Although the terms “Prophet” (nabi) and “Messenger” (rasoul) are used almost as if there is no distinction between the terms, they do, in fact, convey a different meaning. Al-Qadi al-Baydawi in his commentary (tafsir) on [al Haj 22: 52] “Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire…” says: “The messenger is one sent by God with a new law (Shari’ah) to convey to his people, while the prophet is one sent by God to enjoin an existing Shari’ah.” Thus, although the Shari’ah is common to both terms and every messenger is a prophet, not all prophets are messengers.
Moses (in Arabic Musa – peace be upon him) was a messenger and prophet, because like all prophets he received revelation and like all messengers he was given a new Shari’ah. Aaron (Harun – peace be upon him), on the other hand, received revelation but conveyed and enjoined the Shari’ah of Musa; so Harun is a prophet and not a messenger.
Adam, The First Messenger:
The first of God’s Messengers was Adam (peace be upon him), the father of mankind. Concerning his Messengerhood, God says in the Quran: “Thus did Adam disobey His Lord, and fell into error. But his Lord chose him (For his grace): He turned to him, and gave him guidance.” [Ta Ha 20: 121-122]. God also said in the Quran “God did chose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of Imran above all people” [ Al-Imran 3:33]. In this context chosing means Messengerhood. The Quran informs us that Adam was given commands and prohibitions: “We said:`O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the beautiful things therein, as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree.”[al-Baqarah 2:35]. Commands and prohibitions constitute a law, i.e., a Shari’ah. Evidently there was no Messenger with him at this time, therefore to Adam was sent the revelation (wahy). Adam’s Messengerhood has also been established by the sunnah, i.e., the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). Al-Tirmithi has narrated on the authority of Abi Sayeed al Khudri that the Messenger of God said: “I am the master of the sons of Adam on the Day of Judgement, and it is no boast, in my hands will be the flag of praise, and it is no boast, and every prophet there from Adam onwards will be under my flag.” There was also a consensus among the companions of Muhammed (peace be upon him and may God be pleased with them) that Adam was a Messenger i.e. Prophet.
The Last Messenger (Khatimul Al-Anbiyaa):
The final Prophet and Messenger is Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). The Quran is explicit on this point. The Quran tells us: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of God, and the seal of the Prophets (khatam-un-Nabiyyin). ” [al-Ahzab 33:40]. Ibn Kathir in his tafsir al-Quran al-Azim, states: “This Quranic verse is an unequivocally decisive primary text establishing that there will be no prophet after him. And since there will be no prophet, it follows a fortori that there will be no prophetic messenger (rasoul). The Prophet, God bless him and grant him peace, said: `Messengerhood and prophethood have ceased. There will be no messenger or prophet after me.’; `My likeness among the prophets is as a man who, having built a house and put the finishing touches on it and made it seemly, yet left one place without a brick. When anyone entered it and saw this, he would exclaim, `How excellent it is, but for the place of this brick.’ Now, I am the place of that brick: through me the line of the prophets has been brought to completion.’ `I have been favoured above the prophets in six things: I have been endowed with consummate succinctness of speech, made triumphant through dread, war booty has been made lawful for me, the whole earth has been made a purified place of worship for me, I have been sent to all created beings, and succession of prophets has been completed in me.‘. God, Most Blessed and Exalted has stated in His Book, as has His messenger (God bless him and give him peace) in ahadith of numerous channels of transmission (mutawatir) that there will be no prophet after him, so that everyone may know that whoever claims this rank is a lying pretender, misled and misleading, even if he should stage miracles and exhibit all kinds of magic, talismans, and spells.”
The Number of Prophets:
The total number of prophets sent by God between the two (Adam and Muhammad peace be upon them) is unknown; God said to His Messenger in the Quran: “We did aforetime send messengers before thee: of them there are some whose story We have related to thee, and some whose story We have not related to thee.” [al-Gaafir 40:78]. Although there are traditions that give a figure of 124,000 they engender speculative knowledge, i.e., Zann, and should not be relied upon as the basis of belief. In the hadith of Abu Dharr, it says that there were 124,000 Prophets of whom 313 were Messengers. The first of them was Adam. [Ibn Hanbal, ibn Hibban,al Hakim] In his book entitled “The Book of Iman” Ibn Taymiyyah quotes Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal as saying: “It is compulsory to believe in the prophets in general and there is no authentic tradition (hadith sahih) mentioning their number.” The prophets mentioned in the the Quran include: Noah (Nuh), Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), David (Daud), and Jesus (Isa).
The Infallibility of the Prophets:
The belief in the prophets includes the belief that all the prophets were infallible in conveying the revelation from God and free from committing sinful acts. This is known as the `Issmah of the prophets. It is central to the belief in prophethood and constitutes an article of faith. The concept of ‘Issmah is built on the mind as opposed to textural evidence; although there are many verses of Quran, such as “Nor does he speak out of vain desire.” that lend support to the concept of `Issmah. If the prophets are fallible and make sins and errors in communicating the revelation of God they cannot be examples for us to follow; or at least we would have the choice to follow them, but we have been ordered to follow them. Disobeying the prophets will be punished by hell fire.
Infallibility means the prophets do not error in the matters relating to the creed, worship, and legislation. From the viewpoint of the sacred law all action fall within one of five categories of the divine rules, namely: obligatory actions (in Arabic wajib), recommended actions (Mandoub), permissible actions (mubah), and disliked actions (makruh) and forbidden actions (haram). `Issmah means that the prophets never omitted to do an obligatory action or committed a forbidden action. It is possible that a prophet could commit a forbidden action before he was appointed to prophethood, because `Issmah is connected to the revelation. A prophet is not ma`sum, i.e. protected until he has received the revelation (al wahy). It is possible that a prophet could omit to do a recommended action in preference for a permissible action, enact a disliked action, or chose a good action as opposed to the best action in a given situation; such as when Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) chose to invite the leaders of Quraysh to Islam instead of teaching one of the believers who, at that instant, had demanded his attention. God communicated in His Book that His Messenger had not chosen the best course of action . None of these things implies sin or goes against the concept of `Issmah and the nature of prophethood. The traditions concerning the prophets that imply that they made sins are all singularly narrated traditions. They are rejected as they contradict the infallibility of the prophets and because singularly narrated traditions are left out in matters concerning the faith .
Therefore, `Issmah means that the prophets and messengers are infallible in committing actions that contradict the orders or prohibitions of God, and they cannot make major or minor sins. We know that the Prophets actions are followed absolutely. It is known that the Companions of the Prophet followed and imitated his actions absolutely, so they threw away their signet-rings when he threw his away and they discarded their sandels when he discarded his. If the Prophets could make monior sins it would not be possible to follow them in their actions since the intention of each of their actions would not necessarily be known. It would not be possible to know whether an individual action would bring nearness to God, whether it was permissible, forbidden or an act of rebellion.
As for the verses of the Quran which appear to suggest that the Prophets can commit wrong actions, such as the stories related about Adam, Musa, Yunis and Daud, they are misunderstood by most. It has been said by some that Adam made a sin by eating from the tree that had been forbidden to him and Eve (Hawwa). The verse cited is “Adam rebelled against his Lord and erred.” [20:121]. This is not a proof against the protection of the Prophets. It is well known that if someone forgets something one is not held accountable for that action. Ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “God will not hold anyone of this nation responsible for what is done in error, forgetfulness or under coercion.” [Ibn Majah,at-Tabarani, al Hakim]. Concerning Adam’s action God says: “We took a contract with Adam before, and he forgot.” [20:115]. So Adam forgot, moreover it occurred before Adam was appointed to Prophethood, God says, “Adam rebelled against his Lord and erred. Then his Lord chose him and He turned to him and guided him.” [20:122].
Adam’s election, i.e., his prophethood, and his guidance followed his rebellion. It is also possible that the meaning of Adam’s error was that he was unaware that the tree was the one which had been forbidden to him. It is possible that Adam interpreted God’s prohibition as referring to a particular tree and not to an entire species of tree. In other words, Adam did not know that it was that particular tree that had been forbidden to him.
Concerning Yunus, some people say that God took revenge on him because he was too weak to bear the burden of the message, that he promised his people punishment and when God pardoned the people he feared to face them as a liar. Actually there is nothing in the story of Yunus to suggest wrong action on his part. For Yunus supplicated to God for the destruction of his people, He said “May the punishment come to you in the morning at such-and-such a time.”, but “the people of Yunus believed, so We removed the punishment of humiliation from them.” [10:98]. The decision of God not to punish the people did not make Yunus a liar. Yunus never promised them destruction, rather he supplicated to God to punish them. Noah also called for the destruction of his people and was not punished by God.
As for the story of Musa and the man he killed, the Quran indicates all this took place before Musa was a Prophet. Moreover, Qatada said that Musa struck the man with his staff without intending to kill him so there was no act of rebellion involved. Musa said “I have wronged myself, so forgive me” [28:15] because he did not have leave to kill until commanded to do so. It would be wrong to deduce from the references to the Prophets repenting that they were guilty of sin. Their asking of forgiveness means their turning to God. “God loves those who turn in repentance and He loves those who purify themselves.” [al Baqarah 2:222]. “Glorify the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness. He is ever-turning.” [110:3].
As for the stories of Daud, all the acusations of wrong doing originate from the People of the Book and their texts, all of which have been altered. We have no texts that suggest any wrong doing on the part of Daud.
One should know that the Prophets are taken to task for oversight and forgetfulness because of their position; this does not mean sin or rebellion. They are not punished as others are punished. They are tested by adversity in this life so as to elevate them.
The creed of Islam demands the belief in the revelation (al wahy). The evidence for the revelation is not from the mind (aql), but from text (naql); because the revelation cannot be sensed by the mind. God Almighty has informed us in the Quran that Muhammed, His Messenger (peace be upon him), received revelation “We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him” [Surah al Nisa 4:163]. “Your companion is neither astray nor being mislead.Nor does he say of his own desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him.” [Surah an Najm 53:2-4].
The revelation which was sent down to Muhammad (peace be upon him), and all previous prophets, was of three types as stated in the Quran: “It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil or by sending of a messenger to reveal, with God’s permission, what God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise.” [Surah Shura 42:51].
The first form of revelation, namely internal revelation (wahy batin) or inspiration, has been mentioned by the Prophet himself. Al Harith ibn Hisham once asked the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “How does the revelation come to you O messenger of God? The Prophet replied: “Sometimes it comes to me like the ringing of a bell and it is most intense, then it leaves me and I understand from it.” Imam Bukhari reports a tradition from Aysha, the Mother of the Believers, that in the beginning of the revelation the Prophet used to see a vision (ru’yaa) in his sleep and it came like the breaking of the dawn.” God also inspired him while he was awake, like when the Prophet said: ” This is the Messenger of the Lord of the Worlds, angel Gabriel, who spat out (nafatha) my fear that no soul will die until his provisions (rizq) has finished. So fear God and seek the good.” This variety of divine inspiration (ilham) is where the angel implants a concept which the prophet latter conveys in his own words or by silence (al `ata`a). These are all varieties of the first form of revelation.
The second form of revelation is the communication from God to the Prophet Muhammad conveyed by the angel Gabriel. God says in the Quran: “With it came down the Spirit of Faith and Truth to thy heart and mind that thou mayest admonish in the perspicous Arabic tongue.” [Surah ash-Shu`araa 26:193-195] The Spirit of Faith is the angel Gabriel. God sent Gabriel and he spoke to the Prophet and the Prophet heared and memorised from him. Muslim relates on the authority of Umar ibn al Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him): “One day while we were sitting with the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Resting his knees against his and placing his palms of his hands on his thighs, he said: O Muhammad, tell me about Islam. The Messenger of God said: Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, to perform the prayers, to pay the zakat (alms-tax), to fast in Ramadhan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House [the Ka’ba in Makkah] if you are able to do so. He said: You have spoken rightly, and we were amazed at him asking him and saying that he had spoken rightly. He said: then tell me about iman (belief). He (saw) said: It is to believe in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day (Day of Judgement), and to believe in divine destiny, both the evil and good thereof. He said: You have spoken rightly. He said: Then tell me about ihsan. He (saw) said: it is to worship God as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not truly He sees you. He said: Then tell me about the Hour. He (saw) said: The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner. He said: Then tell me about its signs. He (saw) said: That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute herdsmen competing in constructing lofty buildings. Then he took himself off and I stayed for a time. Then he (saw) said: O Umar, do you know who the questioner was? I said: God and His Messenger knows best. He (saw) said: It was Gabriel, who came to you to teach you your religion.”
In this form of revelation Gabriel coveys the divine meanings to the Prophet (peace be upon him) through speech. When the divine meaning is conveyed in the very words of God that revelation comprises the Quran. Accordingly, the Quran is the communication from God to the Prophet Muhammad, conveyed by the angel Gabriel, in the very words of God. The traditions (ahadith) consist of the divine meaning conveyed to us by the Prophet (peace be upon him) in his own words, actions or tacit approval conveyed by his silence. Hadith Qudsi is variety of the traditions in which the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) narrates a concept directly from God as opposed to the angel Gabriel. The words of the Hadith Qudsi are those of the Prophet, and most certainly not the words of God. The Hadith Qudsi differs from the other traditions in form only. The words of God can only be found in the Quran, and it is the language of the Quran, which is its miracle!
The third form of revelation “…from behind a veil.” [42:51] occurred with Moses (peace be upon him), when he heared the Voice but saw no form. It also happened when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) went on the night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and heaven, known as Isra and Miraj. This has been narrated in authentic traditions (sahih hadith) and is implied in the following verses of surah an-Najm: “He was taught by one Mighty in Power, endued with Wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form) while he was in the highest part of the horizon: then he approached and came closer, and was at a distance of but two bow-legthens or even nearer; so did (God) convey the inspiration to His Servant (Conveyed) what He meant to convey.” [54: 5-10]
Other than what happened during Isra and Miraj, the revelation which descended upon the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) comprised inspiration (ilham) and the communication from angel Gabriel. All these forms of revelation: The speech of God to his prophet, communication from Gabriel by speech or by sign, the inspiration while awake and the vision during sleep are all conclusive evidences.
Revelation and Ijtihad:
Ijtihad literally means exertion, but technically, in Shari’ah terminology, it is the total expenditure of effort made by a jurist in order to infer, with a degree of probability, the rules of Shari’ah from their detailed evidences in the sources. The jurist who makes ijtihad is called a mujtahid. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not a mujtahid. He warned us and communicated the Shari’ah to us through revelation: “Say, `I do but warn you according to revelation.’…” [al-Anbiyaa 21:45]: and “Nor does he say (aught) of his own desire, it is no less than inspiration (wahy) sent down to him.” [an-Najm 53:3-4]. The latter verse, “Nor does he say of his own desire” is a general statement which includes both the Quran and the Sunnah and is not limited. Therefore, whatever the Prophet communicates concerning legislative matters must be from revelation (wahy). Ijtihad is not the same as revelation. ijtihad derives its validity from the divine revelation. The Prophet’s statements constitute a source of sacred law, and not the product of ijtihad. Thus no one can put the opinion of the great jurists, such as Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafii, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Jaffar, on an equal footing with the traditions of the Prophet.
Ijtihad contains an element of speculation, which implies that the result of the Ijtihad is probably correct, while the possibility of the Ijtihad being wrong cannot be ruled out. If the Prophet practiced Ijtihad then disagreeing with his views would be permissible, because Ijtihad by its nature allows disagreement and opposition. The Prophet said: If the judge made Ijtihad and he was correct, then he will be rewarded twice. However, if he was wrong, he will be rewarded once.” The reward for a wrong Ijtihad is an evidence that it is permissible to have different opinions. Opposing the prophet, however, is forbidden. (see al Nisa 4:14 and 58). Moreover, all prophets are infallible in communicating the divine law, they are protected from making mistakes in what they communicate to people of the Shari’ah. If the Prophet was susceptible to error in delivering the divine law then he would no longer be infallible (masum). The `Issmah of the prophets is a principle of the Islamic creed.
Those people who contend that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) made Ijtihad, claim that at times the prophet erred and was reprimanded by God in the Quran. They quote for example the verse “It is not proper for the Prophet to take prisoners (of war) until he has subdued everyone in the earth.” This verse was revealed concerning the captives of the Battle of Badr. It is reported that seventy people from the enemy were taken prisoner in the Battle. The Prophet consulted Abu bakr who suggested that they should be released against a ransom, whereas Umar al Khattab held the view that they should be killed. The Prophet approved of Abu Bakr’s view but then the verse was revealed which disapproved of them taking ransom form the captives. The truth of the matter is that no ijtihad was involved. The verse that followed verse 67 makes it very clear that a previous revelation had permitted the taking of prisoners of war: “Had it not been for a previous ordainment from God, a severe punishment would have reached you for the (ransom) that you took.” [al Anfal 8:68]. The previous ordainment was verse 4 of surah Muhammad “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind (the captives) firmly: therefore (is the time for) either generosity or ransom.” The prophet, therefore, erred not in ijtihad as some claim, but erred in his understanding of what was meant by “subduing the enemy.” Muhammad (peace be upon him) was of the view that he had subdued the enemy and therefore should ransom, whereas in reality he had not subdued the enemy in the sense that God intended. Ijtihad is the process of extracting a rule (hukm); in this case the rule was known, i.e., it was allowed to kill or ransom depending on whether the enemy had been subdued. Thus, contrary to what some claim the prophet was acting in pursuance of a divine command and he did not make ijtihad.
Also cited are the verses: “(The Prophet) frowned and turned away, because there came to him the blind man (interrupting). But what could tell thee but that perchance he might grow in purity? Or that he might receive admonition, and the reminder might profit him?...” [Abasa: 80: 1-4] These verses do not indicate that Muhammad (peace be upon him) made ijtihad. The Prophet had been ordered to convey the Islamic call, i.e. dawa, to all mankind and to teach the muslims Islam; and both commands had to be carried out by the Prophet. The verses of Abasa deal with an event concerning Abdullah ibn Ummi-Muktum, a blind muslim, who came to Muhammad (peace be upon him) while he was busy inviting the leaders of Quraish to Islam. Ibn Ummi-Muktum asked the Prophet to teach him, unaware that he was engaged in conveying the call to Utba, Umaya ibn Khalaf, al Waleed ibn al Mughera, Shaiba, Abu Jahl ibn Hashim, and the sons of Rabiya. The Prophet disliked this interruption, he frowned and turned away. There was no question of Ijtihad here. The Prophet chose between to duties, to convey the Islamic call to non-muslims or to teach Islam to a muslim. God revealed that Muhammad (peace be upon him) should have taught the blind man rather than continue with the call to Islam. This is a case of leaving the good action for a better action (tarku-al-awlaa), as opposed to making erroneous Ijtihad.
Although all the Prophet’s rulings are divinely inspired by revelation, it is true that in temporal affairs, such as military matters, the Prophet exercised his own opinion. By temporal affairs it is meant those actions which fall within the area of al mubah , i.e. those action which the texts indicate are permitted to do or not. For instance, during the Battle of Badr Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) told the army to camp behind the Wells of Badr, a companion, Habbab ibn al- Mundhir, who was a military man asked the Prophet “Is this a revelation from God, or your opinion of strategy and tactics?” Muhammad (peace be upon him) replied: “My opinion, strategy and tactics.”[Muslim, Bukhari]. The Prophet (saw) changed the position of the army on the companions advice. When the Companions were unsure whether the statement of the Prophet (saw) was from revelation or his own opinion, they would ask. Sometimes they were confused, such as when the prophet told them it would be better not to pollinate the date trees of Madina. When they followed his advice and the subsequent harvest was low, the Prophet (saw) told them “You know more about your life affairs than I.” [ 3]. If they were told it was revelation they would say nothing more, in accordance with “Take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourself that which he withhold from you.” [al Hashr 59: 7]; if they were informed it was Muhammad’s opinion they would discuss the matter in consultation, i.e. shura.
If Muhammad (peace be upon him) spoke on shar’i matters through ijtihad, then he would never have waited for revelation in response to questions raised by the Companions, but would have given an immediate ruling based on his ijtihad. Having given an opinion from ijtihad, the Companions would have been entitled to argue the point, because ijtihad contains an element of speculation. This was never done, because he did not make ijtihad. The Prophet’s (saw) speech, actions and silence, i.e tacit approval, was but revelation “I follow but that which is revealed to me by revelation.” [al Ahqaf 46:9]
1. See Surah `Abasa, 80.
2. Sayyid Qutb,In the Shade of Quran, Vol.30, p.361.
3. Rafi ibn Khadij said that the Messenger of God came to Madina while they were pollinating the dates and asked, “What are you doing?” They told him and he said, “Perhaps it would be better not to do it.” So they left it and there were less dates. They mentioned that to him and he said, “I am a man. If I command you to do something in your deen, then do it. If I tell you something from opinion, I am but a man.” [Muslim from Talha] Anas added, “You know better the affairs of you world.” See Ash-Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad pp348-349, translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley. The whole of Ash-Shifa deals with the subject of Prophethood and their being protected from imperfection; it is the best reference available in English on the matters dealt with in this chapter.