Nietzsche and the Science of Prophethood


This article originally appeared in The Treasure: Australia’s Sufi Magazine, no. 26 (2009), pp. 29 – 37.

“After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave — a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. — And we — we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.” (GS § 108)[1]

“That which is falling should also be pushed! Everything of today – it is falling, it is decaying; who would support it? But I – want to push it too! … I am a prologue to better players, O my brothers! An example! Follow my example!” (Z III 12 § 20)

For Nietzsche the expression of God’s death often appears offhanded, as an afterthought, secondary to a more pressing issue. Even the remnants and fallout of the event of God’s death seem to be hurriedly dealt with so that, what appears for Nietzsche to be the more pressing issue of revaluation of all values could begin. Nietzsche’s primary concern can be highlighted when the Sufi notion of the science of Prophethood, ilm al-Nubuwah, is examined alongside the assertion that “God is dead”. This essay is divided into three parts. The first part will show that, as it is utilised by Nietzsche, the statement that “God is dead” does not appear to be an ontological claim, for it does not change the way the world is in itself, nor is it a strict value claim, for it does not alter the nature of value. Rather, in Nietzsche’s hands “God is dead” is a meta-value claim in that it makes a claim regarding the verification of values. While this does not radically alter the traditional interpretations that the death of God indicating the prevailing morality to be bankrupt, it is not so much a deathblow to theistic belief than it is a comment specifically on Christian morality. The second part will outline the science of Prophethood, which entails the knowledge and emulation of the example of a prophet. The third part will argue that Nietzsche, in claiming that “God is dead”, can be seen to be effectively commenting on the state of the science of Prophethood within Europe and its predominant traditions. The aim of this paper is to show that it is informative to read Nietzsche as effectively making a claim about the science of Prophethood.

Part I – The death of Nietzsche’s God


Each time Nietzsche writes that “God is dead” he does so in a manner which gives less importance to the event of God’s death than it does to the fallout from this event. That Nietzsche’s primary concern is with the outcome of this event can be seen clearly in the following two instances. In the encounter with the saint who praises “the God who is my God,” rather than expose the event of God’ death, upon leaving the saint, Zarathustra wonders about the possibility that “this old saint has not yet heard in his forest that God is dead” (Z P § 2). When announced by the madman the passage quickly turns from “God is dead” to “how shall we comfort ourselves” (GS § 125). In both cases, as with the aphorism quoted at the beginning, Nietzsche does not make as much of God’s death as one would expect of one announcing “the greatest recent event” (GS § 342). While this seeming ambivalence to the event itself could be a reflection of Nietzsche’s acceptance of it, it is more likely that it is in dealing with the fallout from this event that the magnitude of God’s death becomes apparent. For Nietzsche adds that “much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event really means” (GS § 342). Furthermore, in Nietzsche’s lack of sentimentality towards God’s death it is possible that he is attempting to “serve history only to the extent that history serves life” (UT II F). Thus, Nietzsche’s intention is clearly to place more emphasis on the ramifications of this event than on the event itself.

Nietzsche’s initial response to the event of God’s death is clear. On the first occurrence of the mention of God’s death he is quick to add “we still have to vanquish his shadow” (GS § 108). Later, the reader is told that the madman queried “what after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God” (GS § 125). Nietzsche can be seen to be reacting to the sentimentality that surrounds and continues to adhere to Christian values despite his claim, in light of the death of God, that they no longer have a foundation. He states that “when one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself the right to Christian morality” (TI: 80), illustrating that now the belief in the Christian God has decayed the morality too must follow. However, while the remnants of Christian morality need to be vanquished, Nietzsche, in asserting the necessity for a new moral tuning fork, knows that not everyone has the constitution to provide such a thing for humanity. The event of God’s death “itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude’s capacity for comprehension,” so much so that “much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event really means” for it entails the collapse of “the whole of our European morality” (GS § 344). Thus, the response to the fallout of the collapse of European morality requires a particular kind of individual.

For Nietzsche, there are specific qualities that are necessary for the individual who is to respond to the collapse of European morality. First and foremost is the awareness of the decay of the existing morality. Secondly is a lack of sentimentality, for they need to be free to establish a morality that is free from the remnants of the decaying values that still prevail. From the perspective of the established morality, such an individual could appear immoral and dangerous. Yet, while Nietzsche wanted to fill this role, he was aware that all the necessary qualities were not known to him, as he wrote that “this long plenitude and sequence of breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm that is now impending—who could guess enough of it today to be compelled to play the teacher and advance proclaimer of this monstrous logic of terror, the prophet of a gloom and an eclipse of the sun whose like has probably never yet occurred on earth” (GS § 344). While he believed that “a ‘revaluation of values’ is perhaps possible for me alone” (E I § 1), he was also concerned that “for the task of a revaluation of all values more capacities may have been needed than have ever dwelt together in a single individual” (E II § 9). Though, while Nietzsche felt that he qualified for this task he never achieved it nor explicitly detailed what qualities he felt were necessary for an individual who could.

While Nietzsche had much to say on the death of God, he did not cover two significant issues. In stating “God is dead” Nietzsche does not discuss what kind of death he is announcing, instead his focus is on the implications of this death, namely the decay of European morality, the reasons for this are examined in part III. Secondly, focusing on the implications means that he does not have to grapple with how God died. However, from Nietzsche’s discussion on the implications of God’s death it is possible to gain some insight as to the what and how of this event. Regarding how, according to Nietzsche, God died, he initially writes that “we have killed him – you and I … all of us are his murderers” (GS § 125), later adding that “God has died of his pity for man” (Z II 4). While it is unclear exactly how God’s pity for man caused His death, the strength of this emotion is readily apparent. What could cause such pity for humanity? It is suggested that such pity for humanity arises out of humanity’s inability to achieve salvation due to a growing antinomianism.

However, Nietzsche is not talking about all European morality, nor is he discussing Christianity as such. It would be wrong to conflate Nietzsche’s repudiation of Christianity as a repudiation of all Christianity, for it is acknowledged that Nietzsche, especially within The Antichrist, “rails vehemently against Paul and the tradition of ‘Christianity,’ while, in the same pages, honoring Jesus as a ‘free spirit’ who ‘stands outside all religion’”[2]. The “Christian conception of God” is “God degenerated to the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes” (A § 18) and “a God who ‘confounds the wisdom of the world’ … is in reality only the resolute determination of Paul himself” (A § 47). This has two implications. Firstly, Nietzsche’s comment on the death of God is neither an ontological claim nor does it signal a deathblow for theistic belief for it specifically relates to Pauline Christianity. Secondly, from this it can be seen that according to Nietzsche there is something fundamentally different between Jesus’ and Paul’s concept of Christianity. In light of the science of Prophethood, it is possible that Nietzsche’s distinction between Jesus and Paul is due to the latter’s antinomianism, in as far as it jeopardises the possibility of salvation.

Part II – The Science of Prophethood


In contrast to Nietzsche’s views regarding the death of God, while Muslims in general believe in the continuing existence of God, the Sufis in particular strive to know God here and now. One of the key methods to achieve this is ilm al-Nubuwah, the science of Prophethood. The science of Prophethood has two key aspects. The first is the knowledge and implementation of the practices of the prophet of a religion by the adherents of that religion. The knowledge and implementation of the prophetic practices is central because the prophets and messengers are seen as the models par excellence for knowing God in all states. The second key aspect relates to the transmission of this knowledge, which is crucial for maintain access to the science of Prophethood. The word science, ilm, as it is used here, is less like modern science, in that it does not attempt to establish an objective perspective, than it is like the German Wissenschaft, which Nietzsche used to indicate “any serious, disciplined, rigorous quest for knowledge.”[3] A significant aspect involving the rigor of this science is to distinguish between the law bequeathed to the community and the practices of a prophet. Within Islam this distinction is between the sunnah and the shari’ah, though they are commonly conflated. The law is the collective of rulings extrapolated from a holy book, the practices of a prophet, and those practices he enjoined upon others. Whereas the example of a prophet is restricted to those practices a prophet implemented upon himself. While the law incorporates the example it must be acknowledged that it is, in a sense, secondary to it, for the “Sunnah contains Shari’ah and thus exceeds it” and that “if the secure handle is Shari’ah, Sunnah is even more secure.”[4] For Sufis, making this distinction, and adhering to the example of a prophet, provides the guarantee of sanctity, in as far as the prophetic example is embodied, for this example is seen as being God-given, whereas the law was often extrapolated later by others.

Evidence for the importance of the science of Prophethood, within Islam, is derived from the Qur’an. It is taken from such Qur’anic assertions that “verily, in the Apostle of Allah you have a good example” (33:21) and again “say [O Prophet]: ‘If you love Allah, follow me, [and] Allah will love you” (3:31). In both instances the focus is on following the example of the Prophet and, being considered as an injunction by God, their sanctity is guaranteed. This view is further strengthened by the verse that states that “whenever Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter, it is not for a believing man or a believing woman to claim freedom of choice insofar as they themselves are concerned: for he who [thus] rebels against Allah and His Apostle has already, most obviously, gone astray” (33: 36). The Qur’an states “We have sent unto you an apostle from among yourselves … to impart unto you revelation and wisdom” (2: 151). ‘Revelation’, in this verse, is a translation of al-kitab, literally the book, referring to the Qur’an. ‘Wisdom’, al-hikma, in this verse, refers to ilm al-Nubuwah. These verses, and those like them, have been taken to indicate that “God Most High has borne witness to the Prophet, that he guides by a straight path,”[5] which strengthens the view that the example of the Prophet is “’God-given’ as opposed to being the fruit of human effort.”[6] The importance of this is twofold, one positive and one negative. In the former instance, as the example is considered God-given, there is a positive model that, in as far as it is adhered to, contains a salvific guarantee. The prophetic example contains a guarantee of salvation for the adherent who performs actions in the manner prescribed by God and for this reason “devotion to the Prophet is signalled as one of the key characteristics of the great Sufi masters.”[7] In the latter instance, by deferring to the prophetic model there is little room for the machinations of the ego, which is prone to vice and self-worship, thus severing the relationship between the human and the Divine. Thus, from this it can be seen that as salvation is dependent on the adherence to the prophetic model, access to the prophetic practices is imperative.

Access to the prophetic practices relates to the transmission of the science of Prophethood. The transmission of the science of Prophethood has two aspects, one historical and the other trans-historical. The historical aspect involves the collection Hadith, which are the reports of the statements and actions of the Prophet “transmitted to posterity by his companions”[8] and later through “a chain of authorities (isnad),”[9] and their eventual codification into the authentic (sahih) collections. Along with the Qur’an, the Hadith, within which the sunnah are recorded, are considered the foundation of ilm al-Nabuwah. Without delving into any of the debates that surround this body of literature, it is important to note the breadth of this literature and as such is bound to contain material that each reader will be unaware of. For this reason it is considered necessary to accompany someone who has assimilated the prophetic model in as far as it is possible to adhere to “the Prophet’s etiquette, his moral and spiritual states, and, whenever possible, his inner realities.”[10] This relates to the trans-historical aspect of transmission. Just as the Hadith were initially collected, passed on, and verified through their isnad, so too was the trans-historical transmission of the virtues and practices of the prophetic model transmitted through a chain of authorities known as a silsilah. A silsilah designates a “lineage that is in unbroken succession from the Prophet.”[11] With regard to the transmission of ilm al-Nabuwah it should be noted that the historical aspect of transmission trumps the trans-historical aspect in as far as deviation from the historical aspect voids the salvific guarantee.

In light of the soteriological centrality of ilm al-Nubuwah, the reasons why many Sufis take great pains to adhere to and stress the importance of the prophetic model becomes evident. It is not just in the adherence to the prophetic model in acts of prayer, fasting, or other acts of worship that it is important. It is recognized that “the imitation of the Prophet’s Norm, or Sunnah, in the performance of the rituals and in moral and social matters is what gives to the Islamic religion its rock-like stability throughout the ages” such that “of all the major religions still extant, Islam is the only one that is essentially the same now as it was in the days of its founder.”[12] From this it becomes apparent that the salvific guarantee exists to the extent that one embodies the prophetic model in all aspects of daily life such that “the relationship which is established between the saint and the prophet who is his model is not a vague ‘patronage’” for “it confers a precise and visible character on the behavior, virtues and graces” of the adherent.[13] For this reason many stories illustrating the extent to which some go to adhere to the prophetic model are taken to be preposterous, and therefore hagiographic. It may seem odd, or at best benign, when we hear the story of “a certain scholar who refrained from eating watermelons” because, while he knew that the Prophet Muhammad had eaten them, he was not aware of “how he had done so, and this is why he abstained from them.”[14]  This illustrates an important soteriological principle, namely that actions made purely on self-choice are potentially detrimental in as far as they do not guarantee sanctity. Even esoteric insights are to be subjected to this same yardstick if they are to participate in the salvific guarantee. This view is reinforced by Abu’l Hassan Ash-Shadhili, who stated that “if your mystical unveiling (kashf) diverges from the Qur’an and Sunna, hold fast to these two and take no notice of your unveiling.”[15] As it is the prophetic model that is the guarantee of sanctity, any action or moral value that is not in accord with the example of the prophet it represents, from this perspective, has no salvific guarantee. Furthermore, this highlights the importance of transmission. While the adherent will strive to embody the prophetic example there will undoubtedly be blind spots that can potentially limit further soteriological development. For this reason the expertise of someone who conforms to the prophetic model is necessary.

For Nietzsche to be considered to be making a claim about the science of Prophethood, it needs to be established whether or not this science is something particular to Islam. For if it is particular to Islam then this interpretation of Nietzsche would be weakened and, even if he was making such a claim, it would be unjustified because his comments would be merely syncretic. However, by drawing on the above definition, it is possible to argue that the Qur’an explicitly acknowledges the existence of ilm al-Nubuwah amongst other prophets and their communities. Evidence for this can be taken from the statement that “indeed, you have had a good example in Abraham and those who followed him” (60: 4). If the focus is confined to understanding ilm al-Nubuwah, then “those who followed him” can have two interpretations, one regarding the genealogy of Abraham, the other regarding the companions of Abraham. Firstly, this could refer to the Prophets and Messengers from Abraham’s sons Ishmael and Isaac, who are the forefathers of the Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions respectively. If this is the case then this Qur’anic passage indicates models of salvation with their genealogical root in Abraham. Secondly, it could, more specifically, refer to the direct followers of Abraham who embodied his example. While these two readings are not mutually exclusive, in both cases the existence of prophetic models preceding Islam is acknowledged. However, it is important to point out that this passage is phrased in the past tense. From a practical position it follows that these examples, while they contain a salvific guarantee, are no longer accessible in as far as knowledge of their actions are, at best, fragmentary and thus incomplete.

Yet a case remains to be made for the possibility of an equivalent to the science of Prophethood native to Christianity. For, as Nietzsche was commenting specifically on Christianity, if this cannot be established then reading Nietzsche in the manner proposed here would not provide any meaningful insights into Nietzsche’s comments. However, if the preceding evidence is considered an informative, though unorthodox, reading of some passages from the Bible can be seen to lend weight to the possibility that an equivalent to the science of Prophethood, as it has been outlined here, existed within Christianity. Statements like Jesus saying “do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Matthew 5.17) and again that “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.19) can be read, in light of the preceding, to imply a view akin to the science of Prophethood. The implication of something akin to the science of Prophethood within these statements rests in the ambiguity of the term ‘law’, which could be read as either the Judaic law or to the Prophetic law, namely the practices the prophets live by. If by these statements Jesus was strictly referring to the Judaic law, then he perhaps would not have criticised those versed in it saying “woe to the lawyer! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11.52). From this, and similar passages where Jesus criticises and tests those versed in the Judaic law, there is the possibility that Jesus was referring to the prophetic law, that is, the law prophets live by, which is essentially what the science of Prophethood entails. This distinction is akin to the difference between the shari’ah and the sunnah respectively. In light of this, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, when questioned “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10.25 – 10.26), Jesus responds with “what is written in the law,” implying that the implementation of the example of the prophet is the guarantee of sanctity. Despite slight differences in terminology such as “law” instead of “science”, this indicates the possibility that there was a form of the science of Prophethood native to Christianity.

Part III – “God is dead” and the science of Prophethood


With an understanding of ilm al-Nabuwah, Nietzsche’s assertion that “God is dead” can be seen in a different light. It becomes clear that he was not making an ontological claim about God per se. For it is unnecessary for Nietzsche to invoke God to critique moral values, as he shows in On the Genealogy of Morals that the validity of moral values can be challenged without reference to God. The choice to invoke God in critiquing morality is used in order to critique a particular kind of morality, namely Christianity. Thus, “Nietzsche rejects Christianity for religious reasons” if “religious” is understood to mean “the effort to integrate one’s life with what is larger than oneself.”[16] This would indicate that, according to Nietzsche, Christianity does not possess to tools for such integration. Furthermore, neither is this strictly a claim against all currently held values, for while “Nietzsche sees Christian soteriology as nihilist, as life-denying and depraved in which life can only have meaning by reference to some other-worldly realm,”[17] he clearly would not discard any moral values if they held value for life. Rather, in using “God is dead” to comment on the current condition on the justification of moral values, Nietzsche is specifically critiquing Christian morality.

The comment that “God is dead” implies that the link between God and humanity is severed. Jackson acknowledges that “with the death of God, this nihilism is unmasked and Europe is faced with apparent hopelessness, devoid of salvation.”[18] Europe can be considered to be “devoid of salvation” because the prevailing morality, Christian values, has lost its guarantee of sanctity. According to the science of Prophethood, as it is the prophetic model that ensures the salvific guarantee, in as far as it has lost such a model, Europe would be considered “devoid of salvation”. Compared to the available texts regarding Muhammad’s daily practices, the available knowledge of Jesus is, at best, incomplete. As a result, any equivalent to the science of Prophethood within Christianity would appear to be limited with regard to the degree of sanctity it can guarantee. Thus, if Nietzsche was read as asserting that an equivalent to the science of Prophethood in Europe is dead, according to this science, he would be right.

The interpretation of “God is dead” to mean “the science of Prophethood within Europe is dead” could be contested on two grounds. Firstly, it could be responded that the science of Prophethood, with its focus being God, could be as equally life denying and other-worldly as the decaying European morality. Secondly, it could be asserted that the science of Prophethood, like the existing European morality, would just produce another herd morality. With regard to the first issue, the science of Prophethood, being inherently eschatological and teleological, unlike Nietzsche’s revaluation, could be accused of being other-worldly and life denying. However, leaving aside eschatological concerns, from an empirical perspective the examples that we have from any prophet are essentially this-worldly and from this it follows that the domain of the here-now, rather than the hereafter, is the site of implementation and actualization of the prophetic model. Being the site of implementation and actualization, this-worldly concerns must, to some extent, figure in the prophetic example in as far as this-worldly concerns help implement and actualize the prophetic model. Thus, the science of Prophethood is life affirming, in as far as this-worldly concerns are the means of soteriological development.

Regarding the second issue, it has already been acknowledged that, according to Nietzsche, not everyone has the ability to revalue values and that those who do so are of benefit for all humanity. This is akin to the privileged status attributed to prophets and messengers within religious traditions who are specifically chosen to teach humanity due to something inherent in their constitution. Thus, the reverence and idealization of the model is not an indication of a herd mentality, for “Nietzsche is not critical of reverence” for he recognizes that “to become the Übermensch you must revere the Übermensch,” as can be seen in the reverence Zarathustra attempts to evoke within his audience so that they may make the Übermensch their goal, and similarly “to become the Perfect Muslim you must revere the Perfect Muslim.”[19] However, more than mere reverence it is necessary to adhere to the example of those revered if a corresponding degree of sanctity is to be obtained. Furthermore, being dynamic, in that the prophetic model requires differing responses depending on subtle changes in two seemingly similar circumstances, its embodiment and maintenance would appear analogous to the will-to-power. Just as the will-to-power requires self-mastery and the creative deployment of moral values so too does the science of Prophethood develop within the individual the awareness of the subtleties of each situation so that the required response can be correctly applied. Thus, the science of Prophethood would not produce another herd morality in as far as it encourages the individual to deploy a response that depends on the uniqueness of each situation. In refuting these issues, the view that Nietzsche’s assertion that “God is dead” is a comment on the state of the science of Prophethood within Europe gains more currency than it would first appear.

Nietzsche’s solution to the death of God was to propose the revaluation of all values. His revaluation of all values involved examining the values that remained after the death of God. In light of the preceding, Nietzsche’s revaluation would amount to an examination of the values that remained after the dissolution of the science of Prophethood within the Christian tradition. He proposed to re-evaluate them according to their value for life, the yardstick against which, he believed, all values are to be henceforth held, though Nietzsche even questioned the value of life.[20] Nietzsche felt that he was the only individual who knew how “to reverse perspectives” which led him to the belief that “a ‘revaluation of values’ is perhaps possible for me alone” (E I § 1). Yet, despite this rhetoric, Nietzsche came to see that “for the task of a revaluation of all values more capacities may have been needed than have ever dwelt together in a single individual” (E II § 9). This is perhaps why Nietzsche waited on the “philosophers of the future” (BGE § 42) and the future arrival of the Übermensch.

As it is proposed by Nietzsche, the revaluation of all values is an extremely difficult and complex task. The difficulty of realizing this revaluation has two aspects, one positive[21] and the other negative.[22] The negative task involves the initial revaluation that sets the whole project in motion. Of this Nietzsche has said that “we need a critique of moral values, the value of these values themselves must first be called into question” (GMp § 6). This task challenges each value’s value, culling those no longer relevant. The positive task involves keeping the project running by somehow maintaining the re-evaluative process. This task is necessary because without it moral values would once again stagnate and one would lapse into taking “the value of these ‘values’ as given” (GMp § 6). The positive task requires an element that keeps the whole task in perpetual motion, that is, an element that renews the re-evaluative aspect of the revaluation of all values. Either task, independent of the other, is strenuous enough, but taken together these tasks seem impossible to achieve within the lifetime of one individual.

As a result, Nietzsche’s attempt to re-evaluate morality is a direct attempt to develop a morality that would once again allow humanity to climb higher. While it could be asserted that it was the development and growing prominence of scientism, especially Darwinism, which killed God, it is unlikely for two reasons. Firstly, given Nietzsche’s cause of God’s death, namely that “God has died of his pity for man” (Z II 3), it is unclear how scientism could elicit the degree of pity necessary to cause God’s death. Secondly, in as far as these factors contributed to God’s death, they did so by undermining the verification of moral values. From what has been said of the science of Prophethood, if it is accepted that the existence of a God-given morality provides a means of salvation then deviation from this morality voids the guarantee of salvation. Given this, combined with the fact that “we have killed him [God]” (GS § 125), it is possible that God’s pity arose as a result of people’s deviation from the God-given morality to the point of potentially severing the possibility of salvation. Thus, while there may have been extraneous factors contributing to the death of God, according to Nietzsche’s description at least, it is likely that what Nietzsche saw as God’s death was brought about by the decay and dissolution of what was akin to the science of Prophethood within the European tradition.

Further correlations can be made between the positive and negative aspects of the revaluation and the science of Prophethood, which shows Nietzsche’s conception of God’s death to be akin to the death of the science of Prophethood within Europe. Within Islam there is an important distinction between a prophet, nabi, and a messenger, rasul. Messengers are sent to bring “a new religion or a major new revelation”, whereas prophets are sent to reinvigorate “the framework of an existing religion.”[23] By bringing a new Divine law, the messengers set the project of implementation in motion. The prophets that follow them perpetuate this project of implementation by correcting anything that deviates from this practice, as it is recognised that “the role of prophethood, therefore, is not to introduce new teachings, but to reclaim the past”[24] and in turn reclaiming the guarantee of sanctity. Thus, the messengers enact a task similar to the negative task of culling irrelevant values, while the prophets enact a task similar to the positive task of illustrating how the new value system is to be maintained within differing circumstances.

From this follows issues relating to the positive task and involves the changes in circumstances, especially given the dramatic technological differences between the seventh and 21st centuries. While on a basic level these issues can include debates on the use of modern toothbrushes as opposed to the use of a miswak, a particular type of wood for cleaning teeth used during the time of Muhammad, or a car over a camel for transport, these issues can become highly technical and, at their heart, is the issue of perpetuating the science of Prophethood. While these issues do not explicitly deal with moral practices, the science of Prophethood determines the moral issues surrounding new technologies, and the correct responses, by determining the manner in which to approach such technologies. This corresponds to the “role of personal revaluations in Nietzsche’s project,”[25] for, while general rulings can be given regarding new technologies, the individual’s response will depend on their circumstances and knowledge of prophetic practices. It could be responded that “Nietzsche’s authorial strategies quite often aim to prompt individual reconsiderations on the part of his readers, and that these efforts at incitement are an important part of his own efforts at revaluation”[26] and that prior knowledge of prophetic practices would merely curb and, thus, stunt any personal revaluation. However, this would be true in as far as it is true with regard to Nietzsche’s strategies to “prompt individual reconsiderations”, for the way revaluations are incited would also influence the values arrived at. This also correlates with the transmission aspect of the science of Prophethood. Just as the prophets and messengers could be questioned and observed regarding new circumstances, those who embody such a model can be questioned and observed regarding their knowledge and implementation of the prophetic model. From this it can be seen that the transmission of the science of Prophethood relates to the positive task of establishing the revaluation. Thus, there is an analogous correspondence between the responses of the science of Prophethood and the revaluation of all values to changing circumstances.

There is one crucial aspect of Nietzsche’s attempted revaluation, the importance of which is seldom discussed. It is that it merely remained an attempt.  It is important to know that “Nietzsche himself never achieved a complete transvaluation of all values”[27] and that work on the proposed book “like the Will to Power before it, the Revaluation of All Values had been abandoned.”[28] This is perhaps because Nietzsche a) realised that a project such as this cannot possibly become definitive, in accordance with its own definition, which meant that it could not be placed in book form and b) that this project would remain as a latent possibility within those who strove to ‘climb higher’. Following on from this, it can be postulated that the Übermensch, being those within whom the highest potentials of humankind are realized and manifest, would be a walking, breathing, living expression of the ‘revaluation of all values’. Huszar accurately realized that “to Nietzsche the transvaluation of all values is not an intellectual problem – it is something to be experienced.”[29] Thus, a process that is as dynamic and fluid as the revaluation of all values cannot possibly be captured within the confines of a book, which meant that it could never take the form within which Nietzsche originally envisaged it.

In light of the science of Prophethood, a few further reasons for the abandonment of the revaluation could be postulated. Firstly, practitioners of the science of Prophethood would agree with Nietzsche that for the project of establishing a new soteriology “more capacities may have been needed than have ever dwelt together in a single individual” (E II § 9). However, Nietzsche’s criterion of life in determining value, being inherently materialistic, would, from this perspective, short-circuit any attempt to ‘climb higher’ because it is essentially earth bound. Furthermore, as the science of Prophethood is a process of implementation and embodiment, as “something to be experienced” it cannot be derived solely from a book for this would undermine its dynamic and variegated nature. Nietzsche, in proposing the future existence of the Übermensch is effectively denying the possibility of a currently living teacher. Opposed to this, the science of Prophethood relies heavily on the existence of prophets and messengers who, in bringing their example to their respective communities, are seen as initiators of their respective traditions. This shows Nietzsche to be effectively denying any prior establishment of a model containing a salvific guarantee, which in turn is a denial of any possible transmission of such knowledge. Furthermore, as, according to Nietzsche, the revaluation of all values is not eschatological, being bound to the eternal return, an unbearable strain is placed on the positive task of perpetuating the revaluation. Whereas the science of Prophethood, being eschatological, is not burdened with the strain of attempting to endlessly perpetuate itself. This relaxes the whole process by allowing individuals to live with the guarantee of sanctity without the pressure of perpetual revaluation. Thus, according to the science of Prophethood, Nietzsche’s project was destined to be unfulfilled.

Despite Nietzsche’s project remaining fulfilled, as a model for climbing higher it can be seen to be close to the science of Prophethood. It has been acknowledged that “throughout Nietzsche’s philosophy there is a sense of urgency, a recognition that there existed in his time a very brief window of opportunity, for the power of ressentiment, of self-hatred, is a potent use of the will-to-power and would quickly regroup under another guise with new prophets.”[30] Nietzsche’s use of Zarathustra as his mouthpiece for a morality beyond the duality of good and evil can be seen to be an attempt to rectify a dualism masquerading as monotheism, introduced through the Zoroastrian conception of the dichotomy between order, asha, and disorder, druj. When Zarathustra proclaims “I teach you the superman” (Z P § 3), he claims to be bringing a new kind of knowledge to humanity, to which “all the people laughed at Zarathustra” (Z P § 3), mockery being a common response to the prophets and messengers, as established by the Old and New Testaments as well as the Qur’an. Nietzsche does not merely want to abolish the ineffective and stunting morality and soteriology that pervades rather he wants to re-establish a morality for effectively climbing higher. To this he has Zarathustra say “I am a prologue to better players, O my brothers … follow my example” (Z III 12 § 20). Just as the science of Prophethood proposes adherence to the practices and example of a prophet or messenger in order to achieve salvation, Nietzsche too sets up the example of his mouthpiece as a similar guarantor of climbing higher. Much of Nietzsche’s tone, imagery, and phrases not only support but gain further meaning if his project is taken to be an attempt at re-establishing the science of Prophethood. While it is known that “Nietzsche rarely spoke specifically on Islam, [despite] his admiration for it as a religion is in sharp contrast to his criticism of Christianity,”[31] it is not known what knowledge if any he had specifically regarding ilm al-Nubuwah. However, in light of ilm al-Nubuwah, it is interesting to see that Nietzsche’s proposed response to the death of God can be read as attempting to effect an Europeanised science of Prophethood.


Ansell-Pearson, K. (ed) 2006, A Companion to Nietzsche, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Asad, M. 1984, The Message of The Qur’an, Dar al-Andalus, Gibraltar.

Chodkiewicz, M., Seal of the Saints, trans Sharrard, L. 1993, The Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge.

Cornell, V. J. 1998, Realm of the Saint, University of Texas Press, Austin.

–          (ed.) 2007, Voices of Islam, 5 vols., Praeger Publishers, Westport.

Danner, V. 1988, The Islamic Tradition, Amity House, New York.

Ernst, C. W. 1999, Teachings of Sufism, Shambhala, Boston.

Glassé, C. 1989, The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Stacey International, London.

Al-Haddad, Imam ‘Abdallah Ibn ‘Alawi, The Book of Assistance, trans al-Badawi, M. 2003, Fons Vitae, Louisville.

Higgins, K. M. 2006, ‘Rebaptising our evil: On the Revaluation of All Values’, in Ansell-Pearson, K. (ed), pp. 404 – 418.

Hollingdale, R. J. 1965, Nietzsche The Man and His Philosophy, Routledge and Kegan Paul, Oxford.

Huszar, G. D. 1945, ‘Nietzsche’s Theory of Decadence and The Transvaluation of All Values’, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 6, pp. 259 – 272.

Jackson, R. 2007, Nietzsche and Islam, Routledge, London.

Karamustafa, A. T., ‘What is Sufism?’, in V. J. Cornell (ed.) 2007, vol. 1, pp. 249 – 269.

Kaufmann, W. 1974, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Lory, P. 1997, ‘Al-Shadhili’, in The Encyclopedia of Islam New Edition, vol IX, pp. 170 – 72.

Nietzsche, F., Beyond Good and Evil, trans Hollingdale, R. J. 1973, Penguin Books, England.

–          On the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo, trans Kaufmann, W. and Hollingdale, R. J. 1989, Vintage Books, New York.

The Gay Science, trans Kaufmann, W. 1974, Random House, New York.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans Hollingdale, R. J. 1969, Penguin Books, England.

– Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ, trans Hollingdale, R. J. 1990, Penguin Books, England.

–          Untimely Meditations, trans Hollingdale, R. J., ed Breazeale, D. 1997, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Roberts, T. T. 1998, Contesting Spirit, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Sleinis, E. E. 1994, Nietzsche’s Revaluation of Values, University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

Solomon, R. C. and Higgins, K. M. 2000, What Nietzsche Really Said, Schocken Books, New York.

Taha, M. M. 1987, The Second Message of Islam, Syracuse University Press, New York.

The Encyclopaedia of Islam New Edition, in xx volumes, 1960 – 2006, E. J. Brill, Leiden.

The HarperCollins Study Bible New Revised Standard Version, 1989, HarperCollins Publishers, London.

[1] Henceforth references to commonly cited texts by Nietzsche will be as follows:

A             The Anti-Christ

BGE         Beyond Good and Evil

E              Ecce Homo

GS           The Gay Science

TI             Twilight of the Idols

UT           Untimely Meditations

Z              Thus Spoke Zarathustra

[2] Roberts (1998: 18).

[3] Kaufmann (in The Gay Science: 5).

[4] Taha (1987: 34).

[5] Al-Sirraj in Ernst (1999: 21).

[6] Karamustafa (2007: 250).

[7] Ernst (1999: 20 – 21).

[8] Danner (1988: 50).

[9] Danner (1988: 234).

[10] Cornell (1998: 199). Again, without delving into the disputes that abound, it must be recognized that due to the difference between prophets, messengers, and others such imitation cannot be perfect in all aspects.

[11] Danner (1988: 241).

[12] Danner (1988: 49 – 50).

[13] Chodkiewicz (1993: 75).

[14] Al-Haddad (2003: 51).

[15] Al-Sha’rani quoted by Lory (1997: 171).

[16] Solomon and Higgins (2000: 86).

[17] Jackson (2007: 46).

[18] Jackson (2007: 46).

[19] Jackson (2007: 59).

[20] Solomon and Higgins (2000: 212).

[21] Sleinis (1994: 12).

[22] Kaufmann (1974: 12).

[23] Glassé (1989: 318).

[24] Jackson (2007: 123).

[25] Higgins (2006: 405).

[26] Higgins (2006: 405).

[27] Huszar (1945: 271).

[28] Hollingdale (1965: 263).

[29] Huszar (1945: 268).

[30] Jackson (2007: 46).

[31] Jackson (2007: 1).

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