Are There a People to Whom a Prophet Was Not Sent?
No people and no land are excluded from that commandment.
This brings us to the question of whether those who claim they have not been sent prophet will be held responsible for their beliefs and actions. As we have just explained, there is no reason to believe that any peoples in the world have been deprived altogether of the prophets’ light. There may have been periods in which darkness seemed to prevail. But such were temporary darknesses, after which the Grace and Blessing of God again enlightened the people through revelation to His chosen servants. Thus, whether it be less or more, every people, at some point in their history, saw or heard or experienced to the full, the mercy of revelation. Nevertheless, we must allow that, in some instances, the destruction of the beliefs which the prophets established was so absolute and people introduced so many distortions into the religion and bizarre rites of worship that the true teachings were generally, if not altogether, lost by the people. In such cases, a long interregnum of darkness may have replaced enlightenment. Though darkness is ever followed by an enlightenment, and an enlightenment by darkness, there may be some peoples who remained in darkness as it were unknowingly and against their own will. For such people there are glad tidings in the Qur’an. These are not punished or blamed for the wrong they may do, until and unless due warning has been conveyed to them: We would never visit our wrath on any community until We had sent a Messenger to give warning (17:15). That is, the warning precedes responsibility and then reward or punishment.
As for the details of this matter, the imams of the Islamic schools of thought think differently. For instance, Imam Maturidi and his school argue that no people can be excused given that there is plenty of evidence pointing to the One Creator which leads to belief in Him. By contrast, the Ashari school, referring to the Qur’anic verse quoted above, argue that warning and guidance must precede judgment and people can only be held responsible if they have been sent a prophet. There is a third body of scholars who have combined these two positions. They hold that those who have not been sent any prophet and thus have not willfully strayed into unbelief or worshipped idols are ahl-i najat (the people who will be excused and so escape the punishment and who, as God wills, may be saved). For, in fact, some people cannot analyze the things and events around them, cannot penetrate to their meaning, nor deduce therefrom the right course of belief and action. Such people are first taught the right way, given explanations and directions on how to act and then, in line with their actions thereafter, are answerable and accordingly rewarded or punished. But as for those who willfully take to unbelief or adopt an hostile, negative attitude to belief and religion, or knowingly defy God and His commandments, they will certainly be questioned and punished for their deviation and corruption, even though they live in the farthest, most desolate and deserted region of the world.
To summarize: no region or people have been altogether deprived of Divine enlightenment through God’s chosen servants, His prophets. Directly or indirectly, all people of all periods have, at some time in their history, known or been aware of a prophet and of his teaching. A period during which the names of the prophets have been forgotten and their teachings completely eroded, until another prophet is sent, is described as an interregnum. It is accepted that people who live in those periods would not be punished but rather excused, on the condition that they have not knowingly and willfully deviated into polytheism or atheism.
And God, the All-Knowing and All-Encompassing, knows best.
A striking event which demonstrates what kind of one a prophet is
One of Ibn Sina (Avicenna)’s students said to him one day that if, with his extraordinary understanding and intelligence, he were to make a claim to prophethood, people would gather round him. Avicenna said nothing; then when they were on a journey together in wintertime, Avicenna awoke from his sleep one morning at dawn, woke up his student, and told him he was thirsty, and asked him to fetch some water. The student procrastinated and made excuses. However much Avicenna persisted, the student was not prepared to leave his warm bed in the cold winter. At that moment the cry of the muezzin (caller to prayer) called out from the minaret: “God is the greatest. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Avicenna saw that this was a good opportunity to give the answer to his student, so he said:
You, who averred that if I made claim to be a prophet, people would believe in me, look now and see how the command I just gave you, who have been my student for years and have benefited from my lessons, has not even had the effect of making you leave your warm bed to fetch me some water. But this muezzin strictly obeys the four-hundred-year (now fourteen-hundred-year)-old command of the Prophet. He got up from his warm bed, as he always does every morning together with hundreds of thousands of others, climbed up to this great height and borne witness to the unity of God and to His Prophet. Look and see how great the difference is!
His name has been pronounced five times a day together with that of God for fourteen centuries all over the world, whilst he is loved heart and soul by so many people whose number is increasing day by day. The present-day conditions of the world gives the good tiding that he will be greeted by the whole world in a near future as the “Ruler of the world”, as was foretold by Jesus Christ.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.