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How many prophets did God send to humanity?

Prophethood

​Claims of prophethood have existed in many cultures through history including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, in Ancient Greece, Baha’i faith, Zoroastrianism and many others. Traditionally, prophets are regarded as having a role in society that promotes change due to their messages and actions. Moreover, many people today think of a prophet as any person who sees the future. While the gift of prophecy certainly includes the ability to see the future, a prophet is far more than just a person with that ability.

More specifically, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine to serve as an intermediary with humanity to deliver the new knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy. A prophet is basically a person chosen by God to speak to people on God’s behalf and convey a divine message or teaching.

The Hebrew word for a prophet, ‘Navi’ (Nun-Beit-Yod-Alef) comes from the root word ‘niv sefatayim’ meaning “fruit of the lips,” which emphasizes the prophet’s role as a speaker. The Arabic word for a prophet is also ‘Nabi’ (Nun-Beh-Ya), which is associated with the scripture in the Quran. Judaism uses religious texts other than the Hebrew Bible to define prophets and so does Islam to define prophets other than the Quran. In Christianity, the historical figures widely recognized as prophets those who are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and canonical Testament. In Roman Catholicism, prophets are recognized as having received either Public or Private Revelation. In Baha’i Faith, the Manifestations of God are the only channel for humanity to know about God what are commonly called prophets. They believe that Manifestations have always been sent by God, and always will, as part of the single progressive religion from God bringing more teachings over time to help the humanity progress.

Names and Number of Prophets in Abrahamic Religions

In Judaism, there are 48 male and 7 female prophets. Of these 48, 22 have a book in the Hebrew Bible named after them. In Christianity, there are 72 prophets consisting of 58 in the main list and 14 in the secondary list. The main list consists of only those individuals that have been clearly defined as prophets, either by explicit statement or strong contextual implication while the secondary list consists of those individuals who are recorded as having had a visionary or prophetic experience, but without a history of any major or consistent prophetic calling. There are also both male and female prophets in Christianity. In Islam, according to Hadith no. 21257 found in Musnad of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, Allah sent 124, 000 Prophets (Anbiyah) and from among them 315 were the Messengers stating the difference that a messenger brings a book. But the Qur’an mentions only 25 Prophets by names and there are no female prophets in Islam. Baha’i Faith founded in 19th century Iran by Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi (Bab) based on the concept of Mahdi, has no definitive list of Manifestations of God, but Bahá’u’lláh (Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri) and `Abdu’l-Bahá referred to several personages as Manifestations that include Adam, Noah, Krishna, Moses, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, and Báb, as well as Bahá’u’lláh after Muhammad. However, here is a table of prophets recognized in the Abrahamic religions to review at a glance:

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In Judaism, the classification of some people as prophets includes those who are not explicitly called so in the Hebrew Bible. Enoch, Noah are not considered prophets in Judaism as per criteria that are followed to define prophets. The New Testament may call someone a prophet even though they are not so classified in the Hebrew Bible; for example, Abel, Daniel, and John the Baptist who are described prophets in the New Testament. On the other hand, Baha’ism includes Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Baba, Baha’u’llah as prophets based on guess. Judaism sees Abraham as the first Prophet, and Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Ismael are not listed among 48 prophets. It is indeed more surprising to mention that the Prophetic Period ended with Prophet Malachi in about 420 BCE according to Judaism, and Jesus and Muhammad are not considered Prophets as they came after this period. There are also guesses by Qur’anic commentators of who they might be in the equivalent Bible such as Ezekiel as Zal-Kifl just because they sound the most similar and Jethro as Shuaib because they were both from the Midianites. It is found that the list of prophets is not consensus among the followers of scriptures but each group claims to be correct for the criteria that have been followed to define prophets.

Names and Number of Prophets derived from the Quran

The Quran teaches us that God has sent prophets and messengers to humanity in different times and places to communicate His message. These are chosen from human beings who delivered God’s guidance and teaching to their people about how to properly worship God and live their lives. In essence, all of them delivered the message to find the peace of life through submission and devotion to God, One Almighty Creator following His guidance. We are not only told about both prophet (Nabi in Arabic) and messenger (Rasool in Arabic) in the Quran but we are also informed of their role to their communities:

[Quran 2:213] The people used to be one community when God sent the prophets as bearers of good news as well as warners, and He sent down with them the scripture containing the truth to judge between the people of what they disputed in it. And they did not differ in it except those who were given it out of jealously among themselves after what came to them the clear proofs. Then God guides those who believed to the truth what they disputed in it in accordance with His will. And God guides whoever He wills in a straight path.

[Quran 3:81] And when God took a covenant of the prophets: “Whatever I have given you of the scripture and wisdom, then a messenger comes to you confirming what is with you. You shall believe in him and support him.” He said: “Do you agree and pledge to fulfill this covenant?” They said: “We agree.” He said: “You have thus borne witness, and I bear witness along with you.”

[Quran 19:30] He (Jesus) said: “I am a servant of God. He has given me the scripture and He made me a prophet.”

The term ‘Scripture’ is consistently associated with ‘prophets’ in the Quran. Hence, some people who are inspired by God to deliver the scriptures to their communities are prophets while some people who are inspired by Him to perform certain duty to their communities are messengers. By definition, both prophets and messengers delivered God’s message to their communities but the messengers who delivered the scripture, are referred to prophets. Now it is noteworthy that all prophets are messengers while all messengers are not prophets.

Now, if we count the number of prophets named in the Quran, we find a total of 20 prophets mentioned by their names. These names are found in different verses of the Quran but if we read verses 83-86 of Sura 6 and 41-56 of Sura 19, we have 19 names, and then we get another name while we read the verse 40 of Sura 33. Hence, these are the ones to whom God has given prophethood and the scriptures:

1. Enoch (19:56)
2. Noah (4:163, 6:84, 33:7)
3. Abraham (4:163, 6:83, 19:41, 33:7)
4. Ismail (4:63, 6:86, 19:54)
5. Isaac (4<163, 6:84, 19:49, 37:112)
6. Lot (6:86)
7. Jacob (4:163, 6:84, 19:49)
8. Joseph (6:84)
9. Job (4:163, 6:84)
10. Moses (6:84, 19:51)
11. Aaron (4:163, 6:84, 19:53)
12. David (4:163, 6:84, 17:55)
13. Solomon(4:163, 6:84)
14. Elias (6:85)
15. Elisha (6:86)
16. Jonah (4:163, 6:86)
17. Zachariah (6:85)
18. John (3:39, 6:85)
19. Jesus (4:163, 6:84, 19:30, 19:34, 33:7)
20. Muhammad (33:40)

The following are the explanations for providing means to verify and confirm the names of prophets as mentioned above:

  • The verses 41-56 of Sura 19 confirm each one by name as a prophet while Jesus is referred as a prophet in the verse 30 of Sura 19 but he is confirmed by name in the verse 34.
  • The verse 89 of Sura 6 confirms all the names mentioned in the verses 83-86 as prophets informing us that these are the ones to whom God has given the scripture, wisdom and prophethood.
  • The verse 40of Sura 33 has not only confirmed Muhammad as a prophet but also to be the last of the prophets. Muhammad is also referred as a prophet in the verse 7 of Sura 33 but not by name while he has mentioned as “O prophet”, “O you prophet” and “Gentile prophets” in many verses in the Quran.
  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are popularly known as patriarchs among the Jews.
  • Torah consisting of 5 books was revealed to a number of Jewish prophets as there is no indication in the Quran that it was given to Moses and Aaron.

It is also noted that there are others spoken of in the Quran, but not as prophets, nor as deliverers of scripture, they are:

  • Adam is described as one of the chosen in (3:33) …….. not associated with the word messenger or prophet.
  • Hud, Saleh, and Shu’aib are named as messengers in (26:125, 26:143, 26:178 respectively).
  • Zal-Kifl is described as steadfast, patient and righteous in (21:85 and 38:48.
  • Luqman is described as one endowed with wisdom in 31:12.

Nowhere in the Quran is any of these six associated with the term ‘Scripture’ or none of them delivered a Scripture either. Thus, according to the definition of 2:213 they are not prophets. Three of the six are called messengers (Hud, Saleh, and Shu’aib) while the other three (Adam, Zal-Kifl and Luqman) are only spoken of being steadfast, patient and righteous receiving God’s blessings.

We have also learned from the Quran that God has sent other messengers in the past that we are not told about in the Quran:

[Quran 40:78] We have sent messengers before you, some of them we mentioned to you, and some we did not mention to you.
[Quran 4:164] Messengers we have told you about, and messengers we never told you about. And God spoke to Moses directly.

It is indeed of interest to note that the above two verses (40:78 and 4:164) in the Quran that speak of messengers NOT of prophets in the past, and there is also mention of sending messenger NOT prophet in the future in the Quran (3:81) that undoubtedly confirms the names of prophets already sent to humanity as derived from the Quran.

We find that the total number of those who are named as prophets in the Quran is 20. However, we are also told that the two prophets Moses and Aaron received the same scripture (37:117 and 21:48). Therefore, the total number of scripture given to the 20 prophets is 19, which means that the Quran, besides being the last scripture, is also the 19th scripture delivered through Muhammad being the 20th and last prophet of God (33:40).

Conclusion

God has chosen some people to guide the humanity to His path. But there is controversy about their names, number and books that are given to them among the Abrahamic regions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Baha’ism founded on strict monotheism. Since all of these chosen bear the message from God, they are called messengers but some of them are prophets and some are messengers that we have learned from the Quran including the difference between prophet and messenger. Moreover, God has commanded us in the Quran repeatedly not to make any distinction among any of them whether they are prophets or messengers (2:136, 2:285, 3:84 and 4:152).

The Hebrew word for a prophet, ‘Navi’ and its Arabic counterpart, ‘Nabi’ along with the association of scripture with prophet in the Quran confirm the role of prophet. Since we have the scriptural definition of prophet and messenger, we should ignore any scholarly or dictionary definition of prophets and messengers as well as the difference between them. Thus, the Quran has the explicit references to confirm the names and number of prophets sent to humanity. Although prophets were role models of holiness, scholarship and closeness to God for the community but they were not authorized to set any standards for the community from their own as defined in some literatures. Moreover, the concept of any authority of prophets/messengers to set standards for the community would make us idolaters as they strictly followed what was revealed to them from their Lord (18:110, 46:9).

Based on Quran God Almighty sent 20 prophets and unknown number of messengers to mankind. However, as we trust God, we know that the information that He has not informed us meaning we do not need it. The figure as indicated based on the Hadith no. 21257 that God sent 124, 000 prophets and from among them 315 were the messengers are incorrect and imaginary as it is not from any valid source, and the definition that a messenger brings a book is also wrong as it contradicts Quran. There are 25 prophets by name in the Qur’an as mentioned in the above table is a misinterpretation as some names are added who are not prophets such as Adam, Hud, Saleh, Shuaib and Zal-Kifl as there are no explicit references in the Quran to classify them as prophets.

God’s chosen who are classified as prophets by the Jewish and Christian traditions may not be true as some of them may be messengers or righteous in the lists, and some books that are recorded as scriptures could be religious texts being their intellectual writings instead of revelation from God. Baha’i Faith founded on the advent of ‘Mahdi’, a prophesied redeemer is a Hadith based belief that has no reference in the Quran, and Hadiths are false doctrines being man-made but falsely assigned to Prophet Muhammad to be his sayings (6:112-113). With respect to the Jewish belief for the ending of the Prophetic Period with Prophet Malachi in about 420 BCE that has no basis any more because of the revelation of Injeel (Gospel) through Prophet Jesus as well as the revelation of Quran through Prophet Muhammad after Malachi, and Muhammad being confirmed as the last prophet in the Quran 1400 years ago did not leave any room to dispute the ending of the Prophetic Period.

It can be concluded that the followers of the scripture have the opportunity to thoroughly examine the last scripture of God which still exists intact in its original text having mechanism to detect any distortion to clear out the dispute regarding names and number of prophets sent to humanity accepting the fact derived from the Quran that has been sent down with the truth to resolve many of our disputes (2:213). If we are really sincere and straightforward, we should not have any confusion to accept the truth as derived from the divine source upon verification.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.
Tafazzal (1/9/2015)