Freedom from all bodily and mental defects

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Was freedom from all bodily and mental defects an essential of Prophethood?

One of the attributes of Prophethood, unanimously agreed upon by Muslim theologians, is that the Prophets were free from all kinds of bodily and mental defects. As they were extraordinarily attractive in personality and conduct, they were also graceful and charming in outward appearance. They had nothing in their bodies, from head to foot, that could disturb people. They were perfect in bodily structure, handsome and well-built.

Anas says that God’s Messenger was the most handsome of people. In describing his beauty, Jabir ibn Samura remarks:

It was a full moon when we were sitting in the mosque. God’s Messenger came in. I looked first at the shining moon, and then at the face of God’s Messenger. I swear by God that the face of God’s Messenger was brighter than the moon.23

Prophets must be free from all bodily defects as they should not repel by their appearance. In explaining the Divine wisdom of God’s Messenger living to sixty-three years, Said Nursi writes:

Believers are religiously obliged to love and respect God’s Messenger to the utmost degree, and follow every command of his, without feeling any dislike for any aspect of him. For this reason, God did not allow him to live to the troublesome and often humiliating period of old age, and sent him to the ‘highest abode’ when he was sixty-three. This was the average life-span of the members of his community, thus making him the example in this respect also.24

Despite this phenomenon being common to all the Prophets, some false stories about Job and Moses, either borrowed from Israelite sources or misunderstandings of some Qur’anic verses, have found their way into some commentaries on the Qur’an.

In a hadith, God’s Messenger says: The Prophets undergo the most severe of trials; the greatest of misfortunes strike them. Then come other believers; the firmer one is in belief, the bigger his misfortune is. The Prophet Job is praised in the Qur’an as a steadfast, excellent servant of God, one ever-turning to his Lord (Sa’d, 38:44). As can be deduced from the Qur’anic verses, and mentioned in the Bible, he was afflicted with a kind of skin disease, with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head (Job, 2.7). Influenced by Israelite stories, some commentators of the Qur’an have, unfortunately, made additions that worms were produced on his sores or abscesses and, because of the bad smell emitting from those abscesses, people left him.

These additions are completely groundless. If people left the Prophet Job, this might have been due to his later poverty. For he was, in the beginning, a rich, thankful servant of God, but later lost all his wealth and children. As a Prophet, he can neither have had a repelling or disgusting appearance, with, at least, his face exempt from sores, nor have emitted bad smell. Contrary to what is written in the Bible that he cursed the day of his birth (Job, 3.1), and God openly (Job, 7.20,21), and justified himself rather than God (Job, 32.2), Job bore his afflictions for years without any objection to God. He prayed: Affliction has visited me, and You are the Most Merciful of the Merciful (the Qur’an, al-Anbiya’, 21:83). God answered his prayer and removed the affliction that was upon him, and He gave him his household (that he had lost) and the like thereof along with them (al-Anbiya’, 21:84).

As for Moses, on receiving the order to go to Pharaoh, he supplicated:

My Lord, open my breast (relieve my mind and make me so persevering as to tolerate every impudence and bear every hardship), and ease for me my task. Make loose a knot upon my tongue so that they may understand my words. (Ta Ha, 20.25–8)

Some commentators, influenced by Israelite sources, have misunderstood Moses’ supplication, Make loose a knot from my tongue, and asserted that he suffered difficulty in speaking. According to the story they narrate, Moses once pulled Pharaoh’s beard while being brought up in his palace. Angered at what the child did, Pharaoh wanted to have him killed, but his wife, in order to save the child, offered Pharaoh to test him whether he was fit to judge or decide in his favor. They put a piece of gold in one of the scales of a balance and embers in the other. The child took the embers and put them in his mouth. This made him a stammerer. So, by supplicating Make loose a knot from my tongue, Moses petitioned God to restore him the ability of articulation.

An invented story can be no basis for the interpretation of any Qur’anic verses. If Moses had had a speech impediment due to the burning of his tongue, he should have said, ‘Make loose the knot’, not ‘a knot, from my tongue’. What Moses meant by Make loose a knot from my tongue, was that he was not as eloquent as his brother Aaron (the Qur’an, al-Qasas, 28:34; the Bible, Exodus, 4:10), and therefore desired to be more articulate in delivering God’s Message in Pharaoh’s palace.

In conclusion, all the Prophets were perfect both mentally and physically, with nothing to suggest any defect. However, some of them may, in some respects, have been superior to others: And those Messengers, some We have preferred above others; some there are to whom God spoke [directly], and some He raised in rank (al-Baqara, 2.253). However, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, enjoys, in general terms, superiority over all the others by virtue of being the last of them who was sent to all of humankind and jinn and whose mission was not restricted to a limited people and time, but was inclusive of all people and has validity until the end of time.

23. Suyuti, al-Khasa’is al-Kubra’, 1.123; Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 7.168.

24. The Letters, 2.84–5.

 

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