As trees are always, and quite reasonably so, judged by their fruit, it is imperative that each and every Muslim conduct themselves in a way that discloses the noble character of our savior, the Prophet Muhammad.
Muhammad: Sinner or Savior
By Fazeel S. Khan
The Light and Islamic Review Jan-Mar 04
For Muslims, upon hearing the name “Muhammad” the emotions of admiration, praise, gratitude and allegiance are instinctively generated. Contrary to this, the name “Muhammad” creates in the western mind images of war and oppression, sexual exploitation of women, and above all, the inspiration for terrorism. This drastically diverse impulse is primarily the result of a concerted campaign to promulgate the view that the Prophet Muhammad was, God forbid, a sinful man who did not possess the qualities required of a prophet. The validity of this opinion, unfortunately, is sustained by propaganda linking un-Islamic acts by some who claim to be Muslims to the character of the Prophet Muhammad. A comparative analysis of the fictitious Muhammad being instilled in the psyche of the west, with, the factual Muhammad evidenced by history can aptly be characterized as contrasting a sinner with a savior. The recipients of this recent informational-crusade, launched by the resurrected Christian Evangelical Movement in America, are sadly provided with a confusingly unsound theory to accept; that being, that a man who was a sinner, as Prophet Muhammad is portrayed to have been, was able to produce the greatest spiritual reformation the world has ever known, as is evidenced by history. Logic and reasoning alone demand discontent for such a supposition. Accepting the status of the Holy Prophet Muhammad as a “savior” is the only means in reconciling the acceptance of this man’s historical existence with the precedent setting transformation brought about through him in the Arabian Peninsula 1400 years ago and which continues to induce spirituality into one in every five persons on earth today. This true status of the Holy Prophet is historically sound and is expounded in various intricate ways in the Holy Quran.
The distinctiveness of one prophet, that is Muhammad
As Muslims, we firmly believe that not only Prophet Muhammad, but all prophets of God to have been sinless, righteous, noble men, without exception, raised for the purpose of furthering spiritual advancement of man. We respect and honor them all on this basis equally. However, where a distinction can be made between the prophets is in the scope and success of their respective missions. This is hinted at in the Holy Quran in the following words: “and some of them (i.e. messengers of God) He exalted by (many) degrees of rank” (2:253). The possessor of this exalted degree of rank is meant the Holy Prophet Muhammad. His mission was not for a specific people under particular conditions nor was he sent for a certain, limited period in history. As the Quran testifies: “and We have not sent thee but as a mercy to all nations” (21:107). The reference to “all nations” signifies the expansiveness of the mission, neither being confined by space nor time.
The transformation affected by the Holy Prophet was the greatest spiritual conquest in the history of mankind, as admitted by independent sources. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica concludes: “Of all the religious personalities of the world, Muhammad was the most successful”. An often over-looked fact by western critics when analyzing the life of the Prophet Muhammad is that he ended his mission triumphantly. The Prophet Muhammad lived to see the results of his reformative undertaking, witnessing his very opponents and persecutors transform their hatred and vengeance for him into love and admiration. No other reformer can be named whose advent was at a time of such great need, whose departing was after the victorious fulfillment of that need, and whose opponents eventually bore witness to their own disobedience and misconduct. We see in the example of Prophet Moses that he was sent to rescue his people from the tyranny of Pharaoh and guide them on the straight path. This in itself is proof that he was not concerned with the spiritual corruption of the world as a whole. Moreover, although Prophet Moses was a savior to his people in that Pharaoh was eventually destroyed, he was unable to rescue them from the destructive effects of polytheism and they continued being disobedient to him embellishing in impurity till Prophet Moses died while they remained in that condition. As for Prophet Jesus, it is verified in the Gospels that he was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Gentiles were not his concern. He accumulated a handful of disciples and even among them were those who betrayed him for minimal worldly gain.
How distinctive is the conclusion of the Holy Prophet’s mission who departed from the world at a time when hundreds of thousands of people had abandoned paganism and idol worship for the belief in the Unity of God and the straight path all under his lead. Our critics must sincerely be asked: could this possibly have been the accomplishment of a sinner? Does common sense not dictate that this could only be the achievement of a savior?
Prophet Muhammad as the embodiment of a perfect submitter to the Divine
The obvious question resulting from these facts is: how was it possible for the Holy Prophet to have been so successful and to have been blessed with such Divine support, more so than any other reformer? The answer, in a simple form, is that far from resembling anything sinful (which means being in a state detached from God), the Prophet Muhammad had the closest relationship to God, acquiring all the perfect attributes and being a reflection of the Divine on earth. We are told in the Holy Quran that Prophet Muhammad had declared: “I am the first of those who submit” (6:164). Thus, he was the most subservient to God, acquiring closeness with the Divine on the most intimate level. We are also told in the Quran that the Holy Prophet had prayed: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge” (20:114). Hence, he was also constantly in search of the perfect knowledge of God’s greatness, understanding and attributes. The Quran indicates the vastness of the Prophet’s knowledge by stating: “And Allah has…taught thee what thou knewest not, and Allah’s grace on thee is very great” (4:113). This verse reveals that the Almighty taught the Holy Prophet what man could not have possibly learnt on his own and that by Divine grace he was blessed more than any other. The Prophet Muhammad had exceeded everyone in his knowledge and understanding of the Divine and the Almighty had blessed him in return with a spiritual status unmatchable by any other – and that status comprised of being a manifestation of God’s perfect attributes on earth.
It may be difficult to comprehend how only one person in all of creation is granted this blessing and how only one person’s essence is of such magnitude as to obtain the complete Divine impress and reflect those qualities fully to others. However, if we reflect upon the system God has created in our material universe, we find the whole of creation compiled as if in a straight line; from the smallest insignificant particle at one end, to the largest, most resourceful body, the sun, at the other. So too, in the spiritual realm, do we find at one end defective souls who in their conduct, mentality, and significance resemble lower animal life and at the other, the Prophet Muhammad who resembles the perfect attributes of God and is above all mankind. The Quran in fact eludes to this analogy by referring to the Holy Prophet as a “light-giving sun” (33:46).
Prophet Muhammad’s unmatchable nearness to God
Only the person who may radiate God’s attributes in its full resplendence is worthy of this final and supreme point in creation; one that may be so attached to the Divine that he loses his own identity and become as if God Himself were on earth. In the Quran, we find that there are three grades of nearness to God that man may attain and these are illustrated by three types of associations or relationships. The first type is that of the relationship of “servant and master”, as the Quran states: “those who believe are stronger in (their) love for Allah” (2:165). Thus, the believers, or obedient servants, love Allah above everything else and wish only to serve and please the Almighty. The love progresses to such a degree that one sacrifices all of their own interests for the cause of their Master. The second type of nearness to God resembles the relationship between “father and son”, as the Quran states: “And…laud Allah as you lauded your fathers, rather a more hearty lauding” (2:200). Here, the remembrance of Allah is done more eagerly than that of remembering one’s own father. Not only does a son obey and want to please his father (like a loyal servant to a master), but a son does this while not comprehending the service to be a prescribed duty, and rather performs out of genuine love for him. And just as a son resembles his father in many ways, so too does the believer acquire the qualities and characteristic of God. The third type of nearness resembles one’s very own reflection. Here, one’s entire being is perfectly duplicated and it becomes as if there is no difference between the original and the reproduction. Accordningly, this type of nearness, being a perfect replica, is greater than the two previously mentioned. This degree of nearness can neither be acquired by obedient service nor by being a son. It can only be achieved by one who is placed equally between servitude and Divinity and is so close to both that he loses his very own existence, as if he was a mirror between the two. This mirror obtains the impress of the Divine by way of reflection and conveys it to mankind under the appropriate circumstances.
The Holy Prophet, being named Muhammad meaning the “most praised” due to his manifesting the divinity on earth and Ahmad meaning the “most praising” due to his perfect service and obedience to God, had attained this ultimate degree of closeness to God and became the intermediary through whom all could find the Almighty. It is also for this reason that Prophet Jesus cannot be considered the intercessor for mankind for his life and teachings were deficient of a full range of conditions, emotions and trials. For instance, although Prophet Jesus had taught lessons of “forgiveness”, he was not able to reveal its practical implementation for he was never in a position of authority over his persecutors, which is essential for one to truly develop this faculty. Although reaching the high stage of being a “son of God” in a spiritual sense, he was insufficient in attaining the highest position of being a true reflection of the all-encompassing Divine attributes.
Prophet Muhammad as the ultimate “intercessor” between God and man
The word for “intercession” in Arabic is based on the root word meaning “pair”. Thus, a necessary pre-condition of an intercessor is that he be related to both sides. Accordingly, not only is an intercessor to possess that extreme close connection with God, but he is also to have such an overpowering passion for those on whose behalf he is interceding that he sacrifices his very being for them more so than even a parent would for their own child. The Holy Prophet’s yearning for the reformation of mankind and for their salvation is recorded in the Quran as it states: “Perhaps thou wilt kill thyself with grief, sorrowing after them, if they believe not in this announcement” (18:6). Substantiating the view that the Holy Prophet Muhammad is in fact this perfect intercessor, the Quran provides a beautiful analogy, which states: “One Mighty in Power has taught him, the Lord of Strength. So he (i.e. Muhammad) attained to perfection, And he is in the highest part of the horizon. Then he drew near, drew nearer yet, So he became as a chord between two bows or closer still” (53:5-9). What is meant here is that the Holy Prophet ascended towards God and approached as near to Him as was possible and acquired all the perfect attributes of the Divine then leaned perfectly towards the earthly station and partook fully of the pure essentials of humanness, namely love and sympathy for mankind, and became as it were a chord between two bows. If we try to conceptualize this analogy in material terms, we see wholeness, or completeness, being symbolized by a circle and the Holy Prophet being a chord or a line in the center of the circle, dividing it into two halves or two bows and thus perfectly fulfilling the condition of a true intercessor occupying the central point between the two sides of Divinity and mankind.
Prophet Muhammad as the Manifestation of the Divine on earth
The Holy Quran reveals that the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad, being a reflection of God’s perfect attributes, was as it were a manifestation of God on earth. For instance it is written: “those who swear allegiance to thee (i.e. Prophet Muhammad) do but swear allegiance to Allah” (48:10). The implication being that there was no difference between the Holy Prophet and God Almighty for the Prophet had become a manifestation of God’s attributes. Thus, accepting the Holy Prophet was in essence accepting the One true God.
Clearer still, we read in the Quran: “Say: O my servants who have been prodigal regarding their souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives sins altogether” (39:53). The Quran being written throughout in the first person reveals that this verse implies that the Holy Prophet and the Almighty are as one; for, the verse does not tell Prophet Muhammad to say: “O servants of Allah” but rather “O my servants” (i.e. Prophet Muhammad’s servants). The verses deeper significance lays in the illustration of how high a rank the Messenger of Allah has attained by perfect obedience so much so that he has acquired all the Divine attributes in their perfection and has become one with the Almighty and this being all due to the expansive mercy of God. The Prophet Muhammad’s advent being referred to as a manifestation of God is not only indicated in the Holy Quran, but is in fact referenced in prophesies in previous religious scriptures. One example is found in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of Moses, in which we read: “The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; and he shined forth from mount Paran” (33:2). This declaration by Prophet Moses confirms that the manifestation of the Lord reached its climax at Paran, shining forth in its full glory. Paran, being a mountain of Mecca as evidenced by the Torah itself, authenticates the application of this prophecy to no other than Prophet Muhammad.
Prophet Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets
It is argued in many of the recent anti-Islamic publications that Prophet Jesus is afforded the respect of being named “Word of God” and “Spirit of God” in the Quran and this, their reasoning suggests, is proof furnished from the Quran itself of Jesus’ superiority over Prophet Muhammad. Without going into the merits of this allegation, it should be noted that the Prophet Muhammad is provided a distinction in the Quran that is above and far beyond all other designations provided to any other reformer. And this is the incomparable distinction of being khatam an nabiyyin or “seal of the prophets”.
The Quran states: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the seal of the prophets” (33:40). The primary significance being that Prophet Muhammad was to be the “last” of the prophets, for, with his advent, religion became complete and there was, therefore, no need for any prophets after him. This in itself reveals the magnitude of the Prophet’s status; it was this “finality of prophethood” through which God “perfected” His religion. However there is a secondary significance; the term khatam an nabiyyin reveals that prophethood itself had been “perfected”. Thus, Prophet Muhammad was the final as well as the most perfect prophet. Being a perfect reflection of the all-encompassing Divine attributes is what is being implied. Understanding this secondary significance allows one to fully appreciate this verse’s implications on the Holy Prophets’ status. The verse states that “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men”, meaning he does not have any sons or heirs as such to pass on his qualities, as already touched on earlier, like a father does to a son, “but”, the verse continues, “he is the Messenger of Allah and the last and most perfect of the Prophets”. The latter part of the verse reveals, by the grammatical use of the word “but”, which necessitates some sort of logical rebuttal or persuasive alternative, that even though he does not have any physical sons, he will be granted innumerable spiritual heirs for it is only through him that man can appreciate the complete religion of God and reach one’s spiritual potential. The verse indicates that Prophet Muhammad is the “savior” without whom one cannot truly know God; without whom one cannot see God’s true reflection; without whom one cannot observe the manifestation of the Divine attributes; and, without whom one cannot establish the intermediary link between mankind and the Divine. This is the grand status of the Holy Prophet as expressed in the Quran. It is also in fact the greatest proof of the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet, for the Muslim nation has in every generation been blessed with saints who reveal Divine signs solely due to their following him. The continuance of Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual children who manifest the Divine qualities, like the moon reflecting light on earth solely due to borrowing it from the sun, is in fact a promise by God implied in the term “khatam an nabiyyin”.
Prophet Muhammad in the Kalima Shahada, or “profession of faith”
The Holy Prophet’s status is further revealed and clarified in the kalima shahada, or profession of faith. It is mandatory for one accepting the religion of Islam to affirm that “there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”. The 2-part formula demonstrates the high status of the Prophet Muhammad by making the acceptance of the Holy Prophet as essential as the acceptance of the One true God. It is an indication at the very outset of the Holy Prophet being so attached to the Almighty as if the two were inseparable. It is a further indication that one cannot truly appreciate the Unity of God, or even the very Existence of God, without faithfully accepting the Holy Prophet as one’s guide. The Prophet Muhammad being a reflection and a manifestation of the Divine is clearly implied here as well. However, and just as importantly, the formula also clarifies that no matter how high a status the Holy Prophet attained, he is ONLY a Messenger and that only Allah is the One true God, for no matter how perfect a reflection may resemble the original, the reflection can never be the real thing and does not have an existence without the original source. Thus, the kalima also serves as a precautionary measure in that it guarantees that Muslims will not mistake the Divine reflection of the Prophet for Divinity itself, as followers of previous prophets had done. And finally, the kalima, like everything else in Islam, provides man with not only an “objective”, but also the “means” needed to achieve it. The acceptor of Islam is provided in the first part of the formula with the objective of Islam, which is knowing and serving the One true God, and is forthwith also provided in the second part with the means required in achieving it, and that is by becoming a faithful follower to the example of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet’s status of being the true “intercessor” between man and God is the underlying significance.
To conclude, the Holy Prophet Muhammad is regarded in Islam as the savior of mankind in that it is only through following him, that one may know God in the complete and perfect sense. As we read in the Quran, the Holy Prophet had announced: “If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you, and grant you protection from your sins” (3:30). This status of the Holy Prophet needs to be conveyed to the world. This can be done by explaining from the Quran the true essence of his being. This can also be done by refuting the particular allegations leveled against him by Islam’s critics. Moreover, as touched on earlier, there is also another way in which all Muslims may reveal the status of the Holy Prophet being a savior to mankind; and that is by becoming his spiritual heir and shining the Divine attributes obtained from his reflection to all persons we come in contact with each day. As trees are always, and quite reasonably so, judged by their fruit, it is imperative that each and every Muslim conduct themselves in a way that discloses the noble character of our savior, the Prophet Muhammad. May Almighty Allah guide us all in this most essential endeavor.