The Messengers God Did Not Mention

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Moreover, the Qur'an expands the circle of messengers, opening the door for the possibility of recognizing messengers even if they were not mentioned in the Qur'an. After specifically naming and describing the traits of messengers, the Qur'an tells us that there are messengers it had not mentioned.

We did aforetime send messengers before you: of them there are some whose story We have related to you, and some whose story We have not related to you. It was not (possible) for any messenger to bring a sign except by the leave of God: But when the command of God issued, the matter was decided in truth, and there perished, there and then, those who stood on falsehoods. (Surah 40 Ghafir: 78)1

Admitting the existence of messengers who were not mentioned in the Qur'an opens the door for the possible recognition of others who exhibit the traits of messengers. Thus, for example, after establishing these traits, perhaps we should study Socrates to see whether his determination to live by his ideas and principles and his sense that he had a duty to disseminate them suggests that he is a prophet. We are prevented from denying the possibility of prophecy to other religious and cultural figures.

This approach combats racism and ethnocentrism. It invites us to recognize from every tradition all those who meet the criteria defning what it is to be a messenger, such as the call for justice and equity. It also permits us to agree upon the importance of justice and equity. Recognizing that there are messengers beyond those mentioned in the monotheistic religious texts, or the cultural space into which Abraham and Noah were sent, makes it possible for us to acknowledge the messengers of other cultures, whether in the Far East, Africa, or among the indigenous peoples of the new continents. Many nations and peoples are now looking at their ancient cultural roots as a way of self affirmation and establishing self identity. This approach of recognizing further messengers puts humanity on the path of monotheism through the recognition of what is common among our messengers and sages. It will help foster cooperation and mutual understanding, and it will create the mutual recognition that we are equal participants in the journey of humanity, for the Qur'an states that there has never been a nation without a messenger:

For We assuredly sent amongst every people a messenger, (with the command), `Serve God, and eschew tyranny (evil) ....' (Surah 16 A1 Nahl: 36)2 `Never would We visit with our wrath until We had sent a messenger'. (Surah 17 A1 Isra': 15)

However, I frequently say that the prophetic vision of the future, which implies competition for the good of humanity, has not reached human consciousness yet (or emerged as a model for human behavior). People have not yet acquired the power to leap intellectually into the prophetic vision, for they get caught in the snares of the past. There, they subvert prophetic competition so that it becomes a contest in evil, a race towards destruction. This failing of humanity we must work towards overcoming at the least possible price.

We must remember the suffering of those who advanced progressive ways for bringing out the best in human beings. Even if most of humanity sees only the road blocks, we can look into history to those pioneers who have been creative in bringing humans to their full potential. The Qur'an gives support and encouragement to sustain the messengers of reform who face difficult obstacles3.

The messages in the Qur'an repeatedly condemn pessimism, explaining that despair and gloom are not characteristic of believers4. The Qur'an also states: "They said: `We give thee glad tidings in truth: be not in despair!' He said: `And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, but such as go astray?"' (Surah 15 A1 Hijr: 55-56) Rather, the Qur'an encourages an optimistic world-view that sees life as subject to human intervention and control, and considers humans as capable of solving their problems. "And He has subjected to you, as &om Him, all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in that are signs indeed for those who reflect." (Surah 45 A1 Jathiyah: 13)

The Qur'anic vision encourages humans to strive in learning the laws of existence so that they can become better equipped to utilize the resources of the universe, including humanity, for a larger good. If we fail to do so, it does not mean that the universe around us is beyond utility. Rather, it means that we have failed to learn to extract the potential powers in the universe.

The Seal of Prophethood

The Qur'an places emphasis on yet another category of human beings. Just as the Qur'an expanded the messengerial category, it also introduced a new category, that of humans who suffer because of their knowledge and call for justice. The introduction of this category signifies a new historical shift. In Islam, this shift is known as the "seal of prophecy5." "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the messenger of God, and the seal of the Prophets: and God has full knowledge of all thing." (Surah 33 Al-Ahzab: 40) This revelation announces the end of the era of traditional prophecy and marks the beginning of the role of the people of knowledge who call for justice and equity. The rise in knowledge and justice makes idealism realistic. It also makes the transcendental capable of being witnessed, the divine human, and the supernatural nomothetic. It renders monotheism a call for justice. Thus, prophecy is merged with knowledge, and reception from God is now through knowledge. The idea of the seal of prophethood is a singularly valuable notion, for it recognizes an evolution in the methodology of the transmittal of knowledge. Its consequences are far-reaching, its prefaces identifiable. It is a shift towards new ways of knowing.


1 The Qur'an creates this space by stating that it has not related to us the stories of all prophets: "We have sent thee revelation, as We sent it to Noah and the messengers after him: We sent revelation to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some messengers We have already told thee the story; of others We have not-and to Moses God spoke direct; Messengers who gave good news as well as warning, that human, after (the coming) of the messengers, should have no plea against God: for God is exalted in power, Wise." Surah 4 A1 Nisa: 163-165.

2 See Surah 40 Ghafir: ?8. We also see in the Qur'an the passages: "To every people (we sent) a messenger: when messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them withjustice, and they will ttot wronged (done injustice to)." Surah 10 Yunus: 47. "Verily We sent

you in truth, as a bearer of glad tidings, and as a warner: and there never was a people, without a warner having lived among them (in the past)." 5urah 35 Fatir: 24.

3 The Qur'an recites: "Until, when the messengers give up hope (of their people) and (come to) think that they were treated as liars, there reaches them our help, and those whom We will are delivered into safety. But never will be warded off our punishment from criminal nations." Surah 12 Yusuf: I10.

4 As the Qur'an says: "(A]nd never give up hope of God's soothing mercy: truly no one despairs of God's soothing mercy, except those who have no faith." Id at 87. '

5 This term is to be found in Surah 33, which reads: "Those who communicate (preach) the messages of God, and fear Him and fear none but God. And God is enough to call (people) to account." Surah 33 Al-Ahzab: 39.