In this series of articles, we are analyzing similarities and common grounds between two major religions of the world: Hinduism and Islam. In the article in the November 2004 issue of the Islamic Voice, we examined and highlighted similarities between the concept of angels and revelation in Islam and in Hinduism as mentioned in their respective scriptures. In this month’s article, we shall study the similarities between the concept of prophethood, and the attributes of God, in Islam and in Hinduism.
CONCEPT OF PROPHETHOOD IN HINDUISM AND IN ISLAM
Messengers in Islam
Messengers or Prophets of Almighty God are persons chosen by Almighty God to communicate His message to the people.
Messengers were sent to every nation
a. To every people (was sent)
A Messenger: when their Messenger
Comes (before them), the matter
Will be judged between them
With justice, and they
Will not be wronged.
(Al Qur’an 10:47)
b. For We assuredly sent
Amongst every people a messenger
(with the command), “Serve
Allah and eschew Evil”:
Of the people were some whom
Allah guided, and some
On whom Error became
Inevitably (established). So travel
Through the earth, and see
What was the end of those
Who denied (the Truth)
(Al Qur’an 16:36)
b. And there never was
A people, without a warner
Having lived among them
(In the past)
(Al Qur’an 35:24)
c. And to every people a guide.
(Al Qur’an 13:7)
25 PROPHETS ARE MENTIONED BY NAME IN THE QUR’AN
There are 25 Prophets mentioned by name in the Glorious Qur’an. Some of such prophets are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
STORIES OF ONLY SOME PROPHETS MENTIONED IN THE QUR’AN
It is mentioned in the Qur’an:
Of some messengers We have
Already told you the story;
Of others we have not
And to Moses Allah spoke direct.
(Al Qur’an 4:164)
b. We did aforetime send
Messengers before you: of them
There are some whose story
We have related to you,
And some whose story
We have not related
(Al Qur’an 40:78)
1,24,000 PROPHETS SENT BY ALLAH
According to a Sahih Hadith in Mishkatul Masaabih Vol. 3 hadith No. 5737 Ahmad Ibn Hambal Vol. 5 page 265-266: “There were 1,24,000 prophets sent by Allah (swt)
PREVIOUS PROPHETS WERE SENT ONLY FOR THEIR PEOPLE
All the prophets that came before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were sent for their people and nation, and the complete message they preached was meant only for that time.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD (PBUH) IS THE LAST AND FINAL MESSENGER
It is mentioned in Surah Al-Ahzab
Muhammad is not
The father of any
Of your men, but (he is)
The Messenger of Allah,
And the Seal of the Prophets:
And Allah has full knowledge
Of all things
(Al Qur’an 33:40)
a. Since Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the last and final messenger of Allah (swt), he was not sent for only Muslims or the Arabs but he was sent for the whole of Humankind. It is mentioned in the Qur’an
We sent you not, but
As a mercy for all creatures
(Al Qur’an 21:107)
b. We have not sent you
But as a universal (Messenger)
To men, giving them
Glad tidings, and warning them
(Against sin), but most men
(Al Qur’an 34:28)
It is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari
“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said every prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to whole of humankind”.
(Sahih Bukhari Vol. 1, Book of Salaah Chapter 56 Hadith 429)
AVTARS AND MESSENGERS IN HINDUISM
1. Avatar according to common Hindus
a. Common Hindus have the following concept of Avatar. Avatar is the Sanskrit term where ‘Av’ means ‘down and ‘tr’ means ’passover’. Thus Avatar means to descend down or to come down. The meaning of Avatar in the oxford Dictionary is, “(In Hindu Mythology) the descent of a deity or released soul to earth in bodily form”. In simple words, Avatar according to common Hindus means Almighty God coming down to earth in bodily form.
A Common Hindu believes that God Almighty comes down to the earth in some bodily form to protect the religion, to set an example or to set the rules for human beings.
There is no reference of Avatars anywhere in the Vedas, the most sacred of the Hindu scriptures i.e. sruti. However it is found in the smrti i.e., the Puranas and the Itihasas.
(b) It is mentioned in the most popular and widely read book of Hinduism
i) Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 4 verse 7-8:
Whenever there is a decay of righteousness, O Bharata,
And a rise of unrighteousness, then I manifest Myself
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the
wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age.
(Bhagavad Geeta 4:7-8)
ii) It is mentioned in Bhagawata Purana
“Whenever there is deterioration in righteousness and waxing of sinfulness,
the glorious lord incarnates himself”
(Bhagawata Purana 9:24:56)
2. No Concept of Avatar but Messenger in Veda and Islam
Islam does not believe that Almighty God takes human forms. He chooses a man amongst men and communicates with them on a higher level to deliver his message to the human beings – such individuals are called Messengers of God.
‘Avatar’, as mentioned earlier, is derived from ‘Av’ and ‘tr’, which means to descend down or come down. Some scholars state that God’s Avatar indicates a possessive case and actually means the coming of a man “who is in special relationship with God”. Mention of such chosen men of God appears in several places in all the four Vedas. Thus if we have to reconcile Bhagavad Gita and Purana with the most authoritative scripture the Vedas, we have to agree that Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas, when they speak about Avatars, they refer to chosen men of God. Islam calls such men Prophets.
ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
a. God need not take human form to understand human beings
Many non-Semitic religions have at some time or the other propounded the belief in the philosophy of anthropomorphism i.e. the concept of God taking human form. Those who believe in it have a seemingly good logic for it. They state that Almighty God is so pure and holy that He is unaware of the hardships, shortcomings, weaknesses, difficulties, feelings, passions, emotions and temptations of human beings. He does not know how a person feels when he or she is hurt or is in trouble. Therefore, in order to set rules of behaviour and conduct for human beings, God came down to earth in the form of a human. On the face of it, this seems to be logical. But we need to examine this.
b. Creator prepares an instruction manual
Suppose I manufacture a tape recorder, do I have to become a tape recorder to know what is good or bad for the tape recorder? The manufacturer does not have to himself play the role of a tape recorder to understand the stress caused by normal usage or even faulty usage of the tape recorder.
Hence, for the users, as the manufacturer, I write an instruction manual. In this manual I state, “in order to listen to an audio-cassette, insert the cassette and press the ‘play’ button. In order to stop, press the ‘stop’ button. If you want to fast forward press the ‘Fast Forward’ button. Do not drop it from a height for it will get damaged. Do not immerse it in water for it will get spoilt”. Manufacturers write an instruction manual or a user manual, which contains the do’s and don’ts for usage of the machine.
c. The Glorious Qur’an is the instruction manual for human beings
In a similar fashion, our Lord and Creator, Allah (s.w.t.) does not need to come to earth in the form of a human being to know what is good or bad for the human beings. He, who has created this vast universe, has complete knowledge of His Creation. He only has to reveal the instruction manual for the benefit of humans. Such a manual from the Creator informs and explains: (i) the purpose and objective of the existence of human beings (ii) who created them and (iii) what they should do and what they should refrain and abstain from in order to get eternal success.
The last and final instruction manual for human beings from their Creator is the Glorious Qur’an.
d. Allah chooses Messengers
Allah (swt) does need to come down personally for writing the instruction manual. He chooses a man amongst men to deliver His message and communicates with him at a higher level through His revelations. Such chosen men are called messengers and prophets of God. God conveys His revelations to such persons.
GOD WILL NOT AND DOES NOT TAKE HUMAN FORM:
a. God cannot do everything:
Some people may argue that God can do everything, then why can he not take human form? If God were to take human form, then He would no longer remain God because the qualities of God and the qualities of human beings are different.
(i) God is immortal. Human beings are mortal.
God is immortal; human beings are mortal. You cannot have a ‘God-man’ i.e. an immortal and mortal being at the same time. It is meaningless.
God does not have a beginning. Human beings have a beginning. You cannot have a person, who does not have a beginning and yet at the same time having a beginning.
God has no end. Humans have an end. You can’t have an entity that has no end and still have an end at the same time. It is meaningless.
(ii) God does not require to eat:
Almighty God does not require to eat. Human beings need to eat. The Glorious Qur’an says in Surah Anam:
And He it is that
Feeds but is not fed.
(Al Qur’an 6:14)
(iii) God does not require rest and sleep:
God does not require rest. Human beings require rest. God does not require sleep. Human beings require sleep. The Glorious Qur’an says in Ayatul Kursi:
Allah! There is no god
But He – the Living,
The Self-subsisting, Eternal.
No slumber can seize Him; nor sleep.
His are all things in the heavens and on earth
(Al Qur’an 2:255)
b. Worshipping another human being is useless:
If God takes human form, he would cease to be god and it is useless to worship a human being, e.g. suppose that I am a student of a very intelligent teacher and I regularly take his guidance and help in my studies. If unfortunately, my teacher meets with an accident and has amnesia i.e. an un-repairable loss of memory, it will be foolish of me to yet seek guidance and help in my studies from him. Because this person no longer has the expertise after the transformation of his memory due to the accident. In a similar fashion how can a human being worship and ask for divine help from a god who has given up his divine qualities and has transformed himself into a human being like you and I? If a person can worship a human being then why not others worship you and also worship so many humans around us?
c. Human beings cannot become God:
So an entity cannot be both: God and a human at the same time. For if God retains His divine powers then He is not a human because humans do not have divine powers. And if God were to become a mortal which is a human quality, then he is no longer God, for God is immortal.
Later on that same human being cannot become God, because it is not possible for human beings to become God. If it was so, you and I too would become God and attain divine powers.
That is the reason why God will never take or rather cannot take human form. The Qur’an speaks against all forms of anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is illogical.
d. God will not do ungodly things:
Islam does not say that God can do anything. Islam says that God has power over all things. Let us understand this with the help of some examples of matters that God cannot do simply because He is Divine.
(i) God will not tell a lie:
God only does Godly things; He does not do ungodly things. God cannot tell a lie. He cannot even have a desire to lie or to make a false statement. God will never, and can never tell a lie because to tell a lie is an ungodly act. The moment God tells a lie, He will cease to be God.
(ii) God will not do any injustice:
God cannot do injustice nor can He even harbour a desire to do an unjust act or take an unjust decision. He will not do it and He cannot do so because being unjust is an ungodly act. The Qur’an says:
“Allah is never unjust in the least degree.”
(Al Qur’an 4:40)
The moment God does injustice He ceases to be God. Please realize that God cannot be God and not-God at the same time!!! He cannot have divine qualities as a Creator, and yet have the mortal qualities and attributes of His Creation.
(iii) God will not make a mistake
Perfection is a quality only of the Creator. His creation can never ever achieve this quality. We can only try to continually improve and excel but we can never ever be perfect.
Hence, can God ever make a mistake? He will never make a mistake. He cannot make a mistake. To err is human. Making a mistake is an ungodly act. Qur’an says, “…My lord never errs.” (Al Qur’an 20:52)
Assuming without accepting that God was to commit a mistake, the moment God makes a mistake He ceases to be God.
(iv) God will not forget:
God will not forget because forgetting is an ungodly act. Qur’an says, “…My lord never errs, nor forgets.” (Al Qur’an 20:52)
The moment God forgets he ceases to be god.
e. God only does Godly things
i. Allah has power over all things
The Glorious Qur’an says in several places
“for verily Allah has power over all things”
This same statement of Divine Wisdom is emphasized for our understanding in:
Surah Baqarah chapter 2 verse 106;
and again in:
In Surah Baqarah chapter 2 verse 109
In Surah Baqarah chapter 2 verse 284
In Surah Ale Imran chapter 3 verse 29
In Surah Nahl chapter 16 verse 77
In Surah Fatir chapter 35 verse 1
ii. Allah is the doer of all, all He intends :
The Glorious Qur’an says,
“Allah is the doer of all he intends.”
(Al Qur’an 85:16)
And by now I am sure you will yourself admit in all humility and sincerity that God only intends Godly things – not unGodly things.
Is it not a better choice, and a truthful one at that, to state that our Creator is free from all such blemishes that ignorant humans ascribe to Him?
For the Glorious Qur’an says:
Say: “Allah is free from all such things that they (unbelievers / polytheists) ascribe to Him”.
Thus we have examined and highlighted similarities between the concept of prophethood, and the attributes of God, in Islam and in Hinduism as mentioned in their respective scriptures. In subsequent articles in the present series, we shall study the similarities between the concept of life after death, fate & destiny and worship in Islam and in Hinduism.
And all praises are for the One and Only God and Creator Allah, who alone is worthy of devotion, complete submission and worship.