The Prophethood of Muhammad (sws)

by Dr. Khalid Zaheer

 

From time to time Allah Almighty has picked men to convey the messages of guidance to mankind. These messengers have been described by the titles of Rasul and Nabi in the Qur'an. Amongst this list of people, the last was Muhammad (sws) who came some 1400 years ago. The claim of each of these prophets is so serious that no rational individual can remain indifferent to it: The fact that a message has come from our own Creator to guide us cannot be ignored. Therefore, it is important for us to look into these claims from the available sources to find out whether it makes sense or not. The only authentic and reliable information available to us to form an opinion in this area is that of the last Prophet (sws). Therefore, it is natural that information about him should be scrutinised to form a final opinion about not only his claims to prophethood but those of all other prophets. If his claim is found convincing, the claims of all the rest of the prophets would also be confirmed thereby, because the last prophet confirmed the authenticity of the claims of many of them. The authenticity of the claim made by the last Prophet (sws) is based on three broad categories of arguments, namely:

  1. His Character;
  2. The Message; and
  3. The Prophecies

1) As far as character is concerned, the Prophet Muhammad (sws) lived in Makkah for 40 years. He lived in a town inhabited by a few thousand people. Thus the people of Makkah knew him very closely. They all agreed that he was a man of impeccable character, and that he was the most truthful and reliable person around. It was because of this reality that the Qur'an requires him to address the people of Makkah thus:

Say: If Allah had so willed I should not have recited it to you nor would He have made it known to you. I dwelt among you a whole lifetime before it (came to me). Have you, then no sense? (10:16)

At the very beginning of His mission, he addressed the people from the mount of Safa. He said: 'If I were to claim that there is an army of the enemies behind the hill ready to attack you, would you agree?' The answer was a unanimous 'Yes'. He went on to say: 'Let met tell you that I have received a message from God Almighty which says that there is no God but Allah and that the statues you worship are mere lifeless images, and that you are all going to be accountable to Him on the day of Judgement'; on that, most of the people turned into his enemies, not because they thought he was lying to them but because they did not want to listen to anything against the religion of their forefathers.

He was known as 'Al-Sadiq' ('the truthful') and 'Al-Amin' (' the trustworthy') amongst the people of Makkah. Such was their confidence in him that even though they had turned into his enemies and even though they opposed his message and persecuted him and his companions, they still trusted him to keep their valuables with him.

So much so that when he was forced to leave Makkah for Yathrib, he still had in his possession the valuables belonging to the disbelievers of Makkah. Therefore, at the time when he himself was forced to migrate, he gave the responsibility of returning those valuables back to their respective owners to his cousin 'Ali (rta) who stayed back for that purpose alone.

The character of the Prophet (sws) may not be as convincing an argument for the people who didn't have the privilege of living with him. It may be claimed, not too unconvincingly, that there is found a tendency amongst the religious people to exaggerate the attributes of their revered personalities. Despite some strength in this argument, it can be said that the same is not exactly true about the Prophet Muhammad (sws), because in his case the sources that confirm the strength of his character are very authentic. In any case, for the people of Makkah there was no justification not to believe in his claims, since he was one of them.

2) The second argument for the authenticity of the truthfulness of the message of the Prophet (sws) is found in the Message itself which he brought with him. In order to objectively study the message, it is important that we have the confidence that the message claimed to be from God is the very message that came from the Prophet (sws). There is no point in trying to understand a message which has already undergone changes after it was first presented by the Prophet (sws). To help us feel confident on that score, the Qur'an assures us in Surah Hijr thus:

It is indeed We who have received the message and it is We who will protect it [from corruption]. (10:16)

But why should this claim be accepted by some one who is still not sure about the authenticity of the Qur'an of which this verse is only a part? To answer this, we should look at the manner the book has come down to us.

The Prophet (sws) encouraged people to memorize the Qur'an. Great rewards were promised to be conferred in the Hereafter to those who would memorise it. The book was recited five times a day in the five obligatory prayers, three of which were the ones where in it was recited loudly, thus facilitating the process of memorising. The style of the verses of the Qur'an is more akin to poetry, in that verses of one Surah normally rhyme with each other, thus making the text amenable to memorising. Not surprisingly, therefore, when the Prophet (sws) left this world, in addition to the written text, there were a number of people who had committed the Qur'an to their memories. The process continued in the next generations till to date when there are hundreds of thousands of people who have memorised it completely.

There is only one version of Qur'an all across the Muslim world; it is unanimously the same book that is claimed by the Muslims as the book of God. There aren't any traces of any other text that is claimed to be the Qur'an. That in itself is an objective evidence that it is the same book that was presented fourteen hundred years ago as the book of Allah. What is significant about this fully preserved text is that these are the very words of God Almighty, unlike the Bible about which the claim is that the basic inspiration that resulted in the writing of the text was from God, but the actual words are those of the authors. If one were to ask a Jew or a Christian about a problem in the text, he might frankly tell you that the author might have committed a mistake, as he is also a human being. It would in no way jeopardise the claim they are making about their book. But the Qur'an is the very word of God even after 1400 years and no similar explanation could be offered regarding its text. There are a number of aspects of the message which are amenable to scrutiny. Firstly, the language of the Qur'an is classical Arabic; it is the Arabic of the time when Qur'an was revealed. The book was presented by the Prophet Muhammad (sws), who did not know how to read or write. This fact has been mentioned in the Qur'an thus:

O Prophet!, you did not use to study any book before its revelation. Nor you used to write with your hands. Had that been the case, there would have been a reason for these liars to dispute. (29:48)

The same fact is borne out in the incident of Hudaybiyah, when it is said that the agreement between the Quraysh of Makkah and the Muslims was about to be finalised when the Quraysh raised an objection on the title of the agreement, which said: 'It is an agreement between the Quraysh of Makkah and Muhammad the Messenger of Allah'. The leaders of Quraysh contested that what is claimed in the title is the very bone of contention between our two parties. The scribe of the agreement, 'Ali (rta), like the rest of the companions of the prophet, was reluctant to incorporate the change suggested because, he felt that it was against the very requirement of his faith. The Prophet (sws) however, felt that the Quraysh had raised a reasonable point, and noticing Ali's reluctance to erase the relevant statement of the agreement, he asked him to let him know where the statement in dispute was written so that should himself erase it. That incident again shows that the Prophet (sws) himself didn't know how to read.

In the Arabian society of the Prophet's time, poetry was considered the noblest vocation. There used to be a poetry competition in Makkah every year, and to honour the winning poet's performance, his piece of poetry would be hung on the wall of the Ka'bah for a year. The collection of such poetical works have come to be known as 'Mu'allaqat' (The hung ones). Such was the pride of the Arabs in the literary richness of their language that they would call the non-Arabs 'Ajami i.e. dumb. Labid was one of those acclaimed poets who got their poetic works hung on the wall of the Ka'bah. He later became a Muslim and quit poetry. When 'Umar (rta), the second caliph, asked why he abandoned his involvement in poetry, he replied: '[Could it be possible for me] even after the Qur'an?'

Consider in the literary backdrop of the then Arab society the fact that the Prophet (sws) himself was not trained at all in reading and writing and, moreover, he had no inclination whatsoever towards poetry. It was in this background that on attaining the age of forty, he presented to the people a message which shook the very foundations of their traditional religious beliefs. It was opposed tooth and nail by the leaders of Quraysh. The leaders of that society were making every effort to undermine the threat posed to the traditions of their society by this new message. The Qur'an allowed them to try their luck if they could to challenge the authenticity of the book by addressing them thus:

And if you are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (the prophet), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside Allah if you are truthful. And if you do it not - and you can never do it - then guard yourselves against the fire prepared for disbelievers, whose fuel is of men and stones. (2:23-4)

It should have naturally been expected from the literature-rich enemies of the Prophet (sws) to grab this God-given opportunity provided to them by the verse with both hands. However, neither then nor later on until today has there been a hint of any worthwhile response from the disbelievers to this challenge.

Let us look at the language of the book from a different perspective. If you ask a non-believer to explain the achievements of the Prophet (sws) if one were not to believe in his claim of prophethood, he is most likely to respond by telling you that he was a genius. But we know what geniuses are: There is a normal pattern of learning and improving in their case. They learn, present their ideas, and on further research and reflection realise that not all of what they had presented earlier was correct. It is perfectly understandable that until the very last day of their lives, even the geniuses are learning from their past experiences and, as a consequence, correcting themselves. If ever this normal learning pattern is found to be defeated, it is in the case of the prophets. For instance, in the first forty years of the last Prophet's life, one can notice hardly any intellectual achievements, and in the fortieth year he came up with a message which he continued to present consistently for the next twenty-three years. The Qur'an says:

Had this Qur'an been from somebody other than Allah, you would certainly have found therein a lot of inconsistency. (4:82)

Inconsistency is normal in human beings because they continue to learn and improve, but if you get a message from someone who is the Ultimate in knowledge already and, therefore, cannot improve any further, his ideas would never change. That is exactly what the above verse is referring to.

Let us take another aspect of the message of the book. The basic theme of the Qur'an is guidance; while guiding, the Qur'an draws our attention towards the phenomena of nature, stars, oceans, human existence, heavenly bodies, rainfall, etc. Most of the facts mentioned in the Qur'an have been thoroughly explored in the recent times by science on the basis of its own empirical methodology. There has been no change in this book for the last 1400 year say, but the world has seen a lot of changes ever since. Such has been the extent of changes that have taken place over the last few centuries that a book of science written some two centuries ago would today be considered worthy of being read only for being through it of the stark ignorance of the people of that time.

In the case of the Qur'an which was revealed fourteen centuries ago, the case is surprisingly quite the otherwise. The book has been explored by a number of people with a view to finding out consistency (or lack of it) in its contents with the facts discovered by the modern sciences. The results of only two such researchers are given below.

Maurice Bucaille, a French scientist, named his book 'The Bible, the Qur'an and Science.' He started his attempt to compare the latest established facts discovered by science (not mere scientific theories which are as yet unproven) with the contents of the books which claim to have been the result of divine revelation. Bucaille admitted later that because of his Christian upbringing he was given to believe that the Qur'an was a plagiarized version of the Bible. But having gone through the contents of the Old Testament, he points out in his book, he realised that they seem to be inconsistent with some of the established facts discovered by science.

Likewise, he mentions the same observation about the New Testament in the relevant chapter. However, when he talks about the Qur'an, he admits that he was unable to pick a single verse from it which could be claimed to be going clearly against the latest discovered facts of science. In fact, according to him, there were some verses of the Qur'an that helped him in getting more enlightened about the physical world than what he already was through his immense knowledge of modern science. Not surprisingly, he later converted to become a Muslim.

Kenneth L. Moore, an embryologist whose book on the subject is used as a textbook in some of the North American medical colleges, was compelled to read the Qur'an because a few Arab students surprised him by informing him that they already knew about the latest discoveries that he was introducing them to in his lecture on embryology. The students told him that their source of information was the Qur'an -- a fourteen hundred years old book! After having gone through the book himself, he says that if you read the Qur'an, there are some eighty passages which are directly or indirectly referring to information which is linked with embryology. All those passages are accurate in describing the phenomena involved in human reproduction, many of which have been discovered only recently. In a press conference, it was suggested that he might have actually been fooled by Muslims. His response was that some of the facts mentioned in Qur'an belonged to the area of understanding which cannot be seen through the naked eye; it's only through a microscope that those facts could be perceived. 'Don't tell me that Muslims invented a microscope some 1400 years ago', he said.

What must be realised during this whole discussion is that the Qur'an is not a book of science; it is, instead, a book of guidance. Thus, for instance, while urging human beings not to be arrogant but instead to be humble (an important requirement of guidance), the book requires man in some passages to imagine where he originated from and what stages he went through to come to his present form of existence. While describing all these stages, however, the description of the book is remarkably accurate. The only plausible explanation to this accuracy could be what a Muslim scholar rightly suggested thus: 'The Qur'an is a word of God and the realities the modern science has discovered  are all acts of God. There can be no conflict between God's words and His deeds.' Aside from the technical arguments based on the understanding of the modern sciences, for an ordinary common man there is a verse in the Qur'an which is again remarkable in disclosing something that cannot be explained save through the argument of the divinity of the Qur'an. It tells us that when Pharaoh (the king of Egypt who followed Moses (sws) and his companions) was about to be drowned, Allah Almighty addressed him in these words:

So this day We will save you in your body so that you be a sign to those who come after you. And surely many of mankind are heedless of Our signs. (10:92)

For 1300 years after the revelation of this verse, there was no trace of the body of Pharaoh. It was only recently (in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century) that the body was found. After travelling via Europe to America, it has returned to Egypt, to be made available for public display, not only proving the prophecy that his body would be discovered but also confirming the other part as well, which says: '... many of mankind are heedless of Our signs.' The fact that the Bible has completely missed any such mention should be a good reason for those Jews and Christians who consider the Qur'a#n a 'plagiarised version of the Bible' to take the claim of the Qur'an more seriously.

3) Let us now take the third category of arguments ie, the prophecies of the earlier books. The Qur'an informs us that many of the prophets of Allah came only after their respective arrivals were heralded by the earlier prophets. Prophets would not normally arrive as surprise visitors. Instead, they would come in an environment where at least the religiously knowledgeable people would be eagerly awaiting them. It was no different in the case of the last Prophet (sws). The Qur'an tells us that the Jews and the Christians recognised the Prophet (sws) just as they recognised their own children:

Those unto whom We gave the Scripture, recognise [this revelation] as they recognise their sons. But lo! A party of them knowingly conceal the truth. (2:146)

In an another passage, the Qur'an says thus:

And call to mind when Jesus, son of Mary, said: 'O Children of Israel, surely, I am Allah's Messenger unto you, fufilling that which is before me of the prophecies of the Torah, and giving glad tidings of a messenger who will come after me, his name being Ahmad.' And when he came to them with clear proofs, they said: 'This is manifest sorcery'. (61:6)

It would obviously not convince a person who as yet doesn't believe the Qur'an to be the word of God to accept the claims of the Qur'an. It is, therefore, important that the Qur'anic claims should be confirmed by producing supporting evidence from the Bible, the book which the Jews and the Christians believe in. The Bible is in actual fact a collection of a number of books which are together claimed by the Christians to have been divinely inspired. There are two broad parts of the Bible: The pre-Jesus Bible, called the Old Testament and the post-Jesus Bible, called the New Testament. While the Jews believe in only the Old Testament to be from God, the Christians believe in both. It would be useful to mention by way of illustration a passage each from both parts of Bible to confirm that what the Qur'an claims is confirmed by the Bible even today, even though the book has otherwise undergone many changes.

There is an important passage in the Old Testament from the book of Deuteronomy (the fifth book) which reads like this:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put my words in his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name then I myself will call him to account. (18:18)

In this particular verse, clearly there is a prophecy being given of someone who was to come later. When we carefully analyse the five underlined parts of this passage, we find that they are all fitting exactly into the personality of Prophet Muhammad (sws).

The part 'a prophet like you' suggests that the prophecised personality was to be very similar to Moses (sws), who is the one addressed in this verse. If one were to ask a Christian as to who this verse is referring to, the answer would be 'Jesus'. However, Jesus (sws) was completely different from the Prophet Moses (sws).

Where as the one was born naturally, the other was born miraculously without a father; the one died a natural death, the other's death or disappearance from this world is a subject of considerable dispute amongst the religious groups; the one came with a law from God, the other never claimed to have brought any new law; the one had a large following, migrated with his followers to a distant land, fought against the enemy with his companions, the other neither had a large following during his life time, nor he migrated, nor did he engage in any battles; where as the one got married and had children, the other remained a bachelor throughout his life. Therefore, the claim that Moses (sws) was like Jesus (sws) is a very weak one. However, on the other hand, in all the areas mentioned above, Moses (sws) and Muhammad (sws) are significantly similar to each other. It is not just a coincidence that the Qur'an alludes to the similarity between the two in the following verse:

Lo! We have sent unto you [O people of Makkah] a messenger as witness against you, just as We sent unto Pharaoh a messenger (i.e. Moses). (73:15)

The part 'among their brothers' suggests that the prophet to come was to be from amongst the brothers of the Children of Israel ('their' is obviously referring to the Children of Israel). This reference is also clearly pointing towards the fact that it could only be Prophet Muhammad (sws) who was prophecied in this verse. The reason for this belief is this that Abraham (sws) had two sons Ismael (sws) and Isaac (sws). Isaac had a son, Jacob (sws) whose other name was Israel. Therefore, the nation that emerged from his twelve sons came to be described the Children of Israel (Bani-Israel). On the other hand, the progeny of Ismael (sws) came to be called Bani-Ismael.

They got settled in Makkah and its surroundings. The Prophet Muhammad (sws) was from amongst Bani-Ismael. Clearly the people of Bani-Ismael are the only ones who can be described as the brothers of Bani-Israel. Thus the prophecy that the prophet to come would be from 'among their brothers' again fits in amazingly to the personality of the last prophet.

The third underlined part reads thus: 'I will put my words in his mouth'. It is a beautiful way to describe the fact that the Qur'an will be the very word of God. The Qur'an makes a similar statement about the Prophet (sws) with reference to the Qur'an thus:

He does not speak out of his own desire. It is nothing but pure revelation that is being revealed. (53:3-4)

Thus, God verifies that the words of the Qur'an are God's own, not inspired.

The fourth underlined passage states thus: 'he will tell them everything I command him'. There is a striking similarity between this part of the Biblical prophecy and the following Qur'anic verse:

Communicate [ O Prophet!] to the people all that has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you don't do it, you will not have fulfilled your obligation of prophethood. (5:67)

Finally, the last underlined prophecy of the verse 'he speaks in my name' was fulfilled by the Qur'anic requirement from the Prophet (sws):

Read in the name of your Lord who created. (96:1)

It is also significant to note that all Qur'anic Surahs with the exception of one is preceded by the verse which says: 'In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful'.

In short, the verse from the Old Testament cannot be referring to any one but the Prophet Muhammad (sws). The New Testament is also a component of a number of books put together. The first four books namely Mathew, Mark, Luke and John are called the Gospels. They contain the life and description of Jesus.

The Gospel of John, the fourth book of the New Testament, mentions the events that followed  the news of the arrival of  John the Baptist (the son of prophet Zachariah) thus:

Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Christ.' They asked him: 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' He said: 'I am not?' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered: 'No.' Finally they said: 'Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?' (John 1:19-22)

This conversation between the delegation sent by the Jews and John the Baptist clearly shows that the knowledgeable Jews of the time immediately before the arrival of Jesus (sws) were expecting three different personalities to arrive i.e. Christ, Elijah, and someone who was popularly regarded as the Prophet. The Christians of today should logically be looking for the Prophet whose arrival has been promised in their book. If they are faithful to the contents of their book they should believe that either the Prophet has already arrived or he is going to arrive in the future. Unfortunately, they believe in neither. However, it isn't true in the case of all Christians. There are those who are converting to Islam because, apart from many other reasons, they are realising that it is a part of their belief in the Bible that they should believe in the Prophet. There is no doubt about the fact that if there could be any one personality that comes to one's mind when the expression 'the Prophet' is used it is the Prophet Muhammad (sws).

Some of the reasons for that have been stated in what has already been mentioned above. It was likewise because of the same reasons that many Christians accepted Islam at the time of the Prophet (sws) as well because, as the Qur'an says:

When they listen to that which has been revealed unto the messenger, you see their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe, so write us down as among the witnesses [who have acknowledged the arrival of the Prophet]. (5:83)

The case of one of the companions of the Prophet (sws), Salman Farsi, is another example of the way the prophecies in the earlier books lead people to discover about the arrival of the last prophet. Despite having been born in Persia(Farsi means the Persian), he left the place, being not satisfied with the religious beliefs of his fire-worshipping compatriots. He migrated to be under the religious supervision of some knowledgeable Jews and Christians. He was ultimately guided by one of them to proceed to the 'land of the date trees' ie, Yathrib (Madinah), where, according to the understanding of his spiritual guide, the final prophet's arrival was expected. He did accordingly and met the Prophet (sws) and embraced Islam.

Finally, it needs to be clarified that all the above-mentioned arguments do not really help directly an individual in believing in the truth of Islam. Had that been the case, all the Jews and Christians should have been Muslims. Real belief enters one's heart only by taking the message of God seriously. When an individual seriously considers the message of God, he is bound to find that what is mentioned therein cannot be authored by any one other than the One Who has created him, for otherwise how could one explain the remarkable consistency in one's nature and the message of God? The only reason why God's message is rejected is that it is not allowed by the individual to influence his soul either because of arrogance or overindulgence in worldly life. Both these causes make an individual non-serious towards God's message. The arguments of the kind mentioned above to prove the authenticity of the message or the prophets' miracles are only meant to make the individual seriously inclined towards the message. As far as faith is concerned, it is rejected only because of the non-serious attitude of the individual who is unable to overcome the barriers of arrogance, bias, and worldly overindulgence.
 

 


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