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The Difference Between Prophets and Scholars of Genius
The Steadfastness of the Prophets in Conveying their MessageWho can deny the distinctive sincerity of the Prophets, the profound faith that is anchored in the depths of their beings, and the creative exertions they make in order to convey their teachings and message? Who can belittle their uncompromising struggle against corruption and oppression? If we deny the sincerity and pure intention of the Prophets, the progress made by their teachings and the ability of their message to conquer the hearts and spirits of nations cannot be possibly be explained.
One, the unique decisiveness shown by the Prophets in propagating their message and defending their message, their sense of urgent necessity, points to that message being something quite different from the scientific theories put forth by scholars. Whenever scientific personalities wish to put forward their views, they cannot disregard the possibility of those views being invalidated, however firmly they may be based on the most advanced scientific knowledge. Since immobility is unacceptable on the path to the future advancement of knowledge, they do not block the path to additional and scientifically more acceptable research.
Continuous and unceasing effort may result in the supplementing or modification of their views. This was not the method of the Prophets. They believed profoundly in what they said, and in carrying out and advancing the mission contained in revelation, they unhesitatingly refused to retreat even a single step. They pursued their call strenuously and with steadfastness, and went forward even at the risk of their lives with their campaigns to bring about change and convey to human beings those Divine principles of culture that inspire the human being to ascend.
Two, to rely on devious methods, to have recourse to trickery deceit and lies, creates anxiety; to act contrary to the truth arouses disquiet and unease. History does not provide a single example of a bearer of Divine revelation who manifested the least sign of anxiety. This striking characteristic of the Prophets permits us to grasp the profound reason why they conveyed their message, and gave to mankind the glad tidings of salvation through following their teachings, clearly, directly, with the utmost confidence, and without any preliminary.
The task of the Prophets was utterly removed from any kind of trickery or deceit; their teachings were profoundly rooted in the realities of being and linked to the true source of all knowledge and awareness. Three, furthermore, scholars frequently fall prey to error in their views. A given researcher can often be seen to express contradictory views on the same subject in the course of his career and it is impossible to find a single scholar who has not made a single mistake in the course of his life. Einstein says: "Not many scholars can be found today who regard themselves as qualified to put forward something as a definitive truth.
On the contrary, figures such as Newton admit that what appears today to them today to be clear may be regarded by future generations as confused and obscure. Our descendants may look at our works of our predecessors.''
By contrast, the scheme of creation is not subject to error in the guidance it dispenses to the human being on obtaining his material needs. Similarly, in guiding the human being to his ultimate goal, it provides him with unerring revelation that derives from the same source as the laws of creation and points together with them to the same goal.
There is no instance in the history of prophethood of a Prophet taking back what he had previously said, after once enunciating the Divine message, or of his admitting an error and negating his previous program in order to substitute new teachings. By contrast, the ideas of thinkers are frequently seen to change as the horizons of scientific thought expand. The abrogation of a certain revealed ordinance does not contradict what we have said concerning the Prophets.
First, a temporary ordinance is revealed in order to assure a certain limited benefit, and later it loses its validity with the issuance of a second, more comprehensive ordinance. Four, the successes attained by scientists and scholars in discovering certain truths come gradually and pre-suppose the completion of courses of study and experimentation. Much time passes between the first stage of his work, when he begins his efforts to uncover something, and its final stages.
But when we look at the lives of the Prophets, we see that they had no need of any preliminaries in order to uncover the truth, nor were they subject to any hesitation. Instead, the truths they received came to them in all their dimensions directly from the source of being, without their passing through various stages of learning and investigation, and they proclaimed those truths immediately.
Five, if we look at the fundamental emphases in the teachings of the Prophets, at the great variety and comprehensiveness that is to be seen in every aspect of them, in a precise and analytical fashion, not in a purely abstract, superficial and limited framework, we will come to appreciate more profoundly how those teachings constitute a complete school of thought, liberating the human being in every sense of the word.
Again, if we examine the firm foundations and principles on which religions are based, we will realize that none of their principal elements correspond to the views and utterances of the scholars that lived in those times. Considering the unfavorable conditions of the environment, the intellectual decay of the societies in which the Prophets were raised, it is impossible that the fruitful and elevated principles contained in every Divine message should have derived from the thoughts of a man.
Never in human history, in the course of the overall development of human society, have thinkers and men of learning been seen to produce such texts that overflow with spirituality and awareness, that in their comprehensiveness relate to all the concerns and stages of individual and social life, and that have had such a profound and observable effect. The teachings of the Prophets have had special characteristics, representing the richest and most vital source of culture in the ages when they made their appearance.
Six, choosing to accept the path of the Prophets is not simply an abstract or creedal matter that remains exclusively in the sphere of belief. Through accepting that path, human beings are, in reality, choosing a method of life, a special mode of existence, that leaves its imprint on their outer conduct. The Divine worldview is not merely an intellectual infrastructure for it also has distinctive superstructures that in their aggregate give shape to human behavior and the fabric of society.
It is possible to attribute such abundant sources of life, such comprehensive teachings that lead to the growth and improvement of the human being, to any source other than Divine revelation? For the teachings of the Prophets all exude the scent of authentic Divine message. The investigations of researchers make it plain that the efforts of scientists and scholars take place in isolation from each other. Each travels his own path in seeking solutions to scientific problems, and they are unconcerned with the efforts of others as they pursue their researches.
If their theories occasionally become interconnected in the course of their investigations, this is because of the interrelatedness of scientific questions with each other, without this being intended by the researchers in question. Matters are quite different in the case of the Prophets. Not only do they consider the books received by their predecessors to be valid, they also confirm their missions and praise their efforts and strivings. This proves that all heavenly religions have but one source of inspiration, with each serving to supplement and perfect is predecessor.
If we look carefully at the preaching of the Prophets, we see that each of them was required to confirm those who had preceded him, and it may also have been necessary that each should proclaim the mission of the next Prophet to follow him. The abrogation of a religion does not mean its invalidation; its consists rather in the proclamation of a new and more complete message. God-given knowledge cannot be invalidated; it is simply that the following Prophet states it more fully and more precisely. The same applies to changes in divine ordinances.
Addressing the Prophet of Islam, the Glorious Quran says: "In truth We have sent the Quran to you, confirming all the previous heavenly books that were revealed before you and bearing witness to them." (5:48) "When God took the covenant of the Prophets, saying, 'I give you a book and wisdom,' then there came to guide you, O People of the Book, a messenger from God who bore witness to the truth of your book and your law so that you might believe in him and aid him. God said, 'Do you accept My messenger and that which I have sent in his heavenly book, the Quran?' They all said, 'We accept.' God said, 'Be witnesses over yourselves and your peoples, and I too will be a witness with you over them." (3:81) The Bible similarly relates these words from Jesus, upon whom be peace: "Do not think that I have come to invalidate the Torah or the scrolls of the Prophets. I have come not to invalidate, but to fulfill."
The truths enunciated in these quotations are an eloquent proof of the unity linking together the missions of all of the Prophets. Their teachings took wing in the direction of infinity, having no source other than the all-penetrating will of God, the revelation of the Creator. Since the clear and conscious faith of the Prophets was profoundly linked to the origin of all being, decisiveness, self-reliance and steadfastness came to be their special characteristics.
The Inerrancy of the Prophets
Taking on the grave and sensitive responsibilities of prophethood and the guidance of society requires the possession of a whole series of exalted and previous qualities, without which a person will never be fit to assume a position of leadership.
One of the exceptional qualities required in a Prophet is that there should exist within him a restraining force that, arising from the perfection of his faith and the intensity of his piety, protects him against not only the commission of sins and acts of moral corruption but also from considering them or intending to commit them, so that throughout the entirety of his life, both before and after the beginning of his mission, all dimensions of his being should be free of the dark blemish of sin.
There can be no doubt that the more crucial the position of an individual in society, the deeper is his need for public trust and confidence. Now can any position be graver and carry more responsibility than that of the Prophet who is to guide society, exercising his guidance in all affairs of life, both spiritual and material?
The supreme purpose and aim of the mission of God' s Messengers is to guide and educate human beings across the world by means of a series of Divine teachings and ordinances. It is, at the same time, the religious duty of mankind to submit to all the sublime injunctions of religion that the Prophet has presented as revelation and Divine law.
Naturally, humans will implement those teachings with all their heart and soul and accord absolute value to them only when they are thoroughly convinced that those teachings do indeed emanate from the source of all being. What authority or person can earn such universal trust that whatever he says will earn sincere and unquestioning acceptance so that human beings submit to his commands? Can anyone deserve that trust unless he is armed with the weapon of inerrancy and virtue is manifest in him in all its dimensions?
Were it not possible to trust completely a Messenger of God in his receiving and conveying the revelation, the aim of prophethood - which is the perfection of humanity - could not be ensured; were the Prophets to lack inerrancy in conveying the Commands of God, society would inevitably deviate from its true course.
Were the Prophets not to be protected from pollution by sin and infection by moral disease, and were they not to gain immunity from all kinds of impurity, the possibility would always exist that they would stumble when confronted with the deceptive allure of the material world and pursue personal goals such as wealth and power. This would be true even if they had lofty human attributes to a superior degree. It is obvious that the existence of such a possibility would cause their followers to hesitate before implementing the commands and pronouncements.
The one who claims prophethood and the right to lead human beings, whom human beings must follow in order to attain the pinnacle of perfection in all aspects of their life - if such a one were to have the slightest record of deviance, dishonesty and inclination to sin, could it be totally excluded that he would never again life, betray or speak an untruth? Could he be accepted as a model of virtue and purity? Without doubt, intelligence and logic compel us to answer this question in the negative.
No one could accept with complete confidence as revelation and the Command of God the words of someone whose life did not shine with purity, who had fallen into the whirlpool of sin and openly engaged in corruption and moral turpitude before claiming prophethood, even though later a spiritual revolution and transformation had occurred in him. No one could accept his teachings as an unquestionable message from heaven, particularly with regard to matters that lie beyond the experience of the human being.
The Prophets must also be completely removed from anything that causes doubt to arise or impairs the completeness of God's proof. The Quran proclaims: "Before this, you were unable to read or to write; this was lest the deniers should doubt concerning your prophethood." (29:47) "Say: God's is the best and most eloquent proof. " (10:47) "We sent the Prophets as givers of glad tidings and warnings so that no excuse should remain thereafter for human beings." (4:165) Therefore the first necessary condition for the appearance of revelation is the absolute sincerity and inner purity of the Prophets.
The burning love of human beings for the Prophets and their devotion to them which arises from the deepest layers of their inner being as well as their belief in absolute values, in God, and the guardians of religion - all of this is made possible by the inerrancy and perfection of those Divinely guided personages. The effectiveness of conduct and mode of action is infinitely greater than that of mere words.
The behavior and attributes of a teacher plays a fundamental role in the instruction of those for whom he is responsible, action having a far-reaching effect in building the character of an individual that cannot in any way be compared with the effect of speech. It will be a disaster for humanity if the one who assumes a lofty position of spiritual guidance in society is himself immersed in a whirlpool of pollution and evil. If he lacks true awareness and piety, can he create an appropriate environment for the fostering of virtue, and can he bring about an inward transformation and revolution in the human being that will have a lasting effect? Will he have the capacity to train human beings and be their moral guide? Can he implant piety and virtue in their minds and their thoughts?
The commission of even a single sin by the Prophets would render fruitless their attempts at nurturing human beings to attain perfection, which is the goal of their mission. How can one who is himself polluted with sin purify others of their sins? One who is not himself morally and spiritually perfect cannot possibly succeed in training human beings to perfection. We cannot take into consideration only the deeds and conduct of the Prophets during the period of their mission, and treat them separately from the spiritual and ethical characteristics they display during the rest of their lives. A more comprehensive investigation must be carried, for it is not enough that Prophets turn to purity only at the beginning of their missions.
The firm and continuous link of the Prophets with the source of existence and the complete absence of pollution by sin throughout all of their lives constitute an absolute necessity. Divinely guided personalities must never have been polluted by sin. Any prior record of sin on their part will form a great obstacle in the path of their heavenly mission which is to guide human beings to God and call them to purity and the avoidance of all abomination.
One who until yesterday stood in the ranks of the impure, those polluted by corruption, and who devoted a whole segment of his life to sin, will inevitably have his evil record remembered by others; it will be vividly present in their minds, and they cannot overlook it as they analyze and sit in judgment on his past life. The beginning of a profound spiritual transformation cannot by itself wash away all previous corruption and remove it from the minds of human beings.
When studying the histories of the Prophets, one should never content oneself with a superficial listing of events. The perceptive researcher must investigate all the different dimensions of the lives of the Prophets before their assumption of the prophethood. Then only will they be able to understand why the obstinate sworn enemies of the Prophets, in their conspiratorial efforts to prevent the dissemination of the heavenly message, do not shrink even from attributing madness to the Prophets, but never dare to accuse them of moral corruption.
The character and personality of the Prophets were so well known and so brilliant to their contemporaries that such an idiotic accusation on the part of their enemies would have caused people to reject their other accusations as well and thus nullified all their long-standing efforts. If the Prophets had been sullied by even as much as a single sin, this would have been used as an effective weapon to destroy their social standing and prestige. It is obvious that point out weaknesses in the past lives of the Prophets and recalling their previous errors and sins would have been a most effective weapon for destroying the repute of the Prophets and shaking people's trust and belief in them.
This in itself constitutes vital and eloquent proof that they had already acquired a certain sanctity which characterized both their way of viewing things and their actions. In the story of Moses we read that Pharaoh, the oppressive tyrant, immediately reminded Moses of his past when he was confronted by him. He addressed him critically as follows: "'Are you not that child whom we reared and who spent years of his life in our presence? Did you not kill a man and did you not deny our Divinity?' Moses answered:
'I did indeed commit that act, but not intentionally. I was acting only with the intent of saving one who had been wronged, and the result was an accidental killing. Then I fled because of my fear of you until God taught me knowledge and wisdom and made me one of the Prophets.' " (26:18-21) Let us recall that the environment in which the Prophets were raised was encircled by all kinds of darkness and corruption.
It was not an environment in which purity, innocence, and piety might flourish, or the inner nature of the human being, with its predisposition to the truth, might be nurtured. Such an unfavorable environment ought surely to have caused the Prophets also to become polluted by conforming to the social conditions that surrounded them.
However, we see that true awareness, virtue and honor came into being in precisely the most corrupt of environments, shinning like so many jewels over the heads of human beings. This in itself is clear testimony to the different dimensions and aspects of the personality of the Prophets, the nature of their inerrancy and their complete moral immunity.
It can also be clearly deduced from the Quran that attaining the lofty station of prophethood (as well as that of imamate) is possible only through being free of all contamination by sin and spiritual evil. When Abraham addresses the Divine Presence with the petition that He appoint his descendants as leaders and guides, God responds by making the avoidance of oppression an explicit condition of prophethood: "My covenant and the station of prophethood are given only to those who have not committed any oppression (whether toward themselves or others)." (2:123) "He knows the unseen dimensions of this world, whereas none knows His world of the unseen except those He has chosen from among the Prophets, to protect whom He sends angels from in front and behind.
Thus He may know that the Messengers have fully conveyed the messages of their Creator to mankind.," (72:26-28) So from the point of view of the Quran, which describes the Prophets by the use of various attributes, it is an essential condition of prophethood that the Prophet possess inerrancy and never have been polluted by any act of oppression, for this counts as an encroachment on God's sanctity. God does not permit the reins of guidance for humanity to fall into the incompetent hands of one whose heart is blackened by sin and whose hands are stained by cruelty and oppression.
The question of the apparent attribution of sins to the Prophets by the Quran can be understood when we examine the type of sins at issue, for there are differences of degree among sins. Veritable and absolute sin lies in rebelling against the commandments of God; the commission of this sin brings punishment and retribution, and God's Messengers are absolutely protected against it. Another kind of sin is relative; if a human being commits a sin of this category, Divine Law does not provide for punishment or retribution. However, acts of this type would detract from the loftiness of the Prophets and would be totally irreconcilable with their vision and moral refinement.
In social and religious matters, the expectations that are had of different personages are not uniform. The level of expectations depends on the capacities of individuals, together with the position they hold, the knowledge they have, and other matters. If an illiterate person delivers an eloquent and powerful speech, it will be a matter for congratulation, even though the content of the speech, deriving from the thoughts of an undeveloped mind, may be insignificant.
But if a serious scholar, whose words ought to create a storm and to leave an impress on the mind, delivers the same kind of speech, it will be regarded as deficient and open to objection. Let us now draw an analogy with the sublime and majestic personalities of the Prophets. They have vast resources of knowledge and faith, as well as direct access to reality and the richest and most abundant source of awareness and knowledge.
Considering this, if for an instant they are neglectful of God - something which would not earn a reproach for others - it will count as a manifest error on their part. The brilliant visage of their prophethood will be clouded and sin will be ascribed to them, for that instant of neglect was not compatible with their lofty personality. In addition, the position of prophethood and the guidance of mankind is of such crucial importance that if the Prophet commits any error, the honor of the community he leads will also be affected; society will also carry the stain of his shame.
Inerrancy Does Not Negate Free Will
Here the following question arises. If inerrancy is a gift from God, resulting in the protection of the Prophets when faced with abomination and sin, their abstention from sin cannot be conscious and deliberate, nor be regarded as a proof of their superior status or a source of pride for them. For their mental constitution is such that God has guaranteed them immunity from sin. This objection would be justified if inerrancy were the result of pre-determination, with the commission of any kind of sin being impossible for the Prophets, and the Prophets being compelled to obey God's Commands and acquire virtues and purity of soul.
But this is not the case; the inerrancy under discussion is founded on perfect faith and awareness. It demonstrates itself clearly in action, and in no way negates free will and choice. All the deeds of the leaders of religion, like those of other human beings, arise from free will and consciousness. Why should it be necessary for an external coercive force to push them in the direction of inerrancy? Will any difficulty remain if their vision of the world is seen to play this role? With their profound vision, the Prophets perceive the majesty and splendor of the Supreme and Absolute Power, manifest across the limitless plain of existence, at so sublime a level that their heart and their mind overflow with the love of God.
How could it be believed that such highly conscious and excellent beings should stain their hearts with sin and disobey the commandments of their God and Beloved? Furthermore, they are profoundly aware of the awesome consequences of sin, given which it would be impossible for them even to consider committing sins and evil acts. It is true that knowledge of the evil consequences of sin does not in itself provide immunity against it. However, the inerrancy of the Messengers of God arises from so powerful and realistic a form of knowledge that they are able clearly to see with the eye of their heart the requital that sin brings. It is this that makes it quite impossible for them to commit any sin.
A doctor will never drink from a vessel that is contaminated by a microbe because he knows the dangerous consequences this would entail. Mountaineers spend a whole life climbing mountains, but their intelligence and awareness never allow them even to conceive of the possibility of deliberately falling vertically, let alone undertaking such an act. Do the doctor and the mountaineer in these two examples have some kind of built-in and involuntary immunity against these irrational acts? Do they avoid these fatal acts without exercising free choice?
To drink from the contaminated vessel or not to drink to fall or not to fall - both alternatives are possible for them, but their conceptualizing of the results and consequences of the fatal acts reduce to near zero the likelihood of their undertaking them Here we can grasp dearly the link between knowledge, which is the very kernel of awareness, and action, which is the external manifestation of awareness. We can see how profound and exact mental awareness objectifies itself, and how the human being is situated between cause and effect, between subjective and objective action and reaction.
Similarly, inerrancy in the Prophets proceeds from their profound awareness of the effects of sin, of Divine anger and punishment. Their awareness of these is so clear and complete that the abolition of spatial and temporal distance would not have the slightest effect on their profound and categorical faith. Furthermore, the Prophets acquire a steely determination as a result of their strivings and unstinting self-sacrifice and their continuous orientation to the origin of being; they have no fear of the problems and difficulties that confront them on the road to establishing justice and truth, and they devote their entire beings to winning the satisfaction of God.
This, too, is a powerful factor in bestowing inerrancy on those men of God and protecting them from making use of their ability to sin and even from allowing the idea of sin to enter the pure sanctuary of their minds. This comprehensive protection against sin is, then, the direct result of their encompassing knowledge of the requital that evil deeds earn and their perfect awareness of the exalted station of the Lord.
It is, too, an indication of their lofty, proud spirituality which harnesses all the rebellious inclinations of their being as that they never step beyond the bounds that have been set. Let us set aside for the moment the case of the Prophets. In every age there have been persons of pure heart who as a result of a fundamental change in their manner of thought and constant struggle against various forms of captivity, have torn apart the chains of attachment and liberated their thoughts and their deeds from the entrammeling prison of enslavement to the world. For human beings such as these, the only source of value in life has been their love for God, their determination to do His will and to advance towards Him.
Their burning love, arising from their purity of mind and their belief in the primacy and authenticity of religion, gives them a certain kind of protection against many forms of sin and moral corruption. In many cases, they may not be fully aware of the harmful consequences of sin, but their sense of obedience to God creates such a transformation in their consciousness that it functions like an impenetrable barrier interposed between them and sin. So firm and unbreakable is that barrier that instinctual desire and arbitrary inclination are unable to breach it. Muhammad b. Umary relates the following: "I asked Hisham, the outstanding student of Imam Sadiq, peace be upon him, whether the Imams have the station of inerrancy. He answered that they do.
I then asked him to explain for me the nature of their inerrancy. He replied as follows: 'There are several qualities that give rise to sin and vice: greed, envy, lust and anger, and none of these can penetrate the beings of the Imams. How might they experience greed, considering the abundant resources they have at their disposal, including the public treasury of the Muslims? Similarly, why should the Imam be envious? The envious person is the one who cannot endure the thought of someone being higher than him, and the imamate is assuredly the highest of all stations. "As far as worldly matters are concerned, it is impossible for the Imam to be angry because he has been entrusted with the implementation of the penalties God has decreed.
As for anger in matters touching on the hereafter, which is a praiseworthy form of anger, it is impossible for the Imam to fall prey to lust and desire, for he is well aware that the pleasures and desirable things of this world are transitory and totally insignificant when compared to the Divine reward and bounty which are reserved on the Day of Judgment for the pure and the worshippers of God." There are then two basic sources for the commission of sin: a failure to recognize the ugliness of sin, and a defeat of the intelligence when confronted by the power and pressure of lusts. So if a person be fully aware of the corrupt and ugly nature of all sin and if he can bring his desires fully under control, it is impossible that he should pollute his hands with the commission of sin.
Imam Sadiq, upon whom be peace, says: "God extends His aid and assistance to human beings in proportion to their will, determination and choice, so that whoever makes a correct choice and a firm determination will receive the full aid of God, and he who falls short in his choices will find God's aid withheld from him in due proportion." But as for total protection from error and sin, this is possible only through the special favor of God .
The Quran says: " Were God 's mercy and favor not to embrace you, a group of enemies would have attempted to turn you aside from the right path. But through God's favor, they were able only to turn themselves aside from the right path, and they could not harm you in any way. God has bestowed on you this book and the station of wisdom and prophethood and taught you what you knew not, because God's favor and grace toward you are infinite." (4:113) In addition, it can perhaps be said that the Prophets participated directly in the unfolding of realities and when the human being confronts objective realities in accordance with a certain particular sense, error and sin can have no meaning for that person.
It is only when the human being attempts to transpose mental forms into objective reality that error can arise, not when the person is inwardly linked with the reality of being, a condition which makes it impossible for mistakes to occur. Thus it is that the Prophet is immune against error when guiding human beings and summoning them to God. Were it to be otherwise, you would look with doubt and hesitation on whatever the Prophet said in promulgating the commandments of God and you would not regard yourself as obliged to obey them.
Inerrancy applies to the receipt of revelation, the preservation of revelation, and the promulgation of the message. All three aspects are contained in this verse of the Noble Quran: "In order that God might know that the Messengers have fully conveyed to mankind the messages of their Lord, that He be fully aware of what the Messengers possess and that He know full well the numbering of all things in this world..." (38:28) In addition, as far as the receipt of revelation is concerned, we know that all things are at the disposal of God; there is no question of any personal view being intermingled in it.
We know that the infinite knowledge and power of the Creator are utterly removed from the possibility of error, and that God's complete vigilance in ensuring the propagation of His message removes the possibility of all error and mistake. So just as the receipt of God's commandments takes place beneath His vigilance, so too does the propagation of the message. Comprehensive inerrancy, with respect to thought, word and deed, is then indispensable for undertaking the mission of guidance and leadership. It is inconceivable that God should send Messengers subject to error who would thwart the whole purpose of the message they bear.
Freedom from various bodily defects and spiritual inadequacies also forms part of the conditions of prophethood and the receipt of revelation. Contagious diseases, belonging to a family of ill-repute, a harsh and abrasive character, are some of the factors that might arouse repulsion and cause people to shun the Messenger and become disinclined toward him.
Thus the aim of the Prophet's message, the training and edification of the human being, would receive a setback. Given the fact that the Prophet is the bearer of a Divine message, the doctrines he presents must not contradict the firm principles of human logic and knowledge. Were this not to be the case, the message brought by a claimant to prophethood would not be worth studying, nor would it be necessary to demand miracles and proofs in support of it. We see, however, that the Prophet is described in certain religious traditions as 'the external intellect,' i.e., the intellect external to one's own being.
Of course, the principle we have put forward concerns the firm rules and established laws of reason and science, a category that does not include hypotheses and theories. The teachings of the Prophets are none other than that system of law laid down by the Creator, and the universal order of creation consists of scientific principles and laws. Since both orders derive from the same source, they must everywhere preserve their harmony. It is impossible that a Prophet be chosen by God and then propagate m his message something contrary to rational laws, for God Who Himself established reason as a criterion for distinguishing between the true and the false will never promulgate a commandment contradicting it.
It is likewise impossible that the ordinances of heaven should contradict science, which is, in its essence, the order that God causes to rule over things. However, it should be borne in mind that if science posits a way for reaching the goal, this does not mean that the way of science is the only way available or that all others are closed. In matters that are apparently opposed to science, one should always be cautious and avoid hasty judgments aimed at reconciling religious ordinances with scientific concerns. Science still has an infinite road to travel and there is always the possibility that scientific theories will fall subject to doubt as a result of more extensive and comprehensive research.
The Splendor of the Prophet of Islam
Previous Prophets mentioned some of the characteristics of the Prophet of Islam in their heavenly books, giving their followers the glad tidings of his future appearance. As the Quran says: "Those to whom We sent books (the Jews and the Christians) know well of Muhammad and his truthfulness, just as they know their own children, but some of them obstinately hide the truth, although they are well aware of it." (2:145) In the troubled world of those days, cultural and moral decline, together with polytheism and idolatry and all their ramifications had submerged the whole globe.
Even the heavenly religions that had followers in different parts of the world had undergone radical change in the course of time; not only had they lost all vitality and ability to guide mankind, but their most creative elements had fallen prey to decline. There was no hope of infusing a new spirit of life in them, of making blood course once again through their hardened arteries.
The People of the Book were therefore waiting for some profound eruption and the emergence of a new heavenly personality who would bear on his capable shoulders the heavy burden of guiding mankind, leading them away from decaying systems of thought to a new and progressive teaching. The world had reached the end of its tether in the midst of all that confusion and unrest. It longed for a whole new environment, different from the poisoned one in which it lived, and waited for a hand to emerge from the sleeve of the unseen which would destroy the crumbling structure of the old order and build a new one on its ruins.
Each of the peoples and nations that were then dominating the world had in some way fallen prey to anarchy and confusion. The Arabs who lived at the crossroads of the great powers of that age and whose broad homeland was traversed by the caravans of international commerce felt more powerfully each day their weakness and impotence vis-a-vis their powerful neighbors. The danger of complete extinction that faced the Arabs because of their lack of an organized political structure and because of the power of their oppressive neighbors, was plain to any farsighted person.
It was under these circumstances that the promised deliverer Muhammad, upon whom be peace, was born at dawn on Friday, the seventeenth day of the month of Rabi' al-Awwal, fifty three years before the migration (hijra), corresponding to the year 570 of the Christian era, in the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. It was a land of stifling repression, the very symbol of a sick and decadent society where ignorance was actively cultivated. It was like a swamp where the waters of corruption stagnated, a pit in which humanity had been buried.
It was in such a place that the Prophet first set eyes on the world and the light of his splendor first shone on the horizons of human life; it was there that this quintessence of being who was destined to bring human thought to maturity generated a new energy and an inexhaustible vitality in mankind. None could reach his level of excellence in the qualities he possessed, and all expectations were fulfilled with his coming. He appeared at a time that society was prepared for him because it needed him. Not only the Arabian peninsula but the world at large was prepared for his coming, because the whole of the ancient world was longing with all of its being for the appearance of a man who would take it by the hand and guide it to its goal.
The sphere of the heavens, in its prolonged and ceaseless rotation had never been able to bring forth a creature like him whose substance was pure and free of all defect, who was completely untainted by all imperfection. History bears witness that this blessed infant, whose splendor shone forth from the arms of his mother, Aminah, over the whole world, came to establish the most creative of all faiths and the purest, most profound and pervasive of impetus, for the cultivation of knowledge and spirituality. By prohibiting flattery and subservience before the thrones of the emperors and the powerful, he awakened to new life the dormant minds of human beings and created a suitable environment for their cultivation.
He drove away idols from the threshold of their veneration, instructing them instead in the mysteries of Divine unity and teaching them how to live and die with dignity. As a result of his teachings, idolatry gave way to monotheism and the worship of the one true God; ignorance yielded to knowledge and science, brotherliness, compassion, and other human virtues took the place of hostility, hatred and discord; and those who had been reared in an atmosphere of corruption and ignorance became the choicest specimens of humanity.
Abdullah, the father of the Prophet, was a descendent of Ishmael. His was a truly human heart, a heart that overflowed with love, fidelity and mercy. After marrying Aminah, he went trading in Syria, accompanying a caravan that was leaving Mecca. Aminah was already pregnant and impatiently awaited the return of her husband. But a severe illness laid hold of Abdullah, drawing the life out of him so that he died far away from his homeland. He closed his eyes on the world and its pleasures, full of painful regret that he would be unable to see Aminah again or the child that she was to bear him.
After a time, the young mother learned that in the sixteenth year of her life she had been widowed and left alone with a small infant. Her father-in-law, Abd al-Mutallib, took her and the infant to his own house, and then decided to send his newborn grandson to the Banu Sa'd in the desert, to be suckled by them and to grow up in the pure air of the desert. Four months had passed after the birth of the Most Noble Prophet when the wetnurses of the Banu Sa'd came to Mecca and one of them, a woman of pure disposition called Halimah, declared herself ready to suckle the orphaned Muhammad.
Halimah returned to the desert with the child to take care of him there and he stayed among the Banu Sa'd continuing to grow until he was weaned. Still, however, his grandfather continued to leave him in the care of the tribe until he was five years old, and throughout this period the kindly wetnurse took good care of him and paid attention to his upbringing. He learned the best and most authentic dialect of Arabic, and imbibed the most eloquent forms of Arabic speech. Halimah took him to see his mother two or three times, and on the last of these occasions she turned him over to his mother.
When a year had passed, Aminah left Mecca, taking him with her to show him to the wetnurses who lived in the villages between Mecca and Yathrib. Full of joyous satisfaction, she reached the dwelling places of the wetnurses, but she was not destined to return to Mecca. Aminah died in the course of her return journey and was buried where she died. Her infant orphaned son, now six years of age, was left alone at the side of her grave.
He had never seen his father nor had he fully enjoyed the kindness and affection of his mother for just as he was about to begin benefiting from her upbringing, fate snatched her away and left him alone in the awesome expanse of the desert. At the time of the death of his mother, the infant Prophet had reached the age when intellectual and spiritual characteristics begin to develop. His grandfather, Abd al-Mutallib, for whom he was the only reminder of his own son, Abdullah, and a source of consolation for his weary heart, then assumed responsibility for his care and fulfilled this trust worthily until his death.
This period in which the Prophet enjoyed the care and protection of his grandfather, which were like a soothing balm placed on his wounds, did not last long. Just as he reached the age of eight the life of Abd al-Mutallib came to an end. A new grief assailed the Prophet, lines of sorrow and pain became apparent in his face, and the powerful spirit that was never troubled by the perils he faced throughout his life was gripped by the pain of bereavement.
However, Divine favor had bestowed on him the ability to accept and endure these setbacks. For an orphan who was due to become the father of humanity and the comforter of all the burdened and oppressed in the world had to become acquainted, from childhood onward, with all forms of deprivation and affliction; he had to have a spirit as firm and resistant as a mountain in order to carry on his shoulders the otherwise unbearable burden of the Divine message.
The ability to resist and withstand all kinds of obstacles and difficulties was essential for him, and his lofty and expansive spirit was a sign that he possessed precisely this ability. The orphaned boy next moved to the house of his paternal uncle, Abu Talib, a great and noble person who was the full brother of his father. Although he was surrounded by the kindness of his cousins in his uncle's house, Muhammad, upon whom be peace, naturally felt lonely.
One morning he learned that his uncle Abu Talib was planning to journey to Syria, leaving him behind. Muhammad, upon whom be peace, then approached his uncle and asked him for permission to accompany him, but his uncle refused, since he was still too young to endure the rigors of travel. When the caravan was about to depart, Muhammad's eyes filled with tears, and Abu Talib was deeply moved by the sad expression on his face. He was compelled to take him with him on his journey to Syria, and thus it was that at the age of twelve he set out on a journey to distant lands.
Before the Quraysh caravan reached its destination, it passed through the city of Bostra where the party met a monk called Buhayra. Buhayra passed his days engaged in devotion in his cell, and being a man deeply learned in Christianity, he was revered by all of the Christians. As soon as Buhayra caught sight of Abu Talib's nephew, he found himself profoundly attracted by him. His piercing and mysterious glances seemed to indicate some secret hidden in his heart.
Finally Buhayra broke his silence and asked to whom this child belonged. The party pointed to his uncle, and Abu Talib said, "This is my nephew." Buhayra then said: "This child has a brilliant future in front of him. This is the promised Messenger whose coming and prophethood have been foretold in the scriptures, and I see in his person all the signs mentioned in those books. He is that true Prophet whose name and family I have read of. I know where this great personality will rise to fame and how the Divine religion he brings will conquer the whole world. However, you must conceal him from the view of the Jews, because they will destroy him once they become aware of this."
Historians have clearly discerned in all dimensions of his person great spiritual energy and power, together with all the other qualities that are fitting in a great leader sent by heaven. No researcher or scholar can claim that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, fell prey at any point in his life to moral or spiritual deviation or to nervous excitement. Although the characteristics of the Prophet of Islam are more clearly and fully known than those of other people who have left their mark on history, in the near or distant past, history cannot point to the slightest rebelliousness, ill-temper or evil conduct on his part, nor even to a single error or sin. The remarkable life of the exalted Prophet of Islam is clearly and completely known in all of its aspects: the period before his birth, his infancy, his youth, his moral characteristics, his travels, his marriages, his conduct in war and peace.
Recorded history bears witness that the slightest trace of corrupt belief cannot be found to have clouded his brilliant visage. Although he had no access to any form of instruction, he had no connection with the Age of Ignorance surrounding him, and vice was never able to take root in him. The creedal environment in which he grew up was a compound of polytheism and idolatry, as is shown by the strong resistance of the Arabs to his summons to monotheism.
The entirety of his early life was spent in the midst of an ignorant, evil-living and oppressive people and he never left that environment before the beginning of his mission with the exception of two journeys outside the Arabian Peninsula, once in childhood, in the company of Abu Talib, in the early part of the second decade of his life, and once in his mid-thirties when he went trading with the goods of Khadijah. Nonetheless, we find not the least affinity between his personality and the society in which he lived.
The aspect of his personality that was particularly valuable in that corrupt and polluted environment was his honesty, trustworthiness and unfailing sense of justice, together with his hostility to all the forms of humiliation from which mankind was suffering. Muhammad, upon whom be peace, captivated the hearts of his contemporaries with his nobility of character and his kindness toward the weak and the afflicted. Friend and enemy are agreed that none of the men of his age even approached him in the perfection of his attributes and spiritual characteristics.
For example, Zayd b. Haritha, who had been separated from his family at an early age and was given by Khadijah to the most Noble Messenger, upon whom be peace, as a slave, spent his entire life with him. After a time, Zayd's father came looking for him in order to reclaim him. Now Zayd had been emancipated by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, but he was still a slave to the love the greatness and the splendor of the Prophet, and captivated by the excellence of his conduct and behavior. So although he was free to return to his family, he preferred to remain with the Prophet and serve him.
Eloquence and profundity of speech, fairness in judging, superior intelligence and perception, heavenly disposition and brilliance of thought - all these were abundantly evident in the being of this great personage. They shone forth in all the varied scenes of his life, and he so lived that years before the beginning of his prophetic mission, he was awarded the title "amin", 'trustworthy', an eloquent description of his whole mode of conduct.
During one of the religious festivals of the Quraysh, an incident occurred that struck a blow at the rule of the idolators. In the middle of the festival, while the people were gathered around an idol and rubbing their foreheads in the dust in front of it, a few clear-minded and pure-hearted people such as Waraqa b. Nawfal, who were distressed by the corruption prevailing in Mecca, began to discuss the situation. They asked themselves how much longer it could continue and when the time of delivery would come. Why were those people prostrating in front of objects, and why had they distorted the religion of their forefather Abraham? One of the things they said was this: "What is that piece of stone around which they are walking? A thing that neither sees nor hears, that does not breathe, that can give no benefit and inflict no harm!"
As the Prophet grew into maturity of the body and mind, he became inclined to periodic retreat and withdrawal. His profound inward thoughts, together with the unsuitability of his environment, impelled him to seek solitude. In his evaluation of phenomena he was never hasty nor dependent on his own ideas and perceptions. He clearly saw a hand that inscribed its will on the pages of nature, and this was itself an indication of the profundity of his vision and the exaltation of his thought. He would spend the month of Ramadan alone in the cave of Hira, on the outskirts of Mecca, benefiting fully from the darkness and silence.
Far removed from men and their corruption, he engaged in supplication and armed himself with the weapon of faith. He developed his spiritual personality through humble worship in the presence of the Majestic Creator that enveloped his whole being, and through cultivating the thoughts that welled up from the depths of his spirit. In the morning, overflowing with faith and certainty, with spiritual enthusiasm and vigor, he would leave the cave to engage in his daily tasks. Love of God animated his kind and tranquil face, and he was greatly distressed by the polytheism and foolishness of his people who would prostrate before the idols they had manufactured themselves.
He began to struggle against this idolatry, remaining steadfast in the truth through all the trials and hardships he underwent. As his age approached forty, signs of anxiety and distress became marked in his behavior and speech, and he told his loving wife of sounds that were continually re-echoing in his ear and of a dazzling light that would envelop him.