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Last Updated: 2009/09/03
Summary of question
Do prophets bear all virtues and perfection, or do they pass some stages in this world as well?
Do prophets bear all virtues and perfection, or do they pass some stages in this world as well?
Concise answer

The infallibles, the prophets and imams, are all human just like everyone else, without any difference from this point of view and this is something that the Quran points to as well.

Therefore, it isn't possible for them to be born into this world bearing all virtues and perfection beforehand. Clearly, many of these virtues must be acquired by passing divine exams and through mental and physical worship and striving to reach the pleasure and nearness of Allah (swt).

Of course, some virtues and advantages are possessed by them from the very beginning; good traits they have inherited from their parents and grandfathers, being born from pure wombs, growing in a good and pure environment. All of these and the like factor into one’s spiritual health and reaching the peaks of perfection and completeness, in addition to Allah's (swt) grace and purification playing a vital role as time goes by and the infallible shows that he/she deserves it.

One question that might come up here is:

If the prophets continue to perfect in this world as a result of the passing of time and the occurrence of different events, their religions must be the same and must gradually undergo perfection because their religions are dependant on and somewhat a part of them. This results in the fact that if the prophets had lived longer than what they actually did and other incidents and events had taken place in their lives, their religions would take another form or would be more complete. Therefore, the route to perfection that the prophets were covering must be continued by us, and taking into consideration their experiences, we must present a more complete religion.

The answer to such a statement is that religion and revelation that the prophets had differ from mystical disclosure, vision and inspiration. Religion and its laws have been precisely planned for by the All-Wise.

The process for the perfection of divine religions has been like this: Throughout history, prophets have been sent to pave the way for the most complete divine religion to be presented by the highest of all prophets who was to be their seal as well. This task has been accomplished and the Quran clearly states that Islam is complete. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that religion is still incomplete and that there is still room for its further development.

Of course, there are some who continue the way of the prophets; all prophets have had successors. The imams, who are the successors of the final prophet (pbuh), are responsible for the correct explanation and interpretation[i] of the prophet’s (pbuh) traditions and the Quran.  Also, after them, upright Islamic scholars and true Islamic experts are responsible for preaching religion and the Quran in accordance with the needs of their times.

[i] It should be noted that the responsibility imamate entails isn't limited to what was said, but also covers leadership and judgment as well. For further information, see: Hadavi Tehrani, Ta’ammulat dar Elme Usule Feqh, pp. 22-46.

Detailed Answer

The Quran introduces the prophet (pbuh) as a normal person like everyone else: “I am only a human Being like you; it is revealed to me that Allah is the only God to be worshipped”.[1]

Therefore, the principle that states that the prophets, imams and infallibles are all human beings, disproves that they come to this world bearing all virtues and perfection possible, because one thing is for sure which is that all humans come to this world bearing no or almost no virtues and perfection.

The Quran says: “Allah has brought you forth from the bellies of your mothers while you did not know anything. He made for you hearing, eyesight, and hearts so that you may give thanks”.[2]

Of course, one’s soul always bears some comprehension after birth, and understands much of good and bad, as the Quran says: “By the soul and Him who fashioned it, and inspired it with discernment between its virtues and vices, one who purifies it is felicitous, and one who betrays it has failed”.[3]

So every person bears some spiritual virtues the same way he has intuitive knowledge that he feels without the mediation of anything else (not discursive knowledge that one has to acquire), nevertheless, these virtues differ in different people; some possess more while others possess less. Some make use of these basic virtues to reach even higher ones and achieve more perfection, while others take them for granted and waste and suppress them.

One possible reason for why more perfection and completeness can be found in certain individuals can have to do with the environment they were born in and heredity. A child that is born from a modest and pure mother and father, into a pure family and has been raised under good care clearly has more potential and the capacity to reach the peaks of perfection. On the other hand, one who is born in a haram way, from haram food and grows in a bad environment clearly has much less chances of success.

These initial virtues exist in the infallibles; the sperm they are created from comes from the purest men, they grow in the purest wombs and the environment they grow in is at a high level of spirituality. Clearly, individuals like these will bear the initial and fundamental virtues and the potential to reach high levels of spirituality. As they grow physically and mentally, their spiritual and mental activity increases to the extent that they learn of many truths and realities that others aren't aware of. Of course, Allah (swt) bestows His mercy on all of His servants, especially those who show that they deserve it. One thing that is for sure is that if one takes one step towards Allah (swt), Allah (swt) will take tens and hundreds of steps toward him. As the Quran puts it:

“As for those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them in Our ways, and Allah is indeed with the virtuous”[4] and

“O, you who believe! If you fear Allah by Regarding piety, He will grant you a Power of Distinction [to distinguish Between Right and Wrong] and Allah Will remove from you, your evil deeds And will forgive you; and Allah is The Owner of the Great-Grace”[5]

When these deserving individuals reach high levels of knowledge and practice (worship), they develop an exceptional relationship with Allah (swt) named “revelation”.

Ayatullah Javadi Amoli says:
“The teacher of one who has reached the level of complete Ikhlas (pure intention and sincerity) and immaterial intellect, is Allah (swt) himself who is pure knowledge and is free from all forgetfulness; it is on this basis that the cobweb-like discoveries of Shaytan have no effect on the infallible’s intellectual, visional and conscientious discoveries. Also, one who reaches practical infallibility never commits any sin, neither purposely, nor mistakenly and out of ignorance. Reaching such a rank is only possible if one has reached the magnanimous and great peak of Ikhlas. Such a person will be very far from the two hell-taking powers of lust and rage, because all practical and provocative factors are under their control.”[6]

In a nutshell, it can be said that the prophets and imams bore the required virtues, infallibility, purity and knowledge when they were appointed, nevertheless, what they bore wasn’t the highest they could have, and as time passed and they had intellectual, spiritual and practical activity on their part and received revelation on Allah’s (swt) part, they continued the path of perfection, reaching higher levels of completeness and perfection. So some of the virtues the infallibles bear are God-given while others are acquired by them, helping them achieve infallibility[7], imamate or prophethood, and they continue to reach new levels of perfection until their deaths.[8]

One question might come up here which is that if the prophet (pbuh) was continuously covering the path of perfection, if he had lived longer his personality and religion would have developed even further than what it is now, so it can't be said that this religion is a complete one, therefore we must strive for its completion; or maybe there are still prophets to come for each time and era that will bring a religion that suits the needs of that time.

Some have a materialistic look at revelation as none other than “religious experience”; they present the abovementioned question like this:

“Prophethood is nothing more than vision and mystical disclosure.[9]  Anywhere there is experience, there is development and completion of experience. Anywhere there is becoming experienced, there is becoming more experienced. The poet becomes more of a poet through practicing poetry; the lecturer becomes more of a lecturer through lecturing; this matter applies to any type of experience. The prophet’s greatest wealth was his personality; this personality was the location, creator, receiver and agent of religious and revelation-related experiences. The expansion that would take place in his personality would trace back to expansion in his experience (and vice versa), and it was because of this that revelation depended on and followed him, not that he depended on revelation.”[10]

“In other words, the prophet’s relationship with the outside world surely had an impact on the expansion of his mission and the expansion of his prophetic experience.[11] Both the prophet is a human, and his experience is human and all those around him are humans. When these human elements come together, a human religion is born.”[12]

“To make it short, the prophet had experience at two different levels and Islam is the fruit of these two: Inner and Outer experience. As time went by, he became more experienced in both, resulting in his religion expanding and developing further. In the outer experience, he built a city (Medinah), managed, fought with the enemies, trained his friends and so on. In the inner experience, he had dreams, revelation, inspiration, ascension (mi’raj), attention (muraqebeh) and thought, and here he became more experienced and had more good results. In order for religion to complete further, the prophet himself has to complete as well because religion is the result and “concentrate” of all his personal and social experiences. In his absence too, both his inner and outer experiences must develop further and expand…if “حسبنا کتاب الله” (The book of Allah (swt) suffices us) is an incorrect claim, then “حسبنا معراج النبی و تجربة النبی” (the prophet’s (pbuh) ascension and his experience suffice us) will also be incorrect.[13]

As for the answer to this question:

1- First of all, the question is based on the assumption that revelation and experience are one, while the two differ. Revelation is from Allah (swt) and through the divine angel of revelation, and the prophets clearly feel another entity revealing unto them and speaking with them, and that their job is to receive and protect what is being conveyed to them. On the other hand, religious experience stems from within; it is a type of relationship with God and doesn’t exceed being a type of vision and mystical disclosure. Mistake and Satanic interference are impossible when it comes to revelation, while vision and mystical disclosure are prone to them. Revelation is considered God’s message to the people and leaves no excuses for any of them and must be followed, while the same doesn’t go for vision and disclosure; they are only proof and need to be followed by the person having the experience, no one else.[14]

2- The Quran clearly states that all guidelines and commands that needed to be revealed unto the prophet (pbuh) in order for religion to be completed, have been revealed in the final years of his lifetime:

“Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion”.[15]

Therefore, the completion of the prophet’s (pbuh) personality and Islam had been precisely planned for by the All-Wise and All-Powerful, so that everything would end in a perfect religion being presented by a prophet (pbuh) who was to be the highest and seal of all other prophets. So it is wrong to say: “If the prophet had lived longer, and if incidents had occurred in a way other than what actually took place for him in his lifetime, religion would have had a different form [than what we see today].”[16]

The reason being that all of the main teachings of Islam and other subjects that the people were in need of in order to continue the way and discover the truth had all been taught by the prophet (pbuh).

“Of course, the responsibility of those continuing the way of the prophet (pbuh), meaning the imams (according to the Shia school of thought) and true Islamic scholars and experts, has been and is to explain the verses of the Quran and Allah’s (swt) commands and the traditions of the prophet (pbuh), and to derive the laws and rulings needed in every era and culture from the sources, so that all questions are answered.”[17]

3- In our viewpoint, there is always a need for an infallible teacher, interpreter and one to clarify the verses of the Quran. This is what the famous saying of the prophet tells us: “I am leaving behind two weighty things amongst you; The Book of Allah (swt), and my household; as long as you cling to the two, you will never go astray.”[18]

4- Also, we don’t exclusively allocate all religious experiences, inspiration and dreams to the prophet (pbuh), so that one can correct us by saying “It is wrong to say (حسبنا معراج النبی و تجربة النبی)”. All we say is that revelation (the revealing of the angel of revelation and entrusting one with divine legislative commands) only belongs to the prophet (pbuh), and that the doors to disclosure and vision and inspiration and the like are all open to the sincere and pure servants of Allah (swt).

[1] Kahf:110; Fussilat:6.

[2] Nahl:78.

[3] Shams:7-10.

[4] Ankabut:69.

[5] Anfal:29.

[6] Abdullah Javadi Amoli, Tafsire Mozu’iye Qorane Karim, vol. 3, pg. 200.

[7] Of course, this doesn’t disprove “granted” infallibility. For further information, see:

1-The concept of infallibility and its possibility for others.

2- The infallibility of the prophet (pbuh) and not doing what is better.

3- The infallibility of normal people.

[8] See: Ibid, 213.

[9] Abdul-Karim Soroush, Baste Tajrobeye Nabavi, pg. 11.

[10] Ibid, pg. 13.

[11] Ibid, pg. 16.

[12] Ibid, pg. 21.

[13] Ibid, pp. 24-25.

[14] Javadi Amoli, Tafsire Mozu’iye Qurane Karim, vo. 3, pp. 82-97; Abulfazl Sajedi, Zabane Din dar Quran, pp. 266-273.

[15] Ma’idah:3

[16] AbdulKarim Soroush, Aftab Magazine, issue no. 15, article “اسلام به وحی و نبوت”.

[17] See: Murteza Motahhari, Khatme Nubuvvat (The sealing of Prophethood), pg. 37.

[18] Biharul-Anwar, vol. 23, pg. 108.

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