Hajj -- The Pilgrimage to Makkah

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(1985)


Muslims from all over the world come to Makkah (or Mecca, as it is less accurately spelled in English) for the annual pilgrimage known as hajj. Most people in the world know about this pilgrimage. In fact, in many languages, including English, Makkah has become synonymous with a place to which one turns, or yearns to go to, or is visited by many people. One often hears about such and such a place being a mecca for such and such a group of people.

 

Read more: Hajj -- The Pilgrimage to Makkah

Islam and Determinism

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(2000)


Islam's primary objective is not to teach systematic philosophy but to help man establish a relationship with God and to build societies based on God consciousness. Nevertheless, the teachings of Islam proceed from a certain philosophy, i.e. a view of the universe and of man and of the ultimate reality. It is important for Muslims to formulate this philosophy. This paper is concerned with a specific part of such a formulation. More particularly, the paper is concerned with the position of determinism in Islamic philosophy.

Read more: Islam and Determinism

Islamic View of the Coming/Return of Jesus

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(May 2003)

The Jewish tradition, as is well known, contains expectations of a figure called the Messiah, who in Christian tradition is identified with Jesus. For the Jews, this figure is yet to come but even in Christianity the Messiah, although he came two thousand years ago in the person of Jesus, will accomplish his expected work in a future time upon his return. Thus the expectation of a future activity of the Messiah is common to Judaism and Christianity. In this article I discuss Islamic view of this expectation. As always, any discussion about Islam needs to be done at two levels: 1) in the light of the teaching of the Prophet as contained in the Qur`an and authentic ahadith and 2) in the light of other Muslim traditions.

 
The Idea of the Messiah

The expectations about the Messiah are so varied that it seems impossible to construct a coherent picture that can be realized in real time. No wonder then that in Christianity the Messiah comes only to go away without fulfilling his main role.

For the purpose of this article it is convenient to divide the views about the Messiah as follows:

The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and refers to the practice of anointing individuals for a divinely ordained role such as a king1 or a priest2 or a prophet3 and gives three pictures of the expected Messiah.

    The Messiah is a king of David’s line (King-Messiah) who will restore the Davidic kingdom that ceased to exist centuries ago, expanding its rule to many other nations, if not the whole world.

    He is a priest of Levi’s or Aaron’s line or Melchizedek’s order (Priest-Messiah) who will restore a perfect worship. Connected with this is the expectation of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple.

    He is a prophet of Moses’ type (Prophet-Messiah, usually called simply the Prophet) who will lead the people of Israel to redemption as Moses did long time ago.

Sometimes the Messiah can be a king, priest, and prophet all at once but in some brands of Judaism more than one Messiah is expected to perform the three roles. Thus the Dead Sea Scrolls expect two Messiahs, a king and a priest, and one Prophet. The New Testament also knows of the expectations of three messianic figures, but it merges them all into a single figure that is identified with Jesus. But the New Testament evidence is far from clear whether Jesus himself thought of his role in terms of a Messiah in any sense4.

At first, the Christians expected Jesus to return very soon after his departure (within the lifetime of the first Christian generation) to perform his messianic roles, but when the expectation was not fulfilled, a “realized eschatology” was devised which believed that in some way Jesus had already done his work of salvation during his first coming. At the same time belief in the second coming continued in Christianity, frequently producing groups excited by the prospect of Jesus’ return.

It is also interesting that in Pauline and Gentile Christianity some of the expectations connected with the Messiah are retained but the term “Messiah” itself is emptied of its contents so that “Christ” (latinized Greek equivalent of “Messiah”) became a mere name. Already in Paul’s writings “Christ” is nothing more than a name5.

As for Islamic sources, they do not mention a King-Messiah who restores the kingdom of David or a Priest-Messiah who restores the temple rites. Not only the Qur`an does not mention the King-Messiah or the Priest-Messiah, but it also does not give much importance to the institutions of kingship and priesthood. The really important figures in the Qur`an are prophets (ambiya`) and messengers (rusul) not kings or priests. Even when the Qur`an talks about the two greatest Jewish kings, David and Solomon, it does not stress their kingship. David is probably presented in 17:55 as a prophet who was given a book (zabur, or Psalms) and in case of both David and Solomon it is their wisdom and spirituality that is prominent in the Qur`an rather than their kingship.

The primacy of the Prophet/Messenger means the primacy of knowledge and revelation. It is a recognition that human beings need a message from God for their spiritual and moral development. Institutions such as kingship and priesthood are of secondary importance, if at all.

Jesus is called al-masih (Messiah) both in the Qur`an and the Hadith but the term is used as a name: in 3:45 the Qur`an explicitly makes al-masih a part of the name of Jesus: Mary is given glad tidings of a son “whose name is al-masih, Jesus son of Mary”. This corresponds exactly to the usage of “Christ” in much of the Christian tradition. Beyond the use of the name al-masih the Qur`an and the Hadith do not link Jesus with early messianic expectations. He is not given any of the functions of the kingly or priestly Messiah. Some ahadith present him as a just ruler bringing extraordinary prosperity during his second coming, but there is no indication that this is meant in any traditional messianic sense. He is never called a king or son of David or otherwise associated with the establishment or restoration of the Israeli kingdom. Nor is he presented as a priest of the end-time, as in some New Testament books. Moreover, while the Gospels go to great lengths to show that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, the Qur`an and the Hadith do not even state in anything like a clear way that the coming of Jesus was in fulfillment of earlier prophecies6. Such a statement would have provided a strong basis to view Jesus as a messianic figure in some traditional sense7.

Earlier Biblical prophecies are recognized in the Qur`an but mostly as predictions of the coming of a prophet and the victory of truth and righteousness. This is somewhat similar to the fact that the Torah does not talk about the coming of the Messiah but it does talk about the coming of a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-19).

Interestingly, it is the Prophet Muhammad who is said by the Qur`an and the Hadith, in the clearest terms, to be prophesied in the Torah and the Gospels (Qur`an 7:157, 17:107-108, 61:6; Mishkat al-Masabih, 26/18/1, 26/18/2, and 26/20/3 in James Robson’s translation). Therefore, in the light of the Qur`an and the Hadith, the figure that comes closest to fulfilling earlier messianic or eschatological prophecies and thus being a messianic figure is the Prophet Muhammad. The belief in Muhammad as the last prophet also gives him an eschatological or messianic character. Thus if Islamic sources provide any positive basis for affirming any type of Messiah, it is the Prophet-Messiah, and he should be identified with the Prophet Muhammad. But in the Qur`an and Hadith there is no insistence that the Prophet Muhammad is the only messianic figure and so it is possible to accept more than one Prophet-Messiah. Therefore in view of the use of al-masih as a name of Jesus in the Qur`an and the Hadith, absence in them of any kingly or priestly role for him, and their presentation of him as a prophet and a messenger of God we can regard him as a second Prophet-Messiah if we are so inclined for some reason. Indeed, it will be at least consistent with the Qur`an to talk of three Prophet-Messiahs, the third being Yahya or John the Baptist8.

 
The Return of Jesus

We now look at the belief in the return of Jesus in the light of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (the Qur`an and authentic ahadith) and the Muslim traditions.

THE QUR`AN

The Qur`an has no clear reference to the return of Jesus. An implicit reference is seen by some in two verses.

1)         In Surah 43 we find passages about Abraham, Moses, and Jesus in that order. In the passage about Jesus it is said:

        wa inna hu la ‘ilm al-sa‘ah, “surely he is (a means) of knowledge for the hour”.

In opinions attributed to Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, ‘Ikramah, Qatadah, Suddi, Dahhak, Abu al-‘Aliah and Abu Malik this is understood to refer to Jesus’ return before the Hour as its sign: he is a means for the knowledge for the Hour in the sense that upon his return people will know that the Hour is surely coming. To support this interpretation some have read ‘alam (sign) instead of ‘ilm (knowledge). A related shi‘ah interpretation, also held by some sunnis under shi‘ah influence is that the verse refers to the coming of al-Mahdi, who may or may not be identified with Jesus (Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, al-Sawa`iq al-Muhriqah).

But the interpretation that sees in the verse a reference to the return of Jesus or the coming/return of al-Mahdi is only one of several interpretations. Thus some early authorities, e.g. Hasan Basari and Sa‘id bin Jubayr take hu (which could mean “he” or “it”) to refer to the Qur`an. That is: the Qur`an is the source of knowledge for the Hour.

Still others interpret the verse as a reference to Jesus’ miracles – virgin birth, raising the dead – which show that resurrection is a real possibility.

A fourth possible interpretation is that Jesus is a means of knowledge for the hour in its very simple sense that he taught belief in the hour, giving it a very important place in his preaching and spreading this belief in the world more successfully than any other prophet or teacher before him. His teaching, as summarized in Mark 1:14 and Matthew (4:17), centers around the proclamation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. When the disciples are sent on a mission, they too preach the same message (Matthew 10:7, Mark 6:12, Luke 10:9). And before the end of his ministry he talks at length about the hour and its signs (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, John 14-17). A

Read more: Islamic View of the Coming/Return of Jesus

Repent, For Allah is Merciful

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(1985)

This article is for you even if you do not consider yourself a "good" Muslim, even if you commit some of the major sins such as adultery. Indeed, this article is for you even if after coming to North America you have become a Hindu, Christian, communist or an atheist or you are married to one of these and you are letting your spouse raise your children as kafirs (non-believers, who are bent on rejecting God).

 

Whatever kind of person you have become after coming here, receive from God and His Messenger the good news: God is most merciful and most forgiving and as more than willing to receive you back in His mercy. He says in His book:

 

        "O those of My servants who have transgressed against your own selves, despair not of God's mercy. God does forgive all sins, for surely He is the most forgiving most merciful one." (39:53)

 

The relationship between you and your Creator is not such that once spoiled it has to stay spoiled. At any time we can turn to Him in repentance and make peace with Him. With repentance God washes our slates completely clean as if there was never any spot of sin on them.

 

If you take one step towards God, he will take two towards you. If you come to Him walking, He will come to you running.

 

Even though it would not harm God in the least if the whole of mankind abandoned faith and goodness, God is overjoyed when one of His servants, lost in faithlessness and sin, comes back to Him. Imagine a mother who has lost her baby in a crowd and is nervously searching for it. Imagine now her joy when she finds her lost baby. When a servant of God returns to Him after being lost in faithlessness and sin, the joy of God is more than seventy times greater than the joy of such a mother.

 

Now imagine a man traveling alone in a desert on a camel. He goes to sleep for the night and when he wakes up he finds his camel missing. He searches for his beast on foot for hours, during which time the sun warms up the desert, and thirst and hunger bring the man close to extinction. Just then he sees the camel walking towards him with water, food and other provisions. The happiness of God when a sinner returns to Him is like the happiness of this traveler at the moment he sees his lost camel.

 

Repent, therefore, to this loving and merciful God. But if you keep rejecting God's offer of mercy and forgiveness, then know that the judgment of God can come anytime. The same God that can be more loving than the most loving mother, also can at times be stricter than the most strict father.

 

Repentance does not mean being perfect. We can never be perfect since even prophets have at times made mistakes. Repentance means to abandon one's rebelliousness and arrogance before God and to stop deliberately disregarding His commandments without feeling any shame. Repentance means to humbly hope for the mercy of God and to fear His judgment while doing the best one can to fulfill divine wishes within the limits of one's human weaknesses.

Read more: Repent, For Allah is Merciful

Beliefs and Practices