Book Review

28 BOOK REVIEW PROPHECY CONTINUOUS by Yohanan Friedmann. Published by the University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles (1989 First Edition) ISBN 0-520-05772-4, Hard Cover 230 pages. Part IV Part I to HI of this review have appeared in the preceding three issues of The Review of Religions. Yohanan Friedmann belongs to the Institute of Asian and Africa Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. His interest in the Ahmadiyya Movement started when he researched for the Encyclopaedia Iranica. Some shorter versions of his book were published in Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam, Vol.7, Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Vol 7 and in Studies in Islamic History and Civilization in honour of Professor David Ayalon (Cana Publishing House, Jerusalem). Copious footnotes leave an impression of intensive research: this marks the omission of some pertinent facts. In view of errors being made by equally hasty future research scholars, an opportunity has been taken to rectify the more significant errors and misunderstandings on the author’s part. Yohanan Friedmann’s (YF) text is reproduced verbatim: this is followed by The Review of Religions (RR hereafter formal response). YF: On June 30 the (National) Assembly (of Pakistan) formed itself into a special committee ‘to discuss the status in Islam of persons who do not believe in the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)’. The deliberations were behind closed doors. The Assembly met in open session on September 7 and unanimously decided to amend the constitution of Pakistan that ‘a Muslim who professes, practices or propagates against the concept of the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad’ would be punishable under a section of the Pakistan penal code. This seems to be one of the more ineptly formulated decision taken in this context: the only persons likely to engage in the activity that it condemned had just been declared non-Muslims… And in any case, the decision seems to be in clear contradiction to article 20 of the constitution which promises every citizen the right not only to profess and practice but also to propagate his religion. The National Assembly of Pakistan thus arrogated to itself the authority of an assembly of REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 29 theologians, competent to decide on matters of faith or infidelity, and to pronouce judgement on the religious affliction of individual citizens. If the secret deliberations of the Assembly are ever made public, they should become one of the more fascinating documents concerning the relationship between religion and state The action taken by the National Assembly is rather extraordinary when we consider the fact that Islamic history never knew assemblies convened for a similar purpose. The 1974 debate on the Ahmadi issue revealed again the dilemma facing countries that try to govern themselves according to modern liberal principles, yet feel attachment to a medieval civilization that recognised no separation between religion and state. (pp42-43). RR: YF has omitted the fact the Head of the Ahmadiyya Community, Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, accompanied by the present Head Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad appeared before the Assembly and responded to each false allegation made by the members of the Assembly. Like YF, we await the day when the minutes of the secret session are made available to the public because then the world would be able to see how blind people can be in perceiving the truth. Once they have made up their minds to reject the truth no amount of counter arguments can appeal to them. YF’s final comment about a medieval civilization is unkind to Islam. It contradicts his immediately preceding sentence. A modern day lynch mob is bound to pass a guilty verdict. The separation between religion and state, therefore, fades into insignificance because a political decision was made under the facade of religion. YF: Bearing in mind the notion of Islamic superiority, so manifest in the Quran as well as in numerous other branches of Islamic civilization, it is noteworthy that a considerable body of material found in the earlier sources regards all Prophets as equal and refrain from according the Prophet Muhammad any superior standing among them. The Quran is not unequivocal on this issue. Several verses speak of differences of rank between the Prophets and were interpreted as indicating that Muhammad enjoyed a superior standing among his predecessors in the Prophetic office (footnote Quran 2: 253,17:55). There are on, the other hand, verses that praise people who do not make any distinction between the Prophets and describe all of them as following the straight path (Quran 2:136,285;3:84;4:152). The egalitarian approach toward the Prophets can also be discerned in parts of hadith literature…(p. 51). Tor Andrae rightly observed that these traditions must reflect very early attitudes and date from a period in which the self consciousness of Muslims as a separate Community had not yet become fully developed. 30 REVIEW OF KEttGIONS The egalitarian approach towards the Prophets did not last long. Islamic tradition soon began to insist that Muhammad was the best of creation and consequently better than any other Prophet… They (the Muslim scholars of hadith) explained the contradiction by saying that the Prophet declined a superior status to-avoid rivalry with other faiths, to steer clear of disparaging the anceint Prophets, or of modesty. Most of them also suggested that the Prophet had uttered the egalitarian statements before he became aware that he indeed was the best Prophet and even the ‘Lord of the sons of Adam’ (Sayyed Wuld Adam). Though this explanation seems to ascribe to the Prophet a development of Muslim consciousness which probably occurred only some time after his death, it reflects the actual process by which the Muslim community gradually acquired the self-confidence and conviction of superiority which was to become a leading feature of the Islamic world view (p.52)… In a frequently mentioned tradition, the Prophet compared the relationship between himself and the Prophets who had preceded him to a man who almost completed the building of a beautiful house, leaving empty only the place for one brick at the corner. People started to walk around it, admired it, and asked why the missing brick had not been put in place. The Prophet said: ‘I am the brick and I am the seal of the Prophets’ (Fa-ana al labina wa ana khatam un-nabiyyin). Here the Prophet is decribed as completing, perfecting, and putting the final touch on the sumptuous structure of religion, which had gradually been erected but not completed by his predecessors in the Prophet office. (PP. 54). RR: Regrettably, this forms the cornerstone of YFs subsequent arguments. He argues that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s claims were clearly inspired by medieval sufistic thoughts (pp. 105, 106, 109, 110, 114, 146). YF therefore has to deny that the ‘Seal’ of Prophethood signifies the Holy Prophet’s superioty over other Prophets. Thus, he makes an attempt to highlight what he sees as contradictions in the verses of the Holy Quran but in doing so he ends up contradicting himself. This is not a fresh allegation against Islam. Numerous orientalists here often repeated it. It is a pity therefore that a scholar such as YF, who we presume is well aware of the numerous counter arguments against such a contradiction, should resort to constructing such a weak base for his thesis. The advent of a great Messenger of God had been first foretold in all preciously revealed books. (See Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-20; Genesis 17:20; 21:13, 18; Isaiah 21:13-17; Habakkuk 3:3-7; Songs of Solomon 5:10-16; 2:7; Daniel 2:31-45, Matthew 21:33-46; John 14:26; 16:7-14; Acts 3:21-24, all clearly refer to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 31 of Allah be upon him). It is ironic that earlier scriptures should have exalted the Prophet’s status and yet early Muslims should be totally unaware of his status till his death or should begin to accredit him with such a status after his death. Who is it who exalts this status? It is none other than God Almighty Himself. When God created the world, He reserved His Mercy unto mankind (Rehmatun Lilaalameen) and caused His Noble Messenger to appear when God determined it fit. God thus fulfilled His promise through the Holy Prophet of Islam, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Now, God also revealed the Holy Quran. To suggest today that some verses of the Holy Quran rank the Holy Prophet just like any other Prophet and that this ranking continued till Muhammad became more confident through the spread of Islam is tantamount to suggesting that like the early Muslims, even God Almighty was not (God forbid) aware of the Prophet’s status. We regret that no Muslim can even concede to such a notion. Turning specifically to the verses cited by YF, the Holy Quran states: These Messengers have We exalted, some of them above others; among them are those to whom AEah spoke (meaning that they were given r-evealed Law); and some of them He exalted by degrees of rank. And We gave. Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs and strengthened him with the Spirit of holiness. And if Allah had so willed, those (that came) after them would not have fought with one another after clear signs had come to them, but they did disagree. Of them were some who believed, and of them were some who disbelieved. And if Allah had (so) willed, they would not have fought with one another; but AEah does what He desires. (2:254) The above verse is in direct response to the implied question in the immediately preceding verses which end with the words; Surely, thou art one of the Messengers. (2:253). The mission of all previous Prophets was limited to their own people and there were differences on their individual responsibilities. So God it is Who has exalted some over others. Incidentally, the words ‘among those are some to whom Allah spoke does not mean that Allah did not speak to the others because they could have hardly carried out their mission unless God addressed them. So this verse clearly shows that there are some Prophets who are gifted with the revealed Law (such as 32 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Moses and the Holy Prophet) and that there were others who did not bring a fresh Law (such as the Israelite Prophets, including Jesus) may peace and blessings of Allah be upon all Prophets of God. Then in the chapter Bani Israel, revealed wholly in Mecca, and perhaps in the 10th or llth year of the Prophet’s call, it is stated in the Holy Quran: Your Lord knows you best If He please, He will have mercy on you, or if He please, He witt punish you. And We have not sent thee to be a keeper over them. And thy Lord knows best those that are in the heavens and the earth. And We exalted some of the Prophets over the others and to David We gave a Book. (17:55,56) God Almighty knows the innermost secrets of the heart. He is aware of the stations and the grade of Prophets. He also knows what kind of a Prophet is needed at a particular time. Now as stated by us, this verse was revealed fairly early in the Prophet’s life. Therefore Muslims of that time were aware that some Prophets enjoyed a higher rank than others. Given these clear statements, how are we to interpret this verse cited by orientalists which state that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was like other Prophets. In examining these verses, it is important to remember firstly that, ‘like other Prophets’ does not in any case lower the status of the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessing of Allah be upon him. The Holy Quran states: And they say, Be ye Jews or Chritians that you may be rightly guided. Say ‘Nay, (follow ye) the religion of Abraham who was ever inclined (to God); he was not of those who set up gods with God.’ Say ye ‘We belive in Allah and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob and (his) children, and what was given to Moses and Jesus, and what was given to (all other) Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit ourselves. And if they believed as you have beaeved, then are they surely guided; but if they turn back, then they are only creating a SCHISM, and Allah will surely suffice thee against them, for He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. (2:136-138) Once put in its fuller context, it is obvious that Muslims are being enjoined to reply to the Jews and Christians that if everything comes from God, it is foolish to say that people believing in some Prophets need not believe in other Prophets of God. So as far as the belief in all Prophets REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 33 is concerned, no distinction is to be made between one Prophet, or one revelation and another. A Prophet or a revelation may be more important than another or enjoy a higher status accepted without discrimination. Thus the words ‘We made no distinction between any of them ‘ simply means that a Muslim makes no distinction between the various Prophets as far as their Prophethood and link with God is concerned. It thus rejects the Judaic concept of Prophethood being hereditary or reserved exclusively for Israelite Prophets. Then in the same chapter, the Holy Quran states: This Messenger (of Ours) believes in that which has been revealed to him from his Lord, and (so do) the believers : all (of them) believe in Allah, and in His angels, and in His Books, and in His Messengers, (saying), ‘We make no distinction between any of His Messengers’, and they say, ‘We hear and we obey. (We implore) Thy forgiveness, 0 our Lord, and to Thee is the returning. (2:2 86) This verse sets out the fundamental articles of belief which the believers were taught i.e. belief in God, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. The fact that believers “make no distinction between any of God’s Messengers” means that believers should accept all the Messengers of God, without exception, They should not discriminate amongst them by accepting some and rejecting others. In the next chapter, the Holy Quran states: Say, ‘We believe in Allah and in that which was revealed to Abraham and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and to Him we submit. (3:85) The Jews had refused to believe in non — Israelite Prophets (the Holy Quran says that they ‘obey none but him who follows your religion’ 3:74). This point is re-emphasised here. Whereas the Jews had rejected all but the Israelite Prophets, Islam requires its followers to believe in all Prophets of God, irrespective of race, creed, or the community to which they belonged or of the time during which they lived. There is a sharp contrast between what may be called the catholicity of Islam and the rejection on hereditary grounds by Judaism. So here too the words we make no distinction between any of them do not contradict verse 2:254. These words refer only to discrimination as regards believing in the Prophets and not as regards the status enjoyed by them in the sight of 34 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS God Almighty. In the next chapter, the Holy Quran states this concept in even clearer terms: Surely, those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers and desire to make a distinction between Allah and His Messengers, and say, ‘We believe in some and disbelieve in others,’ and desire to take a way in between, these indeed are veritable disbelievers, and We, have prepared for the disbelievers an humiliating punishment. And (as for) those who believe in Allah and in all of His Messengers and make no distinction between any of them, these are they whom He will soon give their rewards. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (4:151-153) Ibn Kathir explains: ‘What is meant here is that he who rejects any of the Prophets of God really rejects all of them, for God has made it obligatory on man to believe in every Prophet whom He has raised for any people at any time on the earth.’ (Vol HI p.224). The middle-readers who believe in some and reject other Prophets thus reject all others and deserve a humiliating punishment. So, in this final verse cited by YF, the meaning is consistent with the three previous quotations that a true believer should not descriminate in accepting some Prophets and rejecting others. By no stretch of imagination does this verse or any of the three earlier ones contradict the stand that some Prophets had been commissioned by God in bringing a new Law and thus some of them ranked higher than others who did not bring a new Law but who were Prophets nonetheless. Whereas Prophets before Muhammad, may peace and blessings- of Allah be upon him, were sent to a particular nation, it was the Holy Prophet who was charged with a universal message. He invited the rulers of other nations to this message. He had been called ‘Ta Ha’ (man of perfect qualities) (20:2), ‘Ya Sin’ (the perfect leader) (36:2), ‘Khatamun nabiyeen’ (the seal of the prophets) (33:41) ‘for whom there is an unending reward., possessing high moral excellences’ (68:4-5) ‘sent as a mercy for all mankind’ (2:108) ‘a light-giving sun’ (33:47) ‘Allah sends down blessings on the Prophet and His angles invoke blessing on him’ (33:57) ‘Mohammad approached closer to Allah, and Allah leaned down towards him, so that it became as it were a case of one chord serving two bows or closer still’ (53:9-10). Then this ‘excellent exemplar’ showed how God’s commandments were to be put into practice. More is known about him than any other person. And his universal message appealed to human intellect, was not based on the REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 35 hokus pokus of fairy tales and was best equipped to unite mankind under one God. Therein lies the superiority of the Holy Prophet and Islam. There can be no doubt that early Muslims were deeply conscious of the status of the Prohet. Some of these Muslims had been converted from Christianity and Judaism and they were aware of the Prophet’s claims. In view of all these facts, how can one say that the Holy Quran is not unequivocal on this issue or merely because he required that he should not be compared with Abraham, etc. that he ended up declining a higher status? How could the Prophet deny what God had undoubtedly made him to be? To suggest that this explanation of compromise or modesty ‘seems to ascribe to the Prophet a development of Muslim consciousness which probably occurred only some time after his death’ or that ‘it reflects the actual process by the Muslim community gradually acquired the self-confidence and conviction of superiority which was to become a leading feature of the Islamic world view’ is ‘probably’ a gross misunderstanding on YF’s part. If YF’s deduction is that those traditions which grant the Prophet a higher status or the verses in the Holy Quran revealed during the Prophet’s lifetime which exalt his status were concocted in different periods of Islamic history, he should provide tangible evidence of this rather than relying on Tor Andrac’s conjecture. YF cannot choose traditions which quite obviosly relate to the Prophet’s time and in one false sweep transpose them to a period after his death. Why should Muslims reject what is clearly stated in the Holy Quran and believe as YF does that the Prophet was not really as great as he is made out to be? YF’s book has been based on the title “Khatamun nabiyeen”. These words make the status of the Prophet so manifestly clear and decisive (that the Prophet is superior over all other Prophets) that it is unbelievable that YP should accredit it to later egalitarian development merely because it suits his thesis. We have elaborated this point so that future research scholars who rely on YF’s treatise should be aware of the fallacy of YF’s assumption and so that they do not repeat his error. (to be continued)