There are two very significant remarks about John the Baptist made by Jesus Christ, but recorded in a mysterious way. The first remark about the Baptist is that in which John is presented to the world as the reincarnate Eliah (Elijah) the Old Testament. The mystery with which this appellation is enveloped consists in the significant silence of Christ about the identity of the person whom Eliah (not Elias) was expected to officially announce and introduce to the world as the Last Prophet. The language of Jesus in this respect is exceedingly obscure, ambiguous, and mysterious. If John was Eliah, as is expressly and fearlessly declared, why, then, is the person whose precursor was Eliah not expressly and fearlessly mentioned? If Jesus were the "Messenger of the Covenant" and the Dominator [as the Vulgate translates the Hebrew Adon (Mal. iii. 1)], why does he not openly say so? If he courageously declared that it was not he himself but another Prophet who was that 'Dominator' it must, indeed, have been a criminal hand which erased and effaced the words of Jesus from the original Gospel. At all events, it is the Gospels that are responsible for this ambiguity and obscurity. It cannot but be described as diabolical tampering with the text that has misled billions of Christians for so many centuries. Jesus, whatever he believed he represented, ought to have, to say the least, shown himself straightforward, and to have frankly declared: "John is the Eliah who was sent as a precursor to prepare the way for me!" Or if such was not the case, then he could have made the following declaration: "John is the Eliah who was sent to prepare the way for Prophet Muhammad." Perhaps this is due to the love of Jesus for ambiguity. There are, in fact, several instances - as reported in the Gospels - where Jesus gives an answer or makes a statement which is obscure and entirely unintelligible. Leaving his godhead aside, as a Prophet, no, even as a teacher, he was expected to be a straightforward teacher and leader.
The other remark is shrouded in still a thicker mystery. "No man born of woman was ever greater than John the Baptist," says Jesus, "but the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John." Does Jesus Christ mean to teach us that John the Baptist and all the Prophets and the righteous men were outside the Kingdom of God? Who is the "least" that was "greater" than John, and consequently than all the people of God preceding the Baptist? Does Jesus mean by the "least" himself, or the "least" among the baptized Christians? It cannot be himself, because in his time that Kingdom was not yet established on earth; if it is, then he could not be the "least" in it since he was its founder. The Churches - rather each Church, orthodox or heterodox, from its own peculiar point of view - have discovered a very abstruse or a very absurd solution for this problem; and that solution is that the "]east" Christian washed with the blood of Jesus - either through the Sacrament of Baptism, according to the belief of the Sacerdotalists, or through the regeneration of some kind, according to the superstition of the Evangelicals - becomes "greater" than the Baptist and all the army of the holy men and women, including Prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Eliah, Daniel, and John the Baptist! And the reason or proof of this marvelous claim is that the Christian, however, sinful, ignorant, low, and poor he may be, providing he has faith in Jesus as his Savior, has the privileges which the holy Prophets coveted to have but did not enjoy. These privileges are innumerable; purification from original sin through the Christian Baptism; the knowledge of the "Holy Trinity" (!!! hasha! astaghfiru 'llah! - Allah forbid and pardon this term); the feeding upon the flesh and the blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist; the grace of making the sign of a cross; the privilege of the keys of Heaven and of Hell delivered to the Sovereign Pontiff; and the rapturous ecstasies of the Puritans, Quakers, Brethren, and all other sects called Nonconformists who, each in its own way, while claiming the same privileges and perogatives, all agree that each good Christian will become on the Day of Resurrection a pure virgin and present herself as a bride to the "Lamb of God"!
Do you not think, then, that the Christians are right to believe that the "least" among them is "greater" than all the Prophets? Do you not think, then, that a sturdy Patagonian monk and a penitentiary Parisian nun are higher than Adam and Eve, because the mystery of the Trinity is revealed to these confused people and not to our first parents who lived in the Paradise of Allah before their fall? Or, don't you think that this sort of belief is most unbecoming and undignified in these lofty times of advanced science and civilization? To claim that an English prince or an orphan negro is "greater" that John the Baptist because they are Christians is, to say the least, abominable!
Yet all these diverse beliefs and creeds are derived from the New Testament and from the words put into the mouth of Jesus and of his Apostles. For us Muslim, however, there are a few scintillating sparkles left in the Gospels; and they are enough for us to discover the truth about the real Jesus and his cousin, Yohannan Ma'mdana (John-Baptist).
JOHN THE BAPTIST FORETOLD PROPHET MUHAMMAD
1. According to the testimony of Prophet Jesus, no man born of woman was ever greater than John the Baptist. But the "least" in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. The comparison made by the "Spirit of Allah" (Ruhu 'llah, i.e. Jesus) is between John and all the preceding Prophets as the officers and administrators of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now in chronological order the last Prophet would be the least of them all, he would be their junior and their youngest. The word "zira" in the Aramaic, like the Arabic "saghir," signifies "little, small young." The Pshittha Version uses the word "zira or "z'eira" in apposition to "rabba" for "great, old." Every Christian will admit that Jesus is not the "last" Prophet, and therefore he cannot be the "least." Not only were the Apostles themselves endowed with the gift of prophecy, but also many other holy men in the apostolic age were favored with it according to (Acts xi. 27, 28; xiii. 1; xv. 32; xxi, 9, 10, etc)!
And as we cannot determine which of these numerous Church Prophets was the "last", we are naturally forced to seek elsewhere a Prophet who is indisputably the Last and the Seal of the Prophetic List. Can we imagine a stronger and more brilliant evidence in favor of Prophet Muhammad than the fulfillment, in his holy person, of this wonderful prophecy of Jesus Christ?
In the long list of the prophetic family, certainly the "youngest," the "least" is Prophet Muhammad; he is the "Benjamin" of the Prophets; yet he is their Sultan, their "Adon" and their "Glory." To deny the prophetical and apostolical character and nature of Prophet Muhammad's mission is a fundamental denial of the whole Divine Revelation and all the Prophets who preached it. For all other Prophets put together had not accomplished the gigantic work which the Prophet of Mecca did alone in the short period of but twenty-three years of his mission.
The mystery of the pre-existence of the spirits of the Prophets has not been revealed to us, but every true Muslim believes it. It was that pre-existing spirit that by the power of the Word of Allah "Kun" ("Be!") a Sarah, a Hanna, and a Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Isaac, to the Baptist, and to Jesus. There are several other names as recorded in the Old Testament - for instance, Samson, Jeremiah.
The Gospel of Barnabas reports Jesus as speaking of the Spirit of Prophet Muhammad which he declares to have been created before everything else. Hence the Baptist's witness about the Prophet whom he foretold: "He who comes after me has become before me, for he was before me" (John i. 15).
It is useless to interpret these wonderful words of the Baptist about Prophet Muhammad as referring to Prophet Jesus as the author of the Fourth Gospel attempts to do.
There is a remarkable chapter about John the Baptist in the well-known book of Ernest Renan on La vie de Jesu. Long ago I carefully read this work. If the learned French writer had the least consideration for Prophet Muhammad's claim in the world of Prophets, I am sure his profound investigations and comments would have led him entirely to a different conclusion. He, like all other dissident and Biblical critics, instead of finding out the truth, criticizes religion adversely and leads his readers to skepticism.
I am happy to say that it is my privilege, by the Grace of Allah, to solve the problem, to ring up the curtain of mystery which has covered the true sense and meaning of "the Least in the Kingdom of Heaven!"
2. John the Baptist recognizes Prophet Muhammad as superior and more powerful than himself. That significant expression made to the Jewish multitudes, "He that cometh after me" reminded their Scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers of the ancient prophecy of their great ancestor Prophet Jacob, in which that patriarch uses the unique title of "Shilokhah" for the "Rasul Allah," the epithet frequently used by Prophet Jesus for the Messenger Muhammad as preserved in the Gospel of Barnabas. At the time of writing my article on the "Shiloh" (l) I said that the word might be a corruption of "shiloukh" or "Shilokhah," (2) which means the Messenger of Allah, but I did not then recollect that St. Jerome, as well, had understood the Hebrew form in that sense, for he has translated it as "qui mittendis est."
------------Footnotes: (1). Cf. Islamic Review for September, 1928, p. 313 et seq. (2). The Oriental Hebrews and Assyrians pronounce the word "Shilokha" or "Shiloakh." It is very difficult to write or transliterate the Semitic languages in the Latin characters. ------------- end of footnotes
We have only an epitome of John's sermon in a few lines, written not by himself but by an unknown hand - at least not in his own original tongue - and much tampered with by transcribers and redactors who had already made his disciple Jesus an idol or a god. But when we come to compare this sermon preached in the wilderness of Judea and on the shores of the Jordan with the marvelous grace, elegance, eloquence, and power so manifest in every verse and page of the Holy Qur'an, we understand the sense of the words, "He is more powerful than I!"
When I picture to myself the ascetic Baptist preaching aloud in the wilderness, or on the banks of the Jordan, to the masses of the Jewish believers, with a theocratic history of some four thousand years old behind them, and then make a brief review of the quiet, orderly, and dignified manner in which Prophet Muhammad proclaimed the celestial verses of the Qur'an to the unbelieving Arabs; and, finally, when I examine and behold the effect of the two preachings upon the hearers and the final result, I understand the magnitude of the contrast between them, and of the significance of the words "He is more powerful than I!"
When I contemplate the seizure and imprisonment of the helpless Baptist by Herod Antipas (l) and his cruel decapitation - or when I peruse the confused but tragical biblical accounts of the flagellation of Jesus (or Judah Ishariot) by Pilate, his coronation with a crown of thorns by Herod, and the catastrophe upon the Calvary - and then turn my eyes upon the triumphal entry of the great Adon - the Sultan of the Prophets - into Mecca, the total destruction of all the ancient idols and the purification of the Holy Ka'ba; upon the thrilling scene of the vanquished deadly enemy headed by Abu Sufyan at the feet of the victorious Shilohah - the Prophet of Allah - begging his clemency and making the profession of faith; and upon the glorious worship, devotion, and the final sermon of the Seal of the Prophets in these solemn Divine words: "Al-yauma akmaltu lakum dmakum." "This day I have perfected your Relgion and completed My favor to you. I have approved Islam to be your Religion..." Ch.5:3 Qur'an then I fully understand the weight and value of the Baptist's confession, "He is more powerful than I!"
-----------Footnote: (1). There is anachronism in the account of John's martyrdom concerning the family of Herod the Great in the Gospels (Matt. xiv, etc.), the reader can consult the Antiquities of Joseph Flavius. ------------ end of footnote
3. "The Coming Wrath." Have you ever met with a sensible, judicious, and convincing interpretation of this phrase in any of the numerous commentaries on the Gospels? What does John mean, or wish his audience to understand, by his expression: "Behold the axe is already set at the root of the tree"? Or his remark: "He holds the van in his hand to purge out his threshing-floor"? Or when he reduced the title "Children of Abraham" to nothing?
I will not detain you on the vagaries of the commentators, for they are reveries which neither John nor his hearers had ever dreamed of. Could John ever teach those haughty Pharisees, and those rationalistic Saduqees (1) who denied the corporeal resurrection, that on the day of the last judgment Jesus of Nazareth would pour down upon them his wrath and burn them like the fruitless trees and like the chaff in the fire of Hell? There is not a single word in all the literature of the Scriptures about the resurrection of bodies or about Hell-fire. These Talmudistic writings are full of eschatological material very similar to those of the Zardushtees, but have no distinct origin in the canonical books. The Prophet of repentance and of good tidings does not speak about the remote and indefinite wrath which certainly awaits the unbelievers and the impious, but of the near and proximate catastrophe of the Jewish nation. He threatened the wrath of Allah awaiting that people if they persisted in their sins and the rejection of his mission and that of his colleague, the Prophet Jesus Christ. The coming calamity was the destruction of Jerusalem and the final dispersion of Israel which took place some thirty years afterwards during the lifetime of many among his hearers. Both he and Jesus announced the coming of the Great Prophet of Allah whom the Patriarch Jacob had announced under the title of Shiloha, and that at his advent all prophetic and royal privileges and authority would be taken away from the Jews; and, indeed, such was the case some six centuries later, when their last strongholds in the Hijaz were razed to the ground and their principalities destroyed by Prophet Muhammad. The increasingly dominating power of Rome in Syria and Palestine was threatening the quasiautonomy of the Jews, and the emigration current among the Jews had already begun. And it was on this account that the preacher inquires, "Who has informed you to flee from the coming wrath?" They were warned and exhorted to bear good fruits and good harvest by repentance and belief in the true Messengers of God, especially in the Rasul Allah, who was the true and the last powerful Commander.
------------Footnote: (1). This Hebrew name is wrongly written "Saducees." ------------- end of footnote
4. The Jews and the Christians have always charged Prophet Muhammad of having established the religion of Islam by force, coercion, and the sword. The Muslim modernists have always tried to refute this charge. But this does not mean to say that Prophet Muhammad never wielded the sword. He had to use it to preserve the Name of Allah. Every patience has limits, every favor has an end. It is not that the Patience or Favor of Allah is finite; with Him all is settled, defined and fixed. The chance and the time graciously granted by Allah to the Jews, to the Arabs, and to the Gentiles lasted for more than four thousand years. It was only after the expiry of this period that Allah sends His beloved Prophet Muhammad with power and sword, with fire and spirit, to deal with the wicked unbelievers, with the ungrateful children of Prophet Abraham - both the Ishmaelites and the Israelites - and to deal with the power of the devil, once for all.
The whole of the Old Testament is a tale of theocracy and of idolatry. Now and then a little sparkle of Islam - that is, the Religion of Allah - glittered in Jerusalem and in Mecca; but it was always persecuted by the power of the devil. The four diabolical Beasts had to come and trample under their feet the handful of believers in Allah. Then comes Prophet Muhammad to crush and kill the Venemous Serpent and to give him the opprobrious title of "Iblis" - the "Bruised" Satan. Certainly Prophet Muhammad was a fighting Prophet, but the object of that fighting was victory not vengeance, defeat of the enemy and not his extermination, and, in a word, to establish the Religion of Islam as the Kingdom of God upon the earth. In fact, when the Crier in the desert shouted, aloud, "Prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight His paths," he was alluding to the Religion of the Lord in the form of a Kingdom which was drawing nigh. Seven centuries before, the Prophet Isaiah had cried out and pronounced the same words (Isa. xl. 1-4); and a couple of centuries later Allah Himself paved the way for Cyrus by raising and filling up every valley, and by lowering every hill and mountain, in order to make the conquest easy and the march rapid (xlv. 1-3). History repeats itself, they say; the language and its meaning is the same in both cases, the former being a prototype of the latter. Allah had smoothed the path for Cyrus, subdued his enemies to the Persian conqueror because of His House in Jerusalem and His chosen people in the captivity. Now again He was repeating the same providence, but on a larger and wider scale. Before the preaching of Prophet Muhammad, idols and falsehood disappeared; before his sword empires tumbled down; and the children of the Kingdom of Allah became equals and formed a "people of the Saints of the Most High." For it is only in Islam that all the believers are equal, no priest, no sacrament; no Muslim high as a hill, or low like a valley; and no caste or distinction of race and rank. All believers are one, except in virtue and piety, in which they can excel each other. It is only the religion of Islam that does not recognize any being, however great and holy, as an absolute mediator between Allah and man.