Doctrines >Dialogue with the Rejecters of Prophecy


Dialogue with the Rejecters of Prophecy (part1)

By  the Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah

Unusual phenomenon

Prophetic missions attracted debate wherever they appeared, since those missions were extraordinary events in the life of the people. They were not designed to introduce change in those societies per se. They were not governed by human norms alone, be they strengths or weaknesses. They were calls characterized by their connection to metaphysics. One facet of this was divine revelation, a form of unseen communication with unseen powers that belong to a world that is different than ours, both in appearance and nature. Thus these noble tasks were unwavering in their conviction, not prone to any weakness, and in the fundamental interest of life, because God, Who is Cognizant of what is good or bad for man, had commissioned them.

The qualities which set those prophetic missions apart from other movements for change were responsible for stirring up arguments, the majority of which were heated, so much so that they were transformed into entrenched positions of outright rejection of the people who exemplified the notion of prophecy.

At first, the line of questioning was narrowed down to the personality of the prophet, according to what people perceived such a personality should be. If prophecy signified an extraordinary event, it should manifest itself in an extraordinary person. Inevitably, the prophet should not be a human being, since prophecy related to a different world from that of humans and the line of communication was non-human.

This was the birthplace of the idea of not believing the prophets, because, to the rejecter' mind, they were humans like them. They were eating and going about in the markets, which did not fit the overall picture they painted in their minds for a prophet, who, they thought, should be an angel sent from heavens if he were to be able to carry the divine message.

The second argument was: Maybe we accept the notion of a man-prophet; however, he should be a person of paranormal capabilities, which should be an extension of the characteristics of the Divine, although not necessary similar. This was by virtue of the prophecy's office, having an immediate access to God, and that carrying the message from Him, through revelation, should necessitate all that.


In such a climate, questioning the prophets, who were not different from ordinary people in their abilities and real situations in life, was the norm. Thus, they were not responsive to any request of them to do what was paranormal.

Besides those questions, the Islamic mission in the person of Prophet Mohammad (p.) faced questions of a different nature. Those different questions were posed to challenge what Islam stood for. The things, which the doubt-mongers could not face with reason, logic, and informed debate, they branded witchcraft. They thus dubbed the Prophet (p.) a sorcerer in the guise of a poet, bent on collecting the superstitions of old, which were dictated to him day in day out. The issue turned relations sour and tense. They were characterized by grudge and animosity on the part of the unbelievers, so much so that they branded the Prophet (p.) a lunatic. That was just one description given to the Islamic message in the person of the Prophet (p.).

However, we are not claiming that these pejoratives were exclusively pinned on the Prophet of Islam, because the Qur'an has reported that the prophets (a.s.) were set up on and accused of lunacy: "Similarly, no messenger came to the peoples before them, but they said (of him) in like manner, 'a sorcerer, or one possessed!" (51:52). Nevertheless, we can assert that this was a salient phenomenon in the position of the enemies of Islam regarding the Prophet (p.).


An attempt to enlighten the adversary

The Prophet (p.) confronted the onslaught of his foes in a calm and collected manner, as dictated by the strength of feeling about his message and deep self-confidence, on the one hand, and through informed recognition of the circumstances, reasons, and stereotyping that were prevailing in his time. These conditions contributed to the raising of those positions of rejection that were taken against his mission and lampooned his character. The false conception of the Prophet's mission and the social factors that were dominant then played a great part in this.

Because of their entrenched position, the Prophet (p.) engaged them in dialogue, with a view to correcting the false views they held about his ministry and its role in life. He also aimed to enlighten them about his own person and what he was capable of doing. Adhering to the same style of peaceful and calm dialogue, he did his best to correct their false views on the nature of his mission, the Qur'an, and the picture they painted of him. It did not escape him that the opponent's position was as a result of the highly charged conditions in which they were living.

As for the first issue, which was dealing with the correlation of prophecy to humanness, he managed to conduct dialogue on it in the way the Holy Qur'an has described, in two approaches: (1) an attempt to discuss the issue through the history of prophetic missions, i.e. how dialogue used to be conducted with the opposition forces in the lifetimes of previous prophets; and (2) an attempt to take issue with the adversaries' misguided notion about his person, which contributed to the severity of the onslaught against his mission.

In the first approach, we come across the Quranic verses that talk about previous prophets who were held in respect by those Arab communities to whom the prophets were sent. We do not see why we cannot assume that those communities believed in those good people as prophets in their own right. The Quranic verses spoke of those communities rejecting the prophets for their humanness, which, they maintained, did not tally with the excellence of the office of prophecy. However, the prophecy did in the end overcome because of the positions the prophets took and the miracles they performed. In the final analysis, this left the opposition with no choice but the abandon the false convictions they were holding.

In the story of Noah (a.s.) and his people, the Qur'an has this to narrate:

But the chiefs of the Unbelievers among his people said: "We see (in) thee nothing but a man like ourselves: Nor do we see that any follow thee but the meanest among us, in judgment immature: Nor do we see in you (all) any merit above us: in fact we thing ye are liars!" He said: "O my people! See ye if (it be that) I have a Clear sign from my Lord, and that He hath sent Mercy unto me from His own presence, but that the Mercy hath been obscured from your sight? Shall we compel you to accept it when ye are averse to it?" (11:27-28).

Another verse talks about the methodology of debate between Noah (a.s.) and his people in not claiming for the office of pristine prophecy any supernatural feats or angelhood:

Say: I tell you not that with me are the Treasure of God, nor I know what is hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me. 'Say: 'Can the blind be held equal to the seeing?' Will ye then consider not? (6:50).

Other Quranic verses talk about the notion of the angel-prophet, which the opponents of Noah (a.s) used to hold as an excuse for rejection his mission:

The chiefs of the Unbelievers among his people said: "He is no more than a man like yourselves: his wish is to assert his superiority over you: if God has wished (to send messengers), He could have sent down angels; never did we hear such a thing (as he says), among our ancestors of old. (23:24).

Thus the Qur'an discusses the story of Noah (a.s.) and his people to prove, in more than one verse, by the strength of his mission's proofs, the error of his people in their case for what they perceived as contradiction between man and message.

The issue had involved other prophets (a.s.), as the Holy Qur'an told us in the stories of prophets Hud, Saleh, and Shu'aib (a.s.). This is what it has to say about Hud's people:

And the chiefs of his people, who disbelieved and denied the Meeting in the Hereafter, and on whom We had bestowed the good things of this life, said: "He is no more than a man like yourselves: he eats of that of which ye eat, and drinks of what ye drink". (23:33).

And this is what it has to say about Saleh's people: "They said: "Thou art only one of those bewitched! Thou art no more than a moral like us: then bring us a Sign, if thou tallest the truth!'" (26:153-54).

On the tale of Shu'aib and his people, this is what the Qur'an has to say:

Thou art no more than a mortal like us, and indeed we think thou art a liar! (26:186).

The Holy Qur'an summarizes the historical aspect of rejection the idea of correlating humanness to prophecy. It concludes that all the previous prophets were human beings, possessing all the human physical properties, and all the strengths and weaknesses which these qualities carry; this is how the Qur'an puts it:

Before thee, also, the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye realize this not, ask of those who possess the Message. Nor did We give them bodies that ate no food, nor were they exempt from death. (21:7-8).

As for the second approach, we find Quranic verses that discuss the question of rejecting the Prophet's message on account of his being mortal and for his ordinary capabilities:

And they say: "What sort of an apostle is this, who eats food, and walks trough the streets? Why has not an angle been sent down to him to give admonition with him? Or (Why) has not a treasure been bestowed on him, or why has he (not) a garden for enjoyment". The wicked say: "Ye follow none other than a man bewitched". See what kinds of comparisons they make for thee! But they have gone astray, and never a way will they be able to fine! (25:7-8).

As for the second approach, we find Quranic verses that discuss the question of rejecting the Prophet's message on account of his being mortal and for his ordinary capabilities:

And they say: "What sort of an apostle is this, who eats food, and walks through the streets? Why has not an angel been sent down to him to give admonition with him? Or (Why) has not a treasure been bestowed on him, or why has he (not) a garden for enjoyment?" The wicked say: "Ye follow none other than a man bewitched". See what kinds of comparisons they make for thee! But they have gone astray, and never a way will they be able to find! (25:7-8).

The Qur'an continues with the second aspect of dialogue in the same surah: "And the apostles whom We sent before thee were all (men) who ate food and walked through the streets: We have made some or you as a trial for others: will ye have patience? Fro God is One Who sees (all things)" (25:20).

In the same breath, the Qur'an discusses the problem, in the following verses, with a view to taking issue with it:

They say: "We shall not believe in thee, until thou cause a spring to gush forth for us from the earth, or (until) thou have a garden of date trees and vines, and cause rivers to gush forth in their midst, carrying abundant water; or thou cause the sky to fall in pieces, as thou sayest (will happen), against us; or thou bring God and the angels before (us) face to face: Or thou have a house adorned with gold, or thou mount a ladder right into the skies. No, we shall not even believe in thy mounting until thou send down to us a book that we could read". Say: "Glory to my Lord! Am I aught but a man, an apostle?" What kept men back from belief when Guidance came to them, was nothing but this: they said: "Has God sent a man (like us) to be (His) Apostle?"

Say, "If there were settled, on earth, angels walking about in peace and quiet, we should certainly have sent them down from the heavens an angel for an apostle". (17:90-95)