Book Review: The Lasting Messenger with a Lasting Message?

by Dr. Khalid Zaheer

The book "The Last Messenger With A Lasting Message" authored by Mr Ziauddin Kirmani is not a mere addition to the library of a large number of books already available on the life of Prophet Muhammad, Allah's mercy be on him; it is indeed a very useful addition to it. The book has made some important new contributions which, even if they have not made a lasting impact on the debate, have certainly pointed at certain issues which need to be seriously revisited.

Some of the important issues raised by the author that question and challenge the commonly held views on the subject and addressed in a scholarly manner in the book are: the question of justification of slavery, the issue of the ages of two of the prophet's wives, the difference between sunnah and hadith, the concept of sunnah, the correct meanings of Kafir, the question as to who supported the prophet when he was a teenager, the question whether we have only certain restricted list of injunctions in the Shari'ah or is it that the commonly held understanding of an elaborate list of religious injunctions falling into a hierarchy of religious gradation (Fard, Wajib, Mustahab, Makruh, Haram, Mubah etc) is correct, the question of legitimacy of polygamy, the question as to who is qualified to be considered a companion of the prophet etc.

One tends to strongly agree with the author on what he has mentioned in regard to the understanding of kafir, the ages of the prophet's wives Khadija and Ayesha, may the Almighty be pleased with them, at the time they married him, and the question as to who qualifies to be categorized as a companion of the prophet. One might slightly disagree on the details of what the author has mentioned on the issues like the difference between sunnah and hadith, the hierarchy of gradation of injunctions in Islam, and the legitimacy of slavery in Islam. Despite the disagreements, one must admit that, what he has mentioned is worth serious consideration. The author's unique understanding on the question of polygamy, however, is something one finds difficult to endorse. It is indeed in the nature of sincere and independent scholarly presentations that one would simultaneously agree as well as disagree with them. Such disagreements should be welcomed and applauded.

While the book has indeed a large number of other important ahadith quoted in the text, perhaps the best collection he has presented is in the sub-section of Chapter 19 "Glimpses of Personality" (pp. 275-9). If one were to collect twenty-three ahadith that capture the spirit of the prophet of Islam, Allah's mercy be on him, one would find it difficult to do better than what the author has done.

In the midst of mindless intolerance manifesting itself in the form of bigoted sectarianism, the message of "The Last Messenger With A Lasting Message" is indeed refreshing. One would find in the case of most of the opinions expressed in the book, as indeed in the information chosen in it, the working of a fair and rational researcher. For instance, on the difficult subject of what ought to be the right attitude towards the companions of the prophet, after criticizing an oft-quoted hadith that, to the author, exaggerates the status of the companions, he goes on to say: "They were neither 'near-infallible' or 'protected (Ma'soom)'in the sense that they were incapable of doing any wrong that flesh is heir to nor were they, by and large, spineless people who would sheepishly compromise with evil or could be purchased or hired to support a manifestly unjust cause as some people seem to maintain." (p.335) The author has very correctly identified the problem with the Muslim scholarship in general that in matters of important religious concepts "history is allowed to override tradition and tradition is allowed to override revelation." (p. 325)

The book has several useful and informative appendices which give information on companions of the prophet, explain some important terms, and mention texts of the verses and ahadith from where a part of the contents of the book have been borrowed.

Despite several merits, the book suffers from some shortcomings the overcoming of which can go a long way in making it even more effective in delivering its message. First, the book needs proper editing; several spelling mistakes can be pointed out in the text. Second, the book doesn't transliterate all Arabic words by following a proper, recognized method of it. Third, even though there is a method of citation adopted by the book, it is not consistent with any of the academically acknowledged ones.


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