Islam's response to contemporary world problems (3)


In the previous installment we discussed the issue of whether the rank of a Prophet can be different if the authenticity is the same.

According to the Holy Book of Muslims, there is no exception to this universal phenomenon. For example, the Holy Qur'an states:

فَکَیۡفَ اِذَا جِئۡنَا مِنۡ کُلِّ اُمَّۃٍۭ اُمَّۃٍۭ بِشَہِیۡدٍ وَّجِئۡنَا بِکَ بِکَ عَلٰی ہٰۤؤُلَآءِ ہٰۤؤُلَآءِ شَہِیۡدًا

What will happen when we bring a witness from every people, and bring you as a witness against these? (Ch.4 Al.Nisa:42)

Having made this essential clarification, let us now study the status of the Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) according to the Holy Quran. The most incontrovertible and clear statement regarding the Holy Prophet of Islam is found in the well-known and widely commented upon verse of the Holy Qur'an:

مَا کَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ اَبَاۤ اَحَدٍ مِّنۡ رِّجَالِکُمۡ وَلٰکِنۡ رَّسُوۡلَ اللّٰہِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِیّٖنَ ؕ وَکَانَ اللّٰہُ اللّٰہُ بِکُلِّ بِکُلِّ شَیۡءٍ عَلِیۡمًا

Muhammad is not the father of any of you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and (Khataman Nabiyyin) the Seal of the Prophets, and Allah has full knowledge of all things. (Q.33: Al-Ahzab: 41)

The Arabic word Khatam in this verse has several connotations, but the essence of the title Khataman Nabiyyin, there is no shadow of doubt: to be the best, the supreme, the last word, the ultimate authority, who encompasses all and testifies to the truth of others. (Arabic language lexicon F.W. Lane, Aqrab al-Mu'min al-Mu'min, Aqrab al-Mu'min al-Mu'min. Lane, Aqrab al-Muwarid, the Mufradat of Imam Raghib, Fath and Zurqani).

Another verse that speaks of the excellence of the Holy Founder of Islam states that the teachings of the Holy Prophet are perfect and definitive. The verse reads as follows:

اَلۡیَوۡمَ اَکۡمَلۡتُ لَکُمۡ دِیۡنَکُمۡ وَاَتۡمَمۡتُ عَلَیۡکُمۡ نِعۡمَتِیۡ وَرَضِیۡتُ لَکُمُ الۡاِسۡلَامَ دِیۡنًا الۡاِسۡلَامَ دِیۡنًا

...This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My Grace upon you and I have chosen Islam as your religion... (C.5: Al-Maidah: 4)

The obvious inference from this statement would be that among all the Law-bearing Prophets in the world, and for delivering to the world the most perfect teaching, he would occupy the highest place.

In developing the theme, the Holy Founder is assured in clear terms that the Book revealed to him will be guarded and protected from interpolation. As such, it is not only a teaching declared to be perfect but also permanent: it would be kept in its purity and unadulterated in the very words in which it was revealed to the Holy Founder of Islam. The history of the last fourteen centuries has provided ample testimony to the truth of this statement.

The following are some of the most relevant verses:

اِنََّا نَحۡنُ نَزَّلۡنَا الذِّکۡرَ وَاِنَّا لَہٗٗ لَحٰفِظُوۡنَ

Verily, We Ourselves have revealed this Exhortation, and verily We shall be its custodian (C.15: Al Hillr: 10)
بَلۡ ہُوَ قُرۡاٰنٌ مَّجِیۡدٌ ﴿ۙ۲۲﴾فِیۡ ﴿ۙ۲۲﴾فِیۡ لَوۡحٍ مَّحۡفُوۡظٍ                   

Verily, this is a glorious Qur'an preserved in a well-guarded tablet (Q.85: Al-Burull: 22-23).

In view of the above, the Holy Founder of Islam is not only clearly declared to have supremacy but also to be the last and final Law-bearing Prophet, whose authority will continue to be in force until the end of time.

In stating the above, the question arises as to whether, for some, this declaration of the supremacy of the Holy Founder of Islam might create misunderstanding or enmity among the followers of other religions. How can this statement be reconciled with the theme of the title of these articles, in that Islam guarantees peace in all spheres of human interest, religion being not the least of which?

It has been because of this question in mind that I have dwelt at length on the commentary of this statement. This question can be answered with full satisfaction in more than one way for those who have asked it with an unbiased mind.

As already stated, similar claims are made by followers of many other religions. The prudent thing to do is to investigate the relative merits of the claim without becoming impassioned. The claim, in itself, should not offend the sensibilities of the followers of other religions who make similar claims from their side.

But Islam goes a step further by teaching humility and decency to its followers so that their belief in the supremacy of the Holy Founder of Islam is not expressed in such a way as to offend others.

The following two Traditions of the Holy Founder of Islam are clearly illustrative in elucidating the issue under discussion:

(i) One of the companions of the Holy Prophet of Islam engaged in a rather passionate argument with a fanatical follower of Prophet Jonah of the whale. Both parties claimed in the debate that their Prophet completely surpassed the other in excellence. It seems that the Muslim contender hurt the sensibilities of the follower of Jonah with his arguments, who turned to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and laid out his grievance against the Muslim with whom he was debating. Addressing the community at large, the Prophet expressed the following words, in an instructive mood:

Do not declare me superior to Jonah, the son of Mattah. (Bukhari: Book of the Prophets)

Some Muslim commentators of the Traditions are perplexed by this Tradition since it appears to be against the Qur'anic claim that Muhammad (lpbD) is not only superior to Jonah, but to all the Prophets. However, they seem to forget the fact that what he declared was not that he was inferior (or superior) to Jonah, but simply that his followers should not declare that he was superior in a way that might offend the feelings of others. In the context of what happened, the only conclusion we can draw is that the Prophet was teaching Muslims a lesson in decency. He was teaching them not to indulge in boasting. They were to avoid discussing their status in a way that might cause offence to others. Such an attitude would certainly be detrimental to the cause of Islam, for instead of winning hearts and minds to the message of Islam, just the opposite would be achieved.

(ii) This attitude of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, is also corroborated by another Tradition in which a Muslim was involved in a similar debate with a Jew. Both respectively affirmed and contradicted the relative superiority of their spiritual leaders. Likewise, it was the non-Muslim contender who considered it fair to express his grievance at the behaviour of the Muslim adversary. The Holy Prophet (lpbD) responded with his usual prudence and humility, teaching the Muslim the same lesson of courtesy and decency, admonishing:

Do not declare that I am superior to Moses (Bukhari: ibid).

The summary of the above is that it is for God alone to decide and declare the comparative rank of closeness to Him of the various Prophets. It is likely that at a particular time and in the context of a particular religion, God may have expressed His liking for the Prophet of that time in such intense terms as to declare him the best. Superlatives, after all, can also be used in relative terms in the context of a limited application in time and space.

This could easily lead the followers of a saintly personage to believe that he was the best and holiest of all ages and of all times to come. Genuine belief in this need not be regarded as an offence to others. A civilised attitude would require that such aspects should not be wrongly expressed in a way that degenerates into a contest between religions. This is exactly the true meaning of the Holy Prophet's (pbuh) admonition referred to above. If this principle of humility and decency were adopted by all other religions, the world of religious controversy would be the best possible.

(lpbD) - Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

(to be continued)