What’s the Difference Between a Rasul and Nabi, and Is the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the Last of Both?

بسم الله الحمد لله و صلاة و سلام على سيدنا محمد و على آله و سلم تسليما

Seekers Guidance is an internet Islamic educational institution that teaches belief, law, spirituality, and other related topics. All for free.

They recently answered the following question on the difference between a Rasul and Nabi and whether Saydina Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم is the last prophet or last messenger. Note that it was not answered in an argumentative manor or in the spirit of debate, but just as a response to a general inquiry.

The original link is here. Re-posted below:


Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala

Question: 1. What is the difference between a rasul and a nabi?
2. Is the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the last of both?
3. What about in our times when people receive messages from Allah?

Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

Firstly, may Allah reward you for your concern on such an important subject! Knowledge of revelation and prophecy is a crucial element of our creed (aqida), as it helps us understand the unique and special characteristics of the various Prophets (upon them be peace).

The Difference between a Prophet (nabi) and a Messenger (rasul)

In his commentary on the famous text of Sunni creed Jawhara al-Tawhid, Imam al-Bajuri provides useful definitions of the terms you asked about in your first question.

He defines a prophet (nabi) as a human being who is “free from all repulsive qualities, [and] given a revealed law that he enacts, even if he was not commanded to spread it.”

In contrast, Imam al-Bajuri defines a messenger (rasul) as someone who has the qualities of a prophet “but with the additional stipulation [of him being] commanded to spread [his message].”

In other words, the main difference between a prophet and a messenger pertains to spreading the revealed message (tabligh): messengers only include those commanded to spread the revelation they receive, while prophets include both those who received that command and those who didn’t. This means, as Imam al-Bajuri explains, that “every messenger is a prophet, but not vice-versa.” [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid `ala Jawharat at-Tawhid]

The Final Prophet and Messenger (peace be upon him)

In the 40th verse of Surah Al-Ahzab, Allah calls Muhammad (peace be upon him) the “messenger of Allah and the seal of the prophets” (khatam al-nabi’in). Given that the definition of a prophet is broader than that of a messenger, this verse indicates that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last of the prophets as well as the last of the messengers.

Indeed, this one line teaches us two important facts about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Firstly, he (peace be upon him) was a messenger of Allah, meaning that he received revelation and was also commanded by Allah to spread that message. Secondly, he (peace be upon him) is the final prophet, meaning that no one after him will receive revelation. Indeed, even ‘Isa/Jesus (peace be upon him) will rule by the laws of Islam upon his return to earth.

The finality of this message is even further emphasized by Allah in one of the last verses He revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him): “Today I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and approved Islam for you as a religion” (5:3). [For a more complete discussion of 33:40, see the relevant commentary from Mufti Muhammad Shafi’s Ma’ariful Qur’an]

Between Prophecy and Sainthood

Before discussing the differences between Prophets and Saints, it is first important to understand who a wali (saint) is. Imam al-Bajuri defines a wali as “a knower of God the Exalted and His attributes as much as is possible, one who is diligent to obedience [of God, and] an avoider of sins – meaning that he does not commit a sin without repenting [for it].” What’s important to note here is that the awliya (plural of wali) achieve their nearness to Allah only through following the Prophet (peace be upon him).

According to Sunni creed, it is possible for miracles (karamaat) to be manifested at the hands of the awliya. For example, the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) miraculously warned faraway Muslim troops of an oncoming enemy. Similarly, while revelation (wahy) is specifically given to prophets, Allah also might speak to His righteous servants in dreams (ilham) or give them deep spiritual insights (kashf). It is related, for example, that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal spoke with Allah in a dream, wherein Allah told him that reciting the Qur’an is a means of achieving closeness to Him. [Bajuri, Tuhfat]

However, such miraculous events differ from Prophetic miracles (mu’jizaat) and revelation (wahy) in that they are not accompanied by any claim to Prophecy or revelation. Rather, they are personal gifts and blessings bestowed by Allah to his righteous servants. As such, they are not and cannot be used to alter the perfected guidance brought by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Furthermore, they are in reality miracles of the Prophet (peace be upon him), as such miracles occur only to those who wholeheartedly strive to follow his sunnah, both in terms of his inner character and outer actions. Such miracles confirm the exalted status of the Prophetic way. [Sabuni, Al-Bidaya fi Usul al-Din]

Conclusion – the Best Guidance is that of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

The above paragraphs convey the following crucial points about prophecy:

1. Muhammad (peace be upon him), as a prophet and messenger, was given revelation and commanded to spread it;
2. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final prophet and messenger; and
3. Awliya may receive miracles and divine inspiration, but they cannot in any way alter the already complete message of Islam. To the contrary, such miracles only confirm the soundness and blessing of the Prophetic way, and are therefore miracles of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

With all of this in mind, we should come to the conclusion that all true religious guidance comes from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and that we only accept that knowledge which is connected to him through the Qur’an, Sunnah, and sound Muslim scholarship. Anyone who calls to other than this, or claims to have religious knowledge that contradicts this, must be avoided.

Allah knows best, and He is the best of Guiders.

Jazakum Allahu Khairan,

-Wasim

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

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6 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between a Rasul and Nabi, and Is the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the Last of Both?

  1. Salaam

    Imam al-Bajuri’s (ra) opinion is very wide spread amongst some of the scholars, however, it appears more of the scholars tend to lean towards the opinion that a ‘Rusul’ is one who was given a new Sharia (Islamic law) to, whereas a ‘Nabi’ was following the Sharia that came before him (e.g. Musa (as) is a Rasul having been given the Tawrah and Sulaiman (as) was a Nabi following the laws of Musa (as).

    The reasons the scholars make this differentiation between ‘Rasul’ and ‘Nabi’ are many – but one of them (quickly) is the incident that happened between Isa (as) and Yahya (as). Isa (as) of course being a Rausl (having been given the Injil) and Yahyah (as) was a Nabi following Isa (as).
    The hadith found in Imam Ahmad’s (ra) Musnad (collection) shows that Yahyah (as) was given 5 commands to give to the Beni Israail, and he was slow in doing so and Isa (as) said to him that if he didn’t do so – he would take responsibility in doing so.
    This shows that even the Nabi was commanded to spread – not just something given to a Rasul

    I do personally want to try do some research to find out if prophets were given the choice of the time of their death – for the prophet Muhammad (saw) on his death bed mentioned that he was given ‘the choice’ and that his response was that he chose ‘Al-Rafiq Al-A’la’ (The high companion – i.e. Allah (swt)).
    There is also the famous narration that Musa (as) when the angel of death came to him, he hit him in the face and the angel went back to Allah (swt) who then sent him back down and Musa (as) then accepted his time and his sole was taken. This is recoded in Sahih Al-Bukahri
    There is also another narration surrounding this with the prophet Idris (as) – but I haven’t looked into it yet.

    Wa Allahu (swt) A’lam

  2. I have been writing for 3-4 years to the effect that MGA claimed LAW_BEARING-prophethood, i.e. Rasul-ship.

    Ever since 1880-ish, MGA was claiming the word Rasul for himself. However, he explained it as metaphoric language only. The problem is that all Islamic schools of thought in India were united on the idea that a Rasul was a higher in rank than a prophet. MGA never explained this quirk of his. However, he always unequivocally called himself a Rasul and Nabi and never wrote about the differences between the two or the lack thereof.

    It were his 2 top followers (Muhammad Ali and Mahmud Ahmad) who wrote that the Ahmadiyya theory was that these two words were interchangeable (circa 1915). I wasnt even able to find any writings by Noorudin on the matter, which adds to the confusion.

    My opinion is that MGA would have eventually claimed Law-bearing prophethood (just like Muhammad’s saw) in 1910. MGA would have argued that he was always a Rasul…but he misunderstood it, just like he misunderstood his being Esa (as) and his being a prophet. MGA would have wrote that since he is the same Muhammad (saw)…he has all of his qualities in total (nauzobuillah). He would have said that he claimed all this circa 1880-ish.

  3. Ahmadiyya says its same but then why QURAN and Hadith mentioned RASUL and PROPHET again and again

  4. Dear Brother

    Thank you for sharing this with us, I am learning things all the time.

  5. Here is a good reference which exposes the methodology of MGAQ:

    Haqiqat-ul-Wahy, p. 389, footnote. Referring to why some of his prophecies about the death of certain persons were not fulfilled, he writes:

    “The tribulation about which Allah gives information through a nabi or rasul or muhaddas, that tribulation is more worthy of being cancelled than a tribulation about which no information is revealed [by Allah].”

    Haqiqatul Wahyi, p 390

    Do you see how he creates confusion about the 3 positions?

  6. All true Prophets appointed by Allah s.w.t. after Ibrahim a.s, till the last Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h. were from the family tree of Ibrahim a.s. Anyone who claims to be a prophet after Muhammad p.b.u.h is automatically a liar and outside the fold of Islam. Mirza Ghulam A Qadiani according to his own teachings has been proven to be a kafir or masih-e-dajjal. It is written in authentic hadith that Dajjal will enter everywhere except, the holy cities of Mecca & Medina. Similarly, MGA also did not perform Haj. Since MGA has been proven to be a liar beyond doubt, we cannot trust him with any interpretaion of Islam and its teachings.

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