[The life of The Holy Prophet of Islam]
THE MESSAGE OF ISLAM
ISLAM -- A UNIQUE RELIGION
Of the great world faiths, Islam is unique in several respects. It is the only one that does not rely on any myth or mystery. It is based upon the certainty of proven and acknowledged fact. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, peace be on him, was a historical figure, and lived his life in the full light of day. The revelation vouchsafed to him, over a period of twenty-two years, has been fully safeguarded, in the Holy Quran according to the Divine promise set out in the Quran itself:
"Surely, We Ourself have sent down this Exhortation, and We will, most surely, safeguard it" (15:10).
This comprises several aspects:
First, the text of the revelation should have been preserved in its purity and entirety for all time. Considering that the revelation contained in the Quran was vouchsafed to the Prophet over a period of twenty-two years, first in Mecca, then in Medina; that this period was marked by persecution, disturbance, and fighting; that the Prophet himself was not literate; and that there was no sure method of preserving a record of the revelation except through human memory; it is a truly miraculous fact that the text of the Quran has been preserved intact, down to the last vowel point. Even Western scholars, who do not accept the Quran as Divine revelation, affirm that it is word for word that which Muhammad gave out to the world as Divine revelation.
Second, the language in which the revelation was sent should have continued to be in use as a living language. Classical Arabic, the language of the Quran, is today understood and used as a means of communication over much vaster areas of the earth and by many hundred times more people than was the case in the time of the Prophet.
These two factors, so essential for the safeguarding of the guidance contained in the revelation, could not have been assured by the Prophet in advance.
Third, but more was needed. Life is dynamic, and the pattern of human life is subject to constant change. Besides, history testifies that the passage of time brings about a decline in spiritual and moral values. It was inevitable, therefore, that over the centuries there should have been a falling off in the true appreciation of Divine guidance set forth in Divine revelation, as applicable to current conditions and situations. The complete safeguarding of the Divine revelation thus necessitated a constant process of spiritual revival and rebirth. In the nature of things this must also come about through revelation. It was announced by the Prophet that to meet this need God would continue to raise from among the Muslims, at the beginning of each century, those who would be inspired to revive the faith by drawing attention to the guidance contained in the Quran apposite to current conditions. History has confirmed the truth of this assurance conveyed by the Prophet.
A Living Message
The last century has, however, witnessed the onset of a tremendous revolution in human values in all spheres of life. Standards that had been accepted and subscribed to through centuries are undergoing rapid revision and modification. The very dimensions of human life are being reshaped, so that scholars and thinkers are beginning to stress the need of a new revelation. Yet, the Quran is quite clear that the guidance contained therein would prove adequate during all stages at all times.
What provision, it may be asked, is there in the Quran to meet the contingency with which mankind is faced today, and which is likely to grow evermore insistent during all the tommorrows that lie ahead? To meet this contingency the Quran announced that the Prophet had not only been raised in the generation among whom he lived, but would also be raised among others who had not yet joined them (62:3-4). This meant a spiritual second advent of the Prophet for the purpose of setting forth from the Quran guidance that may be needed in the new age, and for illustrating the values demanded by the exigencies with which man may then be faced. This promise has been fulfilled in the advent of Ahmad, of Qadian (1835-1908), who warned that mankind stood at the threshold of an era which would bear the same relation to his age (i.e., the beginning of the twentieth century), as the beginning of that century bore to the days of Adam, and who proceeded to set forth from the Quran, in the light of revelation vouchsafed to him, the guidance that mankind now desperately needs.
Thus, Islam comprises within iteself the means of its own revival, not merely through normal interpretation, but also through the light of revelation, vouchsafed by the Divine to God's elect through the ages. In this context, it needs to be remembered that the whole of the Quran from beginning to end is verbal revelation, and is thus literally the Word of God. As such, it possesses a dynamic quality and is manifaceted. It is as dynamic as the universe which is the work of God. This assures a complete accord, throughout, between the Quran and the universe. The Quran affirms that the universe is bound by law and, thus bound, is placed at the service of man. For instance, it is said:
"God is He Who created the heavens and the earth and caused water to come down from the clouds and brought forth therewith fruit for your sustenance. He has subjected to you the ships that they may sail through the sea by His command, and the rivers too has He subjected to you. He has also subjected to you the sun and the moon, both pursuing their courses constantly. He has subjected to you the night as well as the day. He gave you all that you wanted of Him. If you try to count the favors of God, you will not be able to number them." (14:33-35)
"He has constrained into service for you the night and the day, and the sun and the moon; and the stars too have been constrained into your service by His command. Surely, in that are Signs for a people who make use of their reason. He has constrained into service for you the things Me has created in the earth, of diverse hues. Surely, in that is a Sign for a people who take heed. He it is Who has subjected to you the sea, that you may take therefrom fresh flesh to eat, and the ornaments that you wear. Thou seest the ships ploughing it, that you may journey thereby, and that you may seek of His bounty, and that you may be grateful." (16:13-15)
Reference to God's Signs emphasizes the need for study and research so that the proper use of each thing may be discovered by acquiring knowledge of its properties and the laws governing them. The assurance that the whole universe is subjected to man's service, and the certainty that everything in it is governed by laws, the knowledge of which can be progressively acquired by man, throws wide open to man all avenues of knowledge which he is not only encouraged, but is repeatedly urged and exhorted, to explore unceasingly. The only limitation is imposed by another of God's laws: That so long as man continues to make beneficent use of God's bounties, God will continue to multiply them unto man without limit, but if he misuses or abuses them, he will be called to account in respect of them, and these very bounties may become the instruments of his ruin and his destruction. (14:8)
The Quran teaches that God has, at all stages, furnished guidance to mankind through revelation vouchsafed to the Prophets. It requires faith in all previous Prophets, so that all of them are believed in and revered by the Muslims. It teaches, however, that previous revelations were limited in their scope. Each was designed to meet the needs of the people to whom it was sent during the stage of development upon which that people was about to enter. Each contained fundamental truths, valid through the ages, in respect of the whole of mankind, but it also contained guidance, directions, commandments, and prohibitions which were of a local or temporary character. Moreover, in the course of time, portions of those revelations were lost or forgotten or perverted. That which was of universal and permanent application in previous revelations, has been reaffirmed in the Quran. Such portions as had been lost or were overlooked or forgotten, but were still needed, have been revived. That which was of purely local or temporary application and was no longer needed has been omitted. That which was not contained in previous revelations, the need for it not having arisen, but which would henceforth be needed by mankind, has been added (2:107;3:8).
Not only are today's versions of previous revelations open to serious question on the score of authenticity of the text and accuracy of translation and interpretation; many of the details concerning the commandments and ordinances and even doctrine which were of a temporary or local character, are now out of date or inapplicable. Today's doctrine is also in many cases based on subsequent interpretation and formulation, which appear to have little connection with what was contained in the revelation and even contradict it. Attention is drawn to all this in the Quran, and yet the Quran emphasizes the unity of the fundamental teaching contained in all previous Scriptures and insisted upon by all the Prophets, namely, belief in the Existence and Unity of God and in the hereafter, and conformity to God's will through righteous action. Thus the Quran, while affirming the truth of all previous Prophets, itself comprises all truth for the whole of mankind for all times. The Quran is thus a universal possession and inheritance; its message is directed to the whole of mankind (7:159). It is sent down as a guidance for mankind, with clear proofs of guidance and with discrimination between truth and falsehood (2:186).
It expounds and explains all that is or may be needed by mankind for the complete fulfilment of life (16:90). It seeks to create faith in God through rehearsal of God's Signs; it makes provision for mankind's welfare: material, moral, and spiritual; it teaches all that is needed for the beneficent regulation of human life and expounds the philosophy underlying it, so that reason being satisfied, wholehearted conformity to what is taught is assured (62:2-3). It expounds the necessity of establishing and maintaining communion with God. It draws attention to Divine attributes, their operation and the manner in which mankind may derive benefit from the knowledge thereof. In short, all that is basic for the promotion of human welfare in all spheres, whether pertaining to principle or conduct, is set forth and expounded (16:90).
It is not possible to set forth at any time the whole meaning and interpretation of the Quran or, indeed, of any portion of it, with finality. It yields new truths and fresh guidance in every age and at every level. It is a standing and perpetual miracle (18:110). The universe is dynamic and so is the Quran. Indeed, so dynamic is the Quran that it has always been found to keep ahead of the world and never to lag behind it. However fast the pace at which the pattern of human life may change and evolve, the Quran always yields, and will go on yielding, needed guidance in advance. This has now been demonstrated through fourteen centuries, and that is a guarantee that it will continue to be demonstrated through the ages.
The Quran has proclaimed that falsehood will never overtake it. All research into the past and every discovery and invention in the future will affirm its truth (41:43). The Quran speaks at every level; it seeks to reach every type of understanding, through parables, similitudes, arguments, reasoning, the observation and study of the phenomena of nature, and the natural, moral, and spiritual laws (18:55; 39:28; 59:22).
The Quran reasons from the physical and tangible to the spiritual and intangible. For instance:
"Among His Signs is that thou seest the earth lying withered, but when We send down water on it, it stirs and swells with verdure. Surely, He Who quickens the earth can quicken the dead. Verily, He has power over all things. " (41:40)
Here, by quickening of the dead is meant the revival and rebirth of a people. As the dead earth is quickened by life-giving rain from heaven, a people that appears to be dead in all respect is revived and regenerated through spiritual water from heaven, that is to say, through Divine revelation. This idea is expounded in the Quran in several places. Both resurrection and renaissance are explained with reference to the phenomenon of the dead earth being revived through life-giving rain (22:6-8).
The Quran repeatedly
urges observation and reflection, the exercise of reason and understanding
Whenever attention is drawn in the Quran to God's Signs, the object is to urge reflection upon the events or phenomena cited, that we may proceed to draw lessons therefrom which would help us grasp the truth; to understand the operation of Divine attributes and of the Divine laws; to appreciate spiritual values and to adjust and order our lives accordingly, so that all our activities in all spheres should become wholly beneficent. It is in that sense that the guidance contained in the Quran is described as a healing and a mercy for those who put their faith in it (17:83). We are reminded:
"O mankind, there has indeed come to you an Exhortation from your Lord and a healing for whatever ills there are in the hearts, and a guidance and a mercy for those who believe." (10:58)
Freedom of Faith
With all this, man is left to his free choice and acceptance of the truth. Faith is not commanded on the basis of authority, but is invited on the basis of understanding (12:109). This is a Book that We have revealed to thee, full of blessings, that they may reflect over its verses, and that those gifted with understanding may take heed (38:30). There is complete freedom to believe or to deny, as is said: There shall be no compulsion in religion, for guidance and error have been clearly distinguished (2:257); and again: Proclaim, O Prophet: It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore, let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve (18:30). But of course, though the choice is free, the consequences of the choice will follow in accordance with Divine law. No one is forced. Everyone must choose and seek the purpose of his life on the basis of faith, or turn his back on the truth and destroy his soul, according to his choice.
It has sometimes been suggested that belief in Divine revelation, and acceptance of revealed truth, tend towards intellectual rigidity and narrowness. The exact reverse is the truth. Revelation stimulates the intellect and opens all manner of avenues for the research and expansion of knowledge. The constant and repeated exhortation to reflect upon and ponder every type of natural phenomenon, with which the Quran abounds, is an express urge in that direction.
History furnishes incontrovertible proof of this. Within an astonishingly brief period following the revelation of the Quran, darkness and confusion were dispelled over vast areas of the earth, order was established, all manner of beneficent institutions sprang into life, a high moral order was set up, and the blessings of knowledge, learning, and science began to be widely diffused. Human intellect, which for some centuries had been almost frozen into inactivity, experienced a sudden release and upsurge, and the world experienced an astounding revolution, material, moral, and spiritual. This was no freak occurrence, no sudden flare-up followed by an even more sudden collapse. It was a phenomenon characterized by strength, beneficence, and endurance. It fulfilled to a pre-eminent degree the needs and yearnings of the human body, intellect, and soul. It changed the course of human history. It flung wide open the gates of knowledge and progress in all directions. Its impact continues to be felt today through many and diverse channels.
The Quran describes itself as a light and as a clear Book, whereby does Allah guide those who seek His pleasure along the paths of peace, and leads them out of every kind of darkness into the light by His will, and guides them along the right path (5:16-17).
On the other hand, the Quran itself discouraged the tendency to seek regulation of everything by Divine command, pointing out that such a regulation would become restrictive and burdensome (5:102).
One of many characteristics of the Quran which marks it as the Word of God is that to arrive at the comprehension of its deeper meaning and significance, the seeker must, in addition to a certain degree of knowledge of the language and the principles of interpretation, cultivate purity of thought and action. The greater the purity of a person's life, the deeper and wider will be his comprehension of the meaning of the Quran (56:80).
[The life of The Holy Prophet of Islam]