What characteristics did the prophets have?

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What characteristics did the prophets have?

The prophets depended on revelation and submitted themselves wholly to God

Although every Prophet possessed brilliant intelligence, an overall capacity of understanding and a pure soul, Prophethood is not a position acquired through brilliance of intelligence or studying of books. Most Prophets, including the Last One, were unlettered. Their teacher was God. The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, despite not being able to read, had knowledge of the past and the future, and insight into every branch of knowledge. Although he did not go to school, nor was taught by any human, he was, as admitted even by his enemies, past and pre-sent, the most just in family affairs, the most competent in state administration, and the best in the command of armies.

The Prophets were specially brought up by God. To cite an example, the Last Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, recalled:

I intended only twice in my childhood to attend a wedding ceremony. On both occasions, I was over-powered by sleep half-way.1

He also remembered:

During the restoration of the Ka‘ba, prior to my Prophethood, I was carrying stones. As everyone did, I lifted the skirt of my garment over my shoulder to avoid injury, which left some part of my thighs uncovered. All of a sudden, the angel that I had seen several times in my childhood appeared to me in all his majesty. I fell down and fainted. That was the first and last time I uncovered any part of my body which God has ordered to be covered.2

The Prophets were protected by God against all kinds of sin, whether major or minor, because they were created for a special purpose. They were protected from falling, since their going astray even an inch could result in almost complete deviation of mankind.

Prophethood is distinguished by Divine Revelation, concerning which the Qur’an says:

And thus have We revealed to you a spirit of Our command. You did not know what the Scripture was, nor what the faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our servants. And you, surely you guide unto a straight path. (al-Shura’, 42.52)

The Prophets never spoke as a result of whims and fancies. The Qur’an declares:

Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is nought but a Revelation revealed. (53:3-4)

The Prophet Muhammad, when asked something related to, particularly, the essentials of belief, would not answer, rather he would wait for Revelation. There were times when he was asked by idolaters to make alterations in the Qur’an, but since the Qur’an is a Divine Scripture, whose wording and meaning completely belong to God, he responded to such wishes as commanded by God:

Say, ‘It is not for me to alter it of my own accord. I follow nothing, except what is revealed to me.’ (Yunus, 10.15)

And it is because of the Qur’an being the Word of God that he bore all kinds of hardship and opposition.

The Prophets submitted themselves wholly to God and fulfilled their mission solely because God commanded them to. They never resorted to compromise in order to be successful and never deviated from their way. In the face of both threats and seductive offers, they always gave responses similar to what the Last Prophet gave on an occasion:

If you were even to put the sun in my right hand, and the moon in the left, I will never give up preaching my cause.3

1. I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 2.350.

2. Bukhari, Hajj, 42; I. Kathir, ibid., 2.350.

3. Ibn Hisham, Sira, 2.285

The prophets were all trustworthy and asked no wage for calling to God

The Prophets were completely trustworthy and they demanded no wage for their services. This very important characteristic of Prophethood is mentioned in the Qur’an five times in sura al-Shu’ara’. All the Prophets said the same thing:

I am for you a trustworthy Messenger, so serve you God, and obey you me. I ask of you no wage for this; my wage falls only upon the Lord of the Worlds. (al-Shu‘ara’, 26. 107–9, 125–7, 143–5, 162–4, 178–80)

As everyone knows, the Prophet Muhammad was famous for his trustworthiness even before his proclamation of Prophethood. He was known as al-Amin (the Trustworthy). Like his predecessors, he asked no wage for calling to God.

The Prophets never thought of material gain or even spiritual reward in return for their services. Their aim was not even Paradise – they strove only for God’s good pleasure and to see humankind guided to the truth. The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was the foremost in this respect. As he devoted his life to the welfare of humankind in this world, so too, in the Place of Gathering, where everyone else will care only about himself, he will prostrate himself before God and pray for the salvation of his nation and intercede with God on behalf of other nations.1

As well as trustworthiness and altruism, the principle of demanding no wage from people for the services rendered in the way of God should also be observed by those who undertake to communicate to people the perennial values of Islam. Any message not accompanied by purity of intention – no matter how eloquently expressed – will fail to have any effect on people. This point is frequently emphasized in the Qur’an. It says:

Follow such as ask no wage of you, that are right-guided. (Ya Sin, 36.21)

Imam Busiri expresses in vivid language the altruism, sincerity and patience of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings:

Mountains desired to run on his either side in heaps of gold but he refused.

The Messenger, upon him be peace, once said:

A day comes when I am hungry so as to endure it with patience; on another day I am full to praise my Lord, acquiring thus the reward of both patience and praising.

‘A’isha, Mother of Believers, reported that there were times when no food was cooked for four days successively in the Prophet’s house.2 Concerning the same point, Abu Hurayra reports:

One day I went into the Prophet’s room. He was performing prayer in the sitting position and groaning. I asked him if he was ill. He replied, No, I am too hungry to stand. I began to sob bitterly, but he stopped me, saying, Do not weep, for the one who endures hunger here – in this world – will be safe from God’s torment in the next.3

One day, he had muttered to Gabriel, Days have passed when no fire has been lit to cook food in the house of Muhammad’s family, an angel appeared before him and asked: ‘O Messenger of God, God greets you and asks, Do you wish to be a Prophet-king or a Prophet-slave? He turned to Gabriel, who recommended him humility. The Prophet raised his voice and replied, I wish to be a Prophet-slave, who entreats God in hunger one day and thanks Him in satisfaction the next.4

God’s Messenger used to eat with slaves and servants. Once, a woman saw him eating and remarked, ‘he is eating as if he were a slave’. God’s Messenger responded to her, saying: Could there be a better slave than me? I am a slave of God.5

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, is, by virtue of being a slave of God, our master, the master of the whole creation, as eloquently stated by Ghalib Dada:

An exalted king, the King of the Messengers, O my Master;

You are an endless source of help for the helpless, O my Master!

God honored you by swearing by your life in the Qur’an, O my Master;

In the Divine Presence, you are the greatest, O my Master!

You are the beloved, lauded and praised one of God, O my Master;

Our ‘eternal’ king you are, sent to us by God, O my Master!

1. Bukhari, Tawhid, 36; Muslim, Iman, 326.

2. Bukhari, Riqaq, 17; Muslim, Zuhd, 28.

3. Kanz al-‘Ummal, 7.199.

4. I. Hanbal, 2.231; Kanz al-‘Ummal, 7.191; Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 9.18–9.

5. Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 9.21.

The prophets were sincere in every action

Another indispensable characteristic of the Prophets is sincerity. Sincerity is purity of intention – to do everything solely for the sake of God. We are all ordered to worship God sincerely, as declared in the Qur’an:

They were commanded only to serve God, making the religion His sincerely, men of pure faith, and to perform the prayer, and pay the alms. (al-Bayyina, 98.5)

God mentions sincerity as the foremost attribute of the Prophets. He says of Moses:

And mention in the Book Moses; he was made sincere, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. (Maryam, 19.51)

God chose all the Prophets, purified them and made them sincere to the utmost degree.

We worship God only because we are His slaves and He has commanded us to worship Him. By worshipping Him, we secure His approval and get the reward of our worship in the Hereafter. The greatest thinker of our century, Said Nursi, said in this respect:

Do what you do only for God’s sake; start for God’s sake; work for God’s sake and act within the sphere of God’s good pleasure.1

God’s Last Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was also the foremost in sincere worship of God, so that a day would come when someone said of him: ‘No one can remain as humble as he was at the beginning of his career or quest after attaining its height. Muhammad was an exception to this.’ He is so great, so sublime that we still stand in respect for him, although he used to warn his Companions, saying, Do not stand up when I come upon you as the Persians do (for their elders).2 Although his Companions respected him to the utmost degree, he deemed himself a poor slave of God. On the day when he conquered Makka, he was not different at all from the day when he humbly began his mission. At the outset of his mission, he would sit and eat with the poor and slaves. As he entered Makka as a victorious commander, he rode a mule in so deep submission and humility before God that he bent forward with his forehead touching the packsaddle of the beast. He was prostrating himself before God and taking refuge in Him from being a tyrannical, haughty conqueror.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had a single intention, namely, to please God and worship Him sincerely. He had to worship, and in fact did worship, Him at the level of perfect goodness and utmost sincerity, as he himself stated in a famous Tradition:

Perfect goodness (ihsan) is to worship God as if you were seeing Him, and while you see Him not, yet truly he sees you.3

The Prophet lived every second of his life in complete consciousness of being seen by God.

1. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, The Words (translated), The First Word, 5.

2. Abu Dawud, Adab, 152; I. Hanbal, 5.253.

3. Bukhari, Iman, 47; Muslim, Iman, 5.7.

The prophets called people wisely and with kindness

Another attribute of the Prophets is calling people to the way of God with wisdom and fair exhortation.

The Prophets never resorted to demagogy and dialectics. They always acted wisely and always spoke with wisdom. God ordered His Last and Greatest Messenger:

Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the best way. (al-Nahl, 16:125)

Man is not a being that consists of a mind or heart only. He has a complex structure, composed of many faculties, including the mind, intellect, heart, soul and other innermost faculties. Each of these requires satisfaction, and the Prophets addressed all of them.

Those who were taught by the Prophets acquired certainty, and their view of things differed from those with limited external sight, devoid of insight and spiritual vision. Their conviction of religious truths was unshakeable, and they were continually fed with Divine Revelation. They did not merely speak without action nor act without contemplation. They combined speech with action, knowledge with practice and action with contemplation. Some among them, like ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, would say, ‘If the veil of the Unseen were lifted up, my certainty would not increase.’1 Their conviction was so strong that supposing they were to see with their eyes what they believed of the Unseen, their certainty would not increase. There was no further degree of certainty left for them to attain.

The education given by the Prophets to their disciples, or the function of the Prophets, is de-scribed in a precise way in the Qur’anic verse:

We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger, to recite Our signs to you and to purify you, and to teach you the Book and Wisdom, and to teach you what you know not. (al-Baqara, 2.151)

1. ‘Ali al-Qari, al-Asrar al-Ma‘rufa, 286.

All the prophets called humankind to God's unity

The cornerstone of the Prophetic mission was to preach Divine Unity. All the Prophets concentrated on this basic principle, as stated in the Qur’anic verse:

O my people, serve God: You have no god other than He. (Hud, 11.84)

God sent many Prophets during human history. There is no people to whom a Prophet was not sent. The agreement of all the Prophets, who came at different times and in different places, on a single basic principle demonstrates, without doubt, that they did not speak or act on their own, but taught the Message they received from God. The disagreement of philosophers and thinkers – no matter how great they may be – depending on their own intellect and findings, and the differences of opinion frequently observed even within a philosophical or sociological school vis-ŕ-vis the agreement and accord among the Prophets, undeniably prove that while the former propagate the out-come of their defective reasoning, the latter were taught by a Single, Eternal Teacher, God. This fact is also a strong evidence of Divine Unity, the principle on which they unanimously concentrated their mission, as declared by the Last of them:

The most meritorious of the words spoken by me and the Prophets before me is: There is no god but God, He is One, having no partners.1

1. Imam Malik, Muwatta, Hajj, 246; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 5.73.

 

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