Historical role and goals of the Prophets

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Have the Prophets any positive or negative role in the movement of history? If they have, what is that? Is it positive or negative? Even the anti-religious people admit that the Prophets have had an effective role in history. In the past they represented a great source of national power. In olden days the national power, was distinguished from blood relationships, tribal affinities and patriotic feelings or from religious tendencies and doctrinal bonds. The tribal and the national chiefs represented the first tendency and Prophets and religious leaders the second.

A. Various opinions about the role of the Prophets in movement of history
There are no two opinions about the fact that the Prophets constituted a force because of their religious influence. Anyhow, there are several views as o how this force worked:

1. Tendency toward futurity and negative role of the Prophet
A section of people in their writings generally argue that as the Prophets had a spiritual and anti-temporal outlook, their role has been negative. These people hold that the central point of the teachings of the Prophets has been the renunciation of this world, concentration on the next, and introspection and escape from the external realities. That is why the force of religion and the Prophets, who have been a symbol of this force, have always discouraged people from taking interest in the worldly life and have applied a brake to progress. Thus the role of the Prophets has always negative in history. This is the view which is expressed generally by those who claim to be broad- minded.

2. Marxism’s view on historical role of the Prophets
There is another section of people, who also maintain that the religious people have played a negative role, but the argument advanced by them is quite different. They maintain that the religious people are actually worldly-oriented and their spiritual orientation is merely a disguise to deceive the simpleminded. The efforts of the religious people have always been directed toward securing the interests of the oppressors and beguiling the oppressed. They have endeavoured to maintain the status quo, and opposed the evolution of society. The supporters of this view say that history like any other phenomenon has a dialectical movement, which originates from its internal contradiction. With the emergence of proprietorship society was divided into two conflicting classes, one of them being the ruling and exploiting class and the other the deprived and exploited. With a view to protect its own special position the ruling class has always been anxious to maintain the existing situation and in spite of the inevitable development of production implements has wanted to keep society as it is. But the subjugated class in consonance with the development of the production implements wants to change the existing situation and to replace it with a more developed one. The ruling class has used various tactics, and to achieve its nefarious ends has employed the three factors of force, wealth and deceit. In this game the role of the man of religion has been to hoodwink the people in the interest of the tyrants and exploiters. The people of religion have not been seriously interested in the Hereafter. Their pretention of godliness is only a disguise to conceal their worldliness and is intended to divert the at the attention of the underprivileged and the revolutionaries. Thus the role of the men of religion has always been negative, for they have always supported the wealthy and the powerful people interested in maintaining the existing institutions. This is the theory put forward by the Marxists to explain historical development. According to Marxism the three factors of religion, government and wealth are coeval with private property and all over history have played a role against the interests of the messes.

3. Niche’s view on the role of the Prophets
Some other people interpret history in a way different from that of the Marxists. Any how they too consider the role of religion and the Prophets to be negative. They hold that the law of natural evolution and the law the development of history are based on the domination of the strong and the elimination of the weak. The strong have contributed and are contributing to the progress of history, whereas the weak have been and are responsible for its stagnation and decline. Religion has been invented by the weak to apply a brake to the strong. The proponents of religions have invented such slavish moral conceptions as justice, freedom, virtue, love, compassion, cooperation etc. They did so in the interest of the weak, that is the lower classes and to the disadvantage of the strong, that is the upper classes which bring about progress and development. The people of religion brought the psychological forces of the strong under their control and prevented the elimination of the weak. Thus they have hampered the improvement of human race and the birth of heroes. Therefore the role of religion and the Prophets who represent it has been negative, because they have supported the slavish mentality against the masterly qualities which contribute to the advancement of history and society. This is the view of the German philosopher, Nietzsche.

4. Positive role of the Prophet in movements of history
Besides the above mentioned three groups, there are others which also include some anti-religious people. They admit that the role of the Prophets in the past has been positive and fruitful and contributed to the progress of history. These groups give due consideration to the social and moral content of the teachings of the Prophets and to the historical events connected therewith. They admit that in the past the Prophets played the most fundamental role in the reform, welfare and progress of their society. Human culture has two aspects: Material and Spiritual. The material aspect of culture is its technical and industrial aspect which has continued to develop in every age till today. Its spiritual aspect concerns the mutual relations of the human beings, for the correct determination of which humanity is indebted to the teachings of the Prophets. As it is under the shadow of the spiritual aspect of culture that its material aspect gets an opportunity to grow and develop on correct lines, the role of Prophets in the development of the spiritual aspect of civilization is direct and in the development of its material aspect indirect. According to these groups there can be no doubt about the positive role of the teachings of the prophets in the past.

Anyhow some of these groups are of the opinion that the time of the positive role of the teachings of the Prophets is now over. They assert that with the advancement of science the religious teachings have lost their validity a great deal and in future also they will continue to lose their vitality. In contrast, certain other groups hold that the role of faith and religious ideology can never be replaced by science, howsoever progress it may make. Science will always be as unable to replace religion as philosophical schools have been. The Prophets have had various roles in the pats. It is true that there are certain cases in which the collective human conscience is no longer in need of a religious support. But the most fundamental roles performed by the Prophets are those which will be as much required in future as they were in the pats.

Influential instance of the Prophets on historical development
Here are some instances in which the teachings of the Prophets have influenced historical devilment.

1) Education:
In the past education had a religious motive, and it, was this motive which encouraged the teachers and the parents. With the development of social conscience the need of religious motive has been eliminated in this field.

2) Affirmation of Agreements and Covenants:
Social life of man stands on the respect of the treaties, covenants and agreements and on biding by the promises and undertaking. Respect of the agreement and promises is one of the mainstays of the human aspects of culture. To ensure this respect is a role which religion has always shouldered and for which no replacement has been found till today. Will Durant, an atheist, as he is, admit this fact in his book, Lessons from History. He says: “Religion with the help of its rituals has conferred the conferred the reverence of man-God relations on human compacts and in this way has brought about constancy and firmness to them.”

On the whole religion has provided a strong support to the moral and human values. Moral values minus religion are like currency notes having no financial backing. Such notes soon lose their value.

3) Emancipation from Social Bondage:
The role of the Prophets in the fight against despotism, tyranny and all aspects of oppression and persecution is the most basic. The Holy Qur’an lays stress on this role of the Prophets. It describes the establishment of justice as main object of their being raised. The Holy Qur’an again and again recounts the stories of the conflict between the Prophets and representative of despotism. In a number of verses it has expressly mentioned that those who constantly opposed the Prophets belonged to this class.

C. Criticizing the view of Marx and Niche about the relation of riligion with historical changes
The view expressed by Marx and his followers to the effect that religion, government and wealth are the three facts of the coercion of the ruling class against the underprivileged and the oppressed, is nothing but humbug. It is contrary to the indisputable historical facts. Explaining the view of Marx, Dr Arani says: “Religion has always been a tool in the hands of the dominating ruling class of society. In order to overpower the suppressed classes the and cross always move side by side with the bayonet.”

To be able to accept such an interpretation of history one will have to shut his eyes and overlook the historical facts. Imam Ali is the champion of the sword and the rosary both. He is swordsman as well as a man of rosary. But he did not use them to suppress the underprivileged. His motto was: “Oppose the oppressor and help the oppressed.” ( کونا للظالم خصما و للمظلوم عونا.

Throughout his life Imam Ali was a votary of the sword against those who possessed pelf and power. As Dr Ali
al-Wardi has pointed out in his book, Comedy of Human Intellect, Imam Ali his personality has refuted the philosophy of Marx.

The view of Nietzsche, which is diametrically opposed to that of Marz, is even more absurd. According to him, religion is a factor of stagnation and decline because it supports the weak while it is powerful who from the most progressive class responsible for the development of society. It appears that in the opinion of Nietzsche human society makes speedy progress only when it is governed by the law of jungle. According to Marx the underprivileged people are the factor of development and the Prophets were against this class. But Nietzsche thinks that powerful are the factor of development and the Prophets opposed them. Marx says religion is an invention of the powerful and the wealthy. Nietzsche, on the other hand maintains that it is an invention of the weak and the underprivileged. Evidently Marx was wrong on several counts. Firstly he interpreted history merely on the basis of the contradiction of class interests, and overlooked its human aspect. Secondly he regarded the underprivileged alone as the factor of development. Thirdly he considered the Prophets to be supporters of the ruling class. As for Nietzsche, he has made the mistake of regarding the factor of force as the factor of the development of history in the sense that has equated the more powerful man with the superior man and has believed that the more powerful man alone is the factor that carried history forward.

2-Historical role and goals of Prophets mission of Prophets

As now role of the Prophets in the development of history has been made clear to a certain extent, we take up another question. The question is: What is the main object or the final goal for which the Prophets were raised and the Divine Books sent down?

In general terms it may be said that the main object is the guidance, salvation, well-being and prosperity of people. There is no doubt that the Prophets were raised for guiding people to the straight path and saving souls. But that is not the point. The point is to what final goal this straight path leads. What does the well-being of people imply according to the school of Prophets? From what restraints and impediments does this school what to deliver man? What constitutes the ultimate good and prosperity according to it?

A. The main goals of raising the Prophets from the Qur’an ‘s view
The Holy Qur’an in a number of verses has either expressly dealt with this subject or has hinted at it. It has mentioned two definite points which constitute the ultimate object of Prophet- hood, while the teachings of the Prophets are a prelude to them. These points are: (i) The acknowledgement of Allah and coming close to Him and (ii) The establishment of justice and fairplay in human society.

The Holy Qur’an says: Prophet, We have surely sent you as a witness, a bringer of good tidings, a warner, summoner to Allah by His permission and as a lamp that gives light. (Surah al- Ahzab, 33:45-46) ( (یایها النبی انا ارسلنک شاهدا و مبشرا و نذیرا و داعیا الی الله باذنه و سراجا منیرا)).

It is evident that out of all the qualities mentioned in this verse, the only quality which is fit to be considered the main object is that of summoning to Allah. The Holy Qur’an in respect of the Prophets says: We surely sent Our Messengers with clear proofs and revealed on them the Book and the criterion (to judge what is right and what is wrong) so that people may establish justice. (Surah al- Hadid, 57:25) ( ولقد ارسلنا رسلنا بالبینت و انزلنا معهم الکتاب و المیزان لیقوم الناس باالقسط) ).

This verse expressly describes the establishment of justice as an object of raising the Prophets. Summoning people to acknowledge Allah and to come close to Him implies preaching the theoretical and individualistic form of practical monotheism, and to establish justice and fairplay in society implies establishing practical monotheism on social level.

Now the question arises whether the main object of the coming of the Prophets is the acknowledgement of Allah, and all other things including the establishment of social justice are a prelude to it, or the main object is the establishment of social justice and the acknowledgement and worship of Allah are the means of the realization of that idea?

B.Goals of Prophet from viewpoint of individual and social monotheism
If we use another terminology, we can thus recast this question: Is the main object theoretical monotheism and practical monotheism on individual level or is it practical monotheism on social level? Several answers have been given to this question:

1. Independent goals of individual and social monotheism
From the viewpoint of the object, the Prophets were dualists. In other words their object was twofold. One of their objects concerned the next worldly life and human success in the Hereafter (theoratical monotheism and practical monotheism on individual level). The other object concerned human success in this world (social monotheism). In order to ensure the prosperity of mankind in this world the Prophets preached social monotheism and to ensure human well- being in the next world they preached theoretical monotheism and practical monotheism on individual level, which is purely a spiritual and intellectual matter.

2. Social monotheism as the main goal, and individual Monotheism as the Preliminary goal
Another view is that the main object of the Prophets is social monotheism. Theoratical monotheism and practical monotheism on individual level are essential preliminaries to it. Theoratical monotheism concerns the acknowledgement of Allah. Man as such is in no need of acknowledging Him. It is immaterial for man whether the force motivating his spirit is Allah or thousands of others things. Similarly it makes no difference to Allah whether man acknowledging Him or does not acknowledging, worship Him or does not worship. Anyhow perfection of man depends on his adherence to collective monotheism, which in its turn cannot be achieved without the materialization of theoretical monotheism and practical monotheism on individual level. Allah has enjoined on man to acknowledging Him and worship so that collective monotheism may take a practical shape.

3. Individual monotheism as the main goal and monotheism as the Preliminary goal
The third view is that main object is the acknowledgement of Allah and coming near to Him. Social monotheism is the means of achieving this noble object. According to the monotheistic conception of the world its nature is “from Him” “to Him”. Hence man’s perfection lies in going to Him and gaining His nearness. Man has one special distinction. Allah has said: I have breathed into him My spirit. (Surah al-Hijr, 15:29) (...و نفخت فیه من ر وحی). As such man’s reality is Divine. By nature be seeks Allah. His well-being, evolution, safety and prosperity all lie in the acknowledgement and worship of Allah and in making advancement towards Him. The Prophets have undertaken to establish justice and to do away with tyranny and discrimination, because man being social by nature, we can have no conception of him apart from society. He cannot strive to seek proximity to Allah also, if a just system does not prevail in society. In fact social values as justice, freedom, equality and democracy and such moral qualities as generosity, forgiveness, love and charity have no intrinsic value of their own. They in themselves are not the qualities denoting human excellence. They are simply the means of gaining excellence and perfection, not the ends. They pave the way for prosperity and salvation but do not constitute salvation.

4. Individual monotheism as the main goal and intrinsic value of Social monotheism
The fourth theory is similar to the third one in so far as according it also the goal or the highest degree of excellence not only of man but of every existing thing is to move towards Allah. But according to it, it is polytheistic to assert that the Prophets have had a twofold object. Similarly it is a materialistic idea to say that the ultimate object of the Prophets is this worldly prosperity, which is nothing but the enjoyment of the gifts of nature in an atmostphere of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Anyhow, according to this theory, though social and moral values are only a means of reaching the real value, that is the acknowledgment of Allah and His worship, they do not totally lack an intrinsic value of their own.

c-Explanation of the mentioned subjects
The relationship between a preliminary and the main object is of two kinds. In certain cases the preliminary serves only as a prelude and after the object is achieved, its existence or nonexistence becomes immaterial. For example, a man wants to cross a water channel and for that purpose he puts a stone in the middle of it. Evidently after he has crossed the channel, the existence or the non-existence of that stone of no importance to him. The same is the case with the ladder used to climb to a roof and the mark-sheet of a class for the purpose of promotion to the next higher class. In some other cases a preliminary does not lose its value even after the main object has been achieved. Even after the realization of the main object, its existence still remains necessary. For example, the information which is acquired by a student in class I and class II is still required by him when he reaches a higher class. He cannot afford to forget all that he had learnt in these classes. He can continue to be in a higher class only if he retains the knowledge that the acquired in these lower classes.

The explanation is that in some cases a preliminary is a lower stage of the object itself, whereas in some other cases it is not. A ladder is not a stage of betting to the proof. Similarly a stone put in the middle of a channel is not a stage of crossing it. But the knowledge gained in lower classes and the knowledge to be gained in higher classes are the various stages of the same reality.

The relation between the moral and social values on the one hand and the acknowledgement and worship of Allah on the other is of the second type. A man who acknowledges Allah and worship Him cannot afford to be indifferent to honesty, righteousness, justice, charity, sincerity, munificence and for governess. All high and noble moral qualities are Divine.

There is a hadith which says: “Adopt the moral qualities of Allah”. (تخلقوا باخلاق الله)
In fact the noble moral qualities are a part of the acknowledgement and worship of the Divine Being, for their adoption emanates from an inherent desire to have Divine attributes, though man many not be conscious of that fact. That is why according to Islamic teachings the good deeds of even the polytheists will not go in vain in the next world if they have such noble qualities as justice, generosity, philanthropy etc. They will recompensed in some way or other provided their disbelief is not due to stubbornness. In fact such people attain a degree of godliness unconsciously.


Man and Universe- part Revelation and Propehethood-pages: 127to137


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