Chapter 4: Islam A Challenge to Religion
By Allama Ghulam Ahmad Parwez
I. Evidence of Guidance
The world in which we live is not static, a finished product: in fact the world and everything in it are, all constantly changing, every moment becoming somewhat different. The early Greek thinkers were profoundly impressed by the phenomenon of change. They addressed themselves to the task of solving the problem posed by the contradictory appearance of change and permanence which the universe presents. Parmenides rejected change as an illusion, which Heraclitus regarded it as the only reality. For several centuries, philosophers tended to ignore the fact of change. With the rise of modern science, specially with the growth of our knowledge of geology and biology, a dynamic conception of the universe came to be generally accepted. The theory of evolution has transformed our intellectual outlook, and now we try to understand everything in the light of its past history. We know that the earth has a long history. It is the product of changes which have occurred through countless aeons; and life has evolved slowly through millions of years. At this point an important question arrests our attention. Are the changes, which have undoubtedly, occurred in the world, quite erratic and fortuitous or is there a rhythm in them or a plan underlying them? In the present state of our knowledge there is no clear answer to this question. Some eminent thinkers believe that the changes are aimless and that the universe, although changing, is not moving in a definite direction, far less towards a definite goal. They declare that they can only see change succeeding change, as one wave succeeds another. Fisher, surveying the vast panorama of European history, confesses that he can discern no harmonies therein. He admits that there is progress but affirms emphatically that "there is no law of progress."1 However, other great thinkers, such as Lloyds Morgan and H. Bergson, claim that the changes, when viewed closely and comprehensively, do reveal a pattern and are seen to be leading towards a goal.
The goal towards which the world and every individual thing existing in it, is moving appears to be perfection. Perfection means self-realization, that is the actualization of all the potentialities inherent in a particular being. Defined in this way, it is clear that perfection is not to be taken in an absolute sense, but as relative to the capacity of each individual thing or person. There is thus a direct ratio between the degree of capacity and the degree of attainable perfection. Development is the process through which a thing realizes itself and gains the perfection of which it is capable.
In almost every religion, theologians have long been puzzled over the nature of creation. They conceived of it in different ways. The concept of creation through evolution appears to be in full accord with the facts which science has brought to light. It also fits into the view which has been set forth in the Qur’an. The universe is not the scene of haphazard changes. They are evolutionary changes which lead to the emergence of new and higher qualities and new higher types of being. Every natural thing, as it comes into being, enters on a career of development. Every created being has a definite place in the over-all pattern of creation and in that sense is good. But it is not intended to remain the same throughout its span of life. It is endowed with a number of potentialities and instinctively tends to realize them, becoming more perfect in the process. It is through Divine Guidance, termed Rububiyyah in the Qur'an, that things develop and finally attain the form of which they are capable. This view is expressed simply and tersely in the following verse:
Who created and perfected, who measured and directed (87:2-3).
This verse draws attention to four typical Divine activities in relation to the universe - khalq (creating), taswiya (perfecting), taqdir (measuring and huda (guiding). A natural thing is endowed with certain potentialities and guided by its Rabb, passes from stage to stage until it has reached full development. The guidance and fostering care of God are essential for its development. Divine guidance is at work everywhere in the universe. The form in which it is imparted to its recipient is termed Wahi in the Qur’an. Wahi is usually translated as Revelation, but Wahi is more generalized and has a wider scope than the English term. It will repay us to look more closely at the nature and function of Wahi.
II. Wahi and the World of Creation
Wahi literally means prompting, inspiring or infusing a thought or feeling into a person. At different levels of creation wahi operates in different forms, ranging from inciting a blind urge to inspiring a thought. All things from material bodies to rational beings are amenable to wahi. The earth and the heavenly spheres are represented as submitting to Divine direction. Says the Qur’an:
He inspired in each heaven its mandate (41:12).
Again, it is said that a day will dawn when "the Earth shall tell out her tidings. For that your Rabb will inspire her" (99: 4-5).
In the animal world, Divine guidance is mediated by wahi in the form of instinctual drive as the following verse indicates:
Your Rabb inspired the bee, saying: Choose your habitation in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch (16:68).
In the chapter entitled "Light" more is said about the directive force which is at work in everything:
Have you not seen that those who are in the heavens and the earth serve God, and the birds (also) their wings spread out. Each one knows its appointed task (salat) and the way in which it is to be performed (Tasbih) (24: 41).
Another verse serves to elucidate this point:
There is no living being on the earth nor a bird that flies with its wings but they are peoples like unto you (possessed of the Divine guidance) (6: 38).
Everything in fact receives from the Creator all the guidance which it needs. The directive force, which has its source in God, is operative everywhere in the universe. The regularity of the movements of physical objects and the purposive character of the behaviour of living beings, both reveal the guiding hand of God. He guides the stars in their courses. He keeps the planets from straying from their prescribed orbits. Order in, the physical world is the direct consequence of Divine control and guidance. The movements of material bodies are governed by unalterable laws. Heavenly bodies submit to these laws no less than minute particles of matter. Thus everywhere we find complete subservience to the law of God. Nothing transgresses the limits set to its activity. This is what "prostration before God" means. Says the Qur'an:
And unto Allah likes prostration whatsoever is in the earth of living creatures and the malaik’ah (16 - 49).
In the animal world, Divine guidance takes the form of instinct. Instinct enables the animal to make a satisfactory adjustment to its environment. It enables it to satisfy its basic needs and so preserve both itself and its young. Volumes have been written on the marvels of instinct. A few examples will suffice to show how efficiently it guides the animal in a strange world. The duckling and the chick may have been hatched by the same hen but while the former fearlessly, plunges into water, the latter shrinks from it and keeps to the dry land. Each seems to know instinctively what it can do and what it cannot. Migratory birds traverse thousands of miles, flying over deserts and forests, plains and mountains, and fishes through seas and oceans, and never lose their way. Instinct guides them unerringly to the clime they are seeking. The wasp lays its eggs and provides food for its young which it is never going to see. The directive factor operative in the nature of each animal incites it to engage in activities which lead to the satisfaction of its basic needs. The same factor is responsible for the harmony and order which nature exhibits. Wahi is really this factor in operation. Galloway's comment on this point should be noted:
In the widest sense of the word, the order of nature is a revelation, for it unfolds a meaning which has its ultimate source in God.2
We are led to draw two conclusions from this. Firstly, it is Divine Guidance or Wahi which carries each and everything from stage to stage until it has reached its full development. Secondly, everything has to follow the course which has been prescribed for it. This may be said to be its nature.
III. Man and Wahi
No doubt, man too needs Divine Guidance. Without it, he is likely to go astray. However, the guidance which is vouchsafed to him is of a different kind which is suited to his peculiar characteristic. His activities are not governed by invariable laws, as is the case with inanimate beings, nor are they completely determined by the blind urges inherent in him. He has been granted a measure of freedom and this means that he is free to choose the right or wrong path, and that he is free even to commit mistakes. He may choose what is good for him; but he may also choose that which is harmful to him. He enjoys freedom of choice and has to pay the price for the wrong one. Even the sure guidance that instinct gives is denied to him. The chick, when it finds itself on the brink of a pond, instinctively shrinks back and saves itself. The human child may misuse its freedom because of internal compulsion and may plunge into the pond and get drowned. Man has much in common with the animals but the differences between the two are more important than the resemblance. His intellectual powers and immense learning capacity set him apart from the other animals. However, though potentially superior to the animals, he is at the beginning of life much worse-equipped for the struggle of life than they are. If he develops his powers he can quickly outstrip the animals; but if he fails to develop them, he may as easily sink below the animal level.
Again, man is a moral being, capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and free to choose either. However, he finds that it is not easy to distinguish good from evil, nor is it easy to choose the good, when it is known. In his own self there is no sure guide to the good. No moral instinct leads him unerringly to the right path. It is obvious that there are no universally accepted moral codes, for there are as many codes as cultural groups in the world. Each tribe seems to have developed a code of its own, which is unacceptable to other groups. A dispassionate survey of the several moral codes leads us to the standpoint of ethical relativism. A code of conduct cannot be judged to be good or bad in the abstract. It may be good for one cultural level and bad for another. In the past, conscience was credited with the power to discriminate between right and wrong. Now, psychologists, as well as sociologists, maintain that a man’s conscience is shaped by the cultural environment in which he has been brought up. Conscience is only the group code which has been internalized in the individual. We are thus driven to conclude that there is no sure guide to the right and good inherent in man. As the Qur’an says: "He prays for sharr as he prays for Khair (17:11).
The view that the power to discriminate between right and wrong is inherent in man finds no support in the Qur’an. The verse (91:8)3 which is very often quoted in this connection has been misunderstood. It does not refer to any such discriminating quality of "human nature". For if man possessed the capability of judging good from the bad, and thus distinguishing between the right and wrong without the help of Divine guidance, the institution of nubuwwah would lose its significance. Why then should God have raised Anbiya from among men and entrusted to them the task of directing His people on the right path? Again, if the power to distinguish between right and wrong were inherent in the nature of man the whole of mankind, from its beginning to this day, would have been following one and the same moral code; but, as already stated, there are no universally accepted moral standards. Each group has its own ethical code, and what is more, this code has also changed with the passage of time. The verse cited above does not, therefore, mean that "human nature"—or man's conscience—is qualified to know, of its own, right from wrong, or has within it the power to discriminate between Khair and sharr. The words in the verse referred to above, (i.e., 91:8) on the contrary are the statement of a fact, the fact of man's potentialities for becoming good or bad, as he decides for him-self. Since the human personality (or self) is given in an undeveloped form, there are, the verse says, equal possibilities of his attaining the highest good, or wasting himself in wrong doing. The correct translation of the verse is: "Human self has been endowed with the capability of both integrating itself or corrupting it."
Again, those who believe that conscience is an absolutely trustworthy guide for man appeal to verse (30: 30) which is usually translated as:
The nature of Allah (fitratullah) in which He has made man.
It should, however, be noted that the Arabic word "fitrat" occurring in the verse does not mean the same thing as the English word "nature". The word "nature" means the constitution or the essential properties of a thing which are unchangeable. On the other hand, fitrat merely means creation or bringing something into existence. We cannot, therefore, construe the verse as meaning that man has the same nature as God. It is just to remind us that man has been created according to the same Divine law of creation as other things in the universe. If we were to concede that man has been created in "God's nature," how are we to reconcile this with some of his "qualities" as given in the Qur'an. For example, man is said to be "created weak" (4:28),"created of haste," "being hasty" (17:11), "ungrateful" (17:67), "covetous" (17:100), "impatient" (70:19)," a caviller" (18:54), "a tyrant and ignorant" (33:72). The truth is that there is no such thing as "man’s nature" in the sense in which the word is usually used. For, by nature we understand the properties which constitute the very being of a thing and hence characterize its existence in a way peculiar to itself. It is its nature which determines its behaviour. There can be no question, therefore, of its going against its nature. It is like a rigid law which no object can violate. Under given circumstances, water must flow, fire must burn and the animal must follow the course prescribed by its nature. Man, however, stands on a different level. In as much as he is a part of the physical world, it may be said that it that it is his "nature" to behave in accordance with its laws in the interest of his physical self, although, as already stated, he often goes against those laws as well. As for his real self, he is free to choose any of the possibilities open to him. This is why the rigidity of behaviour in the lower animals is in sharp contrast to the changeability and variability of human behaviour. "Human nature" is eminently malleable, and assumes so many different forms that no adequate definition of it has yet been formulated. There are numerous theories of "human nature" but none of them commands universal acceptance. From Plato and Aristotle to Freud and Gardiner there has been a wide range of theories about man; but man somehow escapes from every theoretical framework.
According to the view set forth in the Qur'an, man is born neither good nor bad, but with the power and freedom to become either. He is endowed with immerse potentialities. If he develops them and employs them for the moral and material advancement of mankind, his conduct is good; if he fails to utilize his immense resources or puts them to uses which are harmful to mankind, his conduct is bad. Wahi or Divine Guidance points out the way to self-realization and to the promotion of knowledge and happiness. By following the path which is pointed out by Wahi, man can finally achieve the status of a "mo’min". A "mo’min" is at peace with himself and with the world because he has successfully resolved his inner and outer conflicts. Wahi shows the way to harmony in the individual mind as well as in human society. The verses cited above to the effect that man is bad, simply mean that if he ignores Divine Guidance and follows his baser desires he is liable to become worse, and worse.
Let us repeat that the Qur'an definitely rejects the view that human nature has a fixed pattern and a rigidly determined behaviour, for the view deprives man of real freedom.
As stated above, all things in the world, from inanimate bodies to man, depend on Divine Guidance for self-development and the fulfilment of the purpose of their existence. This guidance, however, takes many forms, each form being appropriate to a particular level of existence. The form it assumes at the human level, deserves special consideration.
Man is a rational being and possesses a free and autonomous self. He values his freedom, knows that he alone is responsible for his actions and has no right to complain if their consequences are unpleasant. He chafes under compulsion, either internal or external. He too needs Divine Guidance but he can receive it only in a form which does not put a curb on his freedom and does not detract from his right to judge for himself. Guidance is offered to man through Wahi or Revelation. Every man, however, cannot be the recipient of Wahi. Only an exceptionally gifted person, who is considered by God capable of self-possession in the face of such a vital experience, can receive guidance directly from God. The appellation "Nabi" is applied to such a person and Nubuwwah signifies two characteristic functions of the Nabi. As he is attuned to God, he receives Divine Revelation or Wahi and as he is in close touch with his fellow-beings, he communicates the Wahi to them in exactly the same form in which he has received it. The purity of the medium ensures the purity of the revelation which it transmits. Moreover, through his exemplary life and conduct the Nabi presents the revelation in a vivid and concrete form which cannot fail to impress the people.
To understand the nature of nubuwwah we must first get rid of a misconception. In the Jewish-Christian tradition, the "prophet" is a man who prophesies or foretells future events. Endowed with unusual psychic powers, the "prophet" is considered to be capable of fore-seeing future happenings of which he warns the people. The Islamic conception of Nabi is quite different. As a matter of fact the term "prophethood" as understood in English is not equivalent to the term "nubuwwah" which the Qur'an uses in this context. The Nabi is not a "prophet" or a soothsayer. His function is not divination but the communication of the revelation which has been vouchsafed to him. "Prophecy" as understood by the Jews is completely irrelevant to the mission of the Nabi. He fulfills his mission if he communicates the Wahi as he has received it, without adding to or taking away anything from it. His purpose is not to prognosticate but to offer moral guidance to man in the light of Divine Revelation. This is clear from another term which is applied to a Nabi. He is "Rasul" or messenger. He bears a message from God telling man how he can lead a good life and how he can achieve perfection. The Qur'an is explicit on this point:
O Children of Adam! Whenever messengers come to you from among you, who narrate to you My Revelation, then whosoever follows it and amends, there shall come no fear upon them nor shall they grieve (7:35).
It should be noted that the purpose of Wahi is not to compel man to choose any particular way. Wahi merely informs him which way leads to his growth and development and which to his disintegration, and leaves him free to choose for himself. Wahi imparts the requisite knowledge to man who is then free to act upon it or not. Says the Qur’an:
Say: it is the truth from Allah. Then whosoever will let him believe, and whosoever will let him reject (18:29).
Let us clearly grasp the Qur'anic conception of Wahi. Wahi is a gift of God, which He bestows on the man whom He selects. Wahi is not a prize which a man can win for himself through his own efforts. By developing his latent powers, man cannot qualify himself for nubuwwah. The Nabi does not discover truth; it is disclosed to him by God. The Qur'an, therefore, defines revelation as "sending down" or "nuzul".:
Verily we have sent down to thee the Book with truth (39:2).
The point to bear in mind is that the reception of Wahi is an intense and vital experience, but it is not an experience which has been induced by subjective factors. The Nabi does not objectify his personal experience. He is intensely and vividly aware of his encounter with the Divine. He feels himself the passive recipient of a message, which must remain uncontaminated by his personal desires and feelings:
He, the Nabi does not speak of (his own) desire (53:3)
This is as far as we can go in understanding the nature of Wahi. It is not, therefore, strange that in his ordinary life, the Nabi talks and behaves very much like other men. Only during the experience of Wahi, does he speak with absolute authority and discloses the truth which human intellect cannot discover by itself. The words he utters in this state are not his but God's. Those who knew the Nabi Muhammad (P) intimately have recorded the fact that, although in secular matters he was always willing to make concessions to those who differed from him, (of course, within the restrictions imposed by Wahi) if by doing so he could settle a dispute amicably, he was adamant in refusing to make the slightest change in the Wahi which had been delivered to him. In day to day affairs, the basis of his decision-making process was mutual consultation with its give and take, but he would countenance no departure from his Wahi. Throughout his life he was never tempted to change even a single word of the revelation for reasons of expediency. The Qur'an bears witness to the fact:
Say (O Muhammad): It is not for me to change it of my own accord. I only follow that which is revealed to me (10: 15.
The Nabi has not the slightest inkling of the revelation before he has actually received it. Nor does he, strive for it. It is to him literally a revelation, the impact of something new, unexpected and unsuspected; something not deriving either from his past experience or from his present mental state. Says the Qur'an:
And thus We have revealed to thee a revelation by Our Command; thou didn't not know what the Book was nor the faith ; but We have made it a light by which guide whom We please of Our servants (42:52; 28:86).
Even the office of nubuwwah, when it comes, takes him by surprise. He had not expected to be chosen to act as the vehicle of Wahi. God selects a man for the role of the Nabi but keeps it from his knowledge till he has actually been assigned the role. The man is selected because he possesses exceptional qualities which fit him for the role of nubuwwah. However, years of probation, years during which his character and conduct are discriminatory tested, intervene between the selection and the actual summons to nubuwwah. He has no notion of this process. He is entrusted with the mission only when he is proved worthy. In the case of Moses, the long period of preparation which preceded the call to nubuwwah, has been well described in the Qur’an:
And we have (O Moses) already been gracious to you another time. When We sent word to your mother, saying: Put him into the ark and cast him into the sea, and the sea shall cast him on the shore, and an enemy of Mine and his shall take him (and bring him up); and I bestowed on you love from Me, that you may be brought up under My eye.
When your sister walked up and said: Shall I show you one who take care (of the child), then We returned you to your mother, that her eye might be cheered, and that she might not grieve. And you did kill a man, and we saved you from the trouble, and We offered other opportunities so that you may test your capabilities. Then, for years did you stay among the people of Median. It was after all this that you came up to our measure, 0 Moses! And I have chosen you for myself (20: 37-41).
To understand the real nature of Wahi, it is essential to distinguish it clearly from mystical experience with which it is often confused. Some scholars have tended to regard the revelation of a Nabi as the culmination of the mystical experience. This is a misconception. The difference between the two types of experience is fundamental. It is a difference of kind and not merely of degree. Mystical experience, whatever it is, is within the reach of every man, provided he is willing to subject himself to a rigorous discipline. It is the outgrowth of the mystical sense, or oceanic sense as Koestler calls it, which is inherent in man. Like the aesthetic sense it can be cultivated and developed. The mystical experience may be induced through sell-mortification, contemplation, detachment and medication. It is a purely subjective experience in which the affective factor is predominant. Bound being the self of the mystic, it has no bearing on, or testimony in, the outer world. The mystic finds it supremely gratifying and absolutely convincing. Therein he tastes a bliss which overwhelms and dissolves his infinite personality. He feels himself merged in the infinite ocean of reality. The mystic claims that his experience is charged with value of a high order, but it remains private and incommunicable. The mystic may have had a vision of something of which he is satisfied to be the truth, but he cannot make his fellow-beings share his vision. He cannot impart his knowledge thus gained to others. The mystic may have a feeling of contact with what he considers to be the Real, but his experience, of whatever order, remains personal and subjective. The experience of revelation is different. It is the experience of dawning of Reality as it is on the individual mind. The Nabi feels himself not merely in contact with the Divine but in communication with it. And no doubts assail him. He is quite sure that he is receiving knowledge which he must impart to all men. Wahi or revelation is meant to be communicated. The purpose of Wahi is not to gratify the urges or aspirations of a single individual, the Nabi, or to guide only him, but to place guidance, through him, at the disposal of all who wish to profit by it. The message conveyed through Wahi is to be broadcast all over the world as its content is of objective value. This radical difference puts Wahi exclusively in a class by itself and sets it far apart from all types of mystical experience. Mystical experience may enrich the mind of the mystic; revelation, on the other hand, acts as a powerful leaven in the life of the people. It is a living and dynamic force which turns the stream of history, into a new channel. The rise of Islam offers a striking example of the power of revelation.
There is another significant difference between Wahi and mystical experience. The mystic feels his personality melting and dissolving as a grain of salt in water. The finite self is supposed to have merged in the Infinite. The liberation from the narrow confines of personality gives the mystic a sense of exhilaration and exaltation. He soars high above the world of fact into a religion where there is neither "must" nor "ought". If he returns to the world of fact, he is afflicted with nostalgia and groans under the burden of life. Revelation, on the contrary, both enriches and invigorates the human self. Thriving on the nourishment provided by Wahi, it deals effectively with the problems of actual life and strives to establish the "Kingdom of Heaven" on earth. The Nabi's revelation infuses a new life into the people, so that with renewed faith and revitalized energy, they march forward to battle with the forces of destruction and disintegration. In short, while the mystic aims at self-effacement, the Nabi, armed with his revelation, summons the people to march towards the goal of self-realization, and self-development and self-assertion. Iqbal, in his masterly discussion of the subject, has clearly brought out the distinction between the experience of a Nabi and that of a mystic. The relevant passage deserves to be quoted in full:
"Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by God that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned." These are the words of a great Muslim saint, Abdul Quddus of Gangoh. In the whole range of sufi literature, it will be, probably, difficult to find words which, in a single sentence, disclose such an acute perception of the psychological difference between the prophetic and the mystic types of consciousness. The mystic does not wish to return from the repose of 'unitary experience’; and when he does return, as he must, his return does not mean much for mankind at large. The prophet's return is creative. He returns to insert himself into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby to create a fresh world of ideals. For the mystic, the repose of 'unitary experience’ is something final; for the prophet it is awakening, within him, of world-shaking psychological forces, calculated to completely transform the Human world. The desire to see his religious experience transformed into a living world-force, is supreme in the prophet. Thus his return amounts to a kind of pragmatic test of the value of his religious experience. In its creative act the prophet's will judges both itself and the world of concrete fact in which it endeavours to objectify itself. In penetrating the impervious material before him, the prophet discovers himself for himself, and unveils himself to the eye of history. Another way of judging the value of the prophet's religious experience, therefore, would be to examine the type of manhood that he has created, and the cultural world that has sprung out of the spirit of his message.4
The Nabi's mission of leading all mankind, in accordance with the dictates of Wahi and thus bringing about a universal revolution to mould the course of history, is no light task. It is with reference to this heaven burden of responsibility that the Qur'an observes:
Have we not caused your bosom to broaden and eased you of the burden which weighed down your back? (94: 1-3).
The Nabi proclaims the message he has received and it is through the sheer force of truth that it sinks in the mind of those whose finer susceptibilities have not been deadened. The Nabi, by the example of his own life and conduct, fires them with the ambition to live a purer, nobler and higher life. These men gather round the Nabi and earnestly strive to shape their lives in the light of the revelation. Inspired by the radiant and fervent faith (conviction) which the Nabi has kindled in them, they endeavour to make the world a home for the higher values. They set about building up a society which gives man full opportunity for self-expression and self-development, a society worthy of free men who are conscious of their dignity as human beings. They thus become participants in carrying out the Divine plan for the universe.
Mystic experience—whatever it may be—is nothing beyond the development of some of the inner faculties of man, e.g., will power, which every human being can develop irrespective of his creed, belief or even actions. This is why mystics are found in every religion, cult or group. The claim of a mystic that he is in tune with the Infinite or has seen Reality as it is, is only the projection of his own imagination. This is why the description of Reality given by various mystics differs from one another. At any rate, mysticism has nothing to do with din and the Qur’an does not lend support to it. Even the word "tasawwuf" (mysticism) does not find a place in the earlier literature of Islam—Qur'an or Hadith. "It is, as stated by Iqbal, "an alien plant in the Soil of Islam." In Islam there is nothing mystic or mysterious. It is a simple and plain code of life which aims at establishing a social order in which permanent values manifest themselves in concrete shape.
The conclusions to which the above discussion has led us may now be briefly stated:
1. Everything, animate or inanimate, is endowed with the capacity for development. Its development is guided, at every step, By the Supreme Being.
2. It must not be supposed that the guiding power acts upon things from outside. It is inherent in their nature and acts from within them. It would be more correct to say that it is the nature of a thing to seek the development of its latent capacity and thus to reach its destiny.
3. Man, by virtue of possessing an autonomous self, occupies a privileged position in the universe. Divine guidance is offered to him in the form which is suited to a free rational being. It does in no way curtail man's freedom of choice and action. Man has the right to reject it, if he so desires and is willing to pay the price of rejection.
4. For man, Wahi or revelation, is the vehicle of Divine Guidance. God selects a man who is fit to be the custodian of truth. This man the Nabi who receives the revelation from God, keeps it inviolate and faithfully communicates it to his fellow-beings. Those who accept it, of their own accord, find themselves following the path which leads to the enhancement of their powers and towards the goal of perfection. Those who reject it, have perforce to follow the downward path of deterioration and degradation. Self-fulfillment is the reward of the former, while an enfeebled and perverted self falls to the lot of the latter. Such is the Law of Requital.
5. The Wahi-the Divinely revealed guidance-is really God's Word. It is not contaminated by the personal likes and dislikes, feelings and desires of the recipient. The medium specially selected by God is so refined that the Wahi, in passing through it, suffers no diminution in its purity or luster. The Wahi transcends human intellect but does not conflict with reason. It rather supplements it.
We hope that a few words about the institution of nubuwwah will serve to elucidate this point. At an early stage in the history of civilization, man set up a sort of social organization and began to function as a free self-conscious member of a group. But he often misused the freedom which had been granted him and yielded to the temptations by which he has beset. The pursuit of selfish ends brought the members of the group into conflict with each other. These conflicts posed a serious threat to the society which was far from stable. Man, more often than not, chooses wrong in preference to right. The catastrophe which was imminent, could have been averted by depriving man of his freedom and making human society as regimented as a beehive or a colony of termites. The aim of Providence, however, was to enhance his freedom and to enlarge its scope, not to extinguish it altogether. The only way in which freedom could be preserved and at the same time the danger of its misuse could be minimized, was to make the requisite guidance accessible to man. Nubuwwah fulfilled both conditions. From time to time, God selected a man who could be entrusted with Divine Revelation. Every nation had its own Nabi who, relying not on force and compulsion but on persuasion, summoned his people to the path of righteousness. The guidance was meant for free beings who could accept or reject it as they liked. There are no people amongst whom a Nabi has not been raised by God. There have been many Anbiya, but substantially the same revelation was vouchsafed to them. This is made clear in the Qur’an:
Verily, We have revealed to thee, like as We revealed to Noah and the Anbiya after him, and (as) We revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob and (others from amongst their) tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon; and We gave David the Psalms; and apostles of whom We have related to thee before, and apostles of whom We have not related to thee, and God spoke to Moses (as well) speaking with him (4: 163-64).
Many Anbiya are mentioned by name in the Qur'an and the strenuous efforts made by each of them to expound the revelation and lead his people in its light are described. Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon and Jesus and some others are among those who have been expressly mentioned. The Qur'an explicitly states that there have been many Anbiya who are not mentioned but they deserve to be respected as they too were the bearers of the Divine Revelation. The purpose of the Qur'an is to emphasize the essential unity of the Divine Revelation which was vouchsafed to different men in different ages and countries. Moreover, the Qur'an forbids Muslims to make invidious distinctions between the Anbiya:
The believers say: We make no distinction between any of His messengers (2: 285).
The institution of nubuwwah has rendered invaluable service to mankind. As long as the human mind was immature, men needed a personal guide who could explain to them the Divine purpose and who could, by his living example, show to them how they could bring their life into full accord with that purpose. The Anbiya helped forward the progress of moral and intellectual development. For this reason, Nabi after Nabi came to mankind in quick succession. There came a time, however, when the mind of man reached maturity and his intellectual powers were ready to tackle the problems of life. Nubuwwah aimed at this result and when it was accomplished there was no reason for the continuance of this institution. The glorious line of Anbiya came to its natural end with Muhammad (P), the bearer of the last revelation. Nubuwwah had served its purpose and was no longer necessary. Modern man, with his mature mind, does not need a personal guide: he needs general guidance in the form of ideas and principles which are valid for all time. These ideas and principles have been preserved for all time in the Qur'an, which enshrines the final revelation:
We have revealed the Book and we verily are its Guardian (15:9).
Besides this, we have in the life and character of Muhammad (P) a perfect example of the ideal human life. The sublime ideas together with the life of Muhammad (P), in which they found concrete expression, are sufficient for the needs of all genuine seekers after truth. We have no justification for expecting a new revelation and no mystic or saint can arrogate nubuwwah to himself. There is no room for compromise on this point. The claim of a mystic, or any other person, that he receives communication from God, cuts at the very root of the belief in the finality of nubuwwah.
The purpose of nubuwwah was to serve and safe-guard man's freedom when it was threatened both from within by his unruly selfish passions and from without by the arbitrary power of rulers and priests. The purpose of the abolition of nubuwwah is to widen the scope of human freedom and to allow man to judge and decide on all questions affecting his life. He should no longer be a slave to custom and tradition. He should now exercise his own power of judgment, work out his way and shape his destiny in the light of his knowledge and with the help of the Divine Guidance enshrined in the Qur'an. Man has now come into his own, as a free and responsible being. He can shape his life as he likes, according to the dictates of his reason guided by Divine Revelation preserved in the Holy Qur'an.
VI. Belief in God without Belief in Revelation
It will be appropriate at this point to say something in defence of the belief in Divine Revelation. Some great thinkers in the West, while conceding the existence of God, have rejected the view that certain men, chosen by God, were made the recipients of His Revelation. They believe that human reason is capable of giving all the guidance that man needs in this life. Man, they affirm, can solve all the problems in the world, with the help of his reason. He does not need the direct guidance of God. Humanism, Religion without Revelation—which, by the way, is the title of a well-known book by Julian Huxley—is their creed. There is nothing new about this creed. The Qur'an tells us that it was prevalent during the time of Muhammad (P). Concerning those who held this view the Qur'an says:
Ask them: Whose is the earth and whoever therein is, ye know? They will say, of God. Say thou; will ye not then mind? Ask them: who is the Rabb of the several heavenly bodies and the Rabb of the glorious Throne (of power over the entire universe)? They will say: they are of God. Say thou: will ye then not take care of (not doing anything against His laws)?
Ask them: Who is it in whose hand is the kingdom of all things and who protects (all) but is not protected (by any), if ye but know? They will say: in God's. Say thou: how then are ye deluded? Nay, we have brought them the truth (in this Book) and they are liars (when they say that they do believe in God but not in His Book) (23: 84-90).
Belief in Divine Revelation is the necessary corollary of belief in God. To deny Revelation is to strike at the root of din. To permit human reason to usurp the office of Wahi is to let man usurp the place of God. As a matter of fact, it is absurd to believe in God while denying His guidance. Suppose A believes that the universe was created by God, and B affirms that it was the product of natural causes. As these beliefs have no practical consequences, it is immaterial which one is chosen and which one is rejected. But suppose A believes that he ought to behave in such a way so as not to transgress the limits prescribed by Divine Revelation and B believes that he is free to act in any way he likes. In this case, it is obvious that the difference between them is of vital importance to others. A is trustworthy and reliable, while no one will take the risk of trusting B. Without belief in Revelation, belief in God is a matter of academic interest. As the following quotation shows Ouspensky holds the same view:
If there is no idea of Revelation, there is no religion. And in religion there is always something unknowable by the ordinary mind and ordinary thinking. For this reason, no attempts to create an artificial synthetic religion by intellectual methods have ever led, or can ever lead anywhere.5
Belief in God and belief in His Revelation, are therefore, fundamental to din. Rejection of Revelation impoverishes din, so that it ceases to be a living force in human life. The Muslims believe that the Qur'an enshrines the final Revelation. They believe that the Qur'an is the only revealed book which has never been tampered with. It has suffered no excisions or interpolations and the word of God is preserved in it as delivered to Muhammad (P). And this belief of theirs is supported by historical evidence.
1. H.A.S. Fisher, History of Europe, Preface, p. 1.
2. Galloway, The Philosophy of Religion, p. 582.
3. The verse is wrongly translated as:
God inspired human self (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and what is right for it.
4. Iqbal, op. cit., p. 118.
5. P.D. Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe, p. 34.