The prophets are basically messengers of God chosen by Him to convey His Message to humans and to guide them on the straight path. They are in a sense God’s ambassadors on earth.
But before we deal with the importance of their mission, let us briefly ponder on what happened in their absence, when men followed their fancies and strayed far, far away from the truth. Some worshipped the sun, others the moon and yet others the heavenly bodies; yet others worshipped in their folly idols of their own making. Just look at the diversity of these divinities; such a multitude that even the heavens cannot hold them; so many that our very universe would be in disarray if they existed. Nay, they existed only in the minds of men; men who sought guidance from their own fanciful imaginations; men whose empty minds the devil had made his workshop turning out monstrosity after monstrosity. It’s easy for the devil to step in when there’s no prophet to guide men.
God, speaking directly through the Prophet Muhammad, tells us that he created people as hunafa, or those having a natural belief in Him, the singular form of which haneef is applied to Abraham, who as the Qur’an says was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a Haneef or primordial Muslim (Family Imraan:67).
I created people as those having faith (in Me). Then the evil ones came to them and led them astray
Take the case of Moses’ people. He led them out of slavery in Egypt and God parted the Red Sea for them so that they may escape from Pharaoh’s army. They were told: “When you look up to the heavens and behold the sun or the moon or any star among the heavenly hosts, do not be led astray into adoring them and serving them. These the Lord, your God, has let fall to the lot of all other nations under the heavens, but you he has taken and led you out of that iron foundry, Egypt, that you might be his very own people, as you are today” (Deuteronomy 4:19-20).
But as soon as Moses was away from them for a short while, the devil took hold of them, so that they melted down the golden earrings of their women and made a golden calf which they worshipped. How many such foolish folk like them strut the world in their ignorance and arrogance even today. The Pharoahs of Moses time claimed divinity ‘tis true, but then again how far is modern man away from such folly when we consider how many young people today hero-worship what they call their ‘idols’; or how the Tibetans even to this day worship the Dalai Lama as ‘the living god’; or how in Nepal, a young girl is worshipped as a ‘living goddess’ for a year, after which she is cast away without even having a chance to marry when she grows up. Indeed, would you believe it if I were to tell you that a young Hindu widow named Roop Kanwar was made a goddess by her people because she jumped into the funeral pyre of her husband and burnt to her death in a show of wifely devotion, and as if that were not enough, the site of her suicide in Rajasthan was made into a Hindu shrine guarded by sword-wielding Rajputs. By the way, this happened not thousands of years ago, nor a hundred years ago, but in the 1980s.
It’s that easy for Satan to make hell on earth with his mischief. Look how he has poisoned men’s minds with his venom, demanding terrible sacrifices, so that all those driven mad by him are even willing to sacrifice their own kind, nay even their very children to him. Take the Canaanites and the other Pagan nations mentioned in the Bible who sacrificed children to their god Molech by slaying the little victims and then cremating them. “They offered to their gods every abomination that the Lord detests, even burning their sons and daughters to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31).
Take the Gauls of France who until about 2000 years ago offered bloody human sacrifices to their gods. Take the Aztecs of Mexico who until 500 years ago were in the habit of sacrificing men, women and even children to their bloodthirsty gods. Take the Thugees of India who until about a hundred years ago strangled their unsuspecting victims as a sacrifice to their black goddess Kali. Such carnage has taken place in almost every age and in almost every culture. These bloody sacrifices were done away with only because the followers of the Divinely-inspired prophets had their way. Like the British who did away with the Thugees or the Islamic preacher Yusuf Al Barbary who stopped the sacrifice of a virgin girl by the then Buddhist Maldivians, prompting the King and the people of those islands to embrace Islam.
Today, although we don’t find many cases of human sacrifices, the needless sacrifice of millions of animals continues in many parts of the Hindu East. In Nepal, for instance millions of animals including buffaloes, goats and chicken are sacrificed yearly at temples in honour of the Hindu goddess of power Gadhimai, with the carcasses of the animals allowed to rot in fields and other places without being eaten by men. That of course did not prevent the country being hit by a powerful earthquake that took thousands of lives recently. Despite this, they still persist in their folly, not knowing that behind it all is the accursed devil himself.
We Muslims believe that God Almighty sent numerous prophets to guide men on the straight path. These guides were sent to every nation at different periods of time, inviting their people to tread the way God had chosen for them, worshipping Him and Him alone, enjoining what is right and prohibiting what is evil. You will find that the prophets were often sent to their nations in the worst of times, when the state of their people had sunk to the lowest depths imaginable. That is why Abraham came at a time when his folk were lost in the fog of idolatry; Moses came at a time when his people had no idea who their God was, bound as they were in the chains of slavery; Jesus came at a time when his tribe had become so arrogant as to look down upon gentiles and change God’s Word at their whim and fancy and Muhammad came at a time when his nation had become all this and more to the point of burying their newborn daughters alive.
Our Islamic tradition holds that there were 124,000 such prophets sent to mankind beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Them). This differs from the Biblical tradition that assumes that prophets were sent only to Israel as they alone were the Chosen People and had to be guided aright, which is why we find in the Bible some ridiculously racist passages like “There is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (Kings 5:15).
Our Holy Book, the Qur’an mentions only 25 prophets by name, though it also mentions those whose stories have not been told, implying that there were many, many more:
Verily, We have inspired you (O Muhammad) as We inspired Noah and the prophets after him; We inspired Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some Messengers We have told thee the story; of others We have not
(The Women: 163-164)
Among the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an who also find mention in the Bible are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon and Jonah. Besides these prophets of the Bible we find mention of Ismail or Ishmael as he is known in the Bible. The Bible speaks of him as the elder son of Abraham through his Egyptian wife Hagar but does not regard him as a Prophet, but we Muslims do. In fact Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is himself descended from Abraham through this elder son Ishmael (Peace Be Upon them) just as much as the Arabs of the Hijaz, Najd, Nabataea and Palmyra, a vast region encompassing the Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Jordan.
The Prophet’s clan, the Quraysh who inhabited the Hijaz region was directly descended from Ishmael. However Islam, unlike Judaism, recognized the Hebrew Prophets as well including among them Isaac, the younger son of Abraham, his son Jacob who was also called Israel and the many prophets sent to his offspring known as the Children of Israel, including among others Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon. There were others such as Lot who was sent to warn the folk of Sodom against their unnatural sexual acts and Job, the epitome of patience whom the Bible does not regard as prophets, but the Qur’an does. The reason they were not recognized as Prophets in the Old Testament was simply because they were not Jews, for the Jews who thought of themselves as the Chosen People could not brook the idea of a Non-Jew being a prophet. For example. Job was a man who lived in the land of Uz and is thought to have been an Edomite, a descendant of Isaac’s son Esau who espoused a daughter of Ishmael.
Not only did Islam recognize the Hebrew prophets, but the prophets of the New Testament as well whom the Jews, the modern-day descendants of the Children of Israel do not acknowledge- Zachariah, John the Baptist and Jesus.
There are also a number of other prophets mentioned in the Qur’an who are unknown to the Bible such as Hood, Saalih and Shu‘ayb. The Prophet Hood was sent to the tribe of Aad, Saalih to the tribe of Thamood and Shu‘ayb to the people of Madyan. There are others mentioned in the Qur’an whose identity as prophets is disputed including Luqmaan, a great sage known for his words of wisdom and Dhu’l Qarnayn who built a wall of iron against Gog and Magog. Although not mentioned in the Qur’an by name, Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, the faith of the ancient Iranians, would have very likely been among the Divinely inspired prophets. The Qur’an mentions the Magians, that is Zoroastrians, along with the Jews, Christians and Sabians in contrast to the polytheists.
God guides whom He Wills, those who believe (in His Revelation), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians, Christians, Magians and Polytheists. God will judge between them on the Day of Judgement, for God Witnesses all things
(The Pilgrimage: 16-17)
Our Prophet also said that the Magians should be treated according to the tradition applicable to the People of the Book, which is the Jews and Christians who were given a scripture. Further a well known companion of the Prophet Ibn Abbas has said “When the Prophet of the Persians died, Iblees wrote for them the lore of the Magians” (Aboo Dawood). This Islamic tradition would have us believe that after the Prophet Zarathustra had died, Satan inspired those who followed him to move away from the Unitarianism which he taught to Dualism with its belief in creation and counter-creation and the worship of fire.
Thus you will see that unlike the Judeo-Christian tradition, Islam holds that each and every nation was sent prophets to guide men on the path to God. To say that the Prophetic mission be confined only to one nation, is to deny God’s Universal Providence. This is obvious to any one of us today, but such a statement was unique when it was promulgated fourteen hundred years ago.No other faith before it ever showed such large heartedness in regarding all earlier teachers of mankind as messengers of God. By doing so, Islam recognized that all humanity as children of Adam were shown the divine light, though whether they wished to follow it or not was up to them. This again shows the universality of Islam, that it has to be the final and universal faith, regarding all previous revelations as God-Given to particular peoples, which it must eventually and necessarily supersede by uniting man into One Nation Under God.
Some of the prophets sent by God to their people are known to us and others unknown, divinely inspired men whose names have been lost in the mists of time. You may wonder why this is so, how is that so important a missionary like a prophet could simply fade away from the annals of history. Just think about it, in a world given to idolatry and mundane desires, to wine, women and song, would the memory of prophets last long ? Why is it that throughout human history we find poems, epics and sagas of monarchs and military leaders and other such powerful people, but hardly any mention of prophets. Sad to say, but true, prophets have never been welcome to the people they were sent. Just see how the ancient Jews treated theirs. You don’t have far to look. Hear what Jesus had to say about them: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing”(Matthew 23:37). Is n’t it a fact that Jesus was rejected by the Jews and it were other nations that kept up his memory?
As God Almighty says in our Holy Book, the Qur’an:
Verily, we have sent among every nation a messenger (proclaiming) “Worship God (alone) and keep away from the false deities”
(The Bee: 36)
We sent aforetime Our Messengers with clear proofs, and sent down with them the Book and the Balance that mankind may keep up justice
By accepting the prophets sent to all nations, Islam, unlike other faiths, affirmed both God’s universal character and the universality of the religious experiences of man, pointing above all to God’s Unity and the Brotgherhood of man over space and time. Many were the prophets of old who preached this truth, like the Prophet Elijah – known to us Muslims as Ilyas – who told his people:
Will you call upon Baal and forsake the Best of Creators – God, Your Lord and Cherisher and the Lord and Cherisher of your fathers of old ?
(Those Ranged in Ranks: 125-126)
This was the primary mission of the Prophets. But that’s not all. Prophets were also sent to warn men not to stray from the straight path. The Prophet is spoken of as
A Warner of the (series of) Warners of Old!
Indeed, We have sent you with the truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a Warner: for there never was a people without a Warner who lived among them
(The Originator of Creation:24)
God makes it very clear in the Qur’an that it is only those who reject His Messengers after they have warned them, who would be visited by His Punishment:
Your Lord would not destroy men’s habitations for their wrong-doing while their occupants were unwarned
And We sent forth Our messengers, one after another: every time their messenger came to a community, they accused him of lying: and so We caused them to follow one another and let them become (mere) tales: So away with a folk who would not believe!
We sent messengers before you, among the sects of old. But never came a messenger to them but they mocked him. Even so do We let it creep into the hearts of the sinners that they should not believe. But the ways of the ancients have passed away. Even if we opened out to them a gate from heaven and they were to continue ascending, they would only say: “Our eyes have been intoxicated. Nay, we have been bewitched by sorcery”
(The Rocky Tract:10-15)
See they not how many of those before them We destroyed? Generations We had established on the earth; in strength such as We have not given to you, for whom We poured out rain from the skies in abundance, and gave streams flowing beneath (their feet). Yet for their sins We destroyed them, and raised in their wake fresh generations (to succeed them)
Yes, the arrogance of the nations of old is evident everywhere. The ruins and rubble of the civilisations of old that had dared transgress the bounds. As God asks:
Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them? But the Home of the Hereafter is Best
How many populations have We destroyed, which were given to wrongdoing? They tumbled down on their roofs. And how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and castles lofty and well built? Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts may learn wisdom and their ears may learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts
(The Pilgrimage: 45-46)
So much for those who denied God. Even the ephemeral existence of this world was denied them. Among the nations that denied their messengers were the People of Noah, the Companions of the Rass, the Thamud, and Aad, Pharaoh, the Brethren of Lot and the Companions of the Wood (Qaf:12-14). All of them, needless to say, had to pay a heavy price for their arrogance, like the people of Pharoah in the days of Moses:
We punished the people of Pharoah with years (of drought) and scarcity of crops, that they may receive admonition. But when good (times) came, they said: “This is due to us”. When gripped by calamity they ascribed it to the evil omens connected with Moses and those with him! Behold! In truth the omens of evil are theirs in God’s Sight, but most of them understand not! They said (to Moses): “Whatever be the Signs you bring, to work therewith your sorcery on us, we shall never believe in you”. So We sent (plagues) on them wholesale Death, locusts, Lice, Frogs and Blood. Signs openly self-explained, but they were steeped in arrogance, a people given to sin. Every time the penalty fell on them, they said: “O Moses! On our behalf call on your Lord in virtue of His Promise to you. If you remove the penalty from us, we shall truly believe in you, and we shall send away the Children of Israel with you”. But every time We removed the penalty from them according to a fixed term which they had to fulfill – Behold! They broke their word! So We exacted retribution from them. We drowned them in the (Red) Sea, because the rejected Our signs, and failed to take warning from them. And We made a people considered weak inheritors of lands in both east and west, lands whereon We sent down Our Blessings
God also visited his punishment on the people of Noah who rejected their prophet and were drowned with the deluge:
So we opened the gates of the sky, with water pouring forth, and We caused the earth to gush forth with springs, so that the waters met to the extent decreed. But We bore him (Noah) on (an ark) made of broad planks and caulked with palm fibre – she floats under Our Eyes. A recompense to one who had been rejected (with scorn)
Others so punished included the Companions of the Wood to whom the Prophet Shuayb was sent, preaching that they fear God and do not defraud men. But nay, they would not listen, and challenged him: “Cause a piece of the sky to fall on us, if you are truthful!”. Before long the penalty came, a day of overshadowing gloom (The Poets:176-189). So were the people of Aad to whom the prophet Hood was sent. They persisted in their idolatry and one fine day saw a cloud traversing the sky coming to meet their valleys. “This cloud will give us rain” they rejoiced. But nay, it was not to be. It was a wind carrying destruction on its wings. When the morning dawned, nothing was to be seen but their houses (The Winding Sand Tracts:25). They were simply swept away from the earth:
We sent against them a furious wind, in a Day of violent disaster, plucking out men as if they were roots of palm trees torn up (from the ground)
And then there were the Thamood who sought to monopolise the water sources and hamstrung a she-camel sent by God as a Sign:
We sent against them a single Mighty Blast, and they became like the dry stubble used by one who pens cattle
(The Moon: 27-31)
Not to mention the people of Sheba in Southern Arabia:
There was for Sheba aforetime a sign in their homeland – two gardens to the right and to the left. Eat of the Sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him, a territory fair and happy, and a Lord Oft-forgiving! But they turned away (from God) and We sent against them the flood from the dams, and We converted their two garden (rows) into gardens producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks and a few Lote trees
Human history is replete with stories of floods and earthquakes and disasters of all kinds which we may suppose to be the doing of God after his prophets had been rejected by their people. One may even conjecture whether not the dispersal of the Indo-European peoples from their early homeland in Southern Russia and Ukraine sometime around 3000 BC was the result of some pestilence or visitation after they had refused to revert to their original monotheism preached by some unknown prophet of their nation.
Memories of such divine visitations have also been preserved in the legend of Atlantis, the lost continent. Plato who records their story gives the Atlanteans as a very advanced race. However they grew arrogant and before long invited divine wrath, their entire realm going down in a single day and night with frightening earthquakes, torrential rains and enormous waves taking it all down into the sea. Likewise the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh speaks of a great flood lasting seven days, as does the Akkadian Epic of Atrahasis, both in the region of Mesopotamia.
In the New World too we hear of similar legends The Chippewas of the Great Lakes Area of North America believed the world was created by Kitchi-Manitou ‘Great Spirit’ who when the people became evil and upset the balance between themselves and the environment sent a great flood that destroyed everyone except Nanobozho whom he sent to the world and who survived with some animals by floating on a log. The Apache held that the Great Spirit known as Usen or Life-Giver, displeased with people for not knowing him and instead adoring the hactcin or spirits of the earth, sent a flood where most of the world perished, some people and animals saving themselves by climbing White Ringed Mountain in New Mexico.
Even South America knew of such deluge stories. One such, found among the Incas and related tribes had to do with the great creator god Viracocha. He gave them a precept which they were to observe on pain of being confounded if they broke it. But when pride and covetousness arose among them, they transgressed the precept and he confounded and cursed them. There then came a great flood which they called unu pachacuti, which means ‘water that overturns the land’. They say it rained sixty days and nights, that it drowned all created things, and that there remained some vestiges of those who were turned into stones, as a memorial of the event, and as an example to posterity. A few were saved from this flood to leave descendants for a future age. Stories of such great floods are rife among many peoples and very often you will find that it had to do with men becoming arrogant and rebelling against God’s commandments.
Among the Prophets there are four who occupy a very special place in Islam as they were not only divinely inspired men sent to warn their nations, but were also handed down scriptures revealed by God Himself. These were Moses to whom was given the Torah, David to whom was given the Psalms, Jesus to whom was given the Gospel and Muhammad to whom was given the Qur’an. These Divinely revealed books find mention in the Qur’an on numerous occasions:
It was We who revealed the Torah. Therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed to God’s Will
And in their footsteps We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him, and We gave him the Gospel in which was guidance and light
The Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad in the same fashion as the other messengers:
Verily, We have inspired you (O Muhammad) as We inspired Noah and the prophets after him; We inspired Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some Messengers We have told thee the story; of others We have not
(The Women: 163-164)
However, the mission of all these messengers was confined to their respective nations except for Muhammad who was sent for all humanity and is thus the last of the Prophets. That Muhammad is the Last of the Prophets, the final prophet in a long chain of prophets sent to mankind is told us by God Himself:
Muhammad is the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets
The Prophet himself humbly declared:
My example and the example of the prophets before me is like a man who built a house, which he built and perfected except for the space of one block. People would go round the house and state in awe at its perfection and say: “Had it not been for this space!”. I am that brick, I am the last of the Prophets
His mission unlike that of the earlier prophets was not to be restricted to any particular nation but was to embrace all mankind. Muhammad is told by God to proclaim thus of his universal mission:
“O men, I am sent unto you as the Messenger of God, to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; there is no God but He. It is He Who gives both life and death. So believe in God and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet who believes in God and His Words. Follow him that you may be guided”
The Prophet himself made this clear when he said:
“Every prophet used to be sent to his nation only, but I have been sent to all mankind”
Although we believe in Muhammad as the last and universal messenger, belief in the other prophets is so important that it forms an article of faith of a Muslim. The message they brought their people was one and the same. As God says in His Book:
The same religion has He established for you that which He enjoined on Noah. That which We sent by inspiration to you, and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus
All prophets after all constitute a spiritual fraternity of brothers, though of different mothers. Our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) summed this up aptly when he said:
I am the closest of all people to the son of Mary (Jesus). The prophets are paternal brothers, their mothers are different, but their religion is one
All prophets are in a sense ‘rays’ emanating from the same spiritual ‘Lamp’. Their central message throughout ages has been to worship God and God alone. This is why Islam views denying a single prophet as if it were the same as denying them all.
Indeed, those who deny God and His messengers, and wish to separate God from His messengers, saying: ‘We believe in some but reject others’ and want to pursue a path in-between – it is they, they who are truly denying the truth: and for those who deny the truth We have readied shameful suffering. But as for those who believe in God and His messengers and make no distinction between any of them – unto them, in time, will He grant their rewards (in full). And God is indeed Much-Forgiving, Dispenser of Grace
Since the Prophets were special men chosen by God Himself to guide their nations, their stories serve as an inspiration to true believers, They were, after all, impeccable guides of humanity in whose life there is a lesson for us all. Take the devotion of Abraham, the selflessness of Ishmael, the patience of Job, the penitence of Jonah, the perseverence of Moses, the bravery of David, the wisdom of Solomon and the other worldliness of Jesus. In every little story of theirs, in every trial, tribulation and triumphs of theirs is a lesson to be learnt. This is why you find the Qur’an narrating the stories of the prophets in such great detail.
Take for instance Adam, the first human being, and also the first prophet of Islam whose mission was confined to his immediate descendants. His story along with that of his wife Eve is one of repentance after they had eaten from the forbidden tree and cast down to the earth where they propagated the human species. Then there was Noah whom God commanded to build an ark for his family and a pair each of the rest of creation so that the deluge would not overtake them. He is known for his perseverance in preaching the message of God to his people who in their arrogance rejected him, only to be overcome by God’s punishment.
And then there was Abraham, the father of the patriarchs, who in his youth railed against idolatry and left his hometown in the service of the One True God. Many were the sacrifices he made and so dearly did God love him that he was called the Friend of God. Indeed God even entered into a covenant with Him to make of his offspring a great nation, through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed, though His Grace was not to extend to the wrongdoers among them. Through his Egyptian spouse Hagar Abraham had Ishmael and both of them together built the Ka’aba, the cube-shaped temple in Mecca dedicated to the worship of the One True Lord. And through his wife Sarah he had Isaac, himself a great prophet who in turn had Jacob, another great prophet who was nicknamed Israel ‘Soldier of God and from Israel sprung his twelve sons.
Among them Joseph whom God saved from the jealousy of his brothers went on to an adviser to the Pharaoh of Egypt after he had interpreted a dream. Eventually his brothers joined Joseph in Egypt, but the fortunes of their children, the children of Israel was not to last long for there came a Pharaoh who enslaved them and ordered that every male babe born to them be drowned in the Nile. And then came Moses who was saved from this fate and led the Israelites away from captivity in Egypt, wandering in the desserts for forty years with the twelve tribes who were provided succour by God in the form of Manna and quails. On Mount Sinai he received the Ten Commandments. His people came to settle in the land of Canaan, in Palestine, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they constantly rebelled against God’s commandments which is why God sent them numerous prophets to remind them of His covenant with them, to worship Him and none other. To their brave king David who slew Goliath and defeated the Philistines God revealed the Psalms, and to his wise son Solomon he bestowed a kingdom the like of never seen before, for it encompassed within it not only the animal kingdom which whom Solomon could communicate with, but also a community of genies who served him well.
But the children of Israel were a rebellious lot. They could not accept God’s commands and developed a strong taste for money and all that is worldly, even taking usury which God had strictly prohibited them. And so finally God sent them Jesus, the immaculately conceived one born from the womb of his mother Mary through a spirit God had sent. He worked many miracles including healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and life to the dead. To Him God revealed the Gospel, but still the Jews would have none of it. They attempted to do away with him, and worse still to give him a most painful death by crucifying him on the cross, but God saved him taking him upto Himself, and gave another his likeness so that he was crucified instead. With him the mission to the children of Israel came to a close.
However Jesus teachings were not lost. His disciples, ordinary folk whom no one else seemed to care about, transmitted them in whatever way they could though his untimely departure made it difficult to preserve his message. They were after all, like lost sheep after the departure of their shepherd, at the crossroads of orthodox Judaism and Roman Paganism. But remember Jesus’ mission was meant originally for the Jews, for did he not say: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). When Jesus sent His disciples to preach the good news of the kingdom, He expressly told them, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
Further due to the hostility of the Jews, much of his mission was left unfinished and despite all his preachings of love and compassion, he did not or could do nothing to humanize the harsh mosaic laws of war, or their stern punishments or raise the status of women. That unfulfilled mission would be completed by his successor Muhammad. However, his followers, irked with the hostile reception the Jews had given him, extended the message to the gentiles, and so we now have Christianity, the world’s largest faith in terms of numbers.
But this Christianity unfortunately could not preserve Jesus’ original teachings, for it became corrupted with time, regarding Jesus as the Son of God and as One of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, a most ridiculous idea of God, One in Three and Three in One. It also incorporated many Pagan rituals to make it more appealing to the heathen and so you have Sunday, a day devoted to the Sun God as the Holy day of the Christians while Jesus followed the Sabbath which was on Saturday. It was only a very small group of Christians, the Unitarians who managed to hold on to the true teachings of Jesus, which found some expression in the teachings of the Alexandrian Theologian Arius who lived about a century or two before the coming of Islam. Like Islam Unitarianism denounced the concept of the Trinity by holding that God was One and Jesus a prophet who did not share with Him the Divine Attributes. It was condemned as a heresy by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AC and gradually fell on bad times though it survived until about the fifth century, among its adherents being some German tribes who held on to it as late as 496 AC. By the time of the birth of the Prophet in 571 AC it had been almost wiped out from the face of the earth.
It was now time for a more universal mission and so God sent Muhammad, not only to the Arabs among whom he was born, but also for all mankind, thus fulfilling the promise he made to Abraham, for Muhammad was of his seed through his son Ishmael. Although these two great prophets, Abraham and his son Ishmael had established monotheism in Arabia, even going to the extent of building a temple dedicated to the worship of the One True God in Mecca, their descendants, the Arabs had fallen into the same pagan ways that plagued the Jews, taking idols as their gods. God however did not disdain His covenant with Abraham and forsake his pagan progeny. Just as He sent the Jews their prophets, he sent the Arabs theirs. So it was that Hood was sent to the tribe of Ad, the Saleh to the tribe of Thamud; and Shuayb to the people of Madyan. Strangely, the Arabs never forgot their origins from Abraham and Ishmael and continued to respect the great temple at Mecca, though desecrating it with idols of stick and stone. The Quraysh tribe that guarded the sanctuary which had by them become polluted with Pagan rituals of all kinds themselves claimed descent from Kedar, the second born son of Ishmael, the first born of Abraham. It was into this tribe that Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was born.
But nay, he was not destined to be any ordinary national prophet sent to his people only. His mission was meant for all mankind, for Islam consummated in itself the totality of the religious experiences of humanity throughout the ages, drawing it all into a single, unifying all-embracing faith. Thus came Muhammad in the full blaze of history, when men had learned to read and write and his message could be communicated effectively to the furthest corners of the globe. The Qur’an unlike other scriptures remains preserved in its pure form to this day while the sayings of the Prophet have also been assiduously preserved by his companions and followers. Every little detail of his life, his words and deeds have been faithfully preserved to this day, their authenticity vouched for not only by the faithful but even by the most prejudiced of critics.
And so we read of this man of little means, unlettered and orphaned in early childhood; a trustworthy man, so trustworthy indeed that his tribe the Quraysh were prepared to believe anything he said, that is anything except in his Prophethood, his call to do away with the idols and paganism of his day giving truth to Jesus Words: No Prophet is welcome in his hometown. But still he persevered declaring that he would not let go of the mission God had destined for him, even if they were “to place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left”. His love for God, his endless prayers, undying zeal against idolatry, his simplicity, patience in the face of adversity, magnanimity in victory and compassion even for the tiniest of beings demonstrates that he was no ordinary mortal but one inspired by God.
Muhammad’s mission was to extend to all humanity, not the least the lost sheep of children of Israel as well as those who had embraced the teachings of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him). Jesus made it clear that he was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Thus Jesus never expected Americans, Europeans or Australians to become his followers. That would have to wait till his successor Muhammad brought with him the universal message of Islam which all humans would be equally obliged to follow. Muhammad, unlike Jesus, made it clear from the very first day of his mission that he was meant for all humanity, a perennial guide, so to speak.
The universal character of the Prophet’s Mission was confirmed by God Himself when He declared: “We sent you (O Muhammad) not but as a mercy for the worlds (of jinn and men and all that exists)” (The Prophets:107). He further described His Final Prophet not only as a Warner as the other prophets were, but also as a Bearer of Glad Tidings and as a Lamp spreading Light (The Confederates:45-46). This shows that unlike the other prophets, Muhammad’s was a universal mission.
The universal nature of Muhammad’s mission has been recognized not just by Muslims, but by a good many Western savants as well, among them Thomas Carlyle who wrote in his Heroes:
“They called him a prophet, you say? Why, he stood there face to face with them, here, not enshrined in any mystery, visibly clouting his own cloak, cobbling his own shoes, fighting, counseling, ordering in the midst of them. They must have seen what kind of a man he was, let him be called what ye like. No emperor in his tiaras was obeyed as this man in a cloak of his own clouting. During three and twenty years of rough, actual trial, I find something of a veritable hero necessary for that of itself. A false man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house! If he does not know and follow truly the properties of mortar, burnt clay and what he works in, it is no house that he makes, but a rubbish heap. It will not stand for twelve centuries. A man must conform to Nature’s laws, be in communion with Nature and the truth of things, or Nature will answer him. Of a great man especially, of him I would venture to assert that it is incredible that he should have been other than true”.