Human destiny, by Islamic lights, is a matter of man having been placed on this earth by Allah, so that he may be put to the test – the test being of his capacity to make correct moral choices. It is for this purpose that man has been given complete freedom, for without such freedom, the divine test would have no meaning nor validity.
It is required of man that he should lead his life on earth following a regimen of strict self-discipline. But where should he find the guiding principles for such a course? The answer, according to Islam, is in prophethood. Throughout the history of mankind, Allah appointed certain human beings – prophets – who would be the recipients and conveyors of His guidance as sent through His angels. The last in the series was the Prophet Muhammad [s].
The concept of prophethood is totally different from that of incarnation. According to the latter concept, God Himself is re-born in human shape on earth in order to give succour to humanity. Propehthood, according to Islam, is of quite another order of being. A prophet in the Islamic sense is a man, just like any other human being. His uniqueness resides solely in his also being a messenger of Allah.
A messenger is not an ‘inspired’ person in the simple sense of the word. By Islamic tenets, prophethood is dependent not on inspiration, but on divine revelation. Inspiration is a common psychological phenomenon, of the kind experienced by a poet, whereas revelation is a true and direct divine communication. It was consciously sent and also consciously received by the Prophets.
According to Islam, prophethood is not acquired but Allah-given. That is, it is not possible to engage in spiritual exercises and then, as a result, be elevated to prophethood. The Prophet does not have any say in the matter of selection. The choice depends upon Allah alone.