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Prophets

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Prophets

    Prophets—people believed to be divinely inspired messengers—revealed and spread the doctrines of many major religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They urged people to forsake sin and to pursue certain courses of action in order to fulfill God's will. Muhammad , through whom Islamic beliefs and practices were revealed, viewed himself as another in the line of the Christian and Jewish prophets that included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

    The Nature of Prophethood.

    Islam requires belief in Muhammad as a prophet. In the shahadah (profession of faith), the first Pillar of Islam, Muslims declare, “There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

    The Qur'an mentions two types of prophets—nabi and rasul. Both receive divine revelations. However, the revelations to the nabi contain a message for an existing community, whereas those to the rasul involve a major message that reforms an existing tradition or begins a new one. Anbiya (plural of nabi) typically spread knowledge through teachings and their own moral behavior. Rusul (plural of rasul) generally communicate their revelations in the form of a book of scripture. Every rasul is a nabi, but not every nabi is a rasul. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, Muhammad was the last of both.

    The prophets of the major religions fulfilled many functions. They served as witnesses to the unity of God, granted people an awareness of God's call to worship, and spread God's will for individuals and societies. Prophets further warned of God's final judgment on the world. Their teachings enabled people to make responsible moral decisions and to form communities based on religious principles.

    Prophets

    Islamic tradition considers Noah as one of the great prophets, along with Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. The account of Noah and the flood in the Qur'an is similar to that in the Bible. This illustration of Noah's Ark comes from a Turkish manuscript (1583).



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    Muslim scholars view prophethood as a sign of God's mercy, given in order for humans to know God's will. They believe that God chose as messengers individuals whose personalities would inspire others to accept his word and to change their lives. God elevated all messengers to the highest degree of moral and intellectual excellence. Prophets could make small mistakes, but could commit no major sins. They displayed four major traits—faithfulness to divine commands, truthfulness regarding God's word, wisdom in understanding the message, and the ability to transmit the message itself.

    Prophetic messages in traditional Islamic belief also contained four common elements. First, the prophet presented a clear description of God and his attributes. Second, the message revealed the nature of the unseen spirit world, including angels, jinn (spirits), heaven, and hell. The revelation also explained God's will, God's purposes, and the consequences of obedience and disobedience. Finally, a prophet explained how people should structure their societies to fulfill God's law.

    Muslims believe that God enabled prophets to perform miracles as evidence of the their elevated stature, indicating that they were not frauds. Islam teaches, however, that God, not the prophets, caused the miracles to occur. Through God, Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. Moses defeated the Egyptians, demonstrating that God does not allow sinners to prosper. According to Islamic teachings, the Qur'an is Muhammad's only miracle. Islamic scholars consider its prose and poetry unmatched in eloquence. They regard it as an ongoing wonder, written in perfect Arabic, which continues to provide divine guidance to humanity.

    Prophets According to Islam.

    Islam holds that all prophets belong to a single community and that God made a covenant with each of them before their human creation. God sent prophets to all peoples, each messenger revealing his will in the language of the land to which he or she had been sent. Muslim scholars believe that prophets existed in societies that Muhammad knew nothing about, such as Hindus, Buddhists, Aborigines, Native Americans, and others around the world. All conveyed the same basic message, using the various methods at their disposal.

    The Qur'an lists 25 prophets by name, stating that God also called on additional messengers not known to Muhammad. Muslims have debated the number of prophets sent by God. Some scholars calculate the total at 240,000. Others argue that God sent 124,000 messengers, but whichever number is used, it is meant to symbolize a quantity sufficient for all humanity. The Islamic tradition includes six great prophets: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

    Like Jews and Christians, Muslims recognize Adam as the first human being. God created Adam as his steward on earth, and taught him the nature of all things. The Qur'an and the Bible provide similar accounts of Adam's temptation to sin. Islamic tradition, however, rejects the notion that Adam passed original sin down to all humanity. Muslims believe that God restored Adam and Eve to grace after they repented.

    The Qur'anic account of Noah and the flood also corresponds with that found in the Bible. Ignoring the taunting of his countrymen, Noah obeyed a divine command to build an ark. God sent a flood to wipe out the unrighteous, and Noah and his family survived on the ark while the rest of humanity perished. According to the Qur'an, Noah went on to preach God's message for 950 years.

    Muslims recognize Abraham as the first great prophet. They believe that Abraham was the founding father of Islam through Ismail, his son with the slave woman Hagar. At the urging of his wife Sarah, Abraham sent Ismail and Hagar into the wilderness. The two nearly died of thirst, but God saved them, saying that Ismail would become the father of a great nation. Hagar and Ismail settled in Mecca, where Abraham traveled to visit them. He and Ismail rebuilt the Kaaba to honor God for his promise. Originally constructed by Adam, the Kaaba served as the first temple to God. After Abraham and Ismail rebuilt it, it became a symbol of their gratitude and devotion to God. Muslims consider themselves the descendants of Ismail and members of the nation described by God.

    Moses is the next great prophet in the Islamic tradition. He led the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and delivered the Ten Commandments to them. Islam also recognizes Jesus as a great prophet, but rejects the Christian tradition that he is the son of God. They believe that God sent Jesus to confirm the law of Moses and to foretell the arrival of a later messenger, Muhammad. The Qur'an also rejects the Christian account of Jesus dying on the cross, stating that God took Jesus directly into heaven.

    Muslims accept the Jewish kings David and Solomon as prophets. They celebrate David's victory over Goliath in the face of overwhelming odds, but reject the biblical account that he sent a military leader to his death in order to marry the man's wife. They hold that a prophet of God would never commit such a sin. Muslims also acknowledge the wisdom of David's son, Solomon. The Qur'an describes his glorious kingdom and claims that he converted the Queen of Sheba to Islam.

    Islam teaches that Muhammad is God's final and most perfect messenger. All of the prophets looked forward to Muhammad's coming so that he could affirm all that God had revealed to them. Muhammad did not seek to replace other religions with a new faith, claiming to serve in the monotheistic (Judeo-Christian) tradition. However, some Jewish clans in Medina rejected him as a prophet. Even when Islam became a separate religion, Muslims believed that Muhammad did not contradict the messengers who had come before him. The Qur'an affirms the validity of the Bible, and Muslims accept Jews and Christians as People of the Book. They maintain, however, that Jewish and Christian scripture has been misinterpreted at times. The Qur'an is the only book of scripture that has not become corrupted. Muslims believe that Muhammad will play a special role on the Day of Judgment, interceding with God on behalf of believers. See also Abraham; Jesus; Muhammad ; Revelation.

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