Attempts to Philosophically Justify the Finality of Non-law-bearing Prophethood
WO MAJOR ATTEMPTS have been made by Muslim theologians and thinkers to logically justify the cessation of even non-law-bearing prophets. The first relates to the issue of the need for a new teacher. The advent of a perfect teacher and a perfect book, it is argued, obviates the need of any other teacher to follow. Of course, if it can be proved that the presence of a perfect book and the appearance of a perfect teacher are sufficient guarantees against any future moral or spiritual decline, then there is no reason why, after this, another prophet should ever be raised again. Regrettably however, this proposition can neither be proved correct theoretically nor historically.
This contention is insupportable because the bringing of a book of law is not the only function performed by prophets. Prophethood is a thing of many splendours. After the death of a law-bearing prophet, the mere preservation of his book and his traditions cannot offer a sufficient substitute for prophethood itself. The case in point becomes amply clear when we examine the conduct of Muslims after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa. The progressive deterioration of Muslim society should be sufficient to prove this point. The difference between their moral status during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa and that of Muslims today defies comparison. The Book however remains the same perfect, unaltered, un-interpolated Book that it was fourteen hundred years ago.
HE SECOND justification in support of the Doctrine of Absolute Finality relates to the idea of the intellectual maturity of man. The chief proponent of this view is no less a person than 'Allamah Iqbal claimed by some to be the greatest Muslim thinker of modern times. This doctrine of maturity is based on the assumption that the Holy Quran was revealed at a time when man had finally reached the ultimate stage of his mental and intellectual maturity. As such, he stood in no further need of day-to-day guidance by any Divine personage as did his ancestors of earlier ages. A beautiful philosophy but how hollow and empty of substance it turns out to be under closer scrutiny. The very premise that man has matured enough to be able to draw his own conclusions and chart his own course of conduct from the principle teachings of a perfect religion is challengeable on many counts.
It should not be forgotten that at every stage of man's progress, he always considered himself to be at the summit of intellectual maturity. At every point in history, the generation which occupied it also considered itself to be at the pinnacle of human progress. Looking back from their vantage point, all previous generations must have appeared less mature and less advanced by comparison. Yet at no stage in the past has man behaved wisely enough to guide himself. Heads such as that of the Pharaoh's were always raised in defiance of Divine guidance. All such rebels rejected the prophets of their time with the same inflated ideas of their own importance. All repeated the same claim over and over again that they had matured to take care of their own affairs. Nonetheless, history proves each of them to be wrong. It is so naive therefore, to consider the contemporary age as the only one in which man has finally become self-sufficient in every aspect of his moral and spiritual requirements.
As far as the concept of maturity is concerned, it is also falsified by the realities of history. After the passing away of prophets the division and multiplication of religious sects, based on doctrinal differences and varying interpretations, is a universal trend that has not spared the followers of any religion including Islam. Hence, it is not simply his intellectual maturity which helps man to draw right conclusions from the scriptures, he must also be Divinely guided.
If 'maturity of man' is taken to mean that he becomes independent in drawing his conclusions from the study of scriptures, then there must ensue a perfect unity of agreement on all the fundamental aspects of religious teachings. Alas, what we observe in real life fails miserably to support this view. Muslims, the proud recipients of the last perfect Book, are no less divided among themselves in the matter of interpretation than are the peoples of all other religions. To what avail therefore, is the so-called maturity of man? The history of religion proves that people once split into sects and schisms have never been reunified by human effort alone. The same inevitably applies to the Muslims today. Without the agency of a Divine Reformer, they cannot be assembled again under the single flag of Unity. But they have outrightly rejected this Divine measure, the only avenue of hope left open to them.
The existence of about seventy-two doctrinal divisions among them, despite a well-preserved book and a well-documented record of traditions, throws a dismal light on the Iqbalian philosophy of the maturity of man.
Their differences are not merely marginal. They are fundamental and deep-rooted, further multiplying and proliferating as time goes by. Add to this the moral destitution prevailing in the Muslim world and the tragedy of their lifeless existence becomes all the more pathetic. Commit their survival to the maturity of their intellect and perform ablution for their funeral rites, 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust and earth to earth—Amen!'
What misery! Why can modern intellectuals not understand that the purification of a religious society is a task which the mere existence of a Perfect Book cannot perform? Were it so, the followers of Islam must have retained an exemplary state of ideological unity. This unfortunately is farthest from the truth.
All that can be said here in defence of the late Dr. 'Allamah Sir Muhammad Iqbal is that the idea of blocking the passage of Heavenly light with this balderdash did not originate from him. His mistake was to copy, rather blindly one must say, the great German philosopher Nietzsche. It was Nietzsche who had first employed the idea of the maturity of human mind in the modern age against any need of guidance from God. In fact, Nietzsche coaxed man to come to age and utilize his own faculties of five senses. Overman, or superman, is Nietzsche's term for a man who reaches a stage of maturity where his senses are developed to the full. Such a man needs no God to guide him—a God which according to him is no more than a conjecture. Such conjectures were born out of an imperfect faculty of reasoning during an age when man had not yet matured enough to become his own master. Now that man had attained maturity, he concluded in his book Thus spoke Zarathustra*— the symbolic oracle of the wisdom of Nietzsche that there was no more need for holding onto conjectures.
'Once one said God when one looked upon distant seas; but now I have taught you to say: overman (superman).
'God is a conjecture; but I desire that your conjectures should not reach beyond your creative will.'1
'Could you think a god? But this is what the will to truth should mean to you: that everything be changed into what is thinkable for man, visible for man, feelable by man. You should think through your own senses to their consequences.'2
'God is a conjecture; but who could drain all the agony of this conjecture without dying?'2
The long and short of Thus spoke Zarathustra is a rebellion of Nietzsche against a conjectural god which in fact is the Christian idea of God, and to understand Zarathustra clearly as to why he rebelled against God, one must read the chapter Retired.3 But for our purpose it should be sufficient to note that the oracle of Nietzsche's wisdom sets man free from being guided from on high. The maturity of his faculties is sufficient to guide him.
This exactly is the Iqbalian philosophy against the need of a prophet after man has matured to the maximum of his faculties. Instead of employing this borrowed philosophy for a categorical rejection of the need for God, 'Allamah Iqbal neatly trimmed the maturity concept to suit his own purpose within the framework of Islam. He conceded that though man stands in need of a Perfect Master and a Perfect Book, once this objective is accomplished he requires no more to be badgered with any further interference from on high. But that is not all there is to it. The doctrine of maturity, as amended by Iqbal, does not merely do away with the need of prophethood, it does away altogether with the need for any communication from God even in the form of non-prophetic revelations. This has to be the only logical conclusion drawn from his doctrine of maturity. The maturity concept requires total independence of man from further Divine guidance in any form. He has become capable of taking all-important decisions for himself in the light of the guidance already vouchsafed to him. Man, Iqbal argued, is no longer a child to be walked with his little finger held in a prophet's hand. Has he not matured to full adulthood, to shift for himself? A sound healthy logic it seems, but just one glance at the spiritual decadence and utter moral destitution of man today is sufficient to dispel this argument as entirely fallacious and conjectural.
NOUGH of Iqbal and his postulations. Let us now turn to Maudoodi, another renowned scholar of the mainstream Sunni Muslims. He pleads that the absolute cessation of prophethood after Prophet Muhammadsa has been a singular blessing of God upon mankind. It is a boon, especially for the Muslims, because it spares them the risk of rejecting a Divine messenger of God ever again. They are shielded from ever being accursed by God, as others before them were cursed, for committing the crime of rejecting the prophets of their time. Such a view deserves to be treated more by way of a joke rather than a legitimate argument.
Maudoodi's philosophy, if accepted, would imply that the very institution of prophethood is a curse indeed otherwise its cessation could not have been claimed to be a blessing. This appears to be more in line with the thinking of St. Paul, who branded the law of the Torah as a curse and believed Jesus to be the redeemer because he did away with that law. If there were no law to be broken, argued St. Paul, there would be no sin to be committed.
The aery Maudoodi philosophy however, does not seem to originate from St. Paul alone. It also resurrects the image of Bahaullah. What the Messiah had done by rejecting the law of the Torah, according to St. Paul, Bahaullah claimed to have done to the Quranic law. Thus he pronounced himself to be the liberator of mankind from the bondage of the Quran. Nonetheless he did not imitate St. Paul entirely because St. Paul had never claimed a role of God personified for himself. He assigned this role of godhead entirely to Jesus. Jesus to him, was in fact a liberator who had undone the blunder committed by 'God the Father' against mankind. The very promulgation of Divine law was tantamount to the creation of sin. Hence, by cancelling the Divine law, what Jesus actually achieved was to have destroyed the very soil from which sin sprouted. By the same act of redeeming mankind he appears to have simultaneously redeemed 'God the father' from the folly of creating sin.
Bahaullah applied this philosophy only partially and argued that the Quranic law being too heavy and cumbersome had lost its relevance to the people of the modern age. So by liberating mankind from this exacting 'burden' he feigned to set them free, but not entirely so. He betook for himself the role of a new 'Law-maker', after cancelling the previous Law. But in the final analysis Bahaullah succeeded only in making a mockery of God and himself. The shariah that Bahaullah dictated to replace the law of the Quran was no more and no less than a blatant affront to common sense, reason and rationality.
Between these two modern day disciples of St. Paul, i.e. Bahaullah and Maudoodi, nothing seems to have been left of the religion of Islam. As for the Quranic law, Bahaullah claimed to have done away with it in the name of emancipation. As for the institution of prophethood, Maudoodi ventured to abolish it by virtue of the same Pauline philosophy. Both failed to achieve their objectives in the sight of God. Both were applauded as great heroes in the sight of men who were already spiritually diseased.
But Maudoodi did not follow St. Paul entirely. He did not go as far as to suggest that the Quranic law should be annulled by God, lest the people should incur His wrath by failing to abide by it. He only applied the Pauline principle to the institution of prophethood. Even if non-law-bearing prophets are raised after the Holy Foundersa of Islam, they are likely to be rejected by the majority of Muslims as prophets have been rejected before them. Thus according to Maudoodi's logic, the threat of the curse would keep hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles. In Maudoodi's estimation by altogether doing away with the institution of prophethood after the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, God has bestowed untold blessings upon mankind, particularly upon the Muslims.
If the institution of prophethood is finally brought to a close, lest people should be cursed, it is tantamount to pronouncing prophethood itself to be a curse. Thus, the neo-Pauline philosophy of Maudoodi would require God to do away with the curse of prophethood altogether. What deliverance! What redemption! Good riddance is the other name for it!
But it should be clearly understood that this logic is applicable as much to the past as it is to the future. Why was Jesusas sent by God before the Holy Prophetsa? Does not the Holy Quran categorically denounce the Jewish people as accursed for the crime of denying him? And what happened to earlier peoples? Did they not defy the Divine messengers sent to them and mock and ridicule them? A sad reflection on human arrogance indeed! Thus declares the Holy Quran:
Woe to mankind. Never does a prophet come to them, but they scorn him and ridicule him!4
It is amazing why God did not think of bringing this curse to an end earlier in time. What happened to the Jewish people throughout the long history of their encounters with the prophets? Were they not cursed at the tongue of Davidas? What happened to the people of the Book between the time of Mosesas and Jesus Christas?
Was this universal human trend of treating all messengers of God inhumanly not sufficient to make God realize that prophethood was more of a curse than a blessing? Why was Noahas sent and why Abrahamas and why Lotas? Did their rejection not cause the wrath of Allah to befall upon their people? But for some insignificant few, were they not obliterated from the face of the earth? Still, the idea that struck Maudoodi did not strike God. Was it because it was Maudoodi's mind which had fabricated this myth of a god? Such infirmity of judgement behoves only a brainchild of his. God kept sending prophet after prophet but arrogant man continued to reject them, one after the other. The curse they thus earned cannot be blamed on the office of prophethood, they themselves are to blame.
Again, if this argument is accepted as valid at any particular point in time, it must also be accepted as valid at all times since the advent of Adamas. The fear of rejection of Adamas by his people, who would thus incur upon themselves the wrath of God, should have been enough justification for God never to have sent Adamas at all. If the fear that people should reject a lesser prophet from among the followers of Hazrat Muhammadsa is a legitimate reason for the cessation of prophethood altogether, then the same fear should have stood in the way of the advent of the Holy Foundersa of Islam even more powerfully. Is he not the best among all the prophets? Of course he is—as the entire world of Islam testifies. Being supreme among them, for him to be rejected was to earn the worst curse of God ever inflicted. Alas Maudoodi seems to have completely forgotten that not only was the Holy Prophetsa rejected by most of the world's population of his time, but also his truth is still denied by three-fourths of mankind today. At best, it is just one-fourth of the human population which can be described as believers in the Holy Prophetsa. But can they really be defined as Muslims? Is their faith in the Holy Foundersa of Islam genuine enough to include them among those who really believe? Maudoodi thinks otherwise. Out of the one billion population of the Muslims, nine hundred and ninety-nine in every one thousand are already condemned by him to be virtually non-Muslims:
'This huge hotch potch body of the so-called Muslims is such as nine hundred and ninety nine out of every one thousand have no knowledge of Islam whatsoever. They are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Nor have their moral and mental attitudes been in the least Islamicised. From father to son, from grandfather to grandson, they have only inherited a Muslim name and no more.'5
From Maudoodi's account of the scheme of things, God had better not send any Divine book or messenger lest His poor creatures should be cursed forever.
Yet Maudoodi believes in the justification of God sending all His prophets since the time of Adamas to the time of the best among them. If their rejection brought a curse from God on those who rejected them, what exceptional harm would it do if one more like them is added to the list. But the paradox in Maudoodi becomes more of an eyesore when he is discovered to believe in the re-advent of Jesus Christas as a prophet of God.
If instead of the old Jesusas, a new non-law-bearing prophet was to be raised from among the people of Islam, how could he in any way alter this eternal grand plan of cursedness? Why should only his advent be objectionable while all those before him since the time of Adamas served the same Divine decree of a perpetual curse?
- KAUFMANN, W. (1976) The
Portable Nietzsche. Penguin Books. England, p.197
- KAUFMANN, W. (1976) The Portable Nietzsche. Penguin Books. England, p.198
- KAUFMANN, W. (1976) The Portable Nietzsche. Penguin Books. England, p.370–375
- Translation of 36:31 by the author.
- MAUDOODI, SYED ABUL-A'ALA. Musalman
Aur Maujoodah Siyasi Kashmakash. 1st ed. Vol.III. Published by Maktabah Jama'at-i-Islami, Dar-ul-Islam, Jamalpur, Pathankot, p.130