Prophethood in Islam
Allah (God), the Creator of the universe and everything in it, created humans for a noble purpose: to worship Him alone and lead a virtuous life based on His teachings and guidance. However, one cannot fulfil this purpose without receiving clear guidelines from Allah. Allah, the Most Merciful and Just, did not leave us to wander the Earth aimlessly. In order to inform us of our purpose, Allah appointed certain individuals to communicate and demonstrate His message to all of mankind. These individuals are known as Prophets, which include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad – may peace be upon them all.
The Characteristics of Prophets
All Prophets have common characteristics which make them exceptional human beings.
Prophets receive revelation
The main difference between an ordinary human being and a Prophet is that a Prophet receives revelation from Allah.
Prophets have noble character
Prophets never sought personal benefits such as wealth, high status or power – rather, they only sought the approval of God.
Prophets were the best examples amongst their people in character and righteousness. They lived in obedience to God, with excellent morals and were always truthful in speech and conduct. For this reason, Muslims reject totally the false attribution of major sins to the Prophets, as appears in some scriptures of other religions.
Prophets perform miracles
Many Prophets performed miracles, usually in a field which their people excelled. For example, the people of Moses (peace be upon him) excelled in magic; therefore, Moses (peace be upon him) was able to perform miraculous acts which even magicians could not perform. The people of Jesus (peace be upon him) excelled in matters of medicine; therefore, Jesus (peace be upon him) was able to perform acts of healing beyond the skill of his own people. The people of Muhammad (peace be upon him) excelled in poetry; therefore, Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered the Quran, containing such eloquent words which no poet could ever compete with. In addition, many Prophets conveyed truthful prophecies of future events. Such miracles were performed only with the permission and assistance of Allah, proving that they were human, and not divine.
Prophets are not divine
While Prophets are chosen by Allah Almighty, they are in no way divine and should not be worshipped. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was commanded to say,"I am only a man like you. It has been revealed to me that your God is One God."Quran 18:110 It is clear even from the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, that the Prophets were not divine, and would worship and prostrate to the One True God."And he [Jesus] went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed..."Matthew 26:39"And they [Moses and Aaron] fell upon their faces..."Numbers 16:22"And Abram [i.e. Abraham] fell on his face: and God talked with him..."Genesis 17:3
Prophets have necessary qualities
Allah gave all Prophets certain characteristics in order for them to successfully fulfil their mission, such as persistence, courage, leadership, patience and wisdom.
Some examples include:
The persistence of Noah (peace be upon him) in calling his people to Allah, even though very few accepted.
The courage of Abraham (peace be upon him) to singlehandedly confront his entire community regarding their false beliefs, while he was still very young.
The leadership of Moses (peace be upon him) in directing the escape of his people from the most oppressive tyrant of his time - Pharaoh.
The patience of Jesus (peace be upon him) in enduring the hardships and persecution imposed upon him by his people.
The wisdom of Muhammad (peace be upon him) in uniting the many rival tribes of Arabia, who had a long history of conflict, into one peaceful community.
The Message of the Prophets
"And certainly We sent to every nation a Messenger (saying): 'Worship Allah and avoid false gods.' "Quran 16:36
Since all Prophets were sent by the One True God, they all conveyed the same message and had the same mission - to remind and educate their people of the purpose of life.
Their message was to:
Clarify the true concept of God and reject false beliefs
Teach the true purpose of life
Demonstrate how Allah should be worshipped
Convey Allah's definition of righteous and sinful conduct, and advise people accordingly
Describe the rewards for obedience (Heaven) and warn of the punishment for disobedience (Hell)
Explain commonly misunderstood issues such as the soul, angels and spirits, the afterlife and fate
"And We sent not a Messenger except with the language of his people, in order that he might make (the Message) clear for them..."Quran 14:4
The main focus of all the Prophets was to clarify the concept of God: that He has no partners or equals, and that all worship should be directed exclusively toward Him. In the Quran, there are numerous examples of Prophets proclaiming this message:
Noah (peace be upon him) said [Quran 7:59],
"O my people! Worship Allah! You have no other gods besides Him."
Abraham (peace be upon him) said [Quran 21:66],
"Do you worship besides Allah, things that can neither bring you benefit nor cause you harm?"
Moses (peace be upon him) said [Quran 7:140],
"What! Shall I seek for you a god other than Allah even though He has made you excel (all) created things?"
Jesus (peace be upon him) said [Quran 3:51],
"Indeed Allah is my Lord and your Lord: so worship Him (alone): this is the Straight Way."
Muhammad (peace be upon him) said [Quran 18:110],
"It has been revealed to me that your God is One God. So whoever expects to meet his Lord then let him do good deeds and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord."
This message was consistent throughout the generations, and highlights the importance of having the correct belief in God.
Every Nation was Sent a Prophet
"And for every nation there is a messenger."Quran 10:47
Muslims believe that thousands of Prophets were sent periodically by Allah, at least one to every nation, as a mercy to mankind for their guidance. In certain circumstances, the message of the Prophets was lost, corrupted, forgotten, neglected, or denied by the people. These were some of the reasons why a new Prophet would be sent to re-convey Allah's message.
Muslims believe in and respect every Prophet sent by God. Muslims also believe in all of the divine books which were revealed to the Prophets, mindful of the fact that none of these books exist today in their original form, aside from the Quran. "It is He (Allah) Who has sent down the Book (the Quran) to you (Muhammad) with truth, confirming what came before it. And He sent down the Torah and the Gospel." Quran 3:3
Why Doesn't Everyone Receive Direct Revelation?
Allah created life and gave humans free will and intellect, as a test to see who will willingly follow His path and who will deviate. If every person received direct revelation, life would not be a true test of faith. The real test of one's faith is in using one's intellect and reason to contemplate and recognise God's signs, rather than being spoken to directly by God, which would not require any effort, and would render belief meaningless.
Although Prophets received direct revelation, this did not exempt them from life's tests, as Prophethood brings with it many difficulties and trials.
The Final Prophet
Prophets were sent to specific groups of people, and over time, the messages with which they came were lost or corrupted. However, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not sent to a specific people, but to mankind as a whole, and his message has been preserved both in the form of the Quran and the Sunnah. Since the Quran and Sunnah are preserved and easily accessible, there is no need for another Prophet.
The Quran is the spoken word of Allah, and is free of any corruption, errors or contradictions. It is a book of "guidance for mankind… and the distinction (between right and wrong)." Quran 2:185
The Sunnah is a collection of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as recorded by his companions and their students. The fact that there are thousands of these recorded and rigorously authenticated makes it very easy for anyone to follow Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) correctly.
The message of Prophet Muhammad is in complete harmony with the teachings of the previous Prophets, and reaffirms their message.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final Prophet for all mankind from his time up until the end of time, including current and future generations. He was a perfect example of an honest, just, merciful, compassionate, truthful and brave human being. He, like other Prophets before him, did not have any evil characteristics and strove solely for the sake of Allah.
"Indeed in the Messenger of Allah [Prophet Muhammad] you have an excellent example to follow for whoever hopes in (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much."Quran 33:21
Prophets were sent as a mercy by Allah, to convey His message and to teach people how to live a righteous life. They have the best of characteristics and are to be followed and obeyed. Following a Prophet is obedience to God and rejecting a Prophet is disobedience to God. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last of the Prophets, so God's guidance was complete with his coming, and our salvation is complete with the obedience to God and His Final Prophet.