Prophets and Books
According to a report in Musnad Ahmed collection of Ahadith, Prophet Muhammad,
Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "From Adam to me, Allah sent a hundred and
twenty-four thousand Prophets, of whom three hundred and fifteen were entrusted with a
Book." The question is why were there so many more Prophets than Books? To reflect on
this is to gain an understanding about the very institution of Prophethood. If the role of
a Prophet were simply to deliver the Book, as some mis-guided people in our time try to
argue, there should have been as many Books as Prophets. But the very fact that there have
been many Prophets without a new Book, firmly establishes the need for the Prophets as a
source of guidance in its own rights.
It had to be so because life emulates life. We need live human beings to inspire us; to
show right from wrong in every day struggles of life; to confront us and pose questions;
to answer questions; to clarify misconceptions; to hold our hand; to be the model. We
certainly need principles to guide our thoughts and actions. But we also need real life
examples to relate the principles to real life situations. For most of our living
experience involves judgment calls. Politeness is a desirable moral value. But when does
politeness turn into weakness? Firmness is also a desirable attribute. But when does it
turn into arrogance? How do we balance our duties towards Allah with those towards other
human beings? How do we balance both with duties towards ourselves? We are constantly
faced with conflicting claims on our resources, energies, and attention. How do we resolve
those conflicts, without doing any injustice? These are real life questions that require
real life answers.
This point is beautifully established in the Opening Chapter (Surah Fatiha) of Qur'an.
It is a short surah, consisting of only seven verses, and it consists of a prayer for
guidance: O' Allah! Show us the Straight Path. Yet two of the seven verses are used to
describe the Straight Path in terms of people. "The path of those on whom Thou has
bestowed Thy Grace. Not the path of those who earn Thine wrath nor of those who go
It would have been simpler to just refer to the Straight path as the Path of the
Qur'an. But the longer description has been used to emphasis the fact that human beings
need a human model to provide complete guidance.
Of course Prophets were sent to provide the needed guidance. It is also obvious that
whatever a Prophet declares is binding on all his followers. "To accept a person as a
Prophet of God and then to refuse to accept his commands, is so ridiculous that I would
not have believed any sensible person would ever offer this proposition," says
prominent Hadith scholar Maulana Manzoor Naumani. But this most irrational of ideas has
been promulgated by a segment of Western educated Muslims. They say, without a sense of
irony, that we accept the Qur'an but not the Hadith.
Anyone who says that he accepts the Qur'an but rejects the hadith cannot be serious. Or
he has not read the Qur'an either. For the Qur'an says:
"And We have sent down unto you the Message so that you may explain
clearly to the people what is sent for them and so that they may give thought."
It also declares:
"Allah did confer a great favor on the believers when He sent among
them a Messenger from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the Signs of Allah, purifying
them, and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom, while before that they had been in
manifest error." (Aale Imran 3:164).
So it is the job of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, to explain the Qur'an.
And it is the job of the believers to obey him.
"He who obeys the Messenger obeys Allah indeed" (Nisa 4:80).
And even more emphatically it says:
"And obey Allah and obey His Messenger."( Al-Taghabun 64:12).
It is to be noted that here the Qur'an did not say "Obey Allah and His
Messenger." By using the command "obey" independently the fact has been
firmly established that the status of an order given by the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa
sallam, is the same as that given by Allah.
Even a casual reader of the Qur'an can notice that it gives commands without giving
many details. For example it refers to salat (ritual prayers) 67 times. But it never
explains how the salat has to be performed. The question is not just how a follower of the
Qur'an is to follow that command, but the bigger question is: why the omission in the
first place? Is it an oversight, in which case one cannot consider it to be the Book of
Allah, or is it simply because another source for those details had been provided?
Similarly the Qur'an approvingly mentions many other practices, like the call to prayer
(adhan) and the Friday prayer, but never gives commands about them. Again, why? Is there
any other explanation possible except for the obvious one that there is a parallel source
of instruction in the person of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam?
Actually in the form of Hadith, Muslims have an unprecedented branch of knowledge. Just
a list of all the books written on the subject would take several thousand pages, says
prominent hadith scholar Habib-ur-Rahman Azami. Other religions also claim to possess
revealed scriptures. But no other religion has an example corresponding to Hadith.
"Hadith is a branch of knowledge whose equivalent is not to be found in other
religions," says Dr. Hamidullah.
For the design-your-own-religion crowd, that may be a problem, But for the sincere
follower, it is a great favor and blessing of Allah. We have been entrusted with a unique
treasure trove of guidance. An appreciation of that favor is the first step towards
benefiting from that treasure.