The fourth article of faith in Islam is to believe in the Prophets and Messengers of Allah (SWT). Approximately 124,000 Prophets have been sent and about 315 Messengers. It is an obligation to believe in all of them even if their stories have not been related to us.
In Arabic the word “Nubuwwah” means Prophethood and it is derived from the Arabic word “Naba’” which means “news”. Allah (SWT) says: “Declare (Nabbi) unto My slaves, that truly, I am the Oft-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.” (Al-Hijr: 49) And Allah (SWT) said: “…Then when he told her (Nabbhaa) about it, she said, ‘Who told (Anba’ka) you this?’ He said, ‘The All-Knower, The All-Aware (Allah) has told me (Nabba’anee).’” (At-Tahreem:3) So, the word “Naba’” is “news” and “Nabee” is the one who provides information about Allah.
There is another opinion among some scholars regarding “Nabiyy (Prophet),” which is derived from “Nabwah” and “Nabaawah” that it refers to a high ground, meaning that the Prophets are honored over all other creatures.The Arabic word “Rasool” is taken from the word “Irsaal” which means “to send” or “to direct towards”; or it is taken from “Rasal” which means “to follow successively.” The word “Rasal” is used to describe the milk of cows when it keeps on flowing. This means that a “Rasool” experiences divine inspiration descending upon him successively. A “Rasool” is one who is sent and follows up the news of the one who sent him with “Risaalah (Message).”
According to the Sharee’ah, the scholars have presented varying opinions with regards to the meaning of “Nabiyy” and “Rasool.” Most scholars agree that “Nubuwwah” is more general than “Risaalah”; thus every “Rasool” is a “Nabiyy”, but not every “Nabiyy” is a “Rasool.” The opinion toward which we incline is that a “Nabiyy” is one whom Allah (SWT) has informed about a previous Divine Law, sending him to warn the people to whom it applies. He may also be commanded to inform about specific matters, testaments, or exhortations.
An example is that of the Prophets sent to the Israelites who were all followers of the Law (Torah) which was given to Moses (AS); and none of them came with a new law to abolish the Law (Torah). In this case, a Prophet is responsible for the restoration of the teachings of former Messengers. As for a “Rasool”, he is one whom Allah sent with a new law or Sharee’ah, commanding him to convey it to the people.
This is regardless of whether that law is new in itself or to the people to whom he is sent. He may also come to abolish some legislations of the previous Sharee’ah. Muslims believe that Allah (SWT) has sent to His servants, Messengers who were bringing good tidings and warning, so that mankind might have no argument against Allah after the Messengers. The first among the Messengers is Noah (AS) and the Last and Final Messenger is Muhammad (PBUH) as Allah (SWT) says: “We revealed to you as We revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him” (An-Nisa: 163); and “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets” (Al-Ahzaab: 40).
The best among the Messengers is Muhammad, then Abraham, Moses, Noah, and Jesus, son of Mary. Allah says: “And (remember) when We took from the Prophets their covenant, and from you (Muhammad) and from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, son of Mary. We took from them a solemn covenant.” (Al-Ahzaab: 7). We believe that Muhammad’s (PBUH) Message, includes all the merits of the Messages of those dignified Messengers, because Allah says: “He ordained for you what He enjoined on Noah and what He revealed to you and what He enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus; namely, establish this faith and be united in it.” (Ash-Shoora: 13)
It is important to know all Messengers are human beings who have none of the divine qualities of Allah (SWT). Allah, the Exalted, said about Noah, who was the first among them: “I do not say to you that I possess the treasures of Allah. I do not know the unseen, and I do not say that I am an angel…..” (Hood: 31) Allah (SWT) directed Muhammad, who is the last among them, to say: “I do not say to you that I possess the treasures of Allah, nor do I know the unseen, and I do not say to you that I am an angel” (Al-An’am: 50); and to say that “I have no power to bring profit or hurt for myself, but only as Allah wills” (Al-A’raf: 188); and: “I have no power to hurt or benefit you. Say none can protect me from Allah, nor can I find any refuge besides Him.” (Al-Jinn: 91-2). It is also important to know that the Messengers are among Allah’s servants. Allah (SWT) blessed them with the Message and described them as servants, in the context of praising and honoring them.
He says about Noah, the first among them: “You are the descendants of those whom We carried with Noah, he was a truly thankful servant” (Al-Isra’: 3). Allah (SWT) said about the last among them, Muhammad (PBUH): “Blessed be He who sent down the Qur’an to His servant, that he may warn mankind” (Al-Furqan: 1). Allah (SWT) said regarding other Messengers: “And mention Our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men of might and vision.” (Sad: 45); “And remember Our servant David, who was a mighty and repentant man.” (Sad: 17); “And to David, We gave Solomon, he was an excellent and repentant servant.” (Sad: 30); Regarding Jesus, son of Mary: “He is only a servant whom We blessed and We made him an example to the children of Israel.” (Az-Zukhruf: 59).
Allah (SWT) concluded all Messages with the Message of Muhammad (PBUH) to all people, because He said: “Say, ‘O mankind, I am Allah’s Messenger to you all. To him belongs the Kingdom of the Heavens and the Earth; there is no god but He. He ordains life and death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet who believes in Allah and His words. Follow him so that you may be rightly guided.”‘ (Al-A’raf: 158). Muslims believe that the Sharee’ah of Muhammad (PBUH) is the religion of Islam, which Allah (SWT) has chosen for His servants. He does not accept any other religion from anyone, for He, the Exalted, said: “Surely, the true religion in Allah’s sight is Islam” (Ale-‘Imran: 19); “…..Today I have perfected your religion for you and I have completed My favour upon you, and I have chosen Islam to be your religion.” (Al-Ma’idah: 3); “Whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from Him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.” (Al-Ma’idah: 85).
Whoever rejects the Universal Message (the Qur’an) of Muhammad (PBUH) rejects the Message of all the Messengers. Allah, the Exalted, said: “Noah’s people rejected the Messengers.” (Ash-Shu’aara: 105). Thus, Allah (SWT) considered them as rejecting all of the Messengers despite the fact that there was no Messenger before Noah. This is also clear from the following verses: “Those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers, and wish to make division between Allah and His Messengers, and say: ‘We believe in some and disbelieve in others,’ wishing to take a midway course. Those indeed are the unbelievers, and We have prepared for the unbelievers a humiliating punishment.” (An-Nisa: 150-51).
Muhammad (PBUH) is the Last of the Prophets, no Prophet shall come after him and whoever claims Prophethood after him is either an imposter or a liar.
For more information please refer to the book by Dr. ‘Umar S. Al-Ashqar – “The Messengers and the Messages (In the Light of the Qur’an and Sunnah).”