PROPHETHOOD (NUBUWWA)

Prophets are individuals who received Divine revelation and guidance to lead humanity towards righteousness and a recognition of God.

Since the inception of history, God sent numerous prophets and messengers to mankind. The messages of the prophets were of two types: regional or universal. While the local prophets were sent with specific messages to specific groups of people; the universal prophets were sent with messages and books for mankind and these were limited to five: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon all of them).

A unique characteristic of all the prophets and messengers is that they were infallible. They committed no sins. To demonstrate the validity of this concept is to consider that humanity needed prophets and messengers to set an exemplary structured lifestyle to emulate and follow. If they had committed errors, then people might be obliged to exemplify and excuse their errors, thus making the prophets and messengers untrustworthy.

Infallibility means protection from error in teaching doctrine of faith and morals and is defined as a spiritual grace from God that enables a person to abstain from sins by his own free will. The power of infallibility and immunity from sins does not make a person incapable of committing mistakes; rather, he or she refrains from transgression by his or her own power and will, due to realizing the consequences of their actions.

Infallibility is essential since the mission of the prophets and messengers was not only to convey Divine scriptures from God, but also to guide humanity toward the right path [God]. Therefore, prophets and messengers had to be role models and perfect examples for humanity. The mention of infallibility is stated thirteen times in the Quran, and one such example is when God said to Satan,

“Certainly you shall have no authority over My servants except those who follow you and go astray.” (15:42)

In another instance in the Quran we read, “Satan then said to God,

‘By Your might, then I will surely mislead them all, except Your chosen servants among them [the messengers and imams].’” (38:82)

When we look at the example of Prophet Muhammad, we see that he never committed any sin, nor was he ever harsh to any person or animal! God has stated in the Quran,

“And by the mercy of Allah you dealt with them [people] gently, and had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.” (3:158)

In most societies, people with questionable records of conduct would be ineligible from becoming presidential or gubernatorial candidates, since they would have to set the examples of righteousness and honesty in order to lead society rightfully. This is also expected of the prophets.

Unfortunately, many distorted stories and images about God’s prophets exist. For example, stories in the present-day version of the Old Testament accuse Prophet David of adultery with Baath-Sheba; Prophet Noah of being drunk; Prophet Lot of having committed incest; and Prophet Moses of committing adultery! Islam adamantly opposes such unethical and immoral writings that have been attributed to the prophets of God.

Nonetheless, the Quran does mention the slips of some prophets, such as the instruction that forbade Adam from eating of the tree.[1] However, such a verse cannot be understood literally as Prophet Adam having committed a sin because the verses of the Quran can be divided into two types – allegorical and metaphorical verses – and both types are quite common in the Quran.[2] Prophet Adam did not disobey the obligatory commands of God; rather, the command which he did not honor was a recommended suggestion. Therefore, in the teachings of Islam, Prophet Adam cannot be considered as having committed a sin.

Another belief of the Muslims is that God preordained all of the prophets; but at the same time, they had to strive for prophethood. The foremost example of the vocational test that prophets had to endure is told in the life of Prophet Abraham, the father of all prophets.

Prophet Abraham was born into an idolatrous society, but the purity of his nature recognized that the worship of idols was wrong, and he acknowledged that the idols were incapable of doing any harm or good.

One day, when no one was present, Prophet Abraham destroyed all of the idols, except for the largest. Upon their return to the village, the people began to question Prophet Abraham about the destruction of their gods. Prophet Abraham’s reply was for the people to question the remaining statue for the answer since they believed that their stone idols had power.

Although the people were aware that their idols were indeed powerless, they did not know how to respond to the situation. Thus, out of embarrassment and anger, they cast Prophet Abraham into a colossal fire. However, God protected Prophet Abraham from the fire and confounded the plots of the polytheists.[3]

After being tortured for and then saved by his faith in God; Prophet Abraham still had to undergo the hardest test of obedience – a direct order in the form of a dream (which came from God[4]) to sacrifice his son Ishmael.

Although sadness overwhelmed him, Prophet Abraham was a strong believer in God, and thus, did not question the Divine order. Ishmael, too, unquestionably accepted the command of God by allowing his father to lead him to a mountain-top to be sacrificed. Ishmael’s only request was that his father place him face down in order that his father would not see his facial expression during the sacrifice.

Prophet Abraham raised his blade, ready to comply with the command of God, when a revelation intercepted and caused the cessation of the sacrifice of his son. Prophet Abraham had proven his loyalty to God, and this incident was a trial to measure his faith.

Prophet Abraham was then given a sheep to sacrifice instead. The great trial of this prophet is remembered every year as the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha). This is a special holiday for Muslims in which the meat of animals is distributed to the poor.

After passing these tests, Prophet Abraham became the leader of mankind, as well as the father of the prophets of the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


[1] See Quran 20:115-123.
[2] See Quran 3:7.
[3] This story is mentioned in the Quran 21:51-68.
[4] A similar story is mentioned in the Old Testament; however, the difference in the Old Testament from Islam’s account is that Isaac was the son that was to be sacrificed, not Ishmael.


Discovering Islam by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini