Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian and terms ‘Nabi’, ‘Rasul’

Applied to him only as meaning ‘Saint’

The Muslim Thinker, January/February/March 1990 Issue (Issue 2, pp. 16–20)

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908), the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the greatest Divine Reformer to arise within Islam, is widely accused of laying claim to be a prophet (nabi) and a messenger (rasul), in breach of the Islamic belief that the Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] was the last Prophet. The main ground for this untrue accusation is that Hazrat Mirza has applied to himself the terms nabi, rasul and mursal (a variant of rasul). In reply to this charge, Hazrat Mirza again and again gave explanations such as the following:

“I am a servant of Islam, and this is the real reason for my coming. The words nabi and rasul are figurative and metaphorical. Risalat in the Arabic language is applied to ‘being sent’, and nubuwwat is to expound hidden truths and matters upon receiving knowledge from God. …

“However, in the terminology of Islam, nabi and rasul mean those who bring an entirely new Law (shariah), or those who abrogate some aspects of the previous law, or those who are not called followers of a previous prophet, having a direct connection with God without benefit from a prophet. Therefore, one should be vigilant to see that the same meaning is not taken here, because we have no Book but the Holy Quran, and no religion but Islam. We believe that our Prophet, peace and the blessings of God be upon him, is the last of the Prophets, and the Holy Quran is the last of the Books.”

Thus, the words nabi and rasul can be applied, in terms of their common meanings in the Arabic language, or in a metaphorical sense, to one who is not a prophet as defined in Islamic terminology. Applying these words to someone in this manner does not mean that he is being considered to be an actual prophet.

Hazrat Mirza also pointed out that this broad or figurative use of the words nabi and rasul is to be found in the Holy Quran and Hadith, and the writings of recognised Muslim theologians. It was not Hazrat Mirza who had introduced this usage as a novelty. We give below an extract from his writings referring to previous such usage. (The asterisks [*] within brackets are placed after text which we elaborate upon after the extract.)

“Do not make false allegations against me, of claiming prophethood in the real sense. Have you not read that a muhaddas (saint) is also a mursal? [*]. Do you not remember the words wa la muhaddas? [*]. Then how senseless is this criticism that I have claimed to be a mursal. O ignorant ones, tell us whether one who is sent should be referred to in the Arabic language as mursal or rasul, or as something else.

“We believe and accept that, according to the real meaning of prophethood, after the Holy Prophet Muhammad neither a new prophet nor a previous one can come. The Quran prohibits the coming of any such prophets. However, in a metaphorical sense, God can refer to any inspired saint by the word nabi or the word mursal [*]. Have you not read those hadith in which occur the words: rasul of the rasul of God? [*]. The Arabs to this day call even the message-bearer sent by a human being as rasul [*]. So why is it forbidden for God to use the word mursal in a metaphorical sense as well? Do you not even remember from the Quran the words: So they said, we are mursals to you?[*]. … I say it repeatedly that these words rasul and mursal and nabi undoubtedly occur about me in my revelation from God, but they do not bear their real meanings.” (Siraj Munir, p. 3)

We now give detailed quotations to support the references which Hazrat Mirza has briefly cited in the above extract.

I.  The Holy Quran:

1.  The words wa la muhaddas (“nor muhaddas”):

These words were used by Ibn Abbas, a Companion of the Holy Prophet and one of the greatest authorities on the Quran, in connection with verse 22:52 of the Quran (see Bukhari, book 62, chapter 6). That verse says that “no rasul nor nabi” receives revelation but it is entirely free from any element of human desire or satanic corruption. By saying wa la muhaddas (“nor muhaddas”), Ibn Abbas explains that the same also applies to a muhaddas. So, the words nabi and rasul used in this verse also include a muhaddas or saint.

2. “They said: We are mursals (messengers) to you.”

In Surah Yasin [Chapter 36] of the Quran, there is a story of three messengers being sent to a town, who said to the people: We are messengers to you (36:13–21). Renowned commentators of the Quran have held that these three were not real rasuls, but only saints who are called mursal here metaphorically. Explaining this verse, Sayyid Ismail Shaheed (d. 1831), famous Muslim religious leader in India, writes:

“Bearing in mind the relationship between muhaddasiyyat (sainthood) and risalat, it should be accepted that a muhaddas is also called a rasul” (Abqaat, p. 402).

3.  Holy Prophet Muhammad’s Companions called Messengers:

A verse in the Quran says:

یٰۤاَیُّہَا الرُّسُلُ کُلُوۡا مِنَ الطَّیِّبٰتِ وَ اعۡمَلُوۡا صَالِحًا ؕ

“O ye messengers (rusul), eat of the good things and do good deeds” (The Holy Quran, 23:51).

The word used here is rusul, plural of rasul.

In the renowned, classical dictionary of the Quran, the Mufradat of Raghib, it is recorded that “messengers” here means the Holy Prophet Muhammad and his chief Companions.

4.  Ordinary Messengers called Rasul and Mursal:

Relating the history of Joseph, the Quran records:

فَلَمَّا جَآءَہُ الرَّسُوۡلُ

“So when the rasul (messenger) came to him …” (The Holy Quran, 12:50).

Rasul here refers to a messenger sent by the king to convey a message to Joseph in prison.

Messengers sent by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon are called mursal in the following verse which records her as saying:

وَ اِنِّیۡ مُرۡسِلَۃٌ اِلَیۡہِمۡ بِہَدِیَّۃٍ فَنٰظِرَۃٌۢ بِمَ یَرۡجِعُ الۡمُرۡسَلُوۡنَ ﴿۳۵﴾

“And I am going to send them a present, and see what answer the messengers bring back” (The Holy Quran, 27:35).

II.   The Hadith:

1.  Terms Nabi, Rasul applied to Saints:

In a well-known hadith, the Holy Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that the total number of prophets who appeared is 124,000. Shah Wali-ullah, the eminent Muslim mujaddid, philosopher and writer, who lived two centuries ago, writes as follows about this hadith:

“Know that the hadith which mentions a very large number of prophets includes muhaddaseen in its count.” (Al-Khair al-Kasir, p. 246; see p. 97 of the English translation published Ashraf, Lahore, 1974.)

Sayyid Ismail Shaheed wrote as follows:

“Some scholars of Hadith have said that in the report quoted from the Holy Prophet about the number of prophets, the word nabi refers not only to prophets but also to muhaddaseen” (Abqat, pp. 401–402)

2.   Rasul of the Rasul of God:

In a long narration in Bukhari, a Companion of the Holy Prophet relates:

“Then the rasul of the rasul of Allah came to me” (book 64, chapter 81).

Here a messenger sent by the Holy Prophet is described as his rasul.

III.    Arabic Literature:

1.      The eminent Egyptian author, Taha Husain, writing about the students of the Islamic reformer and scholar Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), describes them as follows:

“They were messengers (rusul) of reform, renovation and renaissance.” (Fis-Saif, Cairo, 1933, p. 44)

Here the word rusul is applied to those who brought a message of reform for Islam (i.e., removing un-Islamic beliefs prevalent among the Muslims, and restoring the original teachings of Islam).

2.      When the Indian Prime Minister Nehru visited an Arab country in 1956, he was greeted with the words:

Marhaba rasul as-Salam


Welcome, messenger of peace” (reported in daily Kohistan, 27 September 1956).