Could it be that Sri Ram, Sri Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Zoroaster and Confucius were Prophets of God? This is not a new question and has been asked many times before. As I argue further that while we cannot proclaim strictly based on the Quran and Hadees (as they have not been mentioned by name) yet based on these very sources we tend to move towards possibly accepting them as such.
There is a well-known Hadees that there have been 1,24,000 Prophets sent by God in the history of mankind. But in the Quran only 25 have been mentioned by name. When this is joined with the Quranic verse that Ã¢â‚¬Å“to every nation We have sent Messengers” various interesting corollaries emerge. But before that let us go through a few verses of the Quran on this topic.
And there is a Guide for every people (13:8)
There is not a people to whom a warner has not been sent (35:25)
We sent not an apostle except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. (14:4)
And, indeed We have sent Messengers before you; of some of them We have related to you their story and of some We have not related to you their story (40:78)
The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in God, His angels, His books, and His apostles. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles. ( 2:285)
It is very clear from these that wherever there was human habitation Prophets were sent. Further it is very clear that obviously they spoke in the language of the people to whom they were sent. It is also clear that only a few have been told in the Quran and others have not been mentioned. It is but natural that the All Merciful God would endow every section of humanity with His Guidance.
The above understanding has been a classical understanding though not that well understood by the common people. The 25 Prophets mentioned by name in the Quran were all from the region of Middle East where the initial audience of Quran was present. They have been mentioned as part of moral stories that are around them in the Quran since the people there already had heard about many of these Prophets. But at the same time the Quran repeatedly mentioned that these are only some of the Prophets.
So what about the rest of the world? We know that in the Indian subcontinent and in China each have had around 20% of the human population for quite some time. Similarly there has been human habitation in the Far East, Africa, in Australia (through the aborogines), South America (Mayan and Incatha civilization), native Indians of North America, the ancient Romans and so on. Going by the Quranic verses it is quite apparent that Prophets of God would have been sent to all of these places. (See the last section of this post about the human journey through the ages as understood by the genographic project)
Again a Prophet appearing in India would have spoken Sanskrit, Pali, Bahmi, Telugu, Tamil and so on. In China he would have spoken Chinese. In Africa Swahili, Zulu, Malagasy, etc. In Korea or Japan it would have been Korean or Japanese and so on and so forth. The stupendous variety of the human disposition and celebration of the same is at various places in the Quran. The below verse clearly states that a multi-cultural world is a part of GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan.
“O people! Behold, We have created you from a male and a female and have made you into nations and tribes to that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” (49:13)
Similarly though there are only four divine books that have been mentioned by name in the Quran -Bible, Torah, Zuboor and Quran – there is a Hadees that there have been around 110 divine books in the history of mankind. The same point is corroborated by these Quranic verses
Say: “We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to God (in Islam).” (2:136)
Without doubt it is (announced) in the mystic books of former peoples. (26:196)
Ã¢â‚¬Â¦For each period is a book (revealed). (13:38)
Based on all this understanding, from the Islamic viewpoint, there is absolutely no doubt that many Prophets came to India and some would have had books assigned to them. The point of contention can never be that whether any Prophets came to India. The point is only that who those Prophets were.
In a place like the Indian subcontinent, which has had around 20% of the world population for quite some time, there would definitely had been many Prophets. If there are 1,24,000 Prophets throughout history then definitely there would had been thousands in the Indian subcontinent alone. The Hadees citing the number of Prophets is sometimes mentioned to be relatively weak but there is another Hadees in which the Prophet said that the club of Messengers is like a splendid palace. The palace was completely ready with only one brick missing and he came as the last brick which completed the palace. The analogy of the Prophet to the club of Messengers to a splendid palace is pretty apt as a palace would need thousands of brick to stand instead of just a handful.
Maulana Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, in his book Seeratun Nabi, wrote Ã¢â‚¬Å“According to the teachings of the Prophet, it is necessary to believe that in countries such as China, Iran or India there have appeared Prophets before the advent of Prophet Muhammad. No Muslim can deny to the people in these lands, the truth of the faiths, ascribed to the mentors venerated by them” (emphasis mine). Shah Waliullah, the noted theologian from the subcontinent, had the opinion that the Quranic reference to the Sabaeen community was in fact a reference to the Hindus of Aryan origin. Also many Indian ulama in the past have accepted Hindus as the Ã¢â‚¬ËœPeople of the BookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
I am making an attempt to see the possible Prophethood of highly venerated figures in Hinduism. Some Muslims may ask how does it matter since by the logic of progressive revelation we are anyway following Islam and supersede the earlier revelations. The point is that whatever one may personally believe there is another point in the Quran where God says that Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmake no distinction between one and another of His apostlesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. So whatever one may believe in from the Islamic perspective, it becomes important that we take care to refer the possible Prophets with respect and understand that the diversity of religious traditions around the world would have had divine origins.
This is important in having a better understanding, inter-faith dialogue and tolerant and respectful coexistence with various people across the globe. We do not agree on many things about Hazrat Isa (Jesus Christ) but we give him the highest level of respect. Similarly in the case of Hazrat Musa (Moses) we do not agree with the Jews on many things yet we accord him the highest respect. This facilitates relationship and co-existence with divergent religious viewpoints. Even if we disagree with others yet we respectfully agree to disagree.
Based on this if we try to understand the different religious traditions it is important to deconstruct a few things. We need to go beyond our fixation on languages and move towards a deeper meaning.
The classical Islamic understanding is that Islam was not Ã¢â‚¬Å“founded” by Prophet Muhammad but instead revived by him for the last time with a new Law. In fact we believe that he proclaimed the Primordial Religion back out of the moral confusion that had crept everywhere. We believe that all the Prophets preached Islam and the followers were Muslim. There are two words here that need to be looked into. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Islam” and Ã¢â‚¬Å“Muslim”. Both are Arabic words. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Islam” means Ã¢â‚¬ËœsubmissionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or Ã¢â‚¬ËœpeaceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬Å“Muslim” means Ã¢â‚¬Ëœone who submitsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. But now what would the name of this Primordial Religion had been when a Prophet was preaching in India or China or Africa or Korea? Not Ã¢â‚¬Å“Islam” because that is the Arabic word and the Quran itself says that the Prophets preached in the language of the people. There should be some corresponding words in those languages.
Similarly as I have earlier argued, the name of God would not be Allah as that name of the Almighty was prevalent in the Middle East alone. He would be called by other names in the various languages that proclaim His Omnipotence and Beauty.
Prophet Muhammad said Ã¢â‚¬ËœI came to clarify moralityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and the Quran asks him Ã¢â‚¬Å“Say: Ã¢â‚¬ËœI am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the apostlesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦” (46:9). Both point to the fact that the Prophet came to revive the same Primordial Religion but with a new Law.
So who could possibly had been the Prophets in India? My disclaimer is that I am just putting forward some observations for further thought. One of the Hadees of the Prophet is that there are three signs of Prophets; first they worked as shepherds in their childhood, second that they married (with perhaps the only exception of Jesus Christ/Hazrat Isa) and third that they used perfume. Their working as shepherds during their childhood was GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s way of building leadership capabilities for their later life role.
One of the names that come up immediately is of Sri Krishna. From the Hindu traditions we know that he worked as a shepherd where he would take care of the cows. We also know that he had various marriages. On the third point I am not aware. Over and above this we know that there is the Holy Book of Hindus, the Bhagwat Gita that is linked to him. One may say that the Hindus consider him to be God incarnate so how could he be a Prophet. That point from the Muslim point of view does not take anything away as the Christians have a similar belief about Jesus Christ and yet we consider him as a Prophet and accord him the highest respect.
So is it that what I stated above really a new thought? Not exactly. When I was a kid, I heard a speech of the world renowned Nadwi Islamic scholar and a Padma Vibhushan awardee, Maulana Ali Miyan, in which he mentioned that Sri Krishna and Sri Ramchandra could have been Prophets of God but we cannot say for sure as they are not mentioned by name in the Quran but we should take their names with respect and there is a good possibility that they actually were Prophets.
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, a Sunni Path scholar, wrote in the context of the possible prophethood of Sri Krishna, Gautam Buddha and Confucius Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is very probable that many of the great religious figures of other traditions were true prophets”. Mazhar Jan-i-Jana, an eighteenth century theologian and mystic, regarded both Sri Krishna and Sri Ram as Prophets of God and Vedas as divinely inspired. The same we can say of Maulana Hasrat MohaniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thoughts (who was a Deobandi scholar and a member of IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s constituent assembly) whose annual Haj pilgrimage never completed until he visited Barsana in Brinda Ban for RadhaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s darshan. He wrote various poetries in praise of Sri KrishnaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s childhood. Also some ulama in the famous Firangi Mahal of Lucknow held Sri Krishna in great respect.
I found a Hadees but I am not sure of its authenticity, as I could not relate it to a well-known collection of Hadees. It claims that Prophet Muhammad said Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kanna filhindhi nabiyyun asvadhul lavni ismuhoo Kahina” meaning Ã¢â‚¬Å“A Prophet appeared in India. He was black in complexion. His name was Kahina”. This is reported to be mentioned in the book ‘Firdowsul Akbar’ by Hazrat Thylami. If this is true, which I could not find a way of ascertaining, it quite clearly mentions about Sri Krishna who had a dark complexion and was in his childhood lovingly called kanha.
Similarly there would have been many more such personalities throughout the Indian landscape that will give similar indications. I read one paper, which argued that Prophet Nuh (Noah) was a Prophet in India. It is interesting to note here the similarity of his with Manu mentioned in Hindu traditions. The descriptions of the rain and the Great Flood described for Manu and Prophet Nuh are strikingly similar in their details. As so is the similarity in the names Nuh and Manu.
Some Muslim scholars have been of the view that the person mentioned as Dhul’ Kifl in the Quran is actually a reference to Gautam Buddha as the word means ‘of Kifl’ and since the phonetic sound ‘pa’ is not part of Arabic language it is actually a reference to ‘of Kapil’ which is the shortened form of Kapilvastu. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was one of the prominent scholars who was of this view and he so mentioned in his Quranic commentary Tarjiman ul-Quran. Similarly many scholars have given reasons as to why Gautam Buddha’s teaching focussed on personal behaviour instead of focussing on God.
There is another name that I have often found linked together which again I am not sure of but just mentioning as something that I observed but I dont find more basis to it. It is the mention of Brahma with Abraham or Ibrahim. The more striking part is that Sri BrahmaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife is Saraswati and Prophet IbrahimÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife was Sarah. If you look for the name Saraswati you would find that it is actually the join of Saras and wati where wati means woman. Though we know that Hazrat Ibrahim lived in the Middle East yet I mention here something which I observed striking.
I believe many of these thoughts that have been explored in quite detail in the past history of our land need to be highlighted to increase our understandings of each other. Islam has often been accused of not respecting diversity. Is the concept of plurality really alien to Islam? I leave with a few verses of the Quran as some food for thought. These are the normative verses of the Quran on plurality which are ignored by the extremists and the critics who both pick up very contextual and specific verses from the Quran and make an offensive attempt to use them in a normative discourse. I can hardly think of a text more than a millennium old, which would be so liberal in this thought at a time when the thought of racial supremacy was the norm.
Mankind was one single nation, and God sent messengers with glad tidings and warnings (2:213)
Unto every one of you We have appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. [Vie], then, with one another in doing good works. Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. (5:48)
If it had been your Lord’s will, they all would have believed – all who are on earth. Will you, then, compel the people, against their will, to believe? (10:99)
For had God so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; however, He lets go astray that wills [to go astray], and guides aright him that wills [to be guided]; and you will surely be called to account for all that you ever did! (16:93)
And had thy Sustainer so willed, He could surely have made all humanity one single community: but [he willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views. (11:118)
And do not abuse those whom they call upon besides God, lest exceeding the limits they should abuse God out of ignorance. Thus have We made fair seeming to every people their deeds; then to their Lord shall be their return, so He will inform them of what they did. (6:108)
1,24,000 Messengers – Making sense of the number
If we really believe that Reason and Revelation take us to the Ultimate Truth together then this rejoinder may help us further.
The human genographic project which is tracking the genetic footprint of human migration through history has thrown up some very interesting results. It shows that the humans lived first in Africa and started their migration from that abode some 60,000 years ago after already living in that region for more than 100,000 years. But then how did they move to such such wide-apart land masses as Americas and Australia which are separated by oceans. The answer is the continuous tectonic plate shft that is happening.
As the picture shows below, the land masses of Americas and Asia were joined together near Alaska and the Australian land mass was just 100 km away from today’s Sumatra and that was intervened by various small islands. This as well as the lower sea levels around 50,000 years ago allowed the humans to move throughout the earth land mass leaving Antarctica. But after that these land masses broke and shifted away from each other.
The first set of migrations happened on two paths taking humans across the Middle East and way upto Australia as early as around 55,000 years ago. When the sea levels rose and the land masses separated the Australian section of the humanity was separated altogether from the rest of the world upto modern times. The second migration happened around 35,000 years ago with the humans moving across to most of Europe and Asia and going as far as the cold areas of Siberia. The next significant achievement was the migration of humans from the Siberian area to the Alaskan area around 20,000 years ago which again got separated from the rest of the land humanity when the ice age receeded and the ocean levels rose.
These numbers may appear just numbers but to really fathom this extent just imagine that according to this study the last 2,000 years of human presence is just 1% of the total time humans have been on earth! These sections of humanity kept on moving searching for new lands with abundant hunting and food opportunities. At the same time they would have had their spiritual lives guided by various Great Souls. It takes some contemplation to understand the complexity of this journey of our ancestors who went bare foot (when horses were not yet domesticated) and took 40,000 years to cover an area which we can today in a flight of fifteen hours!