Much debate has been had regarding what is the difference between a nabi (prophet) and a rasool (messenger). Some claim that the terms are interchangeable, and some claim they have different meanings. In this article, we will systematically go through the distinction between these two words using the verses of the Quran.

In summary here are the main takeaways:

  • Prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasool) are categorically different
  • Prophets (nabi) are a subcategory of messengers (rasool)
  • Prophets (nabi) are given scripture (ata kitab) from God
  • Messengers (rasool) disseminate information from God

Are The Terms Nabi and Rasool Synonymous?

Some claim that the terms prophet and messenger are synonymous. If the two words are the same then we would not expect these words to be used in conjunction with one another. In Sura 19 there is a distinct pattern where the verse ends by using two unique descriptors for the individual it is describing. For example in the following verse we read:

[19:41] Mention in the scripture Abraham; he was a saint, a prophet.

وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَبِيًّا

[19:56] And mention in the scripture Idrîs. He was a saint, a prophet.

 وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِدْرِيسَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَبِيًّا

From these examples, firstly, we see that the two terms are not the same and that there is a specific distinction between a saint and a prophet. Secondly, the first descriptor is more general while the second descriptor is more specific. Such that the second category is a subset of the more general first category.

This is because the term translated as “saint” ṣiddīqan ( صِدِّيقًا ) is more general than the term “prophet” nabi ( نَبِيًّا ) which is more specific. Since saint is a more general category, then we can say that prophets are saints, but not all saints are prophets. For instance, we see that Mary is also called a saint, but nowhere in the Quran is she described as a prophet (nabi).

[5:75] The Messiah, son of Mary, is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. 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

So in this Sura, the more general category is specified first, then the subcategory. In the same Sura, we see there are two verses where individuals have been identified as a “messenger” rasool ( رَسُولًا ) “prophet” nabi ( نَبِيًّا ).

[19:51] Mention in the scripture Moses. He was devoted, and he was a messenger (rasūlan) prophet (nabiyyan).

 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 (rasūlan) prophet (nabiyyan).

 وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِسْمَاعِيلَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ صَادِقَ الْوَعْدِ وَكَانَ رَسُولًا نَبِيًّا

These patterns in the verses show that:

  • There is a categorical difference between a messenger (rasool) and a prophet (nabi)
  • A prophet (nabi) are a subcategory of a messenger (rasool)
  • Therefore prophets are messengers, but messengers are not necessarily prophets

Human and Angel Messengers and Prophets

We see similar examples in other places in the Quran when the messengers are described as human messengers, and not as messenger humans. This is because not all humans are messengers, but messengers are a subcategory within the human population.

[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 (basharan) messenger (rasūlan)?”
[17:94] What prevented the people from believing when the guidance came to them, is their saying, “Did GOD send a human (basharan) messenger (rasūlan)?”

 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
وَمَا مَنَعَ النَّاسَ أَنْ يُؤْمِنُوا إِذْ جَاءَهُمُ الْهُدَىٰ إِلَّا أَنْ قَالُوا أَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ بَشَرًا رَسُولًا

Additionally, we see the same pattern as above when it describes the angels as “angel” malakan ( مَلَكًا ) “messengers” rasūlan ( رَسُولًا ).

[17:95] Say, “If the earth were inhabited by angels, we would have sent down to them from the sky an angel (malakan) messenger (rasūlan).

 قُلْ لَوْ كَانَ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَلَائِكَةٌ يَمْشُونَ مُطْمَئِنِّينَ لَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَلَكًا رَسُولًا

Nowhere in the Quran are the angels ever described as messenger angels. Again this is because messengers are a subcategory of angels, as not all angels are messengers. So therefore from the above examples, we see that the broader categories are humans and angels while the subcategory is messengers.

Among the messengers specified in the Quran, we see that this term is used towards the humans and angels who are authorized by God, like in the verses mentioned above. But messengers can also be utilized towards individuals who are not messengers of God. An example of a messenger that is not authorized by God in the Quran can be found in Sura 12 when the king sent his “messenger” rasool ( الرَّسُولُ ) to Joseph.

[12:50] The king said, “Bring him to me.” When the messenger came to him (Joseph), he said, “Go back to your lord and ask him to investigate the women who cut their hands. My Lord is fully aware of their schemes.”

 وَقَالَ الْمَلِكُ ائْتُونِي بِهِ فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُ الرَّسُولُ قَالَ ارْجِعْ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَاسْأَلْهُ مَا بَالُ النِّسْوَةِ الّٰتِیۡۤ قَطَّعْنَ أَيْدِيَهُنَّ إِنَّ رَبِّي بِكَيْدِهِنَّ عَلِيمٌ

This shows that a function of a messenger has a general function that can be served by humans and angels who are authorized by God or not. If we contrast this with the term prophet (nabi), we never see this in reference to anyone other than a human authorized by God called a prophet (nabi).

Based on this information, we can draw the following conclusions:

  • There are messengers among the humans and angels
  • There are messengers who are authorized by God
  • There are also messengers that are not authorized by God
  • The function of a messenger can serve a divine purpose or a worldly purpose
  • Only humans authorized by God are called prophets within the Quran

Objection To Order of Specificity

Some claim that the Arabic style of the following verse shows that a messenger (rasool) is more exclusive than a prophet (nabi) because of the use of the phrase وَلَا (wa-la), which means “and not.”

[22:52] We did not send before you any messenger, nor a prophet, without having the devil interfere in his wishes. GOD then nullifies what the devil has done. GOD perfects His revelations. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise.

 وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ قَبْلِكَ مِنْ رَسُولٍ وَلَا نَبِيٍّ إِلَّا إِذَا تَمَنَّىٰ أَلْقَى الشَّيْطَانُ فِي أُمْنِيَّتِهِ فَيَنْسَخُ اللَّهُ مَا يُلْقِي الشَّيْطَانُ ثُمَّ يُحْكِمُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

They claim from the Arabic grammar that firstly this infers that messenger is a more narrow category than prophet and secondly that messenger is of a higher status than prophet. Both these points can easily be refuted using examples from the verses of the Quran.

Regarding the first point, it is common in speech that in an expression like the one mentioned in 22:52 to mention the more exclusive item after the more general item. In English, this is typically utilized with the expression “let alone”, which is used to indicate that something is far less likely, possible, or suitable than the previous thing mentioned. Below are examples of wa-la used in this context.

[49:2] O you who believe, (1) do not raise your voices above the voice of the prophet, nor (2) shall you shout at him as you shout at each other, lest your works become nullified while you do not perceive.

 يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلَا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ أَنْ تَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالُكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ

The above verse shows that raising one’s voice is a broader category than shouting.

[29:48] And not you recited from before it any book nor you wrote it with your right hand. In that case, the rejectors would have had reason to harbor doubts.

(٤٨) وَمَا كُنْتَ تَتْلُو مِنْ قَبْلِهِ مِنْ كِتَابٍ وَلَا تَخُطُّهُ بِيَمِينِكَ إِذًا لَارْتَابَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ

The above verse shows that reciting a book is more general than writing it with one’s own hand.

[35:11] GOD created you from dust, then from a tiny drop, then He causes you to reproduce through your spouses. No female becomes pregnant, nor gives birth, without His knowledge. No one survives for a long life, and no one’s life is snapped short, except in accordance with a pre-existing record. This is easy for GOD.

 وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ جَعَلَكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا وَمَا تَحْمِلُ مِنْ أُنْثَىٰ وَلَا تَضَعُ إِلَّا بِعِلْمِهِ وَمَا يُعَمَّرُ مِنْ مُعَمَّرٍ وَلَا يُنْقَصُ مِنْ عُمُرِهِ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرٌ

[41:47] With Him is the knowledge about the Hour (end of the world). No fruits emerge from their sheaths, nor does any female conceive or give birth, without His knowledge. The day will come when He asks them: “Where are those idols that you set up beside Me?” They will say, “We proclaim to You that none of us bears witness to that.”

 إِلَيْهِ يُرَدُّ عِلْمُ السَّاعَةِ وَمَا تَخْرُجُ مِنْ ثَمَرَاتٍ مِنْ أَكْمَامِهَا وَمَا تَحْمِلُ مِنْ أُنْثَىٰ وَلَا تَضَعُ إِلَّا بِعِلْمِهِ وَيَوْمَ يُنَادِيهِمْ أَيْنَ شُرَكَائِي قَالُوا آذَنَّاكَ مَا مِنَّا مِنْ شَهِيدٍ

More women conceive than give birth, therefore again, this shows that the broader category is mentioned first.

Regarding the second claim that 22:52 shows that God is placing the role of the messenger higher than the role of a prophet and therefore, this signifies that a messenger is more exclusive than a prophet since it is getting preferential treatment in the verse can be disproven by the following examples from the Quran.

[26:88] That day, neither money nor children can help.

(٨٨) يَوْمَ لَا يَنْفَعُ مَالٌ وَلَا بَنُونَ

[58:17] Never it will help them, their money nor their children, against GOD in anything. They have incurred the hellfire, wherein they abide forever.

(١٧) لَنْ تُغْنِيَ عَنْهُمْ أَمْوَالُهُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُهُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ

Ask most any parent if they care for the money more or children, and most sensible people will tell you that they would give up all their money for their children.

[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.

 لَا جَرَمَ أَنَّمَا تَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ لَيْسَ لَهُ دَعْوَةٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَلَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ وَأَنَّ مَرَدَّنَا إِلَى اللَّهِ وَأَنَّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ هُمْ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ

Based on the above verse, there is no doubt that the Hereafter is the real life and by far more valuable than the life of this world.

Roots of Rasool and Nabi

Up until this point we have been able to make some high-level assessments regarding these words and their function, but now let’s try to understand the meaning of each of these words, God willing.

The root for the word rasool (messenger) is ر س ل, and this root is typically associated with the act of sending, like in the word أَرْسَلَ (arsala) which would be translated as “he sent”.

The root for the word nabi (prophet) is ن ب ا, and this root is typically associated with the act of informing like in the verb نَبِّئْ (nabbi), but more specifically with new information.

In addition, to the above meaning extracted from the Quran, we see the etymology of the word nabi dates back to the 1st millennium BC and the Babylonians. Nabu was the name given to the deity who was considered the deity of scribes, literacy, and more specifically writing. His symbol included a stylus resting on a tablet. So in addition to new information, the term nabi also has connotations toward written words.

Rasool and Nabi in Relation to God

While the above details are informative, the question is how does this apply to individuals chosen by God as either prophets or messengers. Based on the above definitions we can say that a messenger (rasool) disseminates God’s message, while a prophet (nabi) is informed of God’s message, in the form of kitab (scripture), which are God’s actual written words for mankind.

This definition also sheds light on why the Quran does not reference anyone other than humans selected by God as prophets. This is because only prophets are given scripture by God, and we do not have any indication in the Quran that anyone other than authorized humans are given direct words from God in the form of kitab (scripture). This makes sense as angels do not need a scripture to hear God’s words since angels are allowed to be in God’s presence, unlike humans who will not be able to see God until the Hereafter.

This also resolves another point that all prophets by default are messengers, but not all messengers are prophets. This is because we do not have any examples in the Quran of a prophet being given scripture (kitab) who did not disseminate this information to his people. So when the prophet is given scripture by God, this is what makes them a prophet, but when they share the words of God they received with their people then they are acting in the capacity of a messenger (rasool).

The clearest verse in the Quran showing the distinction between prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasool) is 3:81.

[3:81] GOD took a covenant from the prophets, saying, “I will give you the scripture and wisdom. Afterwards, a messenger will come to confirm all existing scriptures. You shall believe in him and support him.” He said, “Do you agree with this, and pledge to fulfill this covenant?” They said, “We agree.” He said, “You have thus borne witness, and I bear witness along with you.”

 وَإِذْ أَخَذَ اللَّهُ مِيثَاقَ النَّبِيِّينَ لَمَا آتَيْتُكُمْ مِنْ كِتَابٍ وَحِكْمَةٍ ثُمَّ جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ مُصَدِّقٌ لِمَا مَعَكُمْ لَتُؤْمِنُنَّ بِهِ وَلَتَنْصُرُنَّهُ قَالَ أَأَقْرَرْتُمْ وَأَخَذْتُمْ عَلَىٰ ذَٰلِكُمْ إِصْرِي قَالُوا أَقْرَرْنَا قَالَ فَاشْهَدُوا وَأَنَا مَعَكُمْ مِنَ الشَّاهِدِينَ

The above verse informs us that the prophets are given (ata) scripture (kitab), while the messengers confirm (sadaq) or more accurately proclaim the truth of the scripture.

Consistently in the Quran, we see that only prophets (nabi) are given scripture (ata kitab). Never in the Quran do we see the expression that God gave scripture (ata kitab) to a messenger (rasool). Messengers can be given ayat (signs), wahi (inspiration), baynat (clear proof), zikr (reminder/proof), boran (evidence), hikma (wisdom), huda (guidance), as well as communication with the angel Gabriel via Ruh (Spirit), but messengers are never indicated in the Quran as to be “given” (ata) scripture (kitab).

[3:79] Never would a human being whom GOD gave him the scripture, wisdom, and prophethood say to the people, “Idolize me beside GOD.” Instead, (he would say), “Devote yourselves absolutely to your Lord alone,” according to the scripture you preach and the teachings you learn.

 مَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَنْ يُؤْتِيَهُ اللَّهُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ ثُمَّ يَقُولَ لِلنَّاسِ كُونُوا عِبَادًا لِي مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَلَٰكِنْ كُونُوا رَبَّانِيِّينَ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تُعَلِّمُونَ الْكِتَابَ وَبِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَدْرُسُونَ

[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.

 أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ فَإِنْ يَكْفُرْ بِهَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ فَقَدْ وَكَّلْنَا بِهَا قَوْمًا لَيْسُوا بِهَا بِكَافِرِينَ

[19:30] (The infant spoke and) said, “I am a servant of GOD. He has given me the scripture, and has appointed me a prophet.

 قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ آتَانِيَ الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلَنِي نَبِيًّا

[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.

 وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ

Take away:

  • Prophets (nabi) are given new information from God in the form of kitab; the direct written words of God
  • Messengers (rasool) disseminate any details from God
  • All prophets are messengers, but not all messengers are prophets

The Function of the Messengers

So if being given a scripture from God is what makes someone a prophet, then what are the functions of a messenger?

[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 اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقٌ لِمَا مَعَهُمْ نَبَذَ فَرِيقٌ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَرَاءَ ظُهُورِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

[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

[2:129] “Our Lord, and raise among them a messenger to recite to them Your revelations, teach them the scripture and wisdom, and purify them. You are the Almighty, Most Wise.”

 رَبَّنَا وَابْعَثْ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِكَ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

[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

[3:164] GOD has blessed the believers by raising in their midst a messenger from among them, to recite for them His revelations, and to purify them, and to teach them the scripture and wisdom. Before this, they had gone totally astray.

 لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ

[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 لَكُمْ عَلَىٰ فَتْرَةٍ مِنَ الرُّسُلِ أَنْ تَقُولُوا مَا جَاءَنَا مِنْ بَشِيرٍ وَلَا نَذِيرٍ فَقَدْ جَاءَكُمْ بَشِيرٌ وَنَذِيرٌ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

[62:2] He is the One who sent to the gentiles a messenger from among them, to recite to them His revelations, purify them, and teach them the scripture and wisdom. Before this, they had gone far astray.

 هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ

Prophets Mentioned in 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.

[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.

 وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ

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

Arab Messengers

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, or Shu’aib were prophets or that they were given scripture (kitab).

Messengers Sent Scripture

In the Quran, there are three words that are associated with the English word “to send”, and each of these words has a slightly different connotation. The first word is Arsal ( أَرْسَلَ ), which comes from the same root as rasool and is the most general of the three words used for sending in the Quran.

The second word is Ba’ath ( بَعَثَ ), this word is associated with sending from the bottom up in the form of raising. We see this used in the context of God sending a messenger from among people.

[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

The third word for send is Anzal ( أَنْزَلَ ), and this word is associated typically with sending down, or descending, of something. We see this word used in the context of God sending rain from the sky.

[2:22] The One who made the earth habitable for you, and the sky a structure. He sends down from the sky water, to produce all kinds of fruits for your sustenance. You shall not set up idols to rival GOD, now that you know.

الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الْأَرْضَ فِرَاشًا وَالسَّمَاءَ بِنَاءً وَأَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَكُمْ فَلَا تَجْعَلُوا لِلَّهِ أَنْدَادًا وَأَنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

Additionally, we see that the word Anzal is also used in the context of sending scripture (kitab). In several verses, we see that God sends (anzal) his scripture to messengers.

[57:25] We sent our messengers supported by clear proofs, and we sent down to them the scripture and the law, that the people may uphold justice. And we sent down the iron, wherein there is strength, and many benefits for the people. All this in order for GOD to distinguish those who would support Him and His messengers, on faith. GOD is Powerful, Almighty.

 لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَنْصُرُهُ وَرُسُلَهُ بِالْغَيْبِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ

[4:136] O you who believe, you shall believe in GOD and His messenger, and the scripture He has sent to His messenger, and the scripture He has sent from before. Anyone who refuses to believe in GOD, and His angels, and His scriptures, and His messengers, and the Last Day, has indeed strayed far astray.

 يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا آمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا

Based on these verses, some individuals claim that this shows that messengers are given scripture. The problem with this understanding is that the verses do not say that the messengers were given scripture, secondly if this was a quality exclusive for only messengers that they were sent (arsal) scripture then we should not have a verse that applies this action towards prophet except we do.

[2:213] The people used to be one community when GOD sent the prophets as bearers of good news, as well as warners. He sent down (anzala) with them the scripture, bearing the truth, to judge among the people in their disputes. Ironically, those who received the scripture were the ones who rejected any new scripture, despite clear proofs given to them. This is due to jealousy on their part. GOD guides those who believe to the truth that is disputed by all others, in accordance with His will. GOD guides whoever wills in a straight path.

 كَانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ النَّبِيِّينَ مُبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنْذِرِينَ وَأَنْزَلَ مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ فِيمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ وَمَا اخْتَلَفَ فِيهِ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ أُوتُوهُ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَتْهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ فَهَدَى اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لِمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ مِنَ الْحَقِّ بِإِذْنِهِ وَاللَّهُ يَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ

There is another major flaw with this understanding that messengers, and not prophets, are the ones given scripture. Not only does such an understanding contradicts the above points, but it would also nullify the claim that the Quran is the final scripture to mankind. The Quran is clear that Muhammad was the final prophet, but nowhere in the Quran is Muhammad ever called the final messenger.

[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.

 مَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِنْ رِجَالِكُمْ وَلَٰكِنْ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا

If we say that it is messengers who are given scripture, then this opens the door to the possibility that there will be another scripture to come after the revelation of the Quran.

Takeaway:

  • God sends (anzal) both prophets and messengers scripture (kitab)
  • Only prophets are given scripture (ata kitab)
  • Messengers dissiminate information
  • Since Muhammad was the final prophet then this means the Quran is the final scripture
  • If messengers are given scripture, then there can be a scripture to come after the Quran

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