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In religion, the term ‘prophet’ refers to an individual who is perceived to possess divine power and serving as an intermediary by conveying knowledge from a supernatural entity to the people. Prophecy refers to the divine message that is passed by the prophets. Traditionally, “prophets were viewed as having a significant role in the community by bringing change through their messages and deeds” (Donner 124). Islam presents an array of unique beliefs and principles, which are reflected in the concept of prophethood, and they justify their moral existence. This paper will examine how the Islamic notion of prophethood assisted in the construction of the religious and historical legitimacy of Islam. However, this article will show that Muhammad is the most authentic conveyer of God’s message, which makes Islam superior to other religions.
The notion of prophethood
For a long time, the concept of prophethood in Islam has been part of the continuing religious discussions. Muhammad has been viewed as the last prophet and focus has been on studies to examine the revelatory sentiments of prophethood. In addition, studies have sought to understand how Islam views and understands the unique status of Muhammad’s divine mission. In the Islamic view, Muhammad’s prophetic mission is similar to the divine message with which God presented to all human prophets. According to Islam, Adam was the first prophet and Muhammad came as the last one (Donner 44).
Muslims believe that a prophet’s credentials were fundamental considerations to joining prophethood. A prophet should be free of sin, trustworthy, unshakable, and wise. It is also believed that Muhammad received the divine teachings from God via Qur’anic revelations. Therefore, Muslims held the belief that the Qur’an offered the divine and eternal teachings of God as disclosed to Muhammad. These doctrines of the Qur’an provided a chronology of events to show Muhammad and his followers the true way to God as well as reveal to them the stories of earlier prophets to whom God had used to serve the same mission now entrusted to Muhammad (Charfi 31).
The essence of prophethood
According to the Islam traditions, human beings do not only understand the good and evil, but also the fact that they are bound to observe justice and show kindness to others (Donner 19). However, despite the rational intellect demonstrated by humankind, at certain times, it rejects doing what is good and end up doing what does not please God. Human beings are deluded by evil desires, and thus end up acting against God’s will.
God used divine prophets to intervene and remind humanity about his covenants. No doubt the role of identifying good and evil deeds is upon human beings to learn by themselves. In the early times and even in the contemporary society, people ignored and forgot the will of God. When humankind started disobeying, God used His prophets to teach and remind humanity of the right path to righteousness. The pressure of hunger and desire subdues the moral deeds and delegates the guidance of the body to the feelings and emotions. However, through the prophets, God teaches humanity of His will and rewards those abide by His teachings while the wicked are destroyed.
Due to the emergence of new interpretations of prophethood rising from divergent views within Islam, the Muslim society believed that prophethood entailed championing true change and anything less than that was unacceptable. Muslims believed that a mere human being was incapable of conveying God’s message and convince them to follow. Muslims understood that God was aware of the fragile and forgetful nature of human intellect so it was necessary for him to anoint a leader to guide people through the right way. The use of miracles by the prophets was a sign to express God’s power and control over nature in a bid to convince people to believe His divinely chosen prophets (Fatah 71). Prophethood was deemed necessary since its impact surpassed the usual intellect and normal reasoning. Therefore, the truth about God could only be known through revelation entrusted with the prophets.
The evolution of Prophethood
The Islamic religion traces the rise of prophethood back to the time of creation when God made first agreement with humanity. In this covenant, God issued definite guidelines about abiding by His true teachings. At the beginning, humanity promised to follow God’s ways obediently and stay true to His path. Nevertheless, humankind was deceived by the devil and it went astray at a particular point in prophetic history. From this time, human beings needed divine intervention to make Godly decisions. God intervened by sending messengers [prophets] to remind humanity of the agreement they had made in the beginning.
The prophecy promised rewards to those who abided by God’s teachings, while those who mocked and disobeyed the same would be punished. In the Islamic view, Adam was considered as the first prophet messenger, whom God used to convey this divine knowledge. Muhammad later concluded this mission, hence the notion of “seal of prophets” developed within the Islamic traditions to embrace the finality of Muhammad’s teachings and affirm his exclusive legitimacy among other prophets (Charfi 32).
The activities that traversed between misguided people and the prophetic messengers representing God’s will formed the impetus for the Islamic prophetic history from the period of Adam to Muhammad. The prophetic messengers conveyed God’s message, translated His commandments to the people, and struggled through confrontations to ensure that they achieved this divine mission.
These confrontations between obedience and evil were destined in Gods mission to end with rewarding humankind for good deeds. In the Islamic traditions, five prophet messengers were singled out as God-inspired, and thus their prophecy brought forth fundamental events in the human history. The “five divine prophets included Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad who came last” (Donner 83).
These five prophets demonstrated common characteristics and were used by God in similar manner only that they existed in different times. The Islamic tradition held strong belief that these prophets had distinct attributes that made them infallible and different from other prophets described in other religions. Islam shared the belief that God had sent the prophets to spread His doctrines to all humanity regardless of traditions.
To the Islamic traditions, this move was unique since God entrusted these five prophets to propagate His divine word to all human beings. Second, these prophets were sent at times when mankind were acting against God’s will. Humankind needed to be reminded of the covenant at crucial moments when people were misled by evil desires. The prophets were vested with God’s power to overcome challenges and do miracles in line with what the societies believed as supernatural powers. The last attribute was the demonstration of great humility and perseverance, which no mere individuals could exhibit. Therefore, the divine book of the Qur’an presents these five prophets as God chosen.
The turning point in the prophetic history
The prophetic mission is believed to have started its manifestation in the times of Noah when God used him to warn human beings of their evil undertakings. The Islamic perception of the narrative of Noah is transcribed in the Islamic teachings of Qur’an. The story of Noah symbolized the second beginning of humanity, after the first human race represented in the story of Adam had disobeyed God whom destroyed them with the floods (Sardar 81).
Noah struggled against the misguided people who compelled God to bestow his wrath to those that had chosen to disobey. God’s wrath came in the form of floods, thus destroying the immoral people who declined Noah’s appeal and only saved those who obeyed. This aspect was a clear demonstration of the prophecy given in the beginning about punishing those who disobeyed and rewarding the righteous. The Qur’an provides the Noah narrative and shows how human beings had blatantly decided to disobey God. People had turned immoral and wicked, God intervened by sending Noah to the people, but humanity ignored this mission.
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Noah endured challenges in his attempt to lead the people through the righteous way and warned people of God’s wrath. God commanded Noah to build the Ark since he was about to use floods to destroy those who disobeyed. The floods destroyed the wicked and the ark saved the righteous, thus exemplifying God’s will through prophecy. The second beginning and saved lives were the powerful acts of Noah. The story of Noah as captured in the Qur’an serves as a guiding lesson for Muhammad and the Muslims. Just like Noah delivered a new beginning for mankind, Muhammad’s mission to Islam offers a new dawn.
Abraham, who is also referred to as Ibrahim in the Islamic society, is regarded as the father of true religion, which is Islam. This conviction was central in developing the Islamic historical identity. The Qur’an provides numerous references to affirm this assertion. The Qur’an also presents various themes that explain the prophetic narrative of Abraham; for instance, the migration of Abraham, his sacrifice to God, and his true following for God’s teachings. Muslims learn from the Qur’anic teachings about Abraham.
They learn how they should trust and obey God even at difficult times just as Abraham demonstrated particularly when he was about to sacrifice his son. The Islamic teachings depict Abraham as the preliminary being upon which other Muslims originated. In a bid to manifest this connectedness, Muslims relate the many similarities that Muhammad shared with Abraham. Abraham grew up in a very troubled background and sought to follow God’s will. When Abraham identified the true way of God, then God bestowed him with the prophetic mission. The Islamic traditions learnt from the pagan society that existed in times of Abraham to justify the prophetic mission bestowed on him.
While conveying God’s message to the sinful society, Abraham confronted Nimrod, who was the leader in Babylon. Agitated by Abraham’s mission, Nimrod commanded that Abraham be destroyed in a furnace, but God protected him. This move signified the intervening power that God used to protect and reward those who obeyed Him.
Muslims believe that the emphasis on Qur’an about affinities between Muhammad and Abraham symbolizes that Muslims are the real inheritors of the Abrahamic mission, but not other religions such as Christianity, Judaism, or Hindu (Milton-Edwards 16). Identifying Abraham with Muhammad was very crucial in the making of the Islamic religious liberty and identity. Muhammad came later to restore Abraham’s prophetic mission and convey God’s message to all humankind.
Qur’an teachings indicate that Moses was the father of Judaism and Jews were the chosen people, but it goes further to show that the Jews rejected God’s doctrines, which were conveyed through Moses. By failing to follow the Godly path, Jews fell from His favor and Muslims were awarded for their obedience to the divine teachings restored by Muhammad, and thus they became the newly chosen generation. From the Islamic perception, the story of Moses presented many miracles and teachings to appease the Jews to follow the Godly path, but they rejected it. To Islam, Jews were unthankful to God’s abundant grace, which was showed to them through Moses.
Despite God choosing the Israelites as His chosen people, protecting them, and moving them from Egypt, they went ahead and worshiped a golden calf. God punished them by letting them stay in the wilderness for forty years before entering the Promised Land. The Qur’an accounts for this story of Moses in a bid to demonstrate that Muslims are worth of God’s blessings and they are the real chosen people. Following the Moses story, Muslims claim that their religious identity became worthier of Moses’ mission and they represent what God wanted to achieve through Moses (Auer 55).
The teachings of the Qur’an affirm that Jesus foretold the coming of Muhammad, and thus Jesus would come back to lead the Islamic religion. The historical narrative of Jesus portrays how the people of Israel denied him as the messenger of God. Qur’an recognizes Jesus as the father of Christianity, but just as Jews rejected Moses teachings, Christians ignored Jesus. This aspect makes Islam the only religion, which was willing to uphold God’s message. In the Islamic teachings, Jesus is presented as a humble prophet whom despite being angered by the Christians stayed focused to convey God’s will. To Islam, this aspect contrasts the characters of Muslims who were ready to hear and abide by the good message.
As depicted in Qur’an, Muhammad’s prophecy came last and it is believed that God started using him when he was 40 years old. Muhammad’s prophetic mission is agreed to have occurred during the holy month of Ramadhan. The revelation about Muhammad’s prophethood came to him while he was asleep in the cave at Hira. This revelation descended to him and later developed a strong belief of what he had witnessed. To Muslims, this perfect awareness of Muhammad’s revelation came from the Almighty Lord, thus implying that Muslims were acceptable in the eyes of God (Donner 71). Before his mission, God manifested himself to Muhammad by revealing various truths; for example, he had thought about his society going astray. Realizing Muhammad and the critical functions that he executed in the formation and progression of the Islamic faith plays a critical part in appreciating this religion in the modern times.
The Qur’an reveals that Muhammad “reacted the same way as the Hebrew prophets reacted upon their calling by God” (Donner 91). He was frightened and hesitant to respond since he feared other people would dismiss his claims as inspired by the divine spirits. Just like most of the prophets before him, God prepared him to spread His message. Muhammad’s first years of preaching were challenging and people in Mecca rejected his message.
Muhammad rejected polytheism in Mecca, which undermined the religious traditions of the people. God revealed to him that the spiritual lives of the people had been compromised by the idols that they worshiped. Muhammad was also aware that the Christians and the Jews had long sought to defy Gods way, and thus they had nothing to offer to save his society from false beliefs. Through dreams and visions, Muhammad’s attained the knowledge of the truth he was seeking. Following this affirmation, Muhammad was convinced that Muslims needed a savior.
Based on previous prophetic figures that came before Muhammad, Muslims were convinced that God never revealed His divine mission to imperfect or fallible servants, but he selected the one whom he nurtured through his life. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad was purified by God and was worth of representing God’s message. The Islamic tradition emphasized that for any leader to qualify as a prophet, he needed to show extra ordinary endurance to challenges and ability to manifest the power of God through miracles (Auer 27). Muslims were convinced that Muhammad alone possessed these attributes from the beginning of his mission to the end. To Muslims, it was mandatory for the prophet to be infallible because if he committed mistakes, his followers would not follow his teachings and the essence of his mission would thus become unnecessary. According to Islam, Muhammad’s insistence on a single universal religion signified that he was truly God’s prophet.
For a long time, the Islamic community believed in prophetic revelation about God through His prophets. Muslims, despite their various differences with regard to the historic evolution of the religion, enjoy the unity of faith in one God, the doctrines of Qur’an, and the message of Muhammad. Muslims believed in the interpretations and applications of Islam that Mohammad taught largely because his prophetic revelation resembled that of earlier prophets coupled with going through similar challenges and overcoming all barriers through God’s intercession. Muhammad came out as a great religious prophet and restorer of the Islamic religion.
His outstanding character and endurance inspired his followers to enhance their commitment to doing the right things. His phenomenal success in convincing followers and turning masses to worship a common God helped in constructing the Islamic faith and belief in Allah. Early Muslims were very delighted by his teachings and recounted what he taught through writing. During his life and later throughout the development of the Islamic faith, Muhammad has served as the only perfect model for the Muslim belief by showing the way that all believers should follow. He remains to be exalted since his deeds and words reveal God’s way. Through Muhammad’s prophethood, his practices were adopted as a source of Islamic law as well as other Islamic literature.
In the contemporary society, Muslims refer to Muhammad’s teachings for Guidance in all areas of human life, for instance, how to coexist with others, how to worship in truth, and what to drink and eat. In the Islamic traditions, ideals and practices are handed down through generations tracing back to the teachings of Muhammad. As the representative of the true way of God, Muhammad modified the old ways, eliminated, and introduced new laws that are in line with God’s will. Muhammad became the main example upon which Muslims adopted their behavior. Today, when Muslims pray several times in a day, they seek to worship exactly how Prophet Muhammad did. Muslims show a strong belief in following Muhammad’s traditions through dressing, marriage, warfare, and love. However, this demonstrates the significant role prophecy served to construct the Islamic traditions and identity.
Muslims believe that the doctrine of prophethood is a divine calling and a duty from God. They acknowledge that God selected prophets from His righteous servants and sent them to teach mankind of goodness and happiness. Through the various narratives of the five prophets reckoned as representatives of God’s message, Islam acquired a unique perspective that offered a religious differentiation of Islam from other religions. This notion developed on the belief that divine teachings that God entrusted upon prophet messengers identified Muslims as the chosen people. The Islamic historic identity was anchored on the belief that Muhammad was the last prophet. According to Islam, Muhammad’s distinct status among other prophets, which are mentioned in other religions, makes him the most divine messenger of God’s message.
Following his authentic nature, Islam is perceived as superior to other religions and the Muslim community forms the newly chosen generation. Moses was seen as the father and representative of God’s message to the Jews while Jesus was sent to restore Christians from their evil ways. On the other hand, Abraham was believed to be the founding father of the Islamic religion. However, Muhammad is seen as the true heir and the last to restore the Abrahamic mission. This formulation of prophethood emphasized the Islamic historical identity, legitimacy, and unique religious foundation.
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