Throughout my blog I have explained the significance of Khaatam-an-Nabiyyeen (Seal of the Prophets) as meaning that the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is the one in whose essence all of the prophetic qualities and excellences find their ultimate culmination.
Followers of the Ithna Ashari sect of Shi’ism dispute this explanation, despite the fact that within their own books Amir-ul-Mu’mineen ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (Radiyallahu ‘anhu) has been referred to as Khaatam-ul-Awsiyaa’ (Seal of the Inheriters):
عن النبيّ صلّى اللَّه عليه و آله قال انا خاتم الأنبياء و انت يا عليّ خاتم الأوصياء
The Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wa Aalihi) said: “I am the Khaatam al-Ambiyaa and you, O ‘Ali, are Khaatam al-Awsiyaa”
Reference: Tafsir al-Safi; v. 4, p. 193
It is evident that according to this narration, Khaatam cannot mean last absolutely in a chronological sense, otherwise it will have to be admitted that Amir-ul-Mu’mineen Ali b. Abi Talib (Radiyallahu ‘anhu) is the last Wasi (Inheritor) absolutely in a chronological sense.
However, in response to this, the Shi’ites argue that this narration is referring to the fact that ‘Ali (Radiyallahu ‘anhu) is the last and final Wasi with Wasi being a specific office of the one who succeeds a Prophet. In other words, just as Prophet Muhammad is the last and final Prophet, likewise, Ali is the last and final person to inherit leadership from a Prophet. Since no other Prophet will come in the future, therefore, no other Wasi or person will come to inherit leadership from a Prophet.
On the surface, this seems like a solid argument. However, the reality is that there are other books of the Ithna Ashari sect of Shi’ism which state that in fact it is the Mahdi (‘alayhis salaam) who is Khaatam al-Awsiyaa.
The eminent Shi’i scholar Mirza Hussain Nuri Tabarsi (1838-1902) has mentioned that the Mahdi is also named as Baqiyat-ul-Ambiyaa (lit. “Remainder of the Prophets”):
Reference: Al-Najm-ul-Thaqib; v. 1, pp. 177-178
This means that the Mahdi shall possess what remains of Nubuwwah, an allusion to the Hadith that nothing remains of Nubuwwah (Prophecy) except al-Mubashshiraat meaning good and pious Visions:
لَا نُبُوَّةَ بَعْدِي إِلَّا الْمُبَشِّرَاتِ
“There is no Nubuwwah (Prophecy) after me except the Mubashshiraat”
(Musnad of Imam Ahmad)
لَمْ يَبْقَ مِنَ النُّبُوَّةِ إِلَّا الْمُبَشِّرَاتُ
“Nothing remains from Nubuwwah except the Mubashshiraat.”
The word Illa as it occurs in this Hadith means that there is a specific exception to the general principle of the termination of Nubuwwah (Prophecy).
Interestingly, the same book mentions the title Masih al-Zaman (“Messiah of the Time”) and al-Ghulaam (“Servant”) as names of the promised Mahdi, and that from among the people he shall most resemble Jesus son of Mary in both appearance and behavior:
Reference: Ibid; v. 1, pp. 202, 218, 272