The life around us is full of all kinds of wonders. Scattered in the world are different creatures with distinct qualities and characteristics. A close look at Allah’s creation shows that from inanimate things to the human beings there has been a gradual progress of sense, perception and will. The basic forms of inorganic matter show a complete lack of sense and perception. Some other kinds of material show a faint trace of some kind of life. In growing plants involuntary presence of senses can be felt. In the animal world along with the senses there is some kind of will. In human beings, the power to control their thoughts, actions and desires makes them the most responsible of all created beings. The degree of responsibility in other creatures is proportional to the degree of free will given to them. The inorganic things are entirely free from all responsibility. Plants are subject to the laws of life and death. In the animal world, the responsibilities are increased further but it is mankind that is bound by obligations all over. Within their own kind, the mentally ill, the idiots and children on the one side and the adults, the learned, and the intellectuals on the other have to bear the burden of responsibility according to the power of perception and will present in them.
Look at it from another perspective. Allah’s power of creation and sustenance takes care of all the needs of the created beings but gradually the burden of responsibility is put on the creature itself as it develops its own sense and will power. Who creates and nurtures the precious jewels in the hearts of the mountains? Who rears the fish in the depth of oceans? Who looks after the beasts of the jungle? Who cares about the animals in the cold of winter and the heat of summer and heals their sick? You will notice an apparent difference in the paws, the hair and the color of their skin and their looks even among the same species of animals depending on the difference in their habitat. The needs of the dog of Europe and that of Africa are different and nature provides for them from its own resources. For example, the European dog’s coat is woollier and thicker than the African’s. These are some of the various ways how nature provides for their different needs and they also show how it compensates and covers up wherever there is a weakness of sense and will power. And in Allah’s creatures who are given this power in a greater degree and when they reach a stronger and maturer state, nature automatically withdraws itself and leaves them free to look after their needs themselves. For example, man has to work for his living which is not provided to him directly. He has to bear the burden of cultivation; he has to plant and grow his own food. He is not born with a woolly skin for protection against severe winter. He has to make his own clothes. He has to find his own cure for his illnesses and he has to nurse his own wounds.
On the other hand, wherever there is a weakness of sense and perception, nature itself provides for the defense and protection of life. Different animals have been given different means of defense such as sharp claws, pointed teeth, the ability to fly, and the ability to run fast. Some have been given a poisonous sting; others have been given poisonous fangs. In short, they have been armed with various devices of self defence. However, man does not possess any of these weapons. He does not have the pointed teeth and strong paws of a lion; nor the long trunk and strong tusks of an elephant; nor the sharp horns of a bull; nor the poison a snake; nor the sting of a hornet or a scorpion. Outwardly, he seems utterly defenseless and vulnerable. Yet, he is able to overpower the long tusked elephants, the fiercely strong-pawed lions and fearfully poisonous snakes. He can catch the free flying birds into his snares and trap the creatures of deep waters. He can produce all kinds of defensive and offensive weapons. Man can achieve all this because he has been given tremendous powers of mind, sensory perception, reason and a free will. These are the powers that compensate his outer weaknesses and these are the powers that distinguish him from other creatures.
And my friends, no matter what your creed or religion might be, you cannot deny that it is these very powers of mind and will which make you responsible human beings, and make you accountable to The Creator for your actions. In terms of Islam, these responsibilities have been named as “religious burden” and the amount of this burden varies according to man’s mental and physical capabilities. Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of man and of the entire universe, states this principle in the final revelation, the Holy Quran:
“Allah does not obligate anyone beyond his capacity….”
In another verse of the Holy Quran, the same burden or obligation has been expressed through the word amanah or trust. This trust was offered to all creatures but they refused to carry it. They preferred to follow the Will of Allah without having to choose between good and evil with a free will. The Quranic verse states:
“We did offer the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear its burden and were afraid of it, and man picked it up. Indeed he is unjust (to himself), unaware (of the end).”
The burden of free will fell to man’s lot. The freedom of choice between good and evil has made him accountable for his actions. Other creatures do not have the freedom of action; therefore, they have no responsibility.
In this context, being unjust means transgressing the limits. This reflects the imbalance in the use of man’s physical powers, whereas being foolish or ignorant means crossing the limits of his mental powers. The counterpart of “Unjust” is “just” and the opposite of “ignorant” is “knowledgeable”. These are the qualities he does not, in fact, possess. In order to achieve them he needs to strike a balance in his physical and mental faculties. He needs justice or moderation in the application of his physical power and he needs to replace his ignorance by knowledge and insight. In the Quranic terms the first faculty is known as the “righteous deeds”, whereas “knowledge” means Faith in Allah (the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe). Consider the following verses of the holy Quran:
“(I swear) by the Time,
Man is in a state of loss indeed,
Except those who believed and did righteous deeds, and exhorted each other to follow truth, and exhorted each other to observe patience.”
The loss mentioned in these verses represents the transgression and ignorance of man, the imbalance in his physical and mental powers. And its remedy lies in Faith (which means true knowledge) and in moderation (which means righteous deeds). In other words man remains in perpetual oss unless he attains a balance in the use of his physical and mental powers by gaining Faith and Righteous Deeds. As a witness to this fact Allah has brought in the evidence of Time through Ages. This means the events of man’s own history since the inception of this world. According to Thomas Carlyle’s famous remark, history is only the biography of great men. The history of men and nations clearly shows that all great men and all nations have always been the losers who lacked the essential qualities of Faith and Righteous Deeds.
All the heavenly and religious books, morality stories and other records of human success and failure tell the tale of the eternal conflict between good and evil, between the darkness of ignorance and the light of faith. On the one hand you can see the forces of oppression, ignorance, evil and gloom, and on the other, justice, righteousness, goodness and light. These tales are full of praise for those who recognized and accepted the burden of human responsibilities, and condemnation for those who failed and refused to carry the human burden. The Greek Iliad, the Roman Parallel Lives, the Persian epic Shahnama and the ancient Indian Maha Bharat & Ramayan and Geeta are nothing but the classic tales of that eternal conflict. Every nation has derived moral lessons from the biographies of its great men and learnt from their lives the examples of good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, oppression and justice, belief and disbelief, so that they could avoid the dire consequences of evil, ignorance and oppression and benefit from the examples of goodness, knowledge, justice and faith. Of the heavenly books such as the Old and the New Testament and the holy Quran the main themes are the same examples of the woeful end of the wicked, oppressive and faithless nations or individuals, and the triumph of the just, the good and the believers. Their purpose was to convert the oppressors into believers. Before Prophet Muhammad, the last of Allah’s prophets, many prophets were sent throughout the ages all over the world to preach the Divine Message through personal example so that their people or the virtuous among them could achieve eternal success by following those prophets. And finally, Prophet Muhammad, ‘the Mercy to the Worlds’, was sent so that he should leave his ideal life as a perfect model for humanity for all times to come. The Divine revelation itself presents the Prophet’s pure and virtuous life (before he was ordained a prophet by Allah) as a testimony to his prophethood. A Quranic verse states:
“Say, “Had Allah so willed, I would have not recited it to you, nor would He have let you know it. Then, I have lived among you for years before it. Have you, then, no sense?”
Human history is full of the records of thousands of remarkable personalities who set their lives as examples for the future generations. You may find among them mighty emperors holding their magnificent courts; great army generals; serene thinkers and solemn philosophers; intimidating conquerors; poets lost in their dream world and the rich surrounded by their treasures and luxuries. The life of each one of these has a special glamour and a tremendous appeal for the ordinary folk. Be it Hanibal of Carthage, Alexander of Macedonia, Caesar of Rome, Darius of Persia or Napoleon of France, all of them hold a special fascination for common people. Similarly, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes and other Greek philosophers like them, along with Spencer and their likes have an attraction of their own. Nimrod, the Pharoah, Abu Jahal and Abu Lahab stand out in a different way. Qaroon (or Korah) shows yet another aspect of human life. In short there are hundreds of different kinds of examples for the ordinary human being to follow. But of all these various types, which one can guarantee a peaceful and happy life and show the way to eternal salvation? Among these examples, which one deserves to be followed? There are conquerors and great leaders of men who changed the shape of the world with the might of their swords. But did they leave anything behind for the well being of humanity? Their glory was limited to the battlefield alone and they failed to free humanity from the grip of superstition and evil thoughts. They could never solve the complex problems of human relationship. Did they leave any plan for the progress of human civilization? Did they have any answers for our spiritual problems, our miseries and despair? Did they set any guidelines for building a noble human character bearing high morals?
This world of ours has produced numerous great poets too. But these rulers of the world of fancy have utterly failed in the practical world of reality. Therefore, Plato would have no use for them in his ideal Republic. Since Homer to the present time, what have they contributed to solving human problems? They have only supplied a momentary gratification of certain human emotions and created a fanciful world of unreal pains and pleasures. They have failed to leave a healthy impact on human life because their sweet and fancy words are not backed by actual deeds. The holy Quran says:
“As for the poets, they are followed by the straying people.
Did you not see that they wander in every valley,
And that they say what they do not?
Except those who believe and do righteous deeds…”
The Divine verses have exposed the emptiness of their sweet words and have explained why they fail to leave any deep impression on life. They are insincere (they preach what they do not practice). They lack a serious purpose in life. Therefore, they wander in the world created by their own imagination. If they had faith and sincerity of purpose they would leave some impact on life. However, they cannot carry the burden of showing the light of guidance to the whole world. The history of the world bears witness to this fact.
Great thinkers and philosophers who have changed the course of life several times over and who have put forth brilliant theories to explain the riddle of life have failed to offer any practical and realistic solutions for human problems. They have failed to lighten the burden of humanity be cause their deep and subtle theories were not accompanied by any practical examples for the ordinary people to follow. Aristotle was the founder of the philosophy of ethics. His philosophy is still the subject of many brilliant lectures in universities all over the world and he is paid tribute for his lofty ideas in ethical philosophy. But, realistically speaking, how many people gave up their evil ways and came to the right path because of him? Today, in every university of the world you will find great professors and teachers of ethics but their knowledge and influence is limited to the boundary walls of their schools, because when they come out in practical life, they are no different from ordinary human beings. Man is not made by words alone. Actions speak louder.
On the stage of this world great kings and powerful rulers have made their appearance, too. They have had absolute control over vast empires. They have plundered and dominated whole nations of the world. They have devastated some countries and built others. They have degraded one nation and raised the other, snatching from one and giving to the other. The holy Quran sums it up in the words of the Queen of Sheba:
“She said, “In fact when the kings enter a town, they put it to disorder, and put its honorable citizens to disgrace, and this is how they normally do.” (Chp.27:Vrs.34)
Although the terror of their swords forced criminals to escape into the underworld, they were utterly helpless in wiping out crimes. They were able to establish superficial peace and security in towns and streets, but they had no peace to offer to the human hearts. They established law and order in their countries but the spiritual kingdom remained beyond their reach. In fact, all kinds of spiritual devastation and moral decay took root in their royal courts and then spread all over the world. Did despots like Alexander or Caesar leave a heritage for the human beings to be proud of?
This world has seen great law makers too, like Solon (an Athenian poet and statesman of the seventh century B.C., known for his legal reforms) but their laws did not last long and their followers could not find the secret to the purification of the human heart. The following generations found their laws unsuitable for the needs of their time or rather incompatible with their own selfish interests. So those laws were repealed and replaced by other laws in the name of public welfare and reform. Does the situation look any different in our own times? In our age of modern civilization, parliaments and legislative assemblies are formed which make one law today only to be replaced by another tomorrow, usually not for the welfare of the public but to serve those in power.
My dear friends! By now you must have formed some idea of the higher classes of the human race who could be expected to lead the way to human welfare and reform. But you have to carefully consider and think deeply to ask yourselves a question. The little decency that we find in the world today, the glimmer of virtue, the sincerity and purity of human hearts it not the result of the teachings of the noblest amongst the human race, known as the Prophets of Allah? (Peace he upon them all) Wherever you find a trace of virtue, of love, of sympathy and consideration, of justice and fairness, of helping the unfortunate and the poor and caring for the orphans you will notice that it is the fruit of the teachings of one of those noble men of Allah. According to the holy Quran:
“….You are but a warner; and for every people there is a guide.”
“…and there was no community without a warner having passed among them.”
Today we see the light of their teachings and traces of their call reflected in all nations and all countries. Be it the “savages” of Africa or the civilized Europeans, the purification of their hearts is done by the same Divine source. Of all the leaders of human beings, the Prophets of God are the noblest and most exalted. They do not control the human bodies like kings but their domain is the kingdom of souls. They win the human hearts. They do not carry the power of the sword, yet they wipe out sin and cleanse the human soul. They are not masters of the art of poetry, yet the sweetness of their words is still felt in human culture. Although, apparently they were not senators or legislators, yet laws given by them are still alive and prevail over the ruler and the ruled, the poor and the rich alike, treating everyone equally and fairly.
It is not a question of faith or religion but of authentic history. Is it not a fact that the laws and commands of the great ruler, Ashoka of Patliputra have been left engraved only on stones? But Buddha’s instructions are still found imprinted on the hearts of his followers. Time has wiped out the commands of such powerful Rajas as the ancient rulers of Ujjain, Hastnapur (Delhi) and Qannoj, but Manuji’s Dharam Shaster still prevails. The legal code set down by Babylon’s first law-giver Hanurabi has long been burned but the teachings of Ibrahim (Peace be upon him) are still with us. The Pharoah’s cry: “I am your supreme lord” did not last very long but the miracles of Moses (Peace be upon him) still fascinate the world. Laws made by Solon lasted but for a little while, whereas the Divine laws of Torah are still the basis of human justice. The Roman law that held Christ (Peace be upon him) guilty has been dead for centuries but Christ’s teachings still convert sinners into pious people and criminals into good men.
The pomp and power of Abu Jahal of Makkah: of Kisra the ancient emperor of Iran and of the Caesar of Rome have been wiped out but the Prophet of Madinah (Peace be upon him), after fourteen centuries, continues to rule millions of hearts all over the world.
My dear friends! If my talk so far has reached your hearts and has left any impression there, it is not because of my personal faith I have based my arguments on reason and I have tried to bring in evidence to support them from authentic human history. Perhaps you can now conclude that if anyone has ever sincerely and successfully strived for the well being of mankind and for the lofty ideal of spreading virtuous deeds, good morals, purity of hearts, and moderation and balance in human actions, it is the noble group of the prophets of God. They were selected and sent by Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of mankind, and they showed people the right path. They taught people the way of decency and goodness and left behind them shining examples of knowledge and noble conduct. Their instructions and guidance continue to inspire and show the way to the kings and their subjects, the poor and the rich, the illiterate and the scholars alike.
Consider these verses of the holy Quran:
“That is the decisive argument from Us that We gave to Ibrāhīm against his people. We raise in ranks whomsoever We will. Surely, your Lord is Wise, Knowing.
We bestowed upon him IsHāq and Ya‗qūb . Each one of them We guided to the right path. Earlier, We guided NūH and, of his progeny, (We guided) Dawūd and Sulaimān and Ayyūb and Yūsuf (Joseph) and Mūsā and Hārūn. Thus We reward those who are good in deeds
and (We guided) Zakariyyā and YaHyā and ‗Īsā and Ilyās; each one of them was of the righteous
and Ismā‗īl and Yasa and Yūnus and LūT, and all of them We made to excel over all the people of the world (in their respective times).
We guided many among their fathers and their children and their brothers, and We chose them and led them on to the straight path.
That is Allah‘s guidance. He guides with it whomsoever He wills from among His servants. Had they associated partners with Him, all they did would have been nullified for them.
They are those whom We have given the Book and wisdom and prophethood. So, if these people disbelieve this (concept of Prophet-hood), then (be not grieved, because) We have deputed for (believing in) it a people who do not reject it.
Those are the people whom Allah has guided. So, it is their guidance that you should follow. Say, “I ask you no reward for it. It is nothing but an advice for all the worlds.”
These verses contain some of the names of the noblest among mankind who were chosen to show them the right path. In following their guidance lays the cure for all our spiritual diseases and moral weak nesses. These are the holy men of Allah who received a direct guidance from Him and spread its light all over the known world at different times in human histoty. If we find any degree of success or bliss or nobility of character or other higher human values and virtues in our lives to day, it is due to the blessing and the mission of these holy men of Allah. The traces of their teachings are scattered everywhere and they continue to show the world the way to eternal success.
Noah’s dedication to his mission, Abraham’s infallible faith in the Oneness of Allah, Isaac’s noble heritage, lshmael’s supreme sacrifice, the tireless effort of Moses, Aaron’s constant support, Jacob’s submission to the Will of Allah, David’s grief over the people’s failure to recognize the Truth, Solomon’s matchless wisdom, Zacharia’s tireless devotion, John’s piety, the ascetic and selfless ways of Jesus, Jonah’s repentance, Lot’s dedication, and Ayub’s patient acceptance of Allah’s Will are some of the highest examples of the noble human values which give our spiritual and moral world its dignity and charm. Wherever these values exist they are due to the personal and practical examples of these holy men of Allah.
There is no doubt that people from all walks of life have contributed towards building the human civilization and culture as it stands today and have in their own way worked for the betterment, welfare and happiness of mankind. Their accumulative efforts have helped man to earn his position as the noblest of Allah’s creatures in the universe. Astronomers have traced the movements of planets; scientists have found out the properties and characteristics of various substances; doctors have found remedies for diseases; architects have evolved the art of building beautifully and craftsmen have introduced numerous crafts and skills. Their combined efforts have made our world a highly developed and sophisticated place to live. They all deserve our collective gratitude. But we are really grateful to those who have made our inner life and spiritual world. They have strived to remove the baser desires from our hearts and purify them from greed and selfishness. They have evolved remedies for our spiritual ailments and found a cure for our diseased souls. They have given our emotions, our feelings and our intentions proper direction following which we can attain great purity of heart. They have made our souls sublime and have warned us of other ways which lead to total destruction of the human soul and make it the lowest of the low. It is their teaching which has completed the shape of the civilized world and showed it the proper way of living. As a result good moral conduct and noble behaviour is considered the essence of humanity. Undoubtedly human society is established on the principles of justice, goodness, sympathy and consideration for one another. They have shown us the way to recognize and strengthen our link with Allah, our Creator and Sustainer and our Master. And they have reminded us of our covenant with Allah wherein each human soul had acknowledged and testified (in their prenatal existence) that Allah is their Creator, Cherisher and Sustainer.
Only through this Divine knowledge and guidance revealed to these noble men of Allah can we understand the secrets of complex human nature, and find our true destiny and real happiness. A world ignorant of their teachings would remain incomplete and lacking and would never become harmonious as a whole. Therefore, this exalted and purest group of the human race deserves our greatest gratitude because we are indebted to them more than any one else. Even human being, regardless of his creed and country ought to pay tribute to them. According to the Islamic tradition this is known as “salat wa salam” which means Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon them. This homage is paid by the Muslims when a Prophet’s name is mentioned. May Allah’s Mercy, and Blessings be upon them all.
Gentlemen! These noble souls came into this world at their appointed time and passed away. Nothing is eternal in this mortal world. Holy and pure they certainly were, yet they were not immortal. They have left glorious examples for the generations that were to follow them. Whatever has been preserved and recorded from their nobte words and deeds can show the right path to humanity. The records of their noble lives is the invaluable heritage and the only reliable means of knowing our past: its sciences, its arts, its ideas and its important events. These may be called history or biography. We may find a useful lesson in other aspects of life but the ethical and spiritual side of humankind needs only one source for its purification and perfection and that is the life history of the Prophets of Allah and those vho followed in their footsteps. This world has benefited from them ever since and that is where its future success lies. Therefore, for the benefit of this world, for its spiritual health and salvation, it is necessary to preserve and protect the noble heritage of the records of these exalted personalities.
The best of philosophies, education, training and guidance cannot be fruitful unless there is a strong personality associated with it that can carry out this mission by setting a personal example, and thus become the center of our adoration, love and respect. I happened to meet Dr. Tagore, the famous Indian poet, on a ship in February 1924, while travelling back to India from Egypt and the Hejaz. One of our fellow travellers asked him why “Brahmo Samaj” (a religious reform movement) had failed to bring about the desired results in India even though its fundamental principles were based on fairness, tolerance and respect for others. The creed recognized the goodness of all religions and their founders and had nothing against logic and reason. It was devised keeping in view the needs of the modem society, its culture, philosophy and present circumstances and yet it remained fruitless. The philosopher poet’s reply was based on one central point. He said the reason for its failure was that there was no personality behind it which could inspire and lead us by setting a personal and practical example and thus hold our respect and attention. This point clearly proves that no religion can command any respect without the practical life and personal example of its founder.
In short, for our guidance and leadership we need men who are superior to the common man in their sincerity of purpose, their innocence and purity of heart, their perfection of all higher values. And they can only be the Prophets of Allah. May Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon them all.