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The Role of Prophets in Religion

 

In a classification made based on the belief in prophets, it is possible to make two categories: those religions that give a place to prophets and those that do not. In this kind of classification it can be seen that a significant number of religions, universal religions in particular, fall in the first category. Every system of belief gives a place to the belief in prophets according to its own structure. In almost all religions a prophet is thought of as a leader who gives man information regarding the unknown, including the metaphysical realm and the future, and who warns and educates people about various situations. In addition to this common view, there are also various different approaches in religions to the belief in prophets. For example, while some religions limit apostleship to certain periods of time, some accept that it is a continuing phenomenon. Similarly, there are different approaches among religions regarding the special characteristics prophets should possess.

Islam takes into consideration the belief in apostleship within the framework of the creed of Tawhid (Unity), and prophets form unity and wholeness in regard to the historical chain they form and the main theme of their messages. Expressing unity and wholeness pertaining to Allah's attributes not only in the theological sense, but also in the cosmological and anthropological senses as well, Tawhid comprises the essence of the message all prophets conveyed to mankind. In Islam there are two names used in relation to prophets: Nabi (apostle) and Rasul (messenger). Every prophet is a messenger, a vehicle for conveying and making a call for the truths he received from Allah and, at the same time, an apostle warning people about the approaching day of reckoning.

Islam points out that in reality prophets are all human beings. They are definitely not divine or semi-divine creatures. In this respect, Islam sharply distinguishes itself from traditions that consider prophets to be divine creatures or angels. The Quran occasionally points out people who express objections in this respect to Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) apostleship and it rejects their objections. Together with each being a normal human being, prophets, unlike other men, have the distinction of having been chosen  as a messenger and, thus, convey the message or book they received from Allah. However, their duties do not stop here; at the same time, they are each a guide and example in regard to living and practicing the divine message they conveyed to mankind and a teacher educating people on this message...

Together with giving an important place to the belief in prophets, Islam definitely cannot be perceived as a prophet-centered religion. For the center of religion is only the creed of Tawhid based on Allah's absolute unity and oneness in every area. The existence of prophets is based on being an exemplar to mankind regarding the conveyance and teaching of this creed and the individual and social perception of it. On this subject Islam differs fundamentally from religions that over exalt and deify prophets and give them prominence over the belief in God. From Adam to Muhammad -prophets were each just a prophet, nothing more... They were each a leader chosen and exalted in degree for this purpose by Allah. They should be perceived and accepted in this way and no extremes should be resorted to regarding them. Just like the message in the Quran that warns Muslims regarding Muhammad in this verse: "Muhammad is just a prophet. Prophets came and went before him. Now if he dies or is killed, will you return to the past? Whoever turns back will never harm Allah. Allah will reward those who are grateful" (Al-i Imran: 144).

The Hues of Belief Corner by Sinasi Gunduz, a professor of the history of religions, deals with the attitude of Prophet Muhammad towards other religions and his relationship with their members
 

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Şinasi Gündüz

Professor Şinasi Gündüz, the head of the Religious History department at the Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University, graduated from the Faculty of Theology, Ankara University in 1984. In 1991 he completed his doctorate at the Middle East Research Department, Manchester University. In 1995 he received his associate professorship from Ondokuz Mayıs University, Faculty of Theology, and he became a professor in 2003 at Istanbul University, Faculty of Theology. Still head of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Istanbul University, Faculty of Theology, Şinasi Gündüz is a member of the Executive Board of the Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University and is a member of the Senate of Istanbul University; Professor Gündüz has published a large number of international articles. He has written sections for international publications and presented articles in a number of refereed journals and at international academic conferences, making great contributions to the field of religious history. In 2004 Professor Gündüz was seen worthy of the Successful Researcher Award by the Istanbul University Rector's Office and in 2005 by the Istanbul University Academic Research Projects Institute.

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