One of the issues that always comes up when the Quran is highlighted in our discussion, is the issue of difference between the Prophet (Nabi) and the Messenger (Rasuul). Most of the scholars and their followers do not accept the definition given by God, and instead they accept the definition given by themselves or the definition found in the dictionary given by older scholars. According to their definition, those who are given scripture are the messengers while the prophets are not given any scripture, which is opposite to the definition found in the Quran, and it is also believed that the messengers are given higher status than the prophets. Thus, according to one of the Hadith books, God has sent 124, 000 Prophets (Anbiyah), and among them there were 315 the Messengers who brought books with them. But the Quran teaches us that God has sent 20 prophets (6:83-86 & 89; 19:56 and 33:40) and unknown number of messengers (4:164 & 40:78). However, some of us also believe that these two terms have the same meaning and they do not find any difference between them.
A true believer would not think that anyone can define these two terms better than the One who sent both the prophets and the messengers . However, it is not a surprise that the definition of the prophet and messenger is very clear in the Quran, a valid and only source of our religious teachings, which can be confirmed through reviewing the relevant verses as mentioned below:
Definition of Prophet
Prophets are given scripture to deliver, which is clearly defined in the following verse of the Quran:
[2:213] The people had been one community as God has raised up the prophets as bearers of good news and warners, and He has revealed with them the scripture with the truth that it may judge between the people in what they have differed in it. And has not differed in it except those who have been given it after what has come to them the clear proofs due to jealousy between themselves. Then God has guided those who have believed that which they have differed in it of the truth with His permission. And God guides whomever He wills to a straight path.
However, there are those who believe that Aaron was a prophet as stated in 19:53 – “And we granted him (Moses) from our mercy his brother Aaron as a prophet” but he did not receive a scripture. This claim can only be made by those who do not believe the Quran, since God ascertains in 2:213 that all the prophets have been sent with the scripture. Moreover, the Quran clearly states that Aaron received what Moses did; both received a scripture or a statute book (21:48 & 37:117):
[21:48] And we had given Moses and Aaron the statute book, a light, and a reminder for the righteous.
[37:117] And we gave both of them the clear scripture.
Association of Prophethood with the Scripture
Whenever God mentions prophethood (al-nubuwata) in the Quran, He mentions scripture and sometimes wisdom as well. The association of prophethood and scripture cannot be missed except by those who are blocked by God from seeing the truth. The following are some examples from the Quran that will further clarify the definition of the term prophet:
[3:79] It has not been for a human that God gives him the scripture, wisdom and prophethood, then he says to the people: “You shall be worshipers of me other than God!” rather “You shall be Lord’s worshippers for what you have been to teach the scripture, and for what you have been to study.”
Note: Here is a warning for us that we never fall into idol worshipping of any prophet with also a hint that the more we study the Quran, the more we will learn from it to avoid idol worshipping.
[6:89] Those are the ones we gave them the scripture, wisdom, and prophethood. If these people disbelieve, then we have entrusted with it to a people who are not disbelievers in it.
Note: If we read the verses 83-86 of Sura 6 (An’am), we read 18 names starting with Abraham and ending with Lot while the verse 89 confirms that all these 18 were prophets of God.
[17:55] And your Lord is the best knower of whoever is in the heavens and the earth. And we have preferred some prophets over others, and we gave David the Psalms (zaburan).
Note: While the above verse is talking about the preference of some prophets over others but referring to the scripture, which was given to David, is one of the books of the Old Testament, and is known as a treasury of prayers and hymns for liturgical and private use on chosen occasions for the community he was sent for.
[29:27] And we granted him (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, and we gave his descendants the prophethood and the scripture, and we gave him his reward in this world. And indeed, in the Hereafter he is surely, among the righteous.
Note: There is a clear indication in the verse that many of Abraham’s descendants were given the prophethood and the scripture.
[45:16] And we have given the Children of Israel the scripture, and the wisdom, and the prophethood, and we provided them with good provisions; and we preferred them over a people of the world.
Note: The Children of Israel have not only been given the scripture but they have also been bestowed many other favors to guide them to the right path.
[57:26] And we sent Noah and Abraham, and we granted their descendants prophethood and the scripture. Some of them were guided while many were wicked.
Note: The prophethood is consistently associated with the scripture to confirm the definition of the prophet who received the scripture.
Function of Prophet and Messenger
The definition of the Prophet is found in many verses of the Quran while God has also exactly described the function of “Prophet” and “Messenger” to understand the difference between these two terms as found in the following verse:
[3:81] And when God has taken a covenant of the prophets: “Surely, whatever I have given you of scripture and wisdom, then has come to you a messenger confirming that which is with yourselves. You must believe in him and you must support him.” He said: “Have you affirmed and taken My covenant on that?” They said: “We have affirmed.” He said: “Then you shall bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses.”
This verse has not only exactly described the function of the prophet and the messenger but also is a confirmation of a major covenant placed in every scripture that a messenger will come after delivering all the scriptures. However, this covenant has been placed in the Quran given to Muhammad indicating that it has has been placed in the scripture given to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus as reflected in the following verse:
[33:7] And when we have taken their covenant from the prophets, and from you (Muhammad), and from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, son of Mary. And we have taken a solemn covenant from them.
According to the verse, 3:81, the prophet delivers the scripture while the messenger is commissioned by God to deliver other form of message, but for sure he does not bring a scripture. Since both the prophet and the messenger deliver God’s message, every “prophet” is a messenger but not every “messenger” is a prophet. It is noteworthy that it is not logical that God will give a scripture to a prophet, then ask him to keep it exclusively for himself, as claimed by some Muslim scholars referring to the following verses (2:42, 2:146, 2:159):
[2:42] And do not confound the truth with falsehood, nor keep the truth secret while you know.
[2:146] Those to whom We have given the scripture know it as they know their own children; and a group of them hides the truth while they know.
[2:159] Surely, those who conceal what we have sent down to them which was clear, and the guidance, after God had made it clear in the scripture; these will be cursed by God and be cursed by those who curse.
Expressions in the Quran where Rasuul is defined by adding it to Nabiyya
There are some expressions in the Quran, where God has defined “Rasuul” by adding it to “Nabiyya”, and the reason is that, not every Rasuul (Messenger) is Nabi (Prophet), but every Prophet (Nabi) is a Messenger (Rasuul):
- Muhammad, the Messenger Prophet:
God has described Prophet Muhammad “the Messenger Prophet” as well as “the Gentile Prophet” found in 7:157-158 verses:
[7:157] “Those who follow the messenger, the gentile prophet (alladheena ittabi`uuna al-rasuula al-nabiya al-ummiya) whom they find written in the Torah and the Injeel with them ( alladhee yajiduunahu maktuuban indahum fee al-tawraati wal-injeeli); he tells them with the truth (yamuruhum bil-ma`ruufi), and forbids them from the evil, and makes lawful for them the good things, and makes unlawful for them the bad things, and removes their burden on them and the shackles that are upon them. So those who believe in him, and respect him, and support him, and follow the light that was sent down with him; these are the successful ones.”
[7:158] Say: “O people, I am a messenger of God to you all, the One who has the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. There is no god except He. He gives life and causes death.” So believe in God and His messenger, the gentile prophet (wa-rasuulihi al-nabiya al-umiyi), who believes in God and His words; and follow him so that you may be guided.
Note: A believer would make focus on the message sent with the messenger to be among the successful ones.
It is also noteworthy that Muhammad has been a messenger prophet as reflected in the above verses while the message (Quran) given to him is also a messenger of God and a seal of the prophets as stated in the following verse:
[33:40] Muhammad has not been a father of anyone of your men, but has had a messenger of God and a seal of the prophets (wa-laakin rasuula allahi wa-khaatama al-nabiyeena). And God has done being knower of everything.
Note: The overall message that we should focus in the verse is what has been given to Muhammad. The 2nd phrase of the above verse indicates the Quran being a messenger of God and a seal of the prophets, which is a root of the misconception to claim him to be the latest and the greatest prophet of the world, and the traditional Muslims are focusing on him in their praise and prayers while the Quran revealed through him is the final edition of God’s scripture.
- Moses, the Messenger Prophet:
God has described Moses the Messenger Prophet in the verse, 19:51:
[19:51] And mention in the Scripture Moses. He was chosen, and he was a messenger prophet (rasuulan nabiyyan).
- Ismail, the Messenger Prophet
God has also described Ismail as the Messenger Prophet in the verse, 19:54:
[19:54] And mention in the scripture Ishmael; he was truthful to his promise, and was a messenger prophet (rasuulan nabiyyan).
Note: In the above expressions, God defined the word Rasuul by adding to it Nabyya, what is meant to be in this order as He does not make mistakes or does not choose His words haphazardly, i.e., not a prophet messenger, and the reason is that not every Rasuul (messenger) is a prophet while every Nabiyya (prophet) is a messenger.
However, there are also other examples in the Quran to clarify such expression.
- Human Messenger:
God has described a human messenger in the verses, 17:93-94:
[17:93] “Or it would be a house of luxury for you, or you may ascend into the sky. And we will not believe to your ascension until you bring down to us a book we could read it.” Say: “Glory to my Lord, whom have I been but a human messenger (basharan rasuulan)?
[17:94] And what has prevented the people that they believe when has come to them the guidance, except that they have said: “Has God sent a human messenger (basharan rasuulan)?”
Note: In the expression, there is “a human messenger” but not “a messenger human, and the reason is that not every Bashar (human) is a Rasuul (messenger) while every Rasuul (messenger) from among us is a Bashar (human).
- Angel Messenger
God has described an angel messenger in the verse, 17:95:
[17:95] Say, “If it had been angels walking secure in the earth; surely, we would have sent down to them an angel messenger (malakan rasuulan) from the heaven.”
Note: In the expression, there is “an angel messenger” but not “a messenger angel”, and the reason is that not every angel is a messenger but every messenger from God’s soldiers is an angel.
- Saint Prophet:
God has described a saint prophet in the verses, 19:41 & 56:
[19:41] And mention in the scripture Abraham. Indeed, he was a saint prophet (siddiqan nabiyyan).
[19:56] And mention in the scripture Idris. Indeed, he was a saint prophet (siddiqan nabiyyan).
Note: In the above expressions, both Abraham and Idris are mentioned as “a saint prophet” but not as “a prophet saint, and the reason is that not every Siddiq (Saint) is a prophet, while every prophet is a siddiq.
However, nowhere in the whole Quran God does use these terms differently as He never described a prophet as a prophet messenger (nabyyan rasoulan), or prophet saint (nabyyan siddiqan) to teach us that every prophet is a messenger while every messenger is not a prophet.
In addition to the expressions mentioned above, the following verse also teaches us that every prophet is a messenger while every messenger is not a prophet:
[57:25] Certainly, we have sent our messengers with the proofs, and we sent down with them the scripture and the balance, that the people may uphold justice. And we sent down the iron, wherein there is great strength and benefits for the people, and that God would know who supports Him and His messengers by faith. Indeed, God is Powerful, Almighty.
The terms Messenger and Prophet do not have the same meaning
Some of us claim that the words messenger and prophet have the same meaning. But it has been confirmed from the following verse that the words messenger and prophet do not have the same meaning for having a phrase “a messenger nor a prophet” in the verse, 22:52:
[22:52] And we have not sent before yourself (Muhammad) any messenger (rasuulin) nor a prophet (nabiyyin), when he has recited except the Satan has cast in his recitation, while God annuls what the Satan cast. Then God establishes His revelations, and God is Knower, Wise.
Note: If the words “messenger” and “prophet” had the same meaning, God would not be saying “any messenger nor a prophet”. Had the two words had exactly the same meaning, then mentioning one of them would have been sufficient to convey the message.
No distinction between any of God’s Prophets and Messengers
There are two sets of verses in the Quran where God has commanded us not to make a distinction between any of His prophets and messengers as found in the following verses:
[2:136] Say: “We believe in God and in what was sent down to us and what was sent down to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Patriarchs, and what was given to Moses and Jesus, and what was given to the prophets from their Lord; we do not make a distinction between any of them and to Him we are submitters.”
[3:84] Say: “We believe in God and what was sent down to us and what was sent down to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Patriarchs, and what was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We do not make any distinction between them, and to Him we are submitters.”
Note: The commandment of not to make a distinction between any prophet referring prophets by name in the above verses.
[2:285] The messenger believes in what was sent down to him from his Lord. And the believers, all who believe in God, and His angles, and His scriptures, and His messengers; we do not make a distinction between any of His messengers; and they said: “We hear and obey, forgive us our Lord, and to you is our destiny.”
[4:152] And those who believe in God and His messengers and do not make a distinction between any of them, we will give them their rewards. And God is Forgiving, Merciful.
Note: The commandment of not to make a distinction between any messenger referring to the messengers in the above verses.
The commandment of not to make a distinction between of any of His messengers is very crucial for us to avoid idolatry for focusing on any particular messenger of God. However, if the words “ prophet” and “messenger” had the same meaning, God would not be specifying both messenger and prophet in two distinct sets of verses. However, God wants us to understand the difference but not to make a distinction between any of them whether he is a prophet or a messenger.
God, the Most Gracious is a teacher of the Quran (55:1-2), and His teaching is the best teaching, and the knowledge given by Him is the most accurate knowledge. He defines both prophet and messenger to make these two terms clear referring to many verses in the Quran covering under different contexts. These contexts are: (1) definition of prophet, (2) association of prophethood with the scripture, (3) function of prophet and messenger, (4) expressions where rasuul (messenger) is defined by adding it to nabiyya (prophet), and also some other similar expressions (5) prophet and messenger do not have the same meaning, and (6) no distinction between any of His messengers. The Quran teaches us that every prophet (nabi) is a messenger (rasuul) but not every messenger is a prophet. In other words, all prophets are messengers while all messengers are not prophets. God wants us to understand the difference but not to make a distinction between of any them whether he is a prophet or a messenger to avoid idol worship.
However, all the teaching for knowledge given by the human being can be compared to that given by God and only those teachings which agree with the teachings of God can be accepted as truth, irrespective of how many scholars agree or disagree with it.
Now that we have the definition of Prophet (Nabi) and Messenger (Rasuul) by God Almighty Himself, the Teacher of Quran, no scholar’s opinion can change that fact. We, however, are free to side with God or side with the scholars keeping in mind that our choice will lead us to a place where there is immense joy and happiness or to a place where there is immense suffering with the departure of this world.
Believing in God means to believe Him and accept His teaching and His word. But choosing the scholars or the dictionary over God reflects a disbelief in God and His word (Quran), and God called this kind of practice to be idol-worship (9:31):
[9:31] They have taken their Rabbis and Priests to be their lords besides God, and the Messiah, son of Mary, while they had been commanded to worship one god: there is no other god except He. Glory be to Him for what they associate with Him!
God has also promised that those who will not accept the words of God in the Quran will have no access to the Quran to understand it as they have shields around their hearts and deafness in their ears (6:25,17:46 and 18:57):
[6:25] Some of them listen to you, but we have placed veils on their hearts to prevent them from understanding it, and deafness in their ears, if they see every sign, they will not believe, and even when they come to you they argue, those who disbelieve say, “This is nothing but the tales from the past.”
[17:46] And we have placed shields around their hearts lest they understand it and a deafness in their ears. And when you mention your Lord with the Quran alone, they turn on their backs in aversion.
[18:57] And who is more wrong than the one who has been reminded with the revelations of his Lord but he has turned away from them and has forgot what his hands have sent forth? Indeed, we have placed veils on their hearts lest they understand it, and deafness in their ears, and if you invite them to the guidance, they will never ever accept guidance.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.