Introduction to Islam

by Dr. Zahid Aziz

Prophets and Messengers

“Mankind is a single nation. So Allah raised prophets as bearers of good news and as warners….” (The Holy Quran, 2:213)

“And those who believe in Allah and His messengers and make no distinction between any of them (in belief), to them He will grant their rewards.” (The Holy Quran, 4:152)

“And certainly, We raised in every nation a messenger, saying: Serve Allah and shun the devil.” (The Holy Quran, 16:36)

What is a ‘prophet’ or ‘messenger’ of God?

A prophet (nabi) or messenger (rasul) of God is a human being to whom God gives His guidance and whom He charges with the task of conveying that guidance to the people, so that they may do good and avoid evil.

In which countries of the world did Prophets arise?

According to Islam, God sent prophets to all nations on earth, at various stages of their histories. The Holy Quran says:

“And for every nation there is a messenger.” (The Holy Quran, 10:47)

“And there is not a people but a warner has gone among them.” (The Holy Quran, 35:24)

In which of these Prophets of God do Muslims have to believe?

Muslims have to believe in all the prophets and messengers of God, equally, without distinction, wherever they may have appeared. In the Holy Quran (The Holy Quran, 2:136, 285, and 3:84, etc.) it is stated clearly:

“We make no distinction between them”.

Please name some of these Prophets.

Many prophets are mentioned by name in the Holy Quran; for example, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus from the Biblical prophets, and also non­Biblical prophets some of whose names are Luqman, Hud, and Dhul­Kifl. And, last of all, there is the great, universal Prophet Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him.

Did any Prophets appear other than those mentioned in the Holy Quran?

Certainly. The Quran itself tells us that it has mentioned only some of the prophets (see the Holy Quran, 4:164). Since prophets appeared in every part of the world, and there were many in each nation, to make a full list of names is impossible. Muslims have to believe in and respect all the prophets, whether named in the Holy Quran or not.

It is well­known that Muslims believe in the Israelite Prophets, including Jesus. How do they regard the great figures of other religions, such as Krishna, Buddha, and Confucius?

It is quite obvious from the teachings of the Holy Quran that, as God sent Prophets to every nation, and quite a large number of them appeared all over the world, the ancient founders of these other religions too would have been Prophets and messengers of God. In fact, wherever there are people following a sacred scripture older than the Quran, their religious founders mentioned in those Books should be accepted by Muslims as true prophets of God. It has been suggested that Buddha is mentioned in the Holy Quran by the name Dhul­Kifl, meaning man of Kifl, where Kifl is the Arabic form of the name of his birth-place Kapilvestu.

But religions such as Christianity and Hinduism revere their great religious figures as ‘gods’ or incarnations of God. What does Islam say?

According to Islam, all these righteous persons were mortal, human prophets of God, like the Holy Prophet Muhammad, having the same needs that every human being has. They all eventually died, as everyone must. There are several reasons why they have come to be revered by their followers as ‘gods’. One is that their words were misunderstood by the later generations, who mistook their figurative expressions in a literal sense. Another is that the details of their lives were not preserved accurately, and therefore a great many myths have grown up around them, and their works and deeds have been much exaggerated.

Why were the Prophets humans, and not ‘gods on earth’?

Because they were sent to guide other human beings, not only by preaching, but also by personal example. So, they had to be completely human to show other people how to live. According to Islam, each Prophet was himself the first and foremost follower of the guidance God revealed through him for people to follow. This is why previous prophets are called ‘Muslims’ in the Holy Quran, being not only teachers but also followers of God’s guidance. See for example the Holy Quran, 3:67. As for the Holy Prophet Muhammad, not only does Islam teach that he was a human being, but a study of his life shows that he regarded himself as a humble mortal, and mixed with people as just one of them.

What did the Prophets teach?

They all gave the same basic teaching: that man should worship God, and God alone, and do good to his fellow­beings. Of course, the details of the teachings differed according to the nation and the time in which a Prophet appeared. In the Holy Quran, the teachings of all Prophets are called Islam, and the Prophets and their true followers are labelled Muslims. See, for example, 2:131–133 and 5:111. This refers to the fact that the fundamental teachings given by all of them were the same — submission to God and peace with fellow human beings.

Since Muslims believe in all the Prophets equally, what is the special position of the Holy Prophet Muhammad?

All Prophets were equally from God, and equally true, but the scope of their missions varied. The Divine messengers before the Holy Prophet Muhammad were each given teachings limited to their respective nations, because in those times a nation did not have much to do with other nations. Furthermore, the teachings of each Prophet applied for a limited period of time only, after which God would raise another Prophet to revise some of the teachings for the new circumstances. But at last the time came to unite all the nations upon a single religion so that mankind may live in peace as one nation. For this purpose, was sent the Holy Prophet Muhammad, to whom God gave teachings for the whole world for all time to come.

Can you give any arguments to support this belief?

Yes. Firstly, while followers of previous religions believe that God’s revelation and guidance was given only to some particular nation or land, Islam teaches that guidance from God had come to every nation and it requires Muslims to believe in all the previous national Prophets. So the Holy Prophet Muhammad is the one who confirmed and established the truth of the Prophets of all the various nations, and laid the basis for peace between them. He is thus the World-Prophet. Secondly, it is a recognized fact that, while the original teachings of previous Prophets are largely lost, the sources of Islam (the Holy Quran and details of the Holy Prophet’s life) are available to us fully and accurately. This shows Islam to be the religion for all time.

Could there be any Prophet or Messenger of God after the Holy Prophet Muhammad?

No, after the Holy Prophet Muhammad there cannot come any Prophet or Messenger from God. The reasons are clear from what has been stated above. The teachings God gave to the Holy Prophet are meant for all nations, for all times, so that the entire world be united in one, perfect brotherhood. Those teachings are preserved perfectly. So, there is simply no need for a Prophet after the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Does this mean that no human being can now reach the stage of a close contact with God, and be spoken to by God?

No, it does not mean this. It simply means that no further new religious teachings, scripture, or prophet will come into the world. There will still be people, after the Holy Prophet Muhammad, who, by following the teachings of Islam, shall have such close contact with God that He will speak to them, comfort them and disclose to them events of the future, through words of inspiration, and true dreams and visions. In Islamic history, there have been countless examples of such righteous individuals who reached this high stage by following the teachings of Islam perfectly. A person such as this is known as a wali or saint.