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Period of Fatra

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Fatrat al-rusul (Arabic: فَتْرَة الرُّسُلِ) or the period of prophets' interregnum refers to the period in which no prophets were sent by God. On this view, there were no prophets between the period of Jesus (a) and Muhammad (s). Different accounts have been narrated with regard to the consistency or inconsistency of the period of interregnum of prophets and the belief that the Earth never remains without a hujja (God's proof to humanity).

In addition to the interval between Jesus (a) and the Prophet Muhammad (s), other periods of prophets' interregnum are also mentioned in hadiths. Intervals between Idris (a) and Noah (a), between Noah (a) and Hud (a), as well as between Salih (a) and Abrahm (a) are also referred to as periods of prophets' interregnum.

According to some scholars, a period of fatra is not a period in which there were no prophets, since prophets have always been among people. Fatra, they maintain, refers to periods in which prophets were silent or practiced Taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation).

The Word and Definition

Literally "fatra" means weakness, as well as calmness after intensity. Fatra of prophets is taken to have two meanings,

  • Disconnection of prophethood which implies that there were periods in which no prophet was sent.
  • Dormancy of prophets which implies that although there were prophets among people, they were dormant for social and other reasons.

The term "fatra" comes from Qur'an 5:19,

Some exegetes of the Qur'an take "fatrat al-rusul" to refer to the disconnection of prophethood in this period. There are hadiths in which the term refers to the absence of prophets.

  • According to Tafsir al-Qummi, Imam 'Ali (a) interprets "fatrat al-rusul" as "absence of prophets such that they could not be appealed to".
  • 'Allama Tabataba'i takes 'fatra min al-rusul" to mean a period in which no prophet is sent. However, he restricts "fatra" to the interregnum of prophets who had their own Shari'a, not all the prophets.

However, there are other exegetes of the Qur'an who reject the disconnection of prophethood and interpret "fatra min al-rusul" as dormancy or weakness of prophethood.

  • Jahiz interprets "fatra" as dormancy, saying that there is a difference between dormancy and detachment.
  • Al-Shaykh al-Saduq interprets "fatra" as the absence of public and well-known prophets, emphasizing that there were secret prophets in that period.

"Fatra" is also interpreted as the absence of prophets who had their own Shari'a. If "fatra" means weakness, then it will refer to a period in which there was a decrease in sending prophets, rather than a period in which there were no prophets. In this sense, "fatra" refers to the period of dissimulation and isolation of prophets.

Evidence for Fatra

"Fatra", "Azman al-fatarat" (times of interregnum of prophets), "fatra min al-rusul" (interregnum of prophets), and "fatra min al-A'imma" (interregnum of Imams) are mentioned in the Qur'an and hadiths.

Proponents of the view that "fatra" was the period of the disconnection of prophethood appeal to a number of Qur'anic verses, which imply that there were times and places in which there were no prophets,

  • O People of the Book! Certainly Our Apostle has come to you, clarifying [the Divine teachings] for you after a gap in [the appearance of] the apostles, lest you should say, ‘There did not come to us any bearer of good news nor any warner.’ Certainly, there has come to you a bearer of good news and a warner. [1]
  • That you may warn a people to whom there did not come any warner before you, so that they may take admonition. [2]
  • No, it is the truth from your Lord, that you may warn a people to whom there did not come any warner before you, [3]
  • It is a scripture sent down gradually from the All-mighty, the All-merciful, that you may warn a people whose fathers were not warned, so they are oblivious. [4]
  • Had We wished, We would have sent a warner to every town.[5]

Periods of Fatra

During the period in which prophets were sent—from Adam (a) to the Prophet Muhammad (s), there were a number of periods of fatra,

  • Fatra between Noah (a) and Hud (a) for eight hundred years

What is known and discussed as "fatra" usually refers to this latter period, which, according to some hadiths, lasted for five hundred years, and according to other hadiths, for six hundred years. The period began after Israelite prophets. According to a hadith, there were 1700 years between Prophet Moses (a) and Jesus (a) without a "fatra". During this time one thousand Israelite prophets called people to the religion.

Hadiths Contradicting the Period of Fatra

According to some hadiths, prophets were sent in periods of fatra. These hadiths mention prophets who were sent between Adam (a) and Noah (a) as well as those who were sent between Jesus (a) and Muhammad (s).

Prophets between Adam (a) and Noah (a)

According to hadiths, there were ten prophets between Adam (a) and Noah (a). According to other hadiths, Seth (a) was Adam's (a) successor. This is found in Sunni sources as well. There are accounts in which names of the successors are mentioned up to Noah (a). Under the Qur'anic verse, "Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then Allah sent the prophets",[6] al-Shaykh al-Tusi says that this was a period in which divine messengers were hiding out of fear.

Prophets and Successors between Jesus (a) and Muhammad (s)

There are hadiths in which prophets in this period are mentioned, including Khalid b. Sinan al-'Absi. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq takes hadiths about Khalid b. Sinan to be undeniable. Al-Tabrisi believes that there were four prophets in this period. Al-Qurtubi believes that early in the period of interval between Jesus (a) and Muhammad (s), three prophets were sent, to whom Qur'an 36:13 refers. He quotes al-Kalbi as saying that the fourth was Khalid b. Sinan.

In his Muruj al-dhahab, al-Mas'udi says: in the period of interval between the Christ (a) and Muhammad (s) there were a number of monotheists who believed in the resurrection. There is a disagreement about them; some people believe that they were prophets. They included: Hanzala b. Safwan the prophet of the Companions of the Rass, Iskandar, Companions of the Cave, Jirjis, Simeon, Ashab al-Ukhdud, Khalid b. Sinan al-'Absi, Ri'ab al-Shani, As'ad Bu Kurb al-Himyari, Qays b. Sa'ida al-Ayadi, and Bahira the Monk.

There are also hadiths about hujjas in the period between Jesus (a) and the Prophet Muhammad (s). According to these hadiths, although there were no prophets in that period, there were clergymen. Some hadiths mention the successors in this period. The last successor was a person called "Abi", according to some hadiths. He submitted the heritage of all prophets to the Prophet Muhammad (s) , and then passed away.

The Earth Not Remaining without a Hujja

Prima facie, the disconnection of prophethood in a period of time is inconsistent with the doctrine that the Earth never remains without a hujja. According to Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, if "fatra" means that there is no hujja on Earth, then it will contradict those hadiths. Different accounts have been offered to solve the inconsistency. On some accounts, the period of fatra was not a period of the disconnection of prophethood, and on other accounts, "hujja" is not restricted to prophets; it also includes successors and clergymen.

  • Al-Shaykh al-Saduq appeals to hadiths in which successors in the period of fatra are mentioned to show that "fatra" means the dormancy and secrecy of the call to the religion, and not the absence of hujja.
  • By appealing to the doctrine that the Earth never remains without a hujja, al-Shaykh al-Tusi suggests that in this period prophets ceased their public missions out of fear because they had very few followers. In agreement with Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Tabari and al-Shaykh al-Tusi reject the disconnection of prophethood, holding that all nations had prophets.
  • Allama Tabataba'i interprets the period of fatra as the period in which there were no prophets with their own Shari'a, not prophets in general. Jawadi Amuli propounds the possibility that the period of fatra might mean the period in which there were no Israelite prophets.
  • Some exegetes of the Qur'an take "hujja" to include both prophets and successors; thus every nation either has a prophet or a successor of prophets.
  • Baydawi and some other Qur'anic exegetes take "nadhir" to include both prophets and clergymen.
  • Zamakhshari accepts the period of fatra, and takes "nadhir" to be prophets or their heritage.
  • Mughniya takes "nadhir" in every nation to include prophets, their scriptures, reformers, the reason, and fitra.

Notes

  1. Qur'an 5:19
  2. Qur'an 28:46
  3. Qur'an 32:3
  4. Qur'an 36:5 and 6
  5. Qur'an 25:51
  6. Qur'an 2:213

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from دوره فترت in Farsi WikiShia.