Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ulul Azmi: The Greater Among Equals

In the tenth year of his prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, was at the lowest of the low.

His uncle had just died, thus he was bereft of the much needed political support against his hostile enemies in the field.  His wife too had just died, thus he was bereft of the much needed emotional support at home. 

Most of his companions were living in exiles, in the far away land called Ethiopia.  Furthermore, there had not been any new convert for a few years already. 

Everywhere he went, he was rejected, insulted and mud was thrown to his face, both literally and figuratively.  Even his life was in danger.  He had to be extremely careful with his every move.

In short, he was heading to a dead end.

In that state, as we have narrated at length in the series of Surah Yusuf Part 1 and Part 2, a surah was revealed to him and to his companions as a means to comfort them.

At the same time, however, Muhammad was asked to persevere.  Some verses that make up the Surah Al Ahqaf were revealed to him, narrating the situation he was in, which was not much different from the people of the old.

This Surah is then concluded with the verse: 

So be patient, [O Muhammad], as were those of determination among the messengers, and do not be impatient for them [to be punished].  It will be - on the Day they see that which they are promised - as though they had not remained [in the world] except an hour of a day (46:35).

In short, the Prophet Muhamamd was asked to be patient and persevere like those of determination among the messengers.  Those of determination in Arabic is Ulul Azmi, also known as the Most Resolute Prophets, Leading Prophets, or Arch-Prophets.

Who are they?  The Surah Al Ahqaf does not name them, but the scholars point to them in two verses of other surahs, namely Surah Al Ahzab verse 7:

And [mention, O Muhammad], when We took from the prophets their covenant and from you and from Noah and Abraham and Moses and Jesus, the son of Mary; and We took from them a solemn covenant.

and Surah Ash Shuraa verse 13

He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus - to establish the religion and not be divided therein…

In short, they are: Noah (Prophet Nuh), Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim), Moses (Prophet Musa), Jesus (Prophet Isa) and Muhammad, peace be upon them all.

Why are they singled out as Ulul Azmi at the exclusion of others?  Because while Allah does not differentiate the prophets and/or messengers in terms of their worthiness, or the message that they carry, or the need for us to believe in all of them, it is a fact that some are endowed above others.  In other words, some are greater among equals.

Many Quranic verses point to this fact.  One of them, Surah Al Baqarah verse 253, clearly states:

Those messengers - some of them We caused to exceed others. Among them were those to whom Allah spoke, and He raised some of them in degree. And We gave Jesus, the Son of Mary, clear proofs, and We supported him with the Pure Spirit…

That some are bound to be greater than others is a fact of life.  Thus, even in the ideology which purportedly goes to the extreme to exact equality, differences are bound to exist, as George Orwell beautifully captures it in his Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” 

Orwell was referring to the Communist regime of course, not to the prophets.  You can say that to liken Animal Farm to Quran is preposterous, if not downright blasphemous, but I am merely making a point to some fools who claim that since Allah does not differentiate between His prophets and messengers, all of them are therefore equal, and thus we should not differentiate them at all.

The truth is that they are all equal in the sense that all of them carry the same message and bring the same truth, and therefore all of them have to be believed without distinction.  We cannot choose to believe in some of them and disbelieve in others, as the Jews and the Christians do. 

The Jews do not believe in both Jesus and Muhammad, while the Christians do not believe in Muhammad.  As for the rest of the prophets, the Jews and the Christians believe in all of them.  Yet, since they choose to disbelieve in some, and not others, irrespective whether these others are only a few, we consider them to be in grave error.

Looking at the five names above, we discover two differentiating factors that make them Ulul Azmi.  The first is that they were given a Covenant, and second is that they were given a Religion.

A covenant is a promise, an agreement or a pact.  This is easy to understand.  For instance, Abraham was promised that his descendants will be among the Chosen Ones.  Moses was given the Covenant that became the Law, or the Torah.  Noah was promised by God that He will not extinguish all mankind all at once again, as He did during the Great Deluge.

As for Religion, this requires a little elucidation.   The Arabic term used for Religion is DeenDeen is not merely a religion as understood in the West, defined as a set of beliefs.  It is a Way of Life, which encompasses everything that has to do with life, including the aspects which are not generally considered as religious, such as political, economic and social activities.

These five Ulul Azmi were given two distinctions not given to others, although all prophets essentially carry similar message to their people, namely, the Oneness of God.  Further, if we look at their lives, we would find that they are tested the most, and they persevered throughout. 

Now, at one look, we may find the inclusion of Jesus on the one hand, and the exclusion of King David (Prophet Dawood) on the other, to be curious.  Although Islam gives the title Messiah only to Jesus, i.e., Isa Al Masih, in Biblical account, David was also a Messiah.  He was the Anointed One who gave the Israelites their great kingdom.

In addition, both of them were given the Divine Books:  Zabur (Psalms) in the case of David, and Injil (Gospel) in the case of Jesus.   Furthermore, Jesus only carried his prophetic mission for only three years, and, in terms of worldly achievement, he did not achieve what David had achieved.  Jesus was the Anointed One who was never crowned, while David was crowned as a king, hence his title as King David in Biblical account.

Yet, Jesus is included in the list of Ulul Azmi while David is not.

Upon closer examination, however, we would find that worldly achievement is not the criteria to be included in the list of Ulul Azmi.  The two main criteria are the Covenant and the Way of Life (Religion) bestowed upon them, in addition to the fact they remain resolute in the face of opposition and persecution

When David was raised, Religion or the Way of Life was not an issue.  They had prophets and priests among themselves, and the Israelites in the main were following the Way of Moses, as in the Torah.  What the Israelites did not have was political authority.  David gave them kingdom.  His trials and tribulations were of political kinds, such as opposition from his own father in law and brothers in laws.  He did not face much religious issues.

By the time Jesus was raised, the Israelites or better known as the Jews at that time, were already very much corrupted with foreign ideas, as a result of long association with the Gentiles as well as under foreign occupation for a long time, one after the other.  Greek philosophy as well as other philosophical thoughts and religious ideas had crept in and corrupted the Way brought by Moses.

Jesus was covenanted to bring the Way of Moses back to its pristine state.  He was tasked to eliminate all the foreign elements in the Way of Moses.  It is for this reason that he said: I do not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  The Law here refers to Torah, the Way of Moses. 

To eliminate the foreign elements would also entail the elimination of the foreign power.  At that time, the Jews were under the Roman occupation. 

It is for those reasons that the Jewish authority opposed him, because he was challenging their corrupted way in the Religion; he was also the enemy of state number one to the Roman power, because he was challenging their political hegemony.  As a consequence, both the Jews and the Romans conspired to eliminate him.  He was steadfast and resolute in his struggle, although it happened only for a few years.

In the final analysis, what we write here is only speculative.  It is no more than an attempt to understand why those five are chosen to be the Ulul Azmi, while others are not.

The real reason lies only with Allah, for He alone knows best.

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