Prophethood: Its Nature and Necessity
Before discussing the issue of the prophethood three points should be kept in mind:
1. The right course for man is to live in obedience to God, and for the observance of such obedience knowledge and faith are absolutely essential: knowledge of God and His attributes, His likes and dislikes, His chosen way, and of the Day of Judgment. And unflinching faith in the truth and veracity of this knowledge: this is iman.
2. Secondly, God has graciously spared man the arduous task of acquiring this knowledge through his personal effort alone. He has not put man through this difficult trial. Instead, He revealed this knowledge to the prophets chosen from amongst men, commanding them to convey the will of God to other human beings and show them the right path. This has saved man from formidable misfortunes.
3. Lastly, the duty of the common men and women is to recognize a prophet and, after ascertaining that one is the true prophet of God, to have faith in him and his footsteps. This is the road to salvation.
Divine Care for the Human Needs
You can see that God has most graciously provided man all that he needs in this universe. Every new-born child arrives in the world endowed with eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell and breathe, hands to touch, feet to walk, and a mind to think and ponder. All those potentialities, powers, and faculties that a man needs or can need are most carefully provided and marvelously set in his tiny body. Every minute requirement is foreseen and provided for. Nothing that he needs is left out.
Every minute requirement is foreseen and provided for. Nothing that a new-born child needs is left out.
Similar is the case with the world he lives in. Everything essential for life is provided here in abundance: air, light, heat, etc,. The child, on opening his eyes, finds his food in the mother’s breast. Parents love him instinctively and in their hearts has been implanted an irresistible urge to look after him, to bring him up, and to sacrifice their all for his welfare. Under the sheltering care of this system of sustenance, the child grows to maturity and in every stage of his life obtains from nature all that he needs. All the material conditions of survival and growth are provided for. The whole universe is at his service and is serving him on every turn and pass.
Furthermore, man is blessed with all those powers, capacities, and faculties—physical, mental, and moral—that he requires in his struggle for life. Here God has made a wonderful disposition. He has not distributed these gifts to men strictly equally. Their equal distribution would have made men totally independent of each other and marred the possibilities of mutual care and cooperation. Thus, although mankind as a whole possesses all that is needed, yet among men capacities are distributed unequally and sparingly. Some possess physical strength and prowess; others distinguish themselves for their mental talents. Some are born with greater aptitude for arts, poetry, and philosophy; some possess sharpness of tongue; some others military acumen, commercial intelligence, mathematical keenness, scientific curiosity, literary observation, philosophic disposition, etc. These special aptitudes make a man distinct and enable him to grasp even those intricacies that elude the grip of the common man. These insights, aptitudes, and talents are the gifts of God. They are incarnated in the nature of those men whom God has destined to be thus distinguished. They are mostly inborn and cannot be acquired merely by education and training.
Careful reflection upon this disposition of God’s gifts also reveals that the talents have been distributed amongst men in a marvelous way. Those capacities that are essential for the general maintenance of human culture have been endowed to the average human beings, while those extraordinary talents which are required only to a limited extent are given only to a small number of people. The number of soldiers, peasants, artisans, and workers is large; but military generals, scholars, statesmen, and intellectuals are comparatively fewer. Similar is the case with all professions, with all the arts and crafts of culture. The general rule seems to be this: The higher the capacity and greater the genius, the lesser the number of people who possess them. Super geniuses, who leave an indelible mark on human history and whose achievements guide humanity for ages, are few and far between; their number is still less.
Need for the Prophethood
Here we are faced with another question: Is the fundamental need of human culture confined to the need of experts and specialists in the fields of law and politics, science and mathematics, engineering and mechanics, finance and economics and the like, or does it also need men who may show man the right path—the way to God and salvation? Other experts provide man with the knowledge of all that is in the world and of the ways and means to use that, but there must be someone to tell man the purpose of creation and the meaning of life itself. What is man himself and why has he been created? Who has provided him with all the powers and resources and why? What are the proper ends of life and how are they to be achieved? What are the proper values of life and how can they be attained? This is the most cardinal need of man and unless he knows this, he cannot erect the edifice of culture on sound foundations and cannot succeed in life here and hereafter.
Our reason refuses to believe that God Who has provided man with even the most trivial of his requirements would ignore to provide for this greatest, most paramount, and most vital need. Nay, it can never be so. And it is not so. While God has created men of distinction in arts and sciences, He has also raised men with deep vision, pure intuition, and highest faculties to know and understand Him. To them, He Himself revealed the way of godliness, piety, and righteousness. He gave them the knowledge of the ends of life and values of morality and entrusted them with the duty to communicate the divine revelation to other human beings and to show them the right path. These men are the prophets and messengers of God.
A prophet distinguishes himself in the human life not in accordance with his ideal. Neither his word nor his deed is prompted by any self-interest. He suffers for the good of others, and never makes others suffer for his own good. His whole life is an example of truth, nobleness, purity of nature, high thinking, and the most exalted form of humanity. His character is without any blemish and even the minutest scrutiny fails to reveal any flaw in his life. And all these facts, all these attributes, make it evident that he is a prophet of God and faith must be reposed in him.
Reasonable Response to a Prophet
When it becomes quite clear that such and such a person is the true prophet of God, the natural dictate of this realization is that his words should be accepted, his instructions followed, and his orders obeyed. It is quite unreasonable to accept a man as God’s true prophet, and yet not to believe in what he says or not to follow what he ordains; for your very acceptance of him as God’s prophet means that you have acknowledged that what he says is from God and that whatever he does is in accordance with God’s will and pleasure. Now, disobedience of him is the disobedience of God, and disobedience of God leads to nothing but ruin and devastation. Therefore, the very acceptance of the prophet makes it incumbent on you to bow to his instructions and accept them without any demur whatsoever.
The proper way for an average human being is to do what he can and, in respect of things he cannot do, to use all his wisdom in finding out the proper man to guide and help him, and after finding out such a man to accept his advice and follow him.
You may not be able to fully grasp the wisdom and usefulness of this or that order, but the fact that an instruction has emanated from the prophet is a sufficient guarantee for its truth, and there can be no room for doubt or suspicion. Your inability to understand it is no affirmation of it having flaw or defect; for a common man’s understanding is not flawless. It has its own limitations that cannot be ignored altogether. It is evident that one who does not know some art thoroughly cannot understand its subtleties, but such a person would be a fool to reject what an expert says, merely on the plea that he himself does not fully understand the expert. It is noteworthy that in every important worldly affair an expert is needed for advice, and when you turn to the expert you thereafter trust his advice and entirely depend upon it. You rather surrender your own right of judgment and inference and follow him honorably. Every ordinary man cannot be a master in all arts and crafts of the world. The proper way for an average human being is to do what he can and, in respect of things he cannot do, to use all his wisdom and shrewdness in finding out the proper man to guide and help him, and after finding out such a man to accept his advice and follow him.
When you are sure that a certain person is the best man available for your purpose, you solicit his advice and guidance and have complete trust in him. To interfere with him at every step and say, “Make me understand it before you proceed any further,” is evidently imprudent. When you engage a solicitor in any legal case, you do not interfere with him on every turn and pass. You rather have faith in him and follow his advice. For your medical treatment you go to the doctor and follow his instructions. You neither poke your nose in medical matters nor test your skill in logic by debating with the doctor. This is the proper attitude in life.
So must be done in the case of religion. You need the knowledge of God; you require to know the mode of life according to God’s pleasure; you possess no means for obtaining this knowledge. It is incumbent upon you, therefore, to look for a true prophet of God; and you will have to use utmost care, discernment, and sagacity in your search for him, for if you choose a wrong man for a true prophet, he will put you on the wrong track. If, however, after properly weighing and measuring all considerations, you decide definitely that a certain person is really God’s prophet, then you must trust him completely and obey all his instructions faithfully.
Now it is clear that the right path for man is that and that alone which the prophet declares to be so and the correct way of life is that only which he informs us to be from God. From this, one can easily understand that to have faith in the prophet and to obey and follow him is absolutely necessary for all men, and that a man who puts aside the prophet’s instructions and himself tries to carve out a way for himself deviates from the right path and surely goes astray.
In this matter man is guilty of strange errors. There are men who admit the integrity and truthfulness of the Prophet, but do not repose iman (faith) in him, nor do they follow him in the affairs of their lives. Such men are not only disbelievers, but also behave in an imprudent and unnatural way, for not to follow the prophet after admitting him to be true means that one knowingly follows untruth. And what folly can be greater than that?
Some people declare, “We do not need a prophet for our guidance and we can ourselves find out the way to truth.” This too is a faulty view. You have probably learned geometry, and you know that between two points there can be only one straight line, and all other lines must be crooked or will fail to touch the point in view. The same is the case with the way to truth, which, in the language of Islam, is called as-sirat al-mustaqim (the straight path). This path begins from man and goes straight up to God, and this path can evidently be only one; all other paths would be aberrations and will lead astray.
Now this straight path has been indicated by the prophet, and there is and can be no other straight path. The man who ignores that path and seeks other errands is only a dupe of his own imagination. He chooses a way and imagines it to be right, but he soon finds himself entangled and lost in the mazes and meandering created by his own fancy. What can you think of a person who has lost his way and when a good man shows him the right one, he definitely ignores the guidance, declaring, “I will not take your guidance nor accept the way you have shown to me, but I will myself grope in this unknown region and try to reach the object of my search, in my own way”? This, in the presence of the clear guidance of the prophets, is sheer stupidity. If everybody tried to start up again from scratch, it would be gross waste of time and energy. We never do so in the field of sciences and arts; why here?
This is a common error, and even a little reflection reveals its flaws and weaknesses. But if you go a little deeper into the matter, you will notice that a person who denies to have faith in the true prophet cannot at all find any way straight or otherwise to reach God. This is so because a man who refuses to believe the advice of a truthful man adopts such a perverse attitude that the vistas of truth become estranged from him and he becomes a victim of his own obstinacy, arrogance, bias, and perversity.
Often this refusal is because of false arrogance, or blind conservatism and obstinate adherence to the way of the forefathers, or slavery to the lower desires of the self, whose gratification becomes impossible by submission to the teachings of the prophets. If a man is engrossed in any of the above conditions, the path to truth becomes closed to him. He, like a jaundiced person, cannot look upon things in the uncolored light of reality. Such a man cannot find any road to salvation.
On the other hand, if a man is sincere and truth-loving and if he is not a slave to any of the above complexes, the road to reality becomes paved for him and there is absolutely no ground for him to refuse to believe in the prophet. Rather, he finds in the teachings of the prophet the very echo of his own soul and discovers himself by discovering the prophet.
And, above all, God Himself raises the true prophet. It is He who has sent him to mankind to convey His message to people. It is His command for us to repose faith in the Prophet and follow him. Thus, one who refuses to believe in God’s Messenger actually refuses to follow God’s commandments and becomes a rebel. There is no denying the fact that one who refuses to acknowledge the authority of the viceroy of a sovereign actually refuses the authority of the sovereign himself. This disobedience turns him into a rebel. God is the Lord of the universe, the true Sovereign, the King of kings, and it is the bounden duty of every man to acknowledge the authority of His messengers, and to obey them as His accredited prophets. And one who turns away from the Prophet of God is surely a kafir (unbeliever), be he a believer in God or a disbeliever.
By Abul A`la Mawdudi
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