Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Difference between Nabi (Prophet) and Rasul (Apostle)

The difference, if any, between a Nabi (prophet) and Rasul (apostle) is a controversial matter among the Muslims. Neither the Qur’an nor any authentic Hadith make any explicit statement defining the difference between the two terms, or specifically addresses the problem of whether or not every prophet is an apostle and vice versa. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Muslims and their orthodox scholarship hold that an apostle is someone who conveys a new message from Allah to his people, having received a new scripture and law, while a prophet does not necessarily bring a new law or scripture, rather, someone who is only a prophet may merely confirm and follow the scripture and law that was brought by the previous apostle. According to this theory, every apostle is necessarily a prophet also, but not every prophet is an apostle. Rashad Khalifa (1935-1990), the founder of an obscure sect in Tucson, Arizona, a Hadith-rejecter and claimant to being an apostle of God, believed the opposite, i.e., that it is the prophet that brings a new scripture and law while an apostle confirms the scripture and law of the preceding prophet. According to this theory, every prophet is necessarily also an apostle, but not every apostle is necessarily a prophet. Hence, while Rashad Khalifa confirmed that Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) was the “Seal of the Prophets”, he explained that the cessation of Nubuwwa (prophethood) did not mean the cessation of Risala (apostlehood) also, and hence apostles could continue to come, and he was himself an apostle of God. Both of these views are incorrect. There is no indication in the Qur’an or Hadith whatsoever that one of these two terms refers to someone to whom a new law and scripture is revealed and the other refers to someone who follows the law and scripture that preceded him. Yes, based on the linguistic meaning of these terms, it is obvious that they do not have identical meanings but refer to different functions. For example, a Rasul (apostle) is someone who conveys a message, while a Nabi (prophet) is someone to whom news of the unseen is revealed and based on that makes prophecies. They refer to two different functions associated with a single office to whom Allah appoints His chosen servants from among mankind. Hence, every apostle is a prophet also, and every prophet is an apostle. Those who insist that not every prophet is an apostle cite the traditions of Adam being the first prophet while Noah being the first apostle. However, there are other traditions which say that Noah was the first prophet:
وَلَكِنِ ائْتُوا نُوحًا ، أَوَّلَ نَبِيٍّ بَعَثَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
“Go to Noah, the first Prophet sent by Allah to the worlds” (al-Tawhid of Ibn Khuzayma)
ائْتُوا نُوحًا ، فَإِنَّهُ أَوَّلُ الأَنْبِيَاءِ وَأَكْبَرُهُمْ
“Go to Noah, for he is the first of the Prophets and the eldest of them” (ibid)
وَلَكِنْ ائْتُوا نُوحًا رَأْسَ النَّبِيِّينَ
“Go to Noah, head of the Prophets” (Musnad Ahmad)
Although the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) said about Adam that he was a prophet, and was raised up prior to Noah:
سَمِعْتُ أَبَا أُمَامَةَ ، أَنَّ رَجُلًَا ، قَالَ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، أَنَبِيٌّ كَانَ آدَمُ ؟ ، قَالَ : نَعَمْ ، مُكَلَّمٌ  ، قَالَ : فَكَمْ كَانَ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ نُوحٍ ؟ ، قَالَ : عَشَرَةُ قُرُونٍ
Aba Umama narrates that a man asked: “O Apostle of Allah, was Adam a prophet?” He (the Prophet) said: “Yes, a Mukallam.” He (the man) asked: “What was the duration of time between him and Noah?” He (the Prophet) said: “Ten generations” (Sahih Ibn Hibban)
The reconciliation between these two apparently contradictory narrations is that, as the first narration I cited states, Noah was the first prophet who was specifically sent to “the worlds” (all of mankind at the time), while Adam, being the first man, was a prophet in the sense of being a Mukallam or Muhaddath, meaning one to whom Allah speaks through inspiration and is referred to as a prophet in a very limited sense. The narrations about there having been 315 apostles and 124,000 prophets do not appear to be authentic, but, for the sake of argument, such narrations should be understood to mean that those tens of thousands of prophets were in fact Muhaddathun, as the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) said:
لَقَدْ كَانَ فِيمَنْ كَانَ قَبْلَكُمْ مِنْ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ رِجَالٌ يُكَلَّمُونَ مِنْ غَيْرِ أَنْ يَكُونُوا أَنْبِيَاءَ
“There were, before you, from among the Children of Israel, men who were spoken to (by Allah) without having been Prophets.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

When the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) was asked what a Prophet was, he answered:

أَرْسَلَنِي اللَّهُ
“I was sent by Allah” (Sahih Muslim) Indicating that a prophet is an apostle sent by Allah.

The great Prophet Moses was appointed by Allah and given a new scripture, the Torah, containing a law for the Israelites. His elder brother, Aaron, was also made into a prophet, though Allah made him subordinate to Moses and to serve as his minister (Sura 25:35). According to the so-called orthodox and mainstream theory, Aaron would not have been a Rasul (apostle) but only a Nabi, as he didn’t come with a scripture or law, but instead was subordinate to the scripture and law brought by his brother Moses. However, the holy Qur’an clearly states that the Prophet Aaron was an apostle of Allah:
فَأْتِيَاهُ فَقُولَا إِنَّا رَسُولَا رَبِّكَ۞
So go to him (Pharaoh) and say (both of you): “We are two Apostles of your Lord”
(Sura 20:47)
The Prophet Elias was likewise an Israelite prophet who was subject to the Mosaic law, yet the Qur’an refers to him as an apostle:
وَإِنَّ إِلْيَاسَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ۞
And verily Elias was from among the Apostles
(Sura 37:123)
The same is true of the Prophet Jonas:
وَإِنَّ يُونُسَ لَمِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ۞
And verily Jonas was from among the Apostles
(Sura 37:139)
A strong proof that all prophets are necessarily apostles is the Verse:
عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ فَلَا يُظْهِرُ عَلَىٰ غَيْبِهِ أَحَدًا۞ إِلَّا مَنِ ارْتَضَىٰ مِن رَّسُولٍ
Knower of the Unseen, He does not reveal (knowledge of) His unseen to anyone.
Except (to) an Apostle He is pleased with
(Sura 72:26-27)
If the orthodox theory that not every prophet is necessarily an apostle also is to be accepted at face value, it would have to be admitted that Allah does not reveal His knowledge of the unseen to such prophets who are not also His apostles. And such an idea is absurd, since a prophet, based on the linguistic meaning, is necessarily someone who attains knowledge of the unseen through which he makes prophecies and discloses other matters of the unseen. Allah Most High discloses knowledge of the unseen to each and every prophet, and the prophet necessarily being an apostle as well, is dutibound to convey the message of Allah to his people. However, not every prophet and apostle is necessarily sent with a new law and scripture, in fact most of them are subject to the law and scripture revealed before them. While there have been hundreds and perhaps thousands and even tens of thousands of prophets throughout history, most of them were subject to a law and scripture revealed before them. Most of the prophets and apostles were raised up among the Israelites and were therefore subject to the Torah and the Mosaic law. Even those prophets to whom a scripture was revealed, such as David (to whom the Zabur was revealed) and Jesus (to whom the Evangel was revealed) were subordinate to Prophet Moses and the law of the Torah revealed to him at the holy Mount Sinai. The Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) was the last and final Prophet, who brought the last and final scripture (the Qur’an) containing the last and final law, or Shari’a, for all mankind until Judgment Day.

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