As mentioned in previous articles the distinction between prophet (nabi) and rasool (messenger) is that a prophet (nabi) is given (ata) scripture (kitab), direct words from God, while a rasool (messenger) disseminates the received information from God. So while a nabi obtains the verbatim words of God, a messenger is the one who extracts, explains, clarifies, teaches, and confirms information from God. This is why we see consistently that messengers are paired with these functions.
[2:151] (Blessings) such as the sending of a messenger from among you to recite our revelations to you, purify you, teach you the scripture and wisdom, and to teach you what you never knew.
كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولًا مِنْكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمْ مَا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ
[5:19] O people of the scripture, our messenger has come to you,to explain things to you, after a period of time without messengers, lest you say, “We did not receive any preacher or warner.” A preacher and warner has now come to you. GOD is Omnipotent.
يَاأَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولُنَا يُبَيِّنُ لَكُمْعَلَىٰ فَتْرَةٍ مِنَ الرُّسُلِ أَنْ تَقُولُوا مَا جَاءَنَا مِنْ بَشِيرٍ وَلَا نَذِيرٍ فَقَدْ جَاءَكُمْ بَشِيرٌ وَنَذِيرٌ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
[2:101] Now that a messenger from GOD has come to them, and even though he proves and confirms their own scripture, some followers of the scripture (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) disregard GOD’s scripture behind their backs, as if they never had any scripture.
وَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ رَسُولٌ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِمُ صَدِّقٌ لِمَا مَعَهُمْ نَبَذَ فَرِيقٌ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَرَاءَ ظُهُورِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
Therefore, by default every prophet is also a messenger, but not every messenger is a prophet. This is because prophets did not retain the words of God that they were given for themselves, but instead they shared it with their people and thus fulfilled the function of a messenger. So when an individual is receiving the kitab (scripture) they are acting in the capacity of a prophet (nabi), but when they share or explain what they received then they are acting in the capacity of a messenger (rasool).
Prophets a Subset of Messengers
Sura 19 of the Quran reinforces this concept to show that prophets are a subset of messengers. The first example is regarding Abraham and Idris.
[19:41] Mention in the scripture Abraham; he was a saint, a prophet.
(٤١) وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَبِيًّا
[19:56] And mention in the scripture Idrîs. He was a saint, a prophet.
(٥٦) وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِدْرِيسَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَبِيًّا
We see in this model that God uses the more general term saint (sadaqan) before the more exclusive term prophet (nabian). This is because only a subset of saints are also prophets, while all prophets are also saints. We see that the term sadaqan is also used for Mary in 5:75, who was not a prophet.
[5:75] The Messiah, son of Mary, is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint (sadaqatun). Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate!
مَا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِنْ قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلَانِ الطَّعَامَ انْظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الْآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انْظُرْ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ
This pattern is also used in Sura 17 in the context of human and angel messengers.
[17:93] “Or unless you own a luxurious mansion, or unless you climb into the sky. Even if you do climb, we will not believe unless you bring a book that we can read.”* Say, “Glory be to my Lord. Am I any more than a human messenger?”
أَوْ يَكُونَ لَكَ بَيْتٌ مِنْ زُخْرُفٍ أَوْ تَرْقَىٰ فِي السَّمَاءِ وَلَنْ نُؤْمِنَ لِرُقِيِّكَ حَتَّىٰ تُنَزِّلَ عَلَيْنَا كِتَابًا نَقْرَؤُهُ قُلْ سُبْحَانَ رَبِّي هَلْ كُنْتُ إِلَّا بَشَرًا رَسُولًا
[17:95] Say, “If the earth were inhabited by angels, we would have sent down to them from the sky an angel messenger.”
(٩٥) قُلْ لَوْ كَانَ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَلَائِكَةٌ يَمْشُونَ مُطْمَئِنِّينَ لَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَلَكًا رَسُولًا
Again we see it first state the broader category mentioned first, in this case, angels and humans, then it mentions the more exclusive category of messengers. This is because not all humans or angels are messengers but among the humans and angels, there are some who are also messengers.
We see this same pattern occur when the term messenger and prophet is used in Sura 19.
[19:51] Mention in the scripture Moses. He was devoted, and he was a messenger prophet.
(٥١) وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مُوسَىٰ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مُخْلَصًا وَكَانَ رَسُولًا نَبِيًّا
[19:54] And mention in the scripture Ismail. He was truthful when he made a promise, and he was a messenger prophet.
(٥٤) وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِسْمَاعِيلَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صَادِقَ الْوَعْدِ وَكَانَ رَسُولًا نَبِيًّا
Based on the previous examples we can deduce that messengers are a broader category than prophets. Therefore every prophet is also a messenger, but not every messenger is a prophet since not all messengers were given scripture.
Prophets Mentioned In The Quran
The Quran confirms that between Ismail to Muhammad the lineage of Ismail did not receive prophets. This is why the Arabs were considered gentiles (ummyeen) because the Arabs were not given scripture like the Children of Israel.
God blessed Abraham with two sons who were also prophets. The first was Ismail and the second was Isaac. From Ismail’s lineage, we have the formation of the Arab people. While Isaac had Jacob, who is also called Israel, and the lineage of the prophets of the Children of Israel.
[2:136] Say, “We believe in GOD, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters.”
قُولُوا آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالْأَسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَمَا أُوتِيَ النَّبِيُّونَ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
[3:84] Say, “We believe in GOD, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters.”
قُلْ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ عَلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنْزِلَ عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالْأَسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَالنَّبِيُّونَ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
The Quran mentions some of the prophets in the following verses:
[6:83] Such was our argument, with which we supported Abraham against his people. We exalt whomever we will to higher ranks. Your Lord is Most Wise, Omniscient. [6:84] And we granted him Isaac and Jacob, and we guided both of them. Similarly, we guided Noah before that, and from his descendants (we guided) David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron. We thus reward the righteous. [6:85] Also, Zachariah, John, Jesus, and Elias; all were righteous. [6:86] And Ismail, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot; each of these we distinguished over all the people. [6:87] From among their ancestors, their descendants, and their siblings, we chose many, and we guided them in a straight path. [6:88] Such is GOD’s guidance, with which He guides whomever He chooses from among His servants. Had any of them fallen into idolatry, their works would have been nullified. [6:89] Those were the ones to whom we have given the scripture, wisdom, and prophethood. If these people disbelieve, we will substitute others in their place, and the new people will not be disbelievers.
Aside from Ismail and Lot, all these prophets mentioned in the above verse were from the lineage of Isaac. This again reinforces that the Children of Israel were the ones blessed with prophethood and scripture.
[5:20] Recall that Moses said to his people, “O my people, remember GOD’s blessings upon you: He appointed prophets from among you, made you kings, and granted you what He never granted any other people.
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَاقَوْمِ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ جَعَلَ فِيكُمْ أَنْبِيَاءَ وَجَعَلَكُمْ مُلُوكًا وَآتَاكُمْ مَا لَمْ يُؤْتِ أَحَدًا مِنَ الْعَالَمِينَ
[19:58] These are some of the prophets whom GOD blessed. They were chosen from among the descendants of Adam, and the descendants of those whom we carried with Noah, and the descendants of Abraham and Israel, and from among those whom we guided and selected. When the revelations of the Most Gracious are recited to them, they fall prostrate, weeping.
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ مِنَ النَّبِيِّينَ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّةِ آدَمَ وَمِمَّنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ وَمِنْ ذُرِّيَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْرَائِيلَ وَمِمَّنْ هَدَيْنَا وَاجْتَبَيْنَا إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ خَرُّوا سُجَّدًا وَبُكِيًّا
[45:16] We have given the Children of Israel the scripture, wisdom, and prophethood, and provided them with good provisions; we bestowed upon them more blessings than any other people.
(١٦) وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
But while prophets and messengers were sent to the Children of Israel we have three examples of messengers that were sent to the Arab communities that were mentioned in the Quran. These are Hud, Saleh, and Shu’aib.
[26:123] ‘Ãd disbelieved the messengers. [26:124] Their brother Hûd said to them, “Would you not be righteous? [26:125] “I am an honest messenger to you. [26:126] “You shall reverence GOD, and obey me.
[26:141] Thamûd disbelieved the messengers. [26:142] Their brother Sãleh said to them, “Would you not be righteous? [26:143] “I am an honest messenger to you. [26:144] “You shall reverence GOD, and obey me.
[26:176] The People of the Woods disbelieved the messengers. [26:177] Shu’aib said to them, “Would you not be righteous? [26:178] “I am an honest messenger to you. [26:179] “You shall reverence GOD, and obey me.
Nowhere in the Quran does it mention that Hud, Saleh were prophets or that they were given scripture (kitab).
The Final Prophet
This trend came to an end when Muhammad was given the Quran in Arabic by God.
[33:40] Muhammad was not the father of any man among you. He was a messenger of GOD and the final prophet. GOD is fully aware of all things.
(٤٠) مَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِنْ رِجَالِكُمْ وَلَٰكِنْ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا
This verse confirms that Muhammad was the final prophet, therefore this makes the Quran the final scripture. But Muhammad was not called the final messenger. This is because as long as there are human beings here on Earth, God can continue to send messengers if He so wills.
[7:35] O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
(٣٥) يَابَنِي آدَمَ إِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِنْكُمْ يَقُصُّونَ عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِي فَمَنِ اتَّقَىٰ وَأَصْلَحَ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
These messengers will not have a new scripture but will confirm, teach, explain, and extract information embedded in God’s scriptures through the inspiration they receive from God to the people. They will lead those who believe out of the darkness into the light.
[65:11] a messenger who recites to you GOD’s revelations, clearly, to lead those who believe and work righteousness out of the darkness into the light. Anyone who believes in GOD and leads a righteous life, He will admit him into gardens with flowing streams; they abide therein forever. GOD will generously reward him.
رَسُولًا يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ مُبَيِّنَاتٍ لِيُخْرِجَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ وَمَنْ يُؤْمِنْ بِاللَّهِ وَيَعْمَلْ صَالِحًا يُدْخِلْهُ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا قَدْ أَحْسَنَ اللَّهُ لَهُ رِزْقًا
Those who learn from the lessons from the Quran will take head to this and not reject the teachings of any future messengers.
[2:90] Miserable indeed is what they sold their souls for—rejecting these revelations of GOD out of sheer resentment that GOD should bestow His grace upon whomever He chooses from among His servants. Consequently, they incurred wrath upon wrath. The disbelievers have incurred a humiliating retribution.
بِئْسَمَا اشْتَرَوْا بِهِ أَنْفُسَهُمْ أَنْ يَكْفُرُوا بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ بَغْيًا أَنْ يُنَزِّلَ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ عَلَىٰ مَنْ يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ فَبَاءُوا بِغَضَبٍ عَلَىٰ غَضَبٍ وَلِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابٌ مُهِينٌ
But God informs us that inevitably the information given to people will only cause many of them to fall into disputes and divisions.
[98:4] In fact, those who received the scripture did not dispute until the proof was given to them.
(٤) وَمَا تَفَرَّقَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَتْهُمُ الْبَيِّنَةُ
[45:17] We have given them herein clear commandments. Ironically, they did not dispute this until the knowledge had come to them. This is due to jealousy on their part. Surely, your Lord will judge them on the Day of Resurrection regarding everything they have disputed.
وَآتَيْنَاهُمْ بَيِّنَاتٍ مِنَ الْأَمْرِ فَمَا اخْتَلَفُوا إِلَّا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ يَقْضِي بَيْنَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِيمَا كَانُوا فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُو
The Next Messenger
A common mistake among communities that have received messengers is that they assume that their messenger was the last. We see this articulated in the Quran by the believing Egyptian during his debate with Pharoah and the example of Joseph.
[40:34] Joseph had come to you before that with clear revelations, but you continued to doubt his message. Then, when he died you said, “GOD will not send any other messenger after him. (He was the last messenger)!” GOD thus sends astray those who are transgressors, doubtful.
وَلَقَدْ جَاءَكُمْ يُوسُفُ مِنْ قَبْلُ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَمَا زِلْتُمْ فِي شَكٍّ مِمَّا جَاءَكُمْ بِهِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا هَلَكَ قُلْتُمْ لَنْ يَبْعَثَ اللَّهُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ رَسُولًا كَذَٰلِكَ يُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَنْ هُوَ مُسْرِفٌ مُرْتَابٌ
Four verses later he makes the following comment which does not seem appropriate for a person who did not have authority considering that he just witnessed Moses debate with Pharoah. Yet the way he spoke was more akin to a messenger rather than just a regular believer.
[40:38] The one who believed said, “O my people, follow me, and I will guide you in the right way.
It is worth noting that the word used in this verse for “the right way” is الرَّشَادِ / l-rashādi which is the same word as in the name Rashad, like the name Rashad Khalifa, who happened to also be a believing Egyptian.
Additionally, we see that embedding a name of a person in a word to prophecize the coming of a future messenger is a method that God utilized when Jesus prophesized the coming of Muhammad.
[61:6] Recall that Jesus, son of Mary, said, “O Children of Israel, I am GOD’s messenger to you, confirming the Torah and bringing good news of a messenger to come after me whose name will be even more praised (Ahmad).” Then, when he showed them the clear proofs, they said, “This is profound magic.”
وَإِذْ قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ يَابَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ إِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيَّ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَمُبَشِّرًا بِرَسُولٍ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَعْدِي اسْمُهُ أَحْمَدُ فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ قَالُوا هَٰذَا سِحْرٌ مُبِينٌ
This is because the term أَحْمَدُ / ahmad which means more praised is the root for the name مُحَمَّد / Muhammad.
If we continue reading we see that this speaker, the believing Egyptian, appears to have way more information regarding the reality of this life and the Hereafter than what one would expect from just a member of the audience who viewed Moses’s miracles.
[40:39] “O my people, this first life is a temporary illusion, while the Hereafter is the eternal abode.” [40:40] Whoever commits a sin is requited for just that, and whoever works righteousness—male or female—while believing, these will enter Paradise wherein they receive provisions without any limits. [40:41] “O my people, while I invite you to be saved, you invite me to the hellfire. [40:42] “You invite me to be unappreciative of GOD, and to set up beside Him idols that I do not recognize. I am inviting you to the Almighty, the Forgiver. [40:43] “There is no doubt that what you invite me to do has no basis in this world, nor in the Hereafter, that our ultimate return is to GOD, and that the transgressors have incurred the hellfire. [40:44] “Some day you will remember what I am telling you now. I leave the judgment of this matter to GOD; GOD is the Seer of all the people.” [40:45] GOD then protected him from their evil schemes, while the people of Pharaoh have incurred the worst retribution.