The universe is characterized by a question mark after its whole existence; Prophethood provides the answer to that question. We have before us a grand and impeccable universe. Not only does it visibly exist, but it is also in perpetual motion; it functions with clockwork regularity and is free of all imperfections. Extremely meaningful activities are taking place within it, and all its component parts are coordinated with total precision. In spite of the incredibly vast and multifaceted expanse which it occupies, it shows absolute perfection in its system of functioning.
On seeing such a universe, one has to ask, “Who is its Creator?” “Who is its Master?” and, “How has all this been brought into being from nothingness?”
The universe puts these questions to us, but it does not give us the answers. It gives us a glimpse of the rainbow without showing us the face of its Creator. There is motion in this world, there is life and there is light. Creativity is at work in every nook and cranny, powered by an all-pervading energy which manifests itself in a great diversity of forms. Many are the life forms in this world, and as many are the ‘languages’ in which they express themselves, but, as far as the all-important questions are concerned, all remain silent. Neither is there any material thing to give mankind answers to those questions- no signboards on the mountainsides, no special cloud formations in the sky. Here is a riddle which simply cries out for someone to provide us with the answers.
Besides this, an even more difficult question arises as to the ultimate destination of the universe.
Everything in it is in motion. The Earth spins on a never-ending journey. The solar system is constantly revolving and, as it does so, takes the Earth and other planets irresistibly in one particular direction. The galaxy to which our solar system belongs is also in motion, taking our solar system and other stars on an unending journey through space. The whole universe is on its way to some destination. But there is no part of the celestial caravan which gives us an inkling of where it is going- or even if it will ever come to rest.
This is a question of the utmost importance to man, for he too is part of that celestial caravan. He too is careering towards an unknown destination. Unless he is enlightened as to, the nature of his journey and his final destination, his life will be lived in a twilight of doom and uncertainty. This state of affairs demands that there should be some way of giving man this precious information. How else is he to understand the reality confronting him?
Another important question which is closely related to this is what man should, and should not do. All human beings find themselves in situations where more than on line of action is possible. Which of these are they to choose and what standards must they set themselves in order to make the best choice? Human beings are not like water whose course is determined for it by the ups and downs of the land it is crossing. They are not like the stars which move according to a certain order without having to give a thought to it. Nor are they like the trees whose skyward growth is not of their own choosing.
Unlike the objects of the universe, which are never faced with options, man has always to think of what to do, how to do it, what to take and what to leave. Because of the will and power with which he has been invested, he finds himself eternally confronted with moral dilemmas. Man, in fact, is the only being in the universe for which a definite course of action has not been laid down.
Functioning with perfect regularity, the Sun daily gives us light, but it does not throw any light on the question our lives. Winds blow all over the world, bringing the fragrance of the flowers to our nostrils, but they do not bring us any news concerning the basic issues confronting us. Water remains liquid, freezes, turns into vapour all in accordance with a definite law. It provides us with coolness and moisture. It is the most refreshing of all drinks but does not aid us at all in our quest for the truth. The Earth unfailingly rotates upon its axis, thereby removing the veil of night and bringing to us the light of day but it does not lay bare to us the secret of life. Trees burst upward through the surface of the earth, to go to work like some highly efficient factory, providing us with nourishment and shade; but they give us nothing with which to nourish our minds. The birds cheer us with their melodies, never in doubt themselves as to which course to adopt. But no message do they pass on to us in a language we can understand. Stars and planets keep faithfully to their path, never deviating by a single second from their heavenly schedule. Yet they do not reveal the goal towards which mankind is meant to strive.
Everything in the universe, from tiny ants to vast constellations, adheres to a single definite course, and, judging from the way all things are faithful to the pattern laid down for them, they are fully aware of the course they are meant to steer. Only man remains in ignorance of his course of action. In this, he stands alone in the universe – an unaware creature adrift in an all-knowing Cosmos. He sees everything proceeding in due course towards its destination, but, as for himself, he has no idea of what he should do, or where he should go.
Another, more important characteristic which distinguishes man from the rule-bound objects of the universe is that he has the power to do as he wills, launching himself on this or that course of action, or refraining from it altogether, as he chooses. The Earth rotates on its axis and travels in its orbit without infringing upon the domain of other planets. With man, things are very different. While all things in the world are geared in a certain direction, man is the only being with the capacity to proceed in more than one direction so that when man leaves his own domain, he often encroaches upon those of his fellow men. This fact alone shows that a man must chalk out his course of action in a way very different from the remainder of the Universe. The denizens of the animal and vegetable kingdoms have an innate knowledge of their path, just as celestial objects have their appointed course. But man is not born with this knowledge, and must find it elsewhere.
History, sad to say, has demonstrated man’s inability to seek out the correct course in life. He maybe endowed with a keen intellect and a broad-based understanding, but these have proved woefully inadequate in dealing with the basic issue in life – the question of what course of action to adopt. No efforts of his own can enable him to arrive at an answer to this question: the experience of thousands of years has shown this to be true.
Not finding any answer to his question in the world around him, man started delving into the matter himself, but whole generations of truth-seekers have failed to arrive at any convincing conclusions. Man may have discovered the principles underlying the motion of the stars and planets but he has not been successful in finding out anything about his own life’s journey – where it began, and where it will all come to an end. He has discovered the laws of the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds, but the law of himself has remained a mystery to him. He has grasped the fact that when matter is destroyed, it converts into energy – which then turns into matter when destroyed itself. What happens to a man after death? No answer to this question has so far been furnished by the human intellect. Scientists have discovered that all objects in the universe are governed in their behaviour by one unchanging law, and that they have continued to function for millions of years without once deviating in the slightest from the dictates of this law. But, as for the law which guides man in his life – he has remained in the dark as to what this may be. Using the most advanced equipment, man has gazed into the outreaches of space and delved deep into the internal working of the tiniest of atoms. But he has not been able to gain an insight into the reality of man, or even according to what Plan he has come into the world.
To find out about himself is man’s greatest need, yet, in this, he is quite helpless. His very helplessness shows the he is in desperate need of someone to guide him. Here lies the conclusive proof of the necessity for Prophethood for without Prophetic Guidance, man is unable to make his life meaningful. The teachings of the Prophets which provided complete and, therefore, satisfactory answers to all the questions confronting man, are, in themselves, a proof that the Prophets were sent into the world by God, and that they derived their knowledge from Him. One of the most important features of their mission is to explain the divine laws by which man must allow his existence to be governed, for, unlike the non-human creature of this world, man has no innate knowledge of the laws to which he must conform.
The crucial point made by Muhammad the Prophet of Islam (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him), is that this universe has One God who, with His extraordinary strength and wisdom, controls and sustains it. In order to understand how perfectly satisfactory this explanation is, let us imagine a complex piece of machinery which runs with perfect precision, but which bears no inscription which would give us a clue as to its origins. Onlookers, amazed at its masterly construction, would dearly like to know the name of the manufacturer. Their curiosity is at last set at rest when an informed person names the most advanced factory in the entire field of engineering as its place of manufacture. This quite adequately explains how all its parts happen to work with such smooth coordination.
Likewise, our wonder at the impeccable functioning of our colossal universe and our curiosity about how it came into existence are satisfied by the Prophet’s explanation that there is one all-powerful God, who has created this world and who guides it on its journey by means of His divine power. We find this answer acceptable because it is in no way far-fetched. Belief in God, in fact, is in no essential way different from belief in ourselves. At the purely human level, we apprehend ourselves as beings that see, hear, think, move around, and use their hands and their brains, make plans, make things happen in the world, and so on. Just this experience of ourselves tells us that human beings are invested with certain powers, albeit in limited form. What then is so extraordinary about these same powers being embodied, to absolute perfection, in an all-powerful God? The relative scales on which these powers are enjoyed may be widely different but, in essence, the powers remain the same. The “I am” that everyone understands in everyday life is the very statement which proves that “God is”.
The other certainty which the Prophet brings to us is that this universe has a definite end which will become manifest to us after death. He makes it clear also that the power which man appears to wield in this world has been granted to him only for a certain limited period of time so that he may be put to the divine test. When this period is over, the present Order will be replaced with a new and perfect one, and, whereas God is now hidden from our view, He will at that time become manifest in all His Might and Majesty. If He remains concealed from us at the present time, it is so that we may the more effectively be put to the test. Everyone is given the opportunity to make the most of his or her time in this world, but it is only those who prove faithful to God, when God was as yet hidden from the world, who will receive God’s blessings to the fullest extent in the world that is to come. Those who remained at a distance from God in this world will find themselves far removed from His blessings in the eternal world of the afterlife.
The word of the Prophet is the ultimate truth, for, is it conceivable that God should create a sensate being such man without His ever appearing before him to allow him to see and know his Lord?
It is likewise inconceivable that a world which appears so meaningful to us should have no just conclusion, and that there should not come a day when wrong-doing and injustice are exposed for what they are. Here, once again, the message that the Prophet brings us about the Day of Judgment strikes a welcome chord in the human heart. In a world where things come into being from nothingness, as it were, where day follows night, where mighty trees spring from tiny seeds, where today is always followed by tomorrow, we should have no difficulty in accepting the idea of a Hereafter. It is like the breaking of a new day, but on a wider horizon than the daybreak we witness with our own eyes in this world. Once we have had it put to us in this way, we find it quite easy to accept the coming of an even greater tomorrow than that which comes to us daily with the rising of the sun. The word of the Prophet converts what we feel should happen into a conscious conviction. It puts the stamp of certainty on an event which is only hinted at by the happenings of this world.
Human beings, by their very nature, desire a definite focus for their attention, some point upon which they can concentrate their thoughts and emotions. This is a continual need which is felt by all. Some meet this need by giving all their attention to their wives and families, to their tribe, clan or country. Some make wealth or power their central purpose in life. Few of these things, however, are deserving of the serious consideration given to them by the majority of the people, and can cause a distinct perversion of what human urges ought to be. None of these things have the capacity to give a man moral support in times of need, and none will improve the prospects of his life having a successful outcome.
The attainment of goals connected with the abovementioned personal interests is almost invariably, at the expense of another and this leads to continuous strife in society. What people need is the kind of focus for their attention which will contribute to their own spiritual uplift without causing any harm to others. The prime focus offered to mankind by the Prophet is the worship of Almighty God. This means putting one’s trust in Him and realizing Him and loving Him above all else. This is a course of action which has been made easy for us to understand by the Prophet’s showing us how God, unlike finite matter, is infinite not only in His power but in His accessibility. He has made it plain that there can be no worthier focus of our attention; his advocacy of this cause supports his claim that he has been sent to the world by God.
One of the major afflictions of human society is that no matter how faultlessly its laws are formulated, there are always people who will find loopholes in them. The wielder of power defies the law, the rich man buys ‘justice’ and the clever manipulator conceals his wrong-doing or displays it in a favourable light. When human beings deal with other human beings without any reference whatsoever to God, all kinds of malpractices are to be expected. But the moment God becomes the true focus of attention, all such ignoble activity ceases outright. When one is truly and sincerely dealing with God, from whom nothing can be hidden, one steps warily, and with due regard for one’s fellow-men. We should never lose sight of the fact that the law can never be upheld unless there is the kind of respect for it which is rooted in the fear of God.
The essential factor in the making of a sound world order is the spirit of self-sacrifice. What does such sacrifice entail? It means giving precedence to the opinions of others, seeing the credit due to oneself given to others, putting others’ interests before those of one’s own household, and even handing over one’s own hard-earned wealth to others, or expending energy on apparently thankless tasks. Without this spirit of sacrifice, society degenerates into a den of deceit and plunder. It is when people believe that there is no other life but the life of this world that they have no incentive to be self-sacrificing. Without God as the focus of attention, society is inevitably torn with strife, making it impossible for a harmonious environment ever to develop on earth.
The Prophet, however, shows mankind a different and better destiny, one which is based on the worship of God and the self-sacrifice which that entails. Moreover, he makes people realize that their sacrifices are not a senseless waste, for they will be fully rewarded in the Afterlife. When people begin to realize what value their right action will have in the eyes of God, they will root out all injustice from society and lay down a solid foundation for truth and justice. Everyone will then be ready to sacrifice his own interests, without which no stable and upright society can come into existence. The religion brought by the Prophet of Islam is no different from that brought by his forerunners. Its only distinguishing feature is that, whereas the previous religions could not survive intact after the passing of their Prophets, that of Islam has been preserved in its pristine form right down to the present day. It was because the followers of previous religions were not powerful enough to preserve their religion in its original form that God sent the Prophet of Islam as the final Prophet to the world, and helped him to gain ascendancy over all other nations and religious denominations. The success of the Prophet was indeed extraordinary, giving tangible proof that he was truly a Prophet of God, for such success has not been the lot of any other individual throughout the entire history of the world. Such an incomparable victory could never have been within the grasp of an ordinary human being, and it was only with divine assistance that the Prophet could triumph in the way he did.
The victory of the Prophet of Islam over his enemies and the success enjoyed by his mission, both in and outside Arabia, are unique events in world history. This is a fact accepted by reputed historians who freely admit that the Prophet’s success has never been equalled either before or after him. Even those who do not believe in him feel compelled to put the Prophet’s name at the top of any list they compile of great figures in world history.
The Prophet’s unique and exceptional success is usually categorized as a human achievement, pure and simple, thus entitling him to lavish praise as a great personality. But there is obviously more to his success than this, for if it was nothing more than a human achievement, in the normal sense of the expression, why is it that no other human being has been able to equal it? There should have been nothing to prevent other figures in history from winning similar or even greater victories. The truth of the matter is that the exceptional nature of the Prophet’s success is a sign of the most tremendous significance: it is a sign of his having had God’s assistance in whatever he did, it was because he was God’s Prophet, God’s representative on this earth, and that the Almighty gave him His divine succour. The exceptional success he achieved proved him over and over again not only to be an outstanding human being but to be the true Prophet of God.
What is even more important is that the Prophet’s success laid the ground work for the permanent preservation of the religion he brought. The triumph of his progress made it possible for his followers to found an empire extending over a vast area, and this in itself ensured the perpetuity of the Prophet’s religion. It is truly remarkable that fourteen hundred years have elapsed since the coming of the Prophet without his religion having been altered in the slightest way. It has been preserved in all its purity, exactly in the form in which the Prophet presented it to the world. In the past, the need for a new Prophet had always arisen because God’s religion, suffering from the vagaries of time had been frequently distorted from its original form. In ancient times, the nations who had been entrusted with the guardianship of the Divine Scriptures repeatedly betrayed that trust, allowing the Book of God to be laid waste. New Prophets, therefore, had to come to the world time and time again in order to revivify the true spirit of religion and to re-introduce its teachings in their true form to mankind. But after the Prophet of Islam, the world will see no further Prophets, for the Book which the Prophet gave to the world – the Qur’an – is still fully preserved in its original form.
It is not only God’s Scripture which is with us today, but His final Prophet’s very own spirit. It is as though he himself were still amongst us as a living Prophet, for his utterances, the events of his life, the struggle of his prophetic mission – altogether known as the Sunnah – have all been fully recorded – in the body of sacred traditions called the Hadith – and have remained, intact. Thanks to the advent of the modern printing press, authentic renderings of his thoughts and actions can be read and appreciated all over the world. It is an absolute certainty that he will remain God’s Messenger to mankind for all time to come.