Prophets in Islam
The Honour of the Prophets
Edited by Adeel Abu Khaled
Over the course of the last century, as a result of the global spread by several Da'wa carriers of what is commonly referred to as the Islamic Awakening, many forgotten concepts began to emerge. Some of these concepts were very important and had a positive impact on society, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, including:
- The forgotten history of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived alongside one another in medieval Andalusia, Sicily, and under the Ottoman government.
- The glorious contribution of Muslim thinkers to human academic progress, including the likes of Ibn Sina (d 1037 AD), Abu Rayhan (d 1048 AD), Ibn Rushd (d 1198 AD), Abu Nasr (d 951 AD), Ibn Hayyan (d 815 AD), and others.
Unfortunately, many of the concepts which were brought by the Da'wa carriers of this period caused severe harm to Islam's institutions and Muslims. It is apparent that Muslims and important Islamic institutions around the world are still suffering today from the spread of these destructive ideas, including:
- Doubting the perfect attributes of God. This includes the attribution of negative character traits to God, such as oppression, deception, and dishonesty.
- Questioning the nobility of the Prophets and causing harm to their reputation. This includes referring to the prophets in a disrespectful and immoral manner, including their sexual performance and presenting them as being the subject of sihr (black magic).
- Easily shedding the blood of the people, regardless of their faith. Sometimes a single bizarre comment from a person is sufficient to assign them the death penalty.
There are additional categories of concepts that have resulted in adverse effects to several Islamic societies in various ways, including financial, social, academic, and spiritual.
I have spent over 30 years in various fields of Islamic academia and have first-hand experience of the damage that has been done across numerous disciplines. There is no excuse for scholars who are aware of these issues to remain silent and restrained while these ideas and beliefs continue to ruin families, communities, nations, and other faiths and ideological communities that exist alongside the Islamic world.
The gravest impact was caused by the first two concepts; respect for God and his prophets. The laymen may not fully grasp exactly what is being elucidated here, but consider the following analogy:
Imagine a publicly-traded company in which the President and Vice Presidents are insulted, ridiculed, and publicly humiliated. What would happen to the value of the company's stock on the exchange? Not only will shares be unattractive to potential investors, but the value of the stock for existing shareholders would likely plummet!
For any venture to succeed there has to be a constitution and laws that are implemented and adhered to, which are developed and implemented by very wise, upright, and experienced people. Any failure in properly observing the laws will have a deleterious impact on the progress and success of the company's operations.
The vast majority of humans have great difficulty with resisting the temptations and urges of their nafs (animalistic side), meaning that they are driven mostly by their senses and hedonistic desires. Constitution and laws are not associated with the five senses, but with the higher aspects of the human being, including the intellect and ruh (soul/spirit). For this reason, societies require physical policing, including a police force, courts, and prisons. If the majority of the people across the societies had control over their nafs and expressed the potential of their humanistic natures, rather than their animalistic natures, then the written law wouldn't need to be enforced through such institutions. However, because this isn't the case, human societies require the presence of the physical manifestation of law and justice.
The humiliation of the company CEO and his Vice Presidents, who represent the physical manifestation of the law in the organization, will be interpreted as the degradation and disgrace of the law itself. When this occurs, it results in the "law of the jungle", where the strongest eat the weakest: a plummeting stock price, company restructuring, mass layoffs, and even hostile take-overs. Under these conditions, the honour of the naïve and weak is cheaper than a grain of sand.
Consider another analogy; a country where the citizenry despise and, on a daily basis, insult their leaders and heads of state (Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, etc.). You will find that these countries are chaotic and lawless, and that the citizens are disconnected from one another. Families are broken, orphans are left unattended to, minorities are oppressed, and there is no progress in any of the major fields, including the social sciences, medicine, engineering, and industry. Additionally, these nations may also be under threat from external forces and interests.
In contrast to that, in countries where the vast majority of the citizenry love and respect their Head of State and leaders, you find peace and tranquillity. What you will discover are strong societies with caring families, a plethora of social workers, many of whom are working voluntarily, and in pluralistic societies, equality under the law for minorities. The social sciences, medicine, engineering, and industry are full of innovation and are making breakthroughs that are having a direct benefit to people's lives.
This is one of the principles that God has instituted in the universe and is why it is important to respect the physical manifestation of the law. The law has to be above everyone, even the rich and powerful.
The above analogies will help the reader understand why it is important to keep God and his prophets on a very high station. Unfortunately, the Islamic Awakening of the last century brought some very bizarre and absurd concepts to the forefront, and these concepts have had a grave impact on the two holy foundations of Faith, which are:
· Doubting the perfect attributes of God through the attribution of some form of defect (i.e. oppression and dishonesty).
· Questioning the nobility of the Prophets and causing harm to their reputation by using the station of prophethood in a humiliating context.
Every major error has grave consequences, and that is the law of nature. While humans are prone to error, nature never is and doesn't make mistakes.
A lot of religious, academic, social, and even economic chaos that exists today is a consequence of this grave error committed by Muslims in the last century with regard to the above two issues. Some of these harmful outcomes include, but are not limited to:
- Unending bloodshed.
- Religious issues that were considered very serious for most of Islam's history being ridiculed by so-called religious people, causing fitnah (conflict and friction) between Muslims.
- Non-qualified so-called Islamic scholars twisting and manipulating the central and core teachings of Islam, and ridiculing and denigrating Muslims that try to uphold them.
- Noble and genuine believers being humiliated and oppressed by self-proclaimed religious scholars.
- Endless online debates of low character by masses of Muslims who are unqualified to discuss the issues in question.
- Women being denied access to the mosques and reduced to second-class citizens.
While the first of the above mentioned issues of the Islamic Awakening (doubting the perfect attributes of God) is the most insidious, the focus of this article is on the second issue (questioning the nobility of the Prophets). The first problem requires more wisdom and conscience, as it has become deeply rooted in some of the major theological schools of contemporary Islam.
Specifically, this article will focus on some of the grave misconceptions related to the nobility and station of the Prophets that have been raised and put forward by some of the contemporary Islamic schools of thought. Constructive criticism to this article is not only welcome, but encouraged; however, I ask that the criticism be brought forward by academics that are capable of properly dissecting and discussing the issues. I also ask that when moving forward into any dialogue over these issues, that we observe proper rules of adab (Islamic etiquette). My intention is not to target or to disrespect any individuals or contemporary Islamic schools of thought; rather, my hope is to make inroads towards solving the problems which have been caused by these false concepts that were brought by some of the Da'wa Carriers of the last couple centuries. We are all human, and, as is often the case, we are prone to error. It is important for the health and wellbeing of our communities that we make an effort to own up to and correct our mistakes.
I hope readers enjoy this article as you did the previous ones.
For one reason or another, certain groups and individuals of contemporary Muslims take the station of prophethood very easily. For example, if you try to point out some of their errors and give them corrective advice to fix their behaviour, it is not uncommon to receive the following response: ''Well, even prophets used to commit errors and were guilty of sins!''. While we may understand that our fellow brothers and sisters are simply trying to humanize God's prophets, it is by no means acceptable behaviour. The messengers of God should be respected and loved by Muslims and our errors should never be justified by the prophets. In contrast, it is not uncommon for Muslims to compare their good character traits and actions with pop culture personalities such as Kim Kardashian, Mo Salah, or performers on The Voice.
Some may wonder what have the scholars have said about this issue. Some may also even speculate that this widespread and unacceptable thinking and behaviour is the result of a misconception or an incorrect opinion of some contemporary thinkers or schools.
In fact, this issue is very well known and contains some very weak opinions. In Islamic scholarship, the issue is referred to as Protection of the Prophets from sin. I want to present the various opinions of the main Islamic schools of thought, including the school which I follow, without delving too deep into it. I will simply discuss the issue on the level that laymen can correct their understanding. Eventually, I will release a more thorough and scholarly analysis of this issue to a smaller group of academics.
In short, there is disagreement among the schools of thought concerning this issue. Below is an analysis of where the schools differ.
Before jumping into the analysis of the issues within the major schools, it is important to clarify some terminology:
- The term ''textually'' refers to this issue being established based on a sacred text (Quran or Sunnah).
- The term ''rationally'' refers to the issue being established by rational reasoning.
For example, the existence of Prophet Noah is a textual issue but not rational, whereas the issue of the existence of the Creator is rational.
Hanbali/Athari school of thought.
According to the Hanbali/Athari School, Prophets can rationally commit major and minor sins before they attain the station of prophethood (Amidi, V 4, P 143). However, after they attain prophethood they are protected from lying, and major sins. They are protected from the major sin only textually, but it is possible rationally according to Hanbali School. This only relates to deliberate, major sins. The non-deliberate major sin is possible for them to commit (ibid). They are also protected from the minor sins which may hurt their reputation, such as stealing (ibid).
A few examples of their proofs include, but are not limited to:
- It is possible that a prophet can commit kufr by mistake, not only rationally but also textually, which they claim is confirmed by both Quran and authentic Sunnah with regards to Prophet Muhammad PBUH (ibid P 147). They believe that the Prophet PBUH making a kufri statement by mistake is established by both of Quran and Sunnah. According to them, God has confirmed that the Prophet PBUH has pronounced the Satanic verses.
- They confirmed the textual possibility of the prophets lying by mistake. However, they give textual proof for this claim, which, according to the context of their statement was a deliberate lie and not a mistake. Specifically, they mentioned that Prophet Ibrahim PBUH lied when he said he was ill when he was not, and claimed that ''the biggest idol has killed the minor ones'' (ibid P 161 and 164 and 167). They essentially claim that Prophet Ibrahim lied (It is unclear if, according to them, it was by mistake or deliberate) when he said that he did not destroy the idols but rather it was the biggest idol that was the culprit.
- They also used the stories of Prophet Noah PBUH as proof for the prophets lying. According to this claim, Prophet Noah lied by mistake when he said that one of the people destroyed by the flood was his son.
They also cite numerous textual proofs to back up their position regarding the possibility of prophets committing minor sins:
- They cite the story of Prophet Yusuf and quote the opinion of Ibn Abbas and Mujahid, who claim that the wife of Aziz and Prophet Yusuf took off their clothes and lay down together in an immoral fashion. (ibid P 177).
- They claim that Prophet Dawud PBUH once saw and stared at the naked wife of one of his solders taking a shower and fancied her, and so Dawud intentionally sent her husband to his death in battle so that he PBUH could take her as his wife (Maqdisi, P 17).
The main foundation of the Hanbali/Athari school is the narrations, and they rely heavily on the authentic hadith, regardless of the value of the content.
Ash'ari school of thought
Abu Bakr Baqillani stated that it is rationally possible for the prophets to commit sins, both minor and major, before they attain the station of prophethood (Taftazani; V 5, P 50, Amidi; V 4, P 142). Ash'aris claim that the prophets are textually protected from sins that could negatively impact their reputation, but not rationally (Juwaini P 280). However, they ultimately claim that prophets can commit minor sins (ibid). This is the official Ash'ari position even though some of the Ash'ari scholars differ in their view.
Unfortunately, a lot of Ash'ari scholars have been negatively influenced and impacted by the wave of the Islamic Awakening that is characterized by Athari movements, and have subjected themselves to making negative comments about the prophets, such as:
- Claiming that prophet Sulaiman PBUH was informed that the legs of the Queen of Shiba are hairy and resemble the legs of a donkey; therefore, he constructed a palace with glass flooring so that he could observe her naked legs (Baghawi, V 6, P 167, Qurtubi, V 16, P 175).
The absurdity of this story does not even merit academic refutation, because Prophets are high above building an entire palace from glass in order to see the naked shins of a Queen. Not only that, but prophets do not even think of testing the amount of hair which women have on their legs. Whoever falsified this story should be granted a prize for reaching the most extreme state of Schizophrenia. Those that repeat such foolish tales should learn how to use their brains.
Maturidi school of thought.
According to the Maturidi School, the Prophets are free from major and minor sins; however, they may exhibit what is referred to as 'Zalal, or small error (Bazdawi P 172).
Maturidi scholars have clarified the textual evidence, which implies that some of the prophets have committed sin. Two verses that are commonly cited and widely used by contemporary Muslims to support the notion that the prophets are involved in sin are the first and second verses of Surah Fath (48:1-2), in which God states:
Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest, that Allah may forgive for you what preceded of your sin and what will follow and complete His favour upon you and guide you to a straight path
These verses are frequently used to demonstrate that Prophet Muhammad PBUH committed sins before and after the Conquest of Mecca. There is a slight disagreement with regard to what God is referring to when he said; ''before and after''. There are two main opinions on the issue;
- Before and after the Conquest of Mecca.
- Before and after prophethood according to Ash'ari and Hanbali Schools. The official Maturidi School does not involve itself in this point because according to Maturidis, Muhammad PBUH was granted the prophethood before his physical birth in contrast to Ash'aris and Hanbalis who believe that he became a prophet at the age of forty. Some Maturidi scholars support this position according to their individual opinions.
However, Maturidi scholars have a different interpretation. In ''Tafseer Maturidi'' it states that this verse [48:1-2] has two possible interpretations:
- It is referring to his [Prophet Muhammad's] sin, and it indicates that it is forgiven. Furthermore, it is not permissible for us to speculate in regard to his sin or error. This is because contemplating and conjecturing about this issue diminishes the station of prophethood in general and devalues the honour of the Prophet PBUH in particular. Continued speculation in this direction has the potential of persuading someone into disbelief. Furthermore, the Prophet's PBUH sin and the sin of the rest of the prophets are not comparable to ours, because what can be considered as a sin for the prophets can be on the level of Mubah [lawful] for us. God knows best.
- Scholars also interpret from these verses that God has protected Prophet Muhammad PBUH from committing sin, which is a valid linguistic point.
- It is referring to the sin of his nation, which means that God forgives the sins of his nation by his Shafa'ah [Interference]. It is similar to the narration which states that ''Muadhin will be forgiven up to the point where his voice reaches'', which means that he will be doing Shafa'ah to anyone who lives within the place where his voice reaches [V 4, P 518].
The above interpretations clearly demonstrate how highly Maturidis treat the station of prophethood. Their position is a clear warning to Muslims about the danger of falling into disbelief with further speculation into the topic.
Another opinion on the same verses [48:1-2] from Maturidi scholar Abu Saud RA is that:
''Your previous and latest sins is referring to ''Khilaf Awla'' (the things you have done which were better not to do). It is referred to as sin because of the high station of the Prophet PBUH''. (V8, P 104)
Unfortunately, we have a lot of Maturidi scholars in the later generations who are influenced by Athari ideas, which has resulted in the attribution of undesirable and harmful qualities to the prophets, specifically due to the overreliance on the collections of hadeeth.
The intention of this article is not to provide an exhaustive analysis of the opinions and evidence of the various Islamic schools of thought on this issue, nor is it to offend any individuals or groups. However, the fact of the matter is that this issue has caused a lot of disorder and confusion among Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. Nevertheless, this article confirms my position that the Maturidi approach towards the prophets is the most consistent with Quran. It should be clearly understood that discussing and speculating about the prophets in any way that puts their honour into question, and lowers the station of prophethood, has and will continue to reap detrimental and destructive consequences for Muslims and Muslim societies. Unfortunately, it is the so-called Muslim scholars of the past and present that are leading the charge to speculate on a number of miserable issues with regards to the prophets, including sexual performance and impotence, the attribution of major/minor sins, their very intimate physical descriptions, etc.
God has strongly cautioned us about this issue:
- And among them are those who abuse the Prophet and say, "He is an ear." Say, "[It is] an ear of goodness for you that believes in Allah and believes the believers and [is] a mercy to those who believe among you." And those who abuse the Messenger of Allah - for them is a painful punishment. 9;61
- And [mention, O Muhammad], when Moses said to his people, "O my people, why do you harm me while you certainly know that I am the messenger of Allah to you?" And when they deviated, Allah caused their hearts to deviate. And Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people. 61;5
- O you who have believed, be not like those who abused Moses; then Allah cleared him of what they said. And he, in the sight of Allah, was distinguished. 33;69
The above verses are clear and explicit: hurting and abusing the prophets is not something that God takes lightly. God has warned the people who hurt and humiliate the prophets that they will be on the receiving end of a painful punishment. I believe that this indirectly proves the Maturidi position that the people who disparage and disrespect the prophets may end up in disbelief. There is no doubt that discussing and speculating about the prophets in this way, including attributing to them lies, deception, and sexual immorality is harming and humiliating them. Unfortunately, in the last few years we have witnessed some of the so-called Muslim scholars reduce themselves to making fun of the Glorious Prophets, including Muhammad, Ibrahim, Isa, and Musa PBUT. It is a very miserable reality, and I am afraid that God will not give these scholars free reign and a free pass for this degenerative behaviour. The prophets were sent by God and he takes care of the people who are performing the mission ordered by Him!
The duty of the genuine believers towards their prophets is not to speculate on their ''sins'', or sexual and mental impotence. Instead, our duty is to support them by helping to spread their message, keep them in a high regard, inform the people of their glorious characters, and to protect their honour.
Indeed, We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner. That you [people] may believe in Allah and His Messenger and support him and respect the Prophet and exalt Allah morning and afternoon. 48;8,9
In this verse God has clarified what genuine believers should uphold towards the prophets. With regards to this verse I have my own personal understanding, even though it opposes the opinions of a lot of glorious scholars including the top Maturidi scholars. God has mentioned three duties in this verse: supporting, respecting, and exalting. Most of the scholars commented that the first two duties (supporting and respecting) are with respect to the Prophet PBUH and the third is with respect to God.
However, it is my opinion, theologically, that even the third duty can be with respect to the Prophet PBUH, and this tafseer is more grammatically and linguistically sound. On the grammatical point, it is difficult to accept the opinion of the majority of the scholars of referring the first two to the prophet and the third to God. That is why some scholars such as Fakhr Razi, Mawardi, and Alusi preferred that all is to God. I believe we can use the word ''Tusabbihuhu'' in its linguistic meaning, which connotes ''believing someone free from evil attributes and conditions''. However, if we understand it according to the meaning of ''Praying'' then I defer to and support the position of the above three scholars that all of these duties should refer to God only!
Nonetheless, the duty of the genuine believers toward the prophets is to support them, honour them, and reject all of the harmful and miserable things that are attributed to them.
In the last century, some of the Da'wa carriers of the era of the Islamic Awakening have brought ideas and concepts that have diminished the station of prophethood, and it was a major error for which we are still paying a heavy price, especially throughout the last several decades. I am also aware that a very small number of genuine scholars have taken responsibility for the grievous consequence of this error and have tried to correct it. Unfortunately, they were and are very small in number and find themselves in circumstances in which they are standing alone against masses of followers of these incorrect ideas. I hope that the academics of our present age will take it upon themselves to help in reversing the negative effects of these ideas by educating Muslims of their duties towards the prophets, and warning the believers of the severe consequences that come with speculating into these ideas and concepts. By now, everyone should understand and grasp the magnitude of these faults. I ask God to send us a person who will inspire us to wake up from our collective coma.
I want to thank you for believing that your time is worthy of reading my article. That means a lot to me.
I welcome any academic comment.
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