The Sub­jec­tive Con­scious­ness of Muhammad

Malik Ben Nabi
Tak­en from Chap­ter VIII : The Sub­jec­tive Con­scious­ness of Muham­mad in The Qur’an­ic Phe­nom­e­non, Amer­i­can Trust Pub­li­ca­tions (1983), pp. 89 — 92

While talk­ing one day with a deal­er in plants in a Med­i­nan sub­urb, Muham­mad advised him to treat his palm trees in par­tic­u­lar way. But when he vis­it­ed the same man some­time after­ward, he told the Prophet that he had aban­doned the sug­gest­ed method since it did not yield the best result.Muhammad accept­ed this response and even advised him that the indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence must out­weigh the advice of a man — even if the man be a prophet.This anec­dote is report­ed by the tra­di­tion­ist Mus­lim, who had received it from two dif­fer­ent sources : Soufayan Ibn al Ass and Anis.

Juridi­cal­ly, the advice that Muham­mad gave to the gar­den­er is a Hadith and as such it would have an almost absolute val­ue in the opin­ion of the com­men­ta­tors and doc­tors of law. Yet Muham­mad him­self annulled this Hadith against the expe­ri­ence of a sim­ple gar­den­er, thus indi­cat­ing the pri­ma­cy of rea­son and expe­ri­ence in the con­duct of world­ly affairs.

On the oth­er hand, there is not a sin­gle case in which Muham­mad had like­wise sac­ri­ficed a Qur’an­ic pre­cept to the expe­ri­ence of an indi­vid­ual, not even his own expe­ri­ence. On the con­trary, cer­tain inci­dents from his­to­ry show his absolute intran­si­gence on this point. He guard­ed Qur’an­ic pre­cepts at all costs. We see this par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of the pil­grim­age of the sev­enth year, which he called off sud­den­ly after hav­ing pre­pared for it metic­u­lous­ly. He aban­doned it sim­ply because the rev­e­la­tion decid­ed oth­er­wise, even though it cre­at­ed con­sid­er­able dis­or­der in the Mus­lim camp.

Here we have two notions which appear dif­fer­ent­ly from the point of view of the prophet : the notion of his sub­jec­tive con­scious­ness, which aris­es out of his human knowl­edge, and that of Qur’an­ic con­scious­ness, which is revealed to him. It is nec­es­sary to estab­lish a clear dis­tinc­tion between these two notions in order to bet­ter clar­i­fy the Qur’an­ic phenomenon.

This dis­tinc­tion is appar­ent with oth­er prophets, as we saw in the case of Jere­mi­ah when he wit­nessed Nabi Hana­nia tak­ing the exact oppo­site view of his pre­dic­tion, in reas­sur­ing the peo­ple of Jerusalem about the inten­tion of God about them. It hap­pened that Hana­nia, hav­ing met Jere­mi­ah, cried to him while break­ing the yoke which Jere­mi­ah car­ried : This is what Jeho­vah said : Like­wise I will break the yoke of the king of Baby­lon”. This was in con­tra­dic­tion to all the pre­dic­tions of Jere­mi­ah. But Jere­mi­ah respond­ed spon­ta­neous­ly, Amen ! May Jeho­vah do as you say.”

A. Lods, who cites this pas­sage from the Book of Jere­mi­ah in his work. The Prophets of Israel, inter­prets the pecu­liar atti­tude of the prophet in these terms : He hoped that God had gone back on His pre­dic­tions.” This is per­haps the only rea­son­able inter­pre­ta­tion to over­come the con­tra­dic­tion which would oth­er­wise appear in the atti­tude of the prophet. In short, he preached his omi­nous warn­ings in the name of Jeho­vah, and it was like­wise in the name of Jeho­vah, invoked in the ora­cle of Hana­nia, that he thought it nec­es­sary to remain silent. But this silence was not some­thing revealed to Jere­mi­ah : it was nec­es­sar­i­ly his own idea. He reck­oned that Hana­nia could have had the inspi­ra­tion of God. Mean­while, a rev­e­la­tion came to cor­rect this judg­ment of the prophet, who began again to pre­dict due con­se­quences of the peo­ple’s many sins.

This inci­dent clear­ly dis­tin­guish­es Jere­mi­ah’s human think­ing in rela­tion to that of the prophet, just as his advice to the plant deal­er in the case of Muham­mad was an exam­ple show­ing the dif­fer­ence between the thought of the man and the rev­e­la­tion of the prophet. More­over, the Holy Qur’an indi­cates the rela­tion between these two notions in the fol­low­ing verse : And thus did We reveal to thee an inspired Book by Our com­mand. Thou knewest not (before) what the Book was, nor (what) Faith (was), but We made it a light, guid­ing there­by whom We please of Our ser­vants. And sure­ly thou guidest to the right path.” (Holy Qur’an 42:52)

Thus, before Mount Hira Muham­mad had only a sub­jec­tive con­scious­ness. But this does not appear to have any­thing in com­mon with the Qur’an­ic con­scious­ness [if one gives to the verse the his­toric sig­nif­i­cance one should]. His­tor­i­cal­ly, there should not be any mis­un­der­stand­ing on this point, since first of all the verse under con­sid­er­a­tion went through the con­scious­ness and self ‑crit­i­cism of Muham­mad, who cer­tain­ly knew how to make this dis­tinc­tion, one which was nec­es­sary for his own con­vic­tion. More­over, the Holy Qur’an itself reminds him and under­scores this dis­tinc­tion in a num­ber of vers­es. Here is one in par­tic­u­lar which appears to empha­size the con­scious­ness of Muham­mad. And thou didst not recite before it any book, nor didst thou tran­scribe one with thy right hand, for then could the liars have doubt­ed.” (Holy Qur’an 29:48) Hence the his­to­ry of the Qur’an­ic con­scious­ness begins after and not before the Holy Qur’an.”

From the psy­cho­log­i­cal point of view, this verse strength­ens fur­ther the abil­i­ty of Muham­mad to dis­tin­guish between the Muham­madan sub­jec­tive con­scious­ness and the Qur’an­ic con­scious­ness. More­over, the Holy Qur’an insists strong­ly on this point as can be real­ized fur­ther from the fol­low­ing verse : Thus We relate to thee of the news of what has gone before. And indeed We have giv­en thee a Reminder from Our­selves.” (Holy Qur’an 20:99)

In oth­er vers­es, the Holy Qur’an seems to indi­cate a delib­er­ate lim­i­ta­tion of the rev­e­la­tion, so as to sus­pend the inter­est and atten­tion of Muham­mad about some­thing which was not yet revealed and which prob­a­bly would not be. And cer­tain­ly We sent mes­sen­gers before thee?of them are those We have men­tioned to thee and of them are those We have not men­tioned to thee. Nor was it pos­si­ble for a mes­sen­ger to bring a sign except with Allah’s per­mis­sion ; so when Allah’s com­mand comes, judg­ment is giv­en with truth, and those who treat (it) as a lie are lost.” (Holy Qur’an 40:78). In this verse, the con­cept of the Qur’an­ic con­scious­ness appears to go not only beyond what is revealed at present. One can cite oth­er vers­es which have a sim­i­lar mean­ing, for exam­ple, V. 45 Surah 43.

Some­times the dis­tinc­tion between the Muham­madan per­son­al­i­ty and the Qur’an­ic con­cep­tion is made by means a casu­al inci­dent offered by cur­rent life. The fol­low­ing verse one such case in point : And if We please, We could show them to thee so that thou shouldst know them by their marks. A cer­tain­ly thou canst rec­og­nize them by the tone of (their) speech. And Allah knows your deeds.” (Holy Qur’an 47:30)

Final­ly, this dis­tinc­tion in the Holy Qur’an some­times indi­cat­ed to us by means of an oppo­si­tion between the Muham­madan sub­jec­tive con­scious­ness and the Qur’an­ic con­scious­ness as in the fol­low­ing verse, which we will analyse much lat­er under the head­ing oppo­si­tions”: Supreme­ly exalt­ed then is Allah, the King, the Truth. And make not haste with the Qur’an before its rev­e­la­tion is made com­plete to thee. And say : My Lord, increase me in knowl­edge.” (Holy Qur’an 20:114).

To appre­ci­ate the two lev­els of con­scious­ness, one should also take into account anoth­er ele­ment : the clear make-up of the Muham­madan sub­jec­tive con­scious­ness. It is often said that style is the man.” Now the lan­guage of Muham­mad and that of the Holy Qur’an rep­re­sent two dis­tinct styles. Qur’an­ic verse has rhythm, a dis­tinc­tive musi­cal­i­ty. It has its shape and its own terms. It is not an exag­ger­a­tion to say that the Qur’an­ic style is inim­itable. It is said that the great poet al-Mut­tan­abi attempt­ed in vain to imi­tate it. In any case, his­to­ry acknowl­edges an attempt by a cer­tain Bab” in his Bayan al Ara­bi.” It was an unsuc­cess­ful attempt.Sheikh M. Tag : The Babism and Islam.” Hence from these exam­ples, one can con­clude that there was a clear psy­cho­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal dis­tinc­tion between Muham­madan con­scious­ness and the Qur’an­ic consciousness.Endmark

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