The difference between "Prophet" and "Messenger"
(according to the Quran)
One of the issues that always comes up when discussing the Quran is the definition of the Prophet (Nabi) and the definition of the Messenger (Rasoul). No one can define these words better than God, after all it was God who sent all prophets and messengers. The definition of the words prophet and messenger is very clear in the Quran. However, most of the scholars and their followers do not accept the definition given by God and instead accept the definition they devised themselves or the one which they have inherited from their predecessors. Choosing the teachings of the scholars above the words of God reflects a disbelief in God and His word (Quran). Against this is a clear warning in the Quran:
"They have set up their religious leaders and scholars as lords; instead of God....." 9:31
God's Definition of Prophet and Messenger
(Nabi and Rasoul)
In 3:81 God defined the exact duty of the Prophet (Nabi) and also the duty of the Messenger (Rasoul):
"God took a covenant from the prophets, saying, "I will give you the scripture and wisdom. Afterwards, a messenger will come to confirm all existing scriptures. You shall believe in him and support him." He said, "Do you agree with this, and pledge to fulfil this covenant?" They said, "We agree." He said, "You have thus borne witness, and I bear witness along with you." 3:81
Verse 3:81, among many other verses, provides the definitions of "Nabi" (Prophet) and "Rasoul" (Messenger). "Nabi" is a messenger of God who delivers a new scripture, while "Rasoul" is a messenger commissioned by God to confirm existing scripture. Some messengers deliver a new scripture and in that case they are also prophets, but many other messengers do not deliver a new scripture. As a result, every "Nabi" is a "Rasoul," but not every "Rasoul" is a "Nabi".
The Quranic definition of Prophet, and how all the prophets were given Scripture to deliver, is also confirmed in the following verse:
"The people used to be one community when God sent the prophets as bearers of good news, as well as warners. He sent down with them the scripture, bearing the truth, to judge among the people in their disputes" 2:213
Those who are not sufficiently familiar with the Quran tend to think that Aaron was a "Nabi" who did not receive a scripture. They claim that the Torah was given to Moses and not to Aaron! This claim can only be made by those who do not believe the Quran, since God ascertains that the Torah was given to both Moses and Aaron (21:48, 37:117).
More Proofs from the Quran
Prophethood and scripture:
Whenever God mentions prophethood in the Quran, He mentions scripture. The following are some examples:
"Never would a human being whom God blessed with the scripture and prophethood say to the people, "Idolise me beside God." Instead, (he would say), "Devote yourselves absolutely to your Lord alone," according to the scripture you preach and the teachings you learn." 3:79
"Those were the ones to whom we have given the scripture, wisdom, and prophethood. If these people disbelieve, we will substitute others in their place, and the new people will not be disbelievers." 6:89
"We granted him Isaac and Jacob, we assigned to his descendants prophethood and the scriptures, we endowed him with his due recompense in this life, and in the Hereafter he will surely be with the righteous." 29:27
"We have given the Children of Israel the scripture, wisdom, and prophethood, and provided them with good provisions; we bestowed upon them more blessings than any other people." 45:16
"We sent Noah and Abraham, and we granted their descendants prophethood and the scripture. Some of them were guided, while many were wicked." 57:26
Messenger prophet and not, prophet messenger:
In 7:157 God described the Prophet Muhammed as, "the messenger prophet" and not as 'the prophet messenger'. This is not a coincidence, God does not do coincidences! The reason is that not every messenger is a prophet and therefore the word 'prophet' is used to further define and clarify the description of that messenger.
Moses, the messenger prophet:
In 19:51, Moses was described by God as a "messenger prophet" (Rasoulan Nabyya), and not as a prophet messenger (Nabyyan Rasoula).
Ismail, the messenger prophet:
In 19:54, Ismail is described with the same words, "Rasoulan Nabyyan".
The reason is that, not every Rasoul (Messenger) is a Nabi (Prophet), but every Prophet (Nabi) is a Messenger (Rasoul), so God defined the word Rasoul by adding to it "Nabyya". In other words, Ismail was a messenger and also a prophet. God does not make mistakes and He does not place His words in a haphazard sequence, it is meant to be in this order.
The question is: if every messenger is also a prophet, why would God need to describe Muhammad, Moses or Ismail as "messenger prophets"?
Other examples are found in the Quran to clarify this description:
Human being messenger:
"Am I more than a human messenger (Basharan Rasoula)" 17:93
Notice the words " a human messenger" and not 'a messenger human'.
The reason is that not every human is a messenger while every messenger from among us is a human (unless stated otherwise by God, such as an angel messenger).
17:94, has the same expression again, human messenger, and not not messenger human.
"Messenger nor a prophet":
Perhaps one of the strongest indications in the Quran that the words prophet and messenger do not have the same meaning, is found in the following verse:
"We did not send before you any messenger nor a prophet, without having the devil interfere in his wishes. God records what the devil has done then God perfects His revelations. God is Omniscient, Most Wise." 22:52
If the words prophet and messenger had the same meaning God would not be saying "messenger nor a prophet", would He? Had the two words had exactly the same meaning, then mentioning one of them would have been sufficient.
“We have sent Our messengers with clear proofs and we brought down with them the scripture and the balance so that people may uphold justice” 57:25
Some scholars refer to 57:25 to claim that all messengers are sent with the scripture, therefore they add that there is no difference between a messenger and a prophet.
1- First, it can be established that the definition of a messenger is someone who delivers a message from God. As a result, all prophets are also messengers since they deliver a message from God. There is no dispute among all scholars about this truth so there is no need to elaborate.
2- The next step is to establish whether God makes any difference between prophets and messengers, or are they all the same?
3- Now that we have established that some messengers are not prophets, we can inquire as to what exactly is the difference between the two. As we have seen (above), we are told in 3:81 that after all the prophets have come and also all the scripture sent, a messenger will come to confirm the scripture. Since Muhammad was one of the prophets who took this covenant (33:7), then he cannot be the messenger who will come after all the scripture and prophets. Muhammad would not be required to take a covenant to believe in himself and support himself! We also note from 3:81 that the messenger who will come after Muhammad (who is the last prophet) will not deliver a scripture since the Quran is the last scripture, but he will confirm the scripture.
4- When we have put all the above verses together we can read 57:25 in a better light, the messengers spoken of in 57:25 are the ones who delivered a scripture and not all messengers. God continues in 57:26 and 57:27 by speaking of some of the prophets who were sent with the scripture (Noah, Abraham and Jesus) to once again confirm that the messengers spoken of in 57:25 were the ones who delievered scripture and not all messengers.
“Muhammad was not the father of any of your men, but he was a messenger of God and the seal of the prophets. God is knowledgeable of all things” 33:40
According to 33:40, Muhammad was the last of all prophets. There will be no prophets to come after him. And since it is only the prophets who deliver the scripture, it follows that the Quran is the final scripture to be sent by God. We must also be aware that 33:40 clearly states that Muhammad was “a messenger of God” and not “the seal of the messengers”. God is very deliberate with His choice of words. If Muhammad was also the last of all messengers, as the Sunni’s call him (Khatam Al-Mursaleen), then why does God call him only “a messenger of God”?
"For every nation there is a messenger. After their messenger comes, they are judged equitably, and they will not be wronged." 10:47
"They will say, “When will this promise come true, if you are truthful?" 10:48
1- The words in 10:47 confirm that every nation will be sent a messenger, and since there will be nations on earth till the end of the world then it also follows that there will be future messengers to come till the end of the world. Thus Muhammad was not the last messenger.
2- The words 10:48 confirm that the coming of messengers is spoken of as a future event. It is an event which would happen after the revelation of the Quran and after the prophet Muhammad. This is why the ones asking in 10:48 are asking about a "future" event and saying:
“When will this promise come true?”
1- All prophets are also messengers, they deliver a message from God.
The Quran is clear that every prophet (nabi) is a messenger (rasoul) but not every messenger is a prophet.
Now that we have the definition of Prophet (Nabi) and Messenger (Rasoul) from God Almighty Himself, the Teacher of the Quran, no scholar's opinion can change that fact. However, we are all free to side with God or side with the scholars. Generations before us made the wrong choice and were described by God in the Quran as follows:
"They have set up their religious leaders and scholars as lords, instead of God . . . " 9:31
This act of placing the scholars as idols besides God can lead to one place, and it is not Heaven.