I have cited literally dozens of Islamic references on my blog proving that the reality of Khatam an-Nabuwwah is that no prophet can come after our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) who does not conform to his Shari'ah and does not belong to his Ummah. But leaving aside the issue of who is the Last Prophet for the time being, let us turn to an intimately related question, which is: “Who was the First Prophet?”
If you are a Muslim reading this, the answer has already surfaced in your mind that the first prophet was Adam (peace be upon him). Of course you would not be incorrect. But the fact that the Holy Quran does not explicitly state that Adam was a Nabi or Rasul has resulted in a difference of opinion among some of the scholars and schools of thought. For example, Imam Ibn Kathir cites in his monumental Tafsir the view of Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah (may Allah be pleased with them):
فكان أول نَبى بعث نوحاً
“The first prophet to be sent was Noah”
فبعث الله إليهم نوحا, عليه السلام, فكان أول رسول بعثه الله إلى أهل الأرض
“Allah sent unto them Noah, peace be upon him, so he was the first Messenger sent by Allah to the people of the Earth.”
Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir; v.1 p.569
Similarly, the Arab scholar Shaikh Abu Bakr al-Jaza’iri also stated that the first prophet was Noah:
ابتدأهمْ بنبيِّهِ نوحٍ
Reference: Minhaj-ul-Muslim; p.24
Perhaps they have based their view on the Hadith of Intercession which described Noah as the first Rasul to be sent by Allah:
يَجْتَمِعُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ، فَيَقُولُونَ : لَوِ اسْتَشْفَعْنَا إِلَى رَبِّنَا فَيَأْتُونَ آدَمَ فَيَقُولُونَ : أَنْتَ أَبُو النَّاسِ خَلَقَكَ اللَّهُ بِيَدِهِ وَأَسْجَدَ لَكَ مَلَائِكَتَهُ ، وَعَلَّمَكَ أَسْمَاءَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ ، فَاشْفَعْ لَنَا عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ حَتَّى يُرِيحَنَا مِنْ مَكَانِنَا هَذَا ، فَيَقُولُ : لَسْتُ هُنَاكُمْ وَيَذْكُرُ ذَنْبَهُ ، فَيَسْتَحِي ائْتُوا نُوحًا ، فَإِنَّهُ أَوَّلُ رَسُولٍ بَعَثَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَى أَهْلِ الْأَرْضِ ،
Translation: “On the Day of Resurrection the believers will assemble and say, 'Let us ask somebody to intercede for us with our Lord.' So they will go to Adam and say, 'You are the father of all the people, and Allah created you with His Own Hands, and ordered the Angels to prostrate to you, and taught you the names of all things; so please intercede for us with your Lord, so that He may relieve us from this place of ours.' Adam will say, 'I am not for for this (i.e., intercession for you).' Then Adam will remember his sin and feel ashamed thereof. He will say, 'Go to Noah, for he was the first Messenger Allah sent to the inhabitants of the Earth.'”
(Sahih al-Bukhari; Kitab al-Tafsir, H.4476)
This Hadith clearly demonstrates that instead of Adam, it is Noah who is described as the first Rasul (Messenger) sent by Allah.
But if someone raises an objection that Noah was the first Rasul (Messenger) but not the first Nabi (Prophet), based on the idea that while every Messenger is a Prophet but not necessarily every Prophet is a Messenger, the fact of the matter is that other versions of this Hadith clearly have the wording that Noah was the first Nabi (Prophet):
يُؤْتَى آدَمُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةَ فَيُقَالُ لَهُ : اشْفَعْ . فَيَقُولُ : لَسْتُ بِصَاحِبِ ذَلِكَ ، عَلَيْكُمْ بِنُوحٍ فَإِنَّهُ أَوَّلُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ وَأَكْبَرُهُمْ
When Adam is asked to intercede for the Believers on the Day of Resurrection he will refuse, instead saying: “Go to Noah, for he is the First of the Prophets and the eldest of them.” (Musnad al-Bazaar and Al-Tawhid of Ibn Khuzaymah)
According to another version:
وَلَكِنِ ائْتُوا نُوحًا ، أَوَّلَ نَبِيٍّ بَعَثَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَى الْعَالَمِينَ فَيَأْتُونَ نُوحًا
Adam will say: “But go to Noah, the first Prophet Allah sent to the worlds” (Ibid)
وَلَكِنِ ائْتُوا نُوحًا ، فَإِنَّهُ رَأْسُ النَّبِيِّينَ ، فَيَأْتُونَ نُوحًا
Adam will say: “Go to Noah for he is the Head of the Prophets” (Musnad of Imam Ahmad)
All of these narrations prove that Noah is the “first Prophet”, the “first of all Prophets”, the “head of the Prophets”, and the “first Prophet sent by Allah to the people of the Earth”.
So now the question arises concerning the status of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him). Should it be accepted that chronologically the first Prophet was Noah, therefore Adam was not a prophet? In fact, we Muslims believe that Adam's son Seth (peace be upon him) was also a Prophet, and similarly, the Holy Qur'an declares that Idris (Enoch) was a Prophet. These three figures (Adam, Seth and Idris) all came before Prophet Noah. It seems there is a major inconsistency here that is begging to be resolved.
So first of all, let us see whether Adam truly is a Prophet. His Prophethood is proven from the Hadith of Abu Umamah (may Allah be pleased with him):
أَنَّ رَجُلًَا ، قَالَ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، أَنَبِيٌّ كَانَ آدَمُ ؟ ، قَالَ : " نَعَمْ ، مُكَلَّمٌ " ، قَالَ : فَكَمْ كَانَ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ نُوحٍ ؟ ، قَالَ : " عَشَرَةُ قُرُونٍ
A man said: “O Messenger of Allah, was Adam a Prophet?” [The Messenger of Allah Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) said: “Yes, a Mukallam [a prophet who converses with Allah]. The man asked: “What was the period between him and Noah?” The Messenger of Allah (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) said: “Ten generations.” (Sahih Ibn Hibban; Kitab al-Tarikh)
Pay attention to this critical Hadith because it has just resolved our little dilemma! How can both Adam and Noah be the “first Prophet”? The answer is that Noah is the “First Prophet” in the sense of being specifically sent to a people with a fresh Risalah [message] from Allah and with a comprehensive Shari’ah. Prophet Adam is the first prophet in a chronological sense, although he is described as being a Mukallam meaning a specific type of Prophet who, though not receiving a comprehensive Shari’ah or being spent to an actual nation of people to deliver a fresh message of Allah to them, is nevertheless a Prophet in the sense of receiving divine communication from Allah. It is in this sense which the other prophets (Sheth and Idris) who preceded Noah must also be considered as Prophets.
A third point of view relevant to this discussion is that in fact the first Prophet is our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam)! That is based on the well known Hadith:
إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ لَخَاتَمُ النَّبِيِّينَ ، وَإِنَّ آدَمَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَام لَمُنْجَدِلٌ فِي طِينَتِهِ
“I am the servant Allah, the Seal of the Prophets [while] Adam peace be upon him was still clay.” [Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal]
And the Hadith of Abi Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him):
قَالَ : قَالُوا : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ مَتَى وَجَبَتْ لَكَ النُّبُوَّةُ ؟ قَالَ : " وَآدَمُ بَيْنَ الرُّوحِ وَالْجَسَدِ "
Abi Hurairah said: “O Messenger of Allah, when was Nubuwwah [Prophethood] made obligatory upon you?” The Messenger of Allah (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) said: “While Adam was between spirit and body.” [Jami at-Tirmidhi]
Similarly, there is the Hadith:
وَجَعَلْتُكَ أَوَّلَ النَّبِيِّينَ خَلْقًا وَآخِرَهُمْ بَعْثًا
Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) is the first of the Prophets to be created and the last of them to be sent. [Al-Sunnah of Ibn al Khallal]
These Ahadith reveal the fact that there are at least three different Prophets who can be considered as the “First” Prophet but each in a different sense. For example, Adam is the first Prophet in the sense that he is the father of mankind and that he was conversant with Allah, hence a Mukallam. Noah is the first Prophet in the sense of being the first one to be sent by Allah to the people of the Earth with a Message and a comprehensive Shari'ah. And our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) can also be considered as the “First” Prophet in the sense of being the First one to be written as a Prophet in the sight of Allah, while the creation of Adam was not yet complete.
In summary, just as there can be a different point of view regarding the significance of who exactly is the “First” Prophet, I invite the reader to consider the fact that the question of who is the “Last” Prophet and what is the reality of Khaatam an-Nabiyyeen can likewise be examined from another perspective.