Prophets and messengers in Islam
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Prophet (nabi; Arabic نبی) and messenger (or rasul; Arabic رسول) are two terms frequently used in Islam to describe the numerous divinely inspired men who conveyed God's message to humanity throughout history. These men include Adam and ancient patriarchs such as Noah and Abraham, as well as later figures such as Moses and Aaron, right through to the most recent prophets, namely John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad.
The actual differences between a prophet and an apostle/messenger has continued to rouse debate among Muslim scholars, with different people interpreting the phrases differently. The two terms are commonly used interchangeably by Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Muslims believe that over 124,000 prophets were sent to humanity and the jinn.
In Islam a prophet (nabi) is a free, male human, from the sons of Adam (besides Adam himself) who received revelation from Allah in the form of divine instructions. If he is commanded specifically to convey and propagate these divine instructions to specific people, then he is also called a Messenger (rasul), whether or not a book was revealed to him to convey, or if it abrogated previous revelation, or if it was to call people to a previously revealed book, or to also convey what was revealed to him without a book. If he is not commanded to convey any specific message, then he remains a prophet only. Thus, according to the strongest view, every messenger is a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger.
One of the most common views held by scholars is that messengers were recipients of a scripture while prophets simply taught teachings already established through a scripture. People of this view believe that David was a messenger and a prophet, as he received the Psalms. His son Solomon was a prophet but not a messenger, as he did not receive any named scripture. This view states that the following prophets were also messengers:
- Abraham, as he received the Scrolls of Abraham
- Moses and Aaron, as they received the Tawrat (Torah)
- David, as he received the Zabur (Psalms)
- Jesus, as he received the Injil (Gospel)
- Muhammad, as he received the Qur'an
- Other prophets, of whose books we don't know (may include Jacob, Ishmael, Jonah and others)
Prophets and messengers
A prophet (nabi) in Islam is a free, male, human, from the sons of Adam; who received revelation from God in the form of divine instructions; if he is commanded specifically to convey and propagate these divine instructions to specific people, then he is also called a messenger (rasul) (not to be confused with an angel messenger), whether or not a book was revealed to him to convey, or if it abrogated previous revelation, or if it was to call people to a previously revealed book, or to also convey what was revealed to him without a book. If he is not commanded to convey any specific message, then he remains a prophet only. Thus, according to the strongest view, every messenger is a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger.
The differing meanings for prophet and messenger stem from the difference in connotation of the two words in Arabic, and how they are used in the Quran. There are also opinions that both words have the same meaning, or that a messenger is more general than a prophet because angels have also been called messengers; however, these are not the strongest views.
The Quran may rank a messenger higher than a prophet. For example, whenever both titles appear together, messenger comes first.
Crucially, a messenger delivers a new religious law (Sharia) revealed by God, whereas a prophet continues an old one. God sends both prophets and messengers as givers of good news and as admonishers of their people. A messenger will become the witness that God will take from that community on the Day of Judgment (see the following sura; Yunus; An-Nahl; Al-Mu’minoon; Ghafir; An-Nisa; Al-Qasas.)
Scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and Amin Ahsan Islahi maintain that the key difference between prophets and messengers is that denial of a messenger invites punishment from God – this is termed sunnat Allah (one of the ways of God in the Quran). Thus, for example, denial of Noah's invitation by his people caused the flood to come upon them. This is an extension of the view above that messengers become witnesses to the delivery of the divine message to their respective nations, and their nations are judged accordingly by God.
Muslims distinguish between celestial and human messengers. In the Quranic world, the God calls the angels messengers but not prophets. Human messengers also function as prophets, although not every prophet serves as a messenger. Angels always carry orders to the human prophets or messengers on what to say, what to do, and so forth. For example, Gabriel – the angel – delivered the Quran to Muhammad, the prophet and the messenger.
Sura Al-A'nam (6:84-86) gives a comprehensive list of Israelite prophets: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Zechariah, John, Jesus, Elias, Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah and Lot (Samuel is called 'A prophet' elsewhere, but is unnamed).
It follows with "And among their fathers and their descendants and their brothers... Those are the ones to whom We gave the Scripture and Authority and Prophethood." Notice that their messenger-ship is not emphasized in these verses. It should also be noted that many Islamic attributions to Biblical figures, such as Shu'ayb (Jethro), Idris (Enoch) and Dhul-Qarnayn (Cyrus the Great?), are not mentioned.
|Name||Prophet||Messenger||Imam||Book||Sent to||Law (Sharia)|
|Noah||Prophet ||Messenger ||The people of Noah ||✓ |
|Hud||Messenger ||ʿĀd |
|Saleh||Messenger ||Thamud |
|Abraham (Ibrahim)||Prophet ||Messenger ||Imam ||Scrolls of Ibrahim ||The people of Ibrahim ||✓ |
|Lot||Prophet ||Messenger ||The people of Lot |
|Ismail||Prophet ||Messenger |
|Isaac||Prophet ||Imam |
|Jacob||Prophet ||Imam |
|Al-Asbat||Prophet ||Imam |
|Shuaib||Messenger ||Midian |
|Moses||Prophet ||Messenger ||Torah ||Pharaoh and his establishment ||✓ |
|David||Prophet ||Psalms |
|Solomon (Suleiman)||Prophet |
|Elias||Prophet ||Messenger ||The people of Elias |
|Jonah (Younis)||Prophet ||Messenger ||The people of Younis |
|Jesus||Prophet ||Messenger ||Gospel ||The people of of Israel ||✓ |
|Muhammad||Prophet ||Messenger ||Quran ||Whole Mankind ||✓ |
- Criteria of True Prophet
- Islamic holy books
- Prophets in the Quran
- Prophets of Islam
- Prophets of Christianity
- A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, B.M. Wheeler, Apostle
- Qur'an 6:89
- Haytami, I. H. (2009). Al Fath Al Mobin Bi Sharsh al Arba'een. Dar al Minhaj.
- Qur'an 17:55
- Qur'an 87:19
- Qur'an 21:48
- Qur'an 57:27
- Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Cyril Glasse, Prophets
- Malcomn Clark (2003). Islam for Dummies. Wiley Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-0-7645-5503-9.
- Quran 10:48
- Quran 16:38
- Quran 23:46
- Quran 40:5
- Quran 4:45
- Quran 28:75
- Ghamidi, Javed Ahmad (2009). Mizan (in Urdu) (2nd ed.). Lahore.
- Quran 19:56
- Quran 6:89
- Quran 26:107
- Quran 26:105
- Quran 13:42
- Quran 26:125
- Quran 7:65
- Quran 26:143
- Quran 7:73
- Quran 19:41
- Quran 9:70
- Quran 2:124
- Quran 87:19
- Quran 22:43
- Quran 42:13
- Quran 4:89
- Quran 24:142
- Quran 24:140
- Quran 19:54
- Quran 19:49
- Quran 21:73
- Quran 26:178
- Quran 7:85
- Quran 19:51
- Quran 53:36
- Quran 43:46
- Quran 19:53
- Quran 17:55
- Quran 37:123
- Quran 37:124
- Quran 37:139
- Quran 10:98
- Quran 3:39
- Quran 19:30
- Quran 4:171
- Quran 57:27
- Quran 61:6
- Quran 33:40
- Quran 42:7
- Quran 7:158
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