PROPHETIC MISSION Historical and Eternal Elements

PROPHETIC MISSION Historical and Eternal Elements

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PROF. M. RAFAT

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PROF. M. RAFAT analyses the historical and eternal elements of the Prophetic mission and concludes that the Prophetic message is extremely relevant to the modern and post-modern age.

Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless and greet him) once underlined his proximity to the Day of Judgement by using the simile of two adjacent fingers of the hand. There is no gap between two such fingers as one of them touches the other. Similarly the Day of Judgement will immediately follow the age of the Prophet. The Prophet thus emphasised the fact that with the commencement of his prophetic mission; the human race had entered the last and the final stage of its career on earth. This long journey of the human race was nearing its completion and will soon meet its logical end in the Day of Judgement.

THE ETERNAL MESSAGE

Messengers of God occupied a unique position in human history because they imparted sense and direction to it. In the very initial phase of human history itself, Adam and Eve were informed about the centrality of “Divine guidance” and were assured that it would continue to enlighten their future human generations throughout human history. The Qur’an mentions this historical episode in the following words:

“We said: ‘Get you down all from here. And if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me; then whosoever follows My Guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor they shall grieve’.” (Ch. 2, v 38)

This Divine guidance was brought to mankind by a chain of “messengers” and it always served to the same purpose viz. to lead mankind to the “right path” by removing all confusions and distortions which had crept therein during the course of human history. The eternal aspect of the Divine message is described by the Qur’an as follows:

“(Let them know that) it was revealed to you and to all Prophets before you: ‘If you associate any others with Allah in His Divinity, all your deeds will surely come to naught and you will certainly be among the losers.’ Therefore, serve Allah alone and be among those who are grateful.” (Ch. 39, v, 65-66)

Besides this eternal message which formed the basic theme of a Messenger’s address; there were particular historical contents as well, which were specific to each prophet’s circumstances. Each messenger had to explicitly address the specific issues and concerns of his times. One recurring issue was that of strife and divisions in the human society. The Qur’an mentions how the Messengers addressed this issue:

“(Let people know that) in the beginning (of the human history), mankind followed one single way (later on this state ended and differences arose). Then Allah sent forth Prophets as heralds of good tidings for the righteous and as warners against the consequences of evil deeds. He sent down with them the Book embodying the Truth, so that it might judge among people in their disputes.

And those who innovated divergent ways rather than follow the Truth were none other than those who had already received the knowledge of the Truth and clear guidance; and they did so, in order to commit excesses against one another. So, by His leave, Allah directed the believers to the Right Way in matters on which people had disagreed. “Allah guides whomsoever He wills onto a straight way.” (Ch.2, V.213)

Thus the historical aspect of the Prophetic mission was to remove confusions about the Truth; which might have arisen due to baseless innovations introduced by those who wanted to “commit excesses” against other human beings. The Prophets made exemplary efforts to remove all distortions and enlighten mankind once again about the right path.

THE NEW AGE

The final link in the glorious chain of Prophets is the personality of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless and greet him). He inaugurated the “new age” which is the final phase of human history. This period of history has unique characteristics of its own. While the prophetic message is eternal, the tone and approach adopted by the Prophet were eminently suited to the present age. The other Prophets had similarly paid attention to their own specific circumstances; in conveying the Divine message, in their times.

What then is the essence of the present age! One may identify the following five characteristics which may serve to define it:

(a) Vast growth in the amount of information;
(b) Unprecedented speed and extent of communication;

(c) Simultaneous existence of diverse cultures in close geographical proximity;

(d) Environmental crisis; and
(e) Technology induced alienation
The Prophet’s teachings are manifestly relevant in the context of these characteristics.
INFORMATION

The Prophet laid great emphasis on the basic characteristic of “acceptable” information viz. its “reliability.” The Qur’an, itself, draws attention to the need of “reliability” in social matters:

“O believers! When an ungodly person brings you a piece of news, carefully ascertain its truth, lest you should hurt a people unwittingly and thereafter repent at what you did.” (Ch. 49, v.6)

Apart from social matters; in general also, the information sought by one should be reliable. This attitude is reflected in the following prayers of the Prophet:

“My Lord! Show me things as they really are!” and “O Allah! Let us see the truth as ‘truth’ and bestow on us the grace to accept it. And let us see falsehood as ‘falsehood’ and grant us protection from it!”

The same attitude about reliable information should be cultivated in matters concerning faith and religious beliefs. In particular, one should not attribute to the Almighty, anything without knowledge. Such an irresponsible utterance would be a great sin. The Qur’an says:

“Proclaim thus: ‘Indeed my Lord has forbidden indecent acts, whether overt or hidden; all manner of sin; wrongful transgression and (He has forbidden) that you associate with Allah, in His Divinity, that for which He has sent down on sanction; and that you ascribe to Allah things, of which you have no sure knowledge that they are (actually) from Him.”

(Ch. 7, V. 33)

A common man today is flooded with information of all kinds, a substantial portion of which is definitely unreliable. In this situation the Prophet’s emphasis on “reliability” is very significant. One must distinguish between the chaff and the grain! To that end, suitable criteria should be evolved. To evolve such criteria is a responsibility of Muslims.

COMMUNICATION

In the present age, communication has become very fast and the volume of communication possible has also tremendously increased. Communication has therefore become a very important phenomenon and the problems associated with it cannot be ignored. There are two basic problems which demand attention:

(a) Privacy of an individual; and
(b) Values relevant to the communication process

According to Islamic etiquette, to pay a social call requires permission

The Qur’an says:

“O believers! Enter not houses other than your own houses, until you have obtained the permission of the inmates of those houses and have greeted them with peace. This is better for you. It is expected that you will observe this.” (Ch. 24, V. 27)

In other words, the privacy of an individual may not be disturbed, except with permission. The same etiquette applies to disruption of privacy by a phone call or a mobile phone call. Except when of a very short duration, such a disruption should be with permission only; express or implied. The rule may be extended to other possible invasions on privacy, by technological means.

In Islam, conversation is regulated by ethical values viz. one must be courteous and truthful, should not interrupt others; refrain from the use of indecent or improper language and should not indulge in backbiting or rumour mongering. These ethical values are applicable to other forms of communication as well. Sadly, in today’s world, these values are often ignored. The Prophet’s emphasis on “good manners” includes good manners in conversation and the same etiquette is applicable to other forms of communication (besides the oral one).

Finally, the “volume” of communication should be appropriate. The Prophet reminded his companions that a sensible person should either speak well or keep quiet. To talk unnecessarily is not a desirable trait in any case. Similarly, unnecessary communication is undesirable and ought to be discouraged. “Noise” in any form disturbs people and unnecessary communication is also a kind of “noise”, which should be minimised.

 
DIVERSITY

According to the Islamic worldview, human beings are one family and the diversity of race and clan in this vast family, is merely for the purpose of “mutual introduction.” This diversity is part of the Creator’s design and in no way, it hinders the possibility of mutual cooperation among them. The Qur’an says:

“O mankind! We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribe, so that you may know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing among you. Surely, Allah is All Knowing, All Aware.” (Ch.49, V. 13)

“Do you not see that Allah sent down water from the sky with which We brought forth fruits of diverse hues? In the mountains, there are white and red, of diverse hues, and pitchy black. And human beings too, the beasts, and cattle – diverse are their hues. From among His servants, it is only the knowledgeable who fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Most Mighty, Most Forgiving.” (Ch. 35, V. 27-28)

The Prophet recognised cultural diversity, and urf (i.e. custom or tradition) of a society was given due weightage by him unless it happened to violate the demands of justice or dignity. For instance, the pre-Islamic “custom” of circumambulating the Ka’bah in stark nakedness, was abolished by the Prophet; because it was an indecent act. The Qur’an says: “And when such people commit an indecent act they say: “We found our fathers doing that, and Allah has enjoined it on us.” Say: surely Allah never enjoins any indecency. Do you say things regarding Allah that you do not know?” (Ch.7, V. 28)

The Prophet liberated people from unreasonable and unjust customs. The Qur’an says:

“(Today the mercy of your Lord is for) those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet. They find him mentioned in their own (scriptures), the Taurah and the Gospel. He enjoins upon them what is good and forbids them what is evil. He makes the clean things lawful to them and prohibits all corrupt things and removes from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them. So those who believe in him and assist him, and succour him and follow the light which has been sent down with him; it is they who shall prosper.” (Ch. 7, V. 157)

ENVIRONMENT

The Prophet once asked the people to imagine that the “end of the world” was upon them. And they barely had the time to “plant just one tree.” He advised them nevertheless to plant it and not let the opportunity slip by. This advice of the Prophet has many aspects, each of which extremely relevant to the modern man’s circumstances:

(a) Importance of the “Present moment”. Utilise it; do not let it go waste.

(b) Even a “small” virtuous act is valuable. If there is an opportunity for a seemingly minor but good action; it should be utilised.

(c) “To plant a tree” is a noble act, worthy of the Prophet’s attention.

In other narrations, the Prophet advised people about the importance of cleanliness, hygiene and moderate use of resources and forbade waste and excessive consumption. He laid special emphasis on water resources, their cleanliness and purity. In the light of these teachings the first Caliphate instructed the Muslim armies not to cut trees. Indeed human beings are answerable to Allah about the proper use of all the bounties given by Him. The Qur’an says:

“Then, on that Day, you will be called to account for all the bounties “you enjoyed.” (Ch. 102, V. 8)

 
ALIENATION

Today’s urban environment keeps people extremely busy, cuts them off from nature, floods them with noise and meaningless information, surrounds them with lifeless gadgets and often compels them to live in polluted environment and in unhealthy conditions. All these factors alienate an individual from himself and render him confused, dissatisfied and often an irresponsible person. Islam meets this situation on two fronts:

(a) Islam seeks to change the structure of the present urban city and suggests its replacement by a “value based” dwelling; in which would, in effect be a city planned according to the Islamic values.

(b) In the existing urban structure, Islam seeks to prevent alienation by creating “islands of peace and tranquillity.” These “islands” are mosques, gatherings and circles of Zikr and God-fearing individuals who manage to preserve their sanity in this “humdrum” of meaninglessness. The regular prayer serves to “slow down” the unnecessary fast pace of urban life. The Qur’an praises individuals “whom neither trade nor sale can divert from the remembrance of Allah, nor from regular prayer.” (Ch 24, V. 37)

The attitude taught by the Prophet is thus seen to be extremely relevant to the modern and the post-modern age. This indeed is the historical element of the Prophet’s mission.