Belief in Prophethood is one of the central tenets of the Islamic faith (al-‘Imān) and there are many detailed facets to this. However, at its root is the idea that revelation and guidance sent from Allah is conveyed via the medium of human beings. Prophethood is carried by mortals; no Prophet or Messenger of Allah is regarded as being divine, semi-divine or angelic. In Islam to believe so, would in fact be regarded as a repudiation of Prophethood altogether, rejecting monotheism for polytheism.
With the advent of the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings be upon him), Prophethood has formally ended, there will be no new Prophet or Messenger and no new revelation as he was its seal. Unlike all previous Prophets, the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings be upon him) has been sent to all of all of mankind, not just to his own city or people.
In principle, a Muslim must accept and believe in all Prophets and Messengers, whether known or unknown, making no distinction amongst them. That principle is based upon a large body of textual evidence. To cite some notable examples:
آمن الرسول بما أنزل إليه من ربه والمؤمنون كل آمن بالله وملائكته وكتبه ورسله لا نفرق بين أحد من رسله
…and the believers; each one believes in Allah and His angels, and in His Books and His Messengers; we make no division between any one of His Messengers. [Qur’ān, 2: 285]
قل آمنا بالله وما أنزل علينا وما أنزل على إبراهيم وإسماعيل وإسحاق ويعقوب والأسباط وما أوتي موسى وعيسى والنبيون من ربهم لا نفرق بين أحد منهم ونحن له مسلمون
Say: “We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down on us and sent down upon Abraham and Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and the Prophets, of their Lord; we make no division between any of them, and unto Him we surrender.” [Qur’ān, 3: 84]
While the Qur’ānic text is explicit in mentioning a sizeable number, other evidences show that most have not been mentioned. Not being explicitly mentioned in the Qur’ān doesn’t necessarily exclude accepting previous Prophets, as is the case with Daniyāl (Daniel, peace be upon him).1
إنا أوحينا إليك كما أوحينا إلى نوح والنبيين من بعده وأوحينا إلى إبراهيم وإسماعيل وإسحاق ويعقوب والأسباط وعيسى وأيوب ويونس وهارون وسليمان وآتينا داوود زبورا
ورسلا قد قصصناهم عليك من قبل ورسلا لم نقصصهم عليك وكلم الله موسى تكليما
We have sent revelation to you as We did to Noah and the Prophets after him: to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon; to David We gave the book [of Psalms], to other Messengers We have already mentioned to you, and also to some We have not. To Moses God spoke directly.[Qur’ān, 4: 163/164]
Those familiar with the Judeo-Christian tradition will recognise the names of many of the Prophets that the Qur’an mentions.2 However, it may be of a surprise to learn that the verse [4: 163] places Sulaymān (Solomon, peace be upon him) as a Prophet. Texts prior to the advent of the Qur’ān are explicit in levelling the accusation of idolatry (shirk) against Solomon (Old Testament, 1 Kings 11). The suggestion being that although being a wise king of Israel, he took a large number of foreign wives who eventually ‘swayed his heart towards their foreign gods.’ Being ‘no longer committed to the Lord his God’ the additional accusation is that he established places of worship for idols and his foreign wives undertook rituals in service to them. Secondary sources echo this theme. In Judean Antiquities, Flavius Josephus essentially emphasises the same points, though as a side comment mentions that within the temple columns, segments were engraved with the likenesses of various images, like that of a lion and an eagle, though he does not explicitly link these to idolatry.
Contained within that accusation is more than an insinuation of the ‘woman’ being the ‘temptress;’ misleading man from the path of God. Similar in the previous scriptures is found with Eve (Hawa, may Allah be pleased with her) being singled out as tempting Adam to eat from the forbidden tree, thereby ensuring the fall of man.
Yet neither of these narratives are accepted within the Qur’ānic text. In fact, to accuse Sulaymān (peace be upon him) of idolatry would result in one leaving the fold of Islam altogether. The Qur’ān provides quite a detailed narrative regarding the Prophet Sulaymān (peace be upon him), from aspects of his kingship to his encounter with Bilqis (the queen of Sheba). Regarding the accusation of idolatry, the text though is unequivocal: he is above any accusation of disbelief [2: 102]. However, a very important distinction is clarified with the language that the Qur’ān utilises regarding the monuments built under his kingship:
يعملون له ما يشاء من محاريب وتماثيل وجفان كالجواب وقدور راسيات اعملوا آل داوود شكرا وقليل من عبادي الشكور
They made for him what he pleased of fortresses and statues, and bowls (large) as watering-troughs and cooking-pots that will not move from their place; give thanks, O family of David! And very few of My servants are grateful. [Qur’ān, 34: 13]
The highlighted word ‘tamātheel’ (statues) is used in the verse. Plural of the word timthāl (statue, statuette, figurine), its original root stems from [م/ث/ل] carrying the meanings of: to liken, resemble, similarity, example, etc. Various forms of this root appear throughout the Qur’ānic text, with ‘tamātheel’ being used twice, in [34: 13] and as part of the enquiry of Ibrāhim (Abraham, peace be upon him):
إذ قال لأبيه وقومه ما هذه التماثيل التي أنتم لها عاكفون، قالوا وجدنا آباءنا لها عابدين
When he said to his father and his people: ‘What are these statues to whose worship you cleave?’ They said: ‘We found our fathers worshipping them.’ [Qur’ān, 21: 52/53]
Words within the book of Allah are deliberate, purposeful. They are not disjointed, haphazard or out of place. Greater clarification as to exactly what these ‘statues’ were, is mentioned within the latter verses. What is set out is the realisation of Ibrāhim (peace be upon him) that these weren’t simply statues, but idols depicting false deities:
وتالله لأكيدن أصنامكم بعد أن تولوا مدبرين، فجعلهم جذاذا إلا كبيرا لهم لعلهم إليه يرجعون، قالوا من فعل هذا بآلهتنا إنه لمن الظالمين
And, by Allah! I will certainly do something against your idols after you go away, turning back. So he broke them into pieces, except the chief of them, that haply they may return to it. They said: “Who has done this to our gods? Most surely, he is one of the unjust.” [Qur’ān, 21: 57/59]
Elsewhere in the Qur’ān this point is further emphasised:
واتل عليهم نبأ إبراهيم – إذ قال لأبيه وقومه ما تعبدون – قالوا نعبد أصناما فنظل لها عاكفين
And recite to them the story of Ibrāhim, when he said to his father and his people: What do you worship? They said: We worship idols, so we shall be their votaries [Qur’ān, 26: 69/71]
وإذ قال إبراهيم لأبيه آزر أتتخذ أصناما آلهة إني أراك وقومك في ضلال مبين
And when Ibrāhim said to his sire, Azar: Do you take idols for gods? Surely, I see you and your people in manifest error. [Qur’ān, 6: 74]
Other Qur’ānic verses clearly show the context when such statues are viewed and/or taken as being idols. Another clear example of this comes from the time of Moses (peace be upon him) following the Exodus from Egypt:
وجاوزنا ببني إسرائيل البحر فأتوا على قوم يعكفون على أصنام لهم قالوا يا موسى اجعل لنا إلها كما لهم آلهة قال إنكم قوم تجهلون
And we made the Children of Israel to pass the sea; then they came upon a people who kept to the worship of idols. They said: O Moses! Make for us a god as they have gods. He said: Surely you are a people acting ignorantly. [Qur’ān, 7: 138]
Even in relation to the calf put forward at the suggestion of the Sāmiri, the Qur’ān clarifies exactly how that statue was perceived. The wording set out is explicitly clear:
فأخرج لهم عجلا جسدا له خوار فقالوا هذا إلهكم وإله موسى فنسي
So he brought forth for them a calf, a body, which had a mooing sound, so they said: This is your god and the god of Moses, but he forgot. [Qur’ān, 20: 88]
As shown by the story of Ibrāhim and Musa (peace be upon them) the statues weren’t merely figurines, but idols depicting false deities. Significantly, the word idol (Ṣanam, pl. Aṣnām) is not placed within the verse regarding the statues/figurines that were built at the time of Sulaymān peace be upon him [34: 13]. Thereby providing compelling evidence that this was not related to idolatry (shirk). Rather, they were just that, statues/figurines.
Placing all of these evidences under close scrutiny we are able to discern that while every idol may be a statue, not every statue is always considered to be an idol. It is a very subtle and clear distinction that is being made in the Qur’ān. The aforementioned verses show that the idol (Ṣanam) is a statue that has some form of clear or close relationship with that of a perceived divine entity or god. In other words, it is a viewed as being physical representation of that.3
To help clarify the matter further, a tourist visiting London would no doubt notice the statues of famous political characters that appear at key landmarks. Winston Churchill, Admiral Horatio Nelson and Oliver Cromwell are some notable examples. Despite having a torrid past with extreme forms of Puritanism, no one in Britain views these statues/figurines as representing a perceived god or divine being, neither would a tourist. That would not be the case though if the same tourist undertook a visit to Neasden Temple, where the statues found are viewed and worshipped as idols.
The statues/figurines that the Qur’ān mentions which were built during the era of Sulaymān (peace be upon him) were just that – statues/figurines, and not idols. Sulaymān (peace be upon him) is far above any accusation of being involved in idolatry, the Qur’ānic text is unequivocal upon this. Son of David, king of Israel, he was an esteemed Prophet of Allah.
يا أيها الذين آمنوا آمنوا بالله ورسوله والكتاب الذي نزل على رسوله والكتاب الذي أنزل من قبل ومن يكفر بالله وملائكته وكتبه ورسله واليوم الآخر فقد ضل ضلالا بعيدا
O you who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book which He has revealed to His Messenger and the Book which He revealed before; and whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His Messengers and the last day, he indeed strays off into a remote error. [Qur’ān, 4: 136]
- During the era of Umar, the second Caliph of Islam, the grave of Daniyāl (peace be upon him) was encountered and he was reburied by the companions. Various accounts of this incident exist, such as in Ibn Kathir’s Stories of the Prophets, the Muṣṣanaf of Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Shayba and in the compendium of history by Imām aṭ-Ṭabari.
- Confirmed by the famous narration that is in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri: Muḥammad bin Bashār narrated to me Muḥammad bin Ja’far narrated to us Shu’ba narrated to us from Furāt he said I heard Abu Ḥāzim say, I accompanied Abu Hurayrah for five-years and heard him narrate from the Prophet (peace be upon him), he said: ‘The Children of Israel were ruled by their Prophets; whenever Prophet died, another would take over his place. There will be no Prophet after me, but there will be Khulafā (Caliphs) who will increase in number.’
- For an exhaustive discussion of these points please see: Kitāb at-Tawḥeed: The Basis of Islam and the Reality of Monotheism, by Professor al-Mas’ari. Volume 1 of this series is due to be published shortly in English by the Foundation.