(Translated. by Dr Shehzad Saleem)
People through whom the Almighty completed providing His guidance to mankind are called prophets. They were, in fact, human beings; however, the Almighty selected them for this purpose on the basis of His all embracing knowledge and wisdom. As such, prophethood is God-given and cannot be acquired through self-effort or training. It is evident from the Qur'ān that only those people were chosen as prophets who were able to shield themselves from the lures of their inner-self as well as those of Satan, guard themselves against sin and were the righteous and pious among their people.
The Almighty sent these prophets to every community. He had promised Adam (sws) that He would guide his progeny through guidance revealed by Him. This guidance was given to mankind through these very prophets. After receiving revelation from God, they told what the truth was to people, gave glad tidings to those who believed in Him and warned those who did not believe in Him of a dreadful fate.
Prophets were not needed to make people recognize their Lord or give them a means to distinguish between good and evil. These facts are ingrained in their nature and innately found in them. Thus the need for prophets did not arise to inform man of these things; it arose because of two other reasons.
Firstly, for completion of guidance. This means that man be reminded of whatever is ingrained in his nature in concise form and of whatever he has known eternally and all its details be specified for him.
Secondly, for itmām al-hujjah. This means to awaken man from his slumber of unawareness and after providing the testimony of his intellect and knowledge provide another testimony through these prophets to such an extent that no one is left with any excuse to deny the truth.
Through the prophethood of Muhammad (sws), both these objectives had been achieved at the global level and accomplished to the utmost. Hence the institution of prophethood was terminated. The Qur'ān declared him to be the last prophet. After him, no prophet or messenger shall come.
Every right-minded person has no difficulty in recognizing a prophet. If a person has a discerning mind and a vibrant heart, then the very person of a prophet is a miracle. However, besides this, the Almighty blesses a prophet with potent signs which, though may not induce his adversaries to openly acknowledge him, are enough to leave them with no excuse to deny his veracity. It is evident from the Qur'ān that these signs are given to every prophet and their nature depends upon his times and circumstances. We shall mention a few of these in the following paragraphs:
i. A prophet generally comes in accordance with the prediction of the prophet who precedes him and comes as a fulfillment of this prediction. Viewed thus, he is not an un-introduced personality. People are familiar with him and also await him. It is known from the Bible that the Prophet John (sws) foretold the coming of Jesus (sws) all over Jerusalem. The predictions of the advent of Muhammad (sws) are mentioned both in the Old and the New Testaments. One of the primary objectives of the advent of Jesus (sws) was to prophesy about the coming of an unlettered prophet in Arabia. The Qur'ān has presented as a conclusive proof of its own authenticity the fact that the scholars of the Israelites recognize the Qur'ān the way an estranged father recognizes his much awaited and promised son. This means that they also fully recognized Muhammad (sws).
ii. Whatever a prophet presents as the word and message of God is without any contradiction and inconsistency. Even the most ultimate of geniuses of this world like Socrates and Aristotle, Kant and Einstein, Ghālib and Iqbāl, Rāzī and Zamakhsharī cannot make such a claim about the works they have produced. However, the Qur'ān has vehemently asserted about itself that there is not a semblance of contradiction in the philosophy and ideology it presents and there is not the slightest evolution or development in its style that a person can detect. Is it possible that for years a person should give speeches on a variety of topics in different situations and circumstances and when these speeches are compiled from the beginning to the end they form such a harmonious and congruous discourse that it has no contradiction of views and does not reflect any effects of mood change of the speaker and also does not depict any revision or change of views? Only the Qur'ān has this characteristic.
iii. A prophet is blessed with miracles from God. The Qur'ān has specified that one of the reasons for which extra-ordinary miracles were given to Jesus (sws) and Moses (sws) was to authenticate them as messengers of God. No one can reject these miracles by pronouncing them as magic or trickery. The reason for this is that the reality behind such acts is very much known to those adept in such disciplines and they too are compelled to acknowledge such acts as miracles.
The miracle given to the Prophet (sws) to validate his prophethood is the Qur'ān. When those who are aware of the stylistic features of Arabic language and of its literary tradition and also have a literary appreciation of the language read the Qur'ān, they clearly feel that this could not have been produced by human beings. Thus, at more than one instance, it has challenged its addressees who do not regard it to be of divine origin and regard it to be a fabrication of Muhammad (sws) to produce just a single sūrah that can match the majestic style of the Qur'ān. If a person from amongst them in their own opinion can produce such a discourse without any literary and academic background, then they should also have no problem in doing so.
This Book of God is still with us. Fourteen centuries have passed ever since it was revealed. During this period, our world has undergone tremendous changes. Many ideologies and thoughts were presented by man only to be rejected by him later. Theories regarding man's being and those regarding the universe around him were put forth every now and then. Each underwent a process of acceptance or rejection in various periods of time. His intellectual journey took him through various paths and destinations; however, this Book of God is the only book which is as unassailable and sound today as it was fourteen centuries ago regarding the various facts it presents and which have remained under academic discussion in the past few centuries. Knowledge and intellect helplessly acknowledged its superiority at that time the way they do today. Every statement it has given has stood the test of time. The world, in spite of its astounding scientific and academic discoveries, has failed to present a better alternative to the views it presents.
iv. The Almighty informs a prophet of certain unknown things which are impossible to come into the knowledge of any other human being. One example of this is the predictions made by divine revelations which were fulfilled to the utmost. Some of these predictions are mentioned in the Qur'ān and some in the Hadīth narratives. Every student of the Qur'ān is aware of the predictions regarding the supremacy of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) in Arabia, the conquest of Makkah and the people entering the folds of Islam in multitudes. Another great prediction made by the Qur'ān was the victory of the Romans after being defeated by the Persians.
When this prediction was made, then in the words of Edward Gibbon: "No prophecy could be more distant from its accomplishment, since the first twelve years of Heraclius announced the approaching dissolution of the empire."However, it was fulfilled at the very time it was meant to and in March 628 AD the Roman emperor returned to Constantinople with such splendour that four elephants were pulling his chariot and numerous people stood outside the city with lanterns and branches of olive to welcome back their hero.
v. Prophets who are also designated as Messengers (rusul) are a symbol of divine justice in this world and decide the fate of their people in this very world. The way this is brought about is that if these Messengers abide by their covenant with God they are rewarded in this world and if they deviate from it they are punished in this world. The result is that the very existence of these Messengers becomes a sign of God and it is as if they witness God walking on earth with these Messengers and administering justice. It is this situation which becomes the basis of passing judgement by the Almighty both in this world and in that to come. Consequently, the Almighty grants supremacy to these Messengers and punishes those who reject their message.
The Almighty has directed people to obey a prophet. He has made it very clear in His Book that a prophet is not merely to be revered, he is to be obeyed also. He is not sent that people merely regard him to be a prophet and then leave him aside; he is not merely one who counsels and preaches; he is a guide who must be obeyed. The very objective of his coming is that whatever guidance he provides in all affairs of life must be followed without any hesitation. Moreover, obeying a prophet is not merely a ritual. The Qur'ān requires from a believer to obey him with the spirit of following him and with full sincerity, full reverence and full devotion.