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What are Prophets?
« on: December 02, 2014, 03:36:34 AM »
Original Post:

Salamun alaikum Br. Joseph

I was contemplating the verses and information provided by you in your article End of Prophethood. I found a wikipedia page about the Prophets and Messengers. This website mentions Noah, Lot (pbut) etc. as Prophets, but does the Qur'an confirm that Noah and Lot were Prophets?

Many are mentioned in this list, but some can't be confirmed as Prophets. In your article you wrote that Prophets are given a book (kitab), but can God also send more Prophets in order to help the first one?

19:41   And recall in the Book, Abraham; he was a man of truth, a prophet.
19:42   When he said to his father: "O father, why do you serve what does not hear or see, nor help you in anything?"
19:43   "My father, knowledge has come to me which did not come to you. So follow me that I will guide you to a level path."
19:44   "My father, do not serve the devil. For the devil was ever disobedient to the Almighty."
19:45   "My father, I fear that a retribution will inflict you from the Almighty and that you will become an ally to the devil."
19:46   He said: "Have you abandoned my gods O Abraham? If you do not stop this, I will stone you; and let me be."
19:47   He said: "Peace be upon you, I will ask forgiveness for you from my Lord. He has been most kind to me."
19:48   "And I will abandon you and what you call on besides God. And I will implore my Lord, hoping that I will not be mischievous in imploring my Lord."
19:49   So when he abandoned them and what they served besides God, We granted him Isaac and Jacob, and each of them We made a prophet.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were Prophets, does it mean that each one received a scripture or was it just one? - The suhuf of Abraham (pbuh) - 87:19

In your article, you said that Prophets are given a scripture, right? So why did not every Prophet receive a scripture? - Maybe it is not necessary? - What do you think?

How many Prophets exist in Islam and which of these were given a book?

Ijaz, A.

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Re: What are Prophets?
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2014, 03:38:24 AM »
Joseph Islam's Response:
Original Post:

Dear brother IjazAhmad and the respected readers who have solicited my person opinion,

As-salamu alaykum

In the article that brother Ijaz referenced and shared as reference [1] below, I discussed the aspects of a prophetic ministry. However, please find below a brief elucidation.

(1) A Brief Theological Survey of the Term 'Prophet':

The Quran mentions many prophets by name, that were also known to the followers of the previous scriptures who spoke Arabic, and with whom the Quran also conversed with as part of Prophet Muhammad's ministry.

The Quran would arguably not have invented a new meaning of a word or ‘title’, but presented facts that would have been clearly discernible to that particular audience.

After all, prophets such as Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, David and Solomon would have been clearly recognisable to the Children of Israel.  In this regard, not only is the Hebrew 'Nabi' remarkably similar to the Arabic word 'Nabiy' (prophet), the Quran mentions these prophets with narratives which assumes complete familiarity, at least to the Arab speaking Jews and Christians.

For example, it refers to prophets that were slain (2:61;  2:91; 3:21; 3:112; 3:181; 3:183; 4:155; 5:70) which also finds support in the Bible (Matthew 23:37; Luke 11:47-49) and may also be known through their traditions and knowledge at the time. The Quran provides detailed narratives of many Hebrew prophets which equally find support in both the Old and New Testaments.

Therefore, the Arabic word 'Nabiy' and the meaning of such a title would not have been a new concept, but one that those of the previous scriptures readily related to as a reference to their noble patriarchs regardless of whether they agreed with the Quran's claims or not.

(2) As mentioned in the article, the Quran refers to prophets as those who:

  • Were given a Book (kitab - 6:89)
  • Were given judgment and authority (hukm 6:89; 3:79)
  • Were given / granted wisdom (hikma 3:81)

It is important to remember that a Book can consist of inspired writings, thoughts, judgments and wisdom. The Hebrew Tanakh is replete with such writings of the prophets. 

Therefore, these aspects of prophethood do not necessarily always need to be seen as distinct but its interrelationship bears considering, at least from a Quran's perspective. For example, Prophet Jesus was given / granted the 'Injeel' which can be argued as 'wisdom' [2] which was later taken down by the testimonies of other writers.  However, Prophet Jesus would also have been familiar with the Torah laws and could have quite reasonably been expected to offer his judgment based on these scriptures, which could also find its way into the Injeel as wisdom.

The fact that scriptures have been used by prophets to provide judgment is emphasised in the following verse:

002.213 (part)
"Mankind were one community, and God sent (to them) Prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed with them the Scripture (Arabic: Kitaba) in truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that wherein they differed..."

Therefore, a Book, Judgment and Wisdom can be interlinked and these characteristics should be viewed holistically when referring to prophets.  For example, Prophets David and Solomon gave judgement regarding the field (21:78-79). Prophets Moses and Aaron were sent to Pharaoh and the Children of Israel and in one narrative at least, Prophet Aaron was expected to show judgment and authority over his people (20:92-94).

(3) They have the ability to provide prophecy (as part of the wisdom bestowed on them):

The ability to provide prophecies by God's will (a prediction of what will happen in the future), is certainly alluded to by many passages of the Quran. For example, a prophet to the Children of Israel was able provide signs when the Ark would come to them (2:248). Prophet Joseph was able to interpret dreams as indicators of future events. Prophet Jacob similarly was aware of knowledge from God which was not available to others (12:86). Other prophets, including prophet Muhammad were able to provide knowledge of future events in the form of Divine inspirations whether dealing with eschatology or future events within a relatively short period of time (30:3-4). This certainly appears to broaden the remit of 'wisdom' (hikmah) that prophets were granted.

(4) They have divinely appointed authority over their followers and arguably, greater responsibility than messengers:

As intimated above, prophets are given clear authority and often (if not always) assume leadership roles over their communities. As shared in the article, this can be attested by numerous verses, not least the one below:

“It is not fitting for a prophet that he should have prisoners of war until he has thoroughly subdued the land. You look for the temporal goods of this world; but God looks to the Hereafter: And God is Exalted in might, Wise”

Such commanding authority can also be seen in many verses where the prophet is urged to fight and strive against wanton transgression (8:65-67), deal with matters of jurisprudence (65:1; 5:42), and even in his own marital relationships, when spoken with authority, Muhammad is referred to as a prophet (33:28). Prophet Muhammad was even given authority to pass judgment over the Children of Israel if he so desired (5:42).

Even God took a covenant 'through' the prophets (3:81) and with their respective people and communities who ratified the covenant. Therefore, each prophet took a covenant with his community, that if a messenger (or messengers) (the singular can be used to denote a generic 'messenger(s)') came to them confirming what was with them, then they would be expected to render him / them help. [3]

Such command and authority is unmistakable when understanding the ambit of a prophetic ministry.

(5) They are bearers of good news / warners:

"Mankind were one community, and God raised up (unto them) prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed with them the Book with the truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that in what they differed..."

The bearing of 'news' also finds support in the lexical meaning of the word 'Naba' which primarily means a tiding, news or a piece of information, intelligence or announcement  (naba) (3:44; 5:27; 6:34)

(6) Prophets are in the main, divinely trained for the office of Prophethood:

Albeit, some prophets were granted wisdom at a very young age (Prophets John -19:12 and Jesus - 19:30), others were trained under God's watchful eye to make them fit for the role of prophethood.

Prophet Moses was given shelter in the house of none other than Pharaoh and was fashioned / formed / reared / trained (Arabic: sana'a) under God's watchful eye (20:39). He endured much hardship and was taught in various ways so that he may grow to understand the Lord's guidance and ways. The teaching imparted by God's servant to Prophet Moses exquisitely captures this in the narratives of verses 18:60-18:82. Prophet Joseph endured much hardship and endured with patience even though he was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit (12:33). Prophet Jonah was tried and even though he fell short of what was required of him when he sought to flee from his people (37:141-143), he was nevertheless restored to another community which believed in him (37:147-148). Prophet David was given might and showed courage when he slew Goliath. God gave him the kingdom and taught him His ways (2:251). At times he was taught powerful lessons as was the case with the litigants that entered his royal chambers (38:21-25). Prophet Abraham pondered deeply over the heavens (6:75-79) and was taught by God to understand his signs (6:75). He endured hardship from his people which strengthened his resolve (21:68-69). Prophet Muhammad arguably, was similarly trained and only achieved prophethood in his later years (10:16).

Therefore, the office of prophethood seems to require God's chosen agents to be prepared for such a mighty task. As mentioned in section (4) above, prophets assume great responsibilities with the authority they are granted.

(7) Inherited scriptures, inspired writings, new scripture and law:

From a Quran's perspective, it can be argued that it is not always necessary that each 'prophet' be given a separate distinguishable / new scripture or that he brings a scripture with new law. This may appear as an unwarranted restriction on the interpretation of  'Being granted / given the Book' and such beliefs are often asserted, but not always demonstrated. At times scriptures can be inherited (waritha) or placed amongst the seed of a community (7:169-170; 5:20; 57:26) and furthermore, judgment, wisdom and authority can become the source of further inspired writings / scriptures.

For example, the Book (2:87) and command (28:44) were given to Prophet Moses on the mount (7:142-145) and not to Prophet Aaron (who remained amongst his people), but they are both considered as prophets by the Quran as Prophet Aaron would have also received the Scripture and Law by proxy from Prophet Moses. However, (more importantly) they both (collectively) exercised authority and judgment by Divine command. They also made use of the Book as a criterion (to judge) (21:48). Hence they are referred to as 'prophets'.

Prophet Zachariah and John would have also inherited the many scriptures that preceded them including the Torah given to Prophets Moses and Aaron. Prophets Ishmael and Isaac would have arguably inherited the scriptures (suhuf) from their father Abraham (87:18) and in Prophet Isaac's case, one would reasonably expect his father’s teachings / suhuf to have passed down to Prophet Jacob. However, even though Prophet Jacob would have been reasonably expected to pass wisdom and the teachings of the scripture to his sons, only Joseph is referred to as a prophet. Here once again, the element of authority and judgment is what possibly distinguishes Joseph from his other brothers and not simply him having received a separate scripture. Such 'inheritance' or passing down of scriptures (waritha) is not unknown to the Quran. This can be attested from verses such as 7:169-170 and 57:26. The Psalms of David as inspired writings (zabur) (4:163; 17:55) include hymns as songs of praise for God (34:10), lamentations both communal and personal, and matters dealing with specific incidents as a reminder (54:52). It would be inconceivable that Prophet David's Psalms would not have passed to Prophet Solomon, his son.

It is also not necessary that the prophets write Scripture with their own hands. Certainly from a Quran's perspective, human scribes fulfilled this noble task (80.13-16), but the inspiration was directly communicated by the prophet under his watchful eye. [4].

As noted above as in the case of Prophet Jesus, such inspired prophetic wisdom can also be taken down by later writers as in the case of the Gospels which is later read as Scriptures by its adherents. Certainly the Gospels that were being read by the Christian communities or the Torah being read by the Jewish communities at the time of Prophet Muhammad's ministry and with whom he came in contact, were not reading Books written by Prophet Jesus's own hands or Prophet Moses' (5:68).

However, it is the aspect of 'judgment' and 'authority' along with wisdom, which is often overlooked when understanding the term 'prophet' (Nabiy) from a Quran's perspective.

Finally, the Quran alludes to many prophets having been sent (e.g. 3:146; 4:163-164), but does not provide a particular number or names of all the prophets. This is not deemed as important from a Quranic perspective.

I hope this clarifies, God willing