Almost All Religions Have A Last Prophet – OpEd


Farhad Shafti on his web site ‘exploring Islam’ states that God promised Ibrahim (pbuh) to provide religious leaders from among his generation (2:124) and Ibrahim (pbuh) in particular asked God to raise a prophet among the generation of Ishmael (2:127-129). A series of prophets were raised from among the Bani Israel (“The first prophet among Bani Israel was Musa and the last of them (the Jewish prophets) was Isa (Jesus), and they (the Jewish prophets) were in all 600.” (Biharul Anwar, Vol. 11, Pg. 32.), and then the promise for Bani Ishmael was also fulfilled by raising prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from among them. Why so many prophets for Bani Israel but only one for Bani Ishmael. My answer (based on my opinion because we do not have any explicit answer to this in the Qur’an) is as follows: 

“The many prophets given to Bani Israel also served to establish the concept of monotheism for Bani Ishmael, through the teachings reflected in their stories and by the establishment of Bani Israel as a chosen community. As you see references to these prophets and to the stories of Bani Israel, as a chosen community, are made abundantly in the Qur’an. The prophet (pbuh) in fact followed the same overall path as theirs (Qur’an 2:136; 22:78, 4:26, 3:95, 4:125; 6:161).”

All religions with holy books have to sooner or later decide which books are sacred and which books are not. In the first and second centuries there was no formal group of authoritative Christian Holy Books. The four Gospels, several Pauline letters, 1 Peter, and 1 John were widely used by many early Christians. Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2–3 John, James, Jude, and Revelation, on the other hand, had less authority. 

In the second and third centuries additional Christian Books were composed, and furious  debates regarding their status continued into the fourth century because many of these teachings and texts were deemed heretical by church leaders. The first list to advocate the exclusive use of the twenty-seven books that now comprise the New Testament was written in the year AD 367.

A similar process happened within the Jewish community until most Rabbis decided that Jewish prophecy ended with a list of 48 male prophets and 7 female prophetesses. The last Jewish prophets on the list were Malachi, Haggai, and Zechariah. Two history Books about the Maccabees which were included in the Christian Bible (and are still in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles) were considered as too recent to join the Hebrew Bible, although most Jews were already celebrating the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. However, since Rabbi Maimonides (in Melachim 11:1) hints that the Messiah will be a prophet, we might have room for many new prophets. 

Since Islam has only one prophet and only one Holy Book it was clear that Muhammad was its first and last prophet. Unfortunately, many Muslims in Iran persecute members of the Baha’i faith for believing in their 19th century prophet.  

Yet the rapid development of religions such as Christianity and Islam raises a question about the prophetic status of the initiators of these religions, Jesus and Muhammad. Can Judaism consider them as being prophets for the non-Jewish world?

Sina Cohen writes that Natanel al-Fayyumi, a 12th-century Yemenite rabbi, suggested that God established an eternal covenant with Moses and the Children of Israel, but that He also established a covenant with Muhammad and the Muslims. According to al-Fayyumi, this does not mean that Jews should become Muslims, for he writes in his book, Garden of Intellects: “A proof that God sends a prophet to every people according to their language is found in this passage of the Quran, ‘We sent a prophet only according to the language of his people.’ Consequently had God sent a prophet to us [Jews], he would have surely been of our language.”

What al-Fayyumi is stressing here is that he believes that the non-Jewish prophet, although a messenger of God, is not part of Judaism. According to al-Fayyumi, Muhammad was given prophecies meant for non-Jews, and when God wanted to send a message to the Jews, He sent it with a Jewish prophet.

To say that a non-Jewish prophet like Muhammad was sent by the God of Israel for the Muslims is no doubt a minority view within Judaism. But, the notion that God aided Prophet Muhammad’s mission to turn the people of Arabia from idol-worshipping pagans to monotheistic submitters may be plausible.

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, promotes a similar idea in a controversial paragraph in the first edition of his book, The Dignity of Difference. He wrote, “In the course of history, God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims.”

This is not a radical idea but something that Rabbi Maimonides himself alludes to in his Law book Mishneh Torah: “Muhammad and Jesus served to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the whole world to worship God with one accord.” That, in itself, like many other things facing modern-day Judaism, is not particularly controversial, even if it is not accepted by the Jewish masses.

Sina Cohen’s book, The Jewish Position on Other Religions, S.Research Publications, £7, is available on Amazon.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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