- This is about the title of Muhammad; for the related name of the mole on his shoulderblade, see Seal of Prophethood (Khatam An-Nubuwwah); for his actual signet-ring, see Seal of Muhammad.
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Khatam an-Nabiyyin (Arabic: خاتم النبيين, khātam an-nabīyīn; or Khātim an-Nabīyīn), translated as Seal of the Prophets, is a title used in the Qur'an to designate the prophet Muhammad. It is synonymous with the term Khātam al-Anbiyā’ (Arabic: خاتم الأنبياء; or Khātim al-Anbiyā’). With the exception of some Muslims, most notably those of the Ahmadi sect, it is generally regarded to mean that Muhammad was the last of the prophets sent by God.
Occurrence in the Quran
The title khatam an-nabiyyin or khatim an-nabiyyin, usually translated as "Seal of the Prophets", is applied to Muhammad in verse 33:40 of the Qur'an. The popular Yusuf Ali translation reads,
- "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things."
There is a difference among the schools of Qur'anic recitation regarding the reading of the word خاتم in verse 33:40 – it can be read as either khātim or khātam. Of the ten qirā’āt (readings, methods of recitation) regarded as authentic – seven mutawātir and three mashhūr – all read خاتم in this verse with a kasrah on the tāʼ (خاتِم, khātim) with the exception of 'Asim, who reads with a fatḥah on the tāʼ (خاتَم, khātam). The reading of al-Hasan, a shadhdh (aberrant) recitation, is also khātam.
The recitation that has become prevalent in most of the world today is Hafs 'an 'Asim - that is, the qirā’ah of 'Asim in the riwāyah (transmission) of his student Hafs. The reading of 33:40 according to Hafs 'an 'Asim is as follows:
- مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَـٰكِن رَّسُولَ ٱللَّـهِ وَخَاتَمَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ وَكَانَ ٱللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ عَلِيمًا [note 1]
- mā kāna muḥammadun abā aḥadin min rijālikum wa lākin rasūla ’llāhi wa khātama ’n-nabīyīna wa kāna ’llāhu bikulli shay’in ‘alīmā
Quranic use of the root kh-t-m
- five times as the Form I verb khatama (خَتَمَ)
- once as the noun khātim (خَاتِم), or khātam (خَاتَم) according to the qirā’ah of ‘Āṣim
- once as the noun khitām (خِتَـٰم), or khātam (خَاتَم) according to the qirā’ah of al-Kisā’ī
- once as the passive participle makhtūm (مَختُوم)
"Keystone" ("brick") metaphor
In a well-known hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah, Jabir ibn Abd Allah, Ubayy ibn Ka'b, and Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, and recorded by al-Bukhari, Muslim, at-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, an-Nasa'i, and others, Muhammad compared the relationship between himself and the previous prophets to a building missing a single brick. In Sahih al-Bukhari it is reported by Abu Hurayrah that Muhammad said, "My similitude in comparison with the prophets before me is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: 'Would that this brick be put in its place!' So I am that brick, and I am the seal of the prophets" (fa’anā ’l-labinah, wa anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn). This hadith is narrated with similar wording in Sahih Muslim, Musnad Ahmad, Sunan al-Kubra of an-Nasa'i, and Sahih Ibn Hibban. In Mu'jam al-Awsat, at-Tabarani narrated a variant wording of the hadith with the last statement being, "So I am that [brick], I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me" (fa’anā dhālika, anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn, lā nabīya ba‘dī). Ibn Hibban also has a variant ending with "I was the place of that brick, with me concluded the [line of] messengers" (fakuntu anā mawḍi‘u tilka ’l-labinah, khutima biya ’r-rusul). In Sahih Muslim and Musnad Ahmad the hadith is also reported by Jabir ibn Abd Allah, with the last statement being "So I am the place of that brick, I have come and concluded the [line of] prophets" (fa’anā mawḍi‘u ’l-labinah, ji’tu fakhatamtu ’l-anbiyā’). Abu Dawud at-Tayalisi in his Musnad has from Jabir, "So I am the place of that brick, with me concluded the [line of] prophets" (fa’anā mawḍi‘u ’l-labinah, khutima biya ’l-anbiyā’).
In another hadith, Muhammad prophesized the appearance of a number of false prophets before the day of judgement, while asserting his status as the seal of the prophets. It is reported by Thawban ibn Bajdad that Muhammad said, "The Hour will not be established until tribes of my ummah (community) unite with the idolaters, and until they worship idols. And in my ummah there will be thirty liars, each of whom will claim to be a prophet, (but) I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me." (kulluhum yaz‘umu annahu nabī, wa anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn, lā nabīya ba‘dī). Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman reports that Muhammad said, "In my ummah there will twenty-seven liars and dajjals, among whom are four women, (but) I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me".
The khitām of a group of people, the khātim of them, or the khātam of them, is the last of them, according to al-Lihyani. And Muhammad is khātim of the prophets. At-Tahdhib (of al-Azhari): Khātim and khātam are among the names of the Prophet. And in the Qur'an: "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and khātim of the prophets," that is, the last of them. And: It was also recited as khātam. And the saying of al-'Ajjaj, "Blessed to the prophets is this khātim," is based on the well-known recitation, with a kasrah (khātim). And also among his names is al-‘āqib, and its meaning is "last of the prophets."
According to Taj al-Arus of al-Zabidi,
Khātam: The last of a people, like khātim. And with this definition is the saying in the Qur'an, "khātam of the prophets," that is, the last of them.
And among the names of the Prophet are khātam and khātim, and he is the one who sealed prophethood by his coming.
The title is generally regarded by Muslims as meaning that Muhammad is the last in the series of prophets beginning with Adam. The belief that a new prophet cannot arise after Muhammad is shared by both Sunni and Shi'i Muslims. Some of the most prominent historical Sunni texts on creed (aqidah) explicitly mention the doctrine of finality of prophethood. For example, in al-Aqidah at-Tahawiyyah it is asserted that "Every claim to the prophetic office after his is a delusion and a wandering desire." In another popular work, al-Aqidah an-Nasafiyyah, it is stated, "The first of the prophets is Adam and the last is Muhammad."
Hartwig Hirschfeld doubted the authenticity of the verse 33:40 and claimed it to be of late origin. Yohanan Friedmann states that Hirschfeld's arguments "that the title khatam an-nabiyyin is unusual, that it only appears once in the Qur'an, that the word khatam is not Arabic…do not seem valid arguments against the authenticity of the verse."
Frants Buhl accepted the traditional meaning of last prophet.
Josef Horovitz suggested two possible interpretations of khatam an-nabiyyin: the last prophet or the one who confirms the authenticity of the previous prophets. Heinrich Speyer agreed with Horovitz.
The first modern academic to have studied in detail the history of the doctrine of finality of prophethood is Yohanan Friedmann. In his seminal article, Finality of Prophethood in Sunni Islam (1986), he concluded that although the notion of finality of prophethood "eventually acquired an undisputed and central place in the religious thought of Islam," it was contested during the first century AH. He states, "While it is true that the phrase khatam an-nabiyyin is generally interpreted as meaning 'the last prophet', the exegetical tradition and other branches of classical Arabic literature preserved material which indicates that this now generally received understanding of the Qur'anic phrase is not the only possible one and had not necessarily been the earliest." Due to this Friedmann states that the meaning of khatam an-nabiyyin in its original Qur'anic context is still in doubt.
Wilferd Madelung takes Friedmann's findings into consideration in observing that the original Qur'anic meaning of the term is not entirely certain. However, in a more recent paper he states, "Most Muslims at the time no doubt understood it to mean that he was to be the last prophet and Islam was the final religion, as Muslims have commonly understood it ever since."
David Powers, also making use of Friedmann's research, believes that the early Muslim community was divided over the meaning of the expression, with some understanding it to mean he fulfilled or confirmed the earlier Christian and Jewish revelations, while others understood it as signifying that Muhammad brought the office of prophethood to a close. He suggests that the Qur'anic text underwent a series of secondary omissions and additions which were designed to adapt the text to the dogma of finality of prophethood, and that the idea of finality only became the prevailing interpretation (alongside the notion of confirmation or fulfillment) by the end of the 1st century AH / 7th century. In a review of Powers' book, Gerald Hawting goes further, suggesting that the development of the doctrine was not complete before the 3rd century AH / 9th century. Madelung comments that Power's argument, that verses 36-40 are a later addition dating from the generation after Muhammad's death, is "hardly sustainable."
Uri Rubin holds that the finality of prophethood is a Qur'anic idea, not a post-Qur'anic one, and that the expression khatam an-nabiyyin implies both finality of prophethood and confirmation. In response to Powers and other modern scholars skeptical of the early origin of the doctrine, Rubin concludes from his study "that, at least as far as Sura 33 is concerned, the consonantal structure of the Qur'anic text has not been tampered with, and that the idea of finality of prophethood is well-represented in the text, as well as in the earliest available extra-Quranic materials." Rubin reexamines the early extra-Qur'anic texts cited by Friedmann and other modern scholars, and concludes that rather than indicating that the notion of finality of prophethood is late, the texts confirm the early origin of the belief. He concludes that "there is no compelling reason to assume that the Muslims of the first Islamic century originally understood the Qur'anic khatam an-nabiyyin in the sense of confirmation alone, without that of finality."
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (Ahmadi Muslims) while accepting Muhammad as the 'Seal of the Prophets' (Khatamun Nabiyyin) and the last prophet to have brought a complete and comprehensive universal law for humanity (last law-bearing Prophet), believe that prophethood subordinate to Muhammad is still open. Muhammad is believed to have brought prophethood to perfection and was the last law-bearing prophet, the apex of man's spiritual evolution. New prophets can come but they must be subordinate to Muhammad and cannot exceed him in excellence nor alter his teaching or bring any new law or religion. The Ahmadiyya community believes Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be the promised Messiah and Mahdi, who claimed a certain kind of prophethood but never claimed to have brought any new divine laws or change the law of Muhammad, but to have been Divinely appointed to revive and universally establish the law/religion of Muhammad. The Ahmadiyya community draws upon various opinions of Islamic scholars throughout the history of Islam to show the possibility of non-law bearing prophethood within Islam.
The Bahá'í Faith regards Muhammad as a Manifestation of God and as the seal of the prophets, but does not interpret this term as meaning that no further messengers from God are possible. In particular, Bahá'ís regard the end-times prophecies of Islam (and other faiths) as being symbolic, and see the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh as symbolically fulfilling these prophetic expectations. The latter of these is the founder of the Bahá'í religion, which considers Islamic law to have been superseded by its own. Muhammad is seen as ending the Adamic cycle, also known as the Prophetic cycle, which is stated to have begun approximately 6,000 years ago, and the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh as starting the Bahá'í cycle, or Cycle of Fulfillment, which will last at least five hundred thousand years with numerous Manifestations of God appearing throughout that time. Bahá'u'lláh gave the Title "King of the Messengers" (sultán al-rusul) to the Báb, and the "Sender of the Messengers" (mursil al-rusul) to himself. In the Kitáb-i-Íqán, he uses the Islamic concept of the oneness of the prophets to show that the term "seal of the prophets" does not apply to Muhammad only, but to all the prophets. He also makes a direct link between Qur'an 33:40, about the seal of the prophets, and 33:44, about the promise of the "attainment of the divine Presence" on the day of resurrection, which he interprets as the meeting with the Manifestation of God. The day of resurrection is interpreted as the day of the advent of the Qa'im or Mahdi. These interpretive and legal differences have caused the Bahá'ís to be seen as heretics and apostates by many Muslims, which has led to their persecution in various countries.
The concept of the finality of prophethood of Muhammad has caused controversy in recent times. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, hold Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be a prophet (non law-bearing prophet), subordinate to Muhammad in accordance with Islamic prophecies. Ahmad founded the movement in Qadian, India in 1889 and claimed to be the "Promised Messiah" and Mahdi. His claims resulted in a violent reaction among many Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.
Salafi and Sunni scholars vehemently opposed him and in subsequent years a movement opposed to Ahmadiyya beliefs was founded. This movement is subject to violence and abuse in many Muslim countries, is still very active in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries where Ahmadiyya adherents are present.
- The Qur'an. 33:40.
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- The Qur'an. 2:7, 6:46, 36:65, 42:24, 45:23
- The Qur'an. 83:26.
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- The Qur'an. 83:25.
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- الشواهد (Corroborating narrations for this hadith). Islamweb.com.
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وخِتامُ القَوْم وخاتِمُهُم وخاتَمُهُم آخرُهم عن اللحياني ومحمد صلى الله عليه وسلم خاتِم الأنبياء عليه وعليهم الصلاة والسلام التهذيب والخاتِم والخاتَم من أسماء النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وفي التنزيل العزيز ما كان محمد أبا أحد من رجالكم ولكن رسول الله وخاتِمَ النبيين أي آخرهم قال وقد قرئ وخاتَمَ وقول العجاج مُبارَكٍ للأنبياء خاتِمِ إنما حمله على القراءة المشهورة فكسر ومن أسمائه العاقب أيضا ومعناه آخر الأنبياء
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- p.45: والخاتَم آخر القوم كالخاتِم ومنه قوله تعالى وخاتم النبيين أي أخرهم
- p.48: ومن أسمائه صلى الله عليه وسلم الخاتَم والخاتِم وهو الذي خَتَم النبوة بمَجِيئه
- Esposito, John L., ed. (2003). "Khatam al-Nabiyyin". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 171.
Khatam al-Nabiyyin: Seal of the prophets. Phrase occurs in Quran 33:40, referring to Muhammad, and is regarded by Muslims as meaning that he is the last of the series of prophets that began with Adam.
- Mir, Mustansir (1987). "Seal of the Prophets, The". Dictionary of Qur’ānic Terms and Concepts. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 171.
Muḥammad is called "the seal of the prophets" in 33:40. The expression means that Muḥammad is the final prophet, and that the institution of prophecy after him is "sealed."
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K͟HĀTIMU ’N-NABĪYĪN (خاتم النبيين). "The seal of the Prophets." A title assumed by Muhammad in the Qur’ān. Surah xxxiii. 40: "He is the Apostle of God and the seal of the Prophets." By which is meant, that he is the last of the Prophets.
- Goldziher, Ignác (1981). "Sects". Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law. Translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori from the German Vorlesungen über den Islam (1910). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 220–221.
Sunnī and Shī‘ī theology alike understood it to mean that Muhammad ended the series of Prophets, that he had accomplished for all eternity what his predecessors had prepared, that he was God's last messenger delivering God's last message to mankind.
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- Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nabuwwat
- Report on the situation of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan – Majlis Tahafuz-e-Khatam-e-Nabuwwat<!- Bot generated title -->
- Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan: An Analysis Under International Law and International Relations Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol 16, September 2003
Violent Dhaka Rally against Sect, BBC News
Eight die in Pakistan Sect Attack, BBC News
Sect offices closed in Pakistan, BBC News