Faith and Beliefs
Superiority of the Prophets
Prophets hold a general degree of superiority over all human beings. Consequently, the Qur'an, at one place, after mentioning some prophets has said:) وَكُلاًّ فَضَّلْنَا عَلَى العَالَمِيْنَ (6: 86 (And to each We bestowed superiority over mankind, (6:86)). However, at another place, the Qur'an has clarified that these prophets amongst themselves – specially, the messengers (rusul) among them also hold relative superiority over one another in some aspect:
تِلْكَ الرُّسُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ مِّنْهُم مَّنْ كَلَّمَ اللّهُ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَجَاتٍ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ (2: 253)
Among these messengers We have exalted some above others such that to some God spoke directly, others He raised to a lofty status [in some other capacity] and [at the end] gave Jesus, son of Mary, manifest signs and helped him through the Holy Spirit. (2:253)
It is evident from this that God conversed with Moses (sws). In this particular aspect, he was superior to other prophets. Jesus (sws) was given manifest signs and was helped through the Holy Spirit and in this aspect was superior to others. In a similar manner, other prophets were blessed with some aspects of relative superiority. About himself, Muhammad (sws) is reported to have said:
فضلت على الأنبياء بست أعطيت جوامع الكلم ونصرت بالرعب وأحلت لي الغنائم وجعلت لي الأرض طهورا ومسجدا وأرسلت إلى الخلق كافة وختم بي النبيون (مسلم ، رقم: 523)
"I have been given superiority over other prophets in six things: (1) I have the ability to say what is comprehensive and concise; (2) I have been helped by means of striking awe [in my enemies]; (3) Spoils of war have been allowed to me; (4) The earth has been made a mosque for me and a means to obtain purity also; (5) I have been sent as a prophet to all mankind; (5) The chain of prophethood has culminated on me." (Muslim, No: 523)
This then is the correct attitude in expressing superiority of the prophets. At times, the Prophet (sws) has also reminded people about it. Once a Companion addressed him as: يَا خَيْرُ البَرِيَّة (O the best of mankind!). At this, he replied: "Such is Abraham."Once, someone asked him: "Who is the most honourable of men?" He replied: "Joseph, the prophet, who is son of a prophet who is the son of another prophet who is the son of Abraham."Once when a Muslim mentioned in his oath the superiority of Muhammad (sws) over the rest of the world, a Jew responded: "I swear by the Being who blessed superiority to Moses over the rest of the world." When the Muslim heard these words, he got infuriated and slapped the Jew. When the Jew complained to the Prophet (sws), the latter said: "Do not regard Moses to be inferior to me. At the Day of Judgement, when I will come out of the state of unconsciousness, he will be holding one corner of the throne. He would perhaps not be unconscious or would come to senses before me."
So clear is the guidance of religion on this issue; however, followers of prophets have seldom adhered to it; in fact, they adopted an entirely wrong attitude in place of it because of which biases and prejudices estranged them from one another. So much so, severe animosity developed between them which resulted in clashes and conflicts.
Imam Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:
… the attitude adopted by the followers of their respective prophets is that whatever prophet they professed belief in they regarded him to have absolute superiority over others and accepting any degree of pre-eminence for other prophets was deemed contrary to their beliefs. As a result of this bigotry and bias, each nation of prophets became confined in its own shell and the means of benefiting from the guidance and blessings of other prophets were closed on it. If people had adopted the right attitude, then every prophet would have been their prophet and every guidance would have been their guidance and they would also have benefited from the final guidance which was revealed in the form of the Qur'an. The following verse of Surah Bani Isra'il also alludes to this fact:) وَ لَقَدْ فَضَّلْنَا بَعضَ النَّبِيِّن عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَ اتَيْنَا دَاؤدَ زَبُوْرَا (17: 55 (And We also made certain prophets superior to others and to David We gave the Psalms, (17:55)).
Obeying the Prophets
An obvious outcome of professing faith in a prophet is that he should be obeyed at the behest of God. The Almighty 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. The Almighty says:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلاَّ لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ (64:4)
And whichever Messenger We sent forth, was sent so that he be obeyed by God's authority. (4:64)
مَنْ يُطِعِ الرَّسُوْل فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللهَ (4: 80)
The reason for this is that God does not directly interact with His servants. He gives guidance through prophets and messengers. No doubt, the real objective is to obey God. However, the means through which He can be obeyed is by obeying his prophets. In verses such as مَنْ يُطِعِ الرَّسُوْل فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللهَ (4: 80) (He who obeys the Prophet, in fact obeyed God, (4:80)) and others of similar meaning, the Almighty has alluded to this reality. He has also stated the ultimate limit to which a prophet needs to be obeyed: people must whole heartedly and without any hesitation accept his decision in disputes which arise among them:
فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا (65:4)
I swear by your Lord that they cannot be believers until they accept your decision in their disputes and whatever you decide they submit to without any unwillingness of their hearts. (4:65)
Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:
… the Almighty has sworn by Himself and said that these people cannot be regarded as believers until they accept Prophet Muhammad (sws) as their arbitrator in all disputes which arise among them and at the same time there comes a mental change in them that they accept his verdict without any hesitation whatsoever and with full willingness of the heart and without any reservation, consign themselves to him. Obeying the prophet is tantamount to obeying God; hence the obligation imposed on them is not merely to follow him outwardly but from the depths of their hearts too.
Thus obeying the Prophet (sws) is not merely a ritual. The Qur'an requires from a believer to obey him with the spirit of following him and with full sincerity and full reverence and devotion. If a person wants to achieve God's love, he has to obey and follow the Prophet (sws):
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (31:3)
Tell them: "If you love God, follow me; God will love you and forgive your sins and [you know this well that] God is Most-Forgiving and Ever-Merciful." (3:31)
The Prophet (sws) has explained this reality in various ways. In one narrative, he is reported to have said: "The faith in a person does not stand validated unless he prefers me to his father, sons and all others."
The etiquette taught to the Bedouin tribes that had come from the nearby areas of Madinah regarding their interaction with the Prophet Muhammad (sws) also clearly highlights this status of a prophet:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُقَدِّمُوا بَيْنَ يَدَيِ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلَا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ أَن تَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالُكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَغُضُّونَ أَصْوَاتَهُمْ عِندَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ امْتَحَنَ اللَّهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ لِلتَّقْوَى لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ (49: 1-3)
Believers! Do not give preference to your opinion before God and His Prophet. Have fear of God. Indeed, God hears and knows all. Believers! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet nor address him in a loud voice as you do to one another, lest your deeds should come to nothing and you are not even aware of this. [Remember] those who speak gently in the presence of God's prophet are the very people whose hearts God has chosen for nurturing piety. For them are forgiveness and a great reward. (49:1-3)
Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:
These verses instruct the Muslims about the etiquette which must necessarily be observed by them before the Prophet (sws). They say that those who keep their voices subdued in the presence of the Prophet (sws) are the ones whom the Almighty has chosen for nurturing piety in their hearts. The word امْتَحَنَ (to test) here actually encompasses the meaning of the word اصْطَفَى (to select) or of some similar word. It is evident from this that not every heart is appropriate before God for cultivating and fostering the seed of piety; He, in fact, selects hearts for this purpose by putting them through a trial and the real basis of His selection in this trial is whether a person has sincere emotions of obedience and true humility towards the Prophet (sws). The more a person has these things, the more is he blessed with piety and the more a person is devoid of them the farther away is he from piety. The mention of raising one's voice, as we have referred to before, is as an indicator of one's inner-self. A person who tries to raise his voice over that of some other person actually counts himself superior to him. This attitude closes the doors to access the knowledge and wisdom of others. If a student adopts this attitude before his teacher, then he will deprive himself from what he can learn from him. Similarly, if someone adopts this attitude with the Messenger of God, He will not only deprive himself from the prophetic guidance but also from the God-granted urge to do so because a Messenger is a representative of God.
Intercession of the Prophets
The real obligation of a prophet is to warn people of the fate – good or bad – that awaits them in the Hereafter; however, besides this, he also intercedes for his people before God. When a person wants to seek forgiveness from the Almighty then joining him in beseeching God for this forgiveness is called intercession. This is the real meaning of intercession. Thus without a person first taking the initiative in seeking forgiveness from God, it has no basis. A person who intercedes for someone is one who seeks forgiveness together with him and is another voice raised for this purpose and he in fact becomes a means for him in imploring and supplicating before God. The Qur'an says:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَعَالَوْا يَسْتَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ لَوَّوْا رُؤُوسَهُمْ وَرَأَيْتَهُمْ يَصُدُّونَ وَهُم مُّسْتَكْبِرُونَ (5:63)
And when they are told: "Come, God's Messenger will seek forgiveness for you," they wave their heads and you see them drawing away in arrogance. (63:5)
The first instance of intercession arises when a person professes faith, a prophet seeks forgiveness for him. The second instance arises when he commits a sin and after repenting seeks forgiveness from God. The Hypocrites of the times of the Prophet (sws) were, at one instance, urged by God to seek forgiveness from God themselves and also request the Prophet (sws) to do so if they wanted to repent from their sins. If they ask the Prophet (sws) for this, then this would be instrumental in directing God's mercy towards them. The Qur'an says:
وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ جَآؤُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُواْ اللّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُواْ اللّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا (4: 65)
And if they, having wronged themselves, had come to you and sought God's forgiveness and the Messenger had also sought God's forgiveness for them, they would have certainly found God Forgiving and Merciful. (4:65)
At various places, the Qur'an has urged people to seek forgiveness from the Almighty. In 39:53 and 12:87 it is said: "My servants! If you have wronged your souls do not lose hope of My mercy. Your Lord is Most Forgiving and Ever Merciful. If you turn to Him, He will forgive your sins. Remember! Believers never lose hope of His mercy." The Almighty has also explained his law about accepting repentance in 4:17-18: A person should repent as soon as he can after he commits a sin. This is because He never punishes people who while being overcome with emotions commit a sin and then repent immediately. However, He does not forgive people who deeply indulge in sin all their lives and when they see death approaching start to repent and seek forgiveness from the Almighty.
A little deliberation on the contents of these verses shows that the Almighty has not mentioned what will happen to people who after sinning do not repent immediately, yet do not delay repentance till their death. It is these people about whom one can expect intercession. Thus the Qur'an has affirmed this, and has also negated all the incorrect views that people formed about intercession which actually contradict God's justice and His reward and punishment for people.
The first thing asserted is that only God has the authority of intercession. Without His permission, no one can intercede for anyone. So much so, even the angels who are very close to Him cannot take the initiative in saying anything on their own. Thus it is essential to first please God so that intercession is allowed by Him and then also accepted:
أَمِ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ شُفَعَاء قُلْ أَوَلَوْ كَانُوا لَا يَمْلِكُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَعْقِلُونَ قُل لِّلَّهِ الشَّفَاعَةُ جَمِيعًا لَّهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ (39: 43-44)
Have they chosen others besides God to intercede for them? Tell them: "Can they intercede even if they have no power nor understanding?" Tell them: "Only God has authority over intercession. His rule extends over the heavens and the earth. Then to Him shall you be returned." (39:43-44)
وَقَالُوا اتَّخَذَ الرَّحْمَنُ وَلَدًا سُبْحَانَهُ بَلْ عِبَادٌ مُّكْرَمُونَ لَا يَسْبِقُونَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ وَهُم بِأَمْرِهِ يَعْمَلُونَ (21: 26-27)
And they say: "The Merciful has children." Glory be to God! They are but His honoured servants. They do not speak first before Him and obey only His directives. (21:26-27)
The second thing in this regard is that even after being permitted by God to speak, intercession shall be possible only for those about whom God pleases. No one shall be able to say anything about anyone out of his own will:
يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلَا يَشْفَعُونَ إِلَّا لِمَنِ ارْتَضَى وَهُم مِّنْ خَشْيَتِهِ مُشْفِقُونَ (28:21)
He knows what is before them and behind them. And they intercede for none except those whom He permits and tremble in awe of Him. (21:28)
يَوْمَئِذٍ لَّا تَنفَعُ الشَّفَاعَةُ إِلَّا مَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ الرَّحْمَنُ وَرَضِيَ لَهُ قَوْلًا يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِهِ عِلْمًا (20: 109-110)
On that Day, no intercession will avail except for him who is allowed by the Merciful and words about that person are acceptable to Him. He knows what is before them and behind them, and their knowledge cannot truly embrace Him. (20:109-110)
The third thing is that the person who is acceptable to God to be interceded for – about him too whatever will be allowed to be said would be the absolute truth:
لَا يَتَكَلَّمُونَ إِلَّا مَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ الرَّحْمَانُ وَقَالَ صَوَابًا(78: 38)
[On that Day], only they will speak whom the Merciful permits and they will say the truth. (78:38)
This is the point of view of the Qur'an regarding intercession. All narratives on this topic should be understood in the light of this view of the Qur'an and anything which contradicts this view should be ignored regarding it to be the handiwork of the narrators.
Finality of Prophethood
For centuries, prophets continued to come in every nation but this process has now terminated forever. It began with Adam (sws) until the time came when in one branch of the descendants of Abraham (sws), the Ishmaelites, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) arrived and the Qur'an declared that he was the final prophet and after him there would be no prophet or messenger. Although this was evident from the predictions of various prophets but it was mentioned in the Qur'an at the instance when the Almighty asked the Prophet (sws) to marry the divorced wife of Zayd Ibn Harithah (rta). This directive was given to reform an evil custom of the jahiliyyah period regarding adopted children. Consequently, it was said that since he is the last prophet, it is essential that this evil custom be set right through him. Had there been another prophet after him, the Almighty could possibly have delayed this matter. Since this was not to be the case, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) would have to fulfill this responsibility:
مَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَكِن رَّسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا (40:33)
Muhammadis the father of no man among you but he is the prophet of God and the seal of the prophets and God has knowledge of all things. (33:40)
One expression used in this verse is خَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ (khatam al-nabiyyin). The word خَاتَمَ (khatam) in Arabic means "a seal". A seal is used to seal something or to testify to something. In this verse, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) has been regarded as the seal of the prophets. The context and occasion in which this word occurs here shows that it is used in the first meaning referred to above and the meaning of the verse is that through Prophet Muhammad (sws) the institution of prophet was sealed. There is now no possibility of the advent of any further prophet or messenger. However, if someone insists that the word has been used in the second meaning above and if for the sake of discussion we accept this view, then too the result would be no different. In this case, the verse would mean that without his testimony no one's prophethood can be accepted. No doubt that we profess faith in prophets prior to Muhammad (sws) because of his own testimony about them and this is also a reality that he has neither foretold the advent of any prophet after him nor made such a testimony. In fact, he has repeatedly declared in clear and explicit words that he himself is the last of the prophets. Furthermore, he has also made it clear that not only the rank and position of prophethood has been terminated its essence has also been terminated. Thus no possibility remains for a person to receive divine revelations or visions or to converse and come in contact with God. After the termination of the institution of prophethood, all these things have ended too.
Following are the sayings of the Prophet (sws) in this regard:
كانت بنو إسرائيل تسوسهم الأنبياء كلما هلك نبي خلفه نبي وإنه لا نبي بعدي وسيكون خلفاء
Leaders of the Israelites were their prophets. When one prophet would pass away, another would succeed him. But there will be no prophet after me; there will only be successors.
مثلي ومثل الأنبياء من قبلي كمثل رجل بنى بيتا فأحسنه وأجمله إلا موضع لبنة من زاوية فجعل الناس يطوفون به ويعجبون له ويقولون هلا وضعت هذه اللبنة قال فأنا اللبنة وأنا خاتم النبيين
I and the prophets before me can be likened to a person who constructed a beautiful building but in a corner there was a gap for a brick. People would roam around this building and express their wonder on it and would ask: "Why was this brick not placed [there]." He said: "I am that brick and I am the seal of the prophets."
لم يبق من النبوة إلا المبشرات قالوا وما المبشرات قال الرؤيا الصالحة
"Nothing remains of prophethood except for things which give glad tidings." They asked: "What are these?" He replied: "Good dreams."
(Translated from Ghamidi's Mīzān by Shehzad Saleem)