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Islamic Concept of Prophethood

By: Prof. Maqsood Jafri


The animals have instinct, no intellect. The herons learn wading themselves.  Who teaches the birds how to fly?  Ducklings swim naturally.  The horse grazes grass but does not eat meat.  The lion eats meat but does not graze grass.  What is all this? Actually the instinct itself works as a guide.  Man has also been given instincts.  He needs bread.  He needs sex.  But he is above animals.  He has been endowed with a special boon and that is intellect.  Man is free to exercise his mind.  Whether he selects right path or wrong path it is his own choice.  But God sent prophets to all nations to guide them so that they are not strayed from the right path.  Maulana Abul Ala Maududi in his book entitled, “Towards Understanding Islam” writes; “The Prophets distinguish themselves in human society by their special aptitudes, natural bents of mind and a pious and meaningful way of life, more or less in the same way as other geniuses in art and science distinguish themselves by their extraordinary capacities and natural attitudes.” 


When a man invents a machine, he also issues instructions manual how to operate it.  A doctor gives instructions to his patient how to use the recipe.  These are done for the benefit of people.  Without instructions we can be misled.  Similarly God created humankind and issued instructions in the form of divine scriptures guiding them about vice and virtue.  About free choice between right and wrong and on the necessity of the Prophets, Yousuf N. Lalljee in his book entitled “Know your Islam” writes: “Mankind was created with freedom of choice, and since the beginning of the human race our creator has chosen certain excellent individuals to inform mankind of God’s message and how to choose between right and wrong.”  Besides giving moral lessons the prophets present themselves as role models.  They are not like preachers or philosophers who discuss and argue but do not practice.  The Prophets first practice and then preach.  They come to establish justice, moderation and balance.  In Sura “Al-Hadid” the Quran says: “we sent afore time our messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of right and wrong) that men may stand forth in Justice.”(57:25) Besides the rejection of despots and tyrants the main purpose of the advent of the Prophets was to renounce and denounce idolatry.  Idols represent demigods,  the idols of wealth; the idols of power; the idols of beauty; the idols of arrogance; the idols of dictatorship and the idols of prides and prejudices.  When the prophets gave the message of One God it meant oneness of humankind.  Hence Monotheism is the core and crux of the divine message.  In Sura “Nahl” the Quran says; “And verily we have raised in every nation a messenger, proclaiming serve God and shun false gods.” (16:26).  About the importance of this message one must borne this fact in mind that a true follower of the prophets is the one who rejects despotism, extremism, terrorism; injustice and tyranny.  Every prophet did not bring Shariah (The Law).  According to the Quran some prophets have been mentioned and some are not mentioned.  Nearly twenty five Prophets are mentioned in the Quran.


But Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Peace be upon them) are the prophets given the Law and Books.  So many other prophets have been also given Testaments but they were not given new “Shariah”.  Generally it is believed that one lac twenty four thousand apostles were sent by God to guide the human kind.  It is mentioned in the Quran that the coming of the Last Prophet Harazt Muhammad (PBUH) with the Final Message was the result of the prayer of Abraham when he was erecting the walls of Kaaba at Mecca. In the words of the Quran he prayed to God; “Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse your signs to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom, and sanctify them: for you are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”


Hence according to the supplication of Abraham there were four duties of the last messenger.  He had to recite the divine verses of God.  He had to exhort them.  He had to teach them wisdom.  And he had to purify their souls.  We see that Moses and Jesus Christ also performed the same prophetic mission and faced the tests and trails of the time.  Here it seems imperative to mention that God chose the prophets from different classes and sections of society.  Noah was carpenter and Moses was a shepherd.  David and Solomon were the kings.  But they all claimed oneness of God and maintenance of Justice.  Indeed, humanity was groping in darkness of ignorance, injustice, and inequality and superstitions when these prophets lit the candle of faith, virtuosity, humility, brotherhood and rationality.  When Prophet Muhammad appeared the Arabian Peninsula was steeped in ignominy and ignorance.  It was an abyss of darkness like Ad and Thamud.  But he turned those beasts in to excellent humans.  To date we need good humans who can love humankind without creed, class, country and color prejudices.  These prophets were the redeemers and saviors of humanity.  If we are their followers we must follow the charter of humanity and divinity.


 (The writer is an eminent speaker and scholar and can be reached at                     

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