This is the translation and transcript of the first of 10 lectures given by Āyatullah Miṣbāḥ Yazdī in the city of Qom, in Ramaḍān of 2006. The topic of this series was: Prophet Muḥammad (p) in Light of Nahj al-Balāgha
Due to this year being dedicated to the Prophet (p) and especially since the forthcoming days will be related to Imām ‘Alī (a), it is appropriate that we discuss the Prophet (p) in light of Nahj al-Balāgha. The best way to understand the Prophet (p) is through the words of the Imām (a).
The main challenge we face today, concerns the philosophy and reason for why the Prophet (p) was sent, and the response to this will also help us understand the wisdom behind sending all other Prophets as well. Therefore, the topic of our talk today is the philosophy of Prophethood in light of Nahj al-Balāgha. Today many theological questions are being asked, and while some of them are difficult, they still need to be responded to. We have seen in the last ten-odd years, many have begun questioning the necessary foundations of Islam, or they have altered their understanding of it, or some have even completely rejected them. Initially this may across as non-threatening, but these deviations increase, eventually causing changes in one’s mentality, their theology, in the types of thoughts that occur, and even in the way how law is derived or legislated. Thus, for those seeking the truth, it is one of the most important topics to discuss. One needs to know why Prophets were sent and how their existence makes a difference for humanity.
Some whose understanding of Islam is a bit weak, they may say that in every era there are geniuses who are born in a society, and some of them happened to be compassionate people, who had expertise in a certain area, and were subsequently useful for a society. They say that these geniuses are simply people who were innovative, and people benefited from them. Some of these geniuses happened to be philosophers, and due to their understanding of intellectual topics, they were able to present certain new ideas, which were eventually used to resolve questions dealing with creation and existence. Other geniuses happened to be Prophets, who were great individuals who not only understood things, but were also able to explain things that others were not able to understand – this is also the reason why we respect them. However, they were on par with other geniuses, and if they had not come with a certain code of ethics and etiquette, these codes of life would not have been popularized.
This is just like saying, if the philosophers and scholars didn’t come into existence, the Earth wouldn’t have gone to the skies, and the skies wouldn’t have fallen to the Earth (i.e. it wouldn’t have been the end of the world). Humanity would have only fallen back a little. The prophets came and said, speak the truth, do good things. We see that the moral philosophers and ethicists also say the same thing, even though many of them did not believe in God.
Today we also see people trying to differentiate between religion and ethics. Some of them say, that a number of people in history have told their communities to do good, and the Prophets also said the same. It is just that the Prophets happened to have been influential, and those who followed them also saw the fruits of heeding their advise in their society. However, if they happened to have been ineffective, it would not have been the end of the world. Religion is similar to philosophy, ethics, science, arts, and so on – and scholars of each of these fields helped humanity in their own way.
It is possible that some of the Prophets were more influential than some of the scholars and ethicists of a society, and did a lot of good things, or they were more sacrificial. This is also the reason why we respect them, but this does not imply that it was necessary on God to send Prophets, and concluding such a view would be an exaggeration – a lot of people who are weak in their faith think this way today.
If you look at some of the writings of some of the Islamic studies scholars in the last few decades, you will see that this is how they think. They say that in the sixth century, the Prophet of Islam came and by bringing some of his own teachings, in the form of Islam, while also making use of the teachings of previous scholars, philosophers and sages, he was able to take mankind to it’s epitome. However, after him, there was no need for another Prophet. Since mankind had reached its epitome, that they can stand up on their own two feet, Prophets were no longer needed – what is their purpose otherwise? Their role was not any different than the role of the philosophers, scholars, or any other genius, or those who helped built the Persian and Roman civilizations. It is detested if one who can stand up on their own feet and walk, asks their mother to hold their hand. In today’s day and age, if anybody says we should go and study the teachings of the Prophets or says that Prophets are needed, this is tantamount to going from adulthood to infancy.
There is a time where we can say that a person simply made a mistake in their understanding, but sometimes we see that if we let this misunderstanding go by, a few decades later the thought turn into the basis of law and politics. Meaning, there comes a time when one is willing to say we do not need to follow laws that are 1400 years old.
Just tonight I was watching someone on television, and I heard some of his statements – God willing what he said before and after the portion I heard will make his statement correct – as he was explaining how in consistent jurisprudence, one of our tools of deduction is the intellect and that 90% of our religious laws are intellectual. In other words, the understanding and practice of the rational people (‘uqalā) of the world today should be looked into with respect to different societal issues, and that we must accept whatever that judgment is – this is what we call Islām. Consistent jurisprudence is when ijtihād is in a state of flux. Meaning in every era we must wait and see what the rational people of the world decide to do and that is what we will also act upon. This brother confused the intellect (‘aql) with the notion of rational people (‘uqalā), and then he used the premise which states: Whatever the religion affirms the intellect also affirms, or Whatever the intellect affirms the religion also affirms – to build his argument. This brother who has spent many years studying under great teachers of Najaf, and has a position in Iran, was not able to differentiate between an intellectual evidence and argument inferring the practice of the rational people. Furthermore, which rational people? Does this mean, wherever we find a rational person in whatever part of the world, they become a source for our evidence? Does that become religion? If this was the case, we must have tens of contradictory rulings and contradictory Islāms. What our jurists and legal scholars say when they mean practice of the rational people is that which does not change from time to time and from place to place. This is not the same as intellectual evidence which we place alongside the other three sources of deriving law. If this was not the case, there would have been chaos in deriving law. I mentioned this in this talk so that we know to focus on this topic a bit more.
So why do we need a Prophet? Imām ‘Alī (a) in his first sermon says, when they ignored His right, meaning when people become ignorant of God and His right, and took compeers along with Him, they began attributing partners alongside God and, Satan turned them away from knowing Him and kept them aloof from His worship, Satan prevents man from God’s knowledge and prevents them from His worship. Then he (a) discusses the descent of Adam (a) and the increase of his (a) progeny until mankind no longer recognized God correctly and did not worship Him correctly: Then Allah sent His Messengers and series of His prophets towards them to get them to fulfil the pledges of His creation, to recall to them His bounties, to exhort them by preaching. Why did God continue to send Prophets, what was His Wisdom? To get them to fulfil the pledges of His creation, so that the prophets can get mankind to fulfil there in innate covenant with God. This is clear from some verses and narrations as well: (36:60-61) ‘Did I not exhort you, O children of Adam, saying, “Do not worship Satan. He is indeed your manifest enemy. Worship Me. That is a straight path”? God introduces Himself to man, and also takes a covenant from them that they worship Him.
These words of Imām ‘Alī are referring to that same covenant. The prophets came so that they could ask mankind to fulfill this covenant, and that they should only worship God not Satan. The Imām mentions three tasks of delegated to Prophets: to get them to fulfil the pledges of His creation, to recall to them His bounties, to exhort them by preaching; 1) to remind mankind of their covenant ask them to fulfil it, 2) to ensure they do not forget the blessings of God, which would keep them motivated to worship Him, and 3) if anybody doubted God, rejected Him, or had a false theology, the Prophets would argue against them and complete their (a) proof upon them.
In another sermon where the Imām talks about the wisdom of why Prophets were sent, he (a) says: Prophets he says, and to serve as a proof, God made Adam (a) a Prophet so that His (swt) proof upon mankind could be established, and this chain continued until it reached the last messenger (pbuh).
In yet another sermon, he (a) says: He made them as pleas for Him among His creation, so that there should not remain any excuse for people. If God had not sent forth Prophets, mankind would have had evidence against God. This has also been alluded to in one of the verses of the Qur’ān: (20:134) Had We destroyed them with a punishment before it, they would have surely said, ‘Our Lord! Why did You not send us an apostle so that we might follow Your signs before we were abased and disgraced?’ They would have said, why did you not send a Prophet so that we could have recognized Your signs, and avoided all problems? Without any Prophets, man would have had evidence against God.
In another sermon he (a) says, and sent towards the jinn and human beings His messengers – that the Prophets were sent for jinn as well – to unveil it for them. They were sent to remove the apparent curtains of this world from them, which we are easily distracted by after simply witnessing a few different colours.
There is a metaphysical side as well that the Prophets came to introduce people to. They also came to say that if you act up on things God has made permissible, if you follow His (swt) orders, you will receive eternal bliss, and an eternal time in heaven. On the contrary, if you act upon things He (swt) has made prohibited, you will receive an eternal punishment. These are some of the reasons why Prophets had to be sent.
Another point is in reference to this verse: (38:27-28) We did not create the sky and the earth and whatever is between them in vain. That is a conjecture of the faithless. So woe to the faithless for the Fire! Shall We treat those who have faith and do righteous deeds like those who cause corruption on the earth? Shall We treat the Godwary like the vicious?
The phrase, that is a conjecture of the faithless, has also appeared in the short sayings of Imām ‘Alī, in response to a question by an old man who asked him (a) about God’s divine decree and destiny, where he (a) says that this thought that creation or the sending of Prophets is in vain, is a conjecture that is false.
(3:190) Indeed in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day, there are signs for those who possess intellects.
(3:191) ‘Our Lord, You have not created this in vain!
Creation is not pointless, there is a record for everything and everyone will be accountable. (3:191) Save us from the punishment of the Fire.
So, the existence of Prophets was not in vain, and in fact there was a necessity to send them. This purpose is connected with the purpose of creation it self. In other words, God’s ontological Lordship necessitated his legal Lordship, therefore if we want to see why Prophets were sent forth, we must see what were we all created for to begin with? God who possesses absolute perfection, has created things based on His (swt) own inherent attributes. He (swt) created because He is Munificent and Generous. This is what His (swt) Being necessitates. Therefore, Divine Wisdom also necessitates that this creation be created in the best possible manner, without any deficiencies – that would be the extent of perfection for a creation.
From amongst His (swt) creation who incline towards infinite, God says: (2:30) ‘Indeed I am going to set a viceroy on the earth.’ This man should be such that through his own free-will, he must be able to write his own destiny, and therefore must know where he is to go. He must know the path to take and the consequences of taking a certain course of action. A part of this can be understood through the human intellect, but the most an intellect can get us to are some vague general principles. This deficiency that man has in terms of their knowledge, necessitates that there should be another way, a Divine knowledge by which this need, and deficiency is fulfilled, so man can know which path is good, and where do the different paths lead to.
Thus, the foremost responsibility of the Prophets, or rather, the evidence for why it is necessary for there to have been Prophets, is to explain mankind that which it is not able to understand on its own; (2:151) and teaches you what you did not know.
The second responsibility of the Prophets is to reemphasize that which the intellect itself understands, but mankind is either heedless of it, or the intellect of the majority of the people is not able to get to it. The third responsibility is to expound on the ways in which man can reach bliss, and be a guide for them. To get them to fulfill the pledges of His creation, to recall to them His bounties, to exhort them by preaching. Finally, if we were to summarize all these reasons into one, it would be that if on the day of judgment one were to be told to enter into hell-fire because they had a false belief, one would not be able to say, I did not know and establish proof against God. He (swt) has sent Prophets so mankind can understand, and that they cannot say our intellect was not able to comprehend the truth, or that we were heedless of it. In other words, the Prophets ensured that God’s proof is completed upon mankind.
(4:165) Apostles, as bearers of good news and warners, so that mankind may not have any argument against Allah, after the [sending of the] apostles.