Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Belief In Prophethood
Updated: Jan 9, 2020
Window to God-realization
Prophethood or Risalah is a fundamental article of faith in Islam. A Muslim should believe in Prophethood and in all the prophets sent by God and make no distinction between them.
Man has been placed on this earth by God in order that his obedience to his Maker may be put to test. For this purpose, he has been given complete freedom to tread the paths of either good or evil. He has a choice. But to follow the path desired for him by God, man is in need of guiding principles. The true source of guidance, according to Islam, is to be found in Prophethood.
Throughout human history, God in His infinite mercy selected certain individuals to communicate His message to humankind, so that all human beings might be given an opportunity to follow the right path. These chosen people are called prophets, or messengers.
A prophet is a person chosen by God as His representative. When God appoints someone as His Messenger, He sends His angel to him to inform him of his new status. In that way, the individual can have no doubts about his appointment as God’s apostle. Later, God reveals His message to him through His angels, so that he may communicate the divine teachings to all his fellow men.
Man has been placed on this earth by God in order that his obedience to his Maker may be put to test. For this purpose, he has been given complete freedom to tread the paths of either good or evil.
God has given man a mind so that he may be endowed with understanding. But this mind can only grasp things that are apparent. It cannot go below the surface, and there are many things to be apprehended, for which a superficial knowledge is insufficient. The deeper realities of this world are beyond the scope of the human mind, and so far as God and the next world are concerned, they must remain forever invisible—beyond the reach of human perception.
What the Prophet does is to enlighten people so that they may overcome this human inadequacy. He tells of the reality of things here and now, and also gives tidings of the next world. He thereby enables the individual to formulate a plan for his entire existence in the full light of knowledge and awareness so that he may carve out a successful life for himself.
Since the settlement of human beings on earth, the prophets have been coming one after another. In every age they have been the conveyors of God’s messages to human beings. However, whatever records of these ancient prophets that have survived, have been rendered historically unreliable by interpolations.
The same is true of the books they brought to humankind. The sole exception was the case of the Prophet Muhammad, who was chosen by God as His Final Messenger. The Prophet was born in an age when the history of the world was already being extensively chronicled. This in itself made circumstances conducive to authentic records being kept of God’s messages and the Prophet’s exemplary life. The relevant facts were passed on from one generation to the next by both oral and written tradition, and with the advent of the printing press came the modern guarantee that no changes would ever be made in the divine scriptures. This renders unassailable the position of the Prophet Muhammad as God’s Final Messenger and His sole representative on earth till Doomsday.
All the prophets brought the same basic truth: that there is only one God and that all human beings are accountable to God for their actions: when Doomsday finally comes, they will be judged by Him according to their good and bad deeds.
Those who believe in God and His Prophets shall be rewarded by God in the next world, while those who disbelieve shall be punished by God in the next world as befits the deeds they have performed on earth.
God chooses for Himself whom He wills, and guides to Himself those who turn to Him in repentance. (42: 13)
God’s messengers came in every age and to every region. According to a Hadith, starting with Adam and ending with the Prophet Muhammad, 1,24,000 messengers were sent in succession to guide the people to the right path. The prophets mentioned by name in the Quran are two-dozen in number. The five major Prophets who came before Muhammad were Adam, Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), and Isa (Jesus). The Prophet Muhammad, the last in this long line of prophets, was called the ‘Seal of the Prophets’. (33: 40)
In the past, the need for new prophets had arisen because God’s religion, having been distorted in a number of different ways, was no longer in its pristine form. New prophets had to come to the world periodically in order to revive the true spirit of religion, and thus restore it to its original form. After the Prophet Muhammad, there was no need for another prophet, for the Book—the Quran—which he gave to the world, has been preserved intact, in its original form.
The Islamic concept of prophethood is different from that of other religions. Some religions would have it that God Himself becomes incarnate in human shape, and that His prophets are in some way superhuman or other-worldly. But a prophet in the Islamic sense is no different from any other human being. His uniqueness lies simply in his being the chosen messenger of God.
God’s Apostles were born into this world just like any other human beings. They led their lives just as others did, thus demonstrating to their people how God’s servants should conduct themselves on earth, and showing them clearly what path they must tread in order to avert God’s displeasure and make themselves worthy of His blessings. The prophets who brought books were called 'rasul', while those who did not were called 'nabi'.