Brief History of Prophethood

Understanding Islam – Abul Al\’a Maududi


Now let us cast a cursory glance at the history of prophethood. Let us see how this long chain began, how it gradually unfolded itself and finally culminated in the prophethood of the last of the prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The human race began from one man: Adam. It was from him that the family of man grew, and the human race multiplied. All human beings born in this world have descended form that earliest pair: Adam and Eve.1 History and religion are agreed on this point. Scientific investigations about the origin of man too do not show that originally different man came into being, simultaneously or at different points of time, in different parts of the world. Most of the scientists also conjecture that one man would have been brought into existence first and the entire human race might have descended from the same one man. 

Adam, the first man on earth, was also appointed as the first Prophet of God. He revealed His religion-Islam to him and enjoined him to convey and communicate it is him descendants: to teach them that Allah is One, the Creator, the Sustainer of the world that He is the Lord the universe and He alone should be Worshipped and obeyed; that to Him they will have to return one day and to Him alone they should appeal for help; that they should live good, pious, and righteous life in accordance with God\’s pleasure and that if they did so they would be blessed by God with goodly reward, and if they turned away from Him and disobeyed Him they would be losers here and in the hereafter and would be severely punished for this disbelief and disobedience.

Those of Adam\’s descendants who were good trod the right path shown to them by him, but those who were bad abandoned their father\’s teachings, and gradually drifted away into devious ways. Some began to worship the sun, the moon, and the stars; others took to the worship of trees, animals, and rivers. Some believed that air, water, fire health, and all the blessings and forces of Nature were each under the control of a different god and that each one of them should be propitiated by means of worship. In this way ignorance gave rise to many forms of polytheism and idolatry, and scores of religions were formulated. This was the age when Adam\’s progeny had spread fairly over the globe and formed different races and nations. Every nation had made a different religion for itself, each with formalities and rituals of its own. God the one Lord and Creator of mankind and the universe was altogether forgotten. Not only that; Adam\’s descendants forgot even the way of life which God had revealed for them and which their great progenitor had taught them. They had followed their own devices. Every kind of evil custom grew, and all sorts of notions of ignorance spread them. They began to err in discerning right from wrong: many evils began to be considered right and many right things not only ignored but dubbed as wrong.

At this stage God began to raise prophets among every people, who preached Islam to them. Each one reminded his people of the lesson they had forgotten. They taught them God-worship, put an end to idol-worship and the practice of shirk, i.e., associating other deities with God, did away with all customs of ignorance, taught them the right way of living in accordance with God\’s pleasure, and gave them life-giving laws to be followed and enforced in society. God\’s true Prophets were raised in all countries: in every land and people. They all possessed one and the same religion the religion of Islam. No doubt, the methods of teaching and the legal codes of different Prophets were a little different in accordance with the needs and the stage of culture of the people among whom they were raised. The particular teachings of each Prophet were determined by the kind of evils which he faced and endeavored to eradicate. The methods of reform differed as it suited to fight different notions and ideas. When the people were in the primitive stages of society, civilization and intellectual development, their laws and regulations were simple; they were modified and improved as the society evolved and progressed. These differences were, however, only superficial, and apparent. The fundamental teachings of all the religions were the same, i.e., belief in the unity of God, adherence to a life of piety, goodness and peace, and belief in the life after death with its just mechanism for reward and Punishment. 

Man\’s attitude to words God\’s Prophets has been strange. First, he maltreated the Prophets and refused to listen and accept their teachings. Some of the Prophets were expelled from their lands; some were assassinated; some, in face of the people in difference, continued preaching the whole of their lives, and hardly won more than a few followers. In the midst of harassing opposition, derision, and indignity to which they were perpetually subjected, these Apostles of God, however, did not cease to preach. Their patient determination at last succeeded: their teachings did not remain without effect. Large groups of people and nations accepted their message and were converted to their creed. The erring tendencies of the people, born of centuries of persistence in deviation, ignorance, and malpractice, now took another form. Though during the lives of their Prophets, they accepted and practiced their teachings, yet after their death they introduced their old, distorted notions into their religions, and altered the Prophet’s teachings. They adopted quite novel methods of worshipping God; some even took to the worship of their Prophets. Some made the Prophets the incarnations of God; some made their Prophets the sons of God; some associated their Prophets with God in His Divinity. In short, man’s varied attitudes in this respect were a travesty of his reason and a mockery of himself; he made idols of those very persons whose holy mission was to smash idols to pieces. By intermixing religion, custom and rituals of ignorance, baseless and false anecdotes and man-made laws, man so changed and Perverted the ideology of the Prophets that after the lapse of centuries it became a hotchpotch of the real and the fictitious and the teachings of the Prophets were lost in a conglomeration of fictions and perversities so much so that it become impossible to distinguish the grain from the chaff. And not content with this corruption of the Prophet, they further attached fictitious anecdotes and unworthy traditions to the lives of their Prophets and so polluted their life histories that a real and reliable account of their lives becomes impossible to be discerned. Despite these corruption by the followers, in the work of the Prophets has not been altogether in vain. Among all nations, in spite of all interpolation and alteration, some traces of Truth have survived. The idea of God and of the life after death was definitely assimilated in some form or other. A few principles of goodness, truth goodness and morality were commonly admitted throughout the whole world. The Prophets, thus, prepared the mental attitude of their respective People in such a way that a universal religion could be safely introduced a religion, which is quite in consonance with the nature of man, which embodies all that was good in all other creeds and societies, and which is naturally and commonly acceptable to the entire mankind.  As we have said above, in the beginning separate Prophets used to appear among different nations or groups of People, and the teachings of each Prophet were meant specially and specifically for each people. The reason was that at that stage of history, nations were situated separately and were so cut off from each other that one was bound up within the geographical limits of its own territories and the facilities for mutual intercourse were just non-existent.

In such circumstances it was very difficult to propagate a common World Faith with its accompanying system of the life of this world. Besides, the general conditions of the early nations were widely different from one another. Their ignorance was great, and among the different Peoples it had given different forms to their moral aberration and distortions of Faith. It was, therefore, necessary that different Prophets be raised to preach the Truth to them and win them over to God\’s ways to gradually eradicate evils and aberrations; to root out the ways and modes of ignorance and teach them to Practice the noblest Principles of simple, Pious, and righteous life, and thus train and bring them up in the arts and crafts of life. God alone knows how many, and developing him mentally, morally, and spiritually. Anyhow, man continued to make Progress and at last the time came when he grew from his infancy and entered the age of maturity.  With the progress and spread of commerce, industry, and arts, intercourse was established between nations. From China and Japan, as the distant lands of Europe and Africa, regular routes were opened both by sea and land. Many people learnt the art of writing; knowledge spread. Ideas began to be communicated from one country to the other and learning and scholarship began to be exchanged.

Great conquerors appeared, extended their conquests far and wide, established vast empires, and knit many different   nation under one Political system. Thus, nations came closer and to one another, and their differences became less and less.  It became Possible under these circumstances that one and the same faith, envisaging a comprehensive and all-embracing way of life, catering to the moral, spiritual, social, cultural, political, economic, and all other needs of man and embodying both religious and seculars elements be sent by God for the entire mankind. More than two thousand years ago mankind had attained caliber that it all seemed to crave for a universal religion. Buddhism, though it consisted only of some moral principles and was not a complete system of life, emerged from India, and spread as far as Japan and Mongolia on one side, and to Afghanistan and Bokhara on the other. Its missionaries traveled far and wide in the world. A few centuries later, Christianity appeared. And although the religion taught by Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) was none but Islam, his followers reduced it into a hotchpotch called Christianity, and even this overt and Israeli’s religion was spread in the far- off places of Persia and Asia Minor and info the distant climes of Europe and Africa. From these events it is clearly inferred that the conditions of mankind in that age a demanded a common religion for the whole human race and they were so prepared for it that when they found no complete and true religion in existence, they began to propagate among the nations the prevalent religions, howsoever defective, incomplete, or unsatisfying they might be. 

At such a crucial stage of human civilization, when the mind of man was itself craving for a world religion, a Prophet was raised in Arabia for the whole world and for all nations. The religion he was given to propagate was again Islam-but now in the form of a complete and full-fledged system, covering all aspects of individual and material life of man. He was made a Prophet for the entire human race and was deputed to propagate his mission to the whole world. He was Muhammad the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him). 


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