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)
In the Quran
Although many scholars adopt classical views and interpretations, the Quran speaks of prophets and messengers as having the following characteristics:
Mankind was one community, and God sent (unto them) prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed therewith the Scripture with the truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that wherein they differed. And only those unto whom (the Scripture) was given differed concerning it, after clear proofs had come unto them, through hatred one of another. And God by His Will guided those who believe unto the truth of that concerning which they differed. Allah guideth whom He will unto a straight path.
Those to whom We have given the Book, and the law, and the prophethood, if they reject it, then We will entrust it to a people who will not reject it.
Also mention in the Book (the story of) Moses: for he was specially chosen, and he was a messenger (and) a prophet.
And we called him from the right side of Mount (Sinai), and made him draw near to Us, for mystic (converse).
And, out of Our Mercy, We gave him his brother Aaron, (also) a prophet.
It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (in Islam) to God's will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God's book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear Me, and sell not My signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers.
O Prophet! Truly We have sent thee as a witness, a bearer of glad tidings, and warner.
And We gave him (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, and ordained among his progeny prophethood and revelation, and We granted him his reward in this life; and he was in the hereafter (of the company) of the righteous.
And We sent Noah and Abraham, and established in their line prophethood and revelation: and some of them were on right guidance. But many of them became rebellious transgressors.
O Prophet! Why holdest thou to be forbidden that which God has made lawful to thee? Thou seekest to please thy consorts. But God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
And David and Solomon, when they gave judgment concerning the field, when people's sheep had strayed and browsed therein by night; and We were witnesses to their judgment.
To Solomon We inspired the (right) understanding of the matter: to each (of them) We gave judgment and knowledge; it was Our power that made the hills and the birds celebrate Our praises, with David: it was We who did (all these things).
So peace on him (John) the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!
As to those who deny the signs of God and in defiance of right, slay the prophets, and slay those who teach just dealing with mankind, announce to them a grievous penalty.
To every people (was sent) a messenger: when their messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.
And if they reject thee, so did their predecessors, to whom came their messengers with clear signs, Books of Dark Prophecies, and the Book of Enlightenment.
We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now God leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is exalted in power, full of wisdom.
The Angels said: "O Lot! We are Messengers from thy Lord! By no means shall they reach thee! now travel with thy family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time appointed: Is not the morning nigh?"
And messengers We have mentioned unto thee before and messengers We have not mentioned unto thee; and God spoke directly unto Moses;
Although scholars hold different views, the most common conclusion that scholars come to, when analyzing the words purely through their occurrence in the Quran, is that Nabi and Rasul are indeed interchangeable words for each other. The only major difference is that the term Rasul or "messenger" is also used for angels, while Nabi or "prophet" is used specifically for humans. Therefore, some translators use the alternative term "apostle" when translating the word Rasul in the context of a human.
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.
- 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
- Quran 2:213
- Quran 6:89
- Quran 19:51–53
- Quran 5:44
- Quran 33:45
- Quran 29:27
- Quran 57:26
- Quran 66:1
- Quran 21:78–79
- Quran 19:15
- Quran 3:21
- Quran 10:47
- Quran 35:25
- Quran 14:4
- Quran 11:81
- Quran 4:164
- Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Index: Prophet
- Ahmed Ali, Al-Qur'an: A Contemporary Translation
- 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.
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