Lessons from the institution of prophecy

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The institution of prophecy according to the scriptures is a divinely ordained one. It’s an office created by the Most High in order to bring men back to fulfilling that primordial covenant they took at a great cosmic event before their physical manifestation in time and space. Those chosen for this great and noble office by God are men who have transcended the ordinary pursuits and egoistic inclinations that most men suffer from. They are people who are in tune with the innate disposition that God has placed in men and are known way before being called upon to take the great responsibility of prophecy, to be people who manifested very rare and noble qualities. Some of them came into this world in very strange circumstances, like the miraculous birth of the Messiah Jesus, who like everyone knows, came into the world without a father. In simple words, they were ethereal, rarefied and otherworldly, sent to this world to remind and reconnect men with what they had forgotten.

But it’s not the purpose of this essay to explore how special these God chosen people were. Here I’m looking at what we can learn from these sacred revolutionaries; what human means they employed to overcome the great odds that were on their way to triumph resulting in a legacy that lasted to this day and age; what we can possibly learn from their missions, so we can change the world for the better. It’s a self-evident truth that the greatest change-makers were the prophets. They had billions of followers throughout the ages who were ready to shed the last drop of blood cruising in their veins for the success of the faith they so passionately follow. And we can dare to say the world is a much better place today because of the prophets. Without them, the mess would have been so great we surely would not have seen the dawn of a new millennium.

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The lessons

The foremost lesson we can deduce from all the scriptures on the success of their missions is the fact that they were people of certainty. They were certain in the truth of their calling. And anybody who wants to change the wayward ways of his times will have to cling to that rope; the rope of certainty when all around are doubters. Prophet Abraham was thrown into the fire but he was certain of the intervention of his Lord so much so he rejected the help of the angels, saying: “My Lord shall suffice me”. This is certainty at its height. Because he believed he was right in his claims in rejecting the worship of idols, he feared not and in his certainty and steadfastness upon that conviction, he was saved. So for the small groups of people who are now embarking on the path of reviving the authentic spirituality buried in the paths of the prophets, it’s imperative to be certain and move far away from doubt. Certainty grows when all our convictions and actions stem from knowledge and well-grounded understanding, and not baseless superstitions that are the outcome of a well-camouflaged ignorance. 

The second lesson is the content of their message and how it resonated with the peoples of all times and places, rendering their message and mission ageless and timeless in its relevance. The first call being what was famously referred to as the ‘golden rule’, which the Bible sums up beautifully: ”therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law…” It’s a cosmic law of goodness and righteousness that if we desire the good earth to remain a place fit for living and growth, we have to be sharing and caring. To be able to rise above the selfishness and greed our egos breed and share with love and consideration that emanate from our spirit — our true nature. Many times what is asked of us is not material sacrifice but our time and support during the darkest moment’s life offers. We all desire company and someone to lean on when the going gets tough, yet how many times are we willing to offer that same service to those who need it from us? 

Prophet Muhammad was foremost in enacting this principle. He said: “None of you truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself’.’  This sacred narration sums up for the Islamic faith the altruistic rule of doing unto others what you want others to do unto you. And he went ahead being the personification of that teaching.  Many times he gave out all he had in foodstuff to people he deemed more deserving than him.  And because of this selfless spirit, he was able to build one of the greatest movements mankind has ever known.

The third lesson is in the fact that these men had amazing amounts of mercy and compassion for the people they were sent to. They didn’t readily invoke wrath or the chastisement of God upon those who persecuted them. In a sound prophetic tradition, a story is told of a prophet who was beaten by his people until he was covered in blood and yet when his people left him in that pain, he raised his hands upwards towards the great heavens and invoked in very touching words: “O God, forgive my people because they know not.” Yet for many of us today who are trying to change the existing conditions, we are very bitter and merciless at the very people we are trying to help. The most sectarian and intolerant people you’ll ever find are usually people who claim to be working for change and progress. We can  only change our world if we go back to the beautiful virtues of love and compassion. The wreckage we see as a result of revolutions borne out of deep-seated hate and anger will continue to live on if we don’t reverse and go back to those ancient prophetic values.

The fifth lesson of course is believing in ”the long time”. What that means is patiently persevering and knowing it didn’t take the Romans a day to build Rome. The prophets collectively persevered for long durations to call people to what would benefit them. The scriptures have it that Noah spent 950 years calling and warning his people. He took the worst forms of humiliations and hardships, enduring ever so patiently. Moses was to spend a long time calling his people out of Egypt; Muhammad took 23 years to build his community. How clearer can it get? We can never make change in haste. It takes a long time coupled with a fortitude and forbearance to accept the fact that in starting out to change our world, we are not doing this for ourselves or our current times but for those who might never know us or even mention us. We should be ready to take all kinds of humiliations and be ready to sacrifice for a long time to make it there.

Sixth lesson is their belief in companionship and community. Jesus got his disciples and Muhammad got his sahabah (companions). Even though they were divinely ordained and authorised and had the unrelenting support of God, Most High Himself, they were human and needed human companionship in fulfilling the mission they were called to further. Abu Hurairah said of Prophet Muhammad: “I have not seen a person more keen for the sincere advice of his companions than the Messenger of God.” 

There was a sense of community and belonging around him. We have to realise this and make our organisations exude that same sense of belonging, to consult each other and be sincere in our claims of friendship and companionship. Prophet Muhammad’s community was not only restricted to his companions. Anas, one of the companions narrated how one Jewish boy who used to serve the prophet, fell sick and how he gathered those around him to go visit him. This is what the world needs. In a time when technology is alienating communities and creating a very lonely culture, we are called upon to revive this aspect of the prophetic tradition. This was just what Kurt Vonnegut was referring to when he said: “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” 

The seventh and one of the greatest lessons we can learn from these divine mouthpieces is their sense of brokenness and humility before the overwhelming power of God. Sometimes in life when we succeed in some of our struggles, we exult and celebrate ceaselessly, counting with pride the many times of our attempts before we made it. For the prophets, it was in a very different way. Aa’isha, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, narrates how the prophet used to stand so long in prayers his blessed feet swell. And one time she pitied him and said to him: “O Prophet of God, why do you undergo so much hardship despite the fact that God has pardoned you your earlier and later sins?”  Listen to the reply of Muhammad: “Should I not prove myself to be a thankful servant?”  And didn’t Jesus rebuke someone who called him good? Saying the only good one is the Lord Himself.  We need to cultivate this. To utterly humble ourselves and live self-effacing lives. In a civilisation that promotes the exaltation of the ego, it will be heroic to break down and credit our achievement to God.

This is the call. To learn from our sacred history and struggle to harmonise it with our struggle to change the world for the better. This call transcends religion or creed. It’s a call to what all human beings share in common: our need for each other and the interdependent nature of lives; that we, in fact, share more commonalities than differences. Our common aspirations to exist in the greatest good should engender in us the need to live by these lessons. And with God ultimately lies success.

 

With Alieu A Bah (Immortal X)

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