Chapter 1: Revelation and Prophethood
A belief in revelation and Prophethood emanates from a particular conception of the world and man, which involves a belief in the universality of Divine guidance. The principle of universal guidance is a part of the monotheistic conception of the world as presented by Islam. As Allah, the Almighty is a compulsorily self-existing in every respect and absolutely Beneficent; He extends His favour to every species of the existing things in accordance with its capability and guides it on its evolutionary journey.
This guidance covers everything from the tiniest particle to the largest star and from the lowest lifeless existence to the highest living being known to us, that is man. That is why the Holy Qur'an has used the word revelation in connection with the guidance of inorganic material, plants and animals as it has used it in connection with the guidance of man.
No existing thing in this world is at rest. Everything is moving towards its goal. At the same time all indications show that everything is pushed to its goal by a mysterious force existing within it. It is this force that is called Divine guidance. The Holy Qur'an reports that Prophet Musa said to the Fir'awn of his time:
"Our Lord is He who gave everything its distinctive nature and then guided it." (Surah Ta Ha, 20:50)
Our world is a world of goals. Everything is being attracted to its evolutionary goal by an inner force, or Divine guidance.
The word wahi meaning revelation has been repeatedly used in the Holy Qur'an. The way how it has been used and the occasions on which it has been used, show that the Holy Qur'an does not consider the revelation to be confined to man. The Holy Qur'an believes it to be effective in the case of everything, at least in the case of all living beings. That is why it talks of revelation even to the bee. All that may be said is that revelation and guidance have degrees which vary in accordance with the degree of the evolution of the different things.
The highest degree of revelation is that which is made to the Prophets. This kind of revelation is based on man's need of Divine guidance so that he may proceed towards a goal beyond the perceptible and material world, to which he must go in any case. In addition, revelation meets man's requirements in his social life which needs a divinely sanctioned law. We have already explained man's need to an evolutionary ideology and his inability to frame such an ideology himself.
The Prophets are a sort of a receiving set in human form. They are chosen individuals capable of receiving guidance and knowledge from the invisible world. It is Allah alone who can judge who is fit to be a Prophet. The Holy Qur'an says.
"Allah knows best whom to entrust with His message." (Surah al-An'am, 6:124)
Though revelation is a phenomenon, which is beyond the purview of direct human perception and experiment, its impact can be felt, like the impact of many other forces, in the effects which it produces. Divine revelation produces a deep and tremendous impact on the personality of its recipient that is the Prophet. It 'raises' the Prophet to truth. In other words, it stimulates his talents and faculties and brings about a deep and big revolution in his person for the good of humanity. It endows him with an absolute conviction. History has not witnessed such a conviction as that of the Prophets and the persons produced by them.
Characteristics of Prophets
The Prophets who through revelation come in contact with the source of existence, have certain distinguishing characteristics to which we refer below:
Every Prophet raised by Allah was endowed with a kind of supernatural power by means of which he worked one or more miracles to prove the truth and Divinity of his message and mission.
The Holy Qur'an calls the miracles wrought by the Prophets by the will of Allah, 'Ayat' that is the sign of Prophethood. The Holy Qur'an says that in every age the people have asked the Prophets of their time to work some miracles for them. The demand being reasonable and logical, the Prophets acceded to it, because otherwise it was not possible for those who sought truth, to acknowledge their Prophethood. Anyway the Prophets declined to accede to a request for a miracle if it was made with an intention other than seeking truth.
For example, if an offer was made in the form of a bargain and the people said to a Prophet that they would embrace his faith only; if he worked a particular miracle, their request was ignored. However, the Holy Qur'an has recounted many miracles of the Prophets, such as bringing the dead to life, curing the incurable, speaking in the cradle, turning a staff into a serpent, describing the unknown and foretelling future events.
Another distinguishing feature of the Prophets is their infallibility that is their immunity from committing a sin or making a mistake. The Prophets are not carried away by their personal desires. They do not err. Their infallibility is indisputable. But what does their infallibility actually mean? Does it mean that whenever they are about to commit a sin or to make a mistake, an angel comes and stops them in the same way as a father prevents his child from going astray?
Or does it mean that the Prophets have been created in such a way that they are incapable of doing anything wrong just like an angel who, for example, cannot commit adultery for he has no sexual desire, or like a machine, which makes no mistake because it has no brain?
Or is it that the reason why the Prophets do not sin nor do they err is that they have been endowed with a particular degree of intuition, faith and conviction?
Yes, that is the only right explanation. Now let us take up each of these two kinds of immunity separately.
Immunity from Sins
Man is a free being. He himself determines what is beneficial to him and what is harmful, and on that basis he decides what he should do. His judgement plays an important role in his choice. It is impossible that he should choose to do a thing which according to his judgement is rather harmful to him than beneficial. For example a sensible man interested in his life would never throw himself down from a hilltop nor would take a lethal poison.
Individuals vary from the viewpoint of the strength of their faith and the extent of their consciousness of the consequences of a sin. The stronger their faith and the keener their consciousness, the less sins they will commit. Should the faith of a man be so strong that while committing a sin he feels as if he was throwing himself down from the top of a hill, the chance of his sinning will be nil.
We call this state infallibility. Here infallibility originates from the perfection of faith and piety. To be infallible and immune, man does not require an external force to restrain him from committing sins, nor is there any need of his being powerless by nature. Not to commit a sin is not commendable if a man is unable to commit it, or is prevented from committing it by an external force. The position of a man who is unable to commit a sin is similar to that of a prisoner who is unable to commit a fraud. Naturally a prisoner cannot be described as an honest and upright man.
Immunity of the Prophets from sins and errors is an outcome of their intuition. A mistake occurs when a man comes into contact with a reality through his internal and external senses and forms some mental pictures of it which he analyses with the help of his mental faculties. In that case he may make a mistake in arranging his mental pictures or applying them to the external reality.
But when he comprehends an external reality direct through a special sense, having no need of forming any mental picture of it, and his very apprehension of a reality means his direct contact with it, the question of making any mistake does not arise. The Prophets have a contact with the realities of the world from within themselves. Naturally no mistake can be imagined to exist in a reality itself.
For example, if we put 100 rosary beads in a receptacle, then put another 100 beads in it and repeat this act 100 times, we may not be able to keep the count correctly and may not be sure whether we have repeated the action 100 times, 99 times or 101 times. But the actual reality cannot be different from what it is.
Though the action has been repeated 100 times, the actual number of the beads can neither be less nor more than what it is. The men who are in the midst of reality and close to the root of existence are immune from making any kind of mistake. They are infallible.