There are verses in the Quran that literally mean that God has preferred some over others among His messengers. These preferences are about His chosen persons, families, people (nation) and covenant with people (nation). The Arabic preposition “`alaa” means “over” translated to “to”, “from”, “among”, “more than” is consistently used in all the pertinent verses to indicate His preferences. From these verses it is mistakenly understood that some people are more favorable to God and He has given them higher status over others at Him. But He has repeatedly warned us not to make any distinction between any of His messengers (2:136, 2:285, 3:84 and 4:152) which indicates that all of His messengers who are chosen have the same status at Him. Moreover, the Quran teaches us that anyone who believes in God and the Last Day and does righteous deeds will receive his recompense from his Lord as well as he has nothing to fear nor will he grieve (2:62, 5:69), even we have also been informed that all human beings are given the equal opportunity to raise their status at God being saints and martyrs through their deeds (57:19, 4:69) which may be a teaching for us NOT to idolize any human being whoever he/she may be to prevent us from idol worshipping which is an unforgiveable sin (4:48, 4:116, 39:65) if maintained until death (4:17, 4:18, 25:71).
Review of Verses Referring to Preferences
God has made every human being responsible for his own works but has chosen certain people to perform certain duties in accordance with His knowledge who are capable of accomplishing His assigned duties that support the believers of each community to lead a righteous life as part of His plan and promise (2:38, 20:123). As the Quran teaches us what is right and confirms not to have any nonsense or ambiguity in it (4:82, 10:32, 41:42), let us carefully review each verse with respect to its context to understand God’s teachings of such preferences to eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding from our hearts:
1. Moses is preferred over all the people
[Quran 7:144] He said, “O Moses, I have chosen you, out of all the people, with My message and My word (qaala yaamoosa-i inni-i is’tafaytuka `alaa al-naasi bi-risaalaati-i wa-bi-kalaami-i). Therefore, take what I have given you and be appreciative.”
Let us review the related verses below to understand the preference of Moses over all other people of the world as indicated in the above verse. The verse 28:43 informs us that Moses was given the scripture while the verses 4:164 and 19:52 inform us that God spoke with Moses directly as his people demanded him to see God physically (2:55). The mode of communication of God with Moses was an exceptional and only event in the human history, which was needed to support him to guide his people as demanded by them. So, the substance of the preference is the event not the person Moses. As such, any interpretation of prophet Moses to be superior over other prophets would be a misinterpretation as well as the violation of the God’s commands given in (2:136, 2:285, 3:84 & 4:152.)
[Quran 2:55] Recall that you said, “O Moses, we will not believe unless we see God, physically.” Consequently, the lightning struck you, as you looked.
[Quran 4:164] Messengers we have told you about, and messengers we never told you about. And God spoke to Moses directly.
[Quran 19:52] We called him (Moses) from the right side of Mount Sinai. We brought him close, to confer with him.
[Quran 28:43] We gave Moses the scripture – after having annihilated the previous generations, and after setting the examples through them – to provide enlightenment for the people, and guidance, and mercy, that they may take heed.
2. Some prophets are preferred over others
[Quran 17:55] And your Lord is the best knower of everyone in the heavens and the earth. And we certainly preferred some prophets over others (wa-laqad faddalnaa ba`da al-nabiyeena `alaa ba`din). And we gave David the Psalms (wa-aataynaa Daaw-oo-da Zabuuran).
God sent down the scripture to His prophets and supported them with miracles as needed to make them successful to deliver His message to their respective community or nation (2:213, 33:56). Although the above verse is talking about the preference of some prophets over others but referring to the scripture. It is noted that the Psalms was given to David, which is one of the books of the Old Testament and is known as a treasury of prayers and hymns for liturgical and private use on chosen occasions for the community he was sent for. However, below is the Psalm 1 out of 150 Psalms of the Psalms (source: Bible) to understand its form of content.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Hence, the verse 17:55 clearly explains that prophet David was given a scripture designed in a particular form which is different from what are given to other prophets. So, the substance of the preference is the scripture NOT the person David. Now, if we interpret the verse that prophet David has been preferred over other prophets would be a misinterpretation as well as violation of God’s commands given in 2:136, 2:285, 3:84 & 4:152.
3. Some messengers are preferred over others
[Quran 2:253] These are the messengers, we have preferred some of them over others (til’ka al-rusulu faddalnaa ba`dahum `alaa ba`din); of them to whom God spoke, and He raised some of them in rank, and we gave Jesus, son of Mary the clear proofs and we supported him with the Holy Spirit. And had God willed, the people after them would not have fought after the clear proofs had come to them, but they disputed, some of them believed and some of them disbelieved. Had God willed they would not have fought, but God does whatever He intends.
God has not only given sent down messages to His messengers but He has also associated unexceptional and remarkable events to make them miracles for the contemporaries and made them history to be lessons for the people of subsequent generations to strengthen their hearts to accept the messages as well as to follow them.
4. Both persons and families are preferred over other persons and families
[Quran 3:33] Indeed, God has chosen Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of Amram to the people (Inna allaha is’tafaa aadama wa-noohan wa-aala ib’raaheema wa-aala imraana `alaa al-aalaameen).
The above verse literally means that God has chosen Adam and Noah over other persons while the families of Abraham and Amram were chosen over other families of the word. But if we dig down, it can be found that the verse is actually talking about the historical figures and the four historical figures: Adam, Noah, Abraham and Amram represent at least 4 different significant events, and the historical events associated with them are: (1) the father of all human beings (Adam), (2) the reversal of creation due to big flood (Noah), (3) the delivery of all religious rites that we practice today (Abraham) and (4) the father of Mary, mother of Jesus (Amram).Now, we have room to redirect our focus from ‘the preference about persons or families over others’ to the most important past events in the human history to understand the underlying meaning of the verse.However, the related verses of the Quran that support these 4 significant events are detailed out below to reflect on the real meaning of the verse with respect to preference:
The Quran teaches us that Adam and his wife were the first humans on earth, and Adam was chosen as the father of all human beings followed by the divinely controlled system of human reproduction on earth. When Adam was sent down on earth, he came down with God’s given religion for him as well as for his descendants but in the simple form (2:37). It is noteworthy that he was the father of all prophets and messengers of God but there is no indication in the Quran that he was either a prophet or a messenger.
[Quran 32:7] He is the One who perfected everything He created, and started the creation of the human from clay.
[Quran 32:9] He shaped him and blew into him from His spirit (the soul). And He gave you the hearing, the eyesight, and the hearts; rarely are you thankful.
[Quran 2:36] But the devil duped them (Adam and Eve), and caused their eviction therefrom. We said, “Go down as enemies of one another. On Earth shall be your habitation and provision for a while .”
[Quran 2:37] Then, Adam received from his Lord words, whereby He redeemed him. He is the Redeemer, Most Merciful.
[Quran 2:38] We said, “Go down therefrom, all of you. When guidance comes to you from Me, those who follow My guidance will have no fear, nor will they grieve.
[Quran 7:35] O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
[Quran 6:98] He initiated you from one person, and decided your path, as well as your final destiny. We thus clarify the revelations for people who understand.
[Quran 7:189] He created you from one person (Adam). Subsequently, He gives every man a mate to find tranquility with her. She then carries a light load that she can hardly notice. As the load gets heavier, they implore God their Lord: “If You give us a good baby, we will be appreciative.”
[Quran 32:8] Then He continued his reproduction through a certain lowly liquid.
Noah is one of the 20 prophets who are given scripture to guide the humanity and the big flood during his time known to us through the Bible and Quran is obviously a significant event that perished all the transgressors leaving only the obedient of God to repopulate the world with the believers. Thus, the flood was not an ordinary overflow but devastating which was as like as a reversal of creation. It is noteworthy that the present population of the world, i.e., both believers and disbelievers are descendants of those who were carried in the ark and saved with Noah.
[Quran 29:14] We sent Noah to his people, and he stayed with them one thousand years, less fifty. Subsequently, they incurred the flood because of their transgressions.
[Quran 69:11] The flood was devastating, so we carried you on the floating (ark).
[Quran 11:37] “Build the ark under our watchful eyes, and with our inspiration, and do not implore Me on behalf of those who have transgressed; they are destined to drown.”
[Quran 11:38] While he was building the ark, whenever some of his people passed by him they laughed at him. He said, “You may be laughing at us, but we are laughing at you, just as you are laughing.
[Quran 11:44] It was proclaimed: “O earth, swallow your water,” and “O sky, cease.” The water then subsided; the judgment was fulfilled. The ark finally rested on the hills of Judea. It was then proclaimed: “The transgressors have perished.”
[Quran 11:48] It was proclaimed: “O Noah, disembark, with peace and blessings upon you, and upon nations who will descend from your companions. As for the other nations descending from you, we will bless them for a while, then commit them to painful retribution.”
[Quran 17:3] They are descendants of those whom we carried with Noah; he was an appreciative servant.
The Family of Abraham
Abraham is one of the 20 prophets and also the father of many other prophets but what made him prominent or historical figure is the giving of all the religious rites that we practice today appointing him Imam for the people. The Quran teaches us that the religion as decreed for the previous generations (43:10) started formally at the time of prophet Abraham who originally named us Submitters (Al-Mus’limeen in Arabic) (22:78). So, the details of all the religious rites are delivered through prophet Abraham to practice by all the people including all prophets and messengers after him until the end of the world, and this giving made the history that requires our attention and reflection to be righteous are the essence of the preference.Hence, it is obligatory for all the people to practice the religion of Abraham, and the believers who practice the religious rites as given to Abraham without slightest modification or change to those rites from their end to redeem their souls belong to one family (16:123, 22:78, 49:10):
[Quran 2:124] Recall that Abraham was put to the test by his Lord, through certain commands, and he fulfilled them. (God) said, “I am appointing you an imam for the people.” He said, “And also my descendants?” He said, “My covenant does not include the transgressors.”
[Quran 16:123] Then we inspired you (Muhammad) to follow the religion of Abraham,the monotheist; he never was an idol worshiper.
[Quran 22:78] You shall strive for the cause of God as you should strive for His cause. He has chosen you and has placed no hardship on you in practicing your religion – the religion of your father Abraham. He is the one who named you “Submitters” originally. Thus, the messenger shall serve as a witness among you, and you shall serve as witnesses among the people. Therefore, you shall observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and hold fast to God; He is your Lord, the best Lord and the best Supporter.
[Quran 42:13] He decreed for you the same religion decreed for Noah, and what we inspired to you, and what we decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: “You shall uphold this one religion, and do not divide it.” The idol worshipers will greatly resent what you invite them to do. God redeems to Himself whomever He wills; He guides to Himself only those who totally submit.
[Quran 43:28] This example (of Abraham) was rendered an everlasting lesson for subsequent generations; perhaps they redeem their souls.
[Quran 49:10] The believers are members of one family; you shall keep the peace within your family and reverence God, that you may attain mercy.
The Family of Amram
There is no indication in the Bible or Quran that Amram was either a prophet or a messenger but was the father of Aaron, Miriam and Moses while both Aaron and Moses were chosen as prophets. If we read the verses down, we find a relationship between Mary, mother of Jesus and the family of Amram. But there is confusion or controversy around about this relationship and the root cause is the big generation gap between the time period of Aaron and Moses and the time period of Mary and Jesus. However, the related verses as mentioned below have connected Mary, mother of Jesus with the family of Amram being Mary’s mother as a wife of Amram (3:35) while Mary being the daughter of Amram (66:12).
The historical events associated with Adam, Noah and Abraham are well known and clear to us but the fatherhood of Amram is not acceptable to us as a historical event as there is no single instance in the Quran that the parents either the father or the mother of any prophets has been made the historical figure because of their parenthood. In fact, Amram is designated as the father of Mary in the Quran to represent someone like him who was not chosen but his descendants were: Aaron and Moses as we see Mary and Jesus were chosen from the family of someone who was not only chosen, even was unknown in the Bible literature as well as to the contemporary people when the Quran was revealed. Thus, the preference of Amram’s family as mentioned is to connect Mary to his family being Amram as her metaphorical father rather than the biological father is undoubtedly an unusual event that made Amram a historical figure,and the big generation gap serves as a physical evidence of such relationship:
[Quran 3:35] When the wife of Imran said: “My Lord, I have vowed to You dedicated what is in my womb, so accept from me, You are the Hearer, the Knower.”
[Quran 3:36] When she gave birth to her, she said, “My Lord, I have given birth to a girl” – God was fully aware of what she bore – “The male is not the same as the female. I have named her Mary, and I invoke Your protection for her and her descendants from the rejected devil.”
[Quran 3:44] This is news from the past that we reveal to you. You were not there when they drew their raffles to select Mary’s guardian. You were not present when they argued with one another.
[Quran 66:12] And Mary, the daughter of Amram, who maintained her chastity, then we blew into her from our spirit (the soul). She believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures; she was obedient.
[Quran 19:28] “O descendant (sister) of Aaron, your father was not a bad man, nor was your mother unchaste.”
5. Mary, mother of Jesus is preferred over all women
[Quran 3:42] The angels said, “O Mary, God has chosen you and purified you. He has chosen you from all the women (wa-is’tafaki alaa nisaa-i al-aalameen).
Mary was chosen to give birth to Jesus when she was a virgin, which was the exceptional event in the human history to make Jesus a portent for the whole world. Her virginity confirms this unusual event while her extraordinary piety raised her status at God. It is noteworthy that she was conceived within her by the Holy Spirit (the Gabriel) and the birth of Jesus was as same as the creation of Adam (3:59). Thus, we must reflect upon the event not the person to understand the preference.
[Quran 3:45] The angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news: a Word from Him whose name is `The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. He will be prominent in this life and in the Hereafter, and one of those closest to Me.’
[Quran 3:47] She said, “My Lord, how can I have a son, when no man has touched me?” He said, “God thus creates whatever He wills. To have anything done, He simply says to it, `Be,’ and it is.
[Quran 3:59] The example of Jesus, as far as God is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, “Be,” and he was.
[Quran 19:16] Mention in the scripture Mary. She isolated herself from her family, into an eastern location.
[Quran 19:17] While a barrier separated her from them, we sent to her our Spirit (the Gabriel). He went to her in the form of a human being.
[Quran 19:19] He said, “I am the messenger of your Lord, to grant you a pure son.”
[Quran 19:20] She said, “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me; I have never been unchaste.”
[Quran 19:21] He said, “Thus said your Lord, `It is easy for Me. We will render him a sign for the people, and mercy from us. This is a predestined matter.”
[Quran 19:22] When she bore him, she isolated herself to a faraway place.
[Quran 19:23] The birth process came to her by the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “(I am so ashamed;) I wish I were dead before this happened, and completely forgotten.”
[Quran 19:24] (The infant) called her from beneath her, saying, “Do not grieve. Your Lord has provided you with a stream.
[Quran 19:27] She came to her family, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have committed something that is totally unexpected.
[Quran 21:91] As for the one who maintained her virginity, we blew into her from our spirit (the soul), and thus, we made her and her son a portent for the whole world.
6. Children of Israel (nation) is preferred over other nations
[Quran 2:47] O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I blessed you more than any other people (wa-annee faddaltukum `alaa al-aalaameen).
[Quran 2:122] O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I blessed you more than any other people (wa-annee faddaltukum `alaa al-aalaameen).
God has repeated twice in the Quran to inform us that He has bestowed favor and blessing on the people of Israel more than any other people of the world. When we see such statement, the first thing that comes to our mind is God has given upper hand to the people of Israel with respect to health, wealth etc. for the life of this word. But the careful scrutiny indicates that the favor and blessing as mentioned are related to their guidance to drive them in the right path. Although the blessings and mercies of God on all humans are countless but He specified a good number of them for the people of Israel to support them to prepare their life for the Hereafter such as: He saved them from different adversities, prevented them from falling in idol worship, chose many prophets and messengers from among them to warn them to find and follow the right path, sent down manna and quails as provisions and even talked to one of the warners (Moses) at right side of Mount Sinai as demanded by them to support them to be the believers:
[Quran 7:138] We delivered the Children of Israel across the sea. When they passed by people who were worshiping statues, they said, “O Moses, make a god for us, like the gods they have.” He said, “Indeed, you are ignorant people.
[Quran 10:90] We delivered the Children of Israel across the sea. Pharaoh and his troops pursued them, aggressively and sinfully. When drowning became a reality for him, he said, “I believe that there is no god except the One in whom the Children of Israel have believed; I am a submitter.”
[Quran 17:4] We addressed the Children of Israel in the scripture: “You will commit gross evil on earth, twice. You are destined to fall into great heights of arrogance.
[Quran 17:8] “If you work righteousness, you work righteousness for your own good, but if you commit evil you do so to your own detriment. Thus, when the second time comes to pass, they will defeat you and enter the masjid, just as they did the first time. They will wipe out all the gains you had accomplished.”
[Quran 2:132] Moreover, Abraham exhorted his children to do the same, and so did Jacob: “O my children, God has pointed out the religion for you; do not die except as submitters.”
[Quran 2:133] Had you witnessed Jacob on his death bed; he said to his children, “What will you worship after I die?” They said, “We will worship your god; the god of your fathers Abraham, Ismail, and Isaac; the one god. To Him we are submitters.”
[Quran 20:80] O Children of Israel, we delivered you from your enemy, summoned you to the right side of Mount Sinai, and we sent down to you manna and quails.
7. God’s covenant with children of Israel (Jacob)
[Quran 5:12] God had taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and we raised among them twelve patriarchs. And God said, “I am with you, so long as you observe the Contact Prayer (Salat), give the Obligatory Charity (Zakat), and believe in My messengers and respect them, and continue to lend God a loan of righteousness. I will then remit your sins, and admit you into gardens with flowing streams. Anyone who disbelieves after this, has indeed strayed off the right path.”
God’s covenant with Children of Israel is one of the many covenants mentioned in the Quran. The covenant is detailed out in the above verse, which is about to lend God a loan of righteousness Not about health, wealth or territory that we usually understand. He will remit their sins and will admit them into gardens as long as they lead a righteous life observing all the religious rites as given to them. He has also informed us that He fulfilled His part to support them and reminded them to fulfill their part to reverence Him. However, such covenant is not only with the Children of Israel but also applicable to the Children of Adam for their forgiveness and redemption as a whole:
[Quran 2:40] O Children of Israel, remember My favor, which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill your part of the covenant, that I fulfill My part of the covenant, and reverence Me.
[Quran 2:63] We made a covenant with you, as we raised Mount Sinai above you: “You shall uphold what we have given you strongly, and remember its contents, that you may be saved.”
[Quran 2:93] We made a covenant with you, as we raised Mount Sinai above you, saying, “You shall uphold the commandments we have given you, strongly, and listen.” They said, “We hear, but we disobey.” Their hearts became filled with adoration for the calf, due to their disbelief. Say, “Miserable indeed is what your faith dictates upon you, if you do have any faith.”
[Quran 4:154] And we raised Mount Sinai above them, as we took their covenant. And we said to them, “Enter the gate humbly.” And we said to them, “Do not desecrate the Sabbath.” Indeed, we took from them a solemn covenant.
[Quran 5:32] Because of this, we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people. Our messengers went to them with clear proofs and revelations, but most of them, after all this, are still transgressing.
[Quran 5:70] We have taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and we sent to them messengers. Whenever a messenger went to them with anything they disliked, some of them they rejected, and some they killed.
God has chosen many among us and supported them that they needed to accomplish their mission but none of them had any mission on their own, and they all followed what was revealed to them (6:50, 7:203, 10:15). Thus, when God has mentioned prophets and messengers in the Quran, in most cases He has either referred to His message what He sent down with them or any remarkable events associated with them. In fact, not the person but the message being the substance serves as the guidance, reminder, warning, mercy and healing for each community while the associated unexceptional and remarkable events made history to be lessons for the subsequent generations (12:111). In addition, He has taught us that the believers in God and His messengers are capable of raising their status at God through their works to be treated as saints and martyrs (4:69, 57:19) which may be a teaching for us NOT to idolize any human being whoever he/she may be to prevent us from idol worshipping. However, those who are blessed by God to study the Quran being sincere (56:79) would realize that there are various levels of meaning of many verses of the Quran rather than just literal meaning.
Thus, when God has mentioned His preferences over others among His chosen ones, He has either referred to His message what He sent down with them or the exceptional events that were miracles for the contemporary people to support and help them believe in Him and His message to realize that they are accountable to Him for their works to get the equivalent compensation on the Day of Judgment. Hence, it should be a matter for us to use our logic to understand the underlying meaning as coded in the verses related to the preferences. Lastly, it is a great regret that in most cases, the human factors occupy the central part in the religion instead of God or His message that divided God’s religion as well as made many of us idol worshippers (3:19, 3:85, 21:93, 30:32, 42:13).
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.
Tafazzal ( 2/27/2015)