Some of the first converts to Islam were subjected to the severest persecutions in Makka. They bore them patiently and never thought of retaliation, as the Qur’an ordered the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to call unbelievers to the way of God with wisdom and fair preaching and advised him to repel the evil with what was better, and to respond to the sins and faults of his enemies with forbearance and forgiveness. Eventually, the intolerance of the Makkan polytheists compelled the Muslims to abandon their homes and property in Makka and emigrate to Madina where they could live according to their beliefs, and where the full social and legal dimensions of Islam could evolve in peace. But the hostility of the Makkans continued and in Madina itself, the Muslims became the target of Jewish conspiracies. Also, since the Helpers, the native believers of Madina, had to share, although willingly, everything they had with their emigrant brothers, all the Muslims suffered privations. In such straitened circcumstances, God Almighty permitted them, because they had been wronged and driven from their homes unjustly, to fight against their enemies.
The Battle of Badr was the first major confrontation of the Muslims with the enemy forces. Although outnumbered, the believers won a great victory. Until then - if we do not accept the opinions of some interpreters of the Qur’an that sura Muhammad, which contains regulations about how to treat prisoners of war, was revealed before sura al-Anfal - no Divine commandment had been revealed about how the captives should be treated. The Muslims did not even know whether they were to kill the enemy on the battlefield or take them as prisoners. After the battle the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, consulted, as he always did where there was no specific Divine commandment, with his Companions on this question. Abu Bakr said:
‘O God’s Messenger! They are your people. Even though they did you and the believers great wrong, you will win their hearts and cause their guidance if you forgive them and please them.’
However, ‘Umar gave this opinion: O Gods Messenger! The prisoners of war are the leading figures of Makka. If we kill them, unbelief will no longer be able to recover to encounter us. So, hand over to each of the Muslims his kin among them. Hand over to ‘Ali his brother ‘Aqil to kill. Let Abu Bakr kill his son, Abd al-Rahman, and ....[so on].’
Gods Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, turned to Abu Bakr and said:
You are, 0 Abu Bakr, like the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, who said: ‘He who follows me is of me, and he who disobeys me- but You are indeed Oft- Forgiving, Most Compassionate (Qur’an, 14.36). You are also like Jesus, who said: ‘If You punish them, they are Your servants. If You forgive them, You are the All- Mighty, the All-Wise’ (Qur’an, 5.118).
Then he turned to ‘Umar and said:
O Umar! You are like Noah, who said: ‘0 my Lord! Leave not even a single unbeliever on earth!’ (Qur’an, 71.26). You are also like Moses, who said [of Pharaoh and his chieftains]: ‘Our Lord, destroy their riches and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful chastisement’ (Qur’an, 10. 88).
MAN AND RELIGION
The episode just mentioned above from the early history of Islam illustrates an important aspect of the nature of man in relation to the mission of Prophethood and religion in man’s life.
Man is a ‘tripartite’ being composed of the spirit, the carnal self and the body. These three elements are so closely interrelated that neglecting one results in failure to achieve perfection. Man has accordingly been endowed with three essential faculties, namely the spiritual intellect, reason and will. During his life-time, man experiences a continual inner struggle to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. The motor of this struggle is the will, as directed by the reason. However, human reason can be swayed by carnal desires, personal feelings, interests and such emotions as anger and rancour, so it needs as its guide the spiritual intellect. The spiritual intellect, including conscience, is the source of moral values and virtues. Historically, it is the Divinely revealed religions that have determined what is right and wrong on the authority of their Revealer, namely God, and of the character of the Prophets who conveyed His revelation.
Because of his worldly nature, man can be too obedient a servant of his lusts. When such men as are captive to their lusts gain enough power to rule over their fellows, they light fires of oppression on the earth and reduce the poor and the weak to slaves or servants. Human history is full of such instances. However, as God is All-Just and never approves oppression, He sent His Prophets in certain phases of that history in order to guide and correct the individual and collective life of mankind.
All of the Prophets came with the same doctrine, the fundamentals of which are believing in One God, Prophethood, the Resurrection, Angels, Divine Scriptures and Divine Destiny, and worshipping God. All of the Prophets also conveyed the same moral principles. In this sense, all the Divine religions are one and the same, but the flow of history through some epochs varying in cultural, geographical, social and economic conditions required different Prophets to be sent to each nation and certain differences to be made in the acts and forms of worship and in the subdivisions of the law - until such time as these conditions allowed that the Seal of the Prophets, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, could be sent and the religion completed so that, in its essentials, it sufficed thenceforth to solve all the problems humankind will encounter until the end of time and be applicable in all conditions. (There is an important point to be added in this connection. When a Prophet passed away, his nation over time altered some of the principles of his religion, borrowed some polytheistic elements from pagan practices, and went astray, thus corrupting the Divine religion. This historical fact was another reason for the Prophets being sent one after the other over the (course of time).
MOSES, JESUS AND MUHAMMAD
Islam, as the last, universal form of the Divine religion, orders its followers to believe in all of the Prophets. Being a Muslim also means being a follower of Jesus and Moses and of all the other Prophets at the same time. The Qur’an declares:
The Messenger (Muhammad) believes in what has been revealed to him by his Lord, and so do the believers. They all believe in God and His angels, His Scriptures and His Messengers: ‘We make no distinction between any of His Messengers’-and they say: ‘We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, our Lord; to You is the journeying’ (2.285).
Since, due to their historical conditions, the messages of all the previous Prophets were restricted to a certain people and period, certain principles had prominence in those messages. Also, God bestowed some special favours on each Prophet and community according to the dictates of the time. For example, Adam was favoured with knowledge of the names’, that is, the keys to all branches of knowledge. Noah was endowed with steadfastness and perseverance. Abraham was honoured with intimate friendship with God and being the father of numerous Prophets. Moses was given the capability of administration and exalted through being the direct addressee of God, and Jesus was distinguished with patience, tolerance and compassion. All the Prophets have, however, some share in the praiseworthy qualities mentioned, but each of them surpasses, on account of his mission, the others in one or more than one of those qualities.
When the Prophet Moses was raised as a Prophet, the Israelites were leading a wretched existence under the rule of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Because of the despotic rule and oppression of the Pharaohs, slavery was ingrained in the souls of the Israelites and had become a part of their character. In order to reform them, to equip them with such lofty feelings and values as freedom and independence, and to re-build their character and free them from subservience to the Pharaohs, the Prophet Moses came with a message containing stern and rigid rules and measures. This is why the Book given to Moses was called the Law. Again, as a requirement of his mission, the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, was a reformer and educator of somewhat unyielding and stern character. Therefore, it was quite natural for him to pray, in reference to Pharaoh and his chieftains: ‘Our Lord, destroy their riches and harden their hearts so that they will not believe until they see the painful chastisement.’
In the time when Jesus came, the Israelites had abandoned themselves to worldly pleasures and led a materialistic life. The Qur’an (9.34) states that not only the common people but also, and more so, the rabbis and scribes consumed the goods of others in vanity and barred people from God’s way. They exploited religion for worldly advantage:
You see many of them vying in sin and enmity and how they consume the unlawful; evil is the thing they have been doing. Why do the masters and rabbis not forbid them to utter sin, and consume the unlawful. Evil is the thing they have been doing (5.62-3).
A similar sentiment is to be found in the Gospels, attributed to Jesus:
You snakes-how can you say good things when you are evil. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good person brings good things out of his treasure of good things; a bad person brings bad things out of his treasure of bad things (Matthew, 12.34-5).
Take care: be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses Law. So you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do; do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don’t practise what they preach. They tie onto people’s backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry, yet they aren’t willing even to lift a finger to help them carry those loads. They do everything so that people will see them... They love the best places at feasts and the reserved seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and to have people call them Teacher... How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees. You hypocrites... You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practise, without neglecting the others (Matthew: Chapters 23, 13, and 12).
When Jesus, upon him be peace, was sent to the Israelites, the spirit of the Religion had been dwindled away and the Religion itself reduced to a device for its exponents to rob the common people. So, before proceeding to put the Law into effect, Jesus concentrated on faith, justice, mercy, humility, peace, love, repentance for one’s sins and begging God’s forgiveness, helping others, purity of heart and intention and sincerity:
Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor: ‘The Kingdom of heaven, belongs to them.
Happy are those who mourn: God will comfort them.
Happy are those who are humble: They will receive what God promised.
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires: God will satisfy them fully.
Happy are those who are merciful to others: God will be merciful to them.
Happy are the poor in heart: They will see God. (Matthew: 5.3-10).
As for the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, he has all the qualities mentioned above, except being the father of Prophets, and in addition, he has, because of the universality of his mission, the distinction of being like Moses in that he is a warner and established a Law and fought with his enemies, and like Jesus in that he is a bringer of good news who preached mercy, forgiveness, helping others, altruism, humility, sincerity, purity of intention and moral values of the highest degree. We should remember that the Qur’an declares that God sent the Prophet Muhammad as a mercy for the whole of creation. Again, Islam presents God, before all other Attributes and Names, as the All-Merciful and the All-Compassionate. This means God mainly manifests Himself as the All-Merciful and All-Compassionate and His wrath and punishment are only accidental. That is, it is man himself who attracts God’s wrath because of his sins and wrongdoing. But God is the All-Forgiving and He forgives most of the sins of His servants:
Whatever misfortune befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned and for many (of them) He grants forgive ness (Qur’an 42 30)
The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, had the mission of both Moses and Jesus. It is evident from the historical episode we mentioned at the beginning of this article that among the leading Companions, while Abu Bakr represented the mission of Jesus’, ‘Umar (may God be pleased with them both) stood for the mission of Moses’. Since Islam must prevail to the end of time, it requires its followers to act, according to circumstances, sometimes as Moses and sometimes as Jesus.
THE MESSIANIC MISSION OF JESUS CHRIST TOWARD THE END OF TIME
We see in the reliable books of Hadith many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, that the Prophet Jesus will come back to the world before the end of time and practise the law of Islam. Although those Traditions have so far been interpreted in different ways, it cannot be wrong to interpret them as meaning that, before the end of time, Islam must manifest itself mostly in that dimension of it represented by Jesus. That is, the main aspects of the Messengership of Jesus must be given prominence in preaching Islam. These aspects are:
Jesus always travelled. He never stayed in one place, he preached his message on the move. Therefore, in order to preach Islam, the ‘missionaries’ of Islam must travel or emigrate from place to place. They must be ‘the repenters, the worshippers, the travellers (in devotion to the cause of Islam and to convey it), the bowers, the prostraters, the commanders of good and the forbidders of evil, and the observers of God’s limits.’ For them there is good news (Qur’an, 9.112).
Second, mercy, love, and forgiveness had the first place in Jesus’ mission. He was a bringer of good news. Therefore, those who have dedicated themselves to the cause of Islam must give prominence to mercy, love, and forgiveness and, never forgetting that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was sent as a mercy for all the worlds, for the whole of existence, they must convey good news to every place and call people to the way of God with wisdom and fair exhortation. They must never be repelling.
The world today needs peace more than at any time in history,
and most of the problems of the modern world arise from excessive worldliness, scientific materialism and the ruthless exploitation of nature. Everyone talks so much today of the danger of war and the pollution of air and water that peace and ecology are the most fashionable words on people’s tongues. But the same people wish to remove those problems through further conquest and domination of nature. The problem lies in rebelling against Heaven and in the destruction of the equilibrium between man and nature as a result of the modern materialistic conception of, and a corrupt attitude toward, man and nature.Most people are reluctant to perceive that peace within human societies and with nature is possible through peace with the spiritual order. To be at peace with the earth one must be at peace with the spiritual dimension of one’s existence and this is possible by being at peace with Heaven.
In the Qur’an, Jesus introduces himself as follows: ‘I am indeed a servant of God... He has commanded me to pray and to give alms as long as I live. And He has made me dutiful to my mother and has not made me oppressive, wicked. (19.31-2)
This means, from the viewpoint of Jesus’ promised mission toward the end of time, children will not be dutiful to their parents. Therefore, the ‘missionaries’ of Islam in our age must, besides performing their prayers accurately and helping the poor and needy, be very careful about showing due respect to their parents and elders. The Qur’an enjoins: ‘Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you show kindness to your parents. If either or both of them attain old age with you, (show no sign of impatience, and) do not even say ‘fie’ to them; nor rebuke them, but speak kind words to them (17.23).
One of Jesus’ miracles was healing diseases and reviving the dead by leave of God, that is, respect for life was very important in his message. The Qur’an attaches the same degree of importance to life and itual dimension of one’s existence and this is possible by being at peace with Heaven.
One of Jesus’ miracles was healing diseases and reviving the dead by leave of God, that is, respect for life was very important in his message. The Qur’an attaches the same degree of importance to life and regards one who kills a man wrongly as if he had killed all mankind, while, on the other hand, one who saves a life is as if he had saved the life of all mankind. So, those who have dedicated themselves to the cause of Islam must attach the utmost importance to life and therefore try to prevent wars, find cures for illnesses and know that reviving a person spiritually is more important than healing diseases. The Quran declares: ‘O you who believe! Obey God and the Messenger, when the Messenger calls you to that which gives you life’ (8.24).