“God knows best upon whom (and where, when and in what language)...” (Al-An‘ām 6:124)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-An‘ām (Cattle)

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اللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ حَيْثُ يَجْعَلُ رِسَالَتَهُ

God knows best upon whom (and where, when and in what language) to place His Message. (Al-An‘ām 6:124)

There are many instances of wisdom in the rise of Islam in Makkah and its spread through the world from this blessed city. The verse above, “God knows best upon whom to place His Message,” may be understood from the perspective of Divine appointment of the Messengers as well as with respect to the geological, anthropological, historical, human, spatial and linguistic dimensions of Divine Messengership. Indeed, God Almighty knows best upon whom to place His Message and in which community the Messenger will appear. It is also He Who knows best at what point during religious conflicts and clashes among nations the new religion will emerge. Let us review these points:

1. Human aspect or dimension of Divine Messengership

According to this aspect, the verse means: God the Almighty knows best on whom to bestow the Divine Message or whom to appoint as His Messenger. Many Makkan polytheists regarded those like Walid ibn Mughīrah and Urwa ibn Mas‘ūd ath-Thaqafī as more appropriate for the mission of Messengership. According to their standards of importance, they did not perceive of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, as being equal to them in wealth or status and claimed:

If only this Qur’ān had been sent down on a man of leading position of the two cities (of Makkah and Tā’if—the major cities of the region)! (Az-Zukhruf 43:31)

The Qur’ān responds to their considerations as follows:

Is it they who distribute the mercy of your Lord (so that they may appoint whom they wish as Messenger to receive the Book)? (Moreover, how do they presume to value some above others only because of their wealth or status, when) it is also We Who distribute their means of livelihood among them in the life of this world, and raise some of them above others in degree, so that they may avail themselves of one another’s help? (Az-Zukhruf 43:32)

If everything in human life including the means of livelihood is dependent on the Divine distribution, Divine Messengership, which is the most important matter of human existence, cannot surely be dependent on the opinion of human beings. Since it is God Who wills the spiritual and intellectual revival of human beings and knows with what means they will be revived, He definitely knows who can bear His Message to them in the best way. Therefore, whoever God has appointed for His Messengership, surely he is the one most appropriate for this mission. Those who, like Walid ibn Mughīrah, gossiped about Divine Messengership, had committed the biggest crime intentionally as they belittled our Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Since their crime meant insulting and disparaging the Prophet, they were condemned to be humiliated the most in God’s sight. Thus, the rest of the verse under discussion refers to their evil end, saying:

Soon will an abasement from God’s Presence befall these criminals and a severe punishment for their scheming. (Al-An‘ām 6:124)

This is so because the selection of Prophets belongs to God Almighty exclusively:

God chooses Messengers from among the angels as well as from among human beings. (Al-Hajj 22:75)

If it is God Who chooses and appoints, then what falls upon us is to respect and obey this preference. Otherwise, even a slight dissatisfaction at God’s preference reduces human beings to a despicable level. Also, such people are deprived of the blessings coming through the Prophets; saints; saintly, purified scholars; the godly; and those near-stationed to God. Whoever disrespects God’s choice degrades himself into a position of indignity and becomes deaf and blind to all Divine messages.

The matchless greatness and competence of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, have been admitted through ages. Even all the Makkans admitted his superiority and exceptional moral excellencies before his Prophethood. Moreover, there were many indications and good news about his advent. Indeed, despite all kinds of alterations, according to the study and research of many Islamic scholars, such as Allāmah al-Hindī and Hussayn al-Jisrī, there were as many as 114 signs and glad tidings about Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, in the earlier Divine Scriptures or Books. All of the Prophets from David, Solomon, Moses, John the Baptist, Zachariah to Jesus, peace be upon them all, unanimously gave the good news of the coming of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, as the Last Prophet and told their communities that he would encompass all the excellencies they possessed. With respect to this supreme position of God’s Messenger over all the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, received “the station of full possession of all excellencies.”

Indeed, each of God’s Messengers before Prophet Muhammad had superiority over others in one or some respects. Being the Last Messenger and due to the universality of his Message and Messengership, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, had all these superiorities in his person and mission in the highest degree. There were many aspects in his mission. He was an establisher as he established whatever had to be established in the name of Divine Messengership. He was a corrector as he explained the truth of whatever had been distorted in the Religion. And he became a complete renovator or reviver who revived whatever of the Religion had been lost. No Messenger will come after Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. For once the Divine Religion and Messengership was completed and perfected in universal dimensions, whoever would come after him would only disunite and destroy. Hence, Prophet Muhammad was the final Messenger. Through him, humanity attained the basic points for all aspects of life in thought, feelings, creed, practice, and ways of living. There is no longer a need for a new Messenger and Messengership. Henceforth, all humankind would design and carry out all their vital affairs according to the final standards laid out by this last Messengership.

Another dimension of the matter is as follows: Originally, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was both Prophet and Messenger before all the other Prophets and Messengers. He says, “The first thing that God created was my Light.”[1] In another hadīth, he declares, “I was a Prophet while Adam was between clay and water.”[2] Therefore, in respect to the essence of Prophethood and Messengership from the perspective of Divine Will and Destiny, he existed before anyone in the universe. The Sufi scholars have dealt with this subject under the title of the Haqīqah Ahmadiyah (The Truth of Muhammad as Ahmad) as his name before his coming into the world was Ahmad, and it has been elaborated on at length. The Sufis have also considered this Truth as the truth of the universe, and they have meant by this the exceptional greatness of our Prophet and his being favored with the greatest Messengership.

The following issue is also worth discussing: Nobody has ever been and will ever be able to reach the point that the Beloved Prophet reached in respect to the quality and quantity of the light he has ceaselessly spread, and we have received the Message of the Prophet without the slightest change. This is the most manifest sign of his and his Message’s exceptional greatness. For there are many religions throughout the globe, and in all of these religions, the Divine Message has been distorted and altered to certain extents in the course of time. It is only in Islam that the Divine Message preserves itself with all its truth and with all its dimensions.

2. Spatial aspect of Divine Messengership

The verse, “God knows best upon whom (and where) to place His Message” is full of wisdom with respect to Divine Messengership that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, appeared in Makkah. As it is well known, Makkah surrounds the navel (center) of the earth. The Ka‘bah is the navel or central point of the earth and the heart of all existence. According to the people of spiritual unveiling, the Ka‘bah was created together with the Beloved Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. The Truth of the Ka‘bah is identical to the Truth of (Prophet Muhammad as) Ahmad, upon him be peace and blessings. Since the person of Prophet Muhammad was apparently a worldly being, some saints went wrong by asserting that the truth of the Ka‘bah is ahead of the Truth of Muhammad. However, the fact is that the Truth of Muhammad is never secondary to the Truth of the Ka‘bah. These are like the two sides to one coin. Therefore, if a universal Divine Message is to be represented in any place on the earth, it is certain that the place should be the Ka‘bah, which mothered Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. It must be because of this that the Qur’ān calls Makkah as “Ummu’l Qurā” (The Mother of Towns).[3] Truly, Makkah became the native town of the Prophet, raising him in it like a womb. Similarly, Moses received the Divine Message concerning the Children of Israel not at Aykah in Midian, where he spent many years after he fled from Egypt, or any other place, but at the holy site of Mount Sinai, which would resonate with Judaism. Thus, a universal Message for all humankind like the Qur’ān would be manifested in and spread throughout the world from the town where the Ka‘bah is located, and it happened so.

Another aspect of this point is as follows: Makkah is a quite strategic and significant town. Especially with respect to the time when it was honored with the Divine Message, it was a place where or around which the waves rising from the countries around and the superpowers of the time met and collided. Besides, both Makkah and Madīnah are among the cities which became cradles for many ancient civilizations such as Sheba (Saba’) and Ahqaf. According to what history tells us, a person who set off from Yemen would arrive in the Hijaz (where Makkah and Madīnah are) without seeing the sun. The region was utterly green and full of forests. The Qur’ān mentions the dwelling places of the civilization of Sheba as surrounded by paradisiacal gardens.[4]

While being cradles for some ancient civilizations, Makkah and Madīnah were also open to the two great civilizations of the Sassanid and Roman Empires. The Roman culture met with the ancient Egyptian culture through the channel of Antioch (Antakya) and the historical city of Alexandria came out. Rome was the superpower of that time. Sūratu’r-Rūm, the thirtieth Qur’anic chapter, was revealed during the fighting years of the Byzantine Romans and the Sassanids and told about the phases of this war in its initial verses. During the years when our Prophet was born, the Sassanid Empire ruled in Yemen. Provoked by the Sassanid government, its Abyssinian governor Abrahah ibn Sabāh attacked Makkah in an attempt to destroy the Ka‘bah. His army had a number of war elephants. Abrahah had erected a great temple in San‘a, hoping to attract the Arab pilgrims from Makkah to his own territory. But his army was utterly defeated through the extraordinary help of God Almighty, Who has made this sacred city of Makkah al-baladi’l-‘amīn—“the city of security,”[5] and thus protected its dwellers from fear.

It can be said from this perspective that the Arabian Peninsula was the most suitable place for conveying the universal message of Islam. Truly, a Message which would address the whole world would be delivered from such a place so that it could spread to the entire world as soon as its existence was realized. Makkah and Madīnah had all these advantages. As soon as the truth of Messengership stood on its feet, it immediately came across the two greatest cultures and civilizations of the time (the Romans and the Sassanids), and through them it encountered a variety of nations. Then, it reached the doors of Europe through one of them and as far as inland of the Asian continent through the other in a very short time. Thus, it fulfilled its mission universally and swiftly.

Makkah was also a big trade center during that time. Traders from different parts of the world used to visit Makkah frequently for trading or importing or exporting. As it is stated in the Qur’ān as well, Makkah was pretty convenient for organizing trading caravans to the regions of Damascus and Yemen in each season.[6] Furthermore, Makkah was like the heart of that region in terms of trading. Even the Jews, who controlled the trade in Madīnah until then, could no longer do business there when the Muslims of Makkah immigrated to Madīnah. This fact indicates that the people of Makkah knew the social and cultural structure of the superpowers of the time very well owing to their trading relationship with the world. We understand more clearly today that knowing the general and social characteristics of a people and becoming aware of their interests and concerns are very important in order to identify their economic and financial structures and to enter into relations with them. Therefore, it was by means of their commercial relations that the Makkan people had recognized the culture of the surrounding peoples and the states very well. This fact provided a suitable basis for the Messengership of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, which would appear later on.

The emergence of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, with a universal message around the Ka‘bah, the projection of Sidrah upon the earth, and its surrounding Makkah was so important that if it had emerged in another place, the entire order would have been corrupted and all the advantages provided by Makkah and Madīnah would have been lost.

Additionally, I should point out that the emergence of the Message in the middle of a scorching desert had another advantage. That desert had consumed and terminated many Napoleons, Hitlers, Rommels, and the like. The first Muslim warriors, who had become used to the boiling heat and hardships of the desert, won each war they fought and became victorious. Those warriors crossed the passages by running while others crept across. For example, if the fighters of the Battle of Tabuk, which took place in the ninth year of the Madīnah period of the Messengership of the Prophet, had been from Turkey or Damascus, most probably, they could not have breathed in the hot air of the desert and would have been ruined.

Another point to mention concerning the spatial dimension of the Divine Messengership is that since the Arab Peninsula is a dry desert, the then grand states did not have their eyes on that area. Petroleum and other precious elements had not been known yet either. Greens were rare. Because of all these and similar other reasons, Makkah and Madīnah were not lands appealing for discovery or occupation, except trading, and remained safe from the exploitation of other states.

Actually, general governors, at times, were sent by the superpowers of the time to these blessed places. However, there could be neither gains nor losses for them in those regions. Therefore, the cultures of other areas were not able to blur the uncontaminated ideas of their people. Hence, Islam was able to keep its own creeds pure and uninfluenced by other civilizations and cultures, and it spread them easily and in their pristine purity. If, conversely, Makkah and Madīnah had been influenced by the foreign cultures and ideologies of the time, the conveying of Islam to other peoples would have encountered many difficulties. Indeed, the Islamic culture flowed through the civilized areas of the time and accumulated like a pure water source. Neither the Sassanid’s nor Rome’s pagan creeds could leak into the pure and crystal clear wellspring of Divine Messengership. As the Arabic expression says, “Buckets do not make it dirty,” the buckets dipped into that pure water could not make turbid this Revelation-based wellspring, which comes from a blessed source, and is preserved under absolute quarantine and security.

To sum up, both having in it the projection of Sidrah on the earth (i.e., the Ka‘bah), and being important in terms of its geographical location among the old world continents, Makkah was unique to host and entertain the universal Divine Messengership. Even though the Divine Message spread through other areas and found different centers for strategic reasons in the succeeding periods, Makkah and Madīnah enjoyed the uniqueness of being the places where it first emerged and was established. Other cities such as Damascus and especially Baghdad and Istanbul were capitals of the Islamic civilization for long periods and centers for its proliferation for a long time. Istanbul, in particular, played the greatest role in inheriting the mission of Messengership and preserving the legacy of the Islamic Message. Nonetheless, Makkah and Madīnah always kept their supremacy as blessed and beloved places, even during the years when Islam was represented by Istanbul.

3. Linguistic aspect of the Divine Message

Just like the verse, “God knows best upon whom (and in what language) to place His Message,” there exists many verses throughout the Qur’ān stating clearly that the Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic. This fact proves the exceptional position of the Arabic language, especially in that era. Arabic was living its golden age when the Qur’ān was revealed. Actually, there is a golden age for every language. For instance, the Elizabethan era or the present age can be considered to be the golden age of English. They did not commit the error that we did in language by alienating ourselves against our past and narrowing down our vocabulary. English has remained open to borrowing words from other languages and interaction with various other cultures. The English people have always been respectful of the Elizabethan era. Likewise, the era of Qur’anic revelation may be considered the golden age of the Arabic language, when its grammatical, semantic, lexical, and stylistic dimensions were established, and even the simplest expressions were almost wonders of art. The Qur’ān was revealed in the dialects of the Mudar Clan and the Quraysh Tribe. Yet, it was open to various other dialects as well.

A great number of people to date have worked on the literary aspect of the Qur’ān. Also, many great scholars have come out in this area. Abdu’l-Qāhir al-Jurjāni, as-Sakkāki, az-Zamakhshārī, Muhammad Sādiq ar-Rāfi‘ī, Sayyed Qutb, and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi—the author of Ishārātu’l I‘jāz (Signs of Miraculousness)—are only a few among those great scholars.

Since the time of its revelation, the Qur’ān has always challenged its opponents with its eloquence and miraculousness. Many litterateurs and people of eloquence have tried to imitate the Qur’ān, yet all of them have been bitterly frustrated. On the other hand, many friends of the Qur’ān have beautified their words, poems, and articles with its verses, yet those people have never achieved the exact beauty of the Qur’ān. Recited today by hundreds of millions, the Qur’ān smiles at us from the highest point of the heaven of Revelation like a most shiny star and tells us the inimitability of its way of expression. A lot of poets and litterateurs during the years of its Revelation were enchanted by the words of the Qur’ān and submitted to it by listening to it only once. Many others such as Walid ibn Mughīrah, Utba ibn Walid, and Abū Jahl were charmed by it despite their severe antagonism, and they could not attempt to compete with even one of its verses. ‘Umar, who once said, “I can read a thousand couplets from memory from the literary legacy of the (pre-Islamic) Age of Ignorance without stopping,” was fascinated by the Qur’ān when he heard Sūrah Tā-Hā recited in his sister’s house when he was on his way to kill the Prophet, and he went to the Prophet ready to believe. According to the reports, everyone in Makkah was so familiar with poetry that if one stopped any person on a street and asked them, they could recite poems from memory for hours.

While the Qur’ān was being sent down as the Book of a new Religion, it was being revealed in such an immensely rich language with literary beauty and profundity. It had such a literary style and layers of meaning that it satisfied everyone with all levels of knowledge and understanding from an ordinary desert person to the experts of literature and sciences. Together with a desert person pasturing their camels, the most outstanding people of literature and sciences used to recite the Qur’ān with an indescribable enthusiasm and pleasure.

As it is stated in the verse under discussion, it is absolutely true that God is He Who knows best upon whom and in what language to place His Message. The Qur’ān was revealed in such a language and literary style that if a jurist refers to it, they suffer no troubles in achieving their goal. Likewise, an administrator, a theologian, or a commentator can easily find the fine points of their own specialized area in the Qur’ān and are enlightened. This is so despite the fact that each science—whether it is law or literature or theology or physics or the Qur’anic commentary and exegesis—has its own language. The Qur’ān considers all of these at the same time without injuring even their finest points, principles, and rules. Here we find the history of Islam, Islamic jurisprudence, schools of law, schools of literature, schools of thought, schools of the Qur’anic commentary and exegesis, and schools of other sciences, which have brought up thousands of specialists and experts. All of these schools have had their sources in the Qur’ān and have produced plenty of works because of it.

Indeed, God, the Almighty, is He Who “knows best upon whom, where, and in what language, to place His Message.” Actually it is most fitting here to say, “God is the only One Who knows upon whom, where, and in what language, to place His Message.” Besides Him nobody has the right to decide on this matter. It is, as the verse continues, abasement in this world and a severe punishment in the Hereafter that await those who want to interfere in God’s choice.[7]

[1] Al-‘Ajlūnī, Kashfu’l-Khafā, 1/265.
[2] Ibid, 2/129–130, 132.
[3] See sūrahs al-An‘ām 6:92; ash-Shūrā 42:7.
[4] See Sūratu’s-Saba’ 34:15.
[5] Sūratu’t-Tīn 95:3.
[6] See Sūrah Quraysh 106:2.
[7] Sūratu’l-An‘ām 6:124.