By Asif Merchant, New Age Islam
25 May 2012
Muslims believe that the Creator has instructed Mankind from time to time through a series of Messengers. The first was Adam, who instructed his immediate descendants. The last is the Prophet Mohammed, who came with the Final Message. Generally, Muslims leave it at that. Though it is considered a matter of pride in being the followers of the Final Prophet, very little thought is given as to what was the Final Message, given by the Final Prophet.
Surely it has to be more than just a different set of rituals. That could have been taught by any ordinary preacher. The same holds for the social provisions, laws, etc. What could be so special about the Final Message, that a Prophet was required to convey it? Why are no more Prophets needed after this Final Message?
The first command to the Prophet was:
“Read! In the name of the Lord who createth.
Createth man from a clot.
Read! And it is thy Lord the most Bountiful
Who teacheth by the pen,
Teacheth man that which he knew not”. (Quran XCVI, 1-5)
The Prophet was illiterate at this time, but surely he must have obeyed the command of the Lord “Who teaches by the pen”, and learnt to read and write.
The first religious duty of any follower of this Prophet is therefore, to be literate. Muslims are referred to as ‘Ahl-e-Kitab’. Or, People of the Book. The usual meaning of ‘The Book’ is understood as the Holy Quran. A more rational interpretation would be to take ‘The Book’ as symbolizing Education. ‘People of Education’. This would be a more correct description of those who read … “In the name of the Lord …who teaches by the pen.”
The Prophet expected his followers to develop a fondness for learning, and keep educating themselves as a sacred duty.
The meaning of Islam is ‘Surrender to the Will of the Lord.’ Does this mean that since whatever happens is by the Will of the Lord, there is nothing we can do about anything, but only accept whatever happens; or is there more to it?
If I release a stone from a height, it will fall. We can say this is the Will of the Lord and leave it at that. But if this aspect of the Will of the Lord is studied further, the laws of gravity are formulated. From this comes an understanding of planetary motion, etc.
All developments in the various sciences and humanity studies are the outcome of attempts to understand different aspects of the Will of the Lord. The followers of Islam are expected to approach the study of the laws of creation as an act of worship, and incorporate them in their lives. This is what is meant by the old Sufi expression,
“ Jidhar dekhta hu, udhar tu hi tu hai.”
Wherever I look, I see only you.
If this is followed, the people become truly independent. Able to handle life on their own with no need for further Messengers. That is why the Prophet Mohammed is the last Prophet with the Final Message.
To non-Muslims, and even many Muslims, this view of Islam would appear at complete variance with what is seen as Islam in general practice today, but in the early days of Islam, this approach to life led to remarkable achievements in Science and Philosophy.
The momentum could not be maintained, and gradually, the emphasis shifted to rituals, as the priestly class became powerful. The decline has continued to this day. Complete importance is given to trivialities like forms of address, growing of a beard, dress code, punishments, etc. Things which any preacher can comfortably teach. Little thought is given as to why the Prophet once said that one hour spent in the study of Science is better than a whole year spent in prayer.
Today the Western nations have a grip on the whole world. Whether we like it or not, it is something we have to come to terms with. Islamic scholars should uncover more of the Final Message. The judicially inclined should evolve a new ‘Shariat’ with a global vision incorporating the Final Message. Only then can Islam play its destined role as a civilizing force for the whole of Mankind.
Asif Merchant is an independent thinker, based near Panchgani, Maharashtra, India.