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South Africa court case (1982-1985)

Contents of the Evidence

6. Terms nabi and rasul for non-prophets
5. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
6. Non-English material

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The Evidence
Section 6:
Terms nabi and rasul for

Translator’s Note:
The words nabi (‘prophet’) and rasul (‘messenger’ or ‘apostle’) are well-known to every Muslim. These terms are generally understood in the technical sense assigned to them by Islamic theology and Shari‘ah. But in Islamic literature these terms have also been used in a broad, literal (i.e. original linguistic) sense, or in a non-technical metaphorical sense, to refer to those who are not prophets. In this Section it is first shown that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has clearly distinguished between the technical and linguistic meanings of nabi and rasul, and also between the real and metaphorical use of these words. In the proper, technically-defined sense of these words, no prophet can come after the Holy Prophet Muhammad. In the literal root sense, or as a metaphor, these terms can be used for any saint, and it is only in this sense that Hazrat Mirza applied them to himself, as we show in this Section.

The Section then turns to the concept of muhaddas, and gives extracts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza to show that such a saint can be called nabi and rasul in the broad, non-real senses noted above. Views of other religious scholars are also cited to support the same conclusion.

6.1: Distinction between literal and technical meanings

a. Rasul

As regards the literal (root or dictionary) meaning of the word rasul, Hazrat Mirza explained:
  1. “A person who is sent is called rasul in Arabic.” (Arba‘in, No. 2, footnote, p. 18)
  2. Risalat in Arabic lexicology means to be sent.” (Letter dated 17 August 1899; published in Al-Hakam, vol. iii, no. 29, August 1899)
  3. Rasul means a Divine elect who is sent.” (Siraj Munir, p. 40)
As regards the technical meaning of rasul, Hazrat Mirza wrote:
  1. “According to the explanation of the Holy Quran, rasul is he who receives the commands and beliefs of the religion through the angel Gabriel.” (Izala Auham, p. 534)
  2. “It is part of the concept and essence of rasul that he receive religious knowledge through angel Gabriel.” (ibid., p. 614)

b. nabi

Hazrat Mirza gave the root meaning of nabi as follows:
  1. Nubuwwat means ‘to make prophecies’.” (Ruhani Khaza’in, No. 2, vol. i, p. 140)
  2. “He who discloses news of the unseen received from God is called nabi in Arabic.” (Arba‘in, No. 2, footnote, p. 18)
  3. Nabi here has only been used to mean ‘one who makes prophecies through knowledge received from God’, or ‘one who explains hidden matters’.” (Letter dated 17 August 1899; published in Al-Hakam, vol. iii, no. 29, August 1899)
Regarding the technical meaning, he wrote as follows:
  1. “In the terminology of Islam, nabi and rasul mean persons who bring an entirely new law, or abrogate some aspects of the previous law, or are not included among the followers of the previous prophet, having a direct connection with God without benefit from any prophet.” (ibid.)
  2. “If a person makes a claim to nubuwwat, it is necessary in that claim that ... he form a religious nation (ummah) which considers him to be a nabi and regards his book as the book of God.” (Ainah Kamalat Islam, p. 344)
The above are the literal and technical meanings of the words nabi and rasul as given by Hazrat Mirza, upon which are agreed the Muslim religious authorities. All prophets of the past times fulfil the technical meanings, while Hazrat Mirza applied to himself the literal meanings, and throughout his life denied applying to himself the technical meanings.

c. Denial of technical sense and affirmation of root sense

Having defined the meanings given above, Hazrat Mirza denied claiming to be a nabi or rasul in the technical sense of these terms, but affirmed that these terms applied to him in the root or literal sense. He wrote:
  1. “This humble one has never, at any time, made a claim of nubuwwat or risalat [prophethood or messengership] in the real sense. To use a word in a non-real sense, and to employ it in speech according to its broad, root meaning, does not imply heresy (kufr).” (Anjam Atham, footnote, p. 27)
  2. “These words [i.e. nabi, rasul] do not bear their real meaning, but have been used according to their literal meaning in a straight-forward manner.” (Majmu‘a Ishtiharat, vol. i, p. 313)
  3. “It is obvious that he who is sent by God is His envoy, and an envoy is called rasul in Arabic. And he who discloses news of the unseen received from God is called nabi in Arabic. The meanings in Islamic terminology are different. At this place, only the literal meaning is intended.” (Arba‘in, No. 2, footnote, p. 18)

6.2: Metaphorical and proper (real) use

Just as Hazrat Mirza has made it clear that the words nabi and rasul have been used about him not in their technical sense, but in terms of their root or literal meanings, similarly he has distinguished between the real and metaphorical use of these words. He has discussed at length the terms haqiqat (‘real’) and majaz (‘metaphorical’) which are concepts in the art of diction and language.

If a term is used in the same sense, and with the same meaning, as that for which it was devised or defined, it is haqiqat or reality. Its use in some other sense is majaz or metaphorical. For example, the word lion is defined to apply to a certain animal. If this term is used for such an animal, this use is haqiqat or in the real sense, meaning that it is an actual lion. If, however, the term lion is used of a brave man, it is majaz or in the metaphorical sense, meaning that metaphorically he is a lion. Other examples are words such as moon and angel, which are used in their real sense, but are also applied metaphorically to human beings to denote beauty or piety.

From these examples, the issue in question is very easy to understand. The terms nabi and rasul have been defined to denote the real prophets and messengers of God. If they are used for such a person, it is haqiqat or by way of reality, meaning that he is actually a prophet. If, however, nabi and rasul are applied to a non-prophet, i.e., to a saint, it is majaz or metaphorical, meaning that he is a metaphorical prophet, i.e. a saint. Similarly, if the Divine revelation to a prophet (known as wahy nubuwwat) addresses him as nabi or rasul, it means that he is actually a prophet. But if God bestows these titles upon some saint in his revelation (known as wahy wilayat), it means that he is metaphorically a prophet, i.e., a saint.

Regarding this, Hazrat Mirza wrote:

  1. “It is true that, in the revelation which God has sent upon this servant, the words nabi, rasul and mursal [a variant of rasul] occur about myself quite frequently. However, they do not bear their real sense. ... according to the real meaning of nubuwwat [prophethood], after the Holy Prophet Muhammad no new or former prophet can come. The Holy Quran forbids the appearance of any such prophets. But in a metaphorical sense God can call any recipient of revelation as nabi or mursal. ... 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. ... This is the knowledge that God has given me. Let him understand who will. This very thing has been disclosed to me that the doors of real prophethood are fully closed after the Last of the Prophets, the Holy Prophet Muhammad. According to the real meaning, no new prophet or ancient prophet can now come.”

    (Siraj Munir, p. 3)

  2. “By virtue of being appointed by God, I cannot conceal those revelations I have received from Him in which the words nubuwwat and risalat occur quite frequently. But I say repeatedly that, in these revelations, the word mursal or rasul or nabi which has occurred about me does not carry its real meaning.”

    (Anjam Atham, p. 27, footnote)

  3. “Sometimes the revelation from God contains such words [nabi, rasul] about some of His saints in a metaphorical and figurative sense; they are not meant by way of reality. This is the whole issue which the foolish and prejudiced people have dragged in a different direction. The epithet ‘nabi of God’ for the Promised Messiah, which is found in the Sahih Muslim etc. from the blessed tongue of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, is in the same metaphorical sense as that in which it is used in Sufi literature as an accepted and common term for [the recipient of] Divine communication. Otherwise, how can there be a prophet after the Last of the Prophets?”

    (ibid., p. 28, footnote)

Saints in the Muslim world prior to Hazrat Mirza were also given the titles nabi and rasul in their Divine revelations in a metaphorical sense, but no one took this as a claim on their part to be prophets. In precisely the same metaphorical way do these words occur in Hazrat Mirza’s revelations and writings. So he too is in the category of saints (wali), and cannot be considered as including himself in the category of prophets. He wrote:
“At this point, most of the ordinary people stumble and slip, and thousands of saints and holy men and prophets are mistakenly raised by them to the Divine pedestal. The fact is that when spiritual and heavenly terms reach the public, they cannot get to the bottom of them. Ultimately, they distort them somewhat and take metaphor to be reality, thus becoming involved in serious error and misguidance.”

(Government Angrezi aur Jihad, p. 26)

6.3: Use of nabi and rasul for saints

It has been shown above that there is a distinction between the technical definition of the terms nabi and rasul, and the use of these words in accordance with their root meanings or as a metaphor. In a non-technical sense these words are applicable to saints (wali or muhaddas).


  1. “Remember that in the word of God, the term rusul [pl. of rasul] is used for the singular and also for non-prophets.” (Shahadat al-Quran, pp. 20 – 21)
  2. “The word rasul is a general term and includes the messenger, the prophet (nabi) and the saint (muhaddas).” (Ainah Kamalat Islam, p. 322)
  3. “By rasul are meant those persons who are sent by God, whether nabi, or rasul, or muhaddas or mujaddid.” (Ayyam as-Sulh, footnote, p. 171)
  4. “If the rank of muhaddas is called a metaphorical prophethood or displaying an aspect of prophethood, does this imply a claim to prophethood?” (Izala Auham, p. 422)
  5. “In a metaphorical sense, God can call any recipient of revelation as nabi or mursal.” (Siraj Munir, p. 3)
  6. “Sometimes the revelation from God contains such words [nabi, rasul] about some of His saints in a metaphorical sense.” (Anjam Atham, footnote, p. 28)
  7. “It is true that I have said that elements of prophethood are found in tahdees [station of muhaddas], but this is the case potentially, not actually. So the muhaddas is potentially a prophet, and if the door of prophethood were not closed, he would be actually a prophet.” (Hamamat al-Bushra, p. 81; new edition p. 290)
  8. “God speaks to muhaddases just as He speaks to prophets (nabi), and He sends muhaddases just as He sends messengers (rasul). The muhaddas drinks from the same fountain, from which the prophet drinks. So there is no doubt that he [the muhaddas] would be a prophet if the door of prophethood had not been closed.” (ibid., p. 82; new edition pp. 291 – 292)
  9. “In terms of being sent by God (mursal), the prophet (nabi) and the saint (muhaddas) are on a par. And just as God has named prophets as mursal [‘sent ones’], so has He also named the saints as mursal.” (Shahadat al-Quran, p. 27)
  10. “By rusul [pl. of rasul] are meant those who are sent, whether a messenger or prophet or muhaddas. As our Leader and Messenger [Holy Prophet Muhammad] is the Last of the Prophets (Khatam al-anbiya), and no prophet can come after him, for this reason muhaddases have been substituted for prophets in this Shari‘ah.” (ibid., pp. 23 – 24)
Hazrat Mirza has, it will be seen, given much explanation of the words nabi and rasul, to the effect that the word rasul is a broad term and is used for saints just as it is used for prophets, and the word nabi is used non-technically for saints just as it is used in its technical sense for prophets. If a person uses these words about himself, his own explanation should be sought from his writings to see if he has used them for actual prophethood or used them metaphorically to mean muhaddas.

It should be remembered that at no time did Hazrat Mirza claim real prophethood; on the contrary, he always used these words about himself in the root sense or as metaphors. And besides, he has made so abundantly clear the root vis-a-vis the technical meanings of these words, and their real vis-a-vis metaphorical use, that no person should stumble by these terms and erroneously believe him to be claiming to be a prophet.


Recognised Muslim theologians and saints have expressed the following views on the use of nabi and rasul in a broader sense:

1. Shah Wali-ullah of Delhi (d. 1763 C.E.) writes:

“Remember that the Saying of the Holy Prophet which mentions a large number of prophets includes muhaddases in its count.”

(Al-Khair al-Kaseer, Urdu translation, p. 246)

The Saying referred to is the well-known one which mentions the number of prophets (nabi) that ever appeared as 124,000. Shah Wali-ullah says that the Holy Prophet has used the word nabi here to include those who were merely muhaddas.

2. Maulana Sana-ullah of Panipat, a classical commentator of the Quran, writes in his commentary:

Rasul has a broad significance, applying both to men and angels. ... Some scholars say that, as a general metaphor, the word rasul is applied to saints as well.”

(Tafsir Mazhari, published by H. M. Saeed Company, Karachi, vol. 12, p. 139-140)

3. Sayyid Muhammad Ismail Shaheed (d. 1831 C.E.) wrote:

Muhaddases too are called rasul.”

(Abqaat, Urdu translation by Manazir Ahsan Gilani, published in A.P., India, p. 402)

4. Maulana Mufti Kifayat-ullah, a theologian of this century who was head of the Jami‘at al-‘Ulama, India, defined a muhaddas as follows:

“A muhaddas is he who receives the word of God by special revelation. Some scholars consider such a one to be a prophet of a low rank, and others consider him to be a saint of a high order.”

(Majalis al-Abrar, by Shaikh Ahmad Rumi, translated by Maulana Mufti Kifayat-ullah, footnote by the translator, p. 48 of the edition published by Darul Ishaat, Karachi, August 1978.)

5. Allama Khalid Mahmud, a present-day theologian, has commented as follows on the writings of Maulana Jalal-ud-Din Rumi:

“In this respect, the Maulana refers to every spiritual leader who follows the Sunna as metaphorically a prophet.”

(‘Aqidat al-Umma fi ma‘ni khatam an-nubuwwat, published by Idara Hifz-i Muarif-i Islamia, Lahore, 3rd ed., 1965, p. 112)

6. Mulla Ali Qari wrote in his famous classical work:

“To be a metaphorical prophet does not constitute kufr nor an innovation.”

(Sharh Shifa, vol. ii, p. 518)

6.4: Summary

On the basis of the extracts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad given in Sections 5 and 6, the following conclusions are clear:
  1. Hazrat Mirza denied claiming to receive wahy nubuwwat, and affirmed that he received wahy wilayat.
  2. Hazrat Mirza denied claiming to be a prophet in the technical sense, and affirmed that this term applied to him in the root sense.
  3. He affirmed that he was a muhaddas in the technical sense, and denied the application of this word to him in a root sense.
  4. The root (literal) meaning of nabi in the Arabic language is the same as the technical meaning of muhaddas in Islamic theology.
  5. The person termed muhaddas in Islamic theology and Hadith is called a metaphorical prophet in the spiritual side of Islam (Tasawwuf).
  6. Hazrat Mirza denied claiming to be an actual and real prophet, and affirmed that this word applied to him in a metaphorical sense.

See supplementary material on the Evidence of Section 6
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