A person who brings news. The divine messenger chosen and assigned by Allah to inform His slaves of His orders and prohibitions and to explain them the truth, and what is right and wrong. In the Quran, a prophet is referred to as “nabiyy” or “anbiya”, and sometimes as “rasul” or “rusul”.
“Nabiyy” is an Arabic word, derived from the root “naba’”. It means “the one who informs, who gives news”. However, naba’ does not mean any news. It means some very important news that is very valuable, a piece of important news conveyed to us. Naba’ can be used only for a report whose trueness is not doubted at all (Raghib al-Isfahani al-Mufradat, Nabiyy item). The meaning of Nabiyy is a person who is chosen by Allah to convey the divine message to His slaves through revelation and who receives revelation. The word explains the relationship between Allah and His prophet, that is, revelation and giving information (Sait Ramadan al-Buti, Kubra al- Yaqiniyyat al-Kawniyya, p. 172).
Some linguists claim that the word “nabiyy” is derived from the word “nubuwwah”, which means “elevated”.
Some other linguists, on the other hand, define the word “nabiyy” as a messenger between Allah and His sane slaves, or “the person who informs people of the divine revelation of Allah”. The plural form of nabiyy is “anbiya”. Prophets are called “anbiya” because they inform people about divine orders and prohibitions, decrees and news (Ibn Manzur, Lisanul-Arab, Nabiyy item; at-Taftazani, Sharhul-Maqasid, II, 128).
The word “rasul” is also used instead of “nabiyy” in the Quran. “Rasul”, which is derived from the word “irsal” in Arabic, means a person that is sent, a messenger, an envoy. Since prophets are sent by Allah to guide people and show them the right path, the prophets are called “rusul kiram and mursalun” (al-Mufradat, Rasul item., Lisanul-Arab, Rasul item).
Accordingly, the words nabiyy and rasul are two synonyms in Arabic. Prophets are called “nabiyy” since they receive important news (revelation) from Allah and they are called “rasul” since they give the news they receive to the people to whom they are sent. Their most important duty is to convey the divine revelation sent down to them. In that case, the meaning of the prophethood is that Allah gives responsibility to one of His slaves to convey His divine decree or shari’ah to others. This word explains the relationship between the prophet and other people. It is the concept of being sent and messengership.
Accordingly, prophets have two duties. The special relationship between Allah and the Prophet is called “nubuwwah (prophethood)” and the “divine duty” relationship with people is called “risalah (messengership)”. The words nabiyy (prophet) and rasul (messenger) express those two relations (see al-Buti, ibid, p. 173).
According to the majority of Kalam scholars, the word “rasul” is wider and more comprehensive than the word “nabiyy” in terms of lexical meaning because angels are also called “rasul” in the sense of “divine messengers” since they also convey divine news. According to those who hold this view, the prophets who are given a divine book and separate shari’ah are called “messengers”. In this respect, every messenger is also a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger. According to them, there is a “general-special-absolute” relationship between them in terms of the terminology of logic because a nabiyy is a person who receives any orders from Allah through revelation, whether he is assigned the duty of conveying it or not. If he is assigned the duty of conveying a certain shari’ah (legal system) or a Book, that prophet is also called a “messenger”. Both groups have evidences from the Book and the Sunnah. In conclusion, nabiyy and rasul can be defined as follows: “A person whom Allah chooses and to whom He sends revelation (while he is awake) through Jibril and who conveys what Allah reveals to him (pbuh) to all people or to a certain group of people upon Allah’s command (for the terminological meaning of the words nabiyy (prophet) and rasul (messenger), the differences and evidences between them, see at-Taftazani, Sharhul-Maqasid, II / 128, al-Jurjani, Sharhul-Mawaqif, III, 173-174; Ibnul-Humam, Sharhul-Musayara, 198; Qadi Iyad, ash-Shifa , I / 210; ad-Dawwani, Jalal- Sharhul-Aqaidil-Adudiyya, 3; Mustafa Sabri, Mawqiful-Aqli wal-Ilmi wal Alam, Cairo 1950, IV / 40; al-Buti, ibid, 173).
Belief in Prophets and its Importance
According to several verses mentioned in the Quran and some sound hadiths of the Prophet (PBUH), one of the principles of belief in Islam, which is the only true religion to which Allah shows consent, is to believe in all the prophets sent by Allah to show people the true path by guiding them. That common principle is a very important pillar among the principles of belief in Islam because it is not possible to believe in “divine books” without believing in “angels”; it is also not possible to believe in holy books without believing in “prophets”, who are appointed and are responsible for conveying those books to people.
The truth is as follows: A religion, that is, divine commands and prohibitions, is not in question without believing in the institution of prophethood because prophets do not only convey the divine decrees, command and prohibitions revealed to them as divine messengers sent by Allah for guidance but they also practice those decrees themselves and show us how to apply them in our daily lives as individuals and society. Prophets are highly qualified, moral, perfect and exemplary people who can be followed by everybody. Since they are good examples in every aspect, they easily influence people, instill love of Allah and belief in Allah in them, and guide them by making fundamental changes in their lives. The betterment of people who are alone with their souls and minds and their guidance to the right path can be achieved only under the leadership of prophets, who are also human beings freed from sins. Therefore, angels were sent as messengers to prophets only, not to human beings: “Say, ‘If there were settled, on earth, angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent them down from the heavens an angel for an apostle’.” (al-Isra, 17/95)
According to what the Quran states, the institution of prophethood and divine books are spiritual gifts granted to people by Allah. Allah, who is the creator of the realms, bestowed countless material blessings and various sustenance on humanity without making any difference between people and nations; He also bestowed the blessing of prophethood as a spiritual food and a spiritual blessing on humanity according to the same divine principle. In this respect, prophethood is a divine gift distributed by Lord of the realms, who has infinite grace and mercy, to all nations in the world. Since people need the innocent (sinless) prophets and the divine revelation sent to them by Allah so that they will find the way of guidance, learn the divine order established based on truth and justice and apply them in their lives, Allah, who is the Lord, Creator and Sustainer of all people, certainly sends prophets to every nation that He chooses among His slaves without making any discrimination. As a matter of fact, the issue is clearly stated in the Quran with the following verses: “And there never was a people, without a warner having lived among them (in the past)” (Fatir, 35/24). “To every people (was sent) an apostle.” (Yunus, 10/47). See also an-Nahl 16/36; ar-Rum, 30/47; az-Zukhruf, 43/6; ar-Ra’d 13/8; Ibrahim, 14 / 4; al-Isra, 17/15).
All prophets are distinguished and devoted slaves, who were created with the power and ability to fulfill that sublime duty and to convey to people the divine decrees revealed to them; they are divine messengers chosen by Allah.
The Quran orders Muslims to believe in not only Muhammad (pbuh), the Prophet of Islam, but also all the prophets sent to the nations of the world from time to time. The following is stated in the chapter of al-Baqara: “Say ye: ‘We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam)’.” (al-Baqara, 2/136). It is understood that what is meant the word “nabiyyun” in the verse is other prophets sent before.
Thus, the religion of Islam assumes the quality of being a comprehensive religion of humanity that is beyond the reach of any religion, by regarding belief in all prophets as one of the “pillars of belief” and basic principles of Islam (see al-Baqara, 2/177 and 285, an-Nisa, 4/136). By addressing all the nations of the world, Islam invites people to a brotherhood that includes all humanity, peace and tranquility, happiness and salvation. In this respect, every Muslim has to believe in all the prophets sent before, including Muhammad (pbuh) as a whole, in each of the prophets whose names are mentioned in the Quran in detail, in all prophets sent to previous nations by Allah and whose names are not mentioned collectively (al-Buti, ibid, 186. -191; Ali Arslan Aydın, an-Nubuwwa fil-Quran wa inda Falasifatil-Islam, Cairo 1958, pp. 5-9 and İslâmda İman ve Esasları 6th Impression, Istanbul 1990, p. 184-187).
According to what is stated in the Quran, the prophet who was sent to address the whole humanity and all nations is only Hz. Muhammad (pbuh). Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) is the greatest and last one of the prophets sent to various nations from time to time since Hz. Adam, the first prophet. He is the last golden link of the chain of prophets. No prophet will be sent after him. It is a fact informed by Islam and the last Holy Book, the Quran:
“We have not sent thee but as a universal (Messenger) to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them (against sin).” (Saba; 34/28);
“Say, ‘O men! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah, to Whom belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth’.” (al-A’raf, 7/158). There is no clear verse in the Quran or any other holy book stating that any prophet other than Muhammad (pbuh) was sent to all nations of the world.
The Number and Names of the Prophets: It is clearly stated in the Quran that a prophet chosen from among each nation was sent to each nation (Fatir, 35/24; Yunus, 10/47; al-Isra, 17/15) but the number of the prophets and the names of each of them are not mentioned. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in the chapter of an-Nisa (4/164):
“Of some apostles We have already told thee the story; of others We have not.” In fact, a number like one hundred and twenty-four thousand is mentioned in a sound hadith of our prophet but that number is not certain. The names of only 25 prophets are mentioned in the Quran. They are as follows: Adam, Idris (Enoch), Nuh (Noah), Hud, Salih (Saleh), Lut (Lot), Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), Yusuf (Joseph), Shuayb (Jethro), Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Dawud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), Ayyub (Job), Dhulkifl (Ezekiel), Yunus (Jonah), Elias (Elijah), Alyasa (Elisha), Zakariyya (Zacharias), Yahya (John), Isa (Jesus), and Muhammad (pbuh).
According to Ahl al-Sunnah, it is better not to limit the numbers of the prophets because if the definite number is determined and if it is bigger, those who are not really prophets will have been regarded as prophets and if it is smaller, some of those who are prophets will not have been regarded as prophets (see at-Taftazani, Sharhul-Aqaidin-Nasafiyya wa Havashihi, pp. 460-465; Aliyyul-Qari, Sharhul-Fiqhil-Akbar, pp.102 -104: Abdurrahman al-Jaziri Tawdihul-Aqaid fi Ilmit-Tawhid pp. 136-138).
The Attributes of Prophets
Since all the prophets are chosen by Allah and sent to people as divine messengers, they are like brothers of one another. They are from one family and form a single congregation: All prophets are honest, loyal and trustworthy, and they have sound characteristics, alert hearts, high ethics; they are dear servants and divine messengers who are dearest to Allah in the world and in the hereafter.
They have some common attributes and characteristics that are distinct from other people. Thanks to those attributes, they attain the merit of being a messenger between the sublime creator and His slaves. Allah Almighty states the following: “Allah knoweth best where (and how) to carry out His mission” (al-An’am, 6/l24). It is possible to classify the attributes common to all prophets under the following five items: Amanah (trust), sidq (loyalty), fatanah (intelligence), ismah (innocence) and tabligh (conveying the message).
1. Amanah is a noun that lexically means trusting, being secure, not being afraid and being reliable.
Amanah means the prophets’ being trustworthy and reliable related to fulfilling their holy duties and in all issues. All prophets are very trustworthy, reliable, honest and distinguished people. No betrayal will come from them because Allah gives His divine revelation, the honor and duty of prophethood to His faithful slaves who are trustworthy in every aspect, not to the traitors. He chooses His prophets among such trustworthy, loyal and honest servants. Doubtlessly, Allah knows best who is worthy of the degree of prophethood more.
In the Quran, there are verses mentioning the attribute of trust of the past prophets: The Prophet Hud addressed his nation as follows: “I but fulfil towards you the duties of my Lord’s mission: I am to you a sincere and trustworthy adviser” (al-A’raf, 7/68). It is stated in the chapter of ash-Shuara that the prophets Nuh, Hud. Salih, Lut and Shuayb addressed their nations as follows: “I am to you an apostle worthy of all trust” (see 26/107, 125, 143, 162, 178).
One of the two daughters of the Prophet Shuayb stated the following for Hz. Musa “O my (dear) father! Engage him on wages: truly the best of men for thee to employ is the (man) who is strong and trusty” (al-Qasas, 28/26). When Hz. Musa returned from Madyan to Egypt as a prophet, he addressed the nation of Pharaoh as follows: “Restore to me the Servants of Allah. I am to you an apostle worthy of all trust” (ad-Dukhan, 44/18).
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had the most reliable and superior personality in society both before and during his prophethood. That is why the Qurayshi community in Makkah nicknamed him “al-Amin (the Trustworthy)”. As a matter of fact, during the repair of the Kaaba five years before he became a prophet, there was a dispute that could lead to a conflict among Qurayshis, all of whom wanted to attain the honor of placing Hajarul-Aswad in its place. Meanwhile, Abu Umayya Walid b. Mughira’s proposal, “Make the one who will enter the mosque first through this door a judge” was accepted. After a while, it was seen that Hz. Muhammad, who was 35 years old, entered. All Qurayshis said, “That is al-Amin, a trustworthy person; we will accept his decision.” (Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, Sirah, Beirut 1391, I, 209; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, I, 146; Abdurrazzaq, al-Musannaf, V, 319; Ibnul-Athir, al-Kamil, Beirut 1385/1965, II, 45; Tabari, Tarikh, Egypt 1.326, II, 201).
2- The Attribute of Sidq: Sidq means the prophets’ being truthful and loyal in conveying divine decrees, orders and prohibitions to people and in all kinds of news they give. It is never permissible for prophets to lie. Otherwise, it will not be possible for prophets to persuade people and to lead them to the right path by guiding them because lying is a big sin; it is not compatible with the “ismah” and “amanah” attributes of the prophets. As a matter of fact, Allah gives “Miracles” to each of them in order to confirm their prophethood and virtually states the following: “My slave tells the truth when he declares that he is a prophet and related to what he conveys from Me.” Since it is not possible for Allah to approve liars, it is wajib for the prophets to be qualified with the attribute sidq (loyalty/truthfulness); it is impossible for them to lie.
In the Quran, Allah praises His prophets with the quality of truthfulness: “(Also mention in the Book (the story of) Abraham: He was a man of Truth, a prophet” (Maryam, 19/41);
“Also mention in the Book the case of Idris: He was a man of truth (and sincerity), (and) a prophet” (Maryam, 19/56). No nation said to their prophet “We knew you as a liar before”.
The attribute of amanah of the prophets means they are reliable in their relations with other people; what is more important is that they are trustworthy related to revelation in terms of conveying the commands and prohibitions of Allah to people without changing, increasing or decreasing them. The following is stated in the Quran: “(It is the practice of those) who preach the Messages of Allah, and fear Him, and fear none but Allah. And enough is Allah to call (men) to account” (al-Ahzab, 33/39). The betrayal of a prophet is incompatible with his holy duty. “No prophet could (ever) be false to his trust” (Aal-i Imran, 3/161).
3- The Attribute of Fatanah
Fatanah means the prophets’ having a superior mind and intelligence, a strong memory and a high power of persuasion. It is necessary for every prophet to have such a superior intelligence, and high qualities and abilities in order to fulfill their duty of prophethood, which is honorable and lofty as well as heavy and very responsible, in a complete and perfect manner. Otherwise, they cannot present strong arguments (definitive evidence) to the nations they were sent to and they cannot make the necessary struggle to persuade and silence them; they cannot guide those who believe in them to the true path either.
In that case, prophets are the most intelligent, clever and capable people. Deficient attributes such as having a weak mind and weak memory, insanity and heedlessness are never possible for them.
There are Quranic verses indicating the superior intelligence and abilities of the prophets:
“Be not in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation to thee is completed, but say, ‘O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge’.” (Taha, 20/114); “Move not thy tongue concerning the (Qur’an) to make haste therewith. It is for Us to collect it and to promulgate it:” (al-Qiyamah, 75/16-17). Moving his tongue with the Quran during the coming of the revelation in order to memorize it is a sign of the Prophet’s cleverness and intelligence. Hasting in order to reread the verses before the completion of the revelation also shows the prophet’s perfect intelligence. By doing so, he tries to memorize the revelation that will be placed in his memory thanks to the help of God Almighty with his own intelligence.
4- The Attribute of Ismah
Ismah means the prophets’ remaining away from all kinds of secret and obvious sins, and actions that are incompatible with the honor of prophethood. All kinds of sins and common deeds, which are the opposite of ismah, that is, being protected from sins and innocence, are impossible for prophets because if it was permissible for the prophets to commit sins and crimes or to do inappropriate deeds that are not suitable for ismah, it would be regarded as normal and not a sin for ordinary people to do bad things by following them. For, prophets are good examples that we are to follow. Therefore, we are commanded to follow the prophets and obey them. In fact, Allah does not command His slaves to commit sins and to obey sinners; He does not choose and send such people as prophets. Therefore, according to Ahl as-Sunnah, prophets never commit major sins. It is permissible to commit minor sins in the form of “zalla” by mistake. However, they do not insist on it; they are warned immediately and never make the same mistake again.
All Islamic scholars agree unanimously that ismah is an attribute that all prophets must have. However, there are some differences of opinion regarding its quality and scope.
According to the Maturidis, the fact that a prophet is protected from sinning does not force him to worship; it does not make him incapable of sinning either. However, ismah is a grace of Allah and leads the prophet to do good and prevents him from evil. However, he still has will for the realization of the divine test (Sabuni, al-Bidaya, transl. Bekir Topaloğlu, Ankara 1979, pp. 121-122). Ismah is a necessary attribute for prophets because if it were permissible for prophets to sin and lie, people would not rely on the news they give. It would overshadow their qualities of being an evidence from Allah.
If prophets sinned, it would remove their capability to testify (witness). The following is stated in the Quran: “O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth” (al-Hujurat, 49/6). Almighty Allah orders us to be cautious and to hesitate to accept the testimony of the fasiq (open sinner). In case of the commitment of a major sin by a prophet, capability to testify would be invalid in the world; thus, his testimony for his ummah in the hereafter will also be invalid. However, the following is stated in the Quran: “Thus, have We made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves” (al-Baqara, 2/143). If it is stated that the witnessing of a person is valid on the Day of Judgment, it means his witness in the world is also confirmed (ar-Razi, Ismatul-Anbiya, Cairo 1986, p. 41-42; Mafatihul Ghayb, III, 8).
Prophets try to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. If they abandoned worshipping and committed sins, they would be the addressees of the following verses:
“Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (To practise it) yourselves?” (al-Baqara, 2/44); “O ye who believe! Why say ye that which ye do not? Grievously odious is it in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not.” (as-Saf, 61/2-3). On the other hand, it would be necessary for their followers to prevent them from doing evil, which would be a pressure and persecution against the prophet. It is forbidden by the Quran: “Those who annoy Allah and His Messenger - Allah has cursed them in this World and in the Hereafter” (al-Ahzab, 33/57; ar-Razi, Mafatihul Ghayb, III, 8; Ismatul-Anbiya, p. 42, 43).
According to Ahl as-Sunnah, the innocence of prophets is definite after revelation. When some stories of the prophets are told in the Quran, there are examples suggesting that they may have committed sins. Hz. Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit in Paradise (al-Baqara, 2 / 35-37; al-A‘raf, 7/20, 21, 23); Hz. Nuh’s prayer to take his unbelieving son on board (Hud, 11 / 45-47); Hz. Ibrahim’s asking his nation to ask the great idol who broke the idols though he himself broke the idols (al-Anbiya, 21/57, 62, 63); Hz. Lut’s offer of the daughters of his community to homosexual men (Hud, 11 / 77-79); Hz. Musa’s causing the death of a person (al-Qasas, 28/15); Hz. Yunus’ leaving his nation without permission (al-Anbiya, 21 / 87-88); Hz. Dawud’s decision in favor of the plaintiff by listening to the plaintiff and without hearing the defendant (Sad, 38/21-25); Hz. Muhammad’s frowning and turning away upon the question of Abdullah b. Umm Maktum, who was blind, when he interrupted while the Prophet was talking to the leaders of the unbelievers to invited them to Islam (Abasa, 80/1-12) can be given as examples. However, some of the incidents seen in the stories of the prophets mentioned above and similar ones either belong to the period before the prophethood or the reports about them are not valid. Some of them are explained in a way that suits the glory of the prophets. For, if it were possible for the prophets to commit sins, their words would not be trusted and thus divine evidence would not occur.
5- The Attribute of Tabligh of the Prophets. Tabligh (conveying the message) is the purpose of existence of every prophet. If there was no tabligh, the sending of the prophets would be meaningless and absurd. Allah enlivens His grace and generosity to people with prophets and makes His compassion and mercy manifest through their lives. The transfer of it to other people can occur only through tabligh.
In conclusion, the prophets have to convey whatever is revealed to them to people, without decreasing and increasing. In their activities during conveying the message, they must fear only Allah and must not obey the wishes of others; they must trust in Allah. Explaining the message that is conveyed and helping people to understand it form another aspect of the activity of conveying the message.
- 1. Prophethood
- What is the difference between Nabi and Rasul
- Why were religions sent only in certain languages? Why is Islam the last religion and why is there no other religion after it?
- What is the difference between prophethood and messengership?
- Why were holy books sent down?
- Are angels Allah's daughters?
- What are two important duties of the Prophet (pbuh)?
- Why were holy books sent down?
- When did Muhammad (pbuh) become a nabi (prophet) and when a rasul (messenger)?
- What does belief in books express?