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The Unlettered Prophet (53)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Rights of God’s Messenger 

Just as the Prophet (sws) had obligations as well as responsibilities towards his ummah according to his position, he also had rights which his addressees, the faithful and in general, the Muslim ummah were required to fulfill. Among these, some rights were clarified to the faithful of ancient times and promises taken from them that they would not hesitate to fulfill his rights when the last prophet came. The narrative of these promises was present among the People of the Book for centuries, and they were reminded of it at the time when the Prophet (sws) was bestowed prophethood. It would be better if we discuss this before taking up the general rights of the Prophet (sws).


Demands of the Narrative of rights of the Promised prophet among the People of the Book

Within the context of predictions of the prophets of the Israelites, it has been stated above that covenants had been taken from the Israelites from time to time that when a messenger possessing certain qualities came, they would believe in him and support him in every way. This promise has been specially mentioned in the Qur’an to awaken the People of the Book who were living during the time of the Prophet (sws). The personality for whose welcome they had been prepared for centuries had come as a mercy for the world, but their situation was that they were in a stupor of ignorance. The Qur’an said:  

Behold! Allah took the covenant of the prophets, saying: “I give you a Book and Wisdom; then comes to you an apostle, confirming what is with you; do ye believe in him and render him help.” Allah said: “Do ye agree, and take this my Covenant as binding on you?” They said: “We agree.” He said: “Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses.” If any turn back after this, they are perverted transgressors. (3:81-82) 

Verse 187 of Surah Al ‘Imran also clarifies that the People of the Book had been bound by their promise that they would declare this promise openly to others and at no stage would they make any attempt to hide it. This would ensure that it got rooted within the memory of people and their commitment and loyalties to his rights as soon as the last prophet was known.

A few points become very clear from the above quoted verse. Firstly, that this promise was taken from various prophets one after the other from the people of the Book. This is why it is called “covenant of prophets”. Secondly, the promise taken was related to a messenger to come in the future and many of his attributes were explained. It was instructed that only the messenger who possessed those attributes would be considered to be the objective of this covenant. Thirdly, this promise was related to belief in that messenger and to providing him the support he would require to fulfill his responsibilities. This meant that when that great person gained prophethood, his status as a messenger of God was to be believed with full faith in the heart. The message which he presented would be taken as a message from God; he would be supported in spreading and communicating this message and be protected from his enemies. Fourthly, in every period of time, People of the Book reiterated their promise and made God their witness upon it.

Referring to this covenant, the Qur’an instructed the Prophet (sws) to invite the People of the Book to believe in him. If they did so, they would find blessings to come to the right path:  

Say: “O people! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah, to Whom belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He That giveth both life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Unlettered Prophet, who believeth in Allah and His words: follow him that (so) ye may be guided.” (7:158)  

It was also clarified that if any path of redemption remained for the People of the Book, it was in that they act upon this ancient covenant and believe in the Prophet (sws). They were to be with him in his struggles; devote their strength and capabilities to his support and backing and were to become an inviolable wall for him against his enemies. They were then not to live their lives according to their own desires but in the light of what had been sent down with him from heaven: 

Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own [scriptures], -- in the law and the Gospel; -- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good [and pure] and prohibits them from what is bad [and impure]; He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him, it is they who will prosper. (3:157) 

People of the Book were also given the glad tidings of double reward by the mercy of God, if they believed in the Prophet (sws) after recognizing him, while retaining their belief in their own sacred books.  One of these rewards was for remaining on the teaching they received from their prophets and the other for fulfilling their promise to believe in the Prophet (sws).

Thus, according to the narrative that existed among the People of the Book, the rights of the Prophet (sws) were as follows:

That he would be believed in with full and firm faith of the heart, i.e. he was the last link in the chain of prophets sent by God. The teaching he possessed was based on truth and the message from God which He had sent for the well being of humans. It was an obligation for every human being to accept it and make it a guiding light for his life. Ignoring it would have dangerous consequences that would bring a person as a criminal in front of God.

That the Prophet (sws) be protected against his enemies. This means that enemies and detractors would be punished and a wall of support would be erected for him.

That the Prophet (sws) be supported. Support means every kind of help, cooperation and agreement. This would mean that full cooperation would be offered in fulfilling the Prophet’s responsibilities and no effort would be spared in spreading his message. If some people became active to stop him, People of the Book would become his right hand.

And that the Book which he brought be accepted as heavenly guidance and that it be used as the torch with which to light up one’s path in life.

Although the promises made during previous times were very clear in their requirements, the Qur’an still made them explicit in order to ensure that the People of the Book living in the time of the Prophet (sws) would not be under any misunderstanding. In spite of this, they became proof of the parable of Jesus (sws) according to which when virgin brides were informed of the coming of their grooms, they remained awake throughout the night and kept their candles alight. Yet, when the time came for the groom to arrive, they blew out their candles and went to sleep. Even after the Prophet (sws), it is incumbent upon those who follow the prophets of the Israelites to believe in the guidance and religion brought by the Prophet (sws) and play their role in spreading it. It is only by doing so that they will be able to find the right path.

Now we will clarify to a great extent the general rights of the Prophet (sws) to which the Qur’an has referred.  


Since man is the caliph of God in this world, He has established a system of prophethood and messengership in order to provide guidance for man’s deeds. God provided His guidance in the form of sacred texts that were then explained by both the words and deeds of prophets and messengers. Then He declared the Prophet (sws) to be the best of all prophets and the sacred text which he brought to be the complete and preserved guidance. Therefore, it is not sufficient to believe that the Prophet (sws) was just one of all prophets. In contrast, belief in him requires that the Prophet (sws) be considered as an essential link for connection and relationship between God and humans. There must be total trust in him that the message which he brought is, in reality, the message from God, which if accepted by a human being can be a source of redemption for him. To ignore it would be equivalent to rebellion against God. To clarify this message, what the Prophet (sws) said or did is also an essential part of faith. If one turns one’s eyes away from it, one is guilty of relinquishing a part of religion. The teachings of the Prophet (sws) are eternal and will remain permanent, from the need of which man can never be free. Unless man accepts this status of the Prophet (sws), he can never be successful before God. The guidance brought by earlier prophets of ancient times is no longer of any use. This is why the Prophet (sws) said: “If today, Moses (sws) comes to this world, he will not have any option but to become my follower. And if Jesus (sws) comes, instead of becoming the Imam of prayer, he would request someone from my ummah to lead the prayer.”    


A messenger of God not only possesses verbal teaching, but also instructions and guidance, obeying which is necessary for anyone who believes in that messenger. This is why obedience of the Prophet (sws) is his right about which God has said Himself:  

We sent not an apostle, but to be obeyed, in accordance with the will of Allah. (4:64)    

In Surah Muhammad, verse 33, God has asked people to obey Him and the Prophet (sws). If they are not obeyed, just believing in them would be meaningless and apparently good deeds would be in vain.

Obedience requires that before taking any step in life, a person should first determine what guidance God and His Messenger have given about that matter. When it is clarified that a particular cause of action has been stated to be correct by the Book of God and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), no possible worldly benefit should be a barrier to adopt this course of action and neither the love of dear ones nor the enmity of enemies should stop him from taking the right step. He should be thoroughly satisfied and happy with whatever guidance he receives from the Book and Sunnah about his problems and not let any doubt or concern come within his heart against these.

The Qur’an did not accept the faith of those who pretended to believe in God and the Prophet (sws), promised that they would obey them and then rescinded on the same. (24:47). Similarly, it was also clarified that no faithful person had any right to act against the ruling of the Prophet (sws). Disobedience of the Prophet (sws) could easily throw him into a pit of ignorance and be the cause of his destruction.  (33:36)

The Prophet (sws) also removed the concern of people when they said that they would not be able to receive guidance after he had passed away. He said that he was leaving two things with them. As long as they held on to these firmly, they would never be misguided. These were the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Messenger (Mawatta’, Kitab al-qadr, chapter 1). In this way, the Prophet (sws) declared his Sunnah to be representative of his being. Because this Sunnah has been preserved as part of the practice of the Muslim ummah, as long as the world exists and as long as Muslims exist in the world, the same Sunnah is available to guide humankind.             


Ittiba‘ (Following the Footsteps)

Ittiba‘ means following every footstep of someone. The effort is that one tries to do exactly what the person in front is doing. One tries to develop the same qualities in oneself because when  God’s messenger acts in a particular manner, it is the best way the deed can be carried out. This is why a messenger’s deeds are a perfect example or uswah-e hasanah. The more a person of faith acts to be as close as possible to this deed, the better his deed and the more acceptable by God. The companions of the Prophet (sws) were in the habit of observing his each and every action, keeping it in mind and copying it and demonstrating it in front of those who were not in the presence of the Prophet (sws) earlier. This is the reason why innumerous acts and deeds of the Prophet (sws) have entered the practices of the ummah such that every person follows these by himself. Books of Ahadith contain detailed explanations of the Prophet (sws)’s sleeping, waking, getting up, sitting down, eating, drinking and talking. The companions demonstrated to their friends how the Prophet (sws) carried out ablutions and took a bath. Everyone amongst them desired that he should mould his life in the example of that of the Prophet (sws)’s preferences by following him closely.

One follows another when one possesses deep respect for him. Since a messenger is a representative of God, by demonstrating one’s love for him and, as a result, following in his footsteps, he shows his love for God directly. This, in itself makes him a beloved servant of God. The Qur’an said:  

Say: “If ye do love Allah, Follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.” (3:31)  

This means that the way to show love for God also comes through emulating the Prophet (sws).

As stated above, the ummah has absorbed many of the preferred attitudes and behaviour of the Prophet (sws) within its practices. Hence, every person of faith can follow it and transform his life according to that of the Prophet (sws)’s. God will not accept his excuse that since he was not present during the times of the Prophet (sws), he remained deprived of his emulation.



An important right of the Prophet (sws) is that he should be loved. During his lifetime, some Muslims claimed that they loved him, but harboured spite against him in their hearts. Similarly, the hypocrites would come to the mosque when he called them and apparently even obeyed the instructions that he gave, but all of this was mere drama. Their hearts did not support their actions and as soon as they could find an excuse, they would leave, without caring that this would cause the Prophet (sws) to be displeased. God did not accept the faith and obedience of such people. Thus, the faith and obedience which is not based on love is not to be trustworthy. The Prophet (sws) himself explained this as follows: “None amongst you would be a believer until I become for him more beloved than his children, his father and all other people.”1

This statement of the Prophet (sws) means that love for him should dominate that for everyone else. Everything in the world can be given up for it, but it cannot be given up at any cost. Obviously, this love demands that the person neither ignores the teaching brought by the Prophet (sws) nor the ways to implement the same, i.e. the Sunnah. In case his desires are a barrier in this path, he should sacrifice his wishes and if his wives, children, parents or clans and tribes try to stop him, he should reject their demands. This reality was stated by the Prophet (sws) thus: “He who loves my Sunnah loves me and he who loves me would be with me in Paradise.” (Tirmidhi)

One requirement of this love is that a person should always be praying to God for mercy for the Prophet (sws) and his safety. The reason is that every person of faith is grateful to the Prophet (sws) for communicating the message of God to the ummah with so much effort and for opening up the path to redemption for the faithful. Just as every good person remembers his parents and relatives in his prayers and beseeches God for forgiveness for them after they have passed away, so was loving him to the extent of dying for him during his lifetime and protecting him from harm was the responsibility of every Muslim. Without any doubt, it is his right that people pray for his safety and mercy and for his levels in Paradise to be raised after his demise. The Prophet (sws) declared the person who does not pray for him when his name is taken to be a miser. This requirement of love for him has a special mention in the Qur’an. It was said:  

Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe! Send ye blessings on him, and salute him with all respect. (33:56)  

Protection of the Mission

Just as the People of the Book were advised to become a support for the Prophet (sws), so was the Muslim ummah told to take up the responsibility to help in fulfilling the mission of the Prophet (sws). When the ummah was bestowed with the qiblah of Ibrahim (the ka‘bah), it was clarified to them that after this, God was including them in accomplishment of the obligations of the Prophet (sws). He would be witness of God’s religion for them and they would communicate this truth to other servants of God. It was not the responsibility of the Prophet (sws) alone to communicate the religion of truth to the rest of the world. It was said: 

Thus, have We made of you an ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves. (2:143) 

The manner in which the Prophet (sws) extended the sphere of communicating the religion stage by stage has been explained earlier. A stage was reached when his invitation extended beyond the Arabian Peninsula and introduced to Romans, Persians and the people of Abyssinia and many rulers had started to feel its strength. Wherever people accepted Islam, the companions went there to provide knowledge of the Qur’an and to teach the faith, thus fulfilling their responsibilities. After the Prophet’s demise, the ummah was mobilized and fought with every force which resisted the spread of Islam. It took up the responsibilities of messengership and spent its energies in recitation of God’s verses, education of the Book and its wisdom and purification of people. Hence we observe that while previous ummahs were neither able to maintain their own beliefs, nor protect their texts, nor stay steadfast on their worship, the Muslim ummah made its Book the light to the true path, memorized it, preserved its language and its knowledge and tried to transfer the sayings and actions of the Prophet (sws) in their actual form to subsequent generations. The worship routines of prayer, fasting and Hajj are still being performed exactly in the same way as they were during the time of the Prophet (sws). The understanding of true belief can be availed by anyone who seeks it while avoiding irreligious or perverted beliefs. The passion to spread the religion of truth and to fight against wrong beliefs ideologies and life systems is still present within the ummah, even though this passion may be found in a small number of people. However small the role of the ummah after the Prophet (sws) may be, it is not possible to ignore the fact that its services to retain the religion of truth in comparison with those of previous ummahs are far more worthy of praise.

More needs to be done today to accomplish the Prophet (sws)’s mission. The ummah is faced with the divisions of which the Qur’an had warned and instructed it to hold on tight to the rope of God. The Prophet (sws) had said that Muslims should not let go of the Book of God and his Sunnah, otherwise guidance would be lost. If The Muslim ummah unites to hold on to the Book of God and the Sunnah and make arrangements to implement the same in practical life, there will be no reason for the helplessness it faces today. At present, Muslims live in all continents and speak different languages. They lack religious knowledge. There is no centre for them that can cater to their needs, address their problems and make available to them religious knowhow in their own languages. The need of the day is for Muslims to garner their resources and create a centre for themselves. They should use it to make decisions that are beneficial for themselves, create linkages with all Muslims of the world to become a strength and prove to the world that they are connected to their religion from the depths of their hearts and consider it a blessing to communicate the same to the rest of the people. 


Reverence of the Prophet (sws) means recognizing his great and noble status, giving him the respect appropriate to his elevated position and being grateful to him. Some people have the habit of giving their own selves extraordinary importance and thinking of the rest of the world as beneath them. They are unwilling to give consideration to the most noble and respected of people. In front of such people, they try to behave artfully, pretending to be great leaders. The requirement of holding the Prophet (sws) in veneration by a faithful person is to consider oneself the lowest of all in front of him and remain subdued, because he was the teacher and patron of everyone who possessed faith. He should always be careful in case he becomes guilty of something which may cause him to be disrespectful to the Prophet (sws) in any way whatsoever.

The Qur’an considered the attitude of disrespect towards the Prophet (sws) to be akin to lack of fear of God and gave strong injunctions to Muslims that they remain within their boundaries and not try to outreach themselves in getting ahead of the Prophet (sws). Similarly, when they talked to him, they were not to do so in an overbearing style but present their problems to him with respect. During this time, their voices were not be raised above that of the Prophet (sws)’s. It was said:  

O Ye who believe! Put not yourselves forward before Allah and His Messenger. but fear Allah. for Allah is He Who hears and knows all things. O ye who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor speak aloud to him in talk, as ye may speak aloud to one another, lest your deeds become vain and ye perceive not. (49:1-2) 

It had become necessary to give this instruction to the companions because when the Islamic state established itself in Madinah after consecutive successes, many tribes considered it in their interest to express their loyalties to Madinah. Their leaders thought that since they had accepted to obey the Islamic government without fighting with it, they had done a favour to the Prophet (sws) by believing in him. They considered it their right that when they came to Madinah, the Prophet (sws) be overcome with gratitude and leave everything else aside to serve them and accept every advice or opinion which they expressed without any reservation. According to narratives, they would address the Prophet (sws) as “O’ Muhammad” at a level of equality, instead of the established form of “O Messenger of God”. When the Prophet (sws) came, they would present their problems or opinions in a voice louder than that of the Prophet (sws). To correct these habits, they were told that when a person accepts faith, he does not do a favour to either God or His Prophet (sws). Rather, it is a favour upon him from God that he has been given the guidance to believe and come to the right path. Had God not been generous to him, he would have been lost in the darkness of denial and ultimately face the punishment which will be the fate of all those who deny.

A terrible consequence of the attitude of not valuing the Prophet (sws) has been described by the Qur’an in that such a person’s good deeds go waste and, in his arrogance, he remains unaware of the horrible accident that has happened to him. When he comes before God on the Day of Judgement, he will find out that he has no good deed to call his own. In other words, disrespect to the Prophet (sws) is such a great sin that it overcomes all the good that a person may have done in his whole life and neutralizes it. This is the reason why people of faith never utter a single word that may be considered to be disrespectful. When they pray for mercy for the Prophet (sws) at his grave, they do so with great humility. If anyone recites in a loud voice, the guards stop him and advise him to read in a low tone. Even people sitting in the Masjid-i Nabawi keep their voices low.

It is totally wrong to say that putting one’s own views above those of the Prophet (sws) was limited only to the life time of the Prophet (sws). The fact is that he is the seal of prophets. His education, his way of life and his Sunnah is the light to guide every man’s life until the Day of Judgement. Every truly faithful person cannot consider him to be someone who has disappeared into the past, but feels his spirituality in the present too and establishes a connection of love with him. Thus, it is necessary today also that the Prophet (sws) be revered and venerated as his essential right; his teachings not be declared to be out of date and non aligned with needs of current times and one’s good deeds not be destroyed by bringing the prophet (sws) to the same level and negating his noble status.

At present times, groups influenced by the West are determined to believe that religion is irrelevant and the systems proposed by it and instructions of the shari‘ah are things of the past, thus wanting to break away from them. Such people are frustrated by the religion brought by the Prophet (sws) and consider the boundaries which it set to be barriers to their indecent independence and lives of comfort. Similarly, those who have set up systems of their own in parallel to those of true religion and wish to keep others confused in their labyrinths are not fulfilling any right of the Prophet (sws). They claim to be among the faithful apparently, but shall be exposed when they are presented in front of the One who knows whatever is hidden. It is only then that the truth of their claims shall emerge. For such people, the Qur’an says:  

O Mankind! The Messenger hath come to you in truth from Allah. believe in him: It is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth: And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. (4:170)


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)





1. Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, Chapter 16.


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