Prophethood (and Messengership)

To adequately examine the ideas conveyed in this verse, we must first look at the idea of prophethood (and messengership). Prophets of God were not merely holy persons who received revelation from God. Rather, the real object of a prophet of God was to give his followers the guidance they need to identify, understand and emulate the divine characteristics of God— so that they may evolve our souls to be closer to God. In the story of Adam, we are given a parable of the human condition:

And He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels; He said: Tell Me the names of those if you are right (2:31)

In this verse, Adam stands for humanity and the teaching of the names is humankind’s scientific mind. A person can name, categorize, and study their environment so that they acquire a deep understanding of it and can even control and manipulate it to suit their comfort. With this ability to conquer the forces of nature, comes a God-like arrogance, a hubris that makes a person weak— indeed that can make one drunk on one’s abilities and a slave to the comforts and power we think we can control. This arrogance is what causes human beings to “fall from grace,” or to fail to recognize that it is through the grace of God and closeness to Him that a person can reign over their environment, and not through their own greatness. The guidance brought by a Prophet to his people is the way in which a person can use the abilities they are given to cultivate the bond with the Divine through the service of humanity and thus escape this material bondage to comforts. The guidance allows us to strengthen our spiritual selves so that our life is spent gaining spiritual stature rather than material dominance. The guidance that a prophet brings is in two forms:

  1. the letter of the law – that is the revelation of God Almighty through the angel Gabriel, and 
  2. the example of the life of a prophet in implementing this revelation.

Prior to the prophet Muhammad the Quran tells us that messengers were sent to a particular nation for a particular time. Their message was fine tuned for the needs of their people at that time. For example, verse 7:59 says Noah was sent to “his people,” as were Hud, Salih and Shuaib. The objective of Moses was to “bring forth thy people from darkness to light.” Jesus is spoken of as a “messenger to the children of Israel.” Each one was a specific national prophet at a time when geography restricted the ability to travel and spread the message, and effective communication limited the ability to preserve and distribute the message en masse. It is also possible that the development of the human mind was not such that it could comprehend the message in its ambitious aim to unify humanity. Civilizations took centuries to arrive at the idea that the things we use to divide us, race, nation, wealth, tribe, are social con-structs that vanish in the spiritual world. We all have equal opportunity to achieve greatness: As Jesus said, 

“There is much I could tell you but the burden would be too great for you now … However, when he comes who is the spirit of Truth (Prophet Muhammad), he will guide unto all truth.”

Unlike the claims of the previous prophets, the Quran makes no distinction between the people for whom it was sent. Repeatedly the Quran stresses that this is “a reminder for all nations,” that the Prophet is “a warner to all mankind,” “the messenger of God to you all,” and so forth.

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