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Some Traits of the Prophets
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

Prophets are Human Beings

Prophets are human beings. Thus they come in this world, eat, drink, sleep, walk about, marry and die just as all human beings do. None of them was God, His incarnation, a deity or an angel. The Qur’ān has clarified at a number of places that there is no difference between them and other human beings as far as their genre is concerned. The Qur’ān has cited the demand of the addressees of Muhammad (sws) that if he is a prophet of God, he should make for them houses of gold, generate for them canals and rivers, make the season of spring descend in their deserts, plant for them orchards of grapes and dates, release on them pieces of the heavens, bring God and the angels face to face with them, go to the heavens and bring back a written document for them. Though none of these demands was impossible for God to fulfill but He directed Muhammad (sws) to clearly tell his addressees that he was a human being and not a super human that such demands be made from him:

قُلْ سُبْحَانَ رَبِّيْ هَلْ كُنْتُ إَلاَّ بَشَرًا رَّسُولاً  وَمَا مَنَعَ النَّاسَ أَن يُؤْمِنُواْ إِذْ جَاءهُمُ الْهُدَى إِلاَّ أَنْ قَالُواْ أَبَعَثَ اللّهُ بَشَرًا رَّسُولاً  قُلْ لَّوْ كَانَ فِي الأَرْضِ مَلآئِكَةٌ يَمْشُوْنَ مُطْمَئِنِّيْنَ لَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ مِّنَ السَّمَآء مَلَكًا رَّسُوْلاً (١٧: ٩٣-٩٥)

Say: “Glory be to my Lord! Am I not but messenger who is a human being?” And nothing prevents men from professing faith when guidance is revealed to them but the excuse: “Can it be that God has sent a human being as a messenger?” Tell [them]: “Had the angels been walking about comfortably in the earth, We would have sent down to them an angel from heavens as a messenger.” (17:93-95)

 However, this does not mean that as far as their knowledge and personality, character and spirituality and qualities of head and heart are concerned, they are similar to common people. Certainly not! A study of their life and times shows that they are the cream of their nation, have exemplary qualities and epitomize human attributes. The Qur’ān has told us that if their Lord pleases, He blesses them with knowledge and power of judgement for this purpose:

 About John (sws), the Qur’ān has said:

 يَا يَحْيَى خُذِ الْكِتَابَ بِقُوَّةٍ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْحُكْمَ صَبِيًّا  وَحَنَانًا مِّنْ لَّدُنَّا وَزَكَاةً وَكَانَ تَقِيًّا  وَبَرًّا بِوَالِدَيْهِ وَلَمْ يَكُن جَبَّارًا عَصِيًّا (١٩: ١٢-١٤)

“O John! Hold steadfast to the Book of God.” And in His childhood We granted him the ability to make judgements and bestowed on him kindliness and purity, and he was a pious person and one who honoured the rights of his parents; he was neither arrogant nor rebellious. (19:12-14)

 About Moses (sws), the Qur’ān has said:

 وَلَمَّا بَلَغَ أَشُدَّهُ وَاسْتَوَى آتَيْنَاهُ حُكْمًا وَعِلْمًا وَكَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ (١٤:٢٨)

And when he had reached maturity and grown to manhood, We bestowed on him knowledge and the ability to make judgements. [This was a reward of his qualities]; thus do We reward the righteous. (28:14)

 Not only this, the prophets of God are also blessed with the light of innate guidance – the light which every person has been blessed with – in its most ultimate form. They always keep its flame fully alight and shield it from the storms that arise within man’s inner-self. Thus before they are blessed with divine revelation from God, their heart and mind are very pure and the truth is already evident to them to a great extent. The Qur’ān calls this state of their inner enlightenment as بَيِّنَةٌ (bayyinah). It is evident from various incidents from the lives of the prophets that they present divine revelation as an evidence for this inner enlightenment and the vision they possess:

 About Noah (sws), the Qur’ān has said:

 قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِن كُنْتُ عَلَى بَيِّنَةٍ مِّنْ رَّبِّيَ وَآتَانِيْ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِنْدِهِ فَعُمِّيَتْ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنُلْزِمُكُمُوْهَا وَأَنتُمْ لَهَا كَارِهُونَ (٢٨:١١)

He said: “O my people! [tell me] if I am on a clear evidence from my Lord and He has bestowed upon me a blessing of His own and you have not been able to see it, can we forcibly stick it on you while you are fed-up with it? (11:28)

 About Sālih (sws), the Qur’ān has said:

 قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِن كُنْتُ عَلَى بَيِّنَةً مِّنْ رَّبِّيْ وَآتَانِيْ مِنْهُ رَحْمَةً فَمَنْ يَنْصُرُنِيْ مِنَ اللّهِ إِنْ عَصَيْتُهُ (٦٣:١١)

He said: “O my people! Have you ever thought that if I am on a clear evidence from my Lord and then He has also bestowed on me His grace, then who would protect me from God if I disobeyed Him?” (11:63)

 About Shu‘ayb (sws), the Qur’ān has said:

 قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ أَرَأَيْتُمْ إِن كُنْتُ عَلَىَ بَيِّنَةٍ مِّنْ رَّبِّيْ وَرَزَقَنِيْ مِنْهُ رِزْقًا حَسَنًا وَمَا أُرِيْدُ أَنْ أُخَالِفَكُمْ إِلَى مَا أَنْهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ (٨٨:١١)

He said: “O my people! [Tell me] if am on a clear evidence from my Lord and then He has also bestowed on me the gracious gift of wahī, [then what should I call you to except this?] and I do not wish to oppose you [and thus] do what I forbid you.” (11:88)

 A Prophet’s Nature

A prophet stands at the zenith of human nature. It is evident from what is mentioned about their lives in divine scriptures that both anger and mercy are found in them. Anxiety and apprehension, grief and distress also touch them and they also experience longing and sorrow. They feel sad too and if they commit some mistake they also feel remorse. Like humble servants of God they too express repentance before Him and at times engage in emphatic debate and discussion with Him. They are equipped with such emotions in order to create harmony between them and their addressees before whom they proclaim the truth to the extent that they are left with no excuse to deny it and in order that these addressees are influenced by them. If, like the angels, they were devoid of such emotions, their message would not have influenced anyone.

Not only this, besides being exemplary human beings, they are the most perfect individuals among their people. A study of their lives reveals that they each prophet is the most outstanding person of his nation, a guardian of its cultural traditions and an embodiment of all its virtues.

No doubt, he is devoid of all the vices of his nation; however, as far as its traits and characteristics are concerned, he is such a complete embodiment of them that both he and his people are like mirrors for each other: they can see themselves in each other. For this very reason, the Qur’ān has said that if the Almighty had made the angels as prophets and messengers, He would have them human beings because without this there would have been no effective channel and means of communication between prophets and their people:

وَلَوْ جَعَلْنَاهُ مَلَكًا لَّجَعَلْنَاهُ رَجُلاً وَلَلَبَسْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ مَّا يَلْبِسُوْنَ (٩:٦)

And if We had made a prophet an angel, We would gave given him the semblance of a human and in this manner would have put them in doubt in which they now are in. (6:9)

 However, the matter of prophets – who only come to deliver the truth to the degree that no one among their people would be left with an excuse to deny it – is different to some extent. One example of this is John (sws) and Jesus (sws). By nature, they seemed more akin to angels; thus little did their people benefit from them.

 Innocence of Prophets

Only those people are chosen as prophets who are able to shield themselves from the lures of their inner-self as well as those of Satan, guard themselves against sin and are the righteous and pious among their people. In Sūrah An‘ām, after enumerating many prophets, it is saidالصَّالِحِيْن (6: 85)  كُلٌّ مِّن (all of them were among the righteous, (6:85)):

وَاذْكُرْ عِبَادَنَا إبْرَاهِيْمَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ أُوْلِي الْأَيْدِيْ وَالْأَبْصَارِ إِنَّا أَخْلَصْنَاهُم بِخَالِصَةٍ ذِكْرَى الدَّارِ وَإِنَّهُمْ عِنْدَنَا لَمِنَ الْمُصْطَفَيْنَ الْأَخْيَارِ وَاذْكُرْ إِسْمَاعِيْلَ وَالْيَسَعَ وَذَا الْكِفْلِ وَكُلٌّ مِّنْ الْأَخْيَارِ (٣٨: ٤٥-٤٨)

And remember Our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: men of might and vision. We chose them for a special mission: reminding [people] about the Hereafter and with Us are counted among the best and the most righteous of men. And also remember Ishmael, Elisha, and Dhū al-Kifl. [We chose all of them] and all of these were the best of men. (38:45-48)

 Because of exercising care and showing piety, the Almighty also protects them. It is clearly evident from what ensued between the Prophet Joseph (sws) and the royal ladies of Egypt that even before being designated as a prophet if a situation arises in which it becomes difficult for him to shield himself, the Almighty does so with His special burhān. This burhān is the divine spark which is found in every human being. However, according to a divine law, in people who duly honour it and accept its guidance in the vicissitude of life it becomes stronger and brighter and in all delicate circumstances glitters and sparkles even more to light up the darkness that might come before the eyes. The result is that they are able to persevere on what is right:

 وَلَقَدْ هَمَّتْ بِهِ وَهَمَّ بِهَا لَوْلا أَن رَّأَى بُرْهَانَ رَبِّهِ كَذَلِكَ لِنَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ السُّوءَ وَالْفَحْشَاء إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُخْلَصِينَ (٢٤:١٢)

And that woman had advanced to him and Joseph too would have advanced to her had he not seen a sign from his Lord. Thus did We do in order to keep away evil and wantonness from him. Indeed, he was from among Our chosen servants. (12:24)

 The blemish of Adam (sws) mentioned in the Qur’ān should not become a source of misunderstanding for any one. No doubt, the Qur’ān has used the word ‘isyān (disobedience) for it; however, the Almighty has clarified in the Qur’ān itself that the reason for this blemish was forgetfulness. It is apparent from this that the act of disobedience did not result from succumbing to base desires nor did he do it wilfully. It is evident from the Qur’ān that when Satan swore many times before him and assured him that he was his well-wisher and made him believe that he would become eternal by eating the fruit of the very tree that has been forbidden to him, he was enticed by Satan’s lures and being overcome with emotions ended up disobeying his Lord. However, he never insisted on his lapse and became very ashamed and repented before God Who graciously forgave him and blessed him with prophethood:

 وَلَقَدْ عَهِدْنَا إِلَى آدَمَ مِن قَبْلُ فَنَسِيَ وَلَمْ نَجِدْ لَهُ عَزْمًا  وَإِذْ قُلْنَا لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ اسْجُدُوا لِآدَمَ فَسَجَدُوا إِلَّا إِبْلِيسَ أَبَى  فَقُلْنَا يَا آدَمُ إِنَّ هَذَا عَدُوٌّ لَّكَ وَلِزَوْجِكَ فَلَا يُخْرِجَنَّكُمَا مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ فَتَشْقَى  إِنَّ لَكَ أَلَّا تَجُوعَ فِيهَا وَلَا تَعْرَى وَأَنَّكَ لَا تَظْمَأُ فِيهَا وَلَا تَضْحَى  فَوَسْوَسَ إِلَيْهِ الشَّيْطَانُ قَالَ يَا آدَمُ هَلْ أَدُلُّكَ عَلَى شَجَرَةِ الْخُلْدِ وَمُلْكٍ لَّا يَبْلَى  فَأَكَلَا مِنْهَا فَبَدَتْ لَهُمَا سَوْآتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخْصِفَانِ عَلَيْهِمَا مِن وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ وَعَصَى آدَمُ رَبَّهُ فَغَوَى  ثُمَّ اجْتَبَاهُ رَبُّهُ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ وَهَدَى (٢٠: ١١٥-١٢٢)

And before this We bound Adam in a directive but he forgot, and We found him lacking in determination. And remember when We said to the angels: “Prostrate yourselves before Adam.” They all prostrated themselves except Satan, who refused. At this, We said to Adam: “He is an enemy to you and to your wife. Let him not turn you both out of Paradise and you end up deprived. Here you shall neither be afflicted with hunger nor remain naked; neither shall thirst bother you nor the scorching heat.” But Satan enticed him saying: “Adam, shall I not lead you to the tree of immortality and an imperishable kingdom?” At last, both of them ate of its fruit so that their private parts became evident to them and they began to cover themselves with the leaves of the garden [in which they lived]. Thus did Adam disobey his Lord and strayed from the right path. Then his Lord chose him, accepted his repentance and blessed him with guidance. (20:115-122)

 No different was the case of Moses (sws). He never killed anyone deliberately. It was a mere co-incidence that he, while helping an oppressed person, had to encounter the arrogant oppressor in a brawl. Moses (sws) punched him in self-defence. Unfortunately, the strike was enough to kill him:

 وَدَخَلَ الْمَدِيْنَةَ عَلَى حِيْنِ غَفْلَةٍ مِّنْ أَهْلِهَا فَوَجَدَ فِيْهَا رَجُلَيْنِ يَقْتَتِلَانِ هَذَا مِنْ شِيْعَتِهِ وَهَذَا مِنْ عَدُوِّهِ فَاسْتَغَاثَهُ الَّذِيْ مِنْ شِيْعَتِهِ عَلَى الَّذِي مِنْ عَدُوِّهِ فَوَكَزَهُ مُوْسَى فَقَضَى عَلَيْهِ قَالَ هَذَا مِنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ إِنَّهُ عَدُوٌّ مُّضِلٌّ مُّبِيْنٌ  قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّيْ ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِيْ فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَغَفَرَ لَهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُوْرُ الرَّحِيْمُ (٢٨: ١٥-١٦)

And [one day] he entered the city at a time when none of its people noticed him and found two men engaged in a fight; one of them was from his own people and the other belonged to his enemies. Then the person who belonged to his people asked for Moses’ help against his enemy. So Moses struck him with his fist and killed him. [Seeing this,] Moses said: “This is the work of Satan; he is indeed an open enemy who leads [people] astray.” [Then] Moses prayed: “Lord! I have wronged by soul; forgive me.” Consequently, the Almighty forgave him. Indeed, He is the Most Forgiving, the Ever Merciful. (28:15-16)

 Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī writes:

 Neither did Moses (sws) intend to kill the coptic nor did he imagine that such a situation would arise. When, absolutely inadvertently, this situation arose, he immediately felt guilt on his folly and repented before his Lord expressing the fact that he had wronged his soul and that he be forgiven for this. Since this folly was an inadvertent act and he immediately sought repentance after it, the Almighty forgave him and he was divinely communicated this forgiveness also. God is Forgiving and Merciful.1

 These incidents in the lives of Adam (sws) and Moses (sws) took place before they were called to prophethood. According to the Qur’ān, once they are given this position, prophets constantly remain under the protection and supervision of the angels. The Almighty deputes guardians over them from all sides. Every single thing that emanates from them is under scrutiny and God keeps track whether they have accurately delivered His messages in their original form. After such an arrangement, obviously the smallest of blemishes on their part stands safeguarded:

 إِلَّا مَنِ ارْتَضَى مِن رَّسُولٍ فَإِنَّهُ يَسْلُكُ مِن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ رَصَدًا  لِيَعْلَمَ أَن قَدْ أَبْلَغُوا رِسَالَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ وَأَحَاطَ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ وَأَحْصَى كُلَّ شَيْءٍ عَدَدًا (٧٢: ٢٧-٢٨)

As for those whom He chooses as His Prophets [they can say nothing of their own] because He guards them from behind and from the front that He may know if they have delivered the messages of their Lord; and He surrounds whatever is around them and keeps count of all their things. (72:27-28)

 Diligence in Worship of a Prophet

Keeping in view the obligation of prophets, at times they are required to be more extensive in their worship. The purpose of this is to provide them with peace of mind and by means of dedicated devotion to God, bless them with purity of emotions and intellect and perseverance on what they believe and what they do. About Moses (sws), the Qur’ān (7:142-145) says that when it was decided that he be given the tablets of the Torah, then, prior to this, in order to train and instruct him to bear this heavy burden he was made to station himself in seclusion at the mount of Sinai for forty days. John (sws) and Jesus (sws) to the extent of monasticism took to intense devotion to God and did not even marry because they wanted to spend every moment of their lives in the effort to communicate the truth to their people, whose fate was being decided, to the extent that they were left with no excuse to deny it. For this very reason, prophet Muhammad (sws) would sit in i‘tikāf every year and keep fasts from time to time. When he was directed to embark upon openly warning his people, besides the five obligatory prayers, another prayer was made obligatory on him. The time of tahajjud was fixed for this prayer and he was asked to read the Qur’ān in this prayer for less than half the night or a little more. In Sūrah Banī Isrā’īl, this directive is stated in the words وَ مِنَ الَّيْلِ فَتَهَجَّدْ بِه نَافِلَةً لَك (١٧: ٧٩) (And at night time, pray the tahajjud; this is a further [obligation] on you, (17:79). Similarly, in Sūrah Muzzammil, it is stated:

 يَاأَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ قُمْ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا نِصْفَهُ أَوْ انْقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا  أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلْ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا  إِنَّا سَنُلْقِي عَلَيْكَ قَوْلًا ثَقِيلًا إِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ اللَّيْلِ هِيَ أَشَدُّ وَطْئًا وَأَقْوَمُ قِيلًا إِنَّ لَكَ فِي اَلنَّهَارِ سَبْحًا طَوِيلًا  وَاذْكُرْ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبْتِيلًا (٧٣: ١-٨)

O you enfolded in your shawl! stand [in prayer] by night, but not all night. Half the night, or even less or a little more and [in this prayer of yours] recite the Qur’ān in a slow measured tone. Because soon We shall lay on you the burden of a heavy word [the burden of open warning]. Verily, this rising by night is very suitable for the mind’s peace and the heart’s resolve and for the speech’s correctness. Because during the daytime you will be hard-pressed with [this task; so pray at this time] and remember the name of your Lord and [in this loneliness of the night] devote yourself entirely to Him. (73:1-8)

 (Translated from Ghāmidī’s Mīzān by Shehzad Saleem)





1. Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, Tadabbur-i Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 5 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 663.

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