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
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
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
Nor does he speak of (his own) desire. It is nought but a Revelation
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
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
‘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,
God mentions sincerity as the foremost attribute of the Prophets. He says
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
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
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
O my people, serve God: You have no god other than He. (Hud,
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.