Divine purpose for sending prophets

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What is the divine purpose for sending prophets?

The Prophets were sent to illuminate the way of mankind

Today, the greatest problem of mankind is that they do not recognize the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and that they neglect and, in some parts of the world, even refuse, to follow his way. God sent Muhammad, as He had sent all the previous Prophets, to illuminate the way of mankind. He said:

God was gracious to the believers when He raised up among them a Messenger from themselves who recites to them the verses (of His Book) and shows them His signs [in their selves and in the universe], purifies them [of their sins and their deviations of thought and belief], and instructs them in the Book and the Wisdom. They were evidently in manifest misguidance before. (Al ‘Imran, 3:164)

God sent Messengers to mankind throughout the ages so that mankind might be guided to the truth and be purified of sins. Those who were enlightened by the Messengers of God, found the way to the Divine Presence and attained the highest rank of humanity. In the words of Ibrahim Haqqi, ‘God declared that He could not be contained by heavens and earth; He can be known and reached through hearts only.’ It is for this reason that the Messengers led mankind to the knowledge of God. Through them, He was deeply felt by the ‘innermost senses‘ of people. The ‘innermost sense‘ of man, whether we call it heart or soul, or ‘conscience‘, is so great that through it man can ‘grasp‘ God with all His greatness and other attributes. God cannot be contained by the heavens and earth. Minds cannot comprehend Him. Philosophical thoughts are by no means sufficient to reach Him. It is only through his soul or heart that a man can rise to the holy Presence of God. Therefore, it was the Prophets who purified the souls so that they could be the mirrors in which God might manifest Him-self. The Prophet Muhammad is the last and greatest of these Prophets, and he left us the Qur’an and Sunna so that we can, by following them, live in accordance with the purpose for which all the Prophets were sent.

Before further elaboration on the Divine purpose for sending the Prophets, I would like to emphasize three points.

Prophets were chosen men through whom God manifested Himself

Firstly, the Prophets were far from being as some lacking in manners and sound reflection have described them. They were not, as some think, ordinary men like us. They were chosen men through whom God manifested Himself. God chose them from among people and paid great attention to their upbringing, so that during their life they would always seek to gain His approval. Like his predecessors, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, always pursued God’s good pleasure and his last words were: ‘To Rafiq al-A’la (the Highest Abode)’. ‘A’isha, Mother of Believers, gives the following account of his last moments:

I was with him during his last moments. Whenever he became ill, he used to ask me to pray for him and, expecting my prayer to be accepted through the blessing of his auspicious hand, I held his hand and prayed. During his last illness, I wanted to do the same and pray, when he suddenly withdrew his hand and said, ‘to Rafiq al-A’la!’1

Secondly, the world has never been devoid of the successors to the mission of Prophethood, who devote their lives to the dissemination of truths. They should seek what the Prophets sought, they should preach what the Prophets preached, and they should strictly follow the Prophets in per-forming their duties – in enjoining good and forbidding evil. By explaining the Divine purpose for sending the Prophets, I hope I will be able to shed some light on the way of those who try to lead the people along the path of the Prophets.

Thirdly, death is not total annihilation. It is only a changing of the worlds, but without completely breaking away from this one. In addition, the death of the Prophets is different from that of ordinary people. God declares about martyrs, whose spiritual degrees are lower than that of the Prophets, Say not of those slain in God’s way, ‘They are dead’, but they are alive but you understand not’ (al-Baqara, 2.154). So we should not say of the Prophets, ‘they are dead’. For this reason, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, did not taste death in the manner we know; he only changed places and passed on into another dimension or degree of life. Those who can penetrate with their inner faculties into the dimensions other than the ones in which we live, can experience different dimensions of time and space. They can see different creatures and look into things and events from different viewpoints. We consider things and events according to the stream in which we are, but if we can rise high enough to see this stream with all its dimensions, and the scope of our sight is enlarged as we rise, then we will be able to obtain a more comprehensive capacity and standard in our judgment of everything. Thus, those who have been able to gain this capacity, while sitting among us, might also be sitting in the presence of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and God’s Messenger himself may now be stroking the heads of some among us. While performing prayer here with us, he may also be leading the same prayer in the Hereafter before the angels. There is a particular class of saints called abdal – substitutes – for when one of them dies, he is immediately substituted with a new one, who can see the Prophet whenever they wish. Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, a sixteenth-century scholar, once said: ‘I have seen God’s Messenger twenty-eight times while awake.’

1. Bukhari, Maghazi, 78; Muslim, Salam, 50,51; Abu Dawud, Tib, 19.

 

After these introductory points, we shall explain the Divine purposes for sending the Prophets.

THE PROPHETS WERE SENT TO GUIDE PEOPLE TO THE SERVICE OF GOD

God declared in the Qur’an:

I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve me. (al-Zariyat, 51.56)

We have not been created to eat, drink and reproduce; these are natural facts of our life, and natural needs. The main purpose for our creation is to recognize God and serve Him. For this reason, all the Prophets were sent to show us the way to the service of God. Again, God declares in the Qur’an:

We never sent a Messenger before you except that We revealed to him, saying, ‘there is no god but I, so serve Me!’ (al-Anbiya’, 21.25)

Indeed, We sent forth among every nation a Messenger, saying, ‘serve you God, and eschew ‘taghut’ [idols, tyrants, Satan and the party of Satan]’. Then some of them God guided and some were justly disposed to misguidance. (al-Nahl, 16.36)

God sent the Prophets so that they might guide us to His service. All the Prophets were sent for the same purpose, with the exception that while the mission of all the previous Prophets was ‘limited’ to only one nation and a fixed period, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was sent as a mercy to all the ‘worlds’, including mankind and jinn.

The jinn are beings that we cannot see. According to an authentic narration, Ibn Mas‘ud reports the following incident concerning the Prophet’s preaching his Message to the jinn:

Once God’s Messenger and I went somewhere. He drew a circle around me and said, Do not leave this circle until I return. He went, and after a while, some tumults broke out on the other side. I wondered whether something had happened to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and bless-ings, but he had commanded me not to leave the circle until his return. Some time later, God’s Messenger returned and I asked him about the uproar. He replied: The jinn have believed in, and taken the oath of allegiance to, me. When some among them insisted on unbelief, fighting broke out between them. The uproar you heard was the fighting. This implies that my life is about to termi-nate.1

By this last sentence, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, meant that the pur-pose for his being sent was to open the way to the guidance of mankind and jinn, and once this way was opened, it would be of no use for him to live longer because there was nothing more left to him to do in life. This also implies that a believer should never be neglectful of his essential duty in this world and pray to God, as instructed by God’s Messenger, saying, ‘O God, make me die if death is good for me; or else, make me live long as long as living is good for me!’2

1. Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan, 24.33; I. Hanbal, 1.499.

2. Bukhari, Marda, 19; Muslim, Dhikr, 10.

THE PROPHETS TAUGHT PEOPLE GOD’S LAWS

Another purpose for sending the Prophets is to communicate to people the Divine Commandments, like the obligations of performing five daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and paying the zakat, and the prohibitions of all kinds of illicit sexual intercourse, drinking alcohol and gambling. But for the Prophets, we could not have known the Divine Commandments. This function of the Prophets is called ‘Messengership‘, concerning which the Qur’an declares,

They deliver the Messages of God and fear Him, and do not fear anyone except God. (al-Ahzab, 33.39)

God said to the Last Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings:

O Messenger, deliver that which has been sent down to you from your Lord; for if you do not, you will have not performed His Messengership. God protects you against people; verily God will not guide the people of unbelief. (al-Ma’ida, 5.67)

The mission of the Messenger was to enlighten all of humanity concerning every dimension of their life. So, any neglect in delivering God’s Message would be an unforgivable fault for it would amount to leaving humanity in darkness. For this reason, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was continually in search of unadulterated minds and hearts to which he could impart God’s Message.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, might have offered his Message only a few times to those like Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, but he must have offered it to Abu Jahl and the like at least fifty times. Each time he appeared before them, he would say: Proclaim, ‘There is no deity but God’, and be saved! He would visit the places where people gathered and carry the fragrance of the same words, Proclaim, ‘There is no deity but God’, and be saved!

Muhammad’s traveling to Ta’if his supplication on the way to return

Fairs used to be held periodically in places around Makka such as ‘Arafat, Mina, Muzdalifa and ‘Aqaba, and he used to visit all of them every year, preaching the same truth tirelessly.

A time came when reactions, which had begun with indifference and continued with derision and mocking and finally with persecutions, tortures and boycotting, reached an unbearable point and the Makkan polytheists offered no hope for further conversions. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, took Zayd ibn Haritha with him and went to Ta’if. Unfortunately, there, too, he was faced with violent anger and terror. The children of Ta’if, positioned on either side of the road, threw stones at him. There was not a square inch of space on his body not vulnerable to the stones. However, he finally succeeded in leaving the town and reached a tree under which he took shelter, bleeding profusely. He held up his hands and supplicated:

O God, unto You do I complain of my frailty, lack of resources and lack of significance before those people. O Most Merciful of the merciful, You are the Lord of the oppressed and You are my Lord. To whom do You abandon me? To that alien who looks askance and makes grimaces at me? Or to that enemy to whom You have given mastery over me? If, however, Your indignation is not against me, I have no worry. But Your grace is much greater for me to wish for. I seek refuge in the light of Your Countenance, which illumines all darkness and by which the affairs of this life and the Hereafter have been rightly ordered, lest Your wrath alight upon me, or Your indignation descend upon me. I expect Your forgiveness until You are pleased, and there is no other resource nor any power but in You.

He had just finished his supplication when he saw a tray placed before him. A Christian slave from Nineveh, who had seen God’s Messenger, upon him be peace, being stoned and tormented from the vineyard where he had been working, had put some grapes in a tray and brought it to him. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, said, In the name of God as he began to eat. This surprised Addas, the Christian slave. It was the first time he heard this phrase during his time among the polytheists.

– ‘Who are you? What has made you come here?’ he asked.

On hearing the answer, I am Muhammad, from Makka, the Last Prophet, he said with tears in his eyes, ‘God has made me find you’. He then embraced Islam.1

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, performed his mission incessantly throughout his life. As a result of his tireless efforts, the circle of light broadened day by day, and the party of unbelief became more and more frustrated, just as the unbelievers are in rage today at the Islamic revival currently encompassing the whole world.

They desire to extinguish with their mouths God’s light; and God refuses but to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse. (al-Tawba, 9.32)

If God has lit a candle, it is impossible to extinguish it just by blowing.

When Makka proved to no longer be fertile ground for further developments, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, emigrated to Madina, where he continued calling to Islam. He had to face the antagonism of the Jews and hypocrites and fight many battles during his ten years in Madina.

In the twenty-third year of his mission, he began to feel the time for departure was approaching. He had performed the minor pilgrimage a few times, but he had not been able to carry out the major pilgrimage. In that year he managed to fulfil this sacred duty. He climbed the hill of ‘Arafat on the back of his camel and gave a sermon known as the Farewell Sermon. In this sermon, he emphasized that feuds and transactions involving interest were strictly forbidden; reminded the congregation once more of the rights of women; talked about family ties and mentioned tribal and national relationships. A huge tearful congregation listened to him. While delivering his sermon, he frequently asked them if he had communicated God’s Message. With each positive reply, he held up his blessed index finger towards the sky and said, ‘O God, be the witness!’2 In deep consciousness of Divine service, he might have thought, ‘God sent me to the world to perform the duty of Messenger-ship. Just as these people bore witness to the fulfilment of my duty, I hope I may be regarded as having truly done it.’ He was prepared to meet God in perfect satisfaction.

1. I. Hisham, Sira, 2.60-63; I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 3.166.

2. Ibn Ma’ja, Manasik, 84; Abu Dawud, Manasik, 56.

THE PROPHETS WERE EXAMPLES

To set a good example for other people was another duty of the Prophets – a duty which we must also always observe consciously. After mentioning the Prophets in the Chapter entitled al-An‘am, God commanded His last Messenger:

Those are they whom God has guided, so follow their guidance! (al-An‘am, 6.90)

We are commanded by God to follow the example of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings:

You have a good example in God’s Messenger for whoever hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembers God oft. (al-Ahzab, 33.21)

God’s Messenger is our leader. As we stand in prayer according to the way he prayed, we must also follow him in every walk of our life. Those who followed him in the first Islamic century were the real representatives of the true Islamic life. God’s Messenger says concerning this period:

Muslim armies will arrive, after me, at the gates of cities, where they will be asked, ‘Did anyone among you see the Prophet?’ The answer will be affirmative, and the gates will be opened for them. Those who succeeded them will also perform jihad and they will be asked, ‘Are there any people among you who saw those who had seen the Prophet?’ They will reply, ‘Yes’, and the cities will be conquered by them. There will finally come the third generation, who will be asked, ‘Did anybody among you see those who had seen the followers of the Prophet’s Companions?’ When this question, too, receives an affirmative answer, the conquest will also be bestowed upon them.1

Again, in another narration by Bukhari and Muslim, God’s Messenger says concerning those three succeeding generations: ‘The best of you are those who live in my period, then those who succeed them, and then those who follow them.’2 Those three generations strictly followed in the Prophet’s footsteps and, accordingly, were granted great victories throughout the world. Jesus, upon him be peace, had predicted them, saying, ‘The banners of the holy ones are in their hands.’3 These holy ones are the Companions of Muhammad and those who follow his way in every century.

In a Tradition, although with a weak chain of transmission, God’s Messenger declares: The pi-ous scholars of my nation resemble the Prophets of the Children of Israel.4 From them, ‘Umar sub-mitted himself to God so sincerely that he did his duty of servanthood to God much more effectively than expected of him. During his caliphate, Iran, Iraq and Egypt were conquered. Muslim armies were fighting in a vast area under the command of great commanders such as Abu ‘Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah, Shurahbil ibn Hasana, Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan. Jerusalem, which is now a shame for the Muslim world in its present state, was also conquered during his caliphate. When the supreme commander of the Muslim army wanted the priests to submit the keys of the city, the priests answered, ‘We cannot see among you the man to whom we are to sub-mit the keys’. They had read in their religious books the features of the person who would take over the keys. It was ‘Umar.

Priests submitted the keys of Jerusalem to ‘Umar

‘Umar ruled over lands twenty times the size of Turkey, but he did not have a private camel to travel on. He set out on a camel belonging to the state treasury, accompanied by his servant. The priests and Muslim commanders were waiting in Jerusalem, ‘Umar was advancing towards his destination on the camel, which he rode in turn with his servant. When they approached the river Jordan, the commanders awaiting his arrival on the other side of the river were excited, praying, ‘O God, let it be the turn of ‘Umar to ride the camel when they get to this river, for these Romans are fond of pomp and display. They may not esteem us if they see the Caliph pulling a camel ridden by a servant’. But God had destined that ‘Umar would pull the camel carrying the servant across the river. When ‘Umar approached, the priests noticed, among other things, several patches on his robe. This was the man described in their books. They submitted the keys of Jerusalem to him.

‘Umar never deviated from the path of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. After being stabbed by a Magian slave, while on his deathbed, he would refuse food and water be-cause he was too weak, yet when it was time for prayer, he performed the prayer with his wounds bleeding and said, ‘The one who abandons prayer has nothing to do with Islam’.5

‘Umar did so because he was taught by God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. He followed his ‘Master’ strictly and himself was to be followed by the succeeding generations.

1. Bukhari, Fada’il al-Ashab, 1; Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 208–9.

2. Bukhari, ibid., 1; Muslim, ibid., 212.

3. Ibrahim al-Halabi, Sira, 1.218.

4. Ajluni, Kash al-Khafa’, 2.83.

5. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, 3.350; Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 1.295.

THE PROPHETS ESTABLISHED THE BALANCE BETWEEN THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT

The Prophets were sent to establish a balance between this world and the Hereafter.

At a time when some led an isolated life in monasteries and others drowned in luxury, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, came with the Qur’anic instruction:

Seek, amidst that which God has given you, the Last Abode, and forget not your portion of the present world. (al-Qasas, 28.77)

All of the Prophets, peace be upon them all, came to establish this balance – the balance between material and spiritual life, between reason and soul, between this world and the next and between indulgence and abstinence. While we should, on the one hand, declare all that God has be-stowed on us in order to indicate our gratitude and due praise for Him, as commanded in the Qur’an, And as for your Lord’s blessing and bounty, declare it (al-Duha, 93.11), we should not forget, on the other hand, that we will be asked to account for every good we enjoy, as announced, again, in the Qur’an, Then you shall be questioned that day concerning every good you enjoy (al-Takathur, 102.8).

This principle, like the others, was so deeply inculcated by the Prophet in the hearts of his Companions that it could be seen in every aspect of their lives. To cite an example: it was the time of breaking fast on a day of Ramadan when Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, was offered a glass of cold water. He had just taken a sip when he suddenly burst into tears and stopped drinking. When asked why, he replied:

I was once with God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. He did something as if he was pushing something with his hand and saying to it, Keep aloof from me! I said to him: ‘O God’s Messenger! You are pushing something away, but I cannot see anything.’ He answered: ‘The world appeared to me in an ideal form and presented itself to me with all its pomp and luxury. I pushed it, saying, Leave me; you will not be able to seduce me into accepting you. It withdrew itself and said: ‘I am not able to conquer you, but I swear by God that I will captivate those who come after you.’

After narrating the Tradition, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, may God be pleased with him, concluded: ‘At this time of breaking fast, I thought that the world allured me with a glass of cold water, and I wept.’1

Abu Bakr and most of the other Companions lived a balanced life despite the fact that they had every possibility to live in comfort.

1. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’ wa Tabaqat al-Asfiya’, 1.30-31.

THE PROPHETS WERE GOD’S WITNESSES

One of the reasons why the Prophets were sent is that mankind might have no argument against God in the Hereafter. Regarding this, the Qur’an says:

Messengers bearing good tidings and warning, so that mankind might have no argument against God. (al-Nisa’, 4.165)

Mankind, who have followed many so-called guides or leaders only to be led astray, have reached the truth through the guidance of the Prophets, upon them be peace. They were the servants of God created for a special mission. They were ‘Prophets’ in the wombs of their mothers. Their birth was marked with extraordinary events. Their lives resembled a beautiful symphony, being perfectly harmonious and balanced. Their words came out of their mouths like a sweet melody and penetrated into souls like a perfect penetrating lyric; the whole of existence, animate or inanimate, hearkened to them. Among the miracles of the lord of lords, upon him be peace and blessings, is that trees and rocks greeted him and answered his call. In his well-known Qasidat al-Bur’a, Busiri says, ‘Trees answered his call, prostrated.’ When he called them, trees cleft the earth and came to him. Besides living beings, inanimate things, too, acquired a meaning through his advent, and existence attained the state of being ‘cosmos’ out of the chaotic state, and each thing became a tongue glorifying God with praise, as declared in the Qur’an:

There is not a thing that does not glorify Him with praise, but you do not understand their glorification. (al-Isra’, 17.44)

There is an extraordinary harmony in the universe, which displays the existence and unity of God. Nothing is created in vain. Like every other creature, man also was not created without purpose. The Qur‘an declares:

Does man think that he will be left aimless? (al-Qiyama, 75.36)

If the Prophets had not been sent, man might have had an argument against being punished in the Hereafter. But, as the Qur’an states, We never punish until We have sent a Messenger (al-Isra’, 17.15), God would not punish anyone without having sent them Prophets. He sent them so that the good might be distinguished from the bad. After the Prophets, mankind would no longer have any argument against God’s punishment or reward.

 

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