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Glossary of Islamic terms

Islam Portal

Muslims regard as prophets of Islam (Arabic: نبي‎) those non-divine humans chosen by Allah (the standard Arabic-language word for "the God"). Humans rely on revelation or tradition to identify prophets.

Each prophet brought the same basic ideas of Islam, including belief in a single God and the avoidance of idolatry and sin. Each came to preach Islam and told of the coming of the final law-bearing prophet and messenger of God: Muhammad. Each prophet directed a message to a different group and each prophet taught minor variations in sharia (or the practice of religion) to a different target-audience. These variations constitute applications of Islam: mainstream Muslims do not consider them discrete versions of Islam.

Islamic tradition holds that God sent messengers to every nation. Muslims believe that God sent only Muhammad to convey the divine message to the whole world, whereas he sent other messengers (rusul) to convey their messages to a specific group of people or to an individual nation.

Muslims regard Adam as the first prophet and Muhammad as the last prophet; hence Muhammad's title Seal of the Prophets. Islam regards Jesus as a rasul (and sometimes as a nabi) because he received wahy (revelation) from God, through which God revealed the Injil (Gospel) to him.[1]

Islamic theology recognises as many as 124,000 prophets.[2] Five of them (sometimes known as Ulul Azmi or the Imams — literally: "leaders" — of the Rasuls) receive the highest reverence for their perseverance and unusually strong commitment to God in the face of great suffering, namely:

  1. Nuh (Noah)
  2. Ibrahim (Abraham)
  3. Musa (Moses)
  4. Isa (Jesus)
  5. Muhammad


In both Arabic and Hebrew, the term nabī (plural forms: nabiyyūn and anbiyāʾ) means "prophet". These terms occur 75 times in the Qur'an. The term nubuwwa (meaning "prophethood") occurs five times in the Qur'an. The terms rasūl (plural: rusul) and mursal (plural: mursalūn) denote “messenger” or "apostle" and occur more than 300 times. The term for a prophetic “message”, risāla (plural: risālāt) appears in the Qur'an in ten instances.[3]

The Syriac form of rasūl Allāh (literally: "messenger of God"), s̲h̲eliḥeh d-allāhā, occurs frequently in the apocryphal Acts of St. Thomas. The corresponding verb for s̲h̲eliḥehs̲h̲alaḥ, occurs in connection with the prophets in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:13-14, 4:13; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 1:7).[4]

Prophets and messengers in the Bible

The words "prophet" (Arabic: nabi, نبی) and "messenger" (Arabic: rasul, رسول) appear several times in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The following table shows these words in different religious languages[5]:

Prophet and Messenger in Bible
Arabic Arabic Pronunciation English Greek Greek pronunciation Hebrew Hebrew pronunciation বাংলা
نبی Nabi Prophet προφήτης prophētēs נביא nâbîy' নবী
رسول Rasool Messenger, Apostle מסנג 'ר

In the Old Testament the word "prophet" (Hebrew: nabi) occurs more commonly, and the word "messenger" (Hebrew: malak) refers to angels, But the last book of the Old Testament, the Book of Malachi, speaks of a messenger that some commentators interpret as a reference to the future prophet John the Baptist.[6]

In the New Testament, however, the word "messenger" becomes more frequent, sometimes in association with the concept of a prophet.[7]

"Messenger" can refer to Jesus, to his Apostles and to John the Baptist.

It seems that in the New Testament messengers have a higher rank than prophets: Jesus Christ said about John the Baptist:

But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.

For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

Prophets and messengers in the Qur'an

The table below charts the Qur'anic verses which explicitly reference a prophet (nabi), a messenger (rasul) , a leader (imam) or Christ (Messiah). It also includes explicit references to prophets' book(s) / people / divine law (Qur'an).

Men of Allah in Qur'an
Name Prophet Messenger Imam Messiah Book People Qur'an
Adem (Adam)
Idris (Enoch) Yes check
Nuh (Noah) Yes check
Yes check
People of Noah[11] Yes check
Hud (Eber) Yes check
Messenger [13]
Saleh (Salih) Yes check
Dhikr[16] Thamud[17]
Ibrahim (Abraham) Yes check
Yes check
Yes check
Suhuf Ibrahim (Scrolls of Abraham)[21] People of Abraham[22] Yes check
Lut (Lot) Yes check
Prophet [9]
Yes check
People of Lut[24]
Isma’il (Ishmael) Yes check
Yes check
Is'haq (Isaac) Yes check
Yes check
Yaqub (Jacob) Yes check
Yes check
Yusuf (Joseph) Yes check
Ayyub (Job) Yes check
Shu'ayb (Jethro) Yes check
Musa (Moses) Yes check
Yes check
Scrolls of Moses (Suhuf Mossa)[31] Pharaoh and his chiefs[32] Yes check
Harun (Aaron) Yes check
Dawud (David) Yes check
Zabur[34] (Psalms)
Sulayman (Solomon) Yes check
Ilyas (Elijah) Yes check
Yes check
People of Elijah[36]
Al-Yasa (Elisha) Yes check
Yunus (Jonah) Yes check
Yes check
People of Jonah[38]
Dhul-Kifl (Ezekiel)
Zakariyya (Zechariah) Yes check
Yahya (John the Baptist) Yes check
Isa (Jesus) Yes check
Yes check
Yes check
Injil[43] (Gospel) Sent to Children of Israel[44]
Yes check
Muhammad Yes check
Yes check
Yes check
Qur'an Sign for the Whole World Yes check

For Ahl al-Kitab (followers of the Holy Books), see People of the Book.

Distinguishing between prophets and messengers

In short, in Islam every messenger is also a prophet, but not every prophet is a messenger. The Qur'an, like the New Testament, ranks a messenger higher than a prophet. For example, whenever both titles appear together, "messenger" comes first. The crucial criterion is that a messenger delivers a new religious law (Sharia) revealed by God, whereas a prophet continues an old one. God sends both prophets and messengers as givers of good news and as admonishers to their people. In the case of messengers, however, it appears that a close relationship exists between them and their people (ummah). A messenger will become the witness that God will take from that community on the Day of Judgment (see the following Sura; Yunus 10:48; An-Nahl 16:38; Al-Mu’minoon 23:46; Ghafir 40:5; An-Nisa 4:45; Al-Qasas 28:75). According to the Qur'an, God sent Muhammad to all of humanity and to the Djinn.[4][Need quotation to verify]

Muslims distinguish between celestial and human messengers. In the Qur'anic world, God has made the angels messengers but not prophets. The human messengers, however, also function as prophets — though not every prophet serves as a messenger.[3] Angels always carry "orders" to the human prophets or messengers on what to say, what to do, and so forth. While human messengers deliver some messages about new orders to the people, prophets only reinforce previous orders by earlier messengers or prophets, but since the angels carry orders to prophets to do their duty, then all angels of revelations count as messengers.

The status of prophets

The Qur'anic verse 4:69 lists various virtuous groups of human beings, among whom prophets (including messengers) occupy the highest rank. Verse 4:69 reads:[3]

All who obey Allah and the messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah,- of the prophets (who teach), the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good): Ah! what a beautiful fellowship!

Jesus as an apostle

Qur'an, 4:157-159

That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-

Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-

And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them;-


Islam views Muhammad's greatest miracle as the revelation of the Qur'an to mankind; Muslims regard this as the last in a series of divine revelations, one delivered word by word by the Angel Gabriel. At the time of the revelation of the Qur'an, Arabs who stood at the pinnacle of linguistic and poetic eloquence expressed astonishment at its linguistic perfection. The Qur'an seemed even more miraculous to the Arabians of his time given Muhammad's illiteracy (a very common state in the 7th century, especially in Arabia). Moreover, Muslims believe he had not read or written down any of the previous religious scriptures. Muslims used this situation as an argument and evidence against those who opposed Islam during the Muhammad's day, to testify to the fact that Muhammad couldn't have produced such perfect eloquence as appears in the Qur'an without divine intervention.

The Qur'an has survived in stable form since its compilation of 653/654 (but compare History of the Qur'an). Muslims up until present times have memorized it,[46] making it the most memorized book in human history. Muslims believe that, unlike other miracles performed by other prophets who came before Muhammad, all ages can witness the miracle of the Qur'an. With the revelation of the Qur'an came a revolution in science, literature and philosophy that not only took place in the Islamic empire but worldwide.[47]

Prophets and scriptures

The prophets and Muhammad

Islam views every single prophet from Adam (Arabic: ادم) to Muhammad as important. According to the Qur'an, the prophets 'Isa (Jesus), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Ibrahim (Abraham), Saleh (Shelah), and Muhammad had the responsibility of ushering in their own holy scripture, given to them by God. 'Isa received the Injil (Gospel), as expressed in the following verses from the Qur'an:

At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!

"O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman

But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"

He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;

"And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live;

"(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;

"So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"!

Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.

However, Muslims believe that humans have altered the Injil, therefore, it now does not represent the full truth, as given by God. Musa received the Books of Moses, and Ibrahim the Books of Abraham. Dawud is responsible for the Zabur (Psalms). Saleh is responsible for the Dhikr, which is a practice that focuses on the remembrance of God. It often includes the repetition of the names of Allah. On the other hand, Muhammad was given the Qu'ran, which is believed by Muslims to be the purest and truest holy book of God. In Islam, it was believed to have been given to Muhammad through divine revelation by the angel Jibreel (Gabriel). Its purpose was to perfect the beliefs of the one true God, Allah, because of the turning away of the Jews and Christians from the true religion, into dogmas and doctrines.

The scope of the prophetic mission

The purpose of messengers

The following list summarises the purpose of sending Gods messengers:

  1. God sent messengers to every nation to guide them to His path[48]
  2. Messengers warned nations to follow God's commands and gave them glad tidings[49]
  3. Messengers gave guidance from Allah, taught knowledge and provided a path to purification[50]
  4. God explained that obedience to Him and to His Messenger will earn paradise[51]
  5. And those who disobey will earn hell fire[52]
  6. God said that He will judge people only after receipt of the Message from His Messengers, judging everyone based on their own actions[53][54][55]
  7. Thus, those who received His message can not claim ignorance as an excuse[56]

Distinguishing Muhammad from other messengers

Muhammad differs from other messengers in two respects:

  1. God sent all previous messengers to a specific nation in specific regions of the Earth. Their teachings also applied in a limited way for a specific time and period. But God uniquely sent Muhammad to the entirety of creation (mankind and Djinn), intending his message (the Qur'an) to serve until the end of time.
  2. The teachings of previous messengers confined themselves to specific nations and times, thus their laws relating to ethics and moral code, justice, trade, financial deals, and civil law remained incomplete. God through his final messenger, Muhammad, completed the religion and perfected it. It includes all the teachings from previous messengers, and abrogated those portions specific to separate peoples and times.

Most Muslims thus believe that since the days of the prophet the teaching of Muhammad remains as the only trustworthy source to reach the guidance of God, and that the Qur'an contains the true teachings of Moses and Jesus.

The relationship between messengers, prophets, the Announcement, and the Sender

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