Who is a Messenger?

(Quranic criteria)

The Quran outlines a number of attributes which all genuine messengers of God have. These attributes are there to make it possible for people to distinguish between genuine messengers and false ones.

1- The first attribute of a genuine messenger is that he will always preach the worship of God alone. This is the principal message of any of God's messengers:

We have sent a messenger to every nation, saying, "You shall worship God, and keep clear of false gods." 16:36

We did not send before you any messenger without inspiring him, "There is no god except Me; so you shall worship Me." 21:25

In Sura 11, we read a number of examples of messengers who went to their people with this message:

We sent Noah to his people: "I am a clear warner to you that you shall not worship except God." 11:25-26

We also have the same example in the case of the messenger Hood:

To Aad was sent their brother Hood. He said, "O my people, worship God; you have no god but He. You are nothing but fabricators." 11:50

The same message was uttered by the messenger Saleh:

And to Thamud was sent their brother Saleh. He said, "O my people, worship God; you have no god but He." 11:61

This principal message is indeed inspired to all of God's messengers, they are all commanded to preach to their people the worship of God alone and the abolition of all forms of idol worship.

Due to the importance of this prime message, it is considered the first pillar of Islam. The testimony of "Laa Elaaha Ellaa Allah" (there is no god but God) is uttered by God Himself as well as the angels and all who possess knowledge:

God bears witness that there is no other god but He; and so do the angels and those who possess knowledge. 3:18

2- The second attribute of God's genuine messenger is that he will never ask for a wage/return for his work.

This command was given to Muhammad and all the other messengers of God:

Say, "I do not ask you for a reward nor am I one of the pretenders." 38:86

We have not sent you except as a deliverer of news and a warner.
Say, "I do not ask you for a reward for it. All I seek is that he who wishes may pursue a path to his Lord." 25:56-57 (also see 6:90, 42:23).

In Sura 11 we read about the words of Noah to his people:

"O my people, I do not ask you for any money for it; my reward comes only from God." 11:29 (also 10:72).

The same words were spoken by other messengers (Hood 11:51, Saleh 26:145, Lot 26:164, Shu'aib 26:180)

As a result, anyone who preaches or uses religion to make any financial gains is not a genuine messenger.

3- The third attribute of God's genuine messengers is that they are sent with clear proofs to confirm that they were sent by God.

Many righteous servants of God preach the worship of God alone and also never ask for a return or reward for their work, and thus satisfy the first two conditions, but they do not satisfy the third requirement.

While as these may be called preachers, warners or servants of God, only the messengers of God are given clear proof of their messengership. The following Quranic verses confirm this truth:

We have sent Our messengers with the clear proofs, and We brought down with them the Scripture and the balance so that the people may uphold justice. 57:25

We have annihilated the generations before you when they transgressed. Their messengers came to them with the clear proofs, but they were not to believe. We thus punish the criminal people. 10:13

That is because their messengers used to come to them with the clear proofs, but they disbelieved. Thus, God seized them. He is Powerful, Severe in punishment. 40:22

Consequently, all those who claim messengership and are not able to produce incontrovertible proof of their messengership are false messengers.

To conclude, many righteous believers preach the worship of God alone and they do expect to be paid for their sincere work for God. However, they are not messengers. Messengers receive divine inspiration from God and they are always given proof of their messengership from God.