Thursday, 23 August 2018

Three Apostles of Jesus (Sura 36:13-14)

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

والصلاة والسلام على نبيه الكريم

وعلى اهل بيته الطيبين الطاهرين المظلومين

والعاقبة للمتقين

Mainstream or “orthodox” Christians tend to believe that after the conclusion of the so-called apostolic era, there was a cessation in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such a doctrine, however, is ironically not supported in their own sacred texts. Paul of Tarsus, whom Christians consider to be one of their most authoritative apostles, himself wrote:
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)
The canonical gospels attribute the following statement to Jesus of Nazareth:

“Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and [some] of them ye shall kill and crucify; and [some] of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute [them] from city to city” (Matthew 23:34)
“Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and [some] of them they shall slay and persecute” (Luke 11:49)

It is quite noteworthy that these texts attribute to Jesus glad tidings of the coming of prophets and apostles in the plural. However, the standard Islamic belief is that after Jesus, the only prophet and apostle (rasul) to come was sayyidina Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam). Not only is he (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) the “Seal of the Prophets” (Sura 33:40) after whom there is no prophet until Judgment Day, but according to a Hadith:

لَيْسَ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَهُ نَبِيٌّ

“There is no prophet between me and between him [Jesus]”

(Bukhari & Muslim)

The period between Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (alayhuma as-salam) was approximately six centuries. Based on this Hadith, Muslims generally believe that there was no prophet or apostle raised up by Allah during that period, hence why it is usually termed the fatra. The question of how to reconcile the standard Islamic doctrine in finality of prophethood, and there being only a single prophet (sayyidina Muhammad) after the advent of Jesus, with the aforementioned texts of the so-called canonical gospels deserves to be addressed. Traditionalist Ulama will of course hastily dismiss the statements attributed to Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke regarding the coming of prophets and apostles in the plural as a fabrication. But I would like to point out that the meaning of the terms “prophet” and “apostle” as used in the Christian and Islamic texts do not necessarily correspond to each other absolutely. The Bible itself acknowledges a gradual evolution in the meaning of the term prophet: “for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.” (1 Samuel 9:9)
And as I have expounded upon on this blog, the terms “prophet” and “apostle” have a technical meaning according to the terminology of the Shari’a, and have a somewhat broader meaning in the terminology and expressions of the Sufis. The holy Qur’an speaks of three particular Apostles regarding whom it is generally understood that they were disciples and followers of the Messiah son of Mary:

إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهِمُ اثْنَيْنِ فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَعَزَّزْنَا بِثَالِثٍ فَقَالُوا إِنَّا إِلَيْكُم مُّرْسَلُونَ

When We sent to them two, but they denied both of them, so We strengthened them with a third, and they said: “Indeed, We are Messengers to you.”

(Sura 36:14)

Most of the classical tafasir explain, from the statements attributed to exegetes, including from among the Salaf, that these three Apostles were disciples of and sent by Jesus. It is also mentioned that they were specifically sent to the town of Antioch:
{ وَٱضْرِبْ } اجعل { لَهُمْ مَّثَلاً } مفعول أول { أَصْحَٰبَ } مفعول ثان { ٱلقَرْيَةِ } انطاكية { إِذْ جَآءَهَا } إلى آخره بدل اشتمال من أصحاب القرية { ٱلْمُرْسَلُونَ } أي رسل عيسى
And strike for them as a similitude mathalan is the first direct object the inhabitants ashaba is the second direct object of the town of Antioch Antakya when the messengers namely Jesus’s disciples came to it idh jaa haa l-mursaluna is an inclusive substitution for ashaba’l-qaryati the inhabitants of the town. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn)
While the holy Qur’an never directly refers to the Hawariyyun (Jesus’s disciples) as prophets or apostles, it does affirm that they were recipients of divine revelation:
وَإِذْ أَوْحَيْتُ إِلَى الْحَوَارِيِّينَ أَنْ آمِنُوا بِي وَبِرَسُولِي قَالُوا آمَنَّا وَاشْهَدْ بِأَنَّنَا مُسْلِمُونَ۞
And when I inspired (awhaytu) the disciples to believe in Me and in my Apostle. They said: “We believe, and bear witness that indeed we are Muslims”
(Sura 5:111)
The Prophet Muhammad’s Sahaba (companions) have a similar status to the Hawariyyin (Jesus’s disciples). They too experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the physiological effects that are connected to such powerful spiritual experiences. In the terminology of the Shari’a, there are those among them, such as sayyidina Umar al-Faruq (radi Allahu anhu), and also among the latter Awliya (saints), who were blessed with the office of tahdith, i.e., they were Muhaddathun. In our terminology, the Muhaddath, though technically not a prophet, is nevertheless included in the broad category of prophets and apostles in the sense that he too is chosen by Allah and receives communications through the form of inspiration from Him. In Biblical terminology, a Muhaddath may be termed a “minor prophet”, or in the terminology of the New Testament, an Apostle of Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit and exhibiting gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, etc.

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