Misinterpretation of 21:107
“And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy to all the worlds.”
Muslim scholars quote 21:107 to support their claim that prophet Muhammad has been given special status and above all other messengers due to the fact that he was sent as a “mercy to all the worlds”.
This claim leads us to investigate four separate issues:
First- Does the Quran say that Muhammad was superior to other messengers?
Second- Is the phrase “sent as a mercy” used in the Quran exclusively in connection to Muhammad?
Third- What is the Quranic meaning of a mercy “sent to the worlds”?
Fourth- What is the significance of the words “to the worlds” in 21:107?
First: Does the Quran say that Muhammad was superior to other messengers?
The answer is no. When we read the Quran we note two important matters:
1- God commands Muhammad to say that he is not any different from other messengers:
“Say (O Muhammad), "I am not different from other messengers”. I have no idea what will happen to me or to you. I only follow what is revealed to me. I am no more than a clear warner." 46:9
If Muhammad was superior to all other messengers, would God command him to say that he is not any different from other messengers?
2- God tells us in the Quran that He favoured some messengers above others. A number of names are mentioned and they include Moses, Jesus and others, but Muhammad is not one of them which once again would not support the claim that he was superior to all others. The following verses are significant:
“These messengers; we favoured some above the others, some spoke to God (Moses) and we raised some of them to higher ranks. And we gave Jesus, son of Mary, profound miracles and supported him with the Holy Spirit” 2:253
The above verse speaks of how Moses was favoured by the fact that he spoke directly to God, also the words “higher ranks” may refer to Idris (see 19:57); then we have Jesus who was also favoured among other messengers since he was constantly accompanied by the Holy Spirit Gabriel.
The same message is repeated in 17:55 without the mention of Muhammad’s name:
“ …. And we favoured some prophets over others and we gave David the “zabur” (psalms).” 17:55
Second: Is the phrase “sent as a mercy” used in the Quran exclusively in connection to Muhammad?
Since God’s messengers are sent to deliver a message and guidance from God it follows that all God’s messengers are sent as an act of mercy from God to mankind.
In the following verse for example we read how Jesus was also sent as a sign of mercy from God:
“He said, "Thus said your Lord, `It is easy for Me. We will render him (Jesus) a sign for the people, and mercy from us. This is a predestined matter." 19:21
Hence, those who claim that Muhammad had the exclusive blessing of being sent as a “mercy” to the world only show their ignorance with the Quran.
Third: What is the Quranic meaning of a “mercy sent to the world”?
Every prophet brings a scripture from God. This scripture contains guidance to the people from God and it is the guidance within the scripture that provides the mercy sent from God.
Muhammad delivered the Quran from God, and it is the Quran which is an act of mercy to the people and not the person of Muhammad himself.
The same applies to all other prophets who delivered a scripture from God. The Quran tells us that the sole duty of all messengers is to deliver God’s message (5:92) and thus all mercy is embodied in the scripture they deliver. All scriptures sent from God contain guidance and healing for the souls as well as mercy for the people.
The following verses speak of the mercy which was sent with the Torah:
“As for those who are given solid proof from their Lord, reported by a witness from Him, and before it, the book of Moses has set a precedent and a mercy, they will surely believe.”11:17
“When Moses' anger subsided, he picked up the tablets, containing guidance and mercy for those who reverence their Lord.” 7:154
All the following verses confirm that the mercy we received (through Muhammad) was in the Quran itself:
“The day will come when we will raise from every community a witness from among them, and bring you as the witness of these people. We have revealed to you this book to provide explanations for everything, and guidance, and mercy, and good news for the submitters.” 16:89
“We send down in the Quran healing and mercy for the believers. At the same time, it only increases the wickedness of the transgressors.” 17:82
Fourth: What is the significance of the words “to all the worlds” in 21:107?
The words in 21:107 address Muhammad and describes the mercy sent with him as a mercy “to all the worlds”. When we compare this to 19:21 which speaks about the mercy sent with Jesus, we find that in 19:21 the words “all the worlds” are not used.
This distinction has not escaped the eyes of those who made the above claim using it to further support their ascertain that Muhammad was superior to all other messengers since he was sent as a mercy to “all the worlds” coupled with the that the phrase has not been mentioned in the Quran in connection with other messengers.
However, after we have witnessed all the Quranic verses reviewed under the Third section above, the reason for this distinction becomes clear. We now know that the mercy sent with a messenger is embodied in the scripture he delivers and not in his person (11:17, 7:154, 16:89, 17:82).
We also know that all previous scripture were intended for specific people and for specific times. However, the Quran is the final scripture to be sent by God (33:40) and is thus for “all the worlds” and for all time. Thus the mercy spoken of in 21:107 which is contained in the scripture delivered by Muhammad, is correctly described as a mercy to “all the worlds”.
To conclude, the glorious words in 21:107 confirm the nature of the mercy which God sends to mankind and it also confirms that this mercy is sent with all messengers and not just Muhammad. Finally it confirms that the mercy is embodied in the scripture which the messenger delivers and not in the person of the messenger.