Difference in Station between a Messenger (Rasool), and Prophet (Nabi)

Opinions have differed on whether the word "Rasool" (Messenger /Apostle), and the word "Nabi" (Prophet), are interchangeable. Notwithstanding the fact that Muhammad (PBUH) was both a Prophet and a Messenger, there obviously are differences, at least in definition, between the two words. Some people argue that the term "Seal of the Prophets" does not apply to Messengers, while others have argued that all Prophets by definition, are Messengers as well, which would mean that by sealing prophethood, messengership is also sealed.

Definitions and Clues:

One definition of "Messenger" given, is that a Messenger brings a revelation, a religion. The following verse from the Qur'an is repeated three times, always with the word "Rasool":

"He it is Who sends the Messenger for guidance, with the true religion." - Qur’an 9:33 , 48:28, and 61:9

Only a few Individuals mentioned in the Qur'an are called Messengers. In chapter 61 of the Qur'an (Al-Saf) , in verses 4,5, and 8, the word "Rasool" is used for Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (PBU Them). All Three were law bearing Messengers with Books and Revelation (Deen).

In the Holy Qur'an, we find many more names of prophets mentioned than of Messengers. Some of these names are, Isaac, Jacob, Ismael, Idris, David, Solomon and many many others (PBU Them all). They were all prophets, and non of Them came with a new religion. It is also interesting to read in the following verse that those who obey the Messenger, will be in the company of the prophets and the saints (who also obey the Messenger) :

All who obey God and the Messenger are in the company of those on whom is the grace of God, of the Prophets, the sincere, the martyrs (or witnesses) and the righteous " - Qur'an 4:69

Another definition of the term "prophet" (nabi) is that prophets (such as the minor prophets of Judaism), received their inspiration usually in the form of dreams:

I ( Burayd) said: May my life be your ransom. What is a Messenger, a Prophet and one who is told? He said: A Messenger is one to whom the angel appears and speaks.A prophet is one who sees in his dream. Possibly the Prophethood and Messengership is combined in a single person.
Usul al-Kafi, Book 4,442-4

In the same book(Usul al-Kafi), 439-1 states:

A Prophet is one who sees the angel while asleep, and hears him but does not see the angel while awake. A Messenger is one who hears the voice while awake and sees while asleep, and also with his eyes sees the angel when awake. *

* see further explanation below.

More to consider:

Allamih Majlesi in Bihar'ul-Anvar Vol 13, p.323 mentions one of the discourses of Imam Ali. In that discourse Ali says: "I am
the Commander of the faithful. I am the King among the pious..... I am the Khatam'u-Vasieen [which can be either taken as
"The Seal of the guardians and successors", or, as "The Ornament of the Guardians and successors".] and the heir of the
prophets and the representative of the God of the worlds."

This Hadith is referred to as the Hadith Nuraniah as is reported by several people such as Ibn Babyih (Sheikh Sadooq) in
"Uyoon'ul-Akhbar Ar-Rida".

This tradition of Imam Ali is a very interesting. One must be fair in one's judgment. If we are to take, in this tradition, the term
"Khatam" as "the Seal", "the ender", "one who completes", then one is obliged to accept that Ali was "the seal of the guardians,
and successors", after Muhammad, Who is the Seal of the prophets. Yet, Shi'ahs believe that after Muhammad there was
supposed to be twelve Imams, only the first of Whom was Ali. So, assuming that the term Khatam in Khatam'u-Vasieen must
have a similar meaning to the term Khatam in Khatam'u- Nabieen, then one is to question why were there more Imams after
Ali. How are we to reconcile the existence of the other Imams, Who came after Ali, based on this interpretation? Let this be
food for thought for the possessors of pure heart and open mind.

Let us now examine the meaning of the term Khatam'u-Nabieen from the perspective of Sunni scholars and theologians, so that the seekers of truth obtain a wider spectrum of views for their judgment:

In the commentary of Fat'hol-Ghadeer by Hafiz Mohhades-i-Shokani we find: "All the Ghoraba use KhatEm, while Athim use
KhatAm. KhatEm in Khatem'un-Nabeein means the Ender of Prophets, or the Seal of Prophets, while, KhatAm in
Khatam'un-Nabeein means ring and ornament. In essence Muhammad, the Messenger of God, was the Ring or Ornament of
(i.e. among) the Prophets, due to His exalted station compared to other Prophets."

The same book quotes from Dorr'ul-Mansoor of Allamih Jallal'u-Din Suyutti, who quotes Ayeshih, the wife of Muhammad,
who said: "Say KhatAm-un-Nabeein (i.e. The Ring or Ornament of the Prophets), and never say no prophets shall come after
Him (i.e. Muhammad)".

One can find the same references in the commentary of Kashaaf, by Zamakhshari, who says: "Muhammad, the Messenger of
God, was called Khatam'u-Nabieen, since, He did not have any male offsprings to inherit prophethood from Him." He goes on
and presents a Hadith from Prophet Muhammad who says about His deceased son Abraham (from Marieh, the Egyptian wife
of Muhammad): "If my son Abraham was alive, he would have been a Nabi (i.e. He would have become a Nabi after Me.)".
However, all of Muhammad's male offsprings die in early childhood, thus, the verse of the Qur'an: "Muhammad is not the father of any man among you...." comes into fulfillment, and Muhammad become Khatam'u-Nabieen, according to the same verse."

Abo'l-Bagha, another trusted Sunni source discusses this issue in his book, "Mofeed", from the same angle, which I will not
quote here in order to prevent excessive repetition of the same idea.

It is apparent from what has been mentioned at length, that both Shi'ah and Sunni sources agree that:

1- There is a more profound meaning associated with the title Khatam'u-Nabieen:

2- Finality of Muhammad's revelation is not implied by this term, mentioned in the Qur'an, the Confederates: (33:40).

*Let me close this note with the view of Abol-Fada'il-i Golpayegani, a prominent Baha'i scholar, from a Muslim background,
who, in his book Fara'id addresses the question of Khatam'u-Nabieen as follows: "No wonder if the learned of Islam too,
argue against the renewal of revelation from God [like their predecessors, Jews and Christians, who are firmly convinced that
their respective religions are the final revelation from God], based on such references as: Khatam'u-Nabeein, or such traditions
as: "There shall be no prophet after me....", and by doing so become subjected to a test of faith; and join their predecessors
[Jews and Christians]. Not realizing that the purpose of Muhammad in using the term Khatam'u-Nabeein was to suggest the
progress of the Islamic nation, and unveil the ascendancy of the station of the Imams in comparison to the prophets of Israel. It
is clear to those who are familiar with the Scriptures of the past, who are aware of the events which are associated with the
histories of the nations of antiquity that the prophets of Israel, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc... one
and all prophesied about the future events according to dreams and visions. And they interpreted their vision or dream as a
revelation from God. As a result, the book of these prophets became known as the vision of Isaiah, vision of Daniel, vision of
Jeremiah, and vision of Ezekiel. By the same token, if we are to examine this issue from a Christian perspective, the Revelation
of St. John is in essence the Dream of John. As a result the term Nabi (Prophet) was given to the ones who prophesied based
on visions, or dreams. This usage was solidified during the Jewish and Christians dispensations. However, after the appearance
of Prophet Muhammad (Khatam'ul-Anbia), the ender of the prophetic cycle, the era of revelation from God "through the
medium of dreams and visions" was ended and a new era of "revelation through direct inspiration" had begun. Viewed from this perspective, we can see that the tradition; "There will be no prophets after me..." was a true statement. -Fara'id, p. 311

---Excerpts from an article written by Kamran Hakim

Copyright 2004
Islam and the Baha'i Faith