Doctrines >Dialogue with the Rejecters of Prophecy


Dialogue with the Rejecters of Prophecy (part2)

By  the Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah

Putting the Issue in the right perspective

It is evident from these verses, the opponents demanded the accomplishment of those exploits as proof of the prophetic work, because of their perception of what supernatural deeds a prophet must manifest. The answer came simple, calm, and direct, in that there was no way the Prophet (a.s.) could entertain their requests, as he was a human being. The only thing that set him apart was that he was revealed to.

The verse arrives at another conclusion. That is, the misguided belief, throughout the history of nations who witnessed the prophetic missions and rejected the notion of the human-prophet, contributed to preventing men from embracing the faith. The Qur'an puts the issue in its right perspective from two angles:

1. Dismissing this false notion, as it did not stand on a solid ground. It further advocates that in the natural context of things, the prophet had to be a human being, as a prerequisite for the establishment of a harmonious and normal relationship between him and his followers. This was so because his task was not to convey the Message per se; rather, he should be a living and true example of the message he had come to deliver. Should the prophet be an angel, or in a rank of physical ability higher than that of mortals, it would have been possible that people would have not treated the way he went about his business as a pointer to the credibility of his message, and that it could have been discharged by others.

This is what the Holy Qur'an has expressed eloquently, when it recognized that the nature of the harmonious relationship between the prophet and his followers makes it necessary for God to send down an angel-messenger only if the target community on earth were an angelic one.

2. The reiteration is that the argument is flawed on a different count. That is, one should not feel the need for the prophet to posses paranormal powers, because his job was not to change the normal system of the universe or to carry out some supernatural works to impress those around him and show off his greatness. His only mission was to deliver the message, and the only condition was that he should be up to the task of receiving the message through revelation, conveying it to the people, and living it on the ground, in order to lead by example. Outside that sphere of activity, the issue was the exclusive domain of God Almighty; if He willed, He would give His prophet the required knowledge and make him perform miracles if it were necessary.

The clarity of this point can be seen in many Quranic verses that talk about the goals the prophetic missions were set to achieve. This had defined for the mission its terms of reference, which were two-pronged-spreading the message and laying down the law, on the one hand, and introducing change in society to achieve those two aims, on the other hand. The desired end result was to be that people could go about their business in peace based on equity, understanding, co-operation, and abundant good.

These were the main features of the prophetic noble tasks:

Mankind was one single nation, and God sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear Signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through selfish contumacy. God by His Grace guided the Believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For God guided whom He will to a path that is straight. (2:213)

We sent aforetime our apostles with Clear Sings and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice; and We sent Iron, in which is (material for) mighty war, as well as many benefits for mankind, that God may test who it is that will help, Unseen, Him and His apostles: For God is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might (and able to enforce His Will). (57:25)

As for the Prophet's mission, its nature and general objectives, the Holy Quranic has this to say:

Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare the Praises and Glory of God – the Sovereign, the Holy one, the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (62:2)

We have sent down to thee the Book in truth, that thou mightiest judge between men, as guided by God: so be not (used) as an advocate by those who betray their trust. (4:105)

Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) in the Law and the Gospel; for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad ) and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him, it is they who will prosper. (7:157)

One can clearly see the tasks set for the prophetic missions. The clarity of the guidelines for both the ideology and law is all-apparent. This is in the expectation that the rule of law should set forth a foundation of right, justice, and the welfare of society, with a view to lighten the burden of its members. Such a burden could hinder their progress in building life on sound foundations. Another aspect is that of making the common interests of all people take root, with the aim of settling differences by dispensing equitable justice that deviates from the right path, nor does any one injustice. The ultimate result sought after is spreading of peace based on understanding and fairness.

One can, therefore, conclude that there was no need for the prophet to possess supernatural powers, which would enable him to perform miracles at will. Rather, what the prophet needed was he should be up to the responsibility of carrying the message, delivering it, and applying it in practice wisely and flexibly, yet forcefully, as these are the merits any activist, legislator, or ruler needs to demonstrate in the discharge of their task. Consequently, the misguided thinking that used to connect prophecy with paranormal powers would prove false.


Absolute superiority and prophecy

Here we may have to differ from scholastic theologians with regard to their assertions that a prophet, i.e. any prophet, should excel in every discipline and department and in every personal characteristic. They base their assertions on the rational principle. i.e. dislike at the notion of the inferior leading the superior. That is, if a prophet were not matchless in every department, he would not be worthy of the supreme office of prophecy.

Some theologians have gone further than that, by arguing that a prophet should posses personal qualities, such as the most handsome, the bravest, the strongest, etc., characteristics that should have no bearing whatsoever on being a prophet or leader. In real life situations, the leader, including a military one, should not necessarily be braver than members of the rank and file. You should not rule out the possibility that there could, among those members, be ones who are braver than the leader. The main role of a leader is not a fight the war; rather, to lead it, from planning to execution, by virtue of the training and leadership prowess he has had. This is the case in all walks of life, i.e. what is required of the leadership in any domain is to excel in that particular field it is captain of.

We strongly take issue with those theologians over what they perceive of a prophet's capabilities. The role of the prophet was not of a person who should lay down the building blocks for disciplines such as natural science and mathematics. It was not his job to teach linguistics. He was not required to be erudite in all disciplines or languages, let alone being peerless from a prophetic standpoint. As has already been outlined in the above Quranic verses, his task was to guide people to that which good and serve warning to them against doing what was bad. That is, do deliver them from the darkness to the light – the way of the Mighty and the Praiseworthy.

This can clearly be gleaned from stressing the human nature of the prophet who had access to revelation, and categorically dismissing the notion that he could know the unseen, so much so that he was not in a position to ward off any harm that might have come his way; nor could be bring himself any good that might have been forthcoming:

Say: "I have no power over any good of harm to myself except as God wills. If I had knowledge of the unseen, I should have multiplied all good, and no evil should have touched me: I am but a Warner, and a bringer of glad tidings to those have faith". (7:188)

Say: "I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration; I am but a Warner open and clear". (46:9)

However, God may favor his messenger with some private knowledge:

He (alone) knows the Unseen, nor does He make any one acquainted with His Mysteries, Except an apostle whom He has chosen: and then He makes a band of watchers march before him and behind him. (72:26-27).

Some Quranic verses talk about the linguistic knowledge of the Prophet, only to dismiss it. This was the story of the unbeliever accusing him of being taught by some person. The Quranic answer was unequivocal, in that the person who, they alleged, was coaching him was non-Arab, whereas the language of the Qur'an was clearly Arabic. How could the charge then stand? It is obvious that this answer would not have been sufficient to leave the unbelievers dumbfounded, unless the Prophet was not conversant with the tongue of the non-Arab person in question, because it would have been possible for the Prophet to understand him or to translate what he was dictating to him about the Torah and the Bible, or other narrative:

We know indeed that they say, 'It is a man that teaches him'. The tongue of him they wickedly point to is notably foreign, while this is Arabic, pure and clear. (13:103).

We feel a certain reserve about agreeing with the proponents of the notion that makes is necessary for a prophet to be superior in everything. Our position is based on the fact that a prophet did not need all that. However, we cannot see why a prophet could not posses most of these superior qualities, both realistically and objectively, i.e. as distinct personal qualities, not prophetic by necessity, according to conclusive rational judgment, as they maintain.