History has preserved the life-stories of men, thousands in number, who had achieved eminence in one field or the other. All of them have left their imprints on the pages of history. There are amongst them emperors surrounded by the splendor of royal courts, an array of military commanders and generals, philosophers lost in their thoughts, mighty conquerors intoxicated with power, poets singing to cheer their own solitude with sweet songs and the affluent rolling in riches . All of them have attraction of their own for the sons of Adam. Whether it be Hannibal of Carthage, or Alexander of Macedonia, or Caesar of Rome, or Darius of Iran, or yet Napoleon of France, the life of each has a fascination for the posterity. Similarly alluring are the lives of all philosophers from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Diogenes of the ancients to Spencer of England. Even the lives of Nimrod and Pharaoh, Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab and Korah depict yet another trait of human nature and character; but the question is, who amongst these, can be deemed as a model of goodness and virtue fit to be followed by other human beings? Great generals and conquerors, indeed were they, who swept everything before them by their sword, but did they also succeed in leaving an ennobling example of their lives to be followed by others? They had won brilliant victories, but were they able to cut the shackles of superstition and credulous beliefs? Did they solve any social problem besetting equality and brotherhood of human beings? Did they succeed in restoring our moral and spiritual health and happiness or in eradicating the faults and failings of our desires? Did they present any model of moral rectitude and decorous behavior for the posterity?
World has given birth to great poets. But, these were painters of fantasy, merely starry-eyed utopians unfit to be assigned any place in the Republic of Plato.
There have been sages and philosophers who have plumbed the secrets of nature beyond the limits of perception and changed the concept of things and materials. They have, nevertheless, failed to produce any blueprint for the practical guidance of humanity. For their flight of imagination lacked practical wisdom, they could never provide man with any guidance in the discharge of his obligations. Aristotle was the precursor of ethical philosophy now studied in every university. His brilliant exposition of ethical impulsions is esteemed highly both by the learned and the learners, but how many of them have been able to betake the path of virtue by reading his dissertations? Teachers well-versed in ethical philosophy can be found almost in every institution of higher learning, who know all about its premises and principles, but has their impact been ever felt beyond their class-rooms? On the contrary, we find that very often their conduct and behavior are no better than those of the man on the street. To walk in the right path one has not to hear the sermons but to see the living examples of cardinal virtues.
Powerful kings and emperors have also appeared on the stage of this world. They have extended their dominions, played with the life and property of their fellow beings, extracted wealth through taxes and tithes from some and bestowed their bounties on others. They have demeaned on to exalt the other. The Book of God presents, in the words of the Queen of Sheba, this rare picture of their doings on the earth:
"Lo! kings, when they enter a township, ruin it and make the honor of its people shame." (Quran, 27:34)
The swords of mighty kings have hanged over the heads of criminals in thoroughfares and market places, but they have failed to reach the guilt concealed in the minds and hearts of men. They have enforced law and order in the habitations and townships, but the kingdom of spirit has ever been beyond their reach, or, rather, their own courts and castles have been the breeding dens of moral confusion and spiritual anarchy. What else have the kings like Alexanders and Caesars left for us? How many lawgivers has the world seen from Solon to this day? Their laws were not only short-lived but also failed to cleanse the hearts and purify the morals. Subsequent rulers always placed a new set of laws on the statute book, albeit more often to further their own interests than to enforce the rules of equity. The world has not changed even today. Still, the legislatures in every country make and unmake laws endlessly, but seldom their labors are for the benefit of the people whom they profess to represent. It is more the interest of the powers that be which they seek to promote.
The prophets adorn and illuminate the soul of man: the zealous preaching's of Noah, the unshakable principle of God's oneness upheld by Abraham, the patrimony of resignation to Divine will bequeathed by Isaac, the self-sacrifice of Ishmael, the indefatigable efforts of Moses, the faithfulness of Aaron, the self-resignation of Jacob, the lamentations of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the litanies of Zachariah, the chastity of John, the piety of Jesus, the penitence of Jonah, the strenuous exertion of Lot and the endurance of Job have made the life of man winsome and bright.
These are, broadly, the higher sections of society which could be expected to work for the welfare of humanity. If you give further thoughts to the matter you would see that whatever light of goodness and virtue you find in the world today, it owes its existence to the pure-hearted souls whom you know by the name of prophets and messengers of God. Wherever you come across compassion and justice and a sincere desire to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the downtrodden, no matter whether these are found in the cave of a mountain or a dense forest or a populous city, they are due to the call given by one of these men of God. The Quran tells us:
"There is not a nation but a warner hath passed among them." (Quran, 35:24)
"For every folk a guide." (Quran, 13:7)
The lustre of their teachings is to be found today in every country and nation; savages and the civilized people of the world are both equally indebted to them for edification of their souls. Of all the groups of men we have mentioned afore, the most august are they, for they rule not over the bodies of men like the kings, but their authority is enshrined in the hearts of the people. Their kingdom is not of lands and countries, but of hearts and spirits: they do now wield the sword, yet they obliterate the stains of guilt and iniquity at one stroke; they are not dreamy-eyed songsmiths, yet the sweetness of their speech delights the soul; they are neither senators nor law-makers, yet the laws given by them regulate the conduct of statesmen and judges, kings and subjects from age to age. This is not a question of faith or conviction but a matter of fact and history. One has to see whether it has actually been so or not. The edicts of Patliputra's Ashoka are engraved on the pillars of stones, but those of the Buddha are inscribed in the hearts of people. The decrees of the rulers of Ujjain, Hastinapur, Delhi and Kannauj are no more to be found today, but the Dharma Shastra of Manu still prevails. The statutes of Hamurabbi, the King of Babel, have long been buried under the dust, but Abraham's teachings are still alive! Pharaoh's imprudent demand to pay divine honors to him was a transient as the clouds, but Moses still lives in his teachings. How long did the laws of Solon remain in force, but the laws of Torah are still the measure of justice! The Roman Law which persecuted Jesus Christ became extinct long ago, but the doctrines of love that flowed from the lips of Jesus still redeem the wrongdoers and wash them of their sins. The Abu Jahls of Mecca, the Chosroes of Iran and the Caesars of Rome are all dead and gone, but the Lord of Madina still rules over the hearts of people in every part of the world.
If these facts are correct, one would have to concede, not on grounds of faith, but through reason and logic of stubborn facts, that no other class of people except the prophets has worked for the welfare and happiness of mankind in its truest sense; theirs was the endeavor consisting of virtue and goodness, purity of heart, moderation and temperance. They all came to this world as messengers of God to preach the gospel of Truth and Faith, and they left their footsteps of righteousness to be followed by the coming generations. It is from their teachings alone that the rulers and the ruled, the rich and the poor and the learned and the illiterate can derive equal benefit.
"That is Our argument. We gave it unto Abraham against the folk. We raise unto degrees of wisdom whom We will. Lo! thy Lord is Wise, Aware. And We bestowed upon him Isaac and Jacob; each of them We guided; and Noah did We guide aforetime; and of his seed (We guided) David and Solomon and Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus do we reward the good. And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elias. Each one (of them) was of the righteous. And Ishmael and Elisa and Jonah and Lot. Each one (of them) did We prefer above (Our) creatures, With some of their forefathers and their off-spring and their brethren; and We chose them and guided them unto a straight path. Such is the guidance of Allah wherewith He guideth whom he will of His bondmen. But if they had set up (for worship) aught beside Him, (all) that they did would have been vain. Those are they unto whom We gave the Scripture and command and prophethood. But if these disbelieve therein, then indeed We shall entrust it to a people who will not be disbelievers therein. Those are they whom Allah guideth, so follow their guidance." (Quran 6:84-91)
These luminous verses of the Quran speak of a particular group among men, some of whom have been mentioned by name, who had been sent to cure the spiritual ailments of mankind and restore its moral health. They were men, holy and angelic in spirit, who preached the word of God in different times and climes and in every land. Whatever of moral rectitude and righteousness, purity and chastity man possesses today, it is all their legacy, and in following their footsteps alone lies the salvation and well-being of humanity. The prophets adorn and illuminate the soul of man: the zealous preachings of Noah, the unshakable principle of God's oneness upheld by Abraham, the patrimony of resignation to Divine will bequeathed by Isaac, the self-sacrifice of Ishmael, the indefatigable efforts of Moses, the faithfulness of Aaron, the self-resignation of Jacob, the lamentations of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the litanies of Zachariah, the chastity of John, the piety of Jesus, the penitence of Jonah, the strenuous exertion of Lot and the endurance of Job have made the life of man winsome and bright. To these consecrated souls can be traced every virtue and goodness found in the world today.
There is, however, no denying the fact that culture and civilization, progress and improvement, in short, everything that has contributed towards the welfare and material progress of mankind and helped man to raise himself to the level of vicegerent of God on earth, has been brought about by the combined effort of all men. Astronomers have discovered the movements of heavenly bodies, chemists have found out the properties of substances, physicians have searched the medicines for curing diseases, architects have developed the science and designs of structures and artisans have give birth to useful crafts and fine arts, and all of them have thus a share in the making of our world. We ought to be thankful to all of them. Nevertheless, we are even more obliged to offer our thanks to those who have decorated the world within us. They are the physicians who have cured us of our greed and envy, diagnosed the ailments of our souls and refurbished its lost energy and vigor. They elaborated our behavior patterns and aptitudes, ideas and intentions and showed us the way of attaining purity of heart and sublimity of spirit. It was through the efforts of these God moved souls that the cultural attainments were refined and embellished, the link between man and God, the slave and the Lord, was established. How could the world have attained its excellence if we had been denied the knowledge received through prophetic teachings? We are, verily, indebted more to these men of God than to any other class or group of person. This is the compliment due to the prophets of God and it ought to be paid by all of us whenever their name comes on the lips of anyone. And, this is the benediction taught by Islam to be offered for them: "O God! Have mercy and peace on all of them."
Excerpted from the book "Muhammed, the Ideal Prophet" by Saiyid Sulaiman Nadwi. He was a student of Allama Shibli Nu'mani whose masterpiece, Sirat-Un-Nabi, he edited and presented to the world after his teacher's death.
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