IMPECCABILITY OF PROPHETS: The Doctrine of Ismat al-Anbiya, By Maulana Syed Muhammad Yusuf Banuri
Translated By: Maulana Yusuf Talal Ali Delorenzo
From the Translator: This article is a translation of one of the many articles written in Urdu by my teacher, Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Banuri, upon whom be the mercy of Allah, for the monthly magazine of the Jamia uloom islamiyyah Banuri Town, ”Bayyinat”. The essay was written, over ten years ago, in direct response to the publication of a book which Maulana believed to be misleading in its treatment of some of the basic doctrines of Islam; namely, the doctrine of ‘Ismat as it relates to the Anbiya, and the orthodox position
THE OFFICE OF NUBUWWAT
It is an incontrovertible truth that Nubuwwat or Risalat is that highest of offices which is conferred by the Almighty upon His special slaves. In the entire universe it is man alone who is called ‘Ashraf ul Makhluqaat’ (the noblest of all created things), and it is Nubuwwat which is at the summit of all human perfection. All other human ranks and achievements are below this. The most sublime human reflection is incapable of approaching even the frontiers of Nubuwwat; and there is no human excellence or eminence which is worthy of touching even the dust on the road to Nubuwwat. Beyond Nubuwwat there is one rank only, the rank of : Allah most High’s godhood and Rububiyyat.
The office of Nubuwwat is above human reason. Finally, only the One who has granted it is capable of fully comprehending its reality; or then again only those blessed beings who have been granted this sublime office. Except for these, the rest of mankind are possessed of knowledge and understanding too feeble to perceive the secret of Nubuwwat, or to properly grasp its full meaning or true nature In the same way that an unlettered person is unaware of the reality of learning, a person who is not himself a Nabiy is unaware of the reality of Nubuwwat. In fact, if we really think about it. It should be clear that, leaving aside the office of Nubuwwat, the same is true of any ordinary skill or profession; that only the person who has himself acquired that skill is capable of understanding the complete reality of it – and even then his understanding of that reality will go only as far as the degree of skill which he had developed in his particular field.
Our teacher Hazrad Imam ul Asr, Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri of Deoband, may Allah illumine his resting place, used to say, “What of Nubuwwat? Our minds are incapable of fathoming even the reality of Ijtihaad!”, In other words concerning Ijtihaad our knowledge is limited to the superficial. Indeed whatever we do know about the subject is little more than surface knowledge. Thus, the reality of Ijtihaad can be properly perceived only by a Mujtahid. So, in much the same way, knowledge of Nubuwwat can be possessed by an ordinary man only in the sense that he can recognize its signs and requisites.
Concerning the Nabiy, any Nabiy, upon whom be peace, we know only that:
“For the office of Nubuwwat Allah most High has selected only those gifted and chaste personalities whose exteriors and interiors, whose forms and substances, whose bodies and souls are, in every respect, superior to those of ordinary men. Then these are born of such unblemished extraction, and such auspicious constitution that their every wish is pursuant to the Will and Pleasure of Allah. These are the ones who are adorned with the robe of ‘lsmat(1). The Almighty, in His omnipotence, watches over them constantly so that they receive His protection in virtually every move that they make In this way they remain above the promptings and power of Shaytan”.
In such persons the occurence of wrongdoing or disobedience is impossible and logically inconceivable. This is what is meant by the term ‘Ismat. and the person so favored is called “Masoom”. Ismat is essential to Nubuwwat. In the same way that it is inconceivable that Nubuwwat could for a moment be Iitted from a Nabiy, not even the supposition or conjecture can be made that lsmat could be separated from Nubuwwat or a Nabiy, Allah forbid !
Prophets are “Masoom”
Ulema have confirmed that to be Masoom is one thing and that to be Mahfooz is another. The Masoom is a person for whom the commission of wrongdoing is impossible, while the Mahfooz is a person for whom the commission of wrongdoing is possible but who in spite of that, does not commit any wrongdoing. Or to put it more simply, the Masoom is incapable of wrongdoing, and the Mahfooz though he is capable of it, does not engage in it. It is on this basis that the Anbiya. upon whom be peace, are termed Masoom; and that the Awliya (Saints), including the Sahaaba, upon whom be Allah’s mercy, are termed Mahfooz.
Now, to come to the point, for the most sublime office of Nubuwwat Allah most High selects only those personalities who, in matters of deed and ancestry, character and works, intelligence and insight, resolution and zeal, and in every other human perfection are the most accomplished and outstanding figures of their times. A Nabiy is unique among his contemporaries in every perfection of body and soul, and no non-Nabiy can equal him in any perfection of importance. ln the terminology of the Quran and Shariah, Allah chooses (lkhtiyar), elects (lntikhab), and singles out (ljtiba) these personalities. Who does not know that Allah’s knowledge encompasses every atom in the universe? For Him everything, external and internal, hidden and open, is manifest. Past, present, and future are known to him at one and the same time. There is no possibility of His making a mistake, or being unaware of something. These facts are attested to by innumerable verses of the Ouran:
ان الله كان بكل شيئ عليما
Surely Allah knows everything ( 4 :33)
و ما يعزب عن ربك من مثقال ذرة في الارض و لا في السماء
And not an atom’s weight in the earth or in the sky escapes your Rab (10:62)
يعلم سركم وجهركم
He knows your secrets and what you utter (6.3)
Obviously, when the all-encompassing knowledge of Allah selects a person for the office of Nubuwwat there can remain no possibility of that person’s being somehow inadequate for the position. Certainly the blessed personalities chosen from among all mankind for this office will be the most perfect, the most accomplished, the most sublime. and the most suitable of all people. There are, nevertheless, differences in rank and accomplishment between the different Anbiya, peace be upon them.
It is also an accepted fact that Nubuwwat and Risalat are the gifts of Allah. These have nothing to do with acquisition (Kasb), and are surely not earned by asceticism, or long hours in worship, or spiritual disciplines. In this world it is true that perfection is attained by hard work and discipline. Nubuwwat and Risalat, however, are the selected gifts of Al rah; for those offices He chooses whom He wills. The Quran is replete with verses which clearly convey this meaning:
الله يصطفي من الملائكة رسلا ومن الناس
Allah chooses from the angels RasuIs, and from mankind (22:75)
الله اعلم حيث يجعل رسالته
Allah knows best where to place His Risalat (6:124)
MISCONCEPTIONS CONCERNING NUBUWWAT
Once we have properly understood these truths of the Shariat the question of whether a Nabiy or RasuI is capable of deficiencies in performing the duties of his office need not even arise. It is inconceivable that, Allah forbid, any Nabiy or Rasul ever fell short in the performance of his duties. Therefore, to make the following statements:
1) ‘A certain Nabiy fell short in the performance of the essentials. of Risalat,’
2) ‘A certain Nabiy proved inadequate in the performance of his duties,’
3) ‘A certain Nabiy, without permission from Allah, shrank from his duty.’
is itself a great shortcoming, and an indication of something quite more serious.
Likewise, on the basis of one’s inability to get to the bottom of a difficult question, to present the likes of the following random conjecture as some kind of accepted principle:
“Like any other man the Nabiy is also incapable of maintaining at all times the true believer’s highest standards of perfection. Sometimes he too is overcome by his own human frailties. Then, when he is cautioned by the Almighty that what he is doing has been the result of his own pre-Islamic sensitivities, he immediately reverts to an Islamic frame of mind”
is reckless to an extreme and an admonitory example of ignorance concerning the office of Nubuwwat.
چون ندیدند حقیقت را افسانہ زدند
Not having seen the way of truth, they go the way of myth. Consider the following statement:
“There are times when, and this should be so, the veil of ‘lsmat is lifted from the Nabiy or Rasu I. Then he is caused to comm it one or two acts of wrongdoing as a testament to his humanity”.
This example of fallacious sophistry is so fraught with danger that (if such a thing were possible) the foundations of every revealed religion would tremble at its mention.
If ‘lsmat could be separated from Nubuwwat it would mean that for as long as this separation remained in effect the Nabiy would cease to function as an exemplary personality (Uswah) for his Ummah. Instead of being ‘Al Ameen’ (the Trustworthy), the Nabiy would be no different from anyone else. Or, to speak in simplified terms, during such a separation (when ‘lsmat is lifted and, Allah forbid, the Nabiyy is caused to do wrong), Nubuwwat itself, with all its requisites and accompaniments, would be lifted from the Nabiy. It is not difficult to see that if such faulty logic were accepted the Deen ul Islam would crumble and fall. Everything the Nabiy said would be open to suspicion. Nothing that he taught, nothing that he did, nothing that he said could be relied upon because of the possibility that what he taught, did, or said took place during a period when ‘lsmat was lifted, and when Nubuwwat was suspended. To outward appearances, perhaps this kind of philosophizing may hold some kind of attraction, but, if we ponder the matter thoroughly we will find that it is so patently absurd that any person possessed of reason who has properly understood Allah’s religion will reject it out of hand Those who author this type of statement are clearly ignorant of ‘the reality of (prophetic) knowledge, and have obviously misunderstood the requirements of Nubuwwat.
Likewise, the following statement will be seen to be void of any understanding or knowledge:
“Until we see that the Anbiya have committed a few acts of wrongdoing like other men, we cannot be sure that they are human.”
Who does not know that the Anbiya, upon whom be peace, eat and drink ;and, like everyone else, are subject to all kinds of incidental diseases and accidents? They are born of men, and from them men are born. But aside from all this, they, upon whom be peace, announce over and ‘over again that they are human beings like everyone else. Then, after all that, is it really necessary that they engage in unlawful wrongdoing to clear up, once and for all, any suspicions that someone might ha ,e had about their humanity? Is it only then that we will be convinced that they are human?
It would be well for us to remember here that negligence, mistakes, and forgetfulness are part of human nature. Wrongdoing and transgression, however, are part, not of human nature, but of Shaytan’s nature. For this reason the commission of wrongdoing on the part of the Anbiya, instead of attesting to their humanity would attest to something quite different. Finally, who asked those people who are unable to differentiate between a mistake and an act of wrongdoing to enter into subtle theological discussions? Or was it that they desired to bear out the popular maxim:
They fell into error themselves, and they led others astray.
Anyway. ‘lsmat like the other perfections of Nubuwwat. is essential to every Nabiy. Now, consider the following: that most blessed of all personalities who was chosen to stand at the head of all the Anbiya and Mursalen the one who was crowned with the Risalat ul Kubraa (the Greatest of Missions), the one of whom it has rightly been said:
بعد از خدا بزرگ توئی قصہ مختصر
To make a long story short, after Allah comes you.
The one who was granted the highest of all offices, the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him; who can possibly realize the truth of his nobility of character and perfections, his purity and integrity, his sanctity and majesty, his righteousness and ‘lsmat, his Risalat and Nubuwwat? If, concerning this unassailable personality someone were to say something to the effect that for a time ‘lsmat was lifted from him, upon whom be peace, would that not be a crime of enormous proportions?
Footnote: (1) It doesn’t mean that the natural supremacy of Prophets is being inevitably fated but Chastity depends upon the process indicated above, i.e., that Prophets are amongst to those clean and calm nature, by whom it couldn’t be imagined about to involve in a sin, which is naturally unbearable for them. Secondly they do not have a separation, from the protection eye of Allah upon them, even for a single minute. Thus, in the presence of above two things, act of sin or even the forgetfulness is beyond the imagination for involvement of a Prophet.