Selecting a Messenger
As we stated earlier, someone whose understanding is embroiled by the false values of the society of ignorance cannot recognize Allah or see the truth unaided. But in His merciful compassion, Allah sends these people envoys to warn them about their mistakes and to teach them the truth about Himself, the hereafter, and the true meaning of life. In the Qur'an, these envoys are called "Messengers" (sing.: rasul; pl. rusul [one who is sent]). We are told in the Qur'an that every community will be warned by means of a Messenger:
We sent a messenger to every people, saying: "Worship Allah and keep clear of all false deities." Among them were some whom Allah guided; others received the misguidance they deserved. Travel throughout the land and see the final fate of the unbelievers. (Surat an-Nahl, 36)
Although Messengers are generally people who live within the society of ignorance, they are people who were known for their moral virtues, upright character, conscientious behavior, honesty and nobility before Allah revealed these sacred responsibilities to them. Our Prophet (saas), for example, was a highly virtuous person known and admired by the name of "al-Amin," the faithful and trustworthy one, even before the prophethood was bestowed on him.
At a certain time in his life, a Messenger begins his duty as a Messenger as Allah directs. Sometimes Allah puts it into his heart something that enables him to know of His existence and to realize how depraved his society is and sometimes this fact is revealed to him through revelation. For example, the Prophet Abraham (as) realized the existence of Allah and the perverted nature of his society, which was unaware of this reality, with an understanding that Allah inspired in him. The situation of the Prophet Abraham (as) is described thus in the Qur'an:
Remember when Abraham said to his father Azar: "Do you take idols as deities? I see that you and your people are clearly misguided." Because of that, We showed Abraham the dominions of the heavens and earth so that he might be one of the people of certainty. When night covered him, he saw a star and said: "This is my Lord." Then when it set, he said: "I do not love what sets." Then when he saw the moon come up, he said: "This is my Lord." Then when it set, he said: "If my Lord does not guide me, I will be one of the misguided people." Then when he saw the sun come up, he said, "This is my Lord. This is greater." Then when it set, he said: "My people, I am free of what you associate with Allah. I have turned my face to Him Who brought the heavens and earth into being, a pure natural believer. I am not one of the idolaters." His people argued with him. He said: "Are you arguing with me about Allah when He has guided me? I have no fear of any partner you ascribe to Him, unless my Lord should will such a thing to happen. (Surat al-An'am, 74-80)
My Lord encompasses all things in His knowledge, so will you not pay heed?"This is the argument We gave to Abraham against his people. We raise in rank anyone We will. Your Lord is All-Wise, All-Knowing. (Surat al-An'am, 83)
It is revealed in the Qur'an that Allah showed the Prophet Abraham (as) all the proofs for His existence. This shows us that Allah's inspiration made the Prophet Abraham (as) aware of his society's depravity and worship of other deities besides Allah (surely Allah is beyond that). He was able to understand Allah's existence clearly only because Allah chose him.
So, being chosen and instructed by Allah is common to all Messengers. Allah reveals this truth to the Prophet Moses (as):
Has the story of Moses not reached you? When he saw a fire and said to his family, "Wait here. I can make out a fire. Maybe I will bring you a brand from it or will find guidance there." When he reached it, a voice called out: "Moses! I am your Lord. Take off your sandals, for you are in the holy valley of Tuwa. I have chosen you, so listen well to what is revealed. I am Allah. There is no deity but Me, so worship Me and perform prayer in order to remember Me. The Hour is coming, but I have concealed it so that every self can be repaid for its efforts. Do not let those who have no faith in it and follow their whims and desires debar you from it, or you will be destroyed." (Surah Ta Ha, 9-16)
In short, a Messenger is a most virtuous and holy individual whom Allah has selected, one who is different from his compatriots, and one who has reached an understanding and true appreciation on his own of Allah's existence and that of the hereafter. But this is only the first stage of his mission. After this, it becomes his responsibility to teach his compatriots about this great truth he has come to understand and to invite them to follow Allah's way. This great task of preaching of the Messenger's is revealed thus in the Qur'an:
O Messenger, transmit what has been sent down to you from your Lord. If you do not do it, you will not have transmitted His Message... (Surat al-Ma'ida, 67)
However, as Allah reveals in the Qur'an, often just a few people come to believe in the Messenger; the rest foolishly become hostile to this holy individual.
Those Who Believe in the Messenger
When we look at the Qur'an's accounts of the Messengers, we see that very few people in a society that does not know Allah listen to the Messenger and accept what he says. This is because he calls people who live by the values of ignorance to renounce many of their superstitious values, reject their false deities and serve only Allah. Most people in such a society lack the intelligence and awareness to comprehend this. In addition, the great majority of those who could understand see that this excellent and conscientious system clashes with their own interests and so they refuse to accept it. For this reason, only a few of them who have, by Allah's leave, the intelligence to transcend their society's strong allures and the will to practice what they have learned will believe in and follow the Messengers. For this reason, in the Qur'an they are called "believers" (mu'minun).
Believers are very special individuals. Their attitudes toward the world and their reactions to events are very different from that of their contemporaries. They do not direct their lives according to their society's guidelines; rather, they take their cue from Allah's revelation and His Messenger's teachings and behavior. By doing so, they acquire an outstanding moral character that stands in stark contrast to that of the people around them. They are respectful of, as well as loving and loyal to, the Messenger. Their moral qualities, attachment to Allah, and behavior toward the Messengers are related in detail in the Qur'an.
Another characteristic belonging to this group of people is revealed in the Qur'an in its account of the Prophet Moses (as) and the Companions of the Cave. The following is revealed in the Qur'an about those who believed in the Prophet Moses (as):
No one believed in Moses except for some scions of his people, out of fear that Pharaoh and the elders would persecute them. Pharaoh was high and mighty in the land. He was one of the profligate. (Surah Yunus, 83)
Here, Allah reveals that those who followed the Prophet Moses (as) were young. The great majority of the Companions alongside our Prophet (saas) consisted of young people, and these blessed young people followed the Prophet Muhammad (saas) despite all the pressure from their polytheist relatives and families and lived alongside him. The believers mentioned in Surat al-Kahf are also revealed to be young people. Here are the relevant verses:
We will relate their story to you with truth. They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance. We fortified their hearts when they stood up and said: "Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and earth, and We will not call on any deity apart from Him. We would, in that case, have uttered an abomination. Our people have taken deities apart from Him. Why do they not produce a clear authority concerning them? Who could do greater wrong than someone who invents a lie against Allah?" (Surat al-Kahf, 13-15)
But as we explained earlier, those people with such superior moral values, who understand that their society has gone astray and seek to rectify this by putting themselves under the Messenger's guidance, are few in number.
As we saw above in the verses of Surat al-An'am about the Prophet Abraham (as), many who do not believe in Allah's Messenger respond to him with hostility. Some of the wealthy and powerful are concerned that their own interests will be harmed and are particularly hostile to the Messenger. It is to these arrogant people who persist in their rejection of Him that Allah sends Messengers. We earlier cited the verses concerning Allah's call to the Prophet Moses (as). Allah said to the Prophet Moses (as):
Go to Pharaoh. He has overstepped the bounds. (Surah Ta Ha, 24)
The Leaders of Ignorant Society
In speaking of the society of ignorance in previous pages we emphasized that the main feature of that society is that it fails to recognize or else ignores Allah and His religion. One of the main consequences of this characteristic of the society of ignorance is that it leads to a distorted social order.
A society that believes in and knows and obeys Allah is completely different to the structure of the society of ignorance. In a society of believers, people do not judge others on the basis of family connections, physical beauty, or wealth, and the citizens are loved and respected because of their superior moral character. This society appreciates, loves, and respects those of its people who have superior moral qualities, such as godliness, honesty, trustworthiness, mercy, respect and love for others, and self-sacrifice. As these can be achieved only by submitting to Allah, those entrusted with power and authority in a believing society possess the moral values of a believer revealed by Allah in the Qur'an.
However, the situation in a society that does not know Allah is just the reverse: the moral values listed above have little importance, and the people know nothing of the Qur'an's moral teachings and so exaggerate the importance of material things. For example, for a great many people wealth is the highest value, for this is what makes a person important. In other words, money is their greatest idol. For this reason, the people of such a society believe that "everyone has his or her price."
Therefore, the rich can reach the highest levels by "buying" influential or powerful people. When money is the most valuable thing, people who have it enjoy a strange kind of respect and admiration that gradually helps them to acquire the most power and authority. They form their society's various so-called elites and thus devise its norms and expectations. Most people accept their decisions and admire their lifestyles, behaviors and moral character, no matter how distorted these may be. In other words, they become "fashionable."
The leaders of such societies are often mentioned in the Qur'an. They are called "the ruling circle of those who did not believe" and "the affluent people." The great majority of these types vigorously oppose the Messenger's message, urge others not to listen to him, and try to incite hostility toward him. In the Qur'an this unchanging rule is revealed as follows:
We never sent a warner into any city without the affluent people in it saying: "We reject what you have been sent with." They also said: "We have more wealth and children. We are not going to be punished.(Surah Saba', 34-35)
So why do the elite react to Messengers in this way?