1. General Features
i. The Objective of the Messengers
In the words of the Qur’an, the basic objective of the Messengers of Allah is to decide the fate of their respective peoples in this world in such a manner that if these people deny their Messengers, they are subdued in this very world:
It has been ordained that the Almighty and His Messengers will always prevail:
The Old Testament refers to this law in the following words:
If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy, 8:19-20)The New Testament mentions this law in the following words:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered: ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’. (Luke, 13:1-4)ii. Phases of the Mission
A Rasul’s mission after passing through various phases culminates in achieving the above mentioned objective of deciding the fate of his nation in this very world. This mission can be categorized in the following phases:8
a. The Propagation PhaseIn the following paragraphs, we will take a look at some of the important features of these phases.
a. The Propagation Phase
b. The Acquittal Phase
Secondly, a Messenger is not authorized to make the decision of migration for himself since only the Almighty knows when a particular people has been given enough time to accept the basic truths. A Messenger must keep to his task of warning his people, in spite of bitter opposition, until he is informed by the Almighty that the time for warning them is over. The Prophet Jonah (sws) was reprimanded by the Almighty when he on his own decided to migrate from his people:
The Prophet Muhammad (sws) was told to exercise patience and not be like Jonah (sws) until the decree of Allah arrived:
On the other hand, when Abraham (sws) argued with the Almighty that the nation of his nephew, the Prophet Lot (sws), be given more respite, he was told that none among the righteous were left in it. While the Qur’an (11:74) makes a passing reference to this, the Bible gives the following details:
Then Abraham approached Him and said: ‘Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare that place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ The Lord said: ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake’. Then Abraham spoke up again: ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?’ ‘If I find forty-five there’, He said: ‘I will not destroy it’. Once again he spoke to him: ‘What if only forty are found there?’ He said: ‘For the sake of forty, I will not do it’. Then he said: ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?’ He answered: ‘I will not do it if I find thirty there’. Abraham said: ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?’ He said: ‘For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it’. Then he said: ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’ He answered: ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it’. (Genesis, 18:23-32)c. The Judgement Phase
This phase is the culmination of a Messenger’s preaching mission. He decides the fate of his nation in this phase. It is in reality the Almighty who undertakes this task as pointed out before.
It is evident from the Qur’an that in the Judgement phase, the punishment of the Disbelievers9 normally takes two forms depending upon the situation that arises.
If a Messenger has very few companions and he has no place to migrate from his people and attain political power, then the Messenger and his companions are sifted out from their nation by the Almighty and made to migrate to a safe place. Their nation is then destroyed through various natural calamities like earthquakes, typhoons and cyclones. The Qur’an says:
The ‘Ad, nation of Hud (sws), the Thamud nation of Salih (sws) as well as the nations of Noah (sws), Lot (sws) and Shu‘ayb (sws) were destroyed through such natural disasters when they denied their respective Messengers as is mentioned in the various surahs of the Qur’an.10 In the case of Moses (sws), the Israelites never denied him. The Pharaoh and his followers however did. Therefore, they were destroyed.
The Prophet Jonah’s people accepted faith and were saved from punishment:
In the second case, a Messenger is able to win a fair amount of companions and is also able to migrate to a place where he is able to acquire the reins of political power through divine help. In this case, a Messenger and his companions subdue their nation by force, and execute them if they do not accept faith. The nation of a Messenger is then given further respite during which the Messenger starts to purge and cleanse the people who accept faith and organizes them for a final onslaught upon the forces of evil. He also strengthens his hold and authority in the land. Once his companions are ready for an armed conflict, these addressees are given a final ultimatum and then attacked. The forces of a Messenger are destined to triumph and humiliate his enemies. The punishment, which in the previous case descended from the heavens, in this case emanates from the sword of the believers. It was this situation which arose in the case of Muhammad (sws). His opponents were destroyed by the swords of the Muslim believers until at the conquest of Makkah, the remaining accepted faith. (Details follow in the next section).
Referring to this form of divine punishment, the Qur’an asserts:
In other words, as pointed out earlier, it is the Almighty Himself who punishes the addressees of Messengers if they deny their respective Messenger; the Messengers and their companions are no more than a means to carry out this Divine plan
The punishment and humiliation of nations towards whom Messengers were sent generally took place in two ways: Nations who subscribed to monotheism were spared if they accepted the supremacy of their respective Messengers, while nations who subscribed to polytheism were destroyed. The latter fate is in accordance with the fact that polytheism is something that the Almighty never forgives:
For similar reasons, in the Judaic law, perpetrators of polytheism were to be punished with death in this world:
If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshipped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)Consequently, the Israelites were told that they should put to death all the polytheist nations and not to spare them in any way:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5)The Old Testament also mentions that there were certain nations that were to be spared if they were prepared to live a life of subjugation. In the light of the Qur’an, it can be adduced that such nations were those who did not subscribe to polytheism. They were not put to death and were given the option to live if they accepted the supremacy of the Mosaic law:
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labour and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, and children, the livestock and everything else in the city you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. (Deuteronomy, 20:10-15)Consequently, the People of the Book (the Israelites) were not wiped out as a nation because, being the People of the Book, they were basically adherents to monotheism. Their humiliation took the form of constant subjugation to the followers of Jesus (sws) till the day of Judgement as referred to by the following verse:
Here one might ask: Why were the People of the Book in particular the Christians regarded to be monotheists when they ascribed to trinity -- which apparently is a polytheistic doctrine? The answer to this question is that Christians are basically followers of monotheism. The Bible is very explicit about it:
The most important one, answered Jesus, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one’. (Mark, 12:29)Christians never admit to polytheism, though they are involved in certain polytheistic practices. A person becomes a polytheist when he openly admits that he is a polytheist. A person who claims to be a monotheist in spite of being involved in polytheistic practices, cannot be regarded as a polytheist. The reason is that a person might be doing something wrong without realizing that what he is doing; all Christians whether of today or from the period of Jesus (sws) never admit to polytheism; trinity to them is in accordance with monotheism. Of course Muslims do not agree with them but unless they claim polytheism, it can only be said that in spite of claiming to be monotheists they are involved in polytheism. Their case is the case of a Muslim who goes to the grave of a saint to ask him to grant a wish; we will not call such a Muslim a polytheist; we shall tell him that what he is doing is something which is against monotheism to which he himself strongly claims adherence. Similarly, we will not call Christians polytheists but we will keep telling them that what they are doing isN not in accordance with monotheism.
It is precisely for this reason that the Qur’an never called the People of the Book as polytheists though they subscribed to certain blatant forms of polytheism. The Qur’an only called the Ismaelites as polytheists because they admittedly subscribed and testified to the creed of polytheism. They strongly advocated that polytheism was the very religion the Almighty had revealed and claimed that they were strong adherents to this religion. Because of this very reason, they were called the Mushrikun (the adherents to the creed of shirk) by the Qur’an.
|8. The various
phases with reference to Noah (sws) are very compactly set forth in a brief
surah of the Qur’an. For an analysis of these phases, see Appendix
9. These two forms were also referred to earlier in the section ‘Punishment of the Disbelievers’. (See: p. 9)
10. In particular, a graphic summary of the fate of these nations is found in Surah Qamar. For details, see Appendix B.