Ways of Recognizing the Prophets

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Ways of Recognizing the Prophets
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Primordial human nature compels man not to accept any claims without conclusive evidence; so whoever accepts as truthful one who makes claims without such evidence is acting contrary to his own innate nature. Making a claim to prophecy is the most awesome of all possible claims that a human being can make; and, naturally, such a claim can only be substantiated by presenting definitive and well-founded evidence. This evidence can come from one of the following three sources:

1. The previous Prophet-who, having conclusively proved his own prophethood, clearly stipulates the identity of the Prophet to come after him. Thus, the Prophet Jesus explicitly refers to the Seal of the Prophets [i.e. Muhammad], giving good tidings of his advent.

2. Portents and signs, in different ways, bear testimony to the truth of the claim to be a Prophet. These proofs can come from the way of life of the Prophet, the content of the religious call he makes, the character of those who follow him, and the manner in which he issues his call. Today, in law-courts around the world, the same procedure is followed in order to distinguish the true from the false, the innocent from the guilty. At the time of the establishment of lslam, this very procedure was used in order to ascertain the truth of the claims made by the Holy Prophet. [1]

3.- The performance of miracles, accompanying his claim to prophethood, the Prophet performs extraordinary, miraculous feats, which convince others to accept his call, these miracles being in harmony with his claim.

There is a logical relationship between the performance of miracles and the veracity of the claim to prophethood. For if the one who works miracles is truthful in his claims, the proof of the claim will be confirmed; and on the other hand, were the person lying in his claims, it would not be feasible to presume that God, the All-Wise, who wishes right guidance for His slaves, would place such miraculous powers at his disposal. For people, upon witnessing such powers, would believe in the one possessing them, and would act upon what he said. Thus, whenever such a false prophet would lie, his followers would be led astray and such a state of affairs is incompatible with the justice and wisdom of God. This position flows logically from the principle of discernment between good and evil.

If the one who works miracles is truthful in his claims, the proof of the claim will be confirmed; and on the other hand, were the person lying in his claims, it would not be feasible to presume that God, the All-Wise, who wishes right guidance for His slaves, would place such miraculous powers at his disposal. For people, upon witnessing such powers, would believe in the one possessing them, and would act upon what he said. Thus, whenever such a false prophet would lie, his followers would be led astray and such a state of affairs is incompatible with the justice and wisdom of God.

Miracle and Charism

The performance of an act that transcends the boundaries of normal existence, and which accompanies and harmonizes with a claim to prophethood, is called a 'miracle' (mu'jiza); but if such an act is performed by a righteous slave of God who does not claim to be a Prophet, then it is called a 'charism' (karama). Evidence of the fact that such righteous slaves of God, other than the Prophets, are also capable of performing extraordinary acts is given for example in the heavenly-sent food that was provided for the Virgin Mary; and in the transportation of the throne of the Queen of Sheba [Bilqis] in a single moment from Yemen to Palestine, an act performed by one of Solomon's prominent companions, Asif b. Barkhiya. The Qur'an relates both of these incidents. In regard to Mary:

Whenever Zechariah visited her in the sanctuary, he would find provisions with her. He said, ‘O Mary, from where does this come for you?’ She said, ‘It comes from Allah. Allah provides whomever He wishes without any reckoning.’(Sura Al 'Imran, 3:37)

The performance of an act that transcends the boundaries of normal existence, and which accompanies and harmonizes with a claim to prophethood, is called a 'miracle' (mu'jiza); but if such an act is performed by a righteous slave of God who does not claim to be a Prophet...

As for the incident concerning the throne of Queen Bilqis:

The one who had knowledge of the Book said, ‘I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye.’ (Sura al-Naml, 27:40)

The first two of the above ways are not universally applicable, whereas the third is, and throughout the course of the history of prophethood, people have made use of this way of recognizing true Prophets, and for their part, the Prophets have also substantiated their claims by the performance of miracles.

1. One who followed this procedure was Qaysar, the Roman Emperor. See al-Tabari's Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk (Beirut, 1408/1987), vol. 3, p. 240, for the events of the sixth year after the Hijra.

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لا يكونُ أخوكَ أقوى مِنكَ على مَودّتِهِ.
Do not let your brother be stronger than you are in your amity for him.