Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
Speaking about our Prophet, the Qur’an says:
“Now has come unto you a Messenger from yourselves (from your own nafs/anfusikum): it grieves him that you should perish: ardently anxious is he over you: to the Believers (those with true faith) he is deeply kind and merciful.” (Qur’an 9:128)
And speaking about the situation of the people of his time and about the generality of humankind and the duty given to him by God to guide humankind, the Prophet says:
“I am holding humankind by their garments (by their inclinations which veil them) to prevent them from falling into jahannam (because I see the dangerous path they are on), but they struggle desperately to throw themselves into it like flies (on carrion).”
So God sends a messenger for the benefit of humankind, a messenger that, the Qur’an says, comes to the people from their own selves for the benefit of their own selves. The Prophet came with the revelation descended upon his heart, brought down from the mother of the book, the source of all revelations, descended and pressed into his soul, impressed upon his aware and pure heart by an angel whose stance and wingspread (perceivable in the Prophet's inner vision) spanned the visible horizon of the universe.
The essence of the revelation, the truth of it, the meaning of it, the depth of it was written by the divine pen on his consciousness, into that central place within, through which all streams of thought and feeling and consciousness pass for evaluation, for approval or rejection, for understanding, for judgement, and finally for action. So he, the Prophet, became the one whose every act was informed by and connected to the Divine revelation and to the source of that revelation.
This descended revelation was the criterion and guide by which the internal nature, the nafs of the Prophet was guided. And to what should this criterion be applied beyond the already purified internal world of the Prophet?
The Prophet’s world was not restricted to his own self, to his own soul. It extended, like the vast heliosphere of the sun, to the collective and individual consciousness’s of the society he lived in. His awareness was like a vast magnetic field, that responds and is sensitive to what passes through it. And like a magnetic field, all those who wholeheartedly and sincerely accepted the Prophet entered into the protection afforded by that field. The Prophet felt and knew within his own self the self (or souls) of his people. He knew them better than they knew their own souls, their own selves.
They lacked the awareness, the insightful, sharp, perspicaciousness of the Prophet. They lacked the criterion (the inner experience of the Qur’an) that had entered his heart and which suffused his personality. Some authors speak of a collective unconsciousness shared by humanity. But the Prophet effortlessly accessed consciously the selves (the souls) of his society. He knew what benefited them, what ailed them, and what would cure them, and what would safeguard them in their own era, their own time and into the far future.
The Qur’an says: “It may happen that you hate that which is truly good for you, and it may happen that your heart loves that which will bring the ugliness of evil for you. God knows (the depths of this truth), and you know not.” (Qur’an 2:216)
So the revealed book was sent to guide humankind to overcome that unfortunate truth: that humans are “creatures that can get accustomed to anything, and that is their greatest weakness, and that is how they can be made to accept the unacceptable...”, and to be led astray from the good in their nature and made to accept the evil as good, an inversion of values. And the prophets were sent to guide away from this and towards that which would elevate humankind.
From the first to the last they came to elevate, and the culmination of them all was our Prophet who carried the revelation that was the apex and the fulfillment of all previous revelations. And it spilled out of him, drawn forth by the angel over 23 years into the form of the Qur’an - full of beauty and majesty both in its verses abounding with mercy and its truthful warnings for safeguarding the soul and the divine gifts granted to humans in the face of the accounting awaiting in higher worlds.
It is said that human beings are like windows and their spirits, which is God’s light, shines out through the glass. Sometimes (in some eras) the light shines from many windows, and sometimes from few, and some windows became so opaque and blackened with dirt that no light or only a faint trace comes through.
When the Qur’an speaks of “a messenger that has come to you from your self, from your nafs, from you own selves” this is perhaps what it refers to. The Prophet knew what ailed them, what darkened their being, what kept the light bequeathed to them from shining through, and what would cure them and elevate them, and illuminate their minds and their hearts. He was more knowledgeable about the soul of humankind than they are of their own individual souls. He was intimately connected with the self of his immediate society, and beyond that his own soul’s field of reach expanded to encompass all of humanity, all of the akhirat (the higher worlds) and the ard (the earth).
And so, as the Qur’an states: the Prophet is “of a (truly) exalted, a truly mighty standard of character.” (Qur’an 68:4)
Although the Qur’an emphasizes the Prophet’s exalted spiritual state, it also at times reminds him that he also has a bashar nature, one connected to this earth, to the lower material world. So in the Qur’an, God or the Prophet himself will state this in order to highlight his connection with the physical nature shared by all humans and all the impulses and drives connected with this form. Because the one who guides a humankind immersed blindly in this lower world and its attractions, must walk simultaneously in both the lower and higher worlds.
But since the higher dominates and stands over and permeates the lower, the essence of his nature is the side intimately joined to the throne of God. And the beneficiaries of this are humankind, those who take the Qur’an’s guidance into their heart, realizing that it understands humanity and their inclinations and foibles better than all our psychological, ethical, and physical sciences. The Prophet knows the lower and the higher and guides inexorably to the higher. But inwardly, he is above both.
When Moses was told to doff, to remove his two sandals before approaching God’s presence (symbolized by the illumined tree, the burning bush), he was being told to strip himself of attachment to the two worlds, so he obeyed the command outwardly by removing his sandals and inwardly by doffing the worlds and purifying himself of attachment. This is the state in which our Prophet lived his life. Living in this world, and elevated to the world of the miraj he encompassed the higher and guided the lower - but his internal being was above the two worlds, he was free of the two sandals of existence - at the center of his being his attachment was only to God, only to the One, and being above the worlds his nature provided the truest guidance to those whose souls he knew better than they knew they knew their own selves.
1 – paraphrase of a hadith of the Prophet
2 – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead
3 – paraphrased from Azisaddin Nasafi - The Book of a Perfect Man
4 – Bashar is used, in the Qur'an to refer to the shared material, physical characteristics of humans - the side of humans affected by their physical makeup, their fleshly nature with all the concomitant weaknesses and strengths that necessitates. When God or the Prophet use this term they are reminding others that the Prophet is not ignorant of the struggles and impulses this physical nature entails. when the Qur'an and the Prophet instruct they are fully cognizant of this nature and the guidance they provide takes this into account.
But in other verses this word is used to dismiss the Prophet and the revelation. His society criticize him saying “You are but a man (bashar) like ourselves. It is a means to attempt to disempower the Prophet, to superficially lower the Prophet to our level, to brush aside or disavow his higher nature and see only his earthbound aspect. It is like seeking him through a cyclops eye and reject the fully rounded view of the Prophet presented in the Qur’an. And since the higher dominates and stands over and permeates the lower, the essence of his nature is the one intimately joined to the throne of God. And the beneficiaries of this are humankind, those who take the Qur’an’s guidance into their heart, realizing that it understands humanity and it’s inclinations and it’s foibles better than all our psychological, psychic, and physical sciences. >
We should be careful not to use these verses of bashar placed in the mouths of his critics, to refer to the Prophet. If god does it in the Qur’an it is to make a point of mercy and to indicate that the Prophet knows the struggles of the people with their lower nature. If we do it, it is a point of disrespect towards the Prophet.
5 – paraphrased from Martin Lings - A Sufi Saint Of The Twentieth Century