receives the revelations knows absolutely that this information, which comes to him beyond his will, is conveyed to him by Allah. The prophet perceives, through these experiences, that the revelations are being imparted to him. However, physical and psychological changes happen to the prophets during the conveyance of the revelations. As a matter of fact, it is known that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sweated, even when the weather was cold, when he was receiving revelations, that the camel he was riding on took up a crouching position with the influence of the revelation and that sometimes the people around him heard sounds resembling that of bee buzzing. (Bukhari, "Bad'u'l-vahy", 1, "Fazailu'l-Quran", 2; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, I, 34, II, 176). Due to the miracles performed by the Prophet, the people around him knew that the information he was receiving were revelations. The revelation that constitutes the nubuwwat in the Quran is a divine address and inspiration, and was also revealed to such people as the mothers of Moses and Christ, who were not prophets, as well as to angels, to fire, to bees, the earth and the firmament. Moreover, the word revelation in the Quran sometimes refers to the feelings and thoughts imposed by Satan. However, this is only the literal meaning of the word revelation and has no relation to the revelations imparted to the prophets.

b) Types of Revelations

The revelations granted by Allah occurred in various forms:

Reliable Dreams. At the beginning, the revelation occurs in the exact same form that was experienced by Prophet Muhammad in his dreams. It is known that all the dreams of the Prophet during the beginning of the nubuwwat came to be, just like the dawn of the day. Other prophets also received such revelations.

Revelation via Angels. The revelation can be conveyed to the prophets by the Archangel Gabriel, who is assigned to carry information either in the form of his true image or in the form of a person, or without being visible. The revelations that were imparted to the Prophet by Gabriel took place in all three forms.

Revelation without an intermediary. Allah can reveal the desired information to the prophet by directly addressing him, or by creating information within the prophet's heart. Such revelations were imparted to Moses on Mount Horeb and to the Prophet Muhammad during the Mi'raj. All three revelation types are mentioned in the Quran.

c) The Possibility of Revelation

The revelation, which is in essence a spiritual experience, can occur with mental activity. In the Quran it is explained that not only are there visible entities, but there are also invisible entities and the possibility of revelation is expressed in the following way: "O! People. Know that you as ordinary people were not created in a way to see all the entities. Do not think that the beings only consist of the ones you see." The prophets are created with superior qualities and they can see and contact entities that are not seen by us. This is not impossible. The fact that the living entities are created with different capabilities verifies this statement of the Quran and the results of recent scientific developments that have identified the existence of invisible entities also confirm this truth.

Nabi-Rasul

The term Nabi means "heralder" or "the one heralded". Rasul on the other hand means "the messenger who conveys the news".  As a religious term, rasul is defined as the "person chosen among people and given a book by Allah through revelations in order to convey His orders."

According to the information in the Quran, Allah chose the nabis and rasuls. He did not grant books only to His rasuls but also to Hisnabis; Moses, Aaron and Ishmael were mentioned as rasul-nabi (Al-Hadid 57/25-26, Al-Ankabut 29/27, As-Saffat 7/114-117). In addition to this, there are also explanations within the Quran which might mean that there exists a separation between the termsrasul and nabi. The term rasul is defined as "a prophet sent with a new sharia," while the term nabi  is defined as the "prophet who announces the sharia brought by the previous prophet." Rasul is also used as a reference to an angel or the angels that act as intermediaries between Allah and His creation. However, the angels that take the souls of people are called rusul, and are described as winged messengers. These angels are referred to as rusul, while others, particularly Archangel Gabriel, are called rasul. (Al-An'am 7/37, Al-Fatir35/1, Al-Haqqa 69/40).

Faith in the Institution of the Prophethood

Human beings were created in order to act as the caliphs/vicegerents of Allah. Although humans are the only beings among the visible entities who are able to reason, who can choose between right and wrong, and act according to their free will, they were not abandoned with their mind and their free-will, but due to Divine grace and wisdom they were given support with the institution of prophethood so that they could solve their problems and be led to the right path. The institution of prophethood consists of the prophets chosen by Allah from among the people and the revelations imparted unto these prophets. Since the beginning of creation until the time of Muhammad (pbuh), prophets were periodically and sometimes simultaneously or consecutively sent to people; they showed them the right path which would lead them to happiness both in this world and in the afterlife and acted as guides for humanity in material and spiritual issues.

Since the prophets promised heaven to those who had faith in Allah and spoke of the punishment of hell for those who denied Allah or acted against His commands, and as they taught people what could not be known to them through their senses or comprehension, they constituted absolute proofs of the existence of Allah for the people by providing information from the transcendental world.

Islam, after necessitating faith in Allah, without making distinctions between the prophets, makes it an obligation for people to have faith in all the prophets and all the books brought by them. Whether they are called nabis or rasuls, people are required to believe in all the prophets. In addition to this, it is necessary for people to have absolute faith in the fact that those people whose names are mentioned as prophets in the Quran were prophets. People should also believe that each society was provided with a prophet. As a matter of fact, there are clear orders in the Quran, such as "have faith in the prophets" and it is further stated that those who refuse to acknowledge the prophets or their revelations are committing acts of distortion and that they shall be subjected to vileness on earth and thrown into hell in the afterlife. (Al-Baqarah 2/21, 151, 213; Al-i Imran 3/164, An-Nisa 4/165; Al-Anaam 6/48; Al-Ta-ha 20/123).

The Islamic scholars agree that those who do not have faith in the institution of the prophethood and in the prophets whose names are stated in the Quran are not Muslims. On this issue there is no conflict among the scholars.

Faith in the Prophets

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Faith in the prophets is one of the principles considered mandatory in the Quran (Al-Baqarah 2/285; Al-i Imran 3/179; An-Nisa 4/136, 150, 152), by the sunnah (practices of the Prophet) (Bukhari, "Faith", 37; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, IV, 114) and by Islamic scholars. That is, one should have absolute faith in the fact that all the prophets from Adam, the first prophet, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were sent by Allah as intermediaries to people in order to convey His divine commands.

Faith in the prophets reveals itself as a complete acceptance of all the prophets. However, as is true for each of the principles of faith, there are also detailed aspects of belief in the prophets. In order to prevent ourselves from pursuing a wrong or deviated belief, detailed information is required. This information can be divided into such topics as the number of prophets, their names and attributes.

The Number of Prophets

In the Quran there is no information about how many prophets were sent to humanity in total, however it is stated that for each particular society and region prophets have been sent heralding heaven for those who believed and obeyed the divine commands of Allah and threatening those who deny His existence or those who rebel against Him with hell. The names of some of these prophets are mentioned in the Quran and their struggles with their tribes are explained, yet for some of the prophets no accounts are provided.

In some of the accounts associated with the Prophet Muhammad, it was stated that 124,000 prophets, 315 of whom were rasuls,had been sent to humanity (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad V, 266). However, since there is no clear information, it would not be appropriate to determine an accurate number. With respect to these, belief in Prophet Muhammad and Islam involves believing in all the prophets that have been sent from the first prophet Adam and the last prophet Muhammad. However, it is necessary to have faith in each of the prophets mentioned in the Quran. The names of the prophets mentioned in the Quran are Adam, David, Elisha, Job,  Aaron, Heber, Abraham, Enoch, Elias, Jesus, Ishaq, Ishmael, Lot, Moses, Noah, Saleh, Solomon, Shoaib, Jacob, John, Jonah, Joseph, Zachariah, Dhu'l-Kifl and Muhammad. The prophethood statuses of Ezra, Luqman and Dhu'l-Qarnain are controversial.

Complete faith in the prophets is only possible by being able to perceive their qualities which are proven by the revelations. As a matter of fact, most of the time people embrace superstitious or false beliefs related to the prophets based on their own thoughts. It is known that the Jews and the Christians attribute supernatural qualities to some prophets, giving them characteristics of a deity. Islam persistently emphasizes the qualities of the prophets and provides clear information in order to prevent people from making these kinds of mistakes. It would be useful here to look at the qualities of the prophets in order to ground the issue of faith in the prophets on a more solid foundation.

The Qualities of the Prophets

Their Human Qualities

The first issue which is necessary to perceive about the prophets is that they were human beings. According to this, every prophet is born, grows, sleeps, becomes hungry, acquires nourishment by eating and drinking, has children, becomes affected by the conditions of nature, loves and hates, is happy or sad, becomes ill and dies, just like all other human beings. These are the aspects of the prophets that are common with all human beings. Their human nature necessitates these qualities. It is also very natural that they have human qualities, as they are the messengers that Allah sent to human beings. Human beings converse and establish relationships with other human beings and acquire information from one another, as well as treating other people as examples.

The prophets were assigned to teach and lead societies, thus they were granted with superior qualities which did not obviate the fact that they were human beings. Among these qualities are their intelligence, wisdom and lofty ethics; they were created without flaws and had beautiful bodies physically. In order to efficiently convey the divine messages and to struggle with people with argumentative characters it was necessary for them to be flawless and perfect physically and to have superior intelligence and wisdom in terms of their intellectual aspects. The captivating beauty of Prophet Joseph and the arguments of Prophet Abraham, which led him to defeat Nimrod and to come up with his intelligent plan to reveal the meaninglessness of idolatry, are remarkable examples of this issue.

Despite their human qualities, what distinguishes the prophets from other people is the fact that they were created with a natural disposition that led them to perform their duties as divine messengers and to receive revelation from Allah. As a matter of fact, this issue is mentioned in the Quran and it is stated that the prophets were humans just like us, yet they received revelations. (Al-Kahf 18/110) It was only through the revelations imparted by Allah that the prophets were able to perceive this information, which otherwise is impossible to acquire through the senses or mind.  It would be impossible for the prophets to know about the future unless they had received revelations. In the Quran it is clearly stated that the prophets, as human beings, were unable to predict the future, unless informed about it by Allah (Al-Anaam 6/50; Al-Araf  7/187; Al-Hud 11/31), and that they would be considered normal human beings if the revelations had not been imparted to them. It is only through the revelations that the prophets were able to perceive the future (Al-Jinn 72/26). They possessed no divine powers.

One of the qualities of the prophets is that they were all men. In the Quran the prophets were all mentioned as "men". (Joseph 12/109; An-Nahl 16/42; Al-Anbiyaa 21/7). Although it is stated that mothers of prophets, such as Mary (Jesus) and Asiyah (Moses) received revelations, these women were not assigned to convey these revelations to the people. Since prophethood is a strenuous duty which required undergoing great difficulties and because women were not physically strong enough to bear these hardships, nor did they have the position in society required to fulfill the role of prophethood, women were not given the role of prophets.

The Assignment of Prophets by Allah

The prophets were people chosen by Allah. No prophet ever acquired prophethood via their own efforts. In this context, prophethood is not acquired, but divinely granted. That is to say, Allah created the person who was to become a prophet as an efficient human in terms of their spiritual and physical structure and announced who was to be a prophet (Al-Anaam 6/124). This decision is completely in the hands of the Creator. The prophethood is not passed on from father to son. The fact that the son of Prophet Noah and the father of Abraham were idolaters is proof that prophethood was not hereditary.

Their Immunity to Sin (Infallibility)

The prophets were exemplary people on all the issues, particularly on the issue of obedience to divine commands, and in accordance with the purpose of the duty of prophets Allah granted them immunity to sins (infallibility). It was only through their infallibility that the prophets, under divine protection from the beginning of their prophethood, abstained from evil and pursued good deeds and led people in all issues, such as worship, Islamic laws and ethics by obeying the divine commands. As a result of their human characteristics, it would be impossible for them to completely avoid making mistakes. This is because total infallibility is a quality which solely belongs to Allah. Since the prophets were human beings they were subject to making mistakes, yet such behavior was prevented by warnings from Allah. As a consequence, they ascended to a superior human level by being granted immunity to mistakes and sins.

Adam's eating from the Tree of Knowledge, violating the divine prohibition, and Moses' killing a person occurred in the periods before their prophethood. However, no prophet committed a sin while they were prophets; during this time they were under divine protection and supervision. They were warned against their small errors and told if their behavior was not right. For instance, Prophet Muhammad granted permission to the hypocrites who presented their apologies when he set out for campaign to Tabuk (Al-Tawba, 9/117); Prophet Muhammad almost came into a state which could have been affected by the suggestions of other people (Al-Isra, 17/73-74), but was warned about this. Islamic scholars call these insignificant sins zalla. Except for the zalla, it can be seen that the prophets are different from other people with their superior morality and virtues. Moreover, being infallible is the only way for their messages to affect people. It can be understood by examining the lives of the prophets that they were protected from sin. This infallibility only applies to the prophets. No human apart from them has this characteristic.

Their Trustworthiness (Amanat)

Prophets are trustworthy people, not only in performing their prophetic duties, but also in the worldly acts they carry out. As a matter of fact, a breach of trust would not suit a prophet. "Whosoever embezzled will bring what he embezzled with him on the Day of Resurrection" (Al-i Imran, 3/161). The fact that prophets, who were to be exemplary figures for human beings and who were thus protected against committing sins, were trustworthy people is a result of their infallibility. Their quality of being trustworthy in every aspect is both supported by dogmas, and there is a common acceptance of this fact among people, believers or otherwise. This feature of the prophets is known as amanat.

Their Conveyance of the Revelations

Although this feature must be mentioned along with the trustworthiness of the prophets, it is regarded as a separate feature, known as conveyance. The fact that the prophets, who speak of heaven but also warn of hell, accurately conveyed the revelations of Allah was due to the duty which had been given them. Because it would be inappropriate for them to show indolence or negligence while performing this duty, they were given the ability to convey the revelations. As a matter of fact, the Quran clearly states that the prophets are responsible for conveying the revelations (Al-Maida, 5/67), that they fear nobody (Al-Ahzab, 33/39), that they never convey anything apart from the revelations (Al-i Imran, 3/79-80), and, in addition to their accuracy in conveying the revelations, they never show indolence or weakness while fighting in the name of Allah (Al-i Imran, 3/146). In view of these, one of the quintessential features of the prophets is their conveyance of the revelations. For this reason, every prophet that was sent conveyed revelations in the language of their people, so that they could make the message clear for them (Ibrahim 14/4).

Ranks of the Prophets

All prophets are reputable and superior humans. There is nobody among the people or spirits that is superior to the prophets. Although all prophets were sent revelations and assistance, there is an order of superiority among themselves in terms of the way in which the revelations were sent, the period of the prophethood and the geography to which they were sent. Some prophets were sent holy books while others were sent pages (suhuf); some prophets received revelation by speaking directly with Allah, while others prophets received revelation via Gabriel or in other ways. Some prophets were sent to a certain tribe, some of them are assigned to help other prophets, but the last prophet, Muhammad, was sent to all people. In view of this, it is natural to have a ranking among the prophets. The Quran mentions this issue as follows: "Of those messengers, some of whom We have caused to excel others, and of whom there are some unto whom Allah spoke, while some of them He exalted above others in degree" (Al-Baqarah, 2/253; Al-Isra, 17/35). In consideration of this, the last Prophet Muhammad is the superior prophet due to the fact that his prophethood was universal; in addition, he, brought information that will be valid for humans until the Day of Judgment, he brought a valuable book and accordingly he brought the perfection of the religion. Prophets that were sent with a new book or a new form of the religion come in ranking after Prophet Muhammad. These prophets are David, Moses and Jesus. In the verses that state a superiority among the prophets (Al-Baqarah, 2/253; Al-Isra, 17/35), the names of the prophets that are superior are given. Aside from these prophets, it is reported that Noah and Abraham are also prophets with high ranks (Al-Anaam, 6/83; Al-Ahzab 33/7). These prophets, including Prophet Muhammad, are called the ulu al-azm, meaning prophets that determinedly faced great obstacles (Al-Ahqaf, 46/35).

Duties of the Prophets

Although the prophets, who tried to lead humans to bliss in this world and the afterlife with the information they brought, who never charged a fee for this information and who risked their lives, fearing no threats, were called names by people such as: "liar, slanderer, wizard, madman, crazy" (Al-Yunus, 10/12; Al-Mu'minun, 23/24-25; An-Nur, 24/43; As-Sa'd, 38/4-5; Ad-Dukhan, 44/13-14), they still continued to perform their duties. In a general framework, their basic duties included the conveyance and practice of the revelations sent by Allah to humans. More specifically, we can summarize their duties as follows:

  • To report that there is no god but Allah. To invite people to believe only in Allah and to worship Him alone. After teaching them how to worship, the prophets remind people to worship only Allah, not to worship any inanimate objects, animals, humans or angels. Although many people believe in Allah, they also call on other beings as holy, referring to them as divine and worshipping them (An-Nahl, 16/36; Az-Zumar, 39/3; Al-Yusuf, 12/106, 109). Additionally, the prophets explain the fundamental principles that must be believed, they notify people about the existence of the afterlife and to tell them how to prepare for there.
  • After conveying and explaining the divine orders of this world and the afterlife, the prophets become exemplary figures for humans by practicing these divine orders.
  • The prophets refer to the divine orders in all issues, act according to them and do not pay attention to human desires (An-Nahl, 16/36; Az-Zumar, 39/3; Al-Yusuf, 12/106, 109).
  • They give advice to humans, thus helping them reduce their devotion to worldly things and making them decent and virtuous people.
  • They constitute absolute proof of Allah with the messages they have brought from the unknown world and from beyond the physical world.
Topaloğlu, Bekir; Yavuz, Y. Şevki; Çelebi, İlyas, İslam`da İnanç Esasları (Principles of Fatih in Islam), Çamlica Yayınları, İstanbul 2004.
 

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