The fact that messengers of God were all humans is a well known reality. The fact that they were exceptional humans and therefore chosen by God for the noblest of all tasks is also well appreciated. What isn’t quite as clearly acknowledged is that their times were unique: No other era can replicate them.
Does it mean that we should forget about idealizing and emulating them? Not at all. They are our role models. What they did was the ultimate example in human virtue and conduct. But they cannot be followed in every aspect of what they did. And the reality mentioned in this last statement is what hasn’t been properly acknowledged. And not understanding its implications has caused immense confusion and damage.
The fact that the last prophet, alaihissalam, had a special law relevant to him alone (and to other messengers of course) for marriages is well known. The fact that only he could declare that he received divine revelation is well acknowledged too. It is also fully appreciated that he alone enjoys the status that entails that his verdict on the explanation of Qur’an and Sunnah stands final. Likewise there were some other such exclusive domains of his personality which no other human can share.
The most significant unique aspect of his era was that it was his inimitable personality and the accompanying circumstances of his times that enabled God to declare that if someone rejected his claim of being a prophet of God despite the individual being present during the lifetime of the messenger, such a person would be eligible to God’s wrath in this very life. That wrath was inflicted through swords of his companions upon the criminals who rejected him. Anyone who didn’t believe in his message was considered a Kafir: a criminal guilty of not believing in divine message despite knowing it to be from God. Anyone who turned his back after believing in his message (became apostate) was therefore considered worthy of being punished to death for the same reason.
Unfortunately this unique aspect of his times was generalized to other times by a large number of Muslims, not realizing that in doing so they were contradicting God’s word. This life is a trial for all humans and because the reality is never completely obvious except during small patches of time of messengers’ era no one can be forced to follow a faith nor can he be killed except if he himself is a killer or a criminal of a crime worse than killing.
A man who claims that he too receives divine revelation like the prophet did will be strongly rejected by the entire Muslim ummah. An individual who claims for him an exclusive right to be followed in religion will be ignored by a vast majority of Muslims. Someone asking for a right to marry more than four wives at the same time will be ridiculed or snubbed for doing that. But it is a tragedy that a claim made by some Muslims that is even more serious and damaging is sometimes welcomed with enthusiastic support: That it is a religious duty of all Muslims to ensure that the message of Islam politically dominates the entire globe, crushing whoever comes in the way.
Confusing this divine chastisement for the criminals who rejected the prophet for a universal principle of the Shari’ah requiring political dominance of Islam is one of the biggest problems of our present times. It has tarnished the good face of our religion. Many youngsters are getting attracted towards this version of Islam because Qur’anic verses and ahadith are presented out of context to support the view in a way that it appears convincing to the common man. It is indeed one of the most significant challenges of our times to ensure that the misunderstanding about our religion be convincingly removed for as many peoples of the world as possible.