Supplement to the
Terms nabi and rasul for non-prophets
Further to the explanations given in Section 6,
regarding the use of the terms nabi (prophet) and rasul
(messenger, apostle) in Islamic literature for those who are not prophets,
additional material is given below.
1. Earlier Islamic Authorities
1. The Holy Quran
i. In the story of Joseph, it is recorded:
And the king said: Bring him [Joseph]
to me. So when the messenger (rasul) came to him ... (12:50).
Here the word rasul is applied to a kings messenger.
ii. In ch. 36, verses 1321, there is mention of three
apostles (Arabic: mursalun, pl. of mursal)
being sent by God to a town:
When We sent to them two, they rejected
them both; then We strengthened [the two] with a third, so they said:
Surely we are apostles to you (36:14).
Sayyid Muhammad Ismail Shaheed says that they were muhaddases
who are being termed mursal (i.e. rasul) here. He writes:
In this verse, what is the meaning of the claim made by these
three: We are apostles to you.? ... bearing in
mind the relationship between muhaddasiyyat and risalat,
it should be accepted that Muhaddases too are called rasul.
(Abqaat, Urdu translation by Manazir Ahsan Gilani, published
in A.P., India, p. 402)
iii. A verse in the Quran says:
We sent before you [O Muhammad] no
messenger and no prophet but when he desired, the devil made a suggestion
respecting his desire; but God annuls what the devil casts, then does
God establish His Messages (22:52).
Ibn Abbas, a Companion of the Holy Prophet and an illustrious commentator
of the Holy Quran, has explained this verse by saying:
and no muhaddas
i.e. the Quranic words no messenger (rasul) and no prophet
(nabi) here also include a muhaddas. The following
authorities record these words of Ibn Abbas:
1. Sahih al-Bukhari (Book: Qualities
of the Companions, ch. Umar; 62:6).
2. umdat al-Qari, a commentary
on Bukhari, ch. Qualities of Umar.
3. Shah Wali-ullah of Delhi. See Al-Khair
al-Kasir, Fifth Khizana (see p. 97 of its English translation,
published by Ashraf, Lahore, 1974).
4. Sayyid Muhammad Ismail Shaheed. He writes:
The reason why apostleship (risalat) is sometimes ascribed
to those who are muhaddas is that the Quranic verse, We
sent before you no messenger and no prophet, is reported in a
reading from Ibn Abbas with the words and no muhaddas
added (Abqaat, p. 401).
5. Imam Jalal-ud-Din Suyuti. See the Urdu
book Ahmadiyya Tahrik, by Malik Muhammad Jafar Khan, p.
25, Sindh Sagar Academy, Lahore.
2. The Hadith
i. In Sahih Bukhari, we read:
Then the rasul of the rasul
of God came to him (Kitab al-Maghazi; book 64, ch. 81).
ii. In the collection of Abu Dawud it is recorded:
The Holy Prophet said: Praise be to
Allah Who granted the rasul of His rasul that which pleases
him (Part 27, ch. 71).
In these two extracts, the Holy Prophet is called the rasul
of God, and the messenger sent by him to someone is called rasul
of the rasul of God.
iii. In another hadith report in Sahih Bukhari, a man sent
with a message by the Holy Prophet Muhammad has been called a rasul
(Kitab al-Azan; book 10, ch. 51).
iv. In a well-known hadith, the Holy Prophet Muhammad is reported
to have said that as many as 124,000 prophets had appeared in the world.
Two eminent scholars write:
Know that the hadith which mentions a very large number of
prophets includes muhaddases in its count. And the word mursal
in it is synonymous with nabi.
(Shah Wali-ullah in Al-Khair al-Kasir, The fifth Khizana,
p. 246; See also p. 97 of its English translation cited above.)
Some scholars of Hadith have said that in the report quoted
from the Holy Prophet Muhammad about the number of prophets, the word
prophets (anbiya) refers not only to nabi but
also includes those who are muhaddas.
(Ismail Shaheed in Abqaat, Urdu translation by Manazir Ahsan
Gilani, published in A.P., India, p. 402)
3. Hazrat Abu Bakr and Umar prophets
Shaikh Ahmad of Sirhind writes:
What can these people gain from the qualities of the Shaikhain
[i.e. Abu Bakr and Umar]? These two exalted men, on account of their
eminence and greatness, are counted among the prophets and have their
(Maktubat, Daftar I, part iv, letter no. 251, p. 64)
4. Muhiyud-Din Ibn Arabi
Sainthood is general prophethood,
and the prophethood which brings with it a law (shariah)
is special prophethood.
(Fatuhat Makkiyya, part ii, p. 24)
Regarding his views and the terms he has used, modern theologians
comment as follows:
- Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi writes:
The prophethood and apostleship which he terms general
is also meant in the root sense, i.e., receiving news of the unseen
and preaching [Islam]. It is not meant in the real sense, for which
the Shaikh uses the term law-bearing prophethood. Hence,
commenting on a hadith which speaks of the granting of prophethood
to one who has memorised the Quran, he interprets it in the
root sense and explains the difference between such a person and
(Al-Tanbiyya al-Tarbi fi Tanziyya Ibn Arabi, published
1346 A.H., pp. 99--100)
- Mufti Muhammad Shafi of Deoband writes:
The Shaikh has referred to qualities of prophethood, mubashshirat
[revelation of non-prophets], and sainthood as being prophethood
without a religious law.
(Khatm Nubuwwat, part iii, p. 31)
5. Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
He has used the word nabi in his poetry to refer to perfect believers
among the Muslims. Present-day theologians comment on this as follows:
- Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi wrote in his newspaper:
Till now what I have found most disturbing about the Qadiani
claims is that, in whatever sense it may be, how could a claim to
prophethood be made by a Muslim? But recently, by co-incidence,
I found an example of it in the poetry of Maulana Rumi. And that
too, not in some apocryphal work, but in the renowned and famous,
authentic book Masnawi. Regarding the status and excellence
of the spiritual guide it is written:
When you give your hand into the hand of a spiritual
guide, you seek to imbibe wisdom as the mentor is the knowing and
discerning. O disciple, he is a prophet of his time, as his person
radiates the light of the Prophet.
It is clearly stated here that the perfect spiritual guide
is the prophet of the time because he reflects the light of prophethood.
Great theologians, philosophers, and spiritual men have written
commentaries on the Masnawi, but none of them took exception
to this form of expression. Rumis own son, Sultan Walad, has
made the following comment: The exaggeration in likening a
saint to a prophet refers to the penetrating effect of his guidance;
otherwise, at no time was prophethood thinkable after the Holy Prophet
Muhammad. Masnawi, vol. v, p. 67, footnote 13,
printed at Kanpur.
Obviously we will still call it lacking in due caution,
but it is equally obvious that instances of such lack of caution
are to be found in the writings of the great religious leaders of
(Newspaper Sidq Jadeed, 8 August 1952)
- Allama Khalid Mahmud, an opponent of the Ahmadiyya Movement, quotes
another verse from Rumi and explains it as follows:
In the path of virtue be anxious to serve
humanity, so that you may attain prophethood within the Muslim nation.
This does not refer to the attainment of the rank of prophethood,
but the attainment of qualities of prophethood. If there is brevity
here, it should be interpreted in the light of Maulana Rumis
belief about the finality of prophethood given earlier. To interpret
a writing contrary to the intent of the author is utterly against
the rules of knowledge and integrity. In this respect, the Maulana
refers to every spiritual guide who follows the Sunna as
metaphorically a prophet: O disciple, he is the prophet
of his time, for he shows the light of the Prophet.
(Aqidat al-Umma fi Mani Khatam an-Nubuwwat,
published by Idara Hifz-i Muarif-i Islamia, Lahore, 3rd ed., 1965,
- In an introduction to Rumis Masnawi, Maulana Sajjad
Usually the word nabi is used in a specialised sense,
but Rumi applies nabi to reformers of a high rank, as in
the verse: In the path of virtue be anxious to serve humanity,
so that you may attain prophethood within the Muslim nation.
(Muqaddama Masnawi Rumi, p. 23)
6. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi
He quotes the classical theologian Sayyid Abdul Wahhab Shirani and
then gives his own comment:
When the Holy Prophet Muhammad realised that some people
among his followers would take the termination of revelation with
dislike, he proposed a part of apostleship (risalat) for the
specially-chosen ones of his nation. He instructed those who were
present at his preaching to convey the teachings to those who were
absent. Hence he commanded them to deliver the message, so that the
word rusul [pl. of rasul] may apply to them.
Now look, in this text he has referred to mere preaching as
(Al-Tanbiyya al-Tarbi fi Tanziyya Ibn Arabi, pp. 100101)
7. Maulana Abdur Rashid, head, Ahl-i Hadith school, Lahore:
The meaning of the Sufis is clear from these quotations. They
refer to the prophets as prophets with a law, and call
the saints of this nation as prophets without a law. This
is the terminology of the Sufis, and it is an accepted principle that
there cannot be any argument as regards [use of different] terminology,
and each has the right to use his own terms.
(Khatm-i Nubuwwat aur Nuzul-i Masih, p. 74)
2. Hazrat Mirzas stand
1. Clearest Public Statement
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad once made a public declaration which makes absolutely
clear the issue of the use of the word nabi for one who is actually
a muhaddas. In February 1892, he ended a debate with a Muslim theologian
in Lahore by issuing the following written statement:
Be it known to all the Muslims that all such words as occur
in my writings Fath Islam, Tauzih Maram and Izala Auham,
to the effect that the muhaddas is in one sense a prophet,
or that being a muhaddas is partial prophethood or imperfect
prophethood, are not to be taken in their real sense, but have been
used according to their root meaning in a straight-forward way; otherwise,
I lay no claim whatever to actual prophethood. On the other hand,
as I have written in my book Izala Auham, page 137, my belief
is that our leader and master Muhammad mustafa may peace
and the blessings of God be upon him is the last of the Prophets.
This writing was drawn up in the form of an agreement and signed by eight
So I wish to make it clear to all Muslim brothers that, if
they are displeased with these words and if these words give injury
to their feelings, they may regard all such words as amended, and
instead consider me to have used the word muhaddas. For I do
not like to create dissension and discord among the Muslims.
From the beginning, as God knows best, my intention has never
been to use this word nabi as meaning actually a prophet, but
only as signifying muhaddas, which the Holy Prophet has explained
as meaning one who is spoken to by God. Of the muhaddas
it is stated in a saying of the Holy Prophet: Among the Israelites
who were before you, there used to be men who were spoken to by God,
though they were not prophets, and if there is one among my followers,
it is Umar.
Therefore, I have not the least hesitation in stating my meaning
in another form for the conciliation of my Muslim brethren, and that
other form is that in every place instead of the word nabi
the word muhaddas should be understood, and the word nabi
should be regarded as having been deleted.
(Majmua Ishtiharat, vol. i, p. 313)
2. A published letter
In August 1899, Hazrat Mirza wrote a letter to someone, explaining the
use of the words nabi and rasul about him. This letter,
which was also published at that time in the Ahmadiyya newspaper Al-Hakam,
is reproduced below:
The situation is that, although for twenty years I have been
constantly receiving Divine revelation, often the word rasul
or nabi has occurred in it. ... There are many such revelations
in which the word nabi or rasul has occurred regarding
myself. However, that person is mistaken who thinks that by this prophethood
and messengership is meant real prophethood and messengership, by
which the man concerned is called a law giver. In fact,
by the word rasul is only meant one sent by God, and
by the word nabi is only meant one who makes prophecies,
having received intimation from God, or one who discloses hidden matters.
As these words, which are only in a metaphorical sense,
cause trouble in Islam, leading to very bad consequences, these terms
should not be used in our communitys common talk and everyday
language. It should be believed from the bottom of the heart that
prophethood has terminated with the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace
and the blessings of God be upon him, as God Almighty says: He
is the Messenger of God and the last of the Prophets. To deny
this verse, or to belittle it, is in fact to separate oneself from
Islam. The person who exceeds the limit in rejection is in the same
dangerous condition as the one who, like the Shiahs, exceeds the limit
in acceptance. It should be known that God has ended all His prophethoods
and messengerships with the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet. I have
come into the world, and have been sent into it, merely as a servant
of the religion of Islam, and not to discard Islam and create some
other religion. One must always protect oneself from being waylaid
by the devil, and have true love for Islam, and must never forget
the greatness of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
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. So, bearing in mind
a significance of this extent, it is not blame-worthy to believe in
the heart in accordance with this meaning.
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.
Religion should not be made into a childrens game, and it should
be remembered that I make no claim contrary to that of being a servant
of Islam. The person who ascribes to me the contrary is making a fabrication
against me. We receive grace and blessings through our Holy Prophet,
and receive the benefit of knowledge from the Quran.
It is, therefore, pertinent that no person should entertain
anything in his heart contrary to this direction; or else he shall
be answerable for it before God. If we are not servants of Islam,
then all our work is in vain and rejected, and shall be called to
(Letter dated 17 August 1899, published in Al-Hakam, vol.
iii, no. 29, August 1899)
3. Followers of Hazrat Mirza
An objection is sometimes raised that Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali, the
great leader of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, in his writings during
the life of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and until the Split in 1914, has
referred to him as prophet and messenger. In clarification,
the Maulana has pointed out that he used these terms about Hazrat Mirza
in the same senses as those explained by Hazrat Mirza himself,
which have been dealt with above, i.e. in a root or metaphorical sense,
meaning only a saint. In fact, at that very time, in the period before
the Split, many followers of Hazrat Mirza gave the same explanation of
the use of these terms about him.
Maulana Nur-ud-Din (d. 1914), who became the Head of the Ahmadiyya
Movement on Hazrat Mirzas death in 1908, wrote a letter to one
Sardar Muhammad Ajab Khan in October 1910, making a sworn declaration
of his beliefs. In this letter, published at the time, he writes:
To cut open the heart and look into it, or make others look
into it, is beyond human power. If one relies on oaths, I see no oath
equal to: By Allah, the Great. Neither you nor anyone else
will accompany me after my death, except my faith and deeds. As this
matter will be presented before Allah Almighty, I swear by Allah,
the Great, by Whose leave heaven and earth exist, I believe Mirza
sahib to be the Mujaddid of this century. I believe him to
be righteous. I believe him to be a slave of Muhammad, Messenger of
Allah, and a sincere servant of his Shariah. And Mirza
too considered himself to be a life-sacrificing slave of the Arabian
Prophet, Muhammad ibn Abdullah.
Even those followers of Hazrat Mirza who subsequently became the leading
figures of the Qadiani group, used to put forward the same explanation
in those days. Below we give some published statements from prominent
Qadianis, in which they held that no prophet could come after the Holy
Prophet Muhammad, and that the word nabi applied to Hazrat Mirza
only in a root or partial sense; and importantly, that it applied to him
only in the sense in which it could be applied to any saint in Islam.
The dictionary meaning of the word nabi, we believe, is one
who gives news, having received knowledge beforehand from Allah Almighty,
not one who brings a shariah. Both Mirza sahib and I consider
any person who rejects even an iota of the Holy Quran or the shariah
of the Holy Prophet Muhammad to be a kafir and an accursed one. This
is my belief, and this was also I consider the belief of Mirza Ghulam
Ahmad sahib. If anyone rejects this, refuses to accept it, or calls
us hypocrites, his affair is with God. Nur-ur-Din, in his
own hand, 22 October 1910.
(Badr, 27 October 1910)
1. Mufti Muhammad Sadiq
He was the chief missionary of the Qadianis, and editor of Badr.
In October 1910 he reported in this paper an account of his meeting with
the famous Muslim scholar Maulana Shibli, and at the end of his article
he reproduced the letter by Maulana Nur-ud-Din quoted above. This account
is as follows:
Shibli asked if we believe Mirza sahib to be a prophet. I
replied that our belief in this respect was the same as that of other
Muslims, viz., that the Holy Prophet Muhammad is the Khatam an-nabiyyin.
After him, no other prophet can come, neither new nor old. However,
the phenomenon of Divine revelation still continues, but even that
is through the agency of the Holy Prophet. By receiving spiritual
benefit from him, there have been men among the Muslims who had the
privilege of Divine revelation, and in future too there shall be such.
As Hazrat Mirza sahib was also privileged with Divine revelation,
and in his revelations God gave him many news of the future as prophecies,
which were fulfilled, for this reason Mirza sahib was one who made
prophecies. Such a one is called nabi in Arabic lexicology,
and in Hadith too the coming Promised Messiah is called nabi.
Mufti Muhammad Sadiq then goes on to quote the letter by Maulana Nur-ud-Din,
which has been given above, in support of his explanation. The Muftis
account and the Maulanas letter corroborate each other, and the
two together make it abundantly clear that Hazrat Mirza was only being
considered as one of the saints, recipients of revelation, and mujaddids
who arose throughout Islamic history.
To this Shibli replied that according to the dictionary meanings
this was so, and in the Arabic language this word does have this meaning,
but the ordinary people become perturbed because they do not know
this significance. I said that, with us, the question of Mirza sahibs
prophethood was not such that it was included in the conditions of
the Pledge (baiat), nor was it required to be acknowledged
when taking the Pledge, nor did we go about preaching it ...
It seems appropriate at this point that I should include in
this paper a recent letter by Hazrat Khalifa-tul-Masih [Maulana Nur-ud-Din]
which he has written in reply to Sardar Muhammad Ajab Khan, and made
it a sworn statement ...
(Badr, 27 October 1910, p. 9)
2. Maulavi Sayyid Sarwar Shah
He was the top most theologian of the Qadianis. In 1911, replying to a
critic who objected to the use of the word prophet, he wrote
a reply which was published in the paper under the title Word nabi
or mujaddid. He wrote:
The word nabi, according to its origins, has two meanings:
firstly, one who receives news of matters unseen from God; secondly,
a man of a high status, to whom God grants the distinction of abundant
revelation, and informs him of news of the unseen, he is a nabi.
In this sense I believe that all the previous mujaddids were
prophets of various grades.
(Badr, 16 February 1911)
3. Mir Muhammad Saeed
He was head of the Qadianis in Hyderabad, Deccan. In a book written in
1904 as a reply to a critic, he said:
- Hazrat Mirza sahib has claimed to be a muhaddas, and
the definition of muhaddas which is established from the hadith
in Sahih Bukhari etc. is that of a kind of partial prophethood
which is in the sense of zill and through anothers agency,
and is granted to every muhaddas among the Muslim people.
(Anwaar-ullah, p. 263)
- To sum up, Hazrat Mirza sahib has only claimed to be a muhaddas
and not an actual prophet which negatives the Khatam an-nabiyyin,
and is against [the hadith] There is no prophet after me.
(ibid., p. 269)
4. Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad (d. 1965)
He was the well-known first leader of the Qadianis. In 1910 he wrote an
article entitled Najaat (Salvation) which appeared in the monthly
Tashhiz al-azhan, of which he himself was the editor. In this article,
he explained the meaning of the Khatam an-nabiyyin verse of the
Quran (33:40) as follows:
In this verse God has said that the Holy Prophet is the Khatam
an-nabiyyin, and none shall come after him who may be raised to
the status of prophethood, and who may abrogate his teachings and
establish a new law. Nay, however many saints (wali) there
are, and righteous and pious persons, they will get all that they
get through service to him. Thus God has said that the Holy Prophets
prophethood was meant not only for his times, but that in future too
no prophet would come. ...
Another point must be remembered here, viz., that in this
verse God says: God is ever Knower of all things. This
does not appear to have an obvious connection here because it was
not necessary to say, regarding the things God has explained, that
He is the Knower of everything. The fact is that the Holy Prophets
being the Khatam an-nabiyyin contains a prophecy. This is that
before the Holy Prophet Muhammad there arose hundreds of prophets
in the world who had great success. In fact, there does not appear
to be a century in which no claimant to prophethood could be found.
So Krishna, Ramachandra, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Moses and Jesus
are those whose followers still exist in the world, and are energetically
doing their work, each group putting forward the claim of its truth.
But thirteen hundred years have now passed since the Holy Prophets
claim, and no one has ever attained success by claiming prophethood.
After all, prior to his time people used to claim prophethood, and
many of them were successful, whom we believe to be true. But why
has this arrangement stopped with his advent? Obviously because of
the prophecy that he is the Khatam an-nabiyyin. Now we ask
the opponents of Islam, what greater sign can there be than the fact
that, after the Holy Prophet, no person who claimed prophethood was
successful. It is this which is referred to in the words: God
is ever Knower of all things. That is to say, We have made him
Khatam an-nabiyyin and We know that no prophet would come after
him, and any liar making such a claim would be destroyed. This, therefore,
is a historical prophecy which no one can possibly refute.
(Tashhiz al-azhan, April 1910, vol. v, no. 4, pp. 151152)
Here the significance of Khatam an-nabiyyin has been clearly
explained to be that no prophet can come after the Holy Prophet Muhammad,
nor can the status of prophethood be attained after him. The highest
anyone among the Muslims can rise to, as indicated in the second sentence
of the above extract, is the position of wali or saint.