Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on Prophethood in Islam during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the themes of Prophethood within Islam: prophets in the Qur’an, the importance of prophets within Islam, the characteristics of prophets, and Muhammad. 


  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Prophethood in Islam


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. In the last lecture, we dealt with the issue of a revelation, special revelation. And special revelation in the Islamic scheme of things is something which is transmitted to prophets. And so we’re now going to turn our attention to prophets, to the issue of prophethood in Islam. Now this is, of course, a shared concept.


The Bible has prophets as well. Are they the same? Is it the same concept? The same understanding? Well, let’s consider the named prophets in the Quran.


There are 25, sometimes some lists add 1 or 2 more, but these are the main ones. These are the named prophets in the Quran. Just going down the list, and I’ll read the translated names. So Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham well, Hud and Saleh. They’re 2 Arabian prophets.


Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Jibe, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elijah, Jonah, Zechariah, John, Jesus, and Mohammed. Have another look at that list. Look back. Think which of those prophets would you accept in a biblical context are prophets? Which are not?


Who are the main prophets in the Bible? Do you consider Adam a prophet? Do you consider Abraham a prophet, Ishmael a prophet? Are there any big prophetic names that are missing? Would you see Mohammed as being the last of the prophets?


We’ll return to that question later. The whole question of prophets is something which is quite productive, quite popular out amongst Islamic communities, and we saw in an early lecture the whole the the significance of the stories of the prophets genre of literature, just how widespread the stories of the prophets collections have been, how widely distributed. How those rich colorful tales that are compiled into collections of stories of the prophets are used to explain the Quran and to teach Islam to young Muslims. So prophets are an important topic to consider in our study as we seek to understand the Quran. Now here, you have the kind of, chain of prophets, which is very popular on Islamic websites where you have the different prophets named and the the links drawn between them and so forth.


We saw in the last lecture how the great classical commentator, Zamai Shari, in commenting on Surah 43 verses 2 to 4 distinguishes between a message a messenger and a prophet. Again, let’s read this. A messenger is one of the prophets to whom together with the verification miracle, the book is sent down. A prophet, on the other hand, who is not a messenger, is one to whom no book is sent down, but who was commanded only to restrain people on the basis of the earlier revealed law, the Sharia law. That’s an interesting distinction drawn by Zamashali.


He died in 11/44. So by his time, that distinction was being distributed, circulated amongst Muslims. But questions are asked about whether that distinction actually holds up on an examination of the Quran. Arthur Jeffrey, in his study of the Quran, identified 3 words used in the Quran for Allah’s messengers, mursal Rasul Nabi. The Quran uses them interchangeably, but later theologians, he says, distinguish between Rasul, messenger, and Nadi, prophet.


Similarly, John Wansbrough agrees with Jeffrey that the Quran does not distinguish between messenger and prophet, although late later theologians did. Certainly, Muslims today very widely distinguish between the 2, and you will encounter that distinction as you interact with Muslims. Another scholar from the 17th century was Niamat Allah Aljazayeri. He was the author of a quite a famous work called Asiha. He was a Shiite, a Shiite Muslim from the 15% minority.


Interestingly, he identifies reasons and purposes for the prophetic mission. Why were they prophets? What was their purpose? He says the reasons were as a mercy and a grace from God. God sent prophets as a mercy and grace, and their purposes were to give good tidings of reward to warn of punishments.


Here’s this theme of warning appearing again, to make clear to people all they need to know, to make specific what was required in order to be accepted in the hereafter, in order to be accepted in the hereafter. Compare that with biblical prophets. Why were biblical prophets empowered and sanctioned to do what they did? Why were they sent? Why did god touch prophets and send them to communities?


In Islam, one encounters this interesting notion of prophetic impeccability. The classical theologian, he suggests that prophets must necessarily be impeccable, free from sin, in order to prevent there being anything to contradict what is indicated by the miracle. Now zamakshali comments on this. He says that while prophets may in terms of lack of knowledge, they should be free from both serious and mild sins. This is very interesting from a Christian perspective Because if Muslims fundamentally believe that prophets are free from sin, then how do we engage with Muslims on the question of prophethood if prophets in the biblical context seem to have sinned?


How do you go about that? And this certainly is a stumbling block in conversations between Christians and Muslims. Muslims considered David to be a prophet, and yet David, as we know, according to the Old Testament account of his encounter with Bathsheba, was guilty of some of the most serious sins. So these are stumbling blocks, and these are issues that Christians need to consider as they discuss the question of prophethood with Muslims. Aljuwani, a classical Islamic theologian, says that prophets may have committed venial sins, which are pardonable sins, but they did not commit mortal sins.


There’s no decisive proof, he says, to show that prophets either did or did not commit benial sins. Theologians differ on this point. So you can see that Muslim scholars struggle. They they work around this issue. They they they want to maintain a standard dogma that prophets do not sin, but they’re aware, according to the Islamic accounts, that there are oblique references to Islamic prophets erring in certain sorts of ways, so they need to develop a kind of framework for dealing with that.


And in case, he says, well, there are venial sins and pardonable sins there are venial sins and mortal sins. And prophets, under no circumstances, commit mortal sins, but perhaps they committed venial sins. How would you respond to that discussion as a Christian? How would you deal with the David issue, David and Bathsheba? Moving on to another very famous scholar.


And let me say at this point that I’ve spent so much time dealing with classical scholars because of what I stated at the outset of this course, that classical scholarship in islam in Islam lives on in the modern world in a way that classical scholarship in the west doesn’t necessarily live on. Now a very important classical scholar historian was Ibn Khaldun. He died in 1406, and he considered the characteristic hallmarks of prophets to be that they withdraw from others. They undergo physical distress during the revelatory experience, and we saw this with Mohammed. They’re good and wise, and they perform miracles.


Think about that. What are the hallmarks of biblical prophets in your view? How do the hallmarks of biblical prophets interact with those hallmarks of Islamic prophets according to Ibn Khaldun’s viewpoint. Moving into the modern day, Mohammed Iqbal was a very famous, writer in the Indian subcontinent. He died in 1938.


And he introduces us to the last of the Islamic prophets, which is Mohammed. He says, god is the light of heaven and earth. His light shines upon the apostle, that’s Mohammed, and the latter illuminates mankind. This prophetic function of mediation has seen the seeds, plants, and fruits. Its seeds are knowledge, its plants action, and its fruits, salvation in the hereafter.


What do other modern writers have to say about prophethood? Well, Muhammad Abdu, the famous Egyptian scholar that we considered in an earlier lecture, he considers a prophet has special natural talent, which enables him through effort to carry out his tasks. On the other hand, Parawes, a famous Indian Pakistani scholar, rejects this implication that talent plus effort produces the prophetic genius. Similarly, Rashid Rida, a disciple of Muhammad Abdul, rejects this suggestion. For him, the prophet depends entirely on God’s revelation.


Daud Rapper, another Indian scholar, conceives of a pre revelatory period during which the prophet is being prepared. What about biblical prophets? Is their prophetic gift? Is their prophetic talent part of something which involves their effort, or is it entirely something which comes from the grace of God? I’d like us now to prepare ourselves for the next section of this lecture, the second part of this lecture, which is going to focus on the last of the Islamic prophets, Mohammed.


In preparation for that, I’d like you to turn to the Moodle page and read Ibn Kathir’s exegesis of Surah 33 verse 40, which introduces us to the person of Mohammed, and it gives us comment by a very influential theologian commentator, Ibn Kathir, who died in 13/73, a long time ago, but who wields extraordinary influence in the Islamic world today. Hello, and welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with our lecture on prophethood, and this time we’re going to focus especially on, the prophet whom, Muslims regard as the last of the prophets and that is Mohammed. Again, I draw your attention to the Moodle site, which contains a range of materials, including a set of films about which I’ll say more later. There is some, important writing on Mohammed by Muslims at the end of the previous lecture.


We looked at the commentary by Ibn Kathir on verse 40 of Surah 33 that was considering the person of Mohammed. The site also includes some, Hadith selections on Mohammed compiled by, William Goldsack, which is an important source. There is also, an important piece of writing by Patricia Kroner, who is a revisionist scholar. And in her, online article, she’s asking the question, what do we know about Mohammed? What do we know historically that is historically reliable about Mohammed?


There’s also, an important reading by the, Christian writer John Gilchrist, in which he addresses the question as to whether Mohammed is foretold in the bible. This is a very central claim by Muslims. The claim that the Bible had previously in its original form many references to the coming of Mohammed, and these references were erased erased by Jews and Christians. John Gilchrist responds to those claims in expert fashion. He’s a very gifted scholar and writer, so I would refer you to that article.


I’d also refer you to, the the writing by Chalkut Mulkari, his book entitled the prophet and the messiah in which he includes an extended discussion over several chapters in his book on the person of Mohammed and and on the prophetic claims of Mohammed. That’s an an essential piece of reading for you. So if you feel called to write an assignment on prophethood in general and Mohammed in particular, Mukherjee would be an important source for you to be referring to. One of the key hallmarks of profits that we saw in our previous discussion was, that they were miracles were associated with them. Now, Mohammed’s the the in Mohammed’s case, the the the usual miracle that’s associated with Mohammed is the Quran itself.


You often heard it said by Muslim scholars and writers that Mohammed’s greatest miracle was the receipt of the Quran. Additionally to that, there is the issue of the night journey. Now this night journey is there is any cryptic reference to it in Quran. It occurs at Surah 17 chapter, verse 1. And in order to unpack that rather cryptic reference, we need to turn to the Hadith accounts of the night journey, which are quite copious and quite extensive.


Now this night journey where Mohammed is reputed to have ridden on a horse on the the special horse, Burak, from Mecca to Jerusalem and then from Jerusalem up to heaven. This night journey is regarded by some as a miracle, as one of his miracles according to Zamach Shari, the classical commentator who we’ve now encountered quite extensively. Zama Shari states that some regarded the night journey as a miracle according to Mohammed, But he also points out that there was disagreement over the starting point. There was disagreement over the date of the journey. They disagree.


The different writers disagreed over whether Mohammed was awake or asleep during the journey. And Zama Shari points out that Hassan al Basri, a very significant early writer, suggested that it was a vision Mohammed had in his sleep, although most Muslim scholars disagreed with this. So the question of Mohammed’s night journey, which is a key part of the Mohammed story, is surrounded by much disagreement among Muslim scholars. Is it to be taken as a literal journey, or is it to be taken as a figurative journey that Mohammed experienced merely in his in his sleep? Now John Wansborough, the prominent British revisionist scholar, he offers quite a radically revised interpretation of the night journey, that’s referred to in surah 17 verse 1.


He challenges the link of surah 17 verse 1 with Mohammed, suggesting perhaps that Moses was intended, and this really is radical thinking. The transport by the spirit of God is widely referred to in the old testament, he suggests, and he says that the phrase from the sacred mosque to the furthest mosque, which is in that that verse, may be an exegetical gloss. Now that really is a radical inter reinterpretation, which Muslim scholars would not accept, but it indicates the kind of creative radical thinking that takes place among some non Muslim scholars on standard Islamic, dogma. What about Mohammed’s status among the prophets? Well, much is said in the Hadith collections on this, and the selections offered by Goldsac, which is available on the, Moodle page, address this question of Mohammed’s rank among the greatest, among the scholars.


In summary, and you will see in reading the hadith, more detail, in summary, those features which Islam claims render Mohammed the greatest of prophets are, according to Bukharian Muslim, firstly, divine assistance in achieving victory over his enemies. So that was one quality which made him the greatest of the prophets. A further quality is the right of prayer for his followers anywhere in the world. Thirdly, the right to take booty after battle makes him stand out among the prophets. Fourthly, that Mohammed was a mission to all humankind.


And finally, the right of intercession on the day of judgment sets Mohammed apart from the other prophets. Think about those features and compare those features with the characteristics of biblical prophets. Would you agree as a Christian that the Bible would support such claims of pro prophetic characteristic? How would you respond to Muslims who make that those claims for Mohammed? Again, John Wansbrough shows his radical, thinking in saying that the Quran itself does not support a claim of special status among prophets for Mohammed, yet there does seem to be some hint of a special status, he says, for Jesus and some biblical prophets, especially Moses in the Quran, further radical thinking, further revisionist thinking.


I’d like you now to take time out, to watch a series of, films which relate to the person of Mohammed. In 2,011, a documentary series was produced by the BBC on the life of Mohammed, and I’ve provided links to those that 3 part documentary on the Moodle page. I’d like you to watch those documentaries. As you watch them, listen watch them critically, noticing style, noticing, the way that Mohammed is portrayed, thinking about the commentary, listening to the the narrator as you watch. Take notes as you go, and take stock at the end of it as to how Mohammed is portrayed in that 2,011 documentary.


After you watch that documentary, I’d like you to take the time, 3 hours when you have time, to watch the 1977 film, the message of the story of Islam. It is a representation of the history of Islam and the life of Mohammed produced in 1977. I’d like you to compare and contrast the treatment of the life of Mohammed between the 2,011 BBC documentary and the 1977 film. Do you sense any difference, any evolution in the way that Mohammed is portrayed? If so, what differences are there?


What are the parallels?