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17. Understanding Islam

3.4. AXIOM 4: Belief in the Prophets

Islam teaches that 144,000 prophets have been sent to humankind throughout history, though we know the names of only 25 of these (given in the Qur’an). Each one received a revelation from God, and as noted above, called people to follow the book of the last messenger before him. Some are historical characters mentioned in the Bible, but most are unnamed. Mohammed was the last of the prophets, and Jesus the penultimate (which is why Mohammed ostensibly called people to follow his teachings in the Injeel). Prophets were sent to lead people to Allah.

Of these prophets, 315 are held to be messengers. As noted above, messengers were prophets to whom Muslims believe were revealed divine books. So all messengers were prophets, but not all prophets were messengers. Muslims – according to Mohammed – claim to believe in all prophets and messengers.

Muslims believe all prophets are infallible, i.e. they could not make any mistakes or do any wrong. This belief immediately poses problems for Muslims, as the Qur’an actually records some of the sins of the prophets, such as Moses killing, Abraham lying, and David committing adultery, and it does not reconcile these sins with their infallibility. Moreover, they recognise the fall of Adam – yet he remained sinless? And Mohammed is said to have had all his sins forgiven – yet as an infallible prophet he didn’t commit any to begin with?

One reason for this confusion is that the Qur’an and Hadith don’t give a clear and full picture of the prophets they mention, and sometimes the message is self-contradictory. Islamic teaching is certainly different from that which is set out in historical texts or in the Bible. Take for example the case of Moses. The Qur’an says:

“We inspired to Moses and his brother, ‘Settle your people in Egypt in houses and make your houses [facing the] qiblah and establish prayer and give good tidings to the believers.’ ” (Qur’an 10:87)

and elsewhere:

“So he [Pharaoh] intended to drive them from the land, but We drowned him and those with him all together. And We said after Pharaoh to the Children of Israel, ‘Dwell in the land, and when there comes the promise of the Hereafter, We will bring you forth in [one] gathering.’ ” (Qur’an 17:103-104)

So it seems that Moses called the Israelites to settle in Egypt with Pharaoh being the one who was trying to drive them out, and after he drowned, the Israelites dwelled in Egypt. That is of course the exact opposite to what actually happened, and not recorded by any Jewish historian or believed by any Jew. Moses came to take Israel out of the land of Egypt and not to make them dwell in it, and Pharaoh wanted to enslave the Israelites, not to drive them out of Egypt.

Muslims also believe there are five prophets called “Ulu al-‘Azm” (the strong-willed ones):

“We took from the prophets their covenant and from you and from Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus, the son of Mary; and We took from them a solemn covenant.” (Qur’an 33:7)

Muslims are taught to believe in all the prophets and revere all alike without setting one above another. The Qur’an says:

“The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers.’ ” (Qur’an 2: 285)

However, plenty of Hadiths actually do make distinctions between messengers – mostly to elevate Mohammed – and don’t seem to agree with the Qur’an in this respect. For example, Mohammed said about himself:

“The likeness of myself and the Prophets who came before me is that of a man who built a structure and built it well and made it beautiful, except for the space of a brick in one of its corners (The cornerstone). The people started walking around it, admiring it and saying: Why is this brick missing?’ I am that brick (The cornerstone), I am the Seal of the Prophets.” (Sahih Muslim).

Another example is equally reported in Sahih Muslim:

“I will be the master of the sons of Adam on the Day of Resurrection, the first one for whom the grave is opened, the first one to intercede and the first one whose intercession will be accepted.”

Folk Islam practised by various poor urban and rural peoples around the world has given additional names and descriptions to Mohammed not given to anyone else. For example, there are over 200 names written on the wall of the mosque where Mohammed is buried, including Holy Spirit, the Key to Heaven, the Sign of Faith, Forgiver of Sins, Merciful, and the Master of the Sons of Adam. None of these names is ascribed to him in the Qur’an or Hadith. Some Sufi Muslims go as far as calling him the First Creature, the Light of Allah’s Throne, Peace Maker, the Light of the Ages, and the Keeper of Allah’s knowledge. Stories of many miracles attributed to Mohammed arose long after his death, though not recorded in any collections of Hadith nor in any history books, so they are most likely made up after the fact. Most of these are similar to miracles attributed to prophets before Mohammed, but in each case Mohammed’s miraculous skills exceed those of his predecessor. For example in Islam the Qur’an teaches that Solomon was able to talk to animals; in stories circulating some hundreds of years after Mohammed’s death, Mohammed not only talked to animals but some animals professed belief in him. Similarly, while Jesus said: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40), Mohammed said: “I recognise the stone in Mecca which used to pay me salutations before my advent as a Prophet and I recognise that even now.” (Sahih Muslim).

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