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Removing Doubts

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in The Messenger of God: Muhammad

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Some Qur'anic verses appear to reprimand certain Prophets or entertain the possibility that a Prophet can sin, according to the usual definition of that word. Before clarifying specific examples, it may be appropriate to acquit the Prophets of such accusations.

Genesis 19:30-38 states that Prophet Lot's two daughters caused him to get drunk so that he would impregnate them. Such a charge against a Prophet is beyond belief. Lot's people (Sodom and Gomorra) were destroyed by God for their sexual immorality. Even the Bible says that Lot and his daughters were the only ones spared, because of their belief, good conduct, and decency. This supposed "sin" of Prophet Lot is worse than the sin of his people, which caused God to destroy them!

In Genesis 38:15-18, Judah, a son of Jacob, is supposed to have engaged in sexual relations with his daughter-in-law. This woman, in turn, gave birth to twin boys. Some of the Israelite Prophets were descended from them. Genesis 49:4 also claims that Jacob's other son, Reuben, slept with his father's wife (Reuben's step-mother).

Neither the sons of Jacob, whom the Qur'an mentions as "grandchildren" whose ways should be followed, nor his wives could have engaged such a behavior. Our Prophet explicitly declared that there is not a single case of fornication in his lineage back to Adam, [1] and that all Prophets are brothers descended from the same father. [2] Our Prophet is a descendant of Abraham, as were Judah and the other Israelite Prophets. Thus, how could any of them be the result of an improper sexual alliance?

II Samuel 11 records that Prophet David fell in love with the wife of a commander and committed adultery with her. According to the Bible, he then had her husband sent to the front line and, after he was killed, married her.

David is a Prophet who was given a Divine Scripture (the Psalms) and who is praised in the Qur'an for his sincere and profound devotion to God:

Be patient with them, and remember Our servant David, the man of strength and abilities, who always turned to God in sincere devotion and submission. We made the mountains declare, in unison with him, Our praises, at eventide and at the break of day, and the birds gathered (in assemblies): all with him did turn to Him (in profound devotion). We strengthened his kingdom and gave him wisdom and sound judgment (in speech and decision). (38:17-20)

Though a king, he lived a simple life by his own labor. He had such a great awareness of God that he cried a great deal and fasted every other day. Our Prophet recommended this type of fast to some Companions who asked about the most rewarding type of supererogatory fasting. [3] Could such a noble Prophet ever commit adultery with a married woman, plot her husband's death, and then marry her?

In I Kings 11:1-8, despite God's command: "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods," Prophet Solomon is accused of marrying many foreign women belonging to pagan nations and following their gods and goddesses (idols). Would a Prophet be able to commit such a grievous sin as following the idols and deities of other tribes?

If the Qur'an had not been revealed, we would not be sure whether the previous Prophets really were sincere, devout, and thankful servants of God. The Qur'an frees Jesus from his followers' mistaken deification of him and from his own people's denial of his Prophethood, and explains that God had no sons and daughters. It also clears the Israelite and non-Israelite Prophets of their supposed "sins" mentioned in the Bible. It presents Jesus as a spirit from God breathed into the Virgin Mary, Abraham as an intimate friend of God, Moses as one who spoke to God, and Solomon as a king and a Prophet who prayed to Him humbly:

O my Lord, order me that I may be grateful for your favors, which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please You. Admit me, by Your Grace, to the ranks of Your righteous servants. (27:19)

Solomon never worshipped idols or committed a sin. Despite being the greatest and most powerful king that ever lived, he remained a humble servant of God until his death.

Several other assertions are equally impossible to accept. For example: The Bible claims that although Prophet Isaac wanted to bless his older son Esau, he mistakenly blessed Jacob, for he could not see through his wife Rebaka's trick (Genesis 27). Also, the Bible claims that Prophet Jacob wrestled with God, who appeared to him in the form of a man (Genesis 32:24-30).

Individual examples. A small minority of Muslim scholars have asserted that the Prophets may have committed insignificant sins (zalla: error or lapse). To prove their assertion, they cite some examples from the lives of Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Joseph.

Before elaborating upon this, it should be noted that lapses and sins have totally different definitions. Sin, for example, means disobedience to God's Commands. When the Prophets were faced with a question that they could not answer, they tended to wait for Revelation. On rare occasions, however, they used their own reason to decide the matter, as they were the foremost mujtahids (jurists of the highest rank who can deduce laws from the principles established by the Qur'an and the Sunna). They might have erred in their judgments or decisions. However, such errors, which were immediately corrected by God, are not sins.

Moreover, the Prophets always sought God's good pleasure and tried to obtain whatever was best. If, for some reason, they could not obtain the best but had to settle for the better, a very rare event, this does not mean that they sinned. For example: Suppose you must decide whether to recite the Qur'an in 10 days while giving due attention to each verse, or recite it in 7 days to express your deep love of the Word of God. If you choose the first option without knowing that God's greater pleasure lies in the second, you cannot be considered guilty of a sin. So, a Prophet's preference of what is better instead of the best is not a sin. However, because of his position before Him, God might sometimes reproach him mildly.

Now, we will clarify some individual examples in the lives of certain Prophets.

Adam. Adam was in the Garden before his worldly life. While therein, God told him and his wife Eve not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree. They disobeyed Him in this matter, and so were expelled from the Garden and commanded to live on earth.

Although Qur'anic interpreters differ on what the prohibited fruit was, it was most probably the human inclination toward the opposite sex. Satan approached Adam and Eve, saying that it was a tree of eternity and of a kingdom that would never decay, the fruit of which had been prohibited to them (20:120). Most probably knowing that they were mortal, Adam and Eve must have desired eternity through offspring, as such a desire is inherent in people. This also can be deduced from:

Then Satan whispered to them so that he might show to them that which was hidden from them of their shame. He said: "Your Lord forbade you this tree only lest you should become angels or become immortal." And he swore to them (saying): "Truly, I am a sincere adviser to you." Thus did he lead them by a deceit. When they tasted of the tree, their shame was shown to them and they began to cover (by placing) on themselves some leaves of the Garden... (7:20-22).

Even if we accept Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit as a lapse, it is difficult to regard it as deliberate or sustained disobedience or revolt against God, which might lead us to see the Prophets as fallible. First, Adam was not a Prophet while in the Garden. Second, this lapse was the result not of willful disobedience, but merely some sort of forgetfulness. Concerning this, the Qur'an says: We had made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot, and we found on his part no firm resolve (20:115).

Sins committed because of forgetfulness will not be accounted for in the Hereafter. The Prophet said: "My community is exempt from being questioned about forgetting, unintentional errors, and what they are compelled to do." The Qur'an teaches us this prayer: Our Lord, don't condemn us if we forget or fall into error (2:286).

Adam did not make this lapse deliberately. Although some have read into this verse Adam's lack of determination to fulfill his covenant with God, the context does not allow such an interpretation. Adam and Eve turned to God immediately after their lapse and, in sincere repentance, entreated Him: Our Lord, we have wronged our own selves. If you don't forgive us and don't bestow Your Mercy upon us, we certainly shall be among the lost (7:23).

Destiny had a part in Adam's lapse. God had destined him to be His vicegerent on Earth, even before his creation and settlement in the Garden. This is explicit in the Qur'an:

Behold, your Lord said to the angels: "I will make a vicegerent on Earth." They asked: "Will you make therein one who will make mischief and shed blood, while we celebrate Your praises and glorify You?" He said: "I know what you know not" (2:30)

God's Messenger also points to that truth in a hadith:

Adam and Moses met each other in Heaven. Moses said to Adam: "You are the father of humanity, but you caused us to come down to Earth from the Garden." Adam replied: "You are the one whom God addressed directly. Did you not see this sentence in the Torah: 'Adam had been destined to eat of that fruit 40 years before he ate of it?'"

After reporting this meeting, God's Messenger added three times: "Adam silenced Moses." [4]

Adam's life in the Garden and his trial were preliminaries he had to pass through before his earthly life. He passed these tests. Being chosen and rescued from the swamp of sin and deviation, he was made a Prophet and honored with being the father of thousands of Prophets, including Prophet Muhammad, and millions of saints: Then his Lord chose him; He relented toward him, and rightly guided him (20:122).

Noah. Prophet Noah called his people to the religion of God for 950 years. When they insisted on unbelief and persisted in their wrongdoing, God told him to build the Ark. After completing this task, Noah placed therein, according to God's command, a male and female of each animal, all his family members (except for those whom God already had said He would punish), and the believers (11:40).

When the Ark was floating through the mountain-high waves, Noah saw that one of his sons had not boarded the Ark. He called to him, but his son rejected his call, saying: I will betake myself to some mountain and it will save me from the water (11:43). When Noah saw his son drowning, he called out to God: My Lord, my son is of my family! Your promise is true, and You are the Most Just of Judges (11:45). God replied: O Noah, he is not of your family, for his conduct is unrighteous. Do not ask of Me that of which you have no knowledge. I give you counsel, lest you should act like the ignorant (11:46).

Some scholars have regarded Noah's appeal as a sin. However, it is difficult to agree with them. Noah is mentioned in the Qur'an as one of the five greatest Prophets, and is described as resolute and steadfast. He thought his son was a believer. It is well known that the religion of God tells us to judge according to outward appearances. Thus, those who profess belief and appear to perform the religious duties of primary importance (e.g., prescribed prayers and alms-giving) are treated as believers. This is why Prophet Muhammad treated the Hypocrites as if they were Muslims. Apparently, Noah's son hid his unbelief until the Flood, for it was Noah himself who had prayed beforehand that God should forgive him, his parents, and all who entered his house in faith, and all believing men and believing women, and grant to the wrongdoers no increase but perdition (71:28).

God accepted his prayer and told him to board the Ark with his family, except those who had already deserved punishment because of their willful insistence on unbelief. Noah's wife was among those who drowned. Noah did not ask God to save her, for he either knew or was informed that she was an unbeliever. He must have thought his son was a believer. As such, he felt compelled to express, in a manner befitting a Prophet, his astonishment that God had let him drown. This is why God replied to him as He did (11:46).

Noah, like every other Prophet, was kind-hearted and caring. Every Prophet sacrificed himself for the good of humanity and made tireless efforts to guide people toward the truth and true happiness in both worlds. Concerning Prophet Muhammad's attitude in this respect, God says: You would nearly kill yourself following after them, in grief, if they believe not in this Message (18:6).

Noah appealed to his people for 950 years, never once relenting. It is natural for a Prophet, a father, to show disappointment when he learns that his son is among the unbelievers who have been condemned to punishment in both worlds. But since God is the Most Just and Most Compassionate, Noah immediately turned to Him and sought refuge with Him, lest he should ask Him for that of which he had no knowledge: O my Lord, I seek refuge with you, lest I should ask You for that of which I have no knowledge. Unless You forgive me and have mercy on me, I shall be lost (11:47).

Abraham. Abraham, the "intimate friend of God," was one of the greatest Prophets. God's Messenger took pride and pleasure in his connection with him, saying: "I am the one whose coming Abraham prayed for and Jesus gave glad tidings of, and I resemble my forefather Abraham more than anyone else." He was thrown into fire because of his belief in One God, and the fire became, by God's Will and Power, coolness and a means of safety for him.

Like all Prophets, Abraham never even thought of worshipping that which was not God. Despite this fact, various erroneous and untrue stories have found their way into some Qur'anic commentaries. They have come from a misunderstanding of the following verses:

When the night covered him over, he saw a star and said: "This is my Lord." But when it set, he said: "I don't love those that set." When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said: "This is my Lord." But when it set, he said: "Unless my Lord guides me, I surely will be among those who go astray." When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said: "This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all)." But when the sun set, he said: "O my people, I am free from your ascribing partners to God. I have set my face toward Him Who created the Heavens and the Earth, a man of pure faith and one by nature upright. I am not among those who associate partners with God." (6:76-79)

These verses clearly show that Abraham tried, by way of analogy, to convince his people that no heavenly body could be God. Abraham lived among the Chaldeans of northern Mesopotamia, a people who knew a great deal about heavenly bodies and who worshipped them, along with many other idols. Abraham first argued with his father, telling him that no idol was worthy of worship: Abraham once said to his father Azar: "Do you take idols for gods? Surely I see you and your people in manifest deviation" (6:74).

Since Azar was the local idol maker, Abraham began his mission by opposing him. After that, he sought to guide his people to the truth. Since they had a great knowledge of heavenly bodies, God instructed him in such matters and showed him various hidden metaphysical realities so that he might attain complete certainty in belief and convince his people of their deviation: So also did We show Abraham the inner dimensions of, and the metaphysical realities behind, the Heavens and the Earth, that he might have certainty (6:75).

While traveling in mind and heart through heavenly bodies, Abraham began by telling his people that a star could not be God because it sets. Although the superstitious might read fortunes into it or attribute some influence to it, true knowledge shows that it rises and sets according to God's laws, and that its light is extinguished in the broader light of day. So why should anyone worship stars?

His second step in this analogy was to show that the moon, although looking brighter and bigger than a star, could not be God. This is because it sets like a star, changes its shape from hour to hour, and depends on some other heavenly body for its light. At this point, Abraham openly declared that he had been guided by his Lord, and that those who did not worship only Him had gone astray.

Abraham's final analogy showed that the sun could not be worshipped as God, for despite its size and light, it also disappears from sight. Thus, worshipping created phenomena is pure folly. After rejecting the worship of creation, Abraham declared his faith: I have set my face toward Him Who created the Heavens and the Earth, a man of pure faith and one by nature upright. I am not among those who associate partners with God (6:79).

So, it is a great mistake to infer from these verses that Abraham took heavenly bodies as God in the early phase of his life.

Abraham's second supposed fault or lapse is that he appealed to God to show him how He revives the dead. Concerning this, the Qur'an says: Behold! Abraham said: "My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead." He asked: "Do you not believe?" He said: "Yes, but to set my heart at rest" (2:260).

In a hadith, God's Messenger says that 70,000 veils separate God from humanity. This implies that our journey toward God is endless, and that people have different degrees of knowledge and understanding as well as varying capacities for spiritual and intellectual satisfaction. Since God is infinite, unbounded in His Attributes and Names, each individual can obtain only some knowledge of Him and attain some degree of satisfaction (according to his or her capacity).

Abraham had one of the greatest capacities, and therefore needed to increase in knowledge of God every day to attain full spiritual satisfaction. The Prophets, like every other human being, were in a constant process of spiritual and intellectual growth. Considering each previous stage of growth inadequate, they incessantly pursued further degrees of conviction. For this reason, God's Messenger asked God's forgiveness about 100 times a day and frequently entreated Him, saying: "Glory be to You, we have not been able to know You as Your knowledge requires, O Known One! Glory be to You, we have not been able to worship You as Your worship requires, O Worshipped One!"

Once Muhyi al-Din ibn al-'Arabi met Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi and asked him: "Who is greater: Prophet Muhammad, who says: 'Glory be to You, we have not been able to know You as Your knowledge requires, O Known One,' or Bayazid al-Bistami, who says [in an instance of entranced ecstasy]: 'Glory be to me, how exalted I am!'?" Mawlana's reply also answers those who try to find fault with Abraham: "Both utterances show to what extent our Prophet is greater than Bayazid. Our Prophet's heart or soul was like an ocean, so deep and vast that it could not be satisfied. But Bayazid's soul, in comparison, was like a pitcher-easy to fill and quick to overflow."

In order to remove any possible doubt concerning Abraham's conviction, God's Messenger once said: "If Abraham's conviction contained a doubt, we are more liable to doubt than him."

Abraham's whole life was a constant struggle against unbelief and polytheism. On only three occasions did he ever use allusions. In other words, he chose to divert his audience's attention to something else by making indirect references to the truth. He did this either to avoid harassment or explain a religious truth in simpler terms. Since, however, some scholars consider these allusions to be lies, we must clarify them here.

The first allusion: When his people wanted him to accompany them to their religious celebration, he cast a glance at the stars and said he was sick.

Abraham was not physically sick, but the grief that he might be associated with his people's falsehoods was preying on his mind and soul. It was impossible for him to worship idols; rather, he was determined to destroy them. Once, to avoid participating in their ceremonies, he told them he was sick and, after they left, smashed their idols. This was not a lie, for he truly was sick of their idols and idolatry. This is why he did what he did. The Qur'an praises him for this deed:

Among those who followed Noah's way was Abraham. He came unto his Lord with a pure, sound heart. He said to his father and his people: "What do you worship? Do you desire a falsehood, gods other than God? What, then, is your opinion of the Lord of the Worlds?" Then he cast a glance at the stars, and said: "I am indeed sick!" So they turned away from him and departed. Then he turned to their gods and asked: "Why don't you eat [of the offerings before you]? Why don't you speak?" Then he turned upon them, striking them with might (and breaking them). (37:83-93)

The second allusion: Abraham uses irony to make his point.

As we read in the Qur'an:

We bestowed on Abraham his rectitude before, and were well acquainted with him. He asked his father and his people: "What are these images to which you are (so assiduously) devoted in worship?" They replied: "We found our fathers worshipping them." He said: "Clearly, both you and your fathers have deviated (from the truth)." They said: "Have you brought us the truth, or are you joking with us?" He replied: "No, your Lord is the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth, He who created them. I am a witness [to this truth]. By God, I have a plan for your idols after you go away and turn your backs." So he broke them to pieces, (all) but the biggest, that they might turn to it. They exclaimed: "Who has done this to our gods? He must indeed be some evil-doer!" They said: "We have heard a youth talk of them: Abraham." They replied: "Bring him before the people, that they may bear witness." They asked him: "Did you do this to our gods, Abraham?" He answered: "No. He did it. This is their biggest one. Ask them, if they can speak!" (21:51-63)

Some consider Abraham's final reply to be a lie. The truth is, it is an example of biting irony. Abraham wanted his people to understand that things that cannot speak or do them any harm or good are unworthy of worship. He was so successful in this attempt that his people, unable to refute his reasoning, could find no way to protect their idols other than by throwing him into the fire.

Abraham did not say that the idols had been broken by the biggest one. Look at his answer carefully. He said: "He did it," and then stopped-there is a significant stop in the reading of the verse-and then continued: "This is their biggest one!" Therefore, the phrase He did it alludes to the one who broke the idols, but diverted the audience's attention to the biggest one with: This is their biggest one!

Once, God's Messenger told an old woman that old people will not enter Paradise. When he saw that his words distressed her greatly, he clarified the irony: "Because they will enter it as young people." This is, in a way, similar to what Abraham did and so is not a lie.

The third allusion: Abraham and his wife Sarah

In a hadith, and also in the Bible (Genesis 20:2-14), we read that Abraham wanted his wife Sarah to reply to those who asked that she was his sister, not his wife. According to the Bible, Abraham did this because he would have been killed if her true identity were known. This is not a lie, for as declared in the Qur'an, all believers are brothers or sisters to each other.

In conclusion, Abraham never lied. If he had done so, he would have been reproached by God. However, the Qur'an never mentions that God reproached him for lying. On the contrary, his allusions are mentioned where God praises him in the Qur'an. For this reason, the Prophetic Tradition about those allusions should not be treated literally.

Abraham's supposed lapse

Abraham began his mission by calling upon his father Azar, the local idol maker, to abandon idolatry and turn toward God, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. When his father refused to do so, he left him, saying that he would ask God to forgive him. He kept his promise: Forgive my father, for he is one of those who go astray (26:86).

Some consider this a lapse, for after all his father was an unbeliever. However, it is difficult to regard it as a lapse, for Abraham was a Prophet deputed by God to call people to the truth and salvation. Like every Prophet, it grieved him to see any of God's servants not following His way to happiness and salvation in both worlds. We can discern in the following verses just how much he desired his father to be guided:

(Also) mention in the Book (the story of) Abraham: He was a man of truth, a Prophet. He asked his father: "My father, why do you worship that which cannot hear or see, and which cannot benefit you? There has come to me that knowledge which has not reached you, so follow me. I will guide you to a straight, even way. Don't serve Satan, for Satan is a rebel against the Most Merciful. O father, I fear lest a penalty afflict you from the Most Merciful, so that you become a friend to Satan." (19:41-45)

It was Abraham's duty to call people to worship God, despite their persistent rejection. Although the Qur'an openly stated that: As to those who do not believe, it is the same to them whether you warn them or not, for they will not believe (2:6), God's Messenger never gave up warning them. Besides calling his father to the truth, Abraham prayed for him until, as stated in the Qur'an, he realized that his father was an enemy of God. When he was convinced of this fact, he dissociated himself from him. God mentions this not as a lapse on Abraham's part, but as a virtue, saying: For Abraham was most tender-hearted, forbearing (9:114).

God also mentions Abraham's conduct as an excellent example to follow: There is for you an excellent example (to follow) in Abraham and those with him. They said to their people: "We are free of you and whatever you worship besides God. We have rejected you, and there has arisen enmity and hatred forever between us and you, unless you believe in God and Him alone." But Abraham said to his father: "I will pray for forgiveness for you, although I have no power (to get) anything on your behalf from God."-Our Lord! In You we have put our trust, and to You we turn in repentance; to You is the final return. (60:4)

As indicated above, Abraham prayed for his father's forgiveness because he had promised to do so (9:114). When he saw that his father was determined to persist in his unbelief, he dissociated himself from him and no longer sought his forgiveness.

Finally, it should be noted here that some Qur'anic interpreters do not consider Azar to be Abraham's father. Although it is not a defect on the part of Abraham to descend from an unbelieving father, for God Almighty brings forth the living out of the dead, and brings forth the dead out of the living (3:27), the Qur'an always uses the word ab (which in addition to father can mean uncle, step-father, foster-father, or grandfather) for Azar.

Although he was told not to seek forgiveness for Azar, the Qur'an mentions that in his old age he prayed: Our Lord, forgive me, my parents, and all believers on the day that the Reckoning will be established (14:41). In this prayer, he uses walid (the one who begot him) for father. It is therefore quite possible that Azar was not the one who begot him. According to the Bible, Abraham's real father was Terah. However, God knows best.

Joseph. Prophet Joseph is exalted in the Qur'an as an example of chastity. In his childhood, his envious brothers threw him down a well and left him there. A passing caravan found him and later sold him as a slave to a high official (probably a minister) of the Egyptian court. The Bible gives his name as Potiphar Genesis 37:36).

Joseph came from a family of Prophets. When someone told God's Messenger that he was a noble man, the Messenger alluded to this fact, saying: "The noble one, son of a noble one who is the son of a noble one who is the son of a noble one. This is Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, the intimate friend of God." Joseph was still a child in the well, when God revealed to him that he would one day tell his brothers the truth of what they had done (12:15). Therefore, from the beginning he was protected from all vice.

Joseph, an exceptionally handsome young man, soon came to the attention of his master's wife. Eventually, she fell in love with him. In the words of the ladies of the capital city, quoted by the Qur'an, Joseph inspired her with passionate love (12:30). She tried to seduce him by locking the doors and calling him to come to her. But Joseph, having been given knowledge, sound judgment, and discernment by God, replied immediately: God forbid! Truly my Lord has treated me honorably. Assuredly, wrongdoers never prosper (12:23).

Prophet Joseph had attained the rank of ihsan, which God's Messenger describes as the believer's ability to worship as if seeing God in front of him or her. In other words, at every instant he was aware of God watching him. He also was one whom God had made sincere, pure-hearted, and of pure intention. Therefore, it is inconceivable that he would betray God's blessings by succumbing to this temptation. If he had taken only one step in this direction, he would have become a wrongdoer. Or, if by "my lord" he meant his master, he would have been a wrongdoer if he had violated his master's trust.

While narrating the rest of the story, the Qur'an says:

Certainly, she burnt inwardly because of him; and he burnt inwardly because of her until he saw the evidence of his Lord: thus We did that we might turn away from him all evil and shameful deeds. For he was one of Our servants, made beforehand sincere and pure. (12:24)

Unfortunately, the sentence translated here as she burnt inwardly because of him; and he burnt inwardly because of her until he saw the evidence of his Lord, has been misunderstood by some interpreters of the Qur'an to mean "she desired, and was moved toward him; and he desired, and was moved toward her, but just at that point he saw the evidence of his Lord and stopped." Some have embellished the evidence of his Lord with such flights of fancy as Jacob appearing with his hand on his lips and saving his son from a grave sin.

More than a misunderstanding, this is a slander against a Prophet who was honored and presented by God as "a most excellent model of chastity," and by God's Messenger as the noblest of all. To remove all such doubts, we will analyze hamma, which we have translated literally as "to burn inwardly," for this word has confused some interpreters.

Hamma literally means "to suffer, burn, be troubled inwardly, and be consumed with passion and longing." There is a principle in the sciences of morphology and semantics that the first and most common meaning of a word is preferred, unless an inconsistency or inconformity appears in the context. This principle, together with two other principles to be explained below, make it impossible to take hamma in its first meaning:

One: Joseph and this lady were worlds apart with respect to their beliefs, ambitions, characters, and ways of life. Therefore, each had his or her own suffering and anxiety, and each was consumed with completely different ambitions.

Two: The verse containing hamma is a parenthetical one explaining the virtue of belief and sincerity, which bring God's special favor and protection. It is not there merely as a part of the story. It also should be noted that there are stops after each phrase, which shows that they do not link a chain of events, but rather express three different realities. In this case, the exact meaning of the verse is as follows:

She was burning inwardly because of her love for Joseph. This love got Joseph into great trouble; his chastity, good character and reputation might have been damaged. He had to escape this situation. At this juncture, God's evidence (His protection or something else) came to his aid and turned all evil away from him, for God already had made him one of His sincere and pure servants. He was not mukhlis (one purified and sincere due to self-discipline and spiritual training), but rather a mukhlas (one made by God sincere and pure).

Moreover, the verb hamma in this context does not indicate the beginning of an action, for we read in the previous verse that she already had started the action: she locked the door and called Joseph to come to her (12:23). But Joseph refused. So, to say that hamma has the meaning of "to start toward" for both Joseph and the woman contradicts the previous verse, as well as the next one: So they both hurried to the door, and she tore the shirt from his back (12:25). It is clear that Joseph ran to the door to escape, that she ran after him to catch him, and that she tore the shirt from his back.

Some, however, suggest that she desired Joseph and that he might have desired her if he had not seen his Lord's evidence. Since he had been protected from the beginning against sin, he could not have any desire for her. In either case, he neither felt something for her nor start toward her. Like every other Prophet, Joseph was infallible.

Muhammad. God's Messenger is superior to all other Prophets. This could not be otherwise, for he was sent as a mercy to all the worlds. The religion he relayed includes all essential tenets of the previously revealed religions as well as everything necessary to solve all human problems until the Last Day. In contrast, all earlier Prophets were sent to certain people and for a limited period.

Prophet Muhammad, in the words of Busiri: " is the sun of virtues and the others are, in comparison to him, stars diffusing light for people at night." When the sun rises, both the moon and stars are no longer visible. Likewise, when the "Sun of Prophethood" (Prophet Muhammad rose to illuminate all the universe, starlight became unnecessary.

Like his predecessors, Prophet Muhammad was infallible. We see both in the Qur'an and history books that, although his enemies slandered him relentlessly, they never questioned his honesty and infallibility.

They said he was "mad"-he madly loved God and, again, madly desired and sought for the people to be guided. Thus he was "mad," but not in the sense of being crazy. They said he was a "magician" who charmed people-he did charm them, but with his personality, as well as with Islam and the Qur'an, both of which he brought from God. But he was not a magician. They said he was a "soothsayer"-he made hundreds of predictions, most of which have already come true and the others waiting to be proven. But he was not a soothsayer.

Like the already discussed Qur'anic expressions that, superficially, seem to cast doubt on the infallibility of some of the Prophets, there are several admonitions in the Qur'an regarding some actions of God's Messenger. Before analyzing them, however, we must remember that Prophets, like great jurists, also exercised their personal reason if no explicit or implicit ruling concerning the matter in question had been revealed.

Just as the Prophet's wives are not the same as other Muslim women with respect to reward and Divine punishment (see 33:30-32), God does not treat Prophets as He does other believers. For example, He admonished them when they drank water of zamzam (a well in Makka) instead of kawthar (a fountain in Paradise). Such admonitions should never be regarded as the result of sin. Furthermore, these admonitions usually are really Divine compliments that show the greatness of Prophets and their nearness to God.

God's Messenger and the prisoners taken during the Battle of Badr

The small Muslim community of Makka was subjected to the most brutal tortures. Its members bore them patiently and never thought of retaliation, for the Qur'an ordered God's Messenger to call unbelievers with wisdom and fair preaching, to repel evil with what was better, and to forgive their faults and evil deeds. When the Muslims emigrated to Madina to live according to Islamic principles, they left everything behind. However, they continued to be harassed in Madina by both Makkan polytheists as well as a new group: Madina's Jewish tribes. Moreover, even though the Ansar (the Helpers) willingly shared all their possessions with the Emigrants, all Muslims experienced deprivation. In such straitened circumstances and because they had been wronged, God permitted them to resist the enemy onslaught. This was just before the Battle of Badr.

This battle was the Muslims' first military confrontation with the enemy forces. Although outnumbered, the believers won a great victory. Until then, if we do not accept the opinions of some Qur'anic interpreters that Sura Muhammad, which contains regulations on treating prisoners of war, was revealed before Sura al-Anfal, no Divine commandment had been revealed on how to treat captives. Muslims did not know if they were to kill enemy soldiers or take them as prisoners. Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, for example, was not pleased when he saw fellow Muslims taking prisoners; he was in favor of killing them in the first confrontation.

After the battle ended, the Prophet consulted with his Companions, as he always did where there was no specific Revelation, on how to treat the prisoners. Abu Bakr said: "O God's Messenger, they are your people. Even though they have wronged you and the believers greatly, you will win their hearts and cause their guidance if you forgive them and please them."

'Umar had a different idea. He said: "O God's Messenger, these prisoners are the leading figures of Makka. If we kill them, unbelief will no longer be strong enough to fight us again. Hand each prisoner over to his Muslim relative. Let 'Ali kill his brother 'Aqil. Let Abu Bakr kill his son 'Abd al-Rahman. Let me kill my relative so and so."

God's Messenger turned to Abu Bakr and said: "You are like Abraham, who said: He who follows me is of me, and he who disobeys me-but You are indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Compassionate (14:36). You are also like Jesus, who said: If You punish them, they are Your servants. If You forgive them, You are All-Mighty, All-Wise (5:118).

Then he turned to 'Umar and said: "You are like Noah, who said: O my Lord, don't leave even one unbeliever on Earth" (71:26). You are also like Moses, who said: "Our Lord, destroy their (Pharaoh's and his chiefs') riches and harden their hearts so they will not believe until they see the painful chastisement" (10:88).

He followed Abu Bakr's advice.

Every Prophet was sent to guide people to the way of God, and the mission of each was based on mercy. However, mercy sometimes requires, as in the case of Noah and Moses amputating an arm to ensure the body's health, or even that the body should undergo a major operation. Islam, being the middle way of absolute balance between all temporal and spiritual extremes and containing the ways of all previous Prophets, makes a choice according to the situation.

Prior to Badr, the Muslims were weak, whereas their enemies, in material terms, were strong, formidable, and organized. Thus, conditions may have required that the Prophet should not have had prisoners of war until he became completely triumphant in the land (8:67), for they were fighting for the cause of God, not for some worldly purpose. However, God Almighty already had decreed that ransom and spoils of war would be lawful for Muslims. The pure hearts of the Prophet and Abu Bakr must have felt that God would allow them to take spoils of war and ransom prisoners. Therefore, they released the prisoners in return for some ransom before the relevant verses were revealed: Had it not been for that decree, a severe penalty would have reached them for the ransom that they took. But if God made it lawful, they could enjoy what they took in war, lawful and good (8:68-69).

This is mentioned more explicitly in another verse: When you confront the unbelievers (in battle), smite their necks. When you have thoroughly subdued them, bind them firmly. Thereafter (it is time for) either generosity (release without ransom) or ransom (recommended) (47:4).

To conclude, the Muslims did not disobey a Divine commandment that had been revealed already, and so they did not sin. already It was a decision reached after consultation.

The Prophet's exempting the Hypocrites from the expedition of Tabuk

The expedition of Tabuk took place in 9 ah (after hijra) during the summer, when Arabia's heat is intense. The soldiers were sent to face Byzantium, one of the two local superpowers. Against his usual practice, God's Messenger announced the expedition's target. Some people asked to be excused, and God's Messenger execused those whose excuses he regarded as justifiable. He did not check to see whether they were telling the truth for, as a Muslim, he had to judge according to outward signs and the affirmation of faith.

Besides, as God veils people's shortcomings, God's Messenger never reproached people directly. When he discerned a defect in an individual or a fault common in his community, he would mount the pulpit and give a general warning. He never mentioned any names.

Many hypocrites offered bogus excuses. Despite this, God's Messenger accepted their excuses. In this case: God forgive you! Why did you grant them exemption until those who told the truth were manifest to you, and you knew the liars? (9:43) was revealed.

Although some scholars hold that God reproached His Messenger for exempting the Hypocrites, the truth is the reverse. Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and many others, among whom are linguists, have correctly pointed out that God forgive you! is an exclamation, [like God bless you! in English.] So, the true meaning of the expression is God give you grace! As explained earlier, it is not necessary for a sin to exist before forgiveness is granted. For example, as we saw in verses 4:99, 5:3, and 4:43, forgiveness may be juxtaposed with grace, for their meanings are closely allied.

In addition, God's Messenger was motivated by kindness as well as policy: kindness because, in the urgency of the moment, he did not wish to refuse those who had real excuses; and policy, because those who were there just because they were obligated to be there would be a burden and a source of disorder. This is stated explicitly: If they had gone forth with you, they would have added nothing but mischief; they would have hurried through your ranks, seeking to cause sedition among you (9:47).

God's Messenger knew who the Hypocrites were: Surely you will know them by the tone of their speech (47:30). In addition, God did not will that they should set out for war: If they had intended to go forth they would certainly have made some preparation therefor; but God was averse to their being sent forth; so He made them lag behind, and they were told: "Sit among those who sit (inactive)" (9:46).

That being so, the meaning of the verse in question is this: "God give you grace! If you had not excused them when they asked, the Hypocrites would have been clearly distinguished from the truthful." As we can see, the Prophet is not being reprimanded; rather, the verse expresses a Divine compliment and affection for him.

Surat al-'Abasa (He Frowned)

Prophethood is not just another job that anyone can do. Each person has two aspects: heavenly and earthly. We are shaped from dust and created from a lowly drop of "water," but nevertheless have been distinguished with the "breath of God." As a result, we can rise (or fall) to infinitely high (or low) levels. All Prophets were of the highest rank. God chose them and endowed them with all laudable virtues and the highest degree of intellectual and spiritual faculties.

To catch just a glimpse of the greatness of God's Messenger we should consider how, by God's Will and Power, he transformed a savage and backward desert people into the founders of the most magnificent civilization in human history. In addition, according to the rule that "one who causes something is like its doer," the reward of each believer's deeds, from the time of the Prophet to the Last Day, is added to the Prophet's reward, which causes him to grow in spirit incessantly.

Despite this, some classical Qur'anic commentaries and the like contain assertions based on borrowings or unreliable anecdotes incompatible with Prophethood. What is more tragic is that in the Muslim world itself, "researchers" influenced by either Orientalists or worldly temptations, have been less-than-respectful toward Prophethood, God's Messenger, and the Sunna. Deceived into mistaking "the sun's reflection for the sun itself," they regard themselves as free to criticize the Prophet and his Sunna. One of their pretexts is the initial verses of Surat al-'Abasa:

He frowned and turned away because there came to him the blind man. But how can you know? Perhaps he might purify himself or be forewarned, and warning might profit him. As for him who regards himself as self-sufficient, to him you eagerly attend, though it is not your concern if he does not purify himself. But as for him who eagerly hastens to you, and is in fear [of God], you are heedless of him. (80:1-10)

According to what some Qur'anic interpreters have written, God's Messenger was once deeply and earnestly engaged in conveying the Message to pagan Qurayshi leaders when he was interrupted by a blind man. This man, 'Abd Allah ibn Umm Maktum, was so poor that usually no one took any notice of him. He desired to benefit from the teaching of God's Messenger, but the latter disliked the interruption and became impatient. As a result, these verses were revealed to reproach the Prophet.

This story is, however, highly questionable for several reasons:

- The narration of the event and its participants are not the same in all reliable Tradition books as in some Qur'anic commentaries. In total, the various accounts mention seven people in addition to Ibn Umm Maktum.

- Several verses explain how previous Prophets behaved toward poor people. It is inconceivable for a Prophet who always advised his followers to be with poor people to frown at or turn away from a poor blind man, especially when he came to listen to him.

- God's Messenger always rejected the calls of Qurayshi leaders to drive away the poor Muslims if he wanted them to believe in Islam.

- The Qur'an attaches great importance to how a believer behaves in the presence of God's Messenger. For example, they are "not to depart without asking for his leave when they are with him." They cannot enter his house without permission, will have their deeds reduced to nothing if they raise their voices above his, and will be punished in Hell if they ill-treat him. Given this, Ibn Umm Maktum should have been reprimanded for interrupting God's Messenger.

- Ibn Umm Maktum was the son of Khadijah's uncle, and one of those who accepted Islam in its early days. He had a remarkable position in Islam. God's Messenger deputed to him the government of Madina twice while he was on military campaign. So, despite his blindness, he could not have been so rude as to interrupt God's Messenger while the latter was inviting the Qurayshi leaders to the truth. He was blind, not deaf.

- The reprimand contained in the relevant verses is too severe to be for the Prophet. The verbs to frown and to turn away from are never used in the Qur'an for a Prophet; in fact, they are not even used for ordinary believers. In this verse, they are used in their third person, singular form. In the absence of the Prophet, this means disrespect and debasement. Also, the following expressions are of the type used for the leaders of the unbelievers. Therefore, it is inconceivable that the target of this reprimand was the Prophet.

- The Qur'anic interpreters who mention this incident add to it that whenever God's Messenger saw Ibn Umm Maktum afterwards, he would say to him: "Greetings to you, O one because of whom my Lord admonished me." This addition is not to be found in reliable books of Tradition.

- God's Messenger was very kind-hearted and gave all he had to bring his people to guidance. The Qur'an states: It grieves him that the believers should perish. He is ardently anxious over them, and most kind and merciful to them (9:128).

After all these explanations, we choose to refer the truth of the matter to God, who is the All-Knowing.

The offer made by the Thaqif tribe

Before entering Islam, the Thaqif tribe tried to get some concessions from the Prophet, including some exemptions from various religious duties-as if the Messenger were authorized to do so! As even an ordinary Muslim would never think of granting such a request, imagine the Prophet's reaction! The verses revealed concerning this incident say:

They sought to entice you from what we reveal unto you, to substitute against Us something different. Then, they would certainly have made you a trusted friend! Indeed, had We not given you strength and firmness, you might nearly have inclined to them a little. Then, We should have made you taste double (punishment) in this life, and double in death; and moreover you would have found none for you to help you against Us. (17:73-75)

First, God's Messenger is the direct addressee and receiver of the Divine Revelation. For this reason, God directly addresses him concerning collective and individual orders, prohibitions, and responsibilities. This does not mean that God's Messenger sometimes ignored what he was told to do. Being the embodiment, representative, and preacher of Islam, as well as the best example, God's Messenger practiced them most strictly and experienced the "whole history of Islam" in miniature measure.

In other words, God used him, his time, and his Companions as a pattern according to which the future expansion of Islam would be shaped. He functioned as a seed from which all future Islamic civilizations, movements, and sciences-the universal tree of Islam-would grow. For this reason, such verses should never be taken to suggest that God's Messenger was reproached for doing something wrong. That blessed person, the Beloved of God and for whose sake God created all the worlds, is absolutely free of defect, fault, and shortcoming.

God's Messenger was extremely eager for the guidance of all people. To have some understanding of his love and affection for humanity and existence in general, it is enough to reflect on what a contemporary Muslim saintly scholar said concerning his eagerness for the guidance and well-being of his nation:

I have known nothing of worldly pleasures in my life of over eighty years. All my life has passed on battlefields, and at various other places of suffering. There has been no torment which I have not tasted and no oppression which I have not suffered. I care for neither Paradise nor fear Hell. If I witness that the faith of my nation-that is, all the Muslim peoples-has been secured, I will have no objection to being burnt in the flames of Hell, for my heart will change into a rose garden while my body is being burnt. [5]

God said to His Messenger, consoling him in the face of persistent unbelief: You will nearly grieve yourself to death, following after them, if they don't believe in this Message (18:6).

Having seen the eagerness of God's Messenger to guide people, the Thaqifi leaders tried to extract special concessions. They even added that if others objected, he might excuse it with the lie that his Lord had ordered him to do so. From a purely human point of view, it may seem good policy to make a small concession to fulfill a great mission. But the Messenger was not the author of Islam; his only responsibility was to convey it. The religion belongs to God. The verses in question emphasize this point.

His marriage to Zaynab

During the pre-Islamic period, and still today, cultural, economic, and spiritual slavery was widespread. Islam came to destroy such slavery and sought to solve this social, as well as psychological, problem in stages. Since slavery has a deep psychological aspect, its abolition all at once could have resulted in even harsher conditions. For example, when Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States, most slaves had to return to their owners because their ability to assume responsibility, to choose, and to manage their affairs as free people had been beaten out of them or had caused their leaders to be murdered.

Islam established, as a first step, strict principles on how to treat slaves, as seen in the following hadiths: "Those who kill their slaves will be killed. Those who imprison and starve their slaves will be imprisoned and starved. Those who castrate their slaves will be castrated," [6] and "Arabs are not superior to non-Arabs; non-Arabs are not superior to Arabs. White people are not superior to black people; black people are not superior to white people. Superiority is only in righteousness and fear of God." [7]

As its second step, Islam enabled slaves to realize their human consciousness and identity. It educated them in Islamic values, and implanted in them a love of freedom. On the day of their emancipation, they were fully equipped to be useful members of the community as farmers, artisans, teachers, scholars, commanders, governors, ministers, and even prime ministers.

Another pre-Islamic practice, which still exists in the civil law codes of many contemporary countries, is allowing adopted children to enjoy the same legal status as natural children. As a result, a father could not legally marry his adopted son's widow or divorced wife. This practice was to be abolished, for neither adoption nor any other method of declaring someone a son can create a relationship comparable to that between children and their natural parents.

Zayd was a black African who had been kidnapped and enslaved as a child. Khadija, the first wife of God's Messenger, had purchased him in the Makkan slave market. After she married the Prophet, she gave Zayd to him as a gift. God's Messenger emancipated him and called him "my son." When Zayd's parents finally located him and came to Makka to get him, he refused to go with them, saying that he would rather stay with God's Messenger.

In order to show the equality between black and white people and demonstrate that superiority lies in righteousness and devotion to God, not in descent and worldly position, God's Messenger married Zayd to Zaynab bint Jahsh of the Hashimite tribe. She was a very devoted and intellectual Muslim woman and had a noble character. God's Messenger had known her very well since her childhood. Although her family had wanted her to marry God's Messenger, they agreed to let her marry Zayd because God's Messenger desired it.

Zayd, however, admitted that he was spiritually inferior to his wife. He realized through his insight that her sublimity of character made her fit to be the wife of a far greater man than himself. He asked God's Messenger many times to allow him to divorce her, but each time God's Messenger advised him to remain married to her. Nevertheless, Zayd concluded that he was not his wife's equal and eventually divorced her.

After this, God told His Messenger to marry her, even though this would violate his society's norms. But as this marriage had been ordained in heaven, he submitted and married Zaynab: When Zayd had dissolved (his marriage) with her, We gave her in marriage to you, so that there may be no difficulty and sin for believers in marriage with the wives of their adopted sons if they divorce them. And God's command must be fulfilled (33:37).

Although this marriage was very difficult for God's Messenger to enter into, God used it to abolish a mistaken custom and establish a new law and custom. The Messenger always was the first to practice the law or rule to be established and obeyed, so that it would have enough influence on others. His marriage to Zaynab was one of the most difficult commandments he had to carry out. That is why his wife 'A'isha remarked: "If the Messenger of God been inclined to suppress anything of what was revealed to him, he would surely have suppressed this verse."

As expected, the enemies of Islam and the Hypocrites slandered God's Messenger. Although some of their allegations have found their way into various Qur'anic commentaries, no such allegation or slander has ever affected-or will affect-his pure personality and chastity. All scholars agree that he lived happily with Khadija, a widow 15 years older than himself, with nothing to suggest any misconduct during their 25-year marriage (ending only with Khadija's death). Unlike young people, he did not burn with lust and carnal desires. This clearly shows that his subsequent marriages, which took place after he was 50 years old, a time when desire has subsided, were entered into for specific purposes.

In sum, like every other Prophet, God's Messenger has no blemish and is innocent of what they accuse him. Nor can his infallibility be doubted.


[1] Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 2:313-4.
[2] Bukhari, "Anbiya'," 48; Muslim, "Fada'il," 144.
[3] Bukhari, "Tahajjud," 7, "Sawm," 59; Muslim, "Siyam," 182.
[4] Bukhari, "Tafsir," 3; Tirmidhi, "Qadar," 2; Ibn Hanbal, 2:287, 314.
[5] Said Nursi, Eptiomes of Light (Mathnawi al-Nuriya) (Izmir, Kaynak: 1999), II.
[6] Abu Dawud, "Diyat," 70; Tirmidhi, "Diyat," 17.
[7] Ibn Hanbal, 411.