By Abdur Raheem Kidwai
Who are Allah’s Messengers?
Allah has certainly done a favor to the believers when He sent down among them a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His revelation, purifies them, and teaches them the Book and wisdom, while before that people had been in manifest error. (Aal `Imran 3:164)
This concise Qur’anic passage states who is Allah’s Messenger, why he is sent down and what role and functions he performs.
A clear understanding of this key Qur’anic passage helps one grasp the Islamic concept of messengership and the important position of the Messenger in Islam, which is next only to that of Allah. Since the Messenger is central to faith, the Qur’an spells out distinctly his status and the domain of his activities.
This definitive Qur’anic statement was also necessary in view of the prevailing misperceptions among the Arabs of the day about venerating their messengers beyond the permitted limit, even to the point of ascribing divinity to them. The most glaring such example is that of the Christians who mistook their Messenger Jesus, son of Mary as, God forbid, the Son of God. The Hindus too, have misconstrued messengers as the incarnation of God.
Servants of Allah
The Qur’an dismisses such an outrageous proposition, asserting that it is beyond any messenger to lay claim to divinity:
It is not possible that a man to whom the Book has been given and wisdom and the Messenger’s office, should say to people: “Be you my worshipers, rather than Allah’s.” On the contrary, he would say: ”Be you worshippers of Him Who is truly the Cherisher of all.” (Aal `Imran 3:79)
Allah does not ask you to take angels and prophets for lords and patrons. What! Would He ask you to unbelief after you have surrendered to Him? (Aal `Imran 3:80)
The Qur’an makes a point of bringing out the humanness of all the messengers, especially the Prophet Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him). Take this statement as illustrative: “Jesus Christ does not disdain to serve and worship Allah”. (An-Nisaa’ 4:172)
He is seen declaring: “I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has blessed me with revelation and made me a Messenger.” (Maryam 19:30)
Significantly enough, almost all the messengers are introduced in the Qur’an as Allah’s servants, for example, Zakariyah (Maryam 19:2), Noah (al-Isra’ 17:3), David (Sad 38:17), Solomon (Sad 38:30), Job (Sad 38:41 and 44), Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael (Sad 38:45) and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) (Al-Israa’ 17:1, Al-Baqarah 2:23, Al-Furqan 25:1, Al-Kahf 18:1 and Al-Hadid 57:9).
In all these instances, the messengers are described as `AbduAllah (servant of Allah). Likewise, the Arabs of the Prophet Muhammad’s day found it hard, rather impossible, to believe that a fellow human being could serve as God’s Messenger. For them, it was too elevated an office to be held by a fellow human being.
Ordinary Human Beings
The Qur’an recounts the unbelievers’ rejection of messengers on the grounds that they are ordinary human beings:
There came to them Messengers with clear signs. But they said: ‘Shall a mere human being direct us?’ So they rejected the Message and turned away. (At-Taghabun 64:6).
The same point features in their remarks reported in the Qur’an elsewhere (see Ibrahim 14:10, Ya-Sin 36:15, Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:154 and 186, Al-Israa’ 17:94, Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:3, Al-Mu’minun 23:24, 33 and 47).
The messengers, however, always presented themselves as human beings:
Their Messengers said to them: ‘True, we are human like you, but Allah grants His grace to such of His servants as He pleases’. (Ibrahim 14:11)
Of a similar import are the following Qur’anic verses: Al-Israa’ 17:93, Al-Kahf 18:110 and Fussilat 41:6).
In sum, serious misgivings about the Messenger’s humanness, his office and his role had been in circulation when the Qur’an declared the above. This statement dispels all the mental cobwebs about this important institution, clarifying who the Messenger is and what he does by Allah’s command.
The first and foremost point to be noted is that the Messenger represents Allah’s invaluable favour to mankind. For, without the Messenger, mankind would have groped in error and ignorance.
Man would not, of course, have found his own way to Allah, and as a result, he would have missed forever such everlasting bounties from Allah as divine guidance, an excellent role model for leading one’s life and deliverance in the Next. We must be thankful to Allah for having blessed us with His messengers in the same measure as we owe gratitude to Allah for providing us with the basic necessities of life, for example, air, water, food and parents.
That Allah’s Messenger constitutes a divine favor for believers signifies that believers show their readiness to derive numerous and abiding benefits from the Messenger.
On the contrary, the unbelievers follow the path of self-destruction in rejecting him. The believers greet his message and so doing they improve their prospects both in this life and the Next. Allah’s Messenger, like any bounty of nature such as sunlight or rainfall is a source of immense benefit for everyone.
However, only the believers make the most of his message. By opposing and rejecting him the unbelievers foolishly deny themselves a great bounty.
As to the Qur’anic statement that the Messenger is “from among” the people whom he addresses, it stands out as yet another favour from Allah.
Had the Messenger been from some other species, say an angel or jinn, it would have been impossible for people to follow in his footsteps. For, he would simply have been too different to be emulated in any degree. In his response system, his abilities and capacities, his performance level and his deportment, someone from another species would not have provided an inspiration for man to follow.
The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s book “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, published by the Islamic Foundation.
Abdur Raheem Kidwai is a professor of English at the Aligarh Muslim University, India and a well-known author of many works on the Qur’an, Islam and Muslims. Of his books are “The Qur’an: Essential Teachings”, “Daily Wisdom: Selections from the Holy Qur’an”, “Daily Wisdom: Islamic Prayers and Supplications”, “Empowerment of Indian Muslims: Perspectives, Planning and Road Ahead”.