While describing the medium and methodology of this divine practice, Ghamidi writes:
The way this established practice about risalah manifests itself is that the Almighty selects His messengers so that reward and punishment can be meted out in this world through them before the actual Day of Judgement. It becomes a miniature rehearsal of what is going to take place on that Day. These messengers are told that if they honour their covenant with God, they will be rewarded in this very world and if they do not do so, they will be punished in this very world. The result is that the very existence of these messengers becomes a sign of God, and it is as if their people can observe God walking on earth with these messengers and delivering His verdicts. On the basis of the signs of the truth that they have directly observed, they are directed to propagate the truth and present to the people with full certainty the guidance of God the way they have received it from Him. In the terminology of the Qur’an, this is called shahadah. Once this is established, it becomes a basis of the judgement by the Almighty both in this world and in that to come. Consequently, the Almighty grants dominance to these messengers, and punishes those who reject the message presented by these messengers.
In other words, the truth is made irrefutably evident before the addressees of a messenger. The process which is primarily adopted in this regard is that the person of a messenger is made a symbol of God’s justice. If he adheres to the truth, the Almighty rewards him and if he deviates from the truth, he is checked immediately by the Almighty. In this manner, it is as if people can observe God around His messenger. Moreover, a messenger is shown various signs of truth from God. On the basis of these signs, he communicates the truth to his people. His preaching mission, after passing through various phases, culminates in achieving the above mentioned objective of deciding the fate of his nation in this very world. Once this is achieved, it in itself becomes a means of irrefutably conveying the truth to all people who happen to observe this phenomenon.
The preaching mission of a messenger can be broadly categorized in the following three phases:
i. The Propagation Phase
ii. The Acquittal Phase
iii. The Judgement Phase
In the following paragraphs, we will take a look at some of the important features of these phases.
i. The Propagation Phase
With this phase begins the mission of the messengers. During this phase, with the special help and assistance of the Almighty, the messengers remove misconceptions which may surround the truth and vehemently say that if people do not accept the truth, they shall be doomed in this world and in the Hereafter. In this phase, the messengers of Allah never use force or retaliate against any oppression or persecution encountered. They spend all their time and energy in earnestly urging people to mend their ways.
During this time, the addressees of a messenger are the influential people of the society. The political and social leaders and intellectuals are earnestly called upon. While explaining this aspect, Amin Ahsan Islahi, writes:
… Abraham (sws) at the very outset called to the truth his family and clan who held the reins of religious leadership. He then called to the truth the king who had the reins of political authority and who thought that he had power over the life and death of his people … The Almighty had directed Moses (sws) to first of all address the Pharaoh … Jesus (sws) first called upon the scholars of the Jews. Similarly, the preaching endeavours of the Prophets Noah (sws), Hud (sws) and Salih (sws) are all mentioned in the Qur’an. All these prophets began their preaching by calling upon the people who were in authority in their times. They tried to awaken those in authority and the arrogant people of their times from their deep slumber and vehemently criticized their views. Finally, Muhammad (sws) was sent and asked to warn his immediate relatives. These relatives were the religious and political leaders of the patriarchal polity of Arabia and, by virtue of the influence they wielded, morally and politically guided all the people of Arabia.
In the second stage of the Propagation Phase, the messengers of God intensify their preaching efforts and increase their sphere. When the leaders of their people see that their efforts are bearing fruit, they try to stop these messengers by hook or by crook.
This Propagation Phase finally culminates in the communication of the truth in a conclusive manner to the addressees. Such is the conclusive nature of this communication that they are left with no excuse to deny the truth.
ii. The Acquittal Phase
At the end of the Propagation Phase – which is signalled by the Almighty since only He knows when enough time has been given to people to reflect and accept the truth – a messenger disassociates himself from his people by announcing his acquittal and migrating from them so that the Almighty can pronounce His judgement both upon the followers of the messenger and his adversaries.
Two important things must be noted about the migration of a messengerwhich takes place in this acquittal phase.
Firstly, it signals the end of his nation. It means that all that could have been done to call them to accept faith has been done. Before migration, as long as a messenger remains among his people, they are protected from any punishment and given respite due to his presence. So, when the pagan Arabs demanded from Muhammad (sws) to bring the punishment he had been threatening them with, they were told:
وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُمْ وَأَنْتَ فِيهِمْ (8 :33)
But God was not going to send them a punishment whilst you are amongst them. (8:33)
Secondly, a messenger is not authorized to make the decision of migration for himself since only the Almighty knows when a particular people has been given enough time to accept the truth. A messenger must keep to his task of warning his people, in spite of bitter opposition, until he is informed by the Almighty that the time for warning them is over. The Prophet Jonah (sws) was reprimanded by the Almighty when he on his own decided to migrate from his people:
وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا فَظَنَّ أَنْ لَنْ نَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ فَنَادَى فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنْ الظَّالِمِينَ (21 :87)
And remember dhu al-nun, when he departed in wrath thinking that We will not hold him responsible! So he cried through the depths of darkness: “There is no god but You. Glory be to You. I was indeed wrong!” (21:87)
The Prophet Muhammad (sws) was told to exercise patience and not be like Jonah (sws) until the decree of Allah arrived:
فَاصْبِرْ لِحُكْمِ رَبِّكَ وَلَا تَكُنْ كَصَاحِبِ الْحُوتِ إِذْ نَادَى وَهُوَ مَكْظُومٌ (68 :48)
So wait with patience for the Command of your Lord, and be not like the Companion of the Fish, -- when he cried out in agony. (68:48)
On the other hand, when Abraham (sws) argued with the Almighty that the nation of his nephew, the Prophet Lot (sws), be given more respite, he was told that none among the righteous were left in it. While the Qur’an (11:74) makes a passing reference to this, the Bible gives the following details:
Then Abraham approached Him and said: “Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare that place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The Lord said: “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?” ‘If I find forty-five there,” He said: “I will not destroy it.” Once again he spoke to him: “What if only forty are found there?” He said: “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said: “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered: “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said: “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said: “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered: “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis, 18:23-32)
iii. The Judgement Phase
This phase is the culmination of a messenger’spreaching mission. By now, the believers have become discrete and distinct from the disbelievers and organized as a separate unit. It is in this phase that the messenger decides the fate of his nation. It is in reality the Almighty who determines this task as pointed out before.
It is evident from the Qur’an that in the Judgement phase, the punishment of the disbelievers normally takes two forms depending upon the situation that arises.
If a messenger has very few companions and he has no place to migrate from his people and attain political power, then the messenger and his companions are sifted out from their nation by the Almighty and made to migrate to a safe place. Their nation is then destroyed through various natural calamities like earthquakes, typhoons and cyclones. The Qur’an says:
فَكُلًّا أَخَذْنَا بِذَنْبِهِ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِ حَاصِبًا وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ أَخَذَتْهُ الصَّيْحَةُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ خَسَفْنَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ أَغْرَقْنَا (29 :40)
So each one of them We seized for their crime: of them, against some We sent a violent tornado with showers of stones; some were caught by a mighty blast; some We sunk in the earth; and some We drowned in the waters. (29:40)
The ‘Ād, nation of Hud(sws), the Thamud nation of Salih (sws) as well as the nations of Noah (sws), Lot (sws) and Shu‘ayb (sws) were destroyed through such natural disasters when they denied their respective messengers as is mentioned in the various surahs of the Qur’an. In the case of Moses (sws), the Israelites never denied him. The Pharaoh and his followers however did. Therefore, they were destroyed.
The Prophet Jonah’s people accepted faith and were saved from punishment:
فَلَوْلَا كَانَتْ قَرْيَةٌ آمَنَتْ فَنَفَعَهَا إِيمَانُهَا إِلَّا قَوْمَ يُونُسَ لَمَّا آمَنُوا كَشَفْنَا عَنْهُمْ عَذَابَ الْخِزْيِ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَتَّعْنَاهُمْ إِلَى حِينٍ (10: 98)
So why was there not a single settlement which professed faith so that its faith should have profited it, – except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the penalty of ignominy in the life of the present, and permitted them to enjoy their life for a while. (10:98)
In the second case, a messenger is able to win a fair number of companions and is also able to migrate to a place where he is able to acquire the reins of political power through divine help. In this case, the messenger and his companions subdue their nation by force, and execute them if they do not accept faith. The nation of the messenger is then given further respite during which the messenger starts to purge and cleanse the people who accept faith and organizes them for a final onslaught upon the forces of evil. He also strengthens his hold and authority in the land. Once his companions are ready for an armed conflict, these addressees are given a final ultimatum and then attacked. The forces of the messenger are destined to triumph and humiliate his enemies. The punishment, which in the previous case descended from the heavens, in this case emanates from the swords of the believers. It was this situation which arose in the case of Muhammad (sws). His opponents were destroyed by the swords of the Muslim believers until at the conquest of Makkah, the remaining accepted faith. (Details follow in the next section).
Referring to this form of divine punishment, the Qur’an asserts:
قَاتِلُوهُمْ يُعَذِّبْهُمْ اللَّهُ بِأَيْدِيكُمْ وَيُخْزِهِمْ وَيَنْصُرْكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ (9 :14)
Fight them and God will punish them with your hands and humiliate them and help you to victory over them. (9:14)
فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ قَتَلَهُمْ (8 :17)
[Believers!] It is not you who slew them; it was [in fact] God who slew them. (8:17)
In other words, as pointed out earlier, it is the Almighty Himself who punishes the immediate and direct addressees of messengers if they deny their respective messengers; the messengersand their companions are no more than a means to carry out this Divine plan.
The punishment and humiliation of nations towards whom messengers were sent generally took place in two ways: Nations who subscribed to monotheism were spared if they accepted the supremacy of their respective messenger, while nations who subscribed to polytheism were destroyed. The latter fate is in accordance with the fact that polytheism is something that the Almighty never forgives:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَنْ يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَلِكَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَنْ يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدْ افْتَرَى إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا (4 :48)
God never forgives those guilty of polytheism though He may forgive other sins to whom He pleases. Those who commit polytheism devise a heinous sin. (4:48)
For similar reasons, in the Judaic law, perpetrators of polytheism were to be punished with death in this world:
If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshipped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)
Consequently, the Israelites were told that they should put to death all the polytheist nations and not to spare them in any way:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5)
The Old Testament also mentions that there were certain nations that were to be spared if they were prepared to live a life of subjugation. In the light of the Qur’an, it can be adduced that such nations were those who did not subscribe to polytheism. They were not put to death and were given the option to live if they accepted the supremacy of the Mosaic law:
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labour and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, and children, the livestock and everything else in the city you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. (Deuteronomy, 20:10-15)
Consequently, the Israelites were not wiped out as a nation because, being the People of the Book, they were basically adherents to monotheism. Their humiliation took the form of constant subjugation to the followers of Jesus (sws) till the Day of Judgement as referred to by the following verse:
إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَاعِيسَى إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنْ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَجَاعِلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوكَ فَوْقَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ (3: 55)
Remember when God said: “O Jesus! I will give death to you and raise you to Myself and cleanse you from those who have denied; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith till the Day of Resurrection.” (3:55)
Here one might ask: Why were the People of the Book, in particular the Christians, regarded to be monotheists when they ascribed to trinity – which apparently is a polytheistic doctrine? The answer to this question is that Christians are basically followers of monotheism. The Bible is very explicit about it:
The most important one, answered Jesus, is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Mark, 12:29)
Christians never admit to polytheism, though they are involved in certain polytheistic practices. A person becomes a polytheist when he openly admits that he is a polytheist. A person who claims to be a monotheist in spite of being involved in polytheistic practices, cannot be regarded as a polytheist. The reason is that a person might be doing something wrong without realizing what he is doing; all Christians whether of today or from the period of Jesus (sws) never admit to polytheism; trinity to them is in accordance with monotheism. Of course Muslims do not agree with them but unless they claim polytheism, it can only be said that in spite of claiming to be monotheists they are involved in polytheism. Their case is the case of a Muslim who goes to the grave of a saint to ask him to grant a wish; such a Muslim cannot be called a polytheist; he shall be told that what he is doing is something which is against monotheism to which he himself strongly claims adherence. Similarly, Christians cannot be called polytheists; however, they will be told that what they are doing is not in accordance with monotheism.
It is precisely for this reason that the Qur’an never called the People of the Book polytheists though they subscribed to certain blatant forms of polytheism. The Qur’an only called the Ishmaelites polytheists because they admittedly subscribed and testified to the creed of polytheism. They strongly advocated that polytheism was the very religion the Almighty had revealed and claimed that they were strong adherents to this religion. Because of this very reason, they were called the mushrikun (the adherents to the creed of shirk) by the Qur’an.
. Ghamidi, Mizan, 70.
. As specified earlier, the truth refers to the fact that a person will one day be held accountable before God on the basis of his deeds.
.Amin Ahsan Islahi, Da‘wat-i din awr us ka tariqah kar, 2nd ed. (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1989), 50.
. In particular, a graphic summary of the fate of these nations is found inSurahQamar, the fifty fourth surah of the Qur’an.