In this article, we are going to compare the concept of Avatar or incarnation of God on earth according to Hindu philosophy with the concept of
Prophethood or Messengership in the Islamic doctrine system. We will also explain why Muslims do not believe in incarnation as was interpreted by Hindu scholars and philosophers.
What is Prophethood?
The prophethood or messengership in Islam is a special relationship between the seen and unseen worlds, the earth and the sky, the human being and the divine world, between the Creator and the creation. The concept of messengership in Islam is originally based on selection and choice of Allah. A prophet in Islam is a mediator between common people and Allah in order to receive divine message and convey it to the people.
According to Islam,prophets and messengers are human being in many natural futures but at the same time they were characterized with many distinct features and special qualities that may not exist in many people, rather, those good qualities could not be found together in any person.
A poet demonstrated this point in a brief and unique style, he says: “The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a human, but not like others. Rather, he is a ruby among the stones.”
The Definition of Messenger and Prophet
The word an-Nabi (the Prophet) and ar-Rasul are used interchangeably in Islamic theology. However, the word “Nabi” has three possible Arabic root-words: it is derived from ‘Naba’ i.e., to prophesize, or giving information or news about something that is beyond the five senses, because a Prophet gives news or information about the unseen thing or world.(1)Or the word ‘Nabi’ has been derived from ‘Nabwah’ that means to be high, therefore ‘Nabi’ means a man who has a high position in the court of Allah. (2) Or the word is derived from an-Nabi that is the right path.(3)
On the other hand, the word ar-Rasul is derived from “Risalah” that means to send.Thus, the word “ar-Rasul” denotes the person who is sent to some place or to someone. However, the word in Islamic theology refers to a man who was sent from Allah with divine scripture to the people.
A Muslim theologian says that ar-Rasul is a man who was selected by Allah (Glory be to Him) and was blessed with a divine scripture to convey His message, and was supported by his Lord with some unique miracles to verify his truthfulness.(4)
Are Prophets and Messengers human being in Islam?
The Prophets and Messengers according to Islamic faith were human being; however, they were distinguished men and were characterized by the purest and highest mental and spiritual qualities that made them able and ready to receive the revelation from Allah (Glory be to Him).A messenger according to the Islamic belief, eats food, buys, sells, gets married and have children. The messenger also undergoes many natural experiences of disease, pain, strength, weaknesses, life and death, but he is surely free of everything that is hated or ugly.(5)
Were Messengers sent to the Hindu Nation?
According to Islamic belief, every nation in the world was blessed and honored with a Prophet or Messenger in every age until the Messenger of Allah Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent as the seal of all prophets and apostles. His message is for all people and all nations around the world irrespective of their color, race, nationality and sex and it will continue till the Day of Judgment. There is no new prophet after the Last and Final Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). No nation in the world was deprived of some kind of divine message as was stated by the Glorious Qur’an.
Allah (Glory be to Him) says:
By Allah, We did certainly send [messengers] to nations before you.(An-Nahl16:63)
And there was no nation but that there had passed within it a warner.(Fatir35:24)
And for every people is a guide.(Ar-Ra`d13:7)
These verses indicate clearly that Indian people were honored with divine revelation through some prophets and apostles, but we can not identify their names or scriptures accurately.However, we are sure that their messages and scriptures were changed and altered over time. Therefore, the original message could not be distinguished from the duplicate and wrong message due to the large distortions over the length of the times. It can be said that some Hindu religious thoughts may be a remnant of those antique messages. The idea of charity, fasting and worship in general refers to the advent of some prophets or apostles in the Indian subcontinent.
Why do Hindus have to believe in Islam?
But after the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, the Last and Final Messenger of Allah, there is no salvation for any person in the world but through the belief in his message. All people in the world whether Hindu, Jew, Christian, Magi or atheist have to know and believe in his message, since the Islamic divine sources have collected all good qualities of the previous religions and brought the message of Allah in a correct and accurate style that is more suitable with the human nature and need and contain general principles and rules for everything that happens today or will happen in the future until the day of resurrection.
If you want to know, for example, the Islamic ruling on trading the human organs, which is a recent issue you can find in the Glorious Qur’an and blessed Hadith some general principles that can explain the accurate ruling on this issue.
In fact, the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the summary and nectar of all previous messages. (6) For example, some Hindus claim that monotheism had been the doctrine of the ancient Hindu religion and worship of the idols or manifestations of the nature is strictly forbidden. So, if you believe in Islamic monotheism,you will be a true and honest believer in the monotheism by all standards because the doctrine of monotheism is the peculiarity of Islam in every time and place.
Why does humanity need a messenger?
The purpose of the messengers and prophets is to invite people to the worship of Allah in a right method and to establish the divine religion. Allah (Glory be to Him) says:
And verily, We have sent among every nation a Messenger (proclaiming): “Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid all deities. (I.e. do not worship any deity besides Allah).(An-Nahl16:36)
Establishment of religion and worship of Allah includes faith in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers and the Last Day, also it includes good deeds and ethics that cleanse the human souls and purify them and instills good inclinations in human souls in order to gain physical and moral perfection in this life and to make it ready for eternal bliss in the Hereafter.
This is about the concept of prophethood in Islam in a nutshell, now we will present the idea of incarnation in the Hindu religion.
The Concept of Incarnation from an Islamic Perspective
I think that Hinduism has totally different perception of the human relationship with the Lord. Hindu philosophy is based on the incarnation of God in a human form. According to Hinduism, God has incarnated into human and animal forms in order to execute some noble tasks, and when god has incarnated into a human form or animal’s nature He became under the general principle of natural law; He eats, drinks and can have sexual intercourse and undergoes all human experiences of sickness, hunger and death.
While Islam regards incarnation of God into human form or any other form as an impossible issue. However, Islam recognizes the concept of prophethood and messengership that are based on receiving the divine revelation or message and conveying it to the people.
The Glorious Qur’an mentions that the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) asked his Lord to show him His self but Allah (Glory be to Him) said: “You can not see Me.”
The Glorious Qur’an mentions the story and says:
And when Musa (Moses) came at the time and place appointed by Us, and his Lord spoke to him, he said: “O my Lord! Show me (Yourself), that I may look upon You.” Allah said: “You cannot see Me, but look upon the mountain if it stands still in its place then you shall see Me.” So when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He made it collapse to dust, and Musa (Moses) fell down unconscious. Then when he recovered his senses he said: “Glory be to You, I turn to You in repentance and I am the first of the believers.”(Al-A`ara’f7:143)
This demonstrates the impossibility of His appearance to the people, because His Entity is completely different from this world and itsnature.But what is the attitude of Hindu philosophy towards the concept of incarnation? This is the subject that would be dealt in the coming part of this article.
(1)Ibn Faris, Mu`jam Maqayis Al-Lughah, edited by Harun `Abdus-Salam Harun, Dar Al-Jeel, Beirut. Vol. 5, p.385
(2)Ar-Raghib Al-Asfahani, Al-Mufradat, Dar Al-Qalam, Damascus 1412 A.H. p.482.
(3)Ibn Manzur, Lisan Al-`Arab, Dar Sadir, Berut, 1414 A.H.vol.1, p.163.
(4)Sa`d Ad-Din At-Taftazani,Sharh Al-`Aqa’id An-Nasafiyyah, Al-Matba`ah Al-`Alawi, Lucknow, without date, p.14.
(5) As-Sayid Sabiq, Al-`Aqa’id Al-Islamiyyah, Al-Fath Lil-I`lam Al-`Arabi,10th ed.2000, p.154.
(6)Muhammad Abu-Zahrah, Al-`Aqidah Al-Islamiyyah, Majm`a Al-Buhuth Al-Islamiyyah, 1969, p.87.