Prophets and their Missions
A belief in revelation and the deputation of prophets is part of the belief in the universality of Divine guidance. The entire universe is proceeding towards its perfection. No existing thing in this world is at rest. Everything is moving towards its goal. Everything is being pushed to its goal by a metaphysical force existing within it. It is this force that is called Divine guidance. This is why the Holy Quran has used the term ‘revelation’ in connection with the guidance of inorganic material, plants and animals as it has been used in connection with the guidance of man. All that may be said is that revelation and guidance have degrees which vary in accordance with the degree of the perfection of different beings. The highest degree of revelation is that which is made to the Prophets. This kind of revelation is based on mankind’s need for Divine guidance so that they may proceed towards a final abode beyond this material world. God the Almighty has dispatched many Messengers from among humans to lead and guide them to the destination they are created for. The creation of man would otherwise be in vain.
We may prove the necessity of the need for the Prophets in another way. God the Almighty has blessed all types of beings with all they need for their perfection. He created birds to fly, so He has provided them with wings and a light body suitable for flying. He created eyes to observe objects and hence made for them muscles so they can rotate to all directions. Allah has blessed all beings in nature with whatever they need for their perfection. The deputation of messengers and prophets to guide mankind is necessary for humans to reach their perfection. If God has blessed everything in creation with the instruments to reach their perfection, surely He must have also blessed humans with prophets to guide them towards their own perfection.
Why did God send the Prophets?
1. Responsibility Necessitates Prophets
God has blessed man with the freedom of choice and holds him responsible for his belief and behaviour. The responsibility involves a Shari'a (divine law). The Shari'a will not be accomplished unless by sending Prophets.
2. To Teach Mankind their Duty Before God
Safwan Ibn Yahya; one of the distinguished students of Imam Sadiq (a.s) in theology, reported one of his debates about the necessity of the need for the Prophets as follows:
"Surely, once one knows he has a Creator, then it is expected from him to also know that his Lord has Satisfactions and Dissatisfactions and that they will not be understood except through a revelation or a Messenger. Thus, those who do not receive the revelation should seek the knowledge from the Messengers (of God) for they are the proof of God and their obedience is obligatory."
3. Punishment Without Education is Unjust
God will punish the sinner in the Hell-Fire and will reward the righteous ones with a variety of blessings in Paradise. In order for mankind to refrain from sins and offer the virtuous deeds, they need to first know them. Human intellect does not suffice to gain this knowledge. Therefore, it would be unjust for God not to send any Messenger to educate humans and then still hold them accountable.
4. Regulating man's worldly life
Humans are, by nature, social beings who interact with one another on many levels. Conflicting interests are an inherent part of social interaction and this leads to disagreements and clashes. The only solution to this is for there to be a law that respects the rights of all humans.
The question is who is going to be the lawmaker; man or the Creator of man? A perfect lawmaker ought to meet the following criteria:
He should know mankind in all his physical and mental aspects including emotions, desires and intuitions.
He should be aware of the past, present and future of man to be able to find out the roots of the present problems in the past, and to foresee the impacts of the present issues in the future.
He should be knowledgeable enough to legislate laws that bring about the most benefit and the least harm .
He should be free from any sin or error.
He should be powerful and not be influenced or frightened from or by any power.
He should not have any personal benefit or interest.
It is clear that no human can ever meet any of these criteria. The only qualified lawmaker then is the Creator of humankind, the Almighty God.
Objectives of the Prophets
1. Divine Knowledge (Divine Education):
In order for human beings to reach the goal for which they are created, they need to know which path to follow and which one to refrain from. If there were no prophets, how did we know about the Hereafter which is beyond man’s knowledge?! This type of knowledge is what man has no access to, except through revelation.
In short, the prophets are the messengers of God to educate man about the facts which they need to know but are beyond their knowledge.
2. Theoretical Purification
Purifying the soul of humans is another mission of the prophets. Purification means to purify man’s soul from all types of rust which are misleading him; the rust of selfishness, racism, and all evil deeds and intentions. God is absolutely Pure, rather He is the source of all that is pure. In order for mankind to reach that Pureness, they must purify themselves as much as possible.
3. Practical Purification
Imitation and copying others, especially the one someone loves, is a human characteristic. The easiest way to adopt a habit or character is to imitate someone who is the crystallisation of that character.
To this end, the Prophets, who are the best and the healthiest models of purified humans, are dispatched to be the practical role models to humanity. Had Angels been sent to humans as the messengers of God, man would not have had a practical model from his own nature to adopt his characters.
4. Developing Society to Social Justice
In order for man to enjoy a wholesome life in this world and be able to worship God freely, there must be social justice and equity, free from oppression and discrimination.
Prophets are necessary for the development of social justice. They came with Divine Books (law), from He who is fully acquainted with man's requirements, and they themselves enforced the divine law thoroughly.
Laws and legal systems, whether national or global, are never free from bias and always end up favouring those who have greater power, wealth and influence. The only way to achieve true justice is to follow the Divine law, as taught by the Prophets of God.
5. Freedom from the Bondage of Humans
The history of mankind from the ancient time to the present has been dominated by different types of slavery, human ownership, dominance and exploitation of one group of people by another. This varies from the simplest type of slavery as was practiced in ancient Greece to the modern types of oppression and discrimination which are undertaken in the name of freedom and liberation.
Types of human bondage:
5) Caste Systems,
6) Ethnic and Tribal Fanaticism,
7) Autocracy (dictatorship),
8) Colonial Exploitation,
9) Cultural Imperialism
Submission to God and servitude to only Him is the only way to liberate humankind from all types of human bondage. This is the central task of the prophets.
6. Providing a Peaceful Life
The shortest, as well as the most comprehensive way, to express the mission of the prophets is to overwhelmingly provide a peaceful and tranquil life to humanity at large. The Holy Quran suggests that the mission of the prophets provides ‘LIFE’ to humanity in all aspects; being material, spiritual, educational, economic, political, moral and social. Believing in Allah and Divine Recompense leads society towards a peaceful life in which no-one dares violate the rights of others. Humankind will do good for the hope of reward in an eternal life to come, and avoid evil for fear of punishment in the eternal life to come. These divine teachings will provide individuals as well as societies with the motivation to establish peace and equity.
The Claim of Denying Prophets
Despite the previous facts regarding the necessity of prophets, there are some schools of thought such as Hinduism that not only deny the deputation of prophets but also consider the matter illogical and irrational. They argue that the intellect is sufficient to lead mankind to his perfection. They argue that whatever the messengers of God may bring to humans is either what they can comprehend with their own mind or would be beyond their ability to comprehend. They argue that as long as human beings are able to understand the matter, the message of the prophet is of no benefit. Whereas, if the message is going to be beyond their logic, which - in one way or the other - means it is illogical, then it can’t be acceptable, for that which is illogical belongs to the kingdom of animals.
This false argument is like saying no-one is in need of any teacher for, whatever the teacher is going to teach is either according to the logic of the students or is against their logic. In any case, the students do not need the teacher. The fallacy of the above argument is that they did not distinguish between what is against logic and what is not fully comprehensible by human logic. Thus, man is in need of the Divine Instruction to help them gain some knowledge of that which is logical, but which they have no access to without the teachings of the prophets.
The Prophets also have the role of reminding humankind of the intuitive knowledge which they possess but have become oblivious of.
Distinguished Characteristics of the Prophets
The Islamic belief is that Prophets were infallible. This is used with the meaning that while they enjoyed free will and desire, they never committed sins. Since prophets are the messengers of God and practical role models for people, it would be illogical for them to be sinful. For if the messengers themselves were sinful, we would have no point of reference for which actions are good and which are evil. Furthermore, if there was a possibility that they may lie, this would jeopardise the Divine message in its totality.
Prophets were the guides for mankind and hence they ought to enjoy the highest degree of knowledge which is free from all types of insufficiency and error. The knowledge of the Prophets covers all that mankind needs for the prosperity of their life, both in this world and the hereafter. All the Prophets were unlettered; i.e. they did not gain their knowledge in an ordinary academic fashion.
To this end, Allah, the Almighty has equipped them with a Divine knowledge which is obtained through revelation, intuition and extraordinary knowledge.
The third distinguishing characteristic of the Prophets is a miracle. Miracle in Arabic is 'Mo'jeza' which literally means an act that others are incapable of doing and hence they relinquish upon witnessing it. The Holy Quran uses the term 'Ayah' (Sign) to express a miracle, as miracles are the signs of God to prove the true claim of His Messengers. All miracles performed by the Prophets only occurred by the Leave of God. Although miracles violate the normal natural laws and hence may be scientifically impossible, they are not logically impossible. Miracles also do not violate the law of causality. The occurrence of miracles has its own reasons, though these reasons are metaphysical.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)- The Final Messenger
Prophet Muhammad was sent with the Final Testament, the Holy Qur'an. This is the final and most complete Divine message to humankind. It is the message of Islam (submission to God), just as the message of the previous prophets such Abraham, Moses and Jesus was Islam. However, this is the most complete and perfect form of that message, and it will suffice mankind for the remainder of human history. The Holy Quran contains all the principle laws and knowledge that mankind needs for their prosperity. The Holy Quran is the only verbatim Word of God without any alteration or distortion occuring in it.
The Ayah 40 of Surah 33, as well as numerous Prophetic traditions, indicate explicitly that Prophet Muhammad (P) is the last Messenger of Allah. Humankind has reached a state of mental maturity that by utilising the general principles provided in the Quran and the Hadith they would be able to find answers for the new problems they face in their life. In addition to this, the Divine Leadership of the 12 successors of the Prophet of Islam (P) ending with the Present Imam Mahdi is safeguarding the religion of Islam.
Muslims believe in the original texts of all Divine Scriptures. Muslims believe that previous messengers, including Moses and Jesus, were sent with a Divine scripture. Unfortunately, these texts were not preserved and we have no access to them today. Of all the Divine Scriptures, the Holy Quran is the only Book that is preserved in its original text whilst the rest are either totally lost or perverted.