By: Wahiduddin Khan
All of the prophets who came into this world had an identical mission. They taught that man’s life on earth was but an infinitesimal part of his eternal life. In this world he was put to the test. Reward or punishment would come in the next. After death, if he had followed the Lord’s path, he would find his eternal abode in heaven. But, if he had strayed from it, he would be plunged straight into hell. His damnation would be everlasting. This was the reality of life taught by each and every one of the Prophets.
Adam was the first man on earth and also the first Prophet. He was succeeded by a long line of prophets right up to the time of the Muhammad. Altogether there have been some 124,000 messengers of God. They appeared in different lands and among different peoples, preaching the word of God and exhorting people to live in fear of Him. But very few of those they addressed have ever proved willing to give up their freedom for the sake of God.
Few people, for instance, followed the Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist) and he died a martyr’s death. When Lot left his people, only two of his daughters accompanied him. According to the Old Testament, only eight people entered the ark along with Noah. When Abraham left his native country, Iraq, the only people to accompany him were his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot, although they were later joined by his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Even after great missionary effort on the part of Jesus, the priests and religious authorities who heard his teachings did not follow him, and even his twelve friends temporarily forsook him at the moment of truth.
This was the unhappy lot of most of the prophets. The ties of kith and kin sometimes brought a handful of followers to the more fortunate, but as often as not, would-be prophets were forced by the inattention and insensitivity of those around them to live out their lives in solitude and persecution. This verse of the Qur’an very aptly sums up common attitudes to Prophethood throughout the history of mankind:
How regretful for the servants. There did not come to them any messenger except that they used to ridicule him. (Yasin 36:30)
How extraordinary it is, then, that prophets are the very ones to whom the least historical importance has been attached. History has fully chronicled the lives of kings and soldiers, but not one single prophet’s life has been given its due place in the annals of history. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who was born one thousand years after the Prophet Moses, was not even acquainted with Moses’ name. The reason is not far to seek: most of the prophets were rejected by their peoples; their homes were demolished; they were treated as outcasts from society; they appeared so unimportant that no one deemed it necessary even to make any mention of them.
Why were the prophets treated in this manner?
There was just one reason for this, and that was their criticism of current practices, especially of the established religious authorities, the priesthood. People love nothing more than being praised; and they loathe nothing more than being criticized. The prophets exposed the difference between right and wrong, making no compromise with their peoples.
They were persistently pointing out the faults in people’s beliefs and actions. Consequently, people turned against them. If the prophets had taught what everyone wanted to hear, they would never have been treated in this manner.
Although this was the fate of most of the prophets, a few of them were spared, Joseph, Solomon and David being names that immediately spring to mind. But the power and prestige that these prophets acquired was not due to the popularity of their teachings; they had an entirely separate origin.
David was a young soldier in the army of the Israelites under King Saul, during the time that the Israelites and Philistines went to war with each other. Among the army of Philistines was the giant Goliath. So, powerful a fighter was he that no one was prepared to do battle with him. King Saul then announced that he would give his daughter in marriage to anyone who slew Goliath. David came forward, challenged the giant, and killed him. In this way he became the son-in-law of the King of Israel. In a subsequent war, both King Saul and his heir apparent were killed in battle. David was thereupon crowned King of Israel. Solomon was David’s son, and succeeded to his father’s throne. As for Joseph, he was endowed by God with the ability to interpret dreams and the King of Egypt, impressed by his ability, went so far as to entrust the affairs of state to him. But the King still remained head of state and he and his subjects continued to adhere to their pagan religion.
This hostile treatment meted out to the prophets throughout the ages, deprived people of true guidance and, what was even more serious, made the preservation of the scriptures and teachings of the prophets impossible. Only a prophet’s followers can preserve his teachings after him; but the prophets either had no followers, or so few as to be unable to counter the challenges of their society to the preservation of the Holy Scriptures.
The knowledge of God is eternal. He sees the future just as He does the past. He was aware, before the sending of the prophets, that this would be the fate of the human race. So He had decreed that He would remedy this situation at the end of the prophetic era by sending His own special envoy to the world: a prophet whose task would be not only to preach religion, but also to exalt it above all others on earth. He would be granted special succor from God, enabling him to compel his people to bow to the truth. God would keep him on earth until he had rectified the perversions of the society around him. God’s own Might would assist the Prophet to vanquish his enemies. In this way the true religion would be established on solid foundations and God’s Word would be perpetuated, as it says in the Bible, “for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”
Translations and additions have taken the present day Bible very far from the original. But it still contains multiple references to the coming of the Prophet Muhammad. If one studies the Bible objectively, one will find certain references that cannot be applied to anyone else. The very purpose of the mission of the Prophet Jesus was to announce to the world, and to the Jewish nation in particular, the coming of the final prophet. The “New Testament” to which he referred was, in truth, Islam, for it marked the end of Jewish religious hegemony and projected the Children of Ishmael as the true recipients of the word of God. Hence, the rise of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Prophet Jesus came to the world six hundred years before the last of the Prophets. In one reference to Jesus, the Qur’an has this to say:
And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” (As-Saff 61:6)
The words “Ahmad” and “Muhammad” have the same meaning: the praised one. In the Gospel of Barnabas the name of the coming prophet is given quite clearly as Muhammad. But since Christians consider the Gospel of Barnabas to be apocryphal, we do not consider it proper to quote from that source. We cannot even be sure whether Jesus, in his prophecy, referred to Ahmad or Muhammad. Most probably he used a word with the same meaning as these names.
In his biography of the Prophet, Ibn Hisham quotes the historian, Muhammad ibn Ishaq, the most authentic source on the Prophet’s life, as saying that when Jesus spoke in his mother tongue the word that he used of the coming prophet was “Munhamann” meaning “the praised one.” This traditionally accepted appellation was probably passed on to him by Palestinian Christians who had come under Islamic rule. When the Bible was translated into Greek, the word became “Paraclete”.
Source: Taken from the author’s Muhammad, a Prophet for All Humanity.