The religious approach to reading Quran can make it very inaccessible and irrelevant. As a religious text, Quran is very distant. It was revealed to Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago and there it stays. The Prophet’s Sunna, something to which all Muslims aspire to follow, becomes mainly about his alleged religious duties and laws. This is not the concern of Quran at all.
However, when you remove this religious lens and make Quran very ‘present’, it becomes perfectly relevant to our lives. One aspect which especially becomes prominent is its leadership wisdom. This wisdom comes from two particular words which are connected to Prophet Muhammad and thus normally off-limits – they are nabi and rasool. These two words always appear in a way related to leadership roles and capacities in Quran. In this third essay, we hope to analyse the calls to messengers in order to understand how they play a role in Quranic philosophy.
Calls in Quran help demarcate various ‘levels’ in a chapter. In addition, they also help call the attention of the appropriate readers. Two of the most frequently mentioned calls are those to the people (16 times) and to those who have believed (89 times). However there are other calls. Three of the lesser frequent calls are those to the messenger (ya ayyuha ar-rasool), to the messengers in plural (ya ayyuha ar-rusool) and to the prophet (ya ayyuha an-nabi). As with the two previous essays in this series, we will try to understand from these verses about the leadership wisdom of these personalities.
There are only two calls to the messenger in Quran and both are in Ch 5 (Al-Maida). This chapter, in our analysis, is about the messenger’s system which is the ideal system of peace and justice. It is the only chapter in Quran with the idea of the perfected deen (ad-deen al-kamil). Moreover, it is also the only chapter with two calls to the messenger in the singular. Let us analyse these calls one by one. The first call is 5/41:
O Messenger! let not those grieve you who strive together in hastening to unbelief from among those who say with their mouths: We believe, and their hearts do not believe, and from among those who sought comfort; they are listeners for the sake of a lie, listeners for another people who have not come to you; they alter the words from their places, saying: If you are given this, take it, and if you are not given this, be cautious; and as for him whose temptation Allah desires, you cannot control anything for him with Allah. Those are they for whom Allah does not desire that He should purify their hearts; they shall have disgrace in this world, and they shall have a grievous chastisement in the hereafter.
In this passage (5/41-50), the messenger’s system is expounded. He is told how to deal with folks who deny his system. They come to him seeking judgement even though the ignition to the system is already with them (5/43). The system’s details are mentioned 5/44-47 (in the form of ‘tawraat’ and ‘injeel’ which represent the two stages in the system, see 48/29). The messenger is told to judge with ‘the book in truth’ which refers to his current set of applications which he has validated (5/48-49). This system is gives freedom for every person to pursue his/her course. This system is also contrasted with superficial governance (5/50).
From the above, we can see that the messenger’s system is about action and the consequences of those acts. Those acts bring about a system of justice where no one is discriminated and it is a continuously evolving system respecting diversity. It is also an evolving system in which greater knowledge results in greater depth. We next move on to the second call to the messenger in 5/67:
O Messenger! deliver what bas been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people; surely Allah will not guide the unbelieving people
This passage is significantly longer than the previous one, spanning 5/67-86. In this passage, the messenger is first told to deliver what is descended to him. This is not simply the message but also include its application (called ‘tawraat’ and ‘injeel’ as mentioned above) which give them the system. However, in this passage, they are cautioned against making the messenger (who is personified in the form of isa) anything more than what he is (5/72-75). Various personality types are also mentioned (5/82-84) to show what kind of people gravitate to and alienate from the messenger.
The third and final call to the messenger is plural, unlike the previous two. This is in Ch 23 Vs 51:
O messengers! eat of the good things and act righteously; surely I know what you do.
It is worth noting here at the form of the word ‘good things’ (tayyibat) and the ‘act righteously’ (a’maalu saliha) are in ideal form. This shows that the messengers are to work towards the highest good. Also worth noting that is that Allah speaks to these messengers in the first person singular (‘I’ rather than ‘we’) which denotes close intimacy.
The preceding verses before this is also important to understand 23/51 more deeply. Starting from Vs 23 of this chapter, stories of Quranic personalities are told, starting with nuh and his successors, who are interestingly not mentioned by name. By 23/45 musa and haroon are mentioned. The son of maryam is mentioned briefly in 23/50. This makes a powerful cocktail of Quranic personalities as nuh, musa and isa are three of the most mentioned in personalities in the whole Quran! It should be noted that ibrahim (another most mentioned personality) is conspicuously missing.
The proceeding passage is also important to understand this verse. 23/52 tells us of the ideal of ‘this ummah’ (perhaps showing a prevalent single nation for humankind) is one ummah and Allah is the nourisher and sustainer. This is indeed the role of the messengers – to lead mankind into unity. In the next verse 23/53, we are told that their affairs or administration will be cut up into institutions and each of the resultant parties are happy with their part.
From here we can see the leadership goal of the messengers is bringing about a wholesome connection, promoting the ideal righteous acts. The aim is to bring about unity of mankind and to make Allah (with his universal system) as the nourisher and sustainer.
Part 4: Exploring calls to the Nabis.