Since the creation of man is brought about by God, the Wise, it follows naturally that there is a goal and purpose for man’s creation. Now, given the fact that what man, and man alone, possesses is intellect and wisdom, it follows that the goal and purpose of his creation must be intelligible. However, even though the intellect of man is useful and necessary in his quest for the path of perfection, it has not been sufficient. Were he to remain satisfied with his intellect alone, he would never be able to find an integral path, one that can really lead him to his own perfection.
Human intelligence and learning are inadequate to comprehend the mysteries of being, the past and the future of his existential journey, and all the dimensions and mysteries of his being. Only the Creator of man is completely aware of man, and all the dimensions and mysteries of his being. The Qur’an says: Should He not know what He created? And He is the Subtle, the Aware. (Sura al-Mulk:14)
Thus the Qur’an sends prophets to mankind to make them aware of the hidden realities and be conscious of the existence of God in the proper way. And verily We have raised in every nation a Messenger [proclaiming]: Serve God and shun false gods. (Sura al-Nahl:36)
They teach mankind the knowledge and practice of religion, give them the divine messages, and show them the right path, and how to purify themselves. As the Qur’an says: He it is Who hath sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger of their own, to recite unto them His revelations and to make them grow [in purity], and to teach them the Scripture and wisdom… (Sura al-Jum‘a:2)
How do we recognise a prophet so that we do not fall into the trap of pretenders?
There are three ways to distinguish a true prophet: First, a previous prophet, after having conclusively proved his own prophethood, clearly stipulates the identity of the Prophet to come after him. Secondly, portents and signs bear testimony to the truth of the claim of prophethood in different ways. These proofs can come from the way of life of the prophet, the content of the religious call he makes, the character of those who follow him, and the manner in which he issues his call. And thirdly, along with his claim to prophethood, the prophet performs extraordinary, miraculous feats in harmony with his claim which convince others to accept his call.
Revelation is the most important means by which prophets are in communion with the unseen. It is not the product of human instinct or intellect, but a special mode of awareness that God has bestowed upon them in order that they might convey divine messages to mankind.
In order to perfectly convey divine revelation and guidance, prophets are infallible or immune from making mistakes. In the domain of prophethood it comprises the following aspects: (a) in respect of the station of receiving, preserving and conveying revelation; (b) in respect of being protected against all disobedience and sin; (c) in respect of being protected against error in both individual and social affairs. ‘isma’ or infallibility is essential for the Messengers, in order that their sayings be trusted, and the purpose of prophecy be realized.