Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Seal of the Prophets: examining the import of the Muhammadan light

"Muhammad is not the father of any of your males, however, he is the messenger of Allah, and the seal of the Prophets. And Allah is knowledgeable of all things." [Qur'an 33:40]

To my knowledge, there is no other text or message in any faith like that of the above mentioned ayah. While other faiths undoubtedly assign exclusive claims to salvation and use texts to support that belief [ft.#1], the Qur'an is the only scripture that uses the expression Khatm an Nabiyyeen, seal of the Prophets.

Muhammad is not the father of any of your males

This line is a bit deeper than expressing the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم only had daughters. It shows us that his message will never die out, nor is it bound by a specific group, sect or personality. Almighty Allah reminds the Prophet "Surely We [Allah] have given you [O Muhammad] 'Al-Kauthar'. So, pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Surely, the one who is hateful to you [O Muhammad] will have no legacy" [Qur'an 108:1-3].
He is a prophet or a messenger for the entire world, a sufficient guide, a mercy to all nations, so his reach is far and wide. In today's world, we see that, even though the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was an Arab, his followers are mostly Non Arab, Arabs themselves are a minority in the Muslim world.

So, if he is not a father of any males, if he is not bound by ethnic or time constraints, who is he? what is he?  "However, he is the messenger of Allah, the seal of the prophets".

He delivers the message and is himself the embodiment of that message. 

Umm al Mu'mineen 'A'ishaa Radee Allahu 'anhaa, when asked about the Prophet's character, replied "His character was the Qur'an" [Muslim]

""It is he who has sent among the Ummiyyeen [ The Arabs]  a messenger [ Muhammad] , relating to them his [Allah's ] signs, purifying them, teaching them the scripture and wisdom. And before that, they had been in a clear state of loss. And to others who have not yet joined them [this messenger and this Qur'an has come to likewise benefit them] .And he is the exalted, the wise. This is Allah's bounty, he gives to whom he wills. And Allah is the possessor of bounty, the magnificent." [Qur'an 62:2-4]

What does that message consist of?

[1] Ultimate unity of humanity  [Q 30:22, 49:13] [ft.3]

[2] Freedom of religion or conscious actually granted by God [Q 2:256,  18:29]

[3] Collective decision making [as opposed to dictatorship and oppression] a necessary element in running a society. [  Q 42:38-39]

[4] A method of solving marital problems [  Q 4:35]

[5] A just economic system, which includes the total abolition of Usury [  Q 2:275-281, 3:130, among other verses]

Islam finds its completion in the coming of the Prophet Muhammad - upon whom be peace and blessings-and in the scripture sent forth to him, the Glorious Qur'an. There is no need for a Rasool or a Nabi after him [Ft.4]. This format of completion was the Divine will and in accord with the Divine wisdom, which is precisely why the verse  ends "And Allah is knowledgeable of all things." The wisdom of Allah is often hard to see, especially right away, and especially when a spiritual diet of deep prayer and contemplation has been absent [ft.5]. But when we look at the message he came with- in detail and with open eyes- we find answers to all our issues, even if we don't like the answers. That message presents a vision of what God's earth should look like, it gives us general principles that can work anywhere, a source of blessing that benefits all humanity. May we benefit from that blessing, as truly none but the foolish reject blessings!


[1] An example of an exclusive claim to salvation is the Biblical statement " None  come to the father, except through me [Jesus].." [ John 14:6]

[2]  Arabs constitute only 20% of Muslims worldwide. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_world

[3] These Quranic verses show us that God intentionally made different skin colors, languages and cultures, so that humans can benefit from each other. 

[4] Muhammad is given the title of Rasulullaah [messenger of Allah] and Khatm an Nabiyyeen [seal of the Prophets]. The Risaalah [message] given to him is mainly preserved within the Qur'an itself, as this article cited. There is no need for any more. With that said, there has been attempts to explain these plain Quranic statements in a different way, in order to open the door for more claims, but these efforts have been quite unsuccessful. Elijah Muhammad [1897-1975] saw himself as "the messenger of Allah" to Black America [and even called one of his main books The message to the Blackman in America], teaching a doctrine of racial separation and a number of odd assertions, seemingly a mixture of ideas gleamed from the Bible, Islam, and freemasonry. Yet, upon the death of Elijah Muhammad, his son W.Deen Mohammed [known as Imam Warith Deen Mohammed] attained the leadership of his father's Nation of Islam and through a deliberate process led the organization to Orthodox Islam. The latter argued that this was the plan all along, even from the time of his father's teacher W.D. Fard [Fard Muhammad]- to have this process that would allow for the eventual acceptance by African Americans of Islam. So, while the followers of Imam W.D. Mohammed [who passed away in 2008] still have respect for his father, he is not seen as Allah's messenger.

 In recent years, in the Malay countryside, a man named Abdul Kahar Ahmad proclaimed himself a Prophet for the Malaysians [Rasul Melayu]. This only accomplished him being on the run for a number of years, eventually, he announced he was "retiring" from the job! 

Rashad Khalifa [ 1935-1990] claimed to be a messenger, he preferred to use the Farsi term [even though he was an Egyptian] Rasool-e- Khuda. He argued that he discovered a mathematical code within the Qur'an, his teachings developed to an eventual rejection of the Prophet's Sunnah in its entirety, that there was two "false insertions" in the Quranic text, among other things. Despite the great attention he received, and- after his death- the revival of grandiose claims by his followers on the internet, they don't have even a single physical place wherein they meet. 

Ghulam Ahmad  [1835-1908] is a most interesting figure. A prolific writer and poet in many languages, he emerged in India as a figure eventually claiming to be the second coming of Jesus and Mahdi in one person, eventually claiming a prophethood, albeit an inferior one [Zill-e- Nabi, in the shadow of Muhammad], still a follower of Muhammad.  His followers have interpreted "seal of the Prophets" to mean not the last, but the seal of approval for the prophet to come, meaning himself [Ghulam Ahmad]. [ see the Ahmadi translation The Holy Qur'an, 2003, edited by Malik Ghulam Farid, Islam international publications Ltd, London, page 911]. These claims have separated the Ahmadis from the wider Muslim world, and in Pakistan there is limited social relations between Ahmadis and Non Ahmadis. 

There is reason to believe that Ahmad was using metaphorical, sufi language that has been misunderstood, this is the argument used by some of Ahmad's early disciples such as Maulana Muhammad Ali, himself a prolific writer and translator of the Qur'an in English and Urdu. As a result, the Ahmadiyya sect divided into two camps, the latter one being founded by Maulana Muhammad Ali [the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha-at-e-Islami Lahore or Lahoris for short], still believing that Muhammad was indeed the final Prophet, and the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam, known  widely as the Qadianis, whose headquarters are now in London.  So it can be seen that these claims have done nothing but create confusion and fitnah whereever they emerge.

[5] Deep contemplation is an item needed to make correct decisions, especially in the spiritual realm. There are many Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet that highlight this, one hadeeth has it that the Prophet said "Contemplating for a single hour is more useful than a year's worth of ritual worship" [Arabic: Tafakkuru Saa'atan Khayrun min 'Ibaadati Sanah.] [  Ibn 'Abbas, Bayhaqi].

A Christian theologian observes, about the Prophet " Muhammad is an example of a man who really made history when the time was ripe. In Arnold Toynbee's terminology, a 'challenge' was given; it was matched in the person of Muhammad by the 'response'" [ Hans Kung, Islam, past present and future, page 124, 2007 Oneworld publications, London.]  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Naseehah: advice to Tablighi Jama'at and other activists seeking to spread Islam and strengthen the spiritual life of Muslims

Religion is sincere advice [or sincerity, Naseehah in Arabic], [for the cause of] Allah, to the messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims and to the general public. [Sahih Al-Bukhari, 2:42]

 It is in the spirit of the above hadeeth that these words are composed. They are in no way meant to be hateful or condemnation. After all, we have another well-known hadeeth [ mentioned in A-Bukhari's Al Adab al Mufrad and in a slightly different wording in  Tirmidhee's collection] that says that a believer is a mirror [mir-aat] for his brother.  There is wisdom in that particular hadeeth, as we look in the mirror and see if the hair needs to be combed, we can dress ourselves and groom ourselves so we can go out into the world with some dignity, confidence and honor. 

This article is mainly directed towards Tablighi Jama'at, a movement that, although founded in India in 1926 as a means to strengthen the Muslims in an area wherein they had been basically following Hindu customs, it's reach has spread throughout the world. This movement's main activities are traveling from place to place, meeting Muslims and advising them to attend five daily prayers in the Mosque.

Practical advise

Understand that the methodology of calling towards Allah is not limited to reciting to an audience the texts of the Qur'an and Hadeeth. This was understood by the Prophet's wife Umm al Mu'mineen 'Aishaa when she observed that "his character was the Qur'an" [ Saheeh Muslim], meaning that Rasulullaah, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was the embodiment of courtesy, respect and all the good that is given within Allah's book! In any case, here are some practical words of advise.

[1] Understand your surroundings: This is especially important in Non-Muslim countries. The needs, culture[s], history and issues of the local community are not always the same as given in Muslim societies. A good example of this is the mosque itself. In most Muslim nations, Mosques and prayer halls are almost always accessible. People can enter them anytime, even outside times for daily Salaah, for personal prayer and reflection, study, shelter. However, that is not the case in Western mosques. While the mosques may be open for daily prayer, security as well as practical concerns prevent the mosques from being accessible at all moments. Moreover, while the Masjid in muslim nations serve mainly as a place for prayer[ ft.1], in the West the Mosque serves as a community center, place for weddings and marriage counseling, as a place that even has political function. In other words, we have to be realistic in light of our needs and surroundings. Half-hazard and 'spur of the moment' acts such as going to Mosques in distant cities without even so much as seeking permission from those in charge of the said Mosque, expecting to spend the night for a week or a month, and be provided food and cleaning facilities   actually does more harm than good. The Qur'an itself speaks of being prepared, of the importance of planning[ft.2]. Organized and well-thought out, practical plans are far superior to random actions.

[2] Be considerate of your hosts: This means more than simply putting money in a donation box. If staying in a mosque and using its facilities, clean up after one's self. Don't impose yourselves on people. This lesson is admittedly a hard one, it was even hard for Prophet Muhammad himself, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, to teach his followers. It was Quranic revelation itself that had to address these things. " O believers, do not enter the Prophet's houses until permission has been given to you for the meal, and [even then not so early] as to have to wait for its preparation. When you are granted permission, enter, and after the meal, disperse, and don't push for leisurely talk . Verily, that type of behavior on your part is hurtful to the Prophet, he is ashamed to dismiss you, yet Allah is not ashamed of Haqq.."[ft.3]  [Q 33:53]. Have enough respect to do simple things, while in a mosque for a few days, like buying soap and toiletries. As highlighted earlier, random acts are not as worth-while as planning. We live in an age of email, webpages, text messages and easy communication. Call ahead, and see if it's okay to pay a visit.

[3] Be ever prepared in terms of dealing with Non Muslims: The logic of Tablighi Jama'ah is, in a sense, that the Muslims have to be reached before Non Muslims. Thus, people on Khurooj seek out Muslims, usually the same few Muslims every time, Muslims who already have a religious consciousness and connection to the local Masjid. This is a waste of time and resources for all concerned, passing up entire cities of people with the wrong idea about the Islamic message just to preach to those who are already in the choir!  Our recommendation is to, at least, be prepared to have a good discussion with Non Muslims. There are numerous stores that sell Qur'ans for small amounts of money. Booklets, small pamphlets and CDs that represent authentically the Islamic message- in English- can easily be stored in the car or in a suitcase. 

Getting our priorities straight

There are a great many issues in today's world, issues that can be addressed by the Qur'an and Prophetic model. Allah is not only the Rabb of the Masjid, he is the Sustainer and provider for the entire Universe. Islam is for inside the mosque as well as outside, it speaks to realities.So let us get our priorities straight. 

Wa Billaahit Tawfeeq.


[1] The word for mosque in Arabic is Masjid, literally, a place for prostration [Sujood]. In Arabic grammatical language, it's Ism al Makaan.

[2] An obvious example of not acting in random way and being prepared, planning out well, is in the Qur'an 8:60. Going into war with no preparation leads to disaster. This logic is applicable to all things, especially things relating to Islamic work.

[3] Haqq has various meaning, including that of justice and what is right. In this ayah, the implication is that the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings, has a right to not be burdened, he has a right to relax in his home, but he's shy to express this. I think all humans can relate to this in one sense or another. There is a bit of social etiquette given in this ayah. Also of interest in this regards is the whole of Soorah Al Hujuraat [ Soorah 49].