Prophets are appointed by God to reform people and guide them to their Creator. Through their high moral and spiritual conduct they bring people back on to the path of righteousness. What distinguishes prophets from saints and other men of religion is the great frequency with which God communicates with them and the fact that God gives them intimation of future events.
A Muslim believes that prophets appeared in all nations of the world. This includes the Israelite prophets mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the Bible as well as the prophets of other religions such as Zoroaster(as), Krishna(as), Ram Chandar(as) and Buddha(as).
Prophethood commenced with Prophet Adam(as) and reached its pinnacle with Prophet Muhammad(sa). According to Islam no new independent prophet can now appear. However, Prophethood as an institution has not ceased. According to the Holy Qur’an and other Islamic sources there can be a prophet after Prophet Muhammad(sa) provided he follows the Shariah of Muhammad(sa) and is completely subordinate to him – since Islam is the perfect religion. This perfection of teachings, however, is no guarantee of the perfection of mankind and Muslims – like followers of all religions before them – were also to drift away from the true teachings of their religion after the demise of Prophet Muhammad(sa). There would therefore be a need for a prophet to rekindle the true teachings and spirit of Islam and put mankind back to the ‘right path’ and this is why according to Islam only law-bearing prophethood ended with Prophet Muhammad(sa) but not prophethood itself.
This interpretation is not only in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and hadith, but is also in conformity with the understanding of great Muslim scholars.
Man, being the chief of Allah’s creation, has been created with a grand purpose and with a free will. Being blessed with wisdom, he can sift right from wrong and truth from falsehood. All of man’s faculties and energies should be used to achieve this supreme objective.
To help him, God, out of His benevolence raises prophets, who serve as models. These prophets have been appearing amongst all people and in all parts of the world. Their mission has always been to guide mankind to its Creator through their example and model.
The guidance revealed through each prophet was designed to cater for the specific needs of the time and location; hence they were essentially temporary in nature. With the advancement and maturity of mankind God sent advanced and matured teachings suitable to their time. God’s guidance for human race commenced through Prophet Adam(as) and reached its zenith through Prophet Muhammad(sa).
Islam has a unique claim to be the perfect religion as the Holy Qur’an states:
This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion. (Ch.5: V.4)
This makes clear that there cannot be any new laws or new religion. However this does not preclude the need for guides or prophets to remind people of the true meaning of Islam. History shows that every time a prophet came he set people on the path to God, but after a prophet’s demise people drifted away from that path. So a prophet who would bring people back to the true Islam is not just possible but would be a blessing for Muslims.
Types of Prophets
According to history that there are mainly two types of prophets that have appeared – those that were law-bearing (i.e. they brought a new or a revised code of religious law) and those that upheld and served the prevailing religious law. The first category therefore includes prophets such as Adam(as), Moses(as) and the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa), and the second category includes prophets such as Aaron(as), David(as), and Jesus(as). (Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Short Commentary by Malik Ghulam Farid, Islam International Publications, 2002. Ch2:V.254, footnote 314)
The first type of prophethood came to a close with the demise of the Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam. With regards to the second type of prophethood the Ahmadi Muslim philosophy is that the door to this type of prophethood remains open. After Prophet Muhammad(sa) a new prophet may appear but only if he adheres to and revives the law of the Holy Prophet(sa) as contained in the Holy Qur’an. This is because the Law brought by Prophet Muhammad(sa) has reached the pinnacle of religious evolution and reviving an earlier and less complete religion than Islam would take mankind backwards rather than forwards. In other words, a prophet can only appear if he is in total submission and conformity to the Holy Prophet(sa).
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), the Promised Messiah and Mahdi and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, claimed to be such a follower and subordinate of the Holy Prophet(sa).
Commenting on his divinely appointed title of prophet, the Promised Messiah(as) writes,
‘This status and title has been bestowed on me only because I am a true follower and servant of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.’ (Tajalliyat-i-Ilahiya, pg24-25)
Evidence from the Holy Qur’an
According to the Qur’an prophethood is a bounty from God and is the blessed path upon which Muslims seek to be guided. In fact in the very first chapter of the Holy Qur’an, God enjoins Muslims to offer the prayer,
Guide us in the right path – The path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings. (Ch.1:Vs.6-7)
This path of God’s ‘blessings’ is described in detail in Chapter Al-Nisa, which states,
And whoso obeys Allah and this Messenger of His shall be among those on whom Allah has bestowed His blessings, namely, the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs and the Righteous. (Ch.4:V.70)
Practicing Muslims repeat Surah Fatihah at least 32 times in any given 24 hour period. In each repetition they implore Allah to raise prophets from amongst the faithful (i.e. those on whom Allah bestows His blessings). If prophethood had ceased to exist, then the requirement that they pray for such a blessing would appear to be futile.
In another chapter of the Holy Qur’an, Allah addresses humanity and says:
O children of Adam! If Messengers come to you from among yourselves, rehearsing My Signs unto you, then whoso shall fear God and do good deeds, on them shall come no fear nor shall they grieve. (Ch.7:V.36)
This verse clearly keeps open the possibility of prophets appearing in this world.
The Holy Prophet as ‘Khataman Nabiyyeen’
The Holy Qur’an states,
Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and Khataman Nabiyyeen; and Allah has full knowledge of all things. (Ch.33:V.41)
The word Khatam means ‘seal’ and thus the expression ‘Khataman Nabiyyeen’ means ‘The Seal of the Prophets’. The verse, therefore, states that Muhammad(sa) is not the father of any man but is the Messenger of Allah and is the Seal of the Prophets.
The essential meaning of the word ‘Khatam’ in Arabic usage has always been applied to mean not ‘last in time’ but ‘the ultimate in status’. Hence, Prophet Muhammad(sa) was the final authority on prophethood, or to put it simply no prophet can appear after him who will support or revive any religion other than the religion brought by Prophet Muhammad(sa). Anything to the contrary would effectively seek to ‘break his seal’ on the issue of prophethood. This is because the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad(sa) has incorporated the beauties of all religions and completed the religious teachings to perfection.
It is well known, however, that the purpose of a seal is not to close a statement but it is far more important than that. Its true purpose is to certify something as correct. That is why a seal is affixed to a document at its top or at its end. Its purpose is to certify the veracity and accuracy of the contents of the document. Hence the Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) testifies to the truth of all the prophets. This is why one of the Articles of Faith in Islam is to believe in all the prophets.
After the truce of Hudaybiyyah, when the Holy Prophet(sa) decided to address letters to the rulers and chiefs of surrounding territories inviting them to accept Islam, he was told that rulers and chiefs do not attach any significance to a communication addressed to them unless it bears the seal of the writer. Thereupon, the Holy Prophet(sa) had a seal prepared which was thereafter used for the attestation and certification of documents sent by him. (Bokhari and Muslim)
Given that the purpose of a seal is attestation and certification, the interpretation of the verse in question would be that although the Holy Prophet(sa) had no male issue, yet being the Messenger of Allah, he is the spiritual progenitor of his followers. He is, therefore, not without issue but has a large spiritual progeny. It is added that he is not merely a Divine Messenger but is also the Seal of the Prophets, that is to say, he is not only the progenitor of the body of the believers but he is also the spiritual progenitor of the prophets and messengers. Thus, he occupies the exalted position which mandates that no prophet or messenger can appear after him unless he bears with him the confirmatory seal of the Holy Prophet(sa).
If this verse is construed as meaning that the Holy Prophet(sa), was absolutely the last prophet, the verse becomes meaningless. In that case its meaning would be: ‘Muhammad had no son but he is the last prophet.’ In Arabic idiom, the word ‘but’ which has been used here, is employed for the purpose of introducing an explanation in modification of what has gone before, or for the purpose of clearing a doubt which the previous statement might raise. The use of the word ‘but’ in this verse entails that it should be followed by a statement which modifies or clarifies that which has gone before. To take this verse to mean that Muhammad(sa) was the last prophet would render it meaningless, for it would then amount to a statement that though the Holy Prophet(sa) has no issue, no prophet will come after him either (thus depriving him of any physical or spiritual progeny). This interpretation does not do justice to the exalted and revered status of the Holy Prophet(sa).
Evidence from Hadith
Further evidence supporting the possibility of prophets appearing after Prophet Muhammad(sa) can be found in the Hadith.
On the demise of his son, the Holy Prophet(sa), said,
‘If Ibrahim had lived he would have been a prophet’ (Sunan Ibn e Maja, vol. 1, p.474).
The Prophet’s son died after the verse noting the Holy Prophet(sa) as ‘Khataman Nabiyyeen’ had been revealed. Yet despite the prior existence of this verse, the Holy Prophet(sa) categorically and publicly stated that if his son Ibrahim had lived he would have been a prophet. This tells us that the Holy Prophet(sa) could not have understood the verse about ‘Khataman Nabiyyeen’ meaning that he was the last prophet.
In another hadith, the Holy Prophet(sa) is reported to have said,
‘Abu Bakr is the most exalted person in my Ummah, except the advent of a prophet in future.’ (Al Jami ul Saghir, vol. 1, p.6).
From these Ahadith, it is clear that prophethood did not cease with the Holy Prophet(sa).
It is worth also noting some Ahadith that to the lay reader may suggest that prophethood ended with Prophet Muhammad(sa). However when studied further it is clear that they cannot mean support the claim that prophethood has ceased altogether.
One of these hadith is:
‘There is no prophet after me’ (Bukhari)
However, the Holy Prophet(sa) here is referring to a law-bearing prophet. This interpretation is further clarified and confirmed by Hazrat Ayesha(ra), wife of the Holy Prophet(sa), who said,
‘O ye people you should say that the Holy Prophet is Khataman Nabiyyeen, but do not say that there will be no prophet after him.’ (Durr e Manthoor, vol. 5, p.386).
Another hadith often quoted is:
‘I am the last prophet.’ (Sunan Nassai, Vol. 2, p.35).
Here the Holy Prophet(sa) is again referring to law-bearing prophets. This is clear from the full version of the hadith which states,
‘I am the last of the prophets and my mosque is the last mosque.’ (Sunan Nassai, vol. 2, p.35).
By juxtaposing prophet with mosque, the Holy Prophet(sa) is simply implying that there will be no prophet like him just as there will be no mosque equal in glory or piety to his mosque. Future prophets, just as mosques, will be a reflection of his prophethood and mosque.
Opinion of earlier Muslim scholars
Some of the most distinguished Muslim scholars further support the view that there can be prophets after Prophet Muhammad(sa). Maulana Rumi, known as one of the greatest mystic poets of Islam says,
‘When a master excels all others in his art, don’t you use the word “khatam” to convey the idea that he has excelled all others on his domain?’ (Mathnawi, vol. 6, p.8, 1917ed.)
And the greatest of Muslim Sufis, Hazrat Ibn-e-Arabi, has also clearly explained,
‘The prophethood that came to an end with the advent of the Holy Prophet(sa) was the law-bearing prophethood and not the institution of prophethood itself. No law can now cancel the Law of the Holy Prophet(sa) or add anything to it. This indeed is the meaning of the saying of the Holy Prophet(sa), “La nabiyya ba ‘di” (there will be no prophet after me). This only indicates that there shall be no such prophet who shall introduce a different Shariah. But whenever there appears a prophet, he will follow my Shariah.’ (Futuhat-e-Makkiyyah, vol. 2, p.3)
Therefore, the Holy Qur’an, the Ahadith and religious history all support the view that prophethood has not ceased. Prophets can still appear but the only proviso is that they are Muslims and their advent reaffirms the divinely bestowed title of the Holy Prophet(sa) as ‘Khataman Nabiyyeen’.