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The Last Prophet

The Light and Islamic Review July-Sept Edition, 2007

The Last Prophet
by Fazeel S. Khan

Finality of Prophethood

As explained by Sister Sarah in the previous lecture, prophets appeared in every nation - Almighty God, in His infinite mercy and justice, did not deprive any people of this most desirous blessing. These national prophets worked to morally uplift and spiritually regenerate the people they were sent to. By their personal example, these reformers showed their people how one can achieve closeness to God; that is, how to develop the Divine qualities within one's self. Although the message and means were the same, what differed between the prophets sent by God was the scope of their missions.

In the past, when nations lived in an isolated state, confined to distinct geographic areas, national prophets being commissioned to all different peoples was ideal. However, when humanity progressed to the point that man no longer lived a secluded life and communications between people evolved, the Divine scheme required a means for the spiritual unification of the entire human race.

Each nation, ignorant of the fact that the very Divine favors that they were blessed with was also gifted to others, began to think of themselves as "chosen ones" of God. This belief in Divine favoritism, a belief based on discrimination, prejudice and arrogance, in fact, has caused more bloodshed and violence than any other evil ideology since the beginning of time. Such views impeded any chance for a united human race living in peace. The pinnacle, therefore, in the divine institution of prophethood was the coming of one prophet for all nations. This "world prophet" appeared in the person of Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him).

The Holy Quran declares that the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet in the long chain of messengers sent to humanity, by stating:

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and (khatam an nabiyyin) the last of the prophets (33:40).

The Quran is not alone in the regard. Similarly, we find other religious scriptures foretelling the appearance of this great world-prophet as well. Jesus, for example, is recorded as prophesying that one would come after him, sent by God, who would teach man "all things" and guide man into "all truth". The message of this "comforter" or "spirit of truth", Jesus explains, will "abide with man forever".

The prophet that was to "guide unto all truth" was to be given a message of quite a different character; it was to be a "universal" message, beyond the limits of geography and constraints of time. The Holy Quran illuminates the concept of the advent of a "world prophet" being sent for all nations and for all times by stating:

Blessed is He Who sent down (furqan) the discrimination upon His servant that he may be a warner to all nations ; and Say: O Mankind, surely I am the Messenger of Allah to you all ; and And We have not sent thee but as a bearer of good news and as a warner to all mankind .

Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad came with a universal mission, looking to the whole of mankind for his ministry. Compare this to the mission of Jesus, the last of the national prophets. Prophet Jesus, by his own example, refrained from throwing "pearls" before "swine" (Mt. 7:6) and giving the "bread" of the children to the "dogs" (Mark 7:27; Mt. 15:26).

Was Prophet Jesus wrong or blameworthy in any way for safeguarding his mission, not allowing "outsiders" to partake in the blessings that appeared with his advent? Absolutely not, for "outsiders" were not within the scope of his mission, as he himself clarifies: I have not been sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 5:24).

Thus, his mission was of a limited scope, restricted to a specific group of people. Although Christianity has become an international religion, comprising of adherents from all races, colors and creeds and expanding to the farthest corners of the globe, it cannot be denied that missionary activism abroad was quite a foreign concept to Prophet Jesus, on whom be peace.

Now, seeing that the institution of prophethood is a Divine favor � without which man's spiritual development would be deficient, just as man's physical evolution would be incomplete without essential vitamins and nutrients - some have questioned whether the finality of prophethood is more of a curse than a blessing. Is mankind worse off now that prophets have ceased to appear since the 6th Century? This is obviously not the case. The object of sending prophets to a people was to make known the Divine will and provide an example the following of which could lead man to hold communion with God. This object was made complete through the great world-prophet, Prophet Muhammad. Prophet Muhammad�s message and practical illustration of that message was so perfect that it met the requirements not only of all contemporary nations, but for all future generations as well. This is what was meant by Prophet Jesus when he referred to him who would �guide you unto all truth�. The Holy Quran is explicit on this point; it states:

This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor to you and chosen for you Islam as a religion (5:3).

The "perfection of the message" is not claimed by any other religious scripture. Furthermore, the "favor" mentioned in this verse is in reference to the institution of prophethood; thus, the perfection of religion and the completion of prophethood go hand in hand. Understanding this concept allows one to fully appreciate the verse on the "finality of prophethood" quoted earlier:

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last of the prophets (33:40).

This 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 to, like a father does to a son, "but", the verse continues, "he is the Messenger of Allah and the last", and therefore, most complete "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 he is the final and most complete prophet whose example man will look to in order to achieve closeness to God. The verse indicates that Prophet Muhammad is the guide without whom one cannot know God in the complete sense; that is, without whom one cannot find a practical illustration of all of the Divine attributes.

As an aside, it is also in fact the greatest proof of the status of the Holy Prophet, for the Muslim nation has in every generation been blessed with saints who receive Divine revelations and reveal Divine signs solely due to their following Prophet Muhammad. The continuance of Prophet Muhammad�s spiritual children, who manifest the Divine qualities on earth purely by following his example, 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".

Muhammad: the Ideal Prophet

Can this grand status attributed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad be substantiated, or is this merely an unsupported, exaggerated and grandiose claim made by those following Muhammad's religion? This is indeed the critical question. The Holy Quran declares:

Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar (33:21).

This verse points to the distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The Holy Prophet�s life was so multi-faceted, that he was able to provide a model of virtue for mankind under all circumstances. From an orphan to a king of a great empire, Muhammad passed through all phases of life. If he had not led armies, he could not have served as a model for a general leading armies into battle; if he had not fought personally, he could not have been an exemplar for a soldier laying down his life in the cause of truth, justice and freedom; if he had not made laws for the guidance of his followers, he could never have been regarded as an outstanding example to a legislator; if he had not decided disputes, he could not have served as a light to judges and magistrates; if he had not married, he would have left men unguided in practically half of their daily interactions and could not have shown how to be a kind and affectionate husband and a loving father; if he had not been a laborer, he could not have revealed the value and integrity in working with one�s own hands and earning an honest living; if he did not have life-long friends, he could not have shown the beauty in trust and true companionship; if he had not enforced punishment on tyrants for the wrongs inflicted on innocent persons, if he had not overcome his persecuting enemies and forgiven them, if he had not overlooked the faults of those attached to him, he could not have been an excellent exemplar and a perfect model.

Indeed, it is the distinguishing characteristic of Prophet Muhammad�s life that he not only gave practical rules of guidance in all walks of life, but gave by his life a practical illustration of all those rules. Unlike any other prophet, he himself worked out all the principles he taught to others! It is not through his sermons and teachings that we estimate his character, but rather through his actions and his deeds. Quite logically, only the one who has experienced all the circumstances forming the basis of the lessons he teaches, can truly be a perfect model for others.

I�d like to illustrate this point further. The quality of "forgiveness", for example, is much revered as a noble trait by all religions. Every prophet taught in one form or the other that "forgiveness is divine." However, one can only claim to have truly exhibited an attribute such as forgiveness, if the conditions under which one forgives are appropriate. To truly forgive, in the fullest sense of the word, three conditions must have occurred. First, one needs to be persecuted ruthlessly by others. Second, events must change so that the persecutors eventually fall at the oppressed person�s mercy. Third, the oppressed person must possess the power to mete out punishment the persecutors rightfully deserve. The mere preaching of forgiveness or mercy is no proof of actually acquiring this attribute; for this, one is required to be in a position to show it. Think about it: an oppressor would regard a claim of forgiveness as an insult to himself if it came from his helpless victim.

In all of religious history, there is only one noble example of a life comprising all three conditions precedent for the true exhibition of "forgiveness". This was the life of Muhammad. The Holy Prophet and his small group of followers were met with the most severe forms of trials - humiliation, degradation, ostracization, torture and death. They were forced to flee their homes in Mecca because of these persecutions. Some initially fled to Abyssinia. Ultimately, a migration was made from Medina. In the midst of all of these atrocities, the Holy Prophet prayed to Almighty God in humility: "O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know".

Indeed all prophets exhibited forgiveness and mercy under various conditions, but what separates Prophet Muhammad from any other person in history, is that eventually the tables turned: the very enemies of the Holy Prophet, the very tormentors and persecutors who attempted to kill him and annihilate his followers, were at the Holy Prophet's mercy. Despite being at the point of the sword, the number of Muslims grew in Medina and after seven years of being away from home, and having made alliances with neighboring tribes, the Holy Prophet Muhammad prepared for an expedition back to Mecca. The Holy Prophet entered Mecca with 10,000 righteous followers, the mere sight of which forced the Meccans to surrender without resistance.

It could not have been regarded as inappropriate for the Holy Prophet to have administered punishment upon those who had made war upon him. The leaders, at least could have been made an example of to the masses. However, the Holy Prophet's conquest was not one of bloodshed, but one of mercy and forgiveness. "There shall be no reproof against you this day", he declared! A general amnesty was given, guaranteeing safety to all who showed they were not interested in fighting. The perfection of the attribute of "forgiveness" and its display in the most complete form was, thus, provided by the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Because Prophet Muhammad was provided with a life complete in its examples for man to find guidance in, he was able to display all of the teachings of the previous prophets in its correct context. He administered the justice of the Mosaic law when appropriate, yet practiced the meekness of Jesus when best suited. For these reasons, it is fully justified to accept the Holy Prophet Muhammad as the final and most perfect prophet, whose example it is incumbent upon mankind to follow in order to live a life in which one may truly know God.

Muhammad: a Truly Historic Figure

Now, in order for the life of Prophet Muhammad to serve as an "excellent example" for all men, for all ages, the Prophet Muhammad�s lessons and examples would need to be available for others to learn from them. This is in fact an equally necessary condition for Prophet Muhammad to be considered a "complete" role-model and to have satisfied his mission as being a prophet to "all" mankind.

Like no other person in history, the entire life of Prophet Muhammad, in a most detailed and descriptive manner, is preserved in numerous collections of traditions from his own companions and contemporaries. This is another distinguishing characteristic of Prophet Muhammad�s life. In fact, Muhammad is the only prophet who may be called "historic" in the true sense of the word, it even being questioned today by cynics whether some of the other well-known prophets of God, such as Prophet Jesus, really existed because of the very little material available about him. As for Muhammad, however, this allegation has never been made. From his childhood to his death, almost every detail about his words, his deeds, his habits and his overall character, is on record. Muslims know more about the Holy Prophet than they do about their own parents. What an astounding concept - with all the knowledge and intimate details about his life, Muhammad still commands the respect and admiration of over 1 billion persons on earth today. With the mass of evidence contained in written traditions and other documentation, it is amazing that the hostile critics of the Prophet cannot find more faults to pick against him. People today know exactly what Prophet Muhammad liked to eat, what food he disliked, how he brushed his teeth, how he walked, how he smiled, how he shook hands, how many white hairs he had in his beard and even what type of jokes he told, for even these such details are recorded. Truly, Muhammad is a "living prophet", for his life is just as accessible for all to witness through voluminous authenticated records today, as his personal example was 14 hundred years ago in Arabia.

What others say

Objective, neutral parties, studying the life of Prophet Muhammad as a historical figure have come to the same conclusion. Dr. Michael Hart, a scientist by profession, compiled a book ranking the top 100 most influential persons in history. He published his rankings in a book titled: "The 100". Number one on his list was "Muhammad". He writes:

He was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the secular and religious level. It is probable that the relative influence of Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. It is this unparalleled combination of the secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered to be the most influential single figure in human history.

Rev. R. Bosworth Smith, in his book "Mohammad and Mohammadism" published in 1874, writes:

Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but, he was Pope without the Pope's pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to say that he ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.

Similarly, Sir Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist, literary critic, and a leading figure in the 20th century theater, a freethinker, defender of women�s rights, and advocate of equality of income and Nobel Prize recipient for Literature in 1925, writes:

I have always held the religion of Muhammad (pbuh) in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion, which appears to me to possess that assimilation capacity to the changing phase of existence, which can make itself appeal in every age. I have studied him (Muhammad) - the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the savior of humanity.

He was by far the most remarkable man that ever set foot on this earth. He preached a religion, founded a state, built a nation, laid down a moral code, initiated numerous social and political reforms, established a powerful and dynamic society to practice and represent his teachings and completely revolutionized the worlds of human thought and behavior for all times to come.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, after exhaustive research and study, states:

....a mass of detail in the early sources show that he was an honest and upright man who had gained the respect and loyalty of others who were likewise honest and upright men.

It then concludes:

Of all religious personalities of the world, Muhammad was the most successful.

As it was necessary for the institution of prophethood to come to an end with the perfection of religious guidance, is there any doubt that Muhammad was the last prophet who made complete the Divine objective of providing a comprehensive role-model of righteousness for mankind?

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