William Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice tells us that “Satan can cite Scripture for his [own] purpose, an evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling face; a good apple rotten at the core. O, what a beautiful outside falsehood has!”
Prophecy is the means whereby God offers guidance to human beings through human intermediaries. Just as God’s mercy takes precedence over God’s wrath and thereby determines the nature of wrath, so too does God’s guidance takes precedence over his occasional misguidance. Guidance itself demands the existence of misguidance.
Without the misguidance that is embodied by Satan, the prophetic messages would be meaningless.
Without distance, there can be no nearness; without wrong, no right; without darkness, no perception of light. All the distinctions that allow for a cosmos to exist depend upon the diversification and differentiation of the divine qualities. On the moral and spiritual level, this diversification becomes manifest through the paths of guidance and misguidance, represented by prophets and satans.
An excellent example of misguidance by satans is the frequent misuse of verses from the Quur’an that apply to some Christians and Jews, as if they applied to all Christians and Jews. For example, defining Christians and Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs” is widespread today in religious, educational and public discourse in the Arab world. In a weekly sermon the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Al-Tantawi, one of the most senior authorities in the Sunni Muslim world, described Jews as “the enemies of Allah, sons of pigs and apes.”
In truth, the Qur’an never states all Jews were turned into apes or pigs; but clearly states that only some sinful Jews were: “…They are those whom Allah has cast aside and on whom His wrath has fallen and of whom He has made some as apes and swine…” (5:60); “…You have surely known the end of those from amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath, in consequence of which We condemned them: Be you like apes, despised” (2:65).
That in every generation there were some Jews who failed to live according to the covenant that God had made with B’nai Israel- the Jewish People is correct; just as in every generation some Muslims within the Muslim Umma have failed to live according to Islamic teachings.
In every religious community of human beings there are many who act like apes and pigs, and then fail to repent and amend their behavior. To them the Qur’an states: “When, instead of amending, they became more persistent in the pursuit of that which they were forbidden, We condemned them: Be you as apes, despised” (7:166).
The Qur’an states specifically: “They are not all alike. Some of the People of the Book are firmly committed to the truth. They recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of night, and remain in the state of [prayer] prostration before their Lord.” (3:113 – Qadri)
Again we see the explicit declaration that the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) are not all alike. Some “…are firmly committed to the truth. They recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of night, and remain in the state of [prayer] prostration before their Lord.” and some do not; just as some Muslims pray everyday and are committed to the truth, and some Muslims do not.
Those who imply that Christians and Jews in general are “the descendants of apes and pigs” are satans spreading misguidance for political purposes. Their teachings should be rejected.
Wherever there have been prophets, there have been satans. The Qur’an uses the word satans to refer to some of the jinn and also to some human beings. To be a satan is to be an enemy of the prophets and an embodiment of misguidance: “We have appointed to every prophet an enemy/satans from among mankind and jinn, revealing fancy words to each other as delusion. Yet, had thy Lord willed, they would never have done it. So leave them with what they are fabricating.” (Quran 6:112)
Misguidance is a universal phenomenon, found in the outside world and within ourselves. In the same way that guidance is a universal phenomenon. In other words, the human race is inconceivable without both prophets and satans, because human beings are defined by the freedom they received when they were made in the divine form. They are able to choose among the divine attributes, because all the divine attributes are found within themselves.
Just as they can choose God’s right hand by following guidance, so also they can choose his left hand by following misguidance. Without that choice, they would not have been free to accept the Trust.
As we have seen, the fundamental message of the prophets is monotheism. In the Islamic perspective, all prophets have brought the first Shahadah: “We never sent a messenger before you save that We revealed to him, saying, There is no god but I, so worship Me'” (Quran 21:25).
We have sent no messenger save with the tongue of his people.(Qur’an 14:4) To every one of you [messengers] We have appointed a right way and an open road. (Qur’an 5:48)
The Qur’an insists that Muslims should not differentiate among the prophets of God. Each prophet, after all, was sent by God with guidance, and the primary message of each is the same:”Say: We have faith in God, and in that which has been sent down on Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and Jacob, and the (12) Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and to Him we have submitted.” (Quran 2:136, 2:285, 3:84)
The Qur’an tells us in several verses that the later prophets came to confirm the messages of the earlier prophets: “And when Jesus son of Mary said, “Children of Israel, I am indeed God’s messenger to you, confirming the Torah that has gone before me…” (Qur’an 61:6)
He has sent down upon you the Book with the truth, confirming what was before it, and He sent down the Torah and the Gospel afore-time, as guidance to the people.” (Qur’an 3:3)
At the same time, the Qur’an makes clear that the details of the messages differ. Any distinction that can be made among the messengers has to be made on the basis of the difference in their messages: “And those messengers-some We have preferred above others. Among them was he to whom God spoke [Moses] and He raised some in degrees. And We gave Jesus son of Mary the clear explications, and We confirmed him with the Holy Spirit.” (Qur’an 2:253)
The idea that every messenger comes with a message that is specific to the people to whom he was sent and that differs in details from other messages is deeply rooted in the Islamic consciousness and is reflected in the titles that are customarily given to the great messengers in Islamic texts.
Each title designates the special quality of the messenger that distinguishes him from other messengers. Thus, one of the verses just quoted refers to him “to whom God spoke (Moses).”
Most commentators think that this is a reference to Moses, to whom Islamic sources give the title kalim (speaking companion), because God spoke to him from the burning bush without the intermediary of Gabriel, and because the Qur’an says, “And unto Moses We spoke directly” (Qur’an 4:164).
But the commentators add that it may also refer to Adam, to whom God spoke to in the Garden, and to Muhammad, to whom God spoke to during Muhammad’s ascent to God (the mir’aj). In a similar way, Jesus is usually called God’s “spirit,” and Abraham his “close friend” (khalil).
Thus, all the laws that are proper to Jews, for example, are not necessarily proper for Christians, nor do the rulings of the Muslim Shariah have any universality (despite the claims of some Muslims). For example, in the following verse, God explains that the Jews have prohibitions that do not apply to Muslims: “And to the Jewry We have forbidden every beast with claws; and of oxen and sheep We have forbidden them the fat of them, save what their backs carry, or the entrails, or what is mingled with the bone. (Qur’an 6:145)
Similarly, the Qur’an places the following words, which are directed at the Children of Israel, in Jesus’ mouth, thus indicating that his Shariah differs from that of Moses.
[I have been sent] to confirm the truth of the Torah that is before me, and to make lawful to you certain things that before were forbidden unto you. (Qur’an 3:50)
An often recited prayer at the end of Sura 2 of the Qu’an says, “Our Lord …, charge us not with a burden such as You did lay upon those before us” (Quran 2:286). The commentators say that this refers to the Torah (laws of Passover Kosher food) which is a heavy burden, in contrast to the Muslim Shariah, which, in the words of a hadith, is “easy, congenial” (sahl samh).