There is no nation known to history like the people of Israel, which during a period of less than four hundred years, was infested with myriads of false prophets, not to mention the swarms of sorcerers, soothsayers and all sorts of witchcrafts and magicians. The false prophets were of two kinds: those who professed the religion and the Torah (Law) of Yahweh and pretended to prophesy in His Name, and those who under the patronage of an idolater Israelite monarch prophesied in the name of Baal or other deities of the neighboring heathen peoples. Belonging to the former category there were several impostors as contemporaries with the true prophets like Mikha (Micah) and Jeremiah, and to the latter there were those who gave much trouble to Elijah, and caused the massacres of the true prophets and believers during the reign of Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Most dangerous of all to the cause of true faith and religion were the pseudo-prophets, who conducted the divine services in the temple as well as in the Misphas and pretended to deliver the oracles of God to the people. No prophet, perhaps, received at the hands of these impostors more of persecution and hardships than the Prophet Jeremiah.
While still a young man, Jeremiah began his prophetic mission about the latter quarter of the seventh century before the Christian era, when the Kingdom of Judah was in great danger of invasion by the armies of the Chaldeans. The Jews had entered into alliance with the Pharaoh of Egypt, but as the latter had been badly defeated by the troops of Nebuchadnezzar, Jerusalem's doom was merely a question of time. In these critical days, during which the fate of the remnant of the people of God was to be decided, the Prophet Jeremiah was stoutly advising the king and the leaders of the Jews to submit and serve the King of Babylon, so that Jerusalem might be saved from being burnt down to ashes and the people from being deported into captivity. He poured out all his eloquent and fiery discourses into the ears of the kings, the priests, and the elders of the people, but all of no avail. He delivered message after message from God, saying that the only remedy for saving the country and the people from the imminent destruction was to submit to the Chaldeans; but there was no one to lend ear to his warnings.
Nebuchadnezzar comes and takes the city, carries away with him the king, the princes, and many captives, as well as all the treasures of the temple, including the gold and silver vessels. Another prince, and a third one, is appointed by the Emperor of Babylon to reign as his vassal in Jerusalem. This king, instead of being wise and loyal to his master of Babylon, revolts against him. Jeremiah incessantly admonishes the king to remain loyal and to abandon the Egyptian policy. But the false prophets continue to harangue in the temple, saying: "Thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, I have broken the yoke of the King of Babylon, and in two years' time all the Jewish captives and the vessels of the House of God will be returned to Jerusalem." Jeremiah makes a wooden yoke round his own neck and goes to the temple and tells the people that God has been pleased to place in this way the yoke of the monarch of Babylon upon the neck of all the Jews. He is struck on the face by one opponent prophet, who breaks to pieces the wooden yoke from Jeremiah's neck and repeats the harangue of the false prophets. Jeremiah is thrown into a deep dungeon full of mire, and is fed only on a dry loaf of barley a day until a famine prevails in the city, which is besieged by the Chaldeans. The pseudo-prophet Hananiah dies as Jeremiah had foretold. The wall of the city is thrown down somewhere, and the victorious army rushes into the city, the fleeing King Zedekiah and his retinue are seized and taken to the King of Babylon. The city and the temple, after being pillaged, are set on fire and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem are carried into Babylonia; only the poorer classes are left to cultivate the land. By order of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah is granted a favor of staying in Jerusalem, and the newly appointed governor, Gedaliah, is charged to guard and well look after the prophet. But Gedaliah is killed by the rebellious Jews, and then they all flee to Egypt, carrying Jeremiah with them. Even in Egypt he prophesies against the fugitives and the Egyptians. He must have ended his life in Egypt.
His books, as it now stands, is quite different from the text of the Septuagint; evidently the copy from which the Greek text was written by the Alexandrian translators had a different order of chapters.
The Biblical critics consider that Jeremiah was the author, or, at any rate, a compiler, of the fifth book of the Pentateuch called Deuteronomy. I myself am of the same opinion. Jeremiah was a Levite and a priest as well as a prophet. There is much of Jeremiah's teachings in Deuteronomy which are unknown in the rest of the Old Testament writings. And I take one of these teachings for my present subject, which I consider as one of the gems or golden texts of the Old Testament and must be esteemed very precious and holy.
After this detailed explanation I hasten to the main point which I have selected for the topic of this article: How to distinguish a genuine prophet from a false prophet. Jeremiah has supplied us with a fairly satisfactory answer, namely:
"THE PROPHET WHO TEACHES ISLAM"
In the Book of Deuteronomy (xiii. 1- 5, xviii. 20 - 22) God the Almighty gives some instructions concerning the false prophets who may prophesy in the Name of the Lord and in such an insidious way that they could mislead His people. Further, he tells us that the best way to find out the impostor's perfidy was to anticipate the fulfillment of his predictions, and then to put him to death when his fraud was divulged. But, as is well known, the ignorant cannot well distinguish between the genuine prophet and the imposter, just as much as they to-day are unable to definitely discover which of the two, a Roman Catholic priest or a Calvinist minister, is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ! A false prophet would also foretell events, work wonders, and do other religious things similar - at least in appearance - to those performed by a true one. The competition between the Prophet Moses and the magicians of Egypt is an apt illustration of this statement. Thus it is Jeremiah who gives us the best way of testing the veracity, the genuineness, of a prophet, and that way is the sign of Islam. Please read the whole chapter xxviii. of Jeremiah, and then ponder and reflect on the ninth verse: -
"The prophet which foretells the Islam (Shalom), at the coming of the word of the Prophet, that prophet will be recognized to have been sent by God in truth" (Jer. xviii. 9).
This translation is strictly literal. The original verb naba, usually translated as "to foretell" or "to prophesy," and the noun nabi, "a prophet" has given the impression that a prophet is a person who foretells the future or past events by the aid of divine revelation. This definition is only partially true. The complete definition of the word "Prophet" must be: "one who receives oracles or messages from God, and delivers them faithfully to the person or people intended." It is evident that a divine message need not necessarily be a foretelling of past and future events. In the same way verb "prophesy" does not necessarily mean to reveal the past or future occurrences, but rather to preach or promulgate the message from God. Consequently to prophesy is to deliver and utter a new oracle, its nature or character being quite immaterial. To read the words of a prophet would be to prophesy no more than would a prophet deliver an oracle when making a discourse or public speech of his own accord. In the Qur'an God orders His beloved worshiper Prophet Muhammad to declare: "Say: 'I am only human like you, revealed to me is that your God is One God....'" Ch. 18:110 so that we may be careful not to attribute to any of the prophets the quality of knowing and saying everything through the Revelation. The Divine Revelations used to come at intervals, while the prophets in their personal intercourse and knowledge might be liable to mistakes and errors. A prophet is not appointed by God to teach humanity physics, mathematics, or any other positive science. It would be very unjust on our part to blame a prophet for a slip of language or a mistake committed as a man.
A prophet, therefore, is the subject of test and examination only when he officially and formally delivers the Message he has received from his Lord. His private affairs, his family concerns, and his personal attainments do not concern us so much as his mission and office. In order to find out whether a prophet is genuine or an impostor, it is not fair to give a verdict against his prophetical character because he is reported to have been a little harsh or rude to his mother or because he believed in the literal inspiration and the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. While making this observation, I have in mind the case of Jesus Christ, and many others in the history of Israel on other points.
It is mala fides and ill will to accuse prophets of sensuality, rudeness, ignorance in sciences, and of other personal frailties. They were men like ourselves and subject to the same natural inclinations and passions. They were protected from mortal sins and from the perversion of the message they had to hand further. We must be extremely careful not to exalt the prophets of God too high in our imagination, lest God be displeased with us. They are all His creatures and worshipers; they accomplished their work and returned to Him. The moment we forget God and concentrate our love and admiration upon the person of any of the messengers of God we are in danger of falling into the sin of polytheism.
Having so far explained the nature and the signification of the prophet and the prophecy, I shall now endeavor to prove that no prophet could be genuine unless, as Jeremiah expressly says, he preaches and propagates the religion of Islam.
In order to understand better the sense and the importance of the passage under our contemplation we should just cast a glance over the preceding verse where Jeremiah tells his antagonist Prophet Hananiah: "The prophets that have been before me and before thee from old (times) prophesied against many lands, and against great kingdoms, concerning war and evil and pestilence." Then he proceeds: -
"The prophet that prophesies concerning Islam as soon as the word of the prophet comes, that prophet is known to have been sent by the Lord in truth."
There can be raised no serious objection to the English wording of this passage excepting the clause "l shalom" which I have translated as "concerning Islam." The preposition "l" before "shalom" signifies "concerning" or "about," and places its subject in the objective case and not in the dative, as it would be if the predicate were a verb like "come," "go," or "give."
That "shalom" and the Syriac "Shlama," as well as the Arabic "salam" and "Islam," are of one and the same Semitic root, "shalam," and mean the same thing, is an admitted truth by all the scholars of the Semitic languages. The verb "shalam" signifies "to submit, resign oneself to," and then "to make peace;" and consequently "to be safe, sound, and tranquil." No religious system in the world has ever been qualified with a better and more comprehensive, dignified, and sublime name than that of "Islam.' The true Religion of the True God cannot be named after the name of any of His worshipers, and much less after the name of a people or country. It is, indeed, this sanctity and the inviolability of the word "Islam" that strikes its opponents with awe, fear, and reverence even when the Muslims are weak and unhappy. It is the name and title of a religion that teaches and commands an absolute submission and resignation of will and self to the Supreme Being, and then to obtain peace and tranquillity in mind and at home, no matter what tribulations or passing misfortunes may threaten us that fills its opponents with awe (1).
------------- Footnote (1) It is interesting and significant to note how the observations of the learned professor coincide with those of the ex-Kaiser of Germany who on the occasion of his seventieth birthday celebrations at Doorn, Holland, was reported to have said in his speech: "And understand this - if ever the Muhammadans should conceive the idea that it is the command of Allah to bring order into a declining West and subjugate to His will, then - with faith in God - they will come upon the godless Europeans like a tidal wave, against which even the reddest Bolshevist, full of eagerness for combat, will be helpless." (Evening Standard, London, January 26, 1929.) ------------- End of footnote
It is the firm and unshaking belief in the Oneness of Allah and the unswerving confidence in His Mercy and justice that makes a Muslim distinguishable and prominent among non-Muslims. And it is this sound faith in Allah and the sincere attachment to His Holy Qur'an and the Prophet that the Christian missionaries have been desperately attacking and have hopelessly failed. Hence, Jeremiah's words that "the Prophet who prophesies, namely, who preaches and speaks concerning the affairs of Islam as his religion, he will at once be known to have been sent by the Lord in truth." Let us, therefore, take into serious consideration the following points:-
1. The Prophet Jeremiah is the only prophet before Christ who uses the word Shalom in the sense of a religion. He is the only prophet who uses this word with the object of setting or proving the veracity of a messenger of God. According to the Qur'anic revelation, Prophets Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the prophets were Muslims, and professed Islam as their religion. The term "Islam" and its equivalents, "Shalom" and Shlama," were known to the Jews and Christians of Mecca and Medina when Prophet Muhammad appeared to perfect and universalize the religion of Islam. A prophet who predicts "peace" as an abstract, vague and temporary condition cannot succeed in proving his identity thereby. In fact, the point of dispute, or rather the critical national question, controverted by the two eminent prophets known to the court and the nation like Jeremiah and Hananiah (Jer. xxviii.), could not be solved and definitely settled by the affirmation of the one and the denial of the other, of the imminent catastrophe. To predict "peace" by Jeremiah when he had all the time been predicting the great national disaster - either by the submission of the King Sidaqia to the Chaldean sovereign or by his resistance - would not only involve his failure, not to talk of his being a success in proving his veracity, but also it would make him even ridiculous. For, in either case, his presumed "peace" would mean no peace at all. On the contrary, if the Jews resisted the Chaldean army, it meant a complete national ruin, and if they submitted, an unconditional servitude. It is evident, therefore, that Jeremiah uses the term "Shalom" in the sense of a tangible, concrete, and real religious system which Islam comprises. To make it more clear, we should attentively listen to the arguments of the two opponent prophets discussing and disputing the national question in the presence of a wicked king and his court of vile flatterers and depraved hypocrites. Jeremiah has at heart the cause of God and His religion of peace, and in the vital interests of the religion of peace, or Islam, he advises the wicked king and his courtiers to submit to the yoke of Babylon and serve the Chaldeans and live. For there was no other alternative open to them. They had abandoned the God of their forefathers, polluted His temple, mocked and reviled His prophets, and committed evil and treachery (2 Chron. xxxvi. etc.). So God had delivered them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, and would not save them. For a true and sincere worshiper of God, the religion comes first and the nation after. It is the government and the nation - especially when they have forsaken God - that are to be sacrificed for the cause of religion, and not vice versa! The other Prophet of Gibeon, called Hananiah, sought to please his master the king; he was a courtier and favorite, rich and in splendor, whereas his antagonist was always languishing and starving in the prisons and dungeons. He cares not a fillip for the religion and the real welfare of the people. He is also a prophet, for so says the Book of Jeremiah, yet he is a villain, and has exchanged God for a depraved king! He prophesies in the name of the same God as does Jeremiah, and announces the return of the booty and the captives from Babylon in two years' time.
Now, from the above imperfect description of the prophets, which of the two would you qualify as the true worshiper of God and as the loyal defender of God's religion? Surely Jeremiah would at once attract your sympathy and choice.
2. It is only the religion of Shalom, of Islam, that can testify to the character and the office of a true prophet, Imam, or any minister of God on earth. God is One, and His religion is one. There is no other religion in the world like Islam, which professes and defends this absolute Oneness of the Deity. He who, therefore, sacrifices every other interest, honor and love for the cause of this Holy Religion, he is undoubtedly the genuine prophet and the minister of God. But there is still one thing more worthy of our notice, and that thing is this. If the religion of Islam is not the standard and the measure by which to test the veracity of a prophet or minister of God, then there is no other criterion to answer that purpose. A miracle is not always a sufficient proof, for the sorcerers also work wonders. The fulfillment of a prophecy or prediction, too, is not in itself a sufficient proof; for just as one holy Spirit reveals a future event to a true prophet, so does sometimes an evil spirit the same to an imposter. Hence it is clear that the prophet who "prophesies concerning Shalom - Islam - as being the name of Faith and path of life, as soon as he receives a message from God he will be known to have been sent by Him." Such was the argument which Jeremiah had recourse to and with which he wished to convince his audience of the falsity of Hananiah. But the wicked king and his entourage would not listen to and obey the Word of God.
3. As argued in the preceding paragraph, it should be noted that neither the fulfillment of a prediction nor the work- ing of a miracle was enough to prove the genuine character of a prophet; that the loyalty and strict attachment to the religion is the best and the decisive proof for the purpose; that "Shalom" was used to express the religion of peace. Once again we repeat the same assertion that Shalom is no other than Islam. And we demand from those who would object to this interpretation to produce an Arabic word be- sides Islam and Salam as the equivalent of the Shalom, and also to find for us another word in Hebrew besides Shalom that would convey and express the same meaning as Islam. It is impossible to produce another such an equivalent. Therefore we are forced to admit that Shalom is the same as "salam" or "peace" in the abstract, and "Islam" as a religion and faith in the concrete.
4. As the Qur'an in chap. ii expressly reminds us that Abraham and his sons and grandsons were the followers of Islam; that they were neither Jews nor Christians; that they preached and propagated the worship and the faith in the one God to all the peoples among whom they sojourned or dwelt, we must admit that not only the Jews, but several other nations that descended from the other sons of Abraham and many tribes converted and absorbed by them, were also Muslims; that is to say, believers in Allah and resigned to His Will. There were the people of Esau, the Edomites, the Midianites, and numerous other peoples living in Arabia, who knew God and worshipped Him like the Israelites. These peoples had also their own prophets and religious guides like Job, Jethro (the father-in-law of the Prophet Moses), Balaam, Hud, and many others. But they, like the Jews, had taken to idolatry until it was totally eradicated by the Prince of the prophets. The Jews, in about the fifth century B.C., produced the greater portion of their canonical books of the Old Testament, when the memories of the conquest of the land of Canaan by Joshua, the temple and Jerusalem of Solomon, were events buried in the past epochs of their wondrous history. A nationalistic and Judaistic spirit of solicitude and seclusion reigned among the small remnant of Israel; the belief in the coming of a great Savior to restore the lost throne and crown of David was regnant, and the old meaning of "Shalom" as the name of the religion of Abraham and common to all the different peoples descended from him was no longer remembered. It is from this point of view that I regard this passage of Jeremiah as one of the golden texts in the Hebrew sacred writ.