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The Unlettered Prophet (52)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

Obligations and Responsibilities of the Prophet (sws)


If one casts an eye over the predictions of other prophets about Muhammad (sws) and his own 23 year long struggle, it is not difficult to understand his obligations and responsibilities. In spite of this, let alone among non Muslims, very little knowledge exists within Muslims themselves. This is understandable in the case of non-Muslims, in that if they were to accept the Prophet (sws) as the harbinger of the message from God, they would have to give a second thought to every deed and word of theirs. Thus, until and unless they prove flaws and mistakes in his character, they remain uncomfortable. But not finding the right understanding of the Prophet (sws)’s status among Muslims is no less than a tragedy.

A large group among Muslims believes that a prophet belongs to pious people of society. Therefore, the Prophet (sws) was a very pious person who was born 1400 years ago in Arabia, took up the purpose of social reforms according to his times and was highly successful in his efforts. The times today have progressed hugely from the past and the ideals and requirements of people have changed drastically. Hence, due to the Prophet (sws)’s piety, we should respect and honour him but practically, he has little to offer us.

Another group that believes that messengers of God are appointed to communicate messages from God to His servants is of the view that the Prophet (sws)’s status was the same as that of a postman. Whatever message he received from God, he communicated it onward to his followers. After this, he had fulfilled his obligations. Those who believe in him now are free to act in whichever way they wish, according to their circumstances.

A third group holds deep love and respect for the Prophet (sws). They consider him to have possessed spiritual powers. He was placed at such a high position of humanity that he was at the same level as that of God and decisions were taken in all matters according to his agreement. He still exists and operates in this world. Obviously, this group has neither an understanding of the status of a prophet and messenger nor is it appreciative of his true obligations. This group is full of its own vain hopes.

The group that supports Sufism declares the knowledge brought by the Prophet (sws) to be superficial knowledge and the Shariah to be the outer peel of a fruit. Instead, they believe that true knowledge is the inner one which is communicated from heart to heart and holds the same significance as that of the inner flesh of the fruit. This knowledge is called the tariqah and cannot be obtained without connecting oneself with another person, the murshid who is the custodian of the secrets of this particular tariqah. In the view of the Sufis, efforts made by the Prophet (sws) to spread knowledge of the Quran were meant only for common people. Its real knowledge was passed on to a few special people who in turn communicated it to their chosen few in secret. As if the work for which the Prophet (sws) spent his entire life was only a mindless piece of effort of secondary importance.

The views of all four groups above are based on lack of awareness of the advent of the Qur’an, lack of knowledge of the struggles of the Prophet (sws), blind and deaf attachment to the person of the Prophet (sws), exaggeration about their love for him and misunderstanding and wrong perceptions about his position and responsibilities. When the foundations are wrong, how can a building erected on them be sound? Hence it seems necessary to clarify the obligations and responsibilities of the Prophet (sws).


Obligations of the Prophet (sws) according to his Status   

When Abraham (sws) prayed for the coming of a great prophet from his progeny, he also named his responsibilities: i.e. recitation of verses, teaching of wisdom and purification of souls. The great personality who fulfilled these responsibilities to the full was that of Muhammad (sws), the Messenger of God only. The Qur’an is a collection of verses that were revealed to him and its status is the same as the book of Torah which was revealed to Moses (sws) and that of Inji#l which was sent upon Jesus (sws). All these books are heavenly ones, sent from God at various times to guide humans. The messengers they were revealed to were messengers within God’s system of prophets, who were assigned the responsibility to communicate His message.


Recitation of the verses

Recitation of the verses means reading the verses that were revealed from God. It has been said in the Qur’an itself that before prophet hood, the Prophet (sws) was neither seen to be reciting verses nor writing them. Suddenly, after prophet hood, he was found to be aware of these verses and also communicating the same to other people.

The Prophet (sws) was bestowed with prophethood among the ummis, which means none other than Ishmaelites. Therefore, his real responsibility was to recite these verses in front of them, i.e. so that they could listen to them. It was his routine to recite the Qur’an to the elite in Makkah and to invite them to accept its message. Under the shadows of the walls of the Ka‘bah, within the Mosque, he would recite the Qur’an so that its message would be heard by the Quraysh. Some people would enter into a debate with him and he would recite the verses to them so that they could understand its teachings. Some people expressed their desire to listen to the Qur’an and those who did not possess the courage to listen in front of others would wait for the time when the Prophet (sws) performed prayers close to the Ka‘bah. These people would fulfill their wish by hiding behind the cover of the Ka‘bah.

It had become essential for those who believed in the Prophet (sws) to recite the Qur’an and memorize it. That is why the faithful made the Dar al-Arqam their centre for gatherings and thus created a way to benefit from the Prophet (sws). They would read and teach the Qur’an, have discussions and correct their actions and beliefs in the light of its wisdom. The group that was trained there proved to be a highly loyal one for Islam and became a support for the Prophet (sws) in his work of reciting the Qur’anic verses.

The Quraysh leaders were extremely afraid of the recitation of the Qur’an. They used to cover their ears with cloth. When Abu Bakr (rta) would recite the Qur’an in the courtyard of his house, some people would concentrate in their eagerness to listen to him. Concerned that these people might become influenced by Qur’anic teachings, the Quraysh allowed Abu Bakr (rta) to read the Qur’an only within the confines of his house.

The Quraysh also tried to stop the Prophet (sws) from spreading his message. He responded that he had been instructed to “continue to recite the Qur’an.” Whoever was guided by this would only benefit himself. But even if the Quraysh leaders heard the Qur’an, they would ignore it, demonstrating their ignorance and when they accepted that they had heard it, they would declare it to be magic or a collection of stories from earlier times, refusing to accept it as the Word of God.

The same attitude was shown by the Jews of Madinah. When they heard the Qur’an, they denied it and raised various objections on it, although they recognized a heavenly book themselves and were aware of its teachings. Therefore, the Qur’an made it clear to them that when the sacred verses were being recited to them and God’s Messenger was present among them, there was no cause for rejecting the Qur’an.

The Prophet (sws) also initiated the institution of Ashab al-Huffah in Madinah to fulfill this responsibility. Memorizers of the Qur’an taught those who came from outside Madinah there. Introducing a part of the Qur’an to be recited within the prayer also motivated every Muslim to memorize the Qur’an. The Prophet (sws) gave a push to this motivation when he said that the heart which did not contain a part of the Qur’an was like a destroyed home. The Prophet (sws) would recite the Qur’an frequently during Ramadan. The same practice has been adopted by Muslims in every part of the world and they consider memorizing it a matter of blessing. Their preparations for recitation during the Ramadan is a sight worth observing.


Teaching the Qur’an

With reference to prophets, one aspect of holy books is the sacred revelations and the book based on these. The Qur’an says: “This is a heavenly Book about which there is no doubt.” The second aspect of the book is the law or shari‘ah. For example, it is said: “in the law of God, relatives are closer to each other.” Education means provision of knowledge to someone with great attention. This means that when reciting and teaching the Qur’an, it should be clarified in every possible manner; if anyone asks questions, they should be provided with answers; if they have any objections, these should be removed by addressing them properly; if there are any meanings associated with the verses that are not immediately obvious, these should be brought to attention and explained to the satisfaction of the addressees. The Prophet (sws) ensured all of these points when teaching the Qur’an. Many Ahadith have quoted questions raised by the Bedouins and the answers provided by the Prophet (sws). Similarly, the Jews of Madinah sought many clarifications from him and he provided answers very patiently. Because the habit of asking questions may also put a person on the wrong path and he can put himself in difficulty by asking irrelevant questions, when some inappropriate questions were raised by some believers, the Qur’an stopped them and said that if they asked such questions while the Qur’an was being revealed, they ran the danger of making their faith difficult for themselves.

Heavenly revelations include a major part of shari‘ah instructions. The basic shari‘ah of the Jews was in the Torah, which was added to by their jurists. Many of Qur’anic instructions are found in the verses revealed during the Madinan period. This is also the basic shari‘ah. Therefore, its explanation and elucidation was a requirement for the teaching of the Book and this was fulfilled by the Prophet (sws). He had been bestowed with a special light due to which his soul was vigilant. If, in any matter, he had not received any revelation, he would give instructions with the help of this light. In this respect, his personality was the source of differentiation between what was good and what was evil.

Fulfilling the responsibilities of teaching the Book, the Prophet (sws) determined the practical form of all forms of worship and terminology: wudu, prayer, zakah, hajj, circumambulation, sacrifice, ‘umrah, the permitted boundaries of the Haram etc and trained the ummah on these. Similarly, he practiced the instructions of the shari‘ah that were mentioned in the Qur’an as a matter of principle only to demonstrate their detail to the ummah and ordered people to adopt the same. This called the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws): i.e. the way defined by the Prophet (sws) which he asked his ummah to adopt. In this manner, the religion of Islam is carved from a combination of the basic principles outlined in the Qur’an and their clarifications provided by the Prophet (sws). If anyone of these is considered to be unnecessary, the building of faith cannot remain standing.

The religion taught by the Prophet (sws) while fulfilling his responsibilities of teaching the Qur’an will remain the core of Islam until the end of the world. Anyone who accepts Islam but rejects ay part of it or avoids it will not remain a Muslim, even if he declares his deep love for the Prophet (sws).


Teaching of Wisdom

Wisdom (hikmah) means that maturity of rationality and knowledge which gives birth to true thought and true practice. Just as heavenly revelations include shari‘ah instructions, so do they elucidate the true philosophy of life and the right approach to thinking in every essential matter. Anyone who accepts this guidance adopts the right approach to thinking about every problem in life and then takes action accordingly. Wisdom is a gift from God and the Prophet (sws) was made its teacher. With reference to this, he explained his own role as: “I am only a distributor; God is the One who has bestowed it.” The way to train someone on wisdom is to train their intellect and build their character. To develop intellect, it is necessary to ensure that the person practices it regularly; that s/he is provided with the guidance to understand and develops the habit of thinking, deliberating and reflecting deeply. In this respect, the greatest treasure of wisdom is the Book of God which defines these things and advises humans on which of these are based on wisdom and which, when adopted, transform a person into a wise one. The basic ingredients in this process are the attention to God which combines awe, love and humility. The second ingredient is an attitude of mercy towards others, behaviour based on kindness and generosity and wishing them well. In addition, the Qur’an has declared its basic instructions also to fall within the sphere of wisdom. The Prophet (sws) has explained the right way to implement these.

The Prophet (sws) trained people to reflect and think about the Qur’an and its teachings. He would ask his companions questions that would force them to think deeply and that would motivate them to seek guidance from the Qur’an. For example, once he asked the companions which tree was like a faithful person. People began to think about trees of the desert, but the Prophet (sws) said that the date palm was like a believer. The simile of la ilaha illalah in the Qur’an has been explained in terms of a very high, fruit laden tree with very deep roots that go deep into the ground and that gives fruit frequently by the grace of God. A believer believing firmly in this kalimah is an example of the tree and his actions and morals are of the highest order and beneficial. Thus, the comparison of a believer with a date palm tree is obvious.

The Prophet (sws) explained the wisdom behind many things by using similes. For instance, he explained the benefits of sitting in pious company by comparing it to going to a seller of perfumes and that of sitting in bad company to being close to the furnace of an iron monger. His style was such that when he used to go to the Mosque and saw some companions sitting together and discussing some religious issue, he would sit alongside and participate in the discussion. He would assist them in understanding that particular problem. Sometimes the companions asked a question of which they wanted to be aware of the wisdom as per the explanations in the Qur’an and the Prophet (sws) would provide them a summary which they would remember always and guide them in future. Once a person came and asked him to advise him about an act that would bring him close to Paradise and away from Hell. He said: “Worship God, do not associate anyone with Him, pray regularly, pay zakah and be kind to blood relations.” One person asked him to give him some wisdom in two words which would help him to be saved in the Hereafter. The Prophet (sws) said: “Be witness to your belief in God and then be steadfast on it.” Sometimes, the Prophet (sws) would give statements which reflected the wisdom of religion and were so beautiful and comprehensive that everyone remembered them. A man once asked him about the reality of religion. He answered: “Religion means wishing well.” The man asked: “Wishing who well?” The Prophet (sws) answered: “Wishing God, His Prophet and all Muslims well.”

Many companions trained by the Prophet (sws) were very wise men. When they took on the responsibility for the affairs of Muslims, their decisions clearly demonstrated the training they had received on wisdom. For example, when Abu Bakr (rta) announced during the period of his caliphate that he would fight anyone who refused to pay zakahuntil he had paid the full amount to the state treasury, other companions advised him that those people were willing to offer the prayer. Hence, he should show leniency and allow them not to pay zakahfor the time being. Abu Bakr (rta) said that the Qur’an had talked about prayer and zakahtogether, so he would not differentiate between the two. The same response would be given to deniers of either.


Purification of Souls 

The objective of all the above responsibilities of the Prophet (sws) was purification of souls, which is also the real purpose behind the prophethood of all messengers and their struggles. The actual goal of the struggle of all prophets is purification of every human soul and every society. It is essential for a person to achieve deliverance in the life Hereafter and to gain success, to purify her/himself. Without this, if s/he desires Paradise, it is a foolish wish. This is why purification is something to be desired ordinarily. Its knowledge has not been limited to a few people only, nor has it been kept a secret. The Prophet (sws) would train all of his companions and gave them a road map for their knowledge, moral and character building. He explained all details of moral and spiritual sicknesses and provided information about their treatment.

Purification means cleaning something; nurturing its growth and further developing it. Purification of the soul implies that any thoughts or wrong beliefs that may have taken root within the soul be uprooted and removed. Weaknesses and doubts within a person may thus be eliminated and evened out. s/he may be saved from desires of a mortal and sensuous nature and, by altering her/his tendencies, put her/him on the path to righteousness and God consciousness. The person may be made capable to be able to stand with what is good and help it to overcome evil in the struggle between the two.

Purification is a comprehensive and wide - ranging process. It encompasses each and every aspect of life: external or internal; practical or intellectual; moral or collective and political. It trains a human so that s/he they may act on the basis of true knowledge. One would perform deeds which would take one closer to one’s Lord and enable one to fulfill one’s obligations towards others. It teaches correction of matters and the position of one’s relationships with clan, family, society and the nation at a correct and rational level. After emerging from this process, a human being becomes whole and prophets prepare such human beings on whom this world is dependant.

These were the basic responsibilities of the Prophet (sws), that he fulfilled to the utmost and established within the ummah. Other responsibilities, such as preaching of religion, warning and giving glad tidings sprout from these and are related more with the strategy used. The Muslim ummah adopted the way taught by the Prophet (sws) and kept it alive in every age. That is why the guidance he brought is evident, much as the light of the sun, to anyone who seeks it. The ummah has protected this treasure more than their own lives and even today, every seeker can receive benefit from this treasure. When the fact is kept in mind that the Prophet (sws) is the last prophet of God and the Qur’an is the last heavenly Book that shall remain until the Day of Judgement, and of which the shari‘ah is embedded in the form of the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws) within the practice of the Muslim ummah, then the attitudes of the various groups of the ummah, as discussed above do not appear to be correct in any manner. They neither relate with the high status of the Prophet (sws) nor do they give the position that belongs rightly to the heavenly guidance within God’s system.   


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)


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