Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Prophet Elijah the Tishbite (37:123-132)

 باسمك اللهم

وصلاتك وسلامك على نبيك محمد

وعلى آله واهل بيته الطيبين الطاهرين

The prophet Elias, also known as Elijah the Tishbite على نبينا وعليه الصلوات والتسليمات was one of the greatest prophets to have walked the face of the Earth. Allah Most High speaks highly of him in the holy Quran:

وَ اِنَّ اِلۡیَاسَ لَمِنَ الۡمُرۡسَلِیۡنَ

And assuredly Elias also was one of the Messengers

(37:123)

It is interesting that in the Quran this prophet’s name is based on the Greek rendering, from the Septuagint, and not the Hebrew rendering Eliyahu or Elijah which means “my El is Yah”. An example of the opposite phenomenon is the prophet Zechariah “Yah remembers”, the priest and father of John the Baptist, whose name in the Quran زكريّا appears based on the Hebrew rendering and not the Greek rendering Zecharias.

اِذۡ قَالَ لِقَوۡمِہٖۤ اَلَا تَتَّقُوۡنَ

When he (Elias) said to his people, ‘Will you not fear (God)?’

(37:124)

Prophet Elias lived during the time of the evil and wicked king Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel, sometime in the 9th century BCE.

اَتَدۡعُوۡنَ بَعۡلًا وَّ تَذَرُوۡنَ اَحۡسَنَ الۡخَالِقِیۡنَ

Do you call on Baal, and forsake the Best of creators,’

(37:125)

In this verse the Quran has summarized the entire ministry of the prophet Elias as one dedicated to the condemnation of the pagan cult of Baal that had become widespread in the kingdom of Israel. King Ahab married Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, who was a fanatic for the false deity Baal. Under her influence, the true Israelite prophets were persecuted and murdered. The prophet Elias, under divine commission, challenged the cult of Baal, which was under this wicked royal patronage, which culminated in the contest at Mount Carmel. It is in the context of the incident and miracle of Mount Carmel the words of the Quran “Will you not fear? Do you call on Baal and forsake the Best of creators?” is to be understood.

And this is one of the proofs of the divine authorship of the Quran. Those who allege the Quran was a fabrication of the prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم are at a loss to explain how an unread, simple shepherd in seventh century Arabia, hailing from the pagan clan of Quraish, could possibly know the historical reality of Elijah’s ministry against Baal in ninth century BCE Israel. He could not read, let alone have access to the Book of Kings or the Book of Chronicles which are written in a language foreign to his native Arabic. And this is what Allah Himself says in the Quran:

تِلۡکَ مِنۡ اَنۡۢبَآءِ الۡغَیۡبِ نُوۡحِیۡہَاۤ اِلَیۡکَ ۚ مَا کُنۡتَ تَعۡلَمُہَاۤ اَنۡتَ وَ لَا قَوۡمُکَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِ ہٰذَا

This is of the tidings of the unseen which We reveal to thee. Thou didst not know them, neither thou nor thy people, before this

(11:49)

Baal was the name of the false deity and idol worshipped by the heathens. The name means “owner” and “lord”, but as a proper name, it is not the name of our God but of the imaginary false deity of the pagans in ancient times. In the Quran, the husband of a woman is referred to as her ba’l (4:128), which indicates that the husband is meant to reign over his wife, and that she should treat him as her master according to the philosophy of Islam. The patriarch Abraham’s wife Sarah عليهما السلام referred to him as her ba’l (11:72).

But we should understand that just because a deity bears the name of one of God’s characteristics does not mean that deity is synonymous with the One True God, or that we should call upon our God, Allah Most High, with that name. The controversial and ignorant televangelist Dr. Zakir Naik said that he has no objection to naming Allah with the names of the Hindu pagan deities Brahma, Siva and Visnu. Because, according to his research, these Sanskrit names can be generic in meaning and not necessarily referring to the conception of those deities that bear those names in Hinduism, it is not objectionable to call upon Allah with such names! But this is utter falsehood. If that was true, then it would be right to call upon Allah with the name Baal, which simply means ‘lord’ or ‘owner’.

Regarding the prophet Elias, Allah جلّ جلاله says:

فَکَذَّبُوۡہُ فَاِنَّہُمۡ لَمُحۡضَرُوۡنَ

But they treated him as a liar, and they will surely be brought (before God to render an account)

(37:127)

We are to understand that in his day the general attitude of the wicked Israelites, especially as represented in the acts of their rulers, was one of rejection and scorn of the prophet Elias. According to the Bible a certain righteous man named Obadiah was forced to hide as many as a hundred true prophets of God lest they be slain by the wicked rulers: “When Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and provided them with food and drink” (1 Kings 18:4,13).

It is truly amazing that true prophets of God appeared literally in their hundreds contemporaneously. Islam teaches that the prophets are the supreme creation of Allah Most High. If people wonder at the enormity of the sun, which is over a million times greater than the Earth in volume, and is said to have been burning for billions of years, and then consider that there are some 300 billion suns (stars) in our galaxy alone, then why should it be so mind boggling that God raised up prophets in their hundreds, nay thousands, in human history? Rather, what should amaze people, especially us Muslims, is the superficial understanding that hundreds of prophets appeared in ancient Israel, but that for this Ummah, which is the best of nations, prophesy has apparently ceased after nabiyyina Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم.

The prophet Elias was forced to flee and hide in various locations outside the dominion of Ahab and his wretched wife Jezebel. Even after the contest at Mount Carmel, in the aftermath of which Elias ordered the killing of the false prophets of Baal, he had to flee into hiding once again for fear of Jezebel’s retributive threats.

In a somewhat enigmatic verse, the Quran concludes the account of prophet Elias thus:

سَلٰمٌ عَلٰۤی اِلۡ یَاسِیۡنَ

Peace be upon Il Yāsīn

(37:130)

The word Ilyasin is perhaps the plural of Ilyas (Elias), as some exegetes have speculated. Indeed, this form of the greeting of peace upon him is unique for him in this Surah. It points to something distinct about the prophet Elias among the other prophets. I tend to believe it is pointing to the particular tradition or typecast of the prophesy he exemplified which was inherited by some subsequent prophets.

The Hebrew Bible states that prophet Elias was taken up into Heaven in a whirlwind, on a chariot of fire with horses of fire (2 Kings 2:11). According to many classical Muslim exegetes, Elias has also been named Idris in the Quran, which says:

وَّ رَفَعۡنٰہُ مَکَانًا عَلِیًّا

And We raised him to a lofty station

(19:57)

They interpret this verse as referring to the physical ascension of the prophet Elias on a chariot of fire into Heaven as mentioned in the Book of Kings. But the reality of Elijah’s ascension into Heaven in a whirlwind is unclear and should not be understood as meaning anything contrary to his mortality. Every human prophet was a mortal and tasted death, as per the concise teaching of the Quran. The ascension into Heaven, as in the case of Jesus and even Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم in the event of the Mi’raj, is to be understood as a spiritual ascension, and not a physical raising of the earthen, corporal body.

Prophet Elias was then succeeded by Elisha, who inherited his mantle and continued his prophetic ministry. Elisha, or اليسع is listed in the Quran twice among other prophets and Biblical figures like Ishmael, Jonas and Lot (6:86; 38:48) but he is not mentioned in conjunction with Elias. However, three other figures are mentioned in conjunction with Elias, namely, Zechariah, his son Yahya (John the Baptist), and Jesus (6:85). These three were contemporaries, prophets from the first century CE, and belonging to that apocalyptic, messianic tendency that can be said to be the inheritance of the legacy of the great prophet Elias, which best explains their being listed together in the same verse. This is especially true of John the Baptist, who was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the second coming of Elijah. He even appeared in the garb of Elijah - a raiment of camel’s hair and a leather belt. He could be found in the wilderness on the banks of the River Jordan, baptizing those who came to him, and sustaining on locusts and wild honey. As for our Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم he manifested the beauty and quality of all the prophets of old within his person, be it the royalty and splendor of kings David and Solomon, to the austerity of Elijah and John the Baptist عليهم السلام

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