The Prophets

We sent among every people a Messenger. (16:36)

Similar to Judaism and Christianity, prophethood is an important concept in Islam. If the unity of God constitutes the ideological foundation of Islam, the concept of mankind’s stewardship of earth provides the operational framework for understanding the Islamic view of the creation of human beings and their purpose.

Although the Qur’an mentions only 25 prophets by name, God makes it clear that He has sent many prophets to humanity. There is no tribe or nation or race to which God has not sent His Guidance. A number of “124,000 prophets” is reported in one of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (the stories of Zulkarnayn, Luqman, and Uzayr are also mentioned in the Qur’an, however, their prophethood is not manifestly revealed). The greatest prophets (ulul azm: Masters of Determination) are Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), and Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them all.

An outstanding aspect of the Islamic belief in prophethood is that Muslims believe in and respect all the messengers of God, with no exceptions. Since all the prophets came from the same One God, for the same purpose—to lead mankind to God—belief in them all is essential and logical.

The belief in all the prophets of God is an article of faith in Islam. Although Jews do not recognize Jesus and Muhammad, and Christians do not recognize Muhammad, Muslims accept them all as messengers of God who brought guidance to mankind. Rejecting the prophethood of a past figure would invalidate a Muslim’s belief and he or she would no longer be considered to be a Muslim.

The story of Adam and Eve is found in most religious and major cultural traditions. The way the Qur’an narrates this event is crucial to the understanding of the Islamic worldview. The main outline of the Qur’anic narration is as follows: God declared His intention to send a vicegerent to the earth. He created Adam and Eve from the same substance. They were destined to play this role of vicegerency and were endowed with the “knowledge of the things” to do the job well. Then they were put to a test and asked not to approach a certain tree. They fell victim to the evil persuasions of Satan and approached the tree. But immediately after this lapse, they repented their mistake, sought God’s forgiveness and were forgiven.

It is important to point out that it was after they were forgiven and redeemed that they were sent down to the earth to play their role as vicegerents of God. They were promised Divine Guidance and were assured that those who followed the Guidance would be successful. Therefore, Adam was the first man to receive this guidance and convey it to this progeny, becoming the first prophet of God.

Some important inferences follow from this. Islam does not contribute to any theory of the “fall of Adam” symbolizing the fall of mankind.

Mankind was created for the purpose of acting as a deputy on earth and he came to the world to fulfill this mission. The story of Adam and Eve represents the rise of mankind to a new assignment, and not a fall.

However, the concepts of vicegerency and prophethood are not to be confused. The role and status of vicegerency is conferred upon the human being as such, and is shared by man and woman alike.

Islam subscribes to the view that human nature is similar to the highest quality alabaster, waiting to be carved. Mankind has been created in the best of forms and everyone is born in a state of purity and innocence. Furthermore, humans have been given freedom of choice. They are free to accept or deny the truth. Every person is responsible for his or her own actions, but is not deprived of this freedom, even if it is abused. To do so would be to limit this freedom. The dangers of the misuse of freedom continue to confront humans because Satan’s challenge is never-ending. The trial of Adam and Eve reveals, on the one hand, the essential goodness of their nature and on the other, their susceptibility to error. It is to safeguard human beings against this that God has provided divine guidance through His prophets and messengers.

The Prophets were all human. They had the same human qualities like eating, sleeping, finding a partner in marriage, and falling ill.

However, they all shared the following common features: truthfulness (sidq), trustworthiness (amana), intellect (fatana), communicating the message (tabligh), infallibility (isma). Prophets represented these attributes at the highest level in their time. They were supported by miracles to prove that they were not impostors. Those miracles were granted by the power and permission of God and were usually in the field in which the community they were sent to excelled and were recognized as superiors. Every prophet stated clearly that what he received was from God for the well-being of mankind. They confirmed what was revealed before and what would be revealed after them. So the message was one and the same in essence and for the same purpose.

The main content of the prophets’ message was to worship the One God as He has ordained and to do good deeds in this life. Various details about God’s nature and laws would be elaborated upon, depending on each individual case relating to a particular prophet.

Islam emphatically rejects the concept of the “divinity” of any of the prophets. They are essentially human beings and, although they are protected from sin, they can make minor mistakes.

A full establishment of the religion is not possible only with the divine scripture; a messenger who is a medium to convey the revelation to mankind is also necessary. Conveying the message is not only achieved by expressing the divine message in words but also by becoming the best role model, one in whom believers will have a great example as to how God’s message should be understood and practiced. A very simple example of this is the prescribed daily prayers in Islam, a central pillar of Islamic life and practice, which is enjoined in the Qur’an. Muslims, however, learn how to observe it from the Prophet’s practice, as these prayers are not described fully in the Qur’an.

The prophets mentioned both in the Qur’an and the Bible are as follows: Adam, Idris (Enoch), Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), Yusuf (Joseph), Ayyub (Job), Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Dhulfikl (Ezekiel), Dawud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), Ilyas (Elijah), Al-Yasa (Elisha), Yunus (Jonah), Zakariyya (Zechariah), Yahya (John the Baptist), Isa (Jesus).