The Prophet as human in Islam
In any dialogue between two belief systems the variance of meaning
between shared terms can become an obstacle to understanding. Such an obstacle
can lead to frustration, further misunderstanding, and even open hostility. The
shared terms of Prophet and Messenger in Muslim and Bahá'í dialogue are a case
The definition of seal of the Prophets (Khatem al-Anbiyya), and its
differing interpretation in the two Faiths has, at times, further increased the
discord. A popular Bahá'í response to this when faced with the Muslim
perspective on the two terms for Prophethood in Arabic, i.e. Nabi and
Rasul (Messenger) has been to state that Muhammad was the last of the
Nabi, but not of the Rasul. This point has not swayed many Muslims. Most
Muslims use the terms interchangeably, and there are Hadith in which Muhammad
also claims to be the Seal of the Messengers (Khatem al-Rasuleen).
Bahá'u'lláh has also, in an untranslated portion of the Ishraqat, confirmed
that Muhammad is, indeed, the Seal of both the Nabi and the Rasul. This being
the case, and in order to increase dialogue between Muslims and Bahá'is,
it would be beneficial to explore the concept of Messengers and Prophets as
used by present day Islam. Then to explore the Bahá'í concept of the
Manifestation and to demarcate a clear reference point for the Bahá'í belief in
continuation of revelation beyond the point of Prophethood.
It should be noted that due to restrictions on the length of this paper I have
had to be brief in areas where I would have preferred more depth and to
generalize at times. I have also had to ignore whole traditions in Islam such
as Ibn Arabi's concept of the perfect man so as to keep this paper within its
For simplicity's sake the concepts of prophet and messenger will henceforth
be subsumed under the term Prophet, while there is some difference
theologically between the two for brevity they will be discussed together.
It has been said that misunderstanding of the role of the Prophet has
been, and still is, one of the greatest obstacles to Westerner's appreciation
of the Muslim interpretation of Islamic history and culture (Rahman, 1979).
According to Ulama Tabataba'i of Iran, the laws that can lead to humanity's
greatest happiness cannot be constructed merely out of human reason. He points
to several secular attempt to do so, such as the French revolution, and comes
to the conclusion that human reason has failed to lead us out our misery.
Tabataba'i reasons that humanity wants and needs laws and if human reason has
not supplied usable laws, then they had to have come from another source. This
source which is other than reason is the prophetic consciousness and the
consciousness of revelation.
The Prophets of God were men who propagated the call of revelation and brought
definitive proofs of their call. They gave the people elements of the religion
of God and made it available to all (Tabataba'i, 1975).
One of the earliest views of the nature of Prophethood can be seen in the
book Qisas al-Anbiyya, The Stories of the Prophets
by Al-Imam Ibn Kathir
(810-870 AD). In this book Ibn Kathir states, "Allah's Prophets are His
messengers to humanity. Their essence is human, and they are the purest of
human beings. Allah sent each prophet as a Warner to his community until the
advent of the final prophet, Muhammad.." The book goes on to say that indeed we
would not know the true story of any of the prophets were it not for Muhammad
and the Qur'an. This was so because their stories had been corrupted either by
over estimation of the prophets, in the New Testament, or under estimation, in
the Old Testament. The book maintains that any mention of sinfulness on the
part of the Prophets in the Old Testament are incongruent with the concept of
Isma, or infallibility. The concept of the divinity of the Prophet as portrayed
in the New Testament is labeled as Shirk, assigning partners to God. Both are
dismissed out of hand as incorrect. The concept of isma will be dealt with more
thoroughly in this paper later, but for now we can note that the concepts of
infallibility and the essential humanity of the prophets were present in Islam
as early as the 9th
Annemarie Schimmel, in her book And Muhammad is His Messenger,
insight into the viewpoint of the average Muslim regarding Muhammad. This in
turn gives us insight into how other prophets are viewed. Schimmel covers the
view that Muhammad was only a man and that his only prerogative other than this
was that he received revelation. As Surah 6:50 states; "Say; I do not say:
'With me are the treasures of God' and I do not know the invisible, and I do
not say that I am an angel-I follow only that which is revealed to me." Also
Surah 28:56 "You cannot guide on the right path whom you want. It is God who
guides!" It is accepted that God's revelation to Muhammad was a gift of grace
that he did not deserve, but which had elected him as its vessel. The Qur'an
admonishes him: "Verily if We wanted We would take away what We have revealed
to you, and then you would not find for yourself a defendant against us."
In Islamic prophetology the Prophet is sent to a people as a messenger and a
Warner, Surah 10:48. Rahman describes Muhammad as a Warner to the people and by
extension the other prophets as well. He uses the stories of the prophets as
seen in the Qur'an to substantiate this claim (Rahman, 1979). The Meccans
asking him when the Day of Judgement would be is given as an example. When
asked he would reply that he was called to warn, but didn't know when the Day
of Judgement was anymore than they did (Schimmel, 1985).
Furthermore in Surah 14:8 it is said that God did not send any messenger who
did not speak the language of the people He was sent to. Islam holds that God
never left the world without a witness in History. Beginning with Adam, the
first man and prophet, God has continued to reveal His message to the world.
Divine messengers continued to come and instruct humanity until Muhammad who
was the Seal of the Prophets. The term in Arabic is khatem al-anbiyya, anbiyya
is the plural of nabi which means prophet. The nabi, however, is not charged
with proclaiming a new law; that duty belongs to the Rasul, messenger. From
what can be deduced from the Qur'an, not all prophets brought a new law, or
sharia, only five, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, did. They are
referred to as Possessors of determination (Ulu'l 'azm). The other prophets
followed the laws of the Possessor of determination who had preceded them.
According to a saying of Muhammad reported by Abu Zarr Ghifari there were
124,000 prophets and 313 messengers.
The Qur'an contains the names of twenty eight, but nothing has hindered
Muslims from acknowledging prophets who are not mentioned by name in the
Qur'an, but may have appeared in the Far East or the Americas to teach the
people of those areas the message of God, (Schimmel, 1985).
A more modern approach to Muhammad, and by extension, prophethood can be found
in the writings of Fazlur Rahman. Rahman, as a believing Muslim, takes for
granted the reality of prophethood, but adds modern historical perspective to
assist in explaining it, (Rahman, 1979).
Rahman states that in order to counteract later allegations of epilepsy it was
important to stress the normalcy of Muhammad's revelations. To do so the voice
of revelation was assigned to an outer voice, a physical angel, to safeguard
the "objectivity" of the revelation. At the time when this was going on there
were compelling reasons for attempting to explain revelation in such a light.
It was during this time that many of the Hadith that claim that Muhammad was
seen talking to angels came about. This despite the fact that it is
contradicted by the Qur'an which states "We have sent him (the Angel) down upon
that you may be a Warner", XXVI, 194. The idea of the angel
has become so ingrained in common Muslim thought that any other explanation has
become anathema (Rahman, 1979).
As stated earlier, Rahman describes Muhammad as a Warner to the people and by
extension the other prophets as well. This is a common enough claim in orthodox
Islam, but where Rahman differs is in his focus on the inner workings of
Muhammad as opposed to the traditional focus on externals as seen in most
biographies of the prophet. He points to the fact that prior to receiving His
first revelation Muhammad had been tormented by thoughts regarding the
situation and destiny of man. These thoughts drove Him into periodic retirement
and contemplation. It is from the throws of this agonizing search, according to
Rahman, that revelation emerged. This is alluded to in the Qur'an, XCIV, 1-3;
"Did We not open up your breast and relieve you of the burden which broke your
back?" Later writers attempted to actually interpret this passage literally and
there are legends of the Angel Gabriel literally opening the prophets breast
and cleansing His heart, (Rahman, 1979).
In several places one finds the admonition; "Obey God and obey His messenger."
Muhammad is signaled out by God, he is, as the Qur'an states, an "uswa hasana";
a beautiful model.
Indeed the Prophets are considered perfect moral models and it is certainly
true that whatever Muhammad did is considered exemplary by Muslims. Among the
examples of Muhammad's actions is His need for forgiveness. Muhammad in many
places calls attention to this. He is quoted as saying, "I ask forgiveness from
God seventy times a day. While this seems to fly in the face of the concept of
isma, that is the prophetic freedom from sins and defects, it is usually
interpreted as Muhammad's effort, whatever His own excellence, to provide an
example for His sinful community.
Muslims are forbidden to distinguish between the prophets and in one tradition
tafdil, i.e. preference, is strictly forbidden. In this tradition Muhammad
commands the followers; "Do not place me above Yunis ibn Matta, and do not make
any comparisons or preferences among the prophets, and do not prefer me to
The Prophet is also seen as the perfect example of ethical norms. Muhammad has
said, "The best Islam is that you feed the hungry and spread peace among people
you now and those you do not know."
The imitation of Muhammad, "the Beautiful Model," is meant to transform every
Muslim into a likeness of the Prophet. This is so that each Muslim can give
witness to God's unity through his entire being and existence, (Schimmel,
Later Muhammad's "spiritual experiences were united into the doctrine of a
singular physical experience, the ascension, of Muhammad into heaven, this was
developed by the orthodox on patterns similar to the ascension of Jesus. This
view of a physical explanation appears to be contradicted by the Qur'an which
states, "The heart
has not falsified what it
has seen; shall you
doubt what it
has witnessed, LIII, 11-12.
The Prophet as Superhuman
Yet, Schimmel points out, that the Qur'an also discussed Muhammad's
special role. As God "taught Adam the names" (Surah 2:30), thus He taught
Muhammad the Qur'an (Surah 96:3).
There are popular stories of the Prophet as healer. A special field of science
developed in Islam, called at-tibb an-nabawa,
which is still practiced in some areas. This medicine is based on Hadith in
which the prophet recommended certain treatments such as cupping or purgatives.
Muhammad is often called Tabib,
"Physician," and al-Ghazali refers to
the prophets as physicians of the soul (Schimmel, 1985).
Prophets are also considered to have immediate knowledge of everything,
granted to Them from God. In Arabic this is called 'ilm laduni.' This idea
contradicts the Quranic statement that even Muhammad could not boast the
knowledge of future events (Surah 6:50), but it shows that even in early times
it was taken for granted that the Prophet's knowledge was greater than the
limits of human acquisition, (Schimmel, 1985).
It is also believed that the prophet had a primordial existence. As the
Turkish poet Ashiq Pasha put it:
Adam was still dust and clay
Ahmad was a Prophet then,
He had been selected by God
Utter blessings over Him!
And yet, according to tradition, Muhammad denied that He would produce any
miracle except the Qur'an, (Schimmel, 1985).
The theological manuals exactly define the qualities of the prophet. The
Sanusiyya, a widely used handbook of dogmatics that dates back to the Middle
Ages, states that the prophet must possess four necessary attributes. He must
be truthful, (sidq
). He must be trustworthy, (amana
). He must
proclaim the Divine Word, (tabligh
). And He must be sagacious and
). It is impossible for Him to lie, (kidhab
or be treacherous, (khiyana
). He cannot be stupid, (balada
A further commentary on the Shi'a position is that of Ullama al-Hilli.
Al-Hilli claims that the evidence for the goodness of the prophetic mission
lies in it's encompassed benefits and freedom from corrupting influences. Among
the goodness of the prophetic mission is that reason is supported by the
transmission of the laws revealed by the prophets. Some laws can be deduced by
reason alone, such as the unity of God. Other laws cannot be deduced by reason
alone, such as the stipulation of certain ordinances. Since God wishes certain
actions to be performed by humanity, the only way they can be performed is
through information brought by the prophets. As a result of the prophetic
mission knowledge is acquired of the good and evil actions of which reason has
no knowledge independently. Then there is the fact that humanity is not created
like other creatures. Because of humanity's special circumstances it is
necessary that a unifying factor prevail over society. Such a factor is the
sunnah of the prophet and the divine law. A sunnah must have someone to
introduce it, who will establish it and lay down its regulations. Such a person
would have to be different from others of his species. This persons
distinguishing factor could not be something given to him by his fellows as
this could cause envy based on his being singled out by others. Therefore this
distinguishing factor must come from God, as a miracle, by which men will be
led to believe in the prophet's claim. As a result of this the organization of
life may be realized and the preservation of the human spirit be maintained.
Some people differ in their ability to attain virtues from others, the benefit
of the prophet is that he can assist the deficient according to their varying
dispositions. Since degrees of morality vary it is essential for one who is
perfect to give instruction in morality. Finally the prophets make known the
rewards for goodness and the punishments for wickedness. Because of all of this
the mission of prophethood is necessary.
In addition to the above, al-Hilli lists other "problems" regarding
prophethood. The first is the necessity of the prophetic mission. The prophetic
mission is necessary because it encompasses the grace required for the
responsibilities which are enjoined on man according to reason. The second
concerns the necessity of infallibility. Infallibility is necessary for the
prophets in order to gain humanity's confidence and thus attain the prophet's
purpose, and because of the necessity for humanity to follow him and of
repudiating the acts of sinners.
There are differences of opinion regarding this point. The Mu'tazila concede
the possibility of minor sins to the prophets, either through forgetfulness, or
on the basis of interpretation. The Ash'arites hold that minor and major sins,
other then unbelief and lying, are possible for the prophets. The Imamiyya
maintain that they must have infallibility from all sins. The evidence for this
is as follows:
- The purpose of the prophet's mission can only be obtained
through infallibility. If those to whom a prophet had been sent allowed the
possibility of prophets lying and being sinful, they could also allow the
possibility of such a thing in what the prophets ordered and forbade and in the
actions which they enjoined them to follow. Then the prophets could not call
them to obey their orders, and that would be a contradiction of the prophetic
- It is necessary to follow the prophet. If he perpetrated a
disobedient act one would either have to follow him and commit a disobedient
act, which is forbidden, or not follow him, which is also forbidden. Therefore
it is necessary that the prophet be infallible so as not to place humanity in
an impossible position.
- All sinful acts must be repudiated, if the prophet
committed a sin, He too, would have to be repudiated. This would hurt the
prophet, an act that is forbidden. Therefore all views on the prophet sinning
are illogical and absurd.
It is necessary that the prophet have the perfection of reason, intelligence,
perspicacity, and sound judgement. He must not have any form of forgetfulness
or anything which would cause the people to shun him, such as a base father, an
unchaste mother, coarse manners, physical defects, or any bad habits. He should
also be free of all sicknesses and physical deformities.
The third problem concerns the means of knowing the truthfulness of the
prophet's mission. The means of knowing is through the appearance of miracles
performed by him. A miracle is bringing into existence something that is
abnormal or removing something that is normal. The following conditions must
be met for miracles to be accepted.
- The prophet's community must be unable
to copy the miracle for themselves.
- It must be done through the command of
- It must occur before the Day of Judgement because on the day of
judgement normalcy will cease to exist.
- It must occur after the claim of
prophethood has been made. And
- it must be something that breaks the course
Furthermore, al-Hilli claims that the prophets are greater in status than the
angels because of the existence in the prophets of that which conflicts with
rational power and his compelling it to submit to reason, (Nasr, 1988).
Prophecy and revelation have always been limited to a few individuals. God
completed and perfected His guidance to humanity through the Prophets. In order
to give perfect guidance, God endowed the prophets with 'isma, that is
inerrancy. In order to preach the revelation, the prophet had to be free from
error and sin (Tabataba'i, 1975).
The concept of isma basically means protection or freedom and connotes perfect
moral integrity. Islam teaches that the Prophets are protected from sin and
error lest the Divine Word be polluted by any external stain upon the
The Qur'an speaks of this in surah VI, 88; "And We chose Them and guided Them
unto a strait path." And surah LXXII, 26-28; "(He is) the knower of the unseen,
and He revealeth unto none His secret, save unto every messenger whom He hath
chosen, and then He maketh a guard to go before him and a guard behind him,
that He may know that they have indeed conveyed the messages of their Lord."
The prophets were full of truthfulness and purity and they practiced what they
preached. What they claimed was the possession of a mysterious consciousness
which the invisible world had bestowed upon them. In this way they came to
know, from God, what the welfare of humanity should be in the world.
Tabataba'i states, though, that the law is not enough. That people need a way
of determining the truth of the prophet's claims. This is why people have
always demanded miracles from the prophets. While Tabataba'i believes that the
principle miracle of the prophet is the revelation itself, he goes on to say
that the prophet must provide another miracle that the people can accept so
that they will in turn believe in the primary miracle of the revelation. These
miracles are performed at the beginning of the prophet's mission and upon the
request of the believers. By definition these miracles are not impossible or
against reason, but rather, "a break in what is habitual".
In the view of Shi'a Islam revelation and prophecy are complimentary channels.
According to Islam, the cycles of revelation have come to a close Muhammad. The
revelation of Muhammad is both final and primal. Thus the Qur'an is both the
last revelation and 'the' revelation. Muhammad is both the last Prophet and
'the' Prophet. The umma is the last divinely ordained community.
Tabataba'i goes on to expound the concept of the finality of Islam, stating
that as all things must come to an end, so must revelation. He makes the leap
that Islam is the end of that revelation. His proof are the following Quranic
verses; "For lo! It is an unassailable scripture. Falsehood cannot come at it
from before it or behind it", Surah XLI, 41-42. "Muhammad is not the father of
any man among you but he is the messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets",
Surah XXXIII, 40. And, "We reveal the scripture unto thee as a exposition of
all things", Surah XVI, 89.
The Bahá'í Concept of Manifestation
There is much in the Bahá'í concept of the Manifestation that Muslims
can feel at home with. Both Islam and the Bahá'í faith believe that numerous
Messengers have appeared to humanity. Both Islam and the Bahá'í Faith believe
that Messengers are sent by God and that what They reveal is God's word, not
No Manifestation ever sought to receive a revelation, it was given to Him by
God unasked for. As Bahá'u'lláh describes the eve of His own revelation:
"O King! I was but a man like others, asleep upon My couch, when lo, the
breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of
all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and
All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven, and for
this there befell Me what hath caused the tears of every man of understanding
to flow. The learning current amongst men I studied not; their schools I
entered not. Ask of the city wherein I dwelt, that thou mayest be well assured
that I am not of them who speak falsely. (Bahá'u'lláh: Epistle to the Son of
Nothing a human being can do, can make him worthy to be a messenger, it is
completely within the will of God to decide, (Balyuzi, 1963).
God is unknowable
The Bahá'í Faith believes that God is unknowable. He is infinite, we
are finite. The finite cannot know the infinite. Yet God wants humanity to know
Him, so from age to age He manifests Himself to us in human form. Bahá'u'lláh
The door of the knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face
of all beings, the Source of infinite grace, according to His saying: "His
grace hath transcended all things; My grace hath encompassed them all" hath
caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the
spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all
men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable
Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence. These sanctified
Mirrors, these Day-springs of ancient glory are one and all the Exponents on
earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate
(Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitab-i-Iqan,
We try to understand God through His attributes, but God is above all
attributes. To truly believe that God, in His Essence, can be defined by these
attributes is to limit God and any God that can be limited is not God.
Too high art Thou for the praise of those who are nigh unto Thee to ascend
unto the heaven of Thy nearness, or for the birds of the hearts of them who are
devoted to Thee to attain to the door of Thy gate. I testify that Thou hast
been sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names. No God is there
but Thee, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious.
(Bahá'u'lláh: Prayers and Meditations,
Abdul-Baha tells us that when we attach attributes to God we do so, not to
limit God, but to dissociate Him from the lack of these attributes,
(Taherzadeh, 1987). In his Tablet to Auguste Forel, Abdul- Baha states the
As to the attributes and perfections such as will, knowledge, power and other
ancient attributes that we ascribe to that Divine Reality, these are the signs
that reflect the existence of beings in the visible plane and not the absolute
perfections of the Divine Essence that cannot be comprehended. For instance, as
we consider created things we observe infinite perfections, and the created
things being in the utmost regularity and perfection we infer that the Ancient
Power on whom dependeth the existence of these beings, cannot be ignorant; thus
we say He is All-Knowing. It is certain that it is not impotent, it must be
then All-Powerful; it is not poor, it must be All-Possessing; it is not
non-existent, it must be Ever-Living. The purpose is to show that these
attributes and perfections that we recount for that Universal Reality are only
in order to deny imperfections, rather than to assert the perfections that the
human mind can conceive. Thus we say His attributes are unknowable.
('Abdu'l-Bahá: Tablet to August Forel,
God can only be known through His Manifestations
God, who is beyond all comprehension, makes Himself known by revelation. It is
in "The Kingdom of Revelation" that the attributes of God are manifested and it
is from this "Kingdom" that all the Manifestations are sent. The
Manifestations, as the embodiment of Holiness, are the bearers of the
Attributes of God. All the attributes of God refer to God revealed to
The Manifestations are the word of God made flesh. He is the Logos incarnate.
They reveal God to humanity. It is only through them that God is known. It is
only through them that God can be reached, all other ways are barred.
John 14:6-7 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no
man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth
ye know him, and have seen him.
The Manifestation of God links the world of God with the world of humanity. He
is a human being, sharing fully in humanity, having the same joys and sorrows,
the same pleasure and pain; but His reality is that of the Holy Spirit. He is
the chosen vehicle for God and can be likened to a stainless mirror that
reflects God to humanity. God and humanity meet in the Manifestation who is a
link between the Creator and the created, (Balyuzi, 1963).
Bahá'ís believe that the advent of Manifestations is preordained by God. There
is an unfolding pattern the goes from age to age. A definite intent. While the
world of God is timeless, its contact with us, through revelation, is subject
to the dictates of time. Bahá'í' believe that revelation is progressive, and as
such, it is determined in relation to time. The Manifestation brings a measure
of guidance to humanity that is required for the age in which He appears and
His teachings are qualified by the level of growth of humanity at the time He
has appeared. The Qur'an also claims this:
[al-A'raf 7:34] To every people is a term appointed: when their term is
reached, not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it
[al-A'raf 7:35] O ye Children of Adam! whenever there come to you apostles
from amongst you, rehearsing My signs unto you,- those who are righteous and
mend (their lives),- on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.
[Al-Imran 3:81] Behold! God took the covenant of the prophets, saying: "I give
you a Book and Wisdom; then comes to you an apostle, confirming what is with
you; do ye believe in him and render him help." God said: "Do ye agree, and
take this my Covenant as binding on you?" They said: "We agree." He said: "Then
bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses."
For Bahá'ís, history is read in terms of the appearance of the Manifestations
of God. The teachings, influence, and achievements of the Manifestations of God
are what make history. Without reference to the Manifestations history shows no
conscious purpose, no direction, no intrinsic meaning, and no ultimate goal,
When the manifestation comes He sets the standards by which all else is
measured. His words are the touchstone that separate truth from falsehood:
99) Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards
and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring
Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the
peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of
its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it.
(Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitab-i-Aqdas,
This being the case religious truth cannot be absolute, but must be relative.
Relative to the time that the message is given. Every precept the Manifestation
gives must, therefor, be translated into terms that are relevant and applicable
to His age and audience. This is what Christ meant when He said:
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all
truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that
shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:12, 13)
Abdul-Baha classifies the teachings of the Manifestations into two categories;
social laws, that are related to the exigencies and requirements of a
particular time, these are ephemeral and can be changed by the next
Manifestation, and eternal verities which do not change.
If, as Bahá'ís believe, the message of the Manifestation must change to suit
the times and capacities of the people He is sent to, then it follows that
there can never be a final revelation. A final revelation would imply that
humanity had frozen in time with no more progression or change possible.
Therefore Bahá'ís believe in the concept of progressive revelation, wherein
Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is considered the latest, but by no means the last.
There can be co concept of a "Seal of the Prophets" as is commonly held in
Manifestations of God: Divine or Human?
The concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Faith can be difficult to
grasp. Many, both Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í have been confused by it. Some have,
mistakenly, thought that Bahá'u'lláh was claiming that He is the Divine essence
itself. Bahá'u'lláh, Himself, acknowledges the difficulty of the concept. He
states that He himself would not have expounded upon it had the Bab not done so
before Him. In the Tablet of Tajalliyat Bahá'u'lláh states:
By the righteousness of God! But for the anthem of praise voiced by Him Who
heralded the divine Revelation, this Wronged One would never have breathed a
word which might have struck terror into the hearts of the ignorant and caused
them to perish. Dwelling on the glorification of Him Whom God shall make
manifest - exalted be His Manifestation - the Bab in the beginning of the Bayan
saith: 'He is the One Who shall proclaim under all conditions, "Verily, verily,
I am God, no God is there but Me, the Lord of all created things. In truth all
others except Me are My creatures. O, My creatures! Me alone do ye
(Bahá'u'lláh: Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh,
Adib Taherzadeh, in his study, "The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh" mentions two
points of confusion here. It would appear that Bahá'u'lláh is claiming the
station of Godhood for Himself and that He is either saying, then, that all the
Manifestations are God or that He is greater than the other Manifestations in
which case the belief in the equality of the Manifestations is contradicted.
To understand the nature of the Manifestation and those writings in which the
Manifestation appears to be claiming divinity one must understand the
difference between the "Essence of God" and "God revealed to humanity". The
former is unknowable, while the latter is comprehensible to humanity,
(Taherzadeh, 1987). Bahá'u'lláh in His own writings states that the
Manifestations do not comprehend the essence of God, as only an equal can
comprehend something else's essence. Bahá'u'lláh, quoted in World Order of
"From time immemorial," ..."He, the Divine Being, hath been veiled in the
ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlasting continue to be
wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence... Ten thousand
Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at
God's forbidding voice, 'Thou shalt never behold Me!'; whilst a myriad
Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones
by the interdiction 'Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!'" "How
bewildering to me, insignificant as I am," ... "is the attempt to fathom the
sacred depths of Thy knowledge! How futile my efforts to visualize the
magnitude of the power inherent in Thine handiwork - the revelation of Thy
creative power!" "When I contemplate, O my God, the relationship that bindeth
me to Thee," ..."I am moved to proclaim to all created things 'verily I am
God!'; and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay!"
(Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Bahá'u'lláh,
In His own lifetime Bahá'u'lláh, also, addressed the issue of His divinity,
and firmly denied it.
Either thou or someone else hath said: "Let the Surih of Tawhid be translated,
so that all may know and be fully persuaded that the one true God begetteth
not, nor is He begotten. Moreover, the Babis believe in his (Bahá'u'lláh's)
Divinity and Godhood."
O Shaykh! This station is the station in which one dieth to himself and
liveth in God. Divinity, whenever I mention it, indicateth My complete and
absolute self-effacement. This is the station in which I have no control over
mine own weal or woe nor over my life nor over my resurrection.
(Bahá'u'lláh: Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,
Men have failed to perceive Our purpose in the references We have made to
Divinity and Godhood. Were they to apprehend it, they would arise from their
places, and cry out: "We, verily, ask pardon of God!" The Seal of the Prophets
- may the souls of all else but Him be offered up for His sake - saith:
"Manifold are Our relationships with God. At one time, We are He Himself, and
He is We Ourself. At another He is that He is, and We are that We are."
(Bahá'u'lláh: Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,
Shoghi Effendi further responds:
To whoever may read these pages a word of warning seems, however, advisable
before I proceed further with the development of my argument. Let no one
meditating, in the light of the afore-quoted passages, on the nature of the
Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, mistake its character or misconstrue the intent of
its Author. The divinity attributed to so great a Being and the complete
incarnation of the names and attributes of God in so exalted a Person should,
under no circumstances, be misconceived or misinterpreted. The human temple
that has been made the vehicle of so overpowering a Revelation must, if we be
faithful to the tenets of our Faith, ever remain entirely distinguished from
that "innermost Spirit of Spirits" and "eternal Essence of Essences" - that
invisible yet rational God Who, however much we extol the divinity of His
Manifestations on earth, can in no wise incarnate His infinite, His unknowable,
His incorruptible and all-embracing Reality in the concrete and limited frame
of a mortal being. Indeed, the God Who could so incarnate His own reality
would, in the light of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, cease immediately to be
God. So crude and fantastic a theory of Divine incarnation is as removed from,
and incompatible with, the essentials of Bahá'í belief as are the no less
inadmissible pantheistic and anthropomorphic conceptions of God - both of which
the utterances of Bahá'u'lláh emphatically repudiate and the fallacy of which
(Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Bahá'u'lláh,
The Equality of the Manifestations
As to the second question, the equality of the Manifestations, Bahá'u'lláh
defends this equality. He states that if some prophets have appeared greater
than others, it is only that Their message had to be more limited by the
capacity of their followers and not to any lack in Themselves. Bahá'u'lláh
addresses this in several passages:
These Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of
pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all
by one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attributes, thou hast not erred
from the truth. Even as He hath revealed: "No distinction do We make between
any of His Messengers." For they, one and all, summon the people of the earth
to acknowledge the unity of God, and herald unto them the Kawthar of an
infinite grace and bounty. They are all invested with the robe of prophethood,
and are honored with the mantle of glory. Thus hath Muhammad, the Point of the
Qur'an, revealed: "I am all the Prophets." Likewise, He saith: "I am the first
Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus."...
The other station is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world
of creation, and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each
Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed
mission, a predestined revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each
one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special
attribute, fulfils a definite mission, and is entrusted with a particular
Revelation. Even as He saith: "Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the
others. To some God hath spoken, some He hath raised and exalted... It is
because of this difference in their station and mission that the words and
utterances flowing from these Well Springs of Divine knowledge appear to
diverge and differ. Otherwise, in the eyes of them that are initiated into the
mysteries of Divine wisdom, all their utterances are, in reality, but the
expressions of one Truth.
These attributes of God are not, and have never been, vouchsafed specially
unto certain Prophets, and withheld from others. Nay, all the Prophets of God,
His well-favored, His holy and chosen Messengers are, without exception, the
bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ
in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their
light. Even as He hath revealed: "Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel
That a certain attribute of God hath not been outwardly manifested by these
Essences of Detachment doth in no wise imply that they who are the Day Springs
of God's attributes and the Treasuries of His holy names did not actually
Shoghi Effendi expounds on this theme further:
That all the Messengers of God should be regarded as "abiding in the same
Tabernacle, soaring in the same Heaven, seated upon the same Throne, uttering
the same Speech, and proclaiming the same Faith" must, however much we may
extol the measure of Divine Revelation vouchsafed to mankind at this crowning
stage of its evolution, remain the unalterable foundation and central tenet of
Bahá'í belief. Any variations in the splendor which each of these
Manifestations of the Light of God has shed upon the world should be ascribed
not to any inherent superiority involved in the essential character of any one
of them, but rather to the progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual
receptiveness, which mankind, in its progress towards maturity, has invariably
(Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Bahá'u'lláh,
Thus, it is seen in the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith that the equality of the
Manifestations is upheld.
Proofs of the Manifestations
HM Balyuzi in his wonderful treatise on the Manifestation of God,
"The Word Made Flesh", which has been a source and an inspiration in this
paper, has a list of proofs for determining the Manifestation of God.
The first proof is that the Manifestation remains steadfast, firm, and
unyielding in the face of opposition. Bahá'u'lláh, speaking of the Bab, states
Another proof and evidence of the truth of this Revelation, which amongst all
other proofs shineth as the sun, is the constancy of the eternal Beauty in
proclaiming the Faith of God. Though young and tender of age, and though the
Cause He revealed was contrary to the desire of all the peoples of earth, both
high and low, rich and poor, exalted and abased, king and subject, yet He arose
and steadfastly proclaimed it. All have known and heard this. He was afraid of
no one; He was regardless of consequences. Could such a thing be made manifest
except through the power of a divine Revelation, and the potency of God's
invincible Will? By the righteousness of God! Were any one to entertain so
great a Revelation in his heart, the thought of such a declaration would alone
confound him! Were the hearts of all men to be crowded into his heart, he would
still hesitate to venture upon so awful an enterprise. He could achieve it only
by the permission of God, only if the channel of his heart were to be linked
with the Source of divine grace, and his soul be assured of the unfailing
sustenance of the Almighty. To what, We wonder, do they ascribe so great a
daring? Do they accuse Him of folly as they accused the Prophets of old? Or do
they maintain that His motive was none other than leadership and the
acquisition of earthly riches?
Gracious God! In His Book, which He hath entitled "Qayyumu'l-Asma'," - the
first, the greatest and mightiest of all books - He prophesied His own
martyrdom. In it is this passage: "O thou Remnant of God! I have sacrificed
myself wholly for Thee; I have accepted curses for Thy sake; and have yearned
for naught but martyrdom in the path of Thy love. Sufficient Witness unto me is
God, the Exalted, the Protector, the Ancient of Days!"
(Bahá'u'lláh: The Kitab-i-Iqan,
The second proof is that the Manifestation changes the hearts of humanity. He
comes to darkest and most degraded place of His time and His message transforms
The Arabians were in the utmost state of degradation. They were bloodthirsty
and barbarous, so savage and degraded that the Arabian father often buried his
own daughter alive. Consider: Could any barbarism be lower than this? The
nation consisted of warring, hostile tribal peoples inhabiting the vast Arabian
peninsula, and their business consisted in fighting and pillaging each other,
making captive women and children, killing each other. Muhammad appeared among
such a people. He educated and unified these barbarous tribes, put an end to
their shedding of blood. Through His education they reached such a degree of
civilization that they subdued and governed continents and nations. What a
great civilization was established in Spain by the Muslims! What a marvelous
civilization was founded in Morocco by the Moors! What a powerful caliphate or
successorship was set up in Baghdad! How much Islam served and furthered the
cause of science!
('Abdu'l-Bahá: Promulgation of Universal Peace,
The final proof, to Balyuzi, is that the Manifestation can resolve the
complexities of the age he lives in. He does this through inate knowledge. His
knowledge is not acquired through formal training, but is a gift from God.
Bahá'ís believe that the Manifestations of God are capable of
performing great miracles. Nothing is impossible for them, but; and here the
Bahá'í viewpoint differs from Islam, miracles are not proof of the Messenger.
Miracles can be denied by those who have not seen them. As Abdul-Baha
commented, when asked about miracles performed by Bahá'u'lláh:
But these narratives are not decisive proofs and evidences to all; the hearer
might perhaps say that this account may not be in accordance with what
occurred, for it is known that other sects recount miracles performed by their
founders. For instance, the followers of Brahmanism relate miracles. From what
evidence may we know that those are false and that these are true? If these are
fables, the others also are fables; if these are generally accepted, so also
the others are generally accepted. Consequently, these accounts are not
satisfactory proofs. Yes, miracles are proofs for the eyewitness only, and even
he may regard them not as a miracle but as an enchantment. Extraordinary feats
have also been related of some conjurors.
Briefly, my meaning is that many wonderful things were done by Bahá'u'lláh,
but we do not recount them, as they do not constitute proofs and evidences for
all the peoples of the earth, and they are not decisive proofs even for those
who see them: they may think that they are merely enchantments.
('Abdu'l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions,
In this paper I have tried to show the differences in concept between
Prophet and Messenger in Islam and the concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í
Faith. As can be seen the differences have turned out to be smaller than
appears on the surface. Both Bahá'ís and Muslims assert that God is, in
Himself, unknowable. Both assert that God sends messengers to make Himself
known and to guide humanity. Both assert the stainless characters of these
Where differences lie appears to be in what is acceptable proofs for these
messengers, with Islam relying on the miraculous more than the Bahá'í Faith
does, and in the finality of revelation. Much has been written about the Bahá'í
stance on finality in regards to Islam's claims. For brevity's sake I will not
discuss it here. I refer others to the writings of Moojan Momen and Seena Fazel
and Khazeh Fananapazir.
This paper is not meant to be an ends in itself, but a means to spur on
further discussion. It is hoped that it has accomplished this task.
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