Sunday, December 02, 2007

Seal of the Prophets

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah has the full knowledge of all things. (33:41)

Here the Holy Prophetsaw is called the Khataman-Nabiyeen, which is commonly misunderstood to mean the Last Prophet. In fact this term translates to ‘Seal of the Prophets’.  Khatam, in Arabic, is used to denote a stage in excellence beyond which a higher stage cannot be conceived. It is an expression of superlative praise, and is always followed by a category or genre. In the Arabic literature numerous examples of its usage can be found in the sense of highest praise. More on that later.

This verse responds to an insult which was frequently hurled at the Holy Prophet: that he was not the father of a male child. It starts with acknowledging this as a fact. It then goes on to declare him the Khataman-Nabiyeen. If Khatam is taken to mean the ‘last’ then it is a strange response to the stated insult. When a defect is pointed in a person and the person is to be defended, then the defense can take one of two routes: either the defect is shown to be not really a defect at all, or an excellence is pointed in the same person such that the stated defect is rendered meaningless by comparison. Clearly this verse does not take the first line of response, which leaves us with the second. Let us assume for a moment that Khatam means last and see where that leads. It would mean that by not having a male child not only Muhammad terminates his ancestral line, but that he also terminates the line of prophets, which is God's supreme blessing to mankind. If the former was a curse as was alleged by his enemies, the latter compounds it further. How could such a defense uphold his honor?

Clearly this verse is in praise of the Holy Prophetsaw, and allows no other reading. While the enemy is occupied with throwing barbs at him at not having a male issue, Allah calls him the Seal of the Prophets; the one who is prophet par-excellence.  As a seal, who not only certifies to the truth of earlier prophets, but by following whom highest spiritual stations including prophethood become attainable. What to speak of absence of physical descendants when one is the fountainhead of all levels and stages of spirituality. Furthermore, it connotes an abundance of spiritual progeny of the highest quality, which to be complete, must include prophethood as well. What an apt response!

In this light, Khataman-Nabiyeen establishes continuity of prophethood of the kind that is wholly subservient to Holy Prophetsaw. Like a seal that leaves its imprint on the surface it strikes, Muhammadsaw being the Seal of the Prophets becomes a prophet-maker. A distinction unique to him among all prophets.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Witness to Come

Can he, then, who possesses a clear proof from his Lord, and to testify to whose truth a witness from Him shall follow him, and who was preceded by the Book of Moses, a guide and a mercy, be an impostor? (11:18)

Three arguments have been given here in support of the truth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace by upon him.

1. He possesses clear proof from his Lord
2. To testify to whose truth a witness shall follow him.
3. He was preceded by the Book of Moses, which testified to his truth.

The witness to follow the Holy Prophet is the Messiah and the Mahdi. As described in various traditions he would be from the followers of the Holy Prophet and would come at the head of the fourteenth century hijra. This prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India (1835-1908).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Covenant of the Prophets: Believe in the Messenger to Come

In chapter Ale-Imran, Allah mentions a covenant entered by prophets, and through them, their people. This covenant makes it binding on them to believe in the messenger to come and to help him:

And (remember the time) when Allah took a covenant from the Prophets, (saying), ‘Whatever I give you of the Book and Wisdom (and) then there comes to you a Messenger, fulfilling that which is with you, you shall believe in him and help him.’ (And) He said, ‘Do you agree, and do you accept the responsibility which I lay upon you in this (matter)?’ They said, ‘We agree.’ He said, ‘Then bear witness and I am with you among the witnesses.’ (3:82)

In particular, this covenant related to the coming of the Holy Prophet of Islamsaw, whose advent was foretold by earlier prophets, but it is also a covenant relating to any future prophet. A covenant by a prophet is, in fact, a covenant by all his followers. When Messengers of God do come, they come to the people and it is the people who are tested in the fulfillment of the covenant taken by their prophets.

The question is whether this covenant was also entered by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsaw and through him, by his people? We see in chapter Al-Ahzab:

And (call to mind) when We took from the Prophets their covenant, and from thee, and from Noah and Abraham, and Moses and Jesus, son of Mary, and We (indeed), took from them a solemn covenant; (33:8)

Here “thee”, the addressee of this verse, is the Holy Prophetsaw. He is entering the same covenant as entered by the earlier prophets, details of which are mentioned in 3:82 (above): that he would believe in and help the prophet to come. There is no other Mithaq al-Nabiyyin mentioned in the Holy Quran. Clearly the people of Muhammadsaw, the Muslims, are also bound by it. That “prophet to come” is variously known as Issa (Jesus) and Mahdi in traditions. However, it would not be the same Jesus who was sent to the Bani-Israel some two thousand years ago. That Jesus has died and Quran is itself a witness to his death. It would be someone born among the people of Muhammadsaw. He has metaphorically been given the name of Issa Ibn-e-Maryam (Jesus son of Mary) to indicate his remarable similarity with the earlier Issa. In one tradition narrated in Sahih-Muslim, the Holy Prophetsaw calls him Nabi-ullah (prophet of God) no less than four times.

Prophethood: An Ongoing Phenomenon

Allah chooses His Messengers from among angels and from among men. Surely, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing (22:76)

Simple grammatical deconstruction is sufficient to understand this verse. The key word here is yastafi. The tense it is used in is mudari. Which is applicable to present and future and translates to "he chooses".

The next verse begins in the same tense, “(He) knows what is behind them and what is in front of them ...” Just like Allah “knows” in the present and in the future, so does he “choose” prophets among angels and men, in the present and in the future (as he did in the past).

Arguing that future is somehow excluded in case of Prophethood is banging ones head against a brick wall. Head will always come worse off and the wall will prevail. Verb in the form of mudari includes the future and there is no way around that.

It is another discussion as to what types of prophets have existed in the past and what type of prophets may come after Prophet Muhammadsaw, who is the Khataman-Nabiyeen (Seal of the Prophets). That subject is not touched upon in this verse.