The Last of the Prophets
                  by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat (written in 2000)

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammadwas the last prophet and
messenger of God. By way of clarification it should be stated
immediately that in Islam the role of a prophet or a messenger is far
more important than in Christianity. Both the Old and the New Testament speak of prophets who have a very minor role in the community (2 Kings 2:15, 1 Cor 12:10, Acts 13:1 etc.). In Islam, however, a prophet or a messenger expresses the will of God for a nation or all humankind.

The message delivered by him is binding on those to whom it is sent
and a rejection of him is a rejection of God. The work of a messenger,
furthermore, change earlier religious laws and create a new religious community. The belief that the Prophet Muhammad is the last prophet and messenger of God therefore means that after him there will not arise any person who will be authorized by God to express his will for others and/or institute a new religious direction by a new expression of the religious truth and forming a religious community around
that expression. Any person claiming to have such authority is suffering from self-deception and/or is lying, no matter how smart he may be or how many miraculous deeds he may perform.

In the following pages I will discuss two questions about this belief: Is this belief an authentic Islamic belief? Is this belief reasonable?


A belief can be considered an authentic Islamic belief in the following two senses:

     a) the belief is accepted widely and for a long period of time;
     b) the belief is duly supported by the primary sources of Islam:

the Qur'an and Hadith. In the first sense the belief is obviously authentic. We need to examine the authenticity of the belief in the second sense.

                          Basis in the Qur'anic

Muhammad is not the father of any male among you, but he is the messenger of God and the seal of the prophets; and God is aware of all things (33:40).

The Arabic word for seal is khatam which by a change of vowel can
also be read as khatim, meaning "that which puts the seal". Both words
are derivatives of khatama, which means both to end or conclude something or to put a seal in order to indicate such an end or conclusion (see, e.g., Lisan al-'Arab, Qamus, Aqrab al-Muwarid).

No matter how the word is supplied with vowels, which were omitted in the original Arabic script, the most reasonable way, if not the only way, to understand the verse is that Muhammad completed and closed the
prophethood as a seal marks the completion and closure of a document, that is, he was the last prophet. This interpretation is also clear from the reference to the Prophet not leaving behind any son.

To understand this reference we need to recall that in the Arab society before Islam it was extremely important for a man to have a son. In fact the birth of a female was an occasion of sadness, as the Qur'an itself testifies:

They assign to God daughters -- Glory be to him! -- while to themselves (the sons) that they desire. When one of them is given the news of (the birth) of a female, his face is darkened and he is wroth inside. He hides himself from the people because of (what he considers to be) the ill of the news he has been given. (He asks himself): shall I keep it in contempt or bury it in the dust. Evil indeed is their judgment (both in regardto attributing daughters to God and the choices they give themselves regarding their own daughters) (16:57-59).

Some indeed buried their daughters alive. In regard to this the
Qur'an says,referring to the day of judgment:

And when (about) the girl-infant who was buried alive (it)is asked, For what sin was she killed? (81:8-9).

Connected with this type of attitude was the belief that it is only
through a son that a man gets posterity. A person without a son was called abtar (one who is cut off). The disbelievers applied this description to the Prophet because he did not have sons, although he did have daughters when he started his mission. Regarding this the Qur'an says:

We gave you (O Prophet) the abundance (of blessings); So pray to your Lord and sacrifice;
          It is surely your insulter who will be cut off (abtar)
(108:1- 3).

Turning to the description "seal of the prophets" the meaning of
the reference to the absence of a male descendant of the Prophet now
becomes clear: Muhammad may not live on through his male descendants according to your way of thinking, but he will live on for ever in a much more important way. For because of its finality, his prophethood will last forever and will be a source of everlasting and abundant blessings. (And in this way he will also deal a blow to your attitudes towards daughters.)

The above interpretation is further supported by the fact that the
Qur'an never looks forward to a future revelation or prophet. Thus in the very beginning of the Qur'an the characteristics of the pious are given which include:

Those who believe in what is sent down to you (O my Prophet) and in what was sent down before you (2:4).

There is no reference to what will be sent down after the Prophet.
Nowhere else the Qur'an refers to a future prophet or revelation. The
significance of this observation can be seen more clearly by a comparison with the Old and the New Testaments, where there are frequent references to future revelations. Thus in the Old Testament we find this promise of a future prophet or a series of prophets:

          The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me
[like Moses] from your own people; you shall heed such a

prophet(Deut 18:15; see also 18:18).

Indeed, a great deal of the Old Testament is a prophecy of future
revelation of one kind or another. Likewise, the New Testament also looks forward to future revelation:

And I [Jesus], will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete to be with you forever (John 14:16).

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears,and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:12-13).


Here it is besides the point whether the Paraclete is the Holy
Spirit or the Prophet Muhammad, a question I have discussed in detail in Islam and Its Prophet. The significant point here is that Jesus looks forward to a future revelation.

In contrast to both the Old and New Testaments, the chronologically
last verse of the Qur'an declares:

          Today I have completed my religion for you and perfected my
          favor on you and chosen al-islam as your religion (part of


The Qur'an regards itself as coming in fulfillment of earlier

Say, whether or not you believe in it, the fact is that those who possessed knowledge before it fall on their faces in humble
prostration when it is recited to them. And they say, Glory to our Lord and Sustainer: Surely the promise of Our Lord and Sustainer was to be fulfilled! (17:107-108; see also, 7:157, 61:6).

But it does not prophesy for the coming after it of another
revelation. Its prophecy is only of its own inevitable final victory:

He it is who has sent his messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth that he may make it prevail over all religion, however much those who practice shirk may be averse (61:9).

This prevailing of Islam is not understood to be through any human force, but simply the result of the inevitable victory of a truer _expression of the same religion over other expressions. Notice that the Qur'an does not say "prevail over all religions" but over all religion (in the singular). Every religion is really trying to express the same truth. Islam is the clearest and most effective _expression of that truth and therefore is destined to replace all other expressions. It is like when a better and more economical model of a product such as the computer or the car comes on the market it necessarily replaces after due time the older less efficient and more expensive model.

The claimants of prophethood that have arisen from within the Muslim world and who therefore recognize the divine origin of the Qur'an
or the followers of such claimants have tried to explain the words "seal (or last) of the prophets" in other ways. For example, it is said that the _expression means: "the Prophet has reached the ultimate in excellence in all respect," that is, he was the last or seal
of the prophet in the sense that he carried prophethood to its final
point of development. In regard to such an interpretation the following points may be noted:

First, the interpretation has doubtful support in the usage of the word khatam and certainly not supported by its usual meaning.

Second, any interpretation of the _expression must explain why it is combined in the Qur'an with the observation that the Prophet had no male descendant. Understanding "last" in the sense of the final point of development does not adequately provide the required explanation.

Third, the view can be at the most accepted as a secondary interpretation which supports the primary interpretation in the sense
that the prophethood has come to end by virtue of reaching its final
point of development.

                          MESSENGER AND PROPHET

The Qur'anic verse under consideration says that Muhammad was a
messenger and the seal of the prophets. That there is a difference between a prophet and a messenger is clear from this verse as well as others (e.g. 22:52). But what is the difference?

The Qur'an assumes that the meaning of a prophet is well understood by its hearers. He is a figure who is inspired by God for some form of guidance for a people. He may not necessarily bring a new law or establish a new religious community, for in 4:44 a reference is made to the Israelite prophets who judged by the Torah rather than by a new law brought by them.

The messenger means one who is sent by God with a message. He also
receives divine inspiration, for otherwise he cannot be "sent" by God.
Hence every messenger is a prophet. All nations have received messengers, for the Qur'an says: "And for every nation there is a messenger" (10:47).

Moreover, the messenger is meant to be obeyed: "We sent no messenger save that he should be obeyed by God's leave" (4:64).

Nations that rejected the messengers sent to them were destroyed or
punished (26: 105-191). Similar statements are not made about prophets. It thus appears that God acts through a messenger more decisively than through a mere prophet.

                            NOT EXCLUSIVENESS

It should be pointed out in passing that the belief in the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad is not a belief implying an exclusive view of revelation, although it necessarily excludes from the list of true
prophets all those who claimed prophethood after him such as Ghulam Ahmad of India, Bahaullah of Persia and Joseph Smith of USA. It is not like the belief of some Christians that Jesus is the only way to God and to truth. To be the last prophet does not mean to be the only true prophet. Quite to the contrary the concept becomes meaningful only under the assumption that there were other true prophets.

Furthermore, the belief is not meant to glorify the Prophet Muhammad above other prophets. In Qur'an 2:285 the Prophet and the believers with him say: "We do not discriminate between any of his messengers" although "some of them [God] favored more than others" (2:253).

Whatever the Prophet's place in the history of revelation, it is described in the Qur'an as a favor from God:

          This is a bounty of God which he bestows upon whom he will.
          And God is full of bounty (62:4).

In Hadith also we find that on the one hand the Prophet is quoted as saying that he should not be praised above the other prophets (Muslim, kitab al-fada'il, bab min fada'il Musa), and on the other hand there are other ahadith in which the Prophet is obviously described as more favored by God than other prophets. In this way both the Qur'an and Hadith are aiming to do justice to two considerations: 1) the relative position and proper place of the various prophets be brought forward; 2) avoiding any rivalry among the followers of the prophets or pride on their part.


Another point of clarification to be noted in regard to the belief
that prophethood has come to an end with the coming of Muhammad, is that this does not mean that all communication between God and human beings has ceased. God does continue to guide and inspire human beings in various ways as individuals in their particular lives. For the Quran says that God inspires ('alhama) each soul as to what is good and what is bad:

Consider a self (or soul) and what constituted its character and
potential; And inspired it about what is wrong for it and what is right for it.

          He is indeed successful who causes it to grow.
          And he is indeed a failure who stunts it (91:7-10).

What has come to an end with the Prophet Muhammad is prophetic
revelation whereby God chooses a person to communicate with a nation or whole humankind. Such a prophetic revelation is binding on those for whom it is meant. It may change the existing religious laws and create a new religious community (ummah).

                             Basis in Hadith

Hadith, of course, is subject to the question of authenticity when we use it primarily as a source of what the Prophet of Islam taught. But it can also be used as a source of how Muslims in the first few centuries of the Islamic calendar understood his teachings. Sometimes even in this latter use Hadith may help establish the authenticity of a Muslim belief. Thus if a certain belief has some support in the Quran, or at least it is not contradicted by the Quran and it is also
supported by some ahadith without being challenged by other ahadith of
equal reliability, then such a belief can be confidently viewed as an
authentic Islamic belief. This precisely is the case with the belief that the Prophet Muhammad was the last of the true prophets of God. This belief has, as we have seen, support in the Quran. It is also, as we now show, stated in many ahadith without being challenged by any others.

The documentation of ahadith stating clearly that the Prophet of Islam was the last of the line of true prophets begins in the first century and continues upto the fourth century when the compilation of the major collections of Hadith came to an end. In the first century book, Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq, we read that on the eve of his departure for the battle of Tabuk, the Apostle left 'Ali behind him to look after his family, and ordered him to stay with them. The hypocrites thereupon began to speak ill of him, saying that he had been left behind because he was a burden on him and he wanted to get
rid of him. Taking his weapons, 'Ali went after the Apostle and caught
up with him when he halted in al-Jurf. He told him what the hypocrites
were saying. The Apostle replied:

"They lie. I left you behind because of what I have left behind [i.e.,
my family], so go back as my representative to my family and yours. Are you not happy, 'Ali, that you stand in relation to me as Aaron did in relation to Moses [when he was left behind by Moses before going to the Mount Sinai], except that there will be no prophet after me?" So 'Ali returned to Medina and the Apostle went his way.

In the second century, Mu'watta of Imam Malik (a collection of prophetic traditions written around the middle of the century) the Prophet is reported as saying:

"I am Muhammad, I am Ahmad, I am the al-Mahi (the Effacer) in that
through me infidelity shall be erased; I am the al-Hashir (Assembler)
in that people shall be assembled after me. And I am al-Aqib (the
Last) (kitab al-asma' an-nabi; see also, Bukhari, kitab al-manaqib, bab asma' an-nabi, Muslim, kitab al-fadai'l, bab asma' an-nabi, Tirmidhi, kitab al-adab, bab asma' an-nabi; Mustadrak Hakim, kitab
t-tarikh, bab asma' an-nabi)"

It is noteworthy that here two names are explained: al-Mahi and al-Hashir. The remaining three are not explained. The reason could only be that they and their meaning were well known. This is indeed the case with Muhammad and Ahmad (Quran 61:6).

It must also be the case with al-Aqib. Literally this word means,
"that which comes later or last". Thus the Quran repeatedly refers to
the end or the last state or the final fate of a person or nation as al-aqibah (feminine of al-aqib) (3:137, 7:86, 11:49, 12:109 etc). The Prophet bears the title al-Aqib in the sense that he was the last of the prophets. This is the only possible sense, since our sources do not suggest any other sense in which the title would have been so well understood that no explanation was required.

The explanation of the title al-Hashir in the above hadith -- "in
that people shall be assembled after me" -- has been understood in two ways. First: the assembling of humankind on the day of resurrection will take place after the resurrection of the Prophet. That is, the Prophet will be the first to be resurrected and in this way he will usher in the events connected with the day of  resurrection and judgment. Second: the day of resurrection and judgment will succeed the Prophet, without any other prophet coming during his time and that day. That is, while earlier prophets were succeeded by other prophets, the Prophet Muhammad will be followed by the day of assembling and judgment.

In the third century we find many more traditions about the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad. This does not mean that all these traditions originated in the third century. It is quite probable that many of these traditions existed in the two earlier centuries. The reason that books that have come down to us from the first two centuries do not contain these traditions is that those books were not meant to be comprehensive collections of Hadith. They reflected specific concerns of their authors on specific topics and largely drew
on what was available in particular centers. In contrast the comprehensive books compiled in the third century were produced after extensive search all over the Muslim world.

Of the third-century books of Hadith the most trusted are Bukhari
and Muslim. They both record the above tradition from Mu'watta referring to the name, al-Aqib. They also twice record the first century tradition where Ali is compared with Aaron, once in the chapter on 'Ali's merits and once in the account of the battle of Tabuk. In addition, they also contain the following traditions:

The Prophet said: "The children of Israel used to be guided by
prophets. When a prophet passed away, another prophet succeeded him. But no prophet will come after me; there will only be khulafa' (caliphs) who will increase in number (that is, more and more will
claim to be khulafa')." The people asked, "O Apostle of God, What do
you order us (in view of such multiplicity of claims)? " He
said, "Obey the one who is given the pledge of allegiance first. Fulfil their rights, for God will ask them about (any shortcomings) in ruling those God
          has put under their guardianship" (Bukhari, kitab hadith
al-'anbi'a, bab
          ma dhukira 'an bani israel).

          The Prophet said: " My position in relation to the other
prophets is like
          this: A man built a house, completing it and adorning it well
          for a place of one brick. When the people entered the house,
          marvelled at its beauty and said, But for the place of this
one brick
          (how much more splendid the house will be) " (Bukhari, kitab
          al-manaqib, bab khatim an-nabiyyin; Muslim, kitab al-fada'il,
          khatam an-nabiyyin; see also Tirmidhi, kitab al-manaqib, bab
          an-nabi and kitab al-adab, bab al-amthal; Musnad Abu Dawud
          Tayalisi, marwiat Jabir bin Abdullah; and Musnad Ahmad,
          Ubayyi bin Ka'b, Abu Sa'id Khudri and Abu Huraira).

     The obvious implication of the similitude is that the Prophet is
the one missing
brick and he completes the house of prophethood so that no empty niche
is left
there to provide room for another prophet. This implicit meaning is
clarified in
another version in Bukhari which adds the words: "I am like unto that
one missing
brick and I am the last in the line of the prophets." Notice here the
Prophet is not
glorified above other prophets; he is just a missing brick like other
bricks. This is
consistent with the hadith from Muslim quoted earlier in which the
Prophet says
that he should not be praised above other prophets (Cf. also, Quran 2:
quoted earlier). The purpose that some traditions discourage Muslims
praising the Prophet above other prophets is no doubt, as noted earlier,
to avoid
any rivalry among followers of various prophets or pride on their part.
But, of
course, some traditions do praise the Prophet Muhammad above other
although whatever way he was superior to others is nothing but a favor
of God.
     One tradition which is relevant to our topic is the following:

          The Holy Prophet said: "God has favored me more than the other

          prophets in six ways: 1) I have been endowed with the gift of
          speech which is brief but full of knowledge. 2) I was granted
          owing to my awe. 3) The spoils of war were made lawful unto
me. 4)
          The whole earth has been made the place of worship for me and
          has become the means of purification for me also. 5) I have
          sent to the whole world. 6) And the line of prophets has come
to its
          final end in me " (Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah; quoted from
Tafsir Ibn

     Item 3 about the spoils of war is problematic because earlier
prophets (such as
David who is a prophet in the Qur'an) are known to have taken war booty
Samuuel 8:7-8) and the Mosaic Law which was accepted by subsequent
prophets expressly permits it (Deut 20:14). However, our interest here
is in item
6 where the Prophet is clearly described as the last of the prophets.
tradition in Muslim relevant to the subject is:

          Abu Hurayra (a well known companion of the Prophet) used to
          that one prayer performed in the Apostle's Mosque (in Medina)
          more blessed than a thousand prayers performed in other
          except the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah). This is because the
          is the last (akhir) of the prophets and his mosque is the last
          of the mosques (built by prophets). (Muslim, kitab al-hajj,
bab fadl
          as-salat bi masjid Makka wa al-Medina).

     The tradition in Muslim goes on to discuss whether the part about
the last
mosque Abu Hurayra added himself or he is quoting the Prophet. The
has in view three mosques: the Sacred Mosque in Makka (connected with
Abraham), the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (connected with the Israelite
figures), the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. The third of these mosques is
the last
because the Prophet is the last prophet. Ahmadis, followers of one of
claimants of prophethood, say that just as "the last mosque" does not
mean that
there were no mosques built after the mosque of Medina, similarly "the
prophet" does not mean that there will be no prophet after Muhammad. But
what does the word "last" (akhir) mean? It is said that the word means
something like "most excellent". But this meaning will not apply to "the
mosque" because the Prophet's mosque in Medina is not the most
excellent, the
sacred mosque in Makka is. Besides such an interpretation concentrates
much on a single tradition and does not explain all the other traditions
on the

          The Prophet said: "Among the people preceding you there used
to be
          muhaddithun (those who spoke under some form of divine
          other than a prophetic revelation). If there are any such
          among my followers, it is 'Umar bin al-Khattab "(Bukhari,
kitab hadith
          al-'anbi'a, bab hasbiya allah; see also, Muslim, kitab
al-fada'il, bab
          min fada'il 'Umar).

          The Prophet said: " Among the children of Israel who went
before you
          there were such people who had communication with God
          (yukallamun), even though they were not prophets. If there is
          such person from among my people it is 'Umar "(Bukhari, kitab
          al-manaqib, bab manaqib 'Umar).

     A later collection of traditions, Tirmidhi, records the following

          The Prophet said: "If a prophet were to succeed me, it would
          been 'Umar bin al-Khattab" (Tirmidhi, kitab al-manaqib, bab

     In all three versions, regardless of the meaning of muhaddithun or
yukallamun it
is clear that the possibility of a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad
is excluded.

          The Prophet said:" Good (and true) dreams (ar-row'ya
al-salihah) are
          a part of the forty-six parts of prophethood."

          The Prophet said: "Nothing is left of prophethood (after me)
          al-mubashshirat. People said: What is meant by
al-mubashshirat. He
          said: good dreams "(Bukhari, kitab ar-row'ya, bab, ar-row'ya
          al-salihah ..., bab al-mubashshirat, see also Muslim, Nasa'i,
          Dawud, kitab ar-row'ya, Musnad Ahmad, marwiyat Abu Tufayl; the

          hadith about the forty-six parts of prophethood is also found
          Mu'watta, kitab ar-row'ya).

     In other words there is no possibility of prophetic revelation in
the future. At the most if some one receives an inspiration from God he
or she will receive it in the form of "good and true dreams."
Incidentally, this and some of the other ahadith quoted earlier are
consistent with what we said above, namely, that end of
prophethood does not mean that all divine communication with individuals

     Outside Bukhari and Muslim, we find, in addition to the hadith
about 'Umar from Tirmidhi, the following:

          One day the Prophet came out of his house and joined our
          His manner gave us the impression as if he were leaving us.'
He said,
          'I am Muhammad, the unlettered prophet of God' and repeated
          statement three times. Then he affirmed: "There will be no
          after me' (Musnad Ahmad, marwiyat 'Abdullah bin Amr ibn'-As)

          The Prophet said:" There is no prophet after me and there is
          community of followers (of true prophets) after my community"
          (Baihaqi, kitab al-row'ya; Tabarani)

          The Prophet affirmed: "The chain of messengers and prophets
          come to an end. There shall be no messenger nor prophet after
          (Tirmidhi, kitab ar-row'ya, bab dhahab an-nubuwwa, Musnad
          marwiyat Anas bin Malik).

     This last tradition answers a question that seems to have arisen in
interpretation of 33:40. The verse describes the Prophet Muhammad as the
of the prophets which raised the question whether he also concluded the
of messengers. The tradition answers the question in the affirmative.
the question was not important in earlier centuries because it is not
addressed in
earlier books of Hadith nor of Tafseer (Qur'an commentary). This is
because the
Qur'an is fairly clear that every messenger is a prophet and the one who
is the
last prophet is also of necessity the last messenger. A relatively late
on the Qur'an, the one by Ibn Kathir (died A.H. 774) does raise and
answer the
question: "This verse is a clear proof of the fact that no prophet will
come after
Muhammad and if there is no prophet, then how can there be a messenger
him? For the office of a messenger holds prominence over the office of a
     Every messenger is a prophet, but all prophets are not messengers.
... Hence
anyone who claims to be a prophet or a messenger of God after Muhammad
is a
liar, an impostor, a dajjal (one who covers the truth like the
antichrist), has gone
astray and leads astray, no matter what manner of extraordinary deeds,
magical feats, and wonders he brings forth."

                   No challenge from any other hadith

     Against the continuous testimony by the Hadith literature,
documented above, in favor of the belief in the conclusion of the
prophethood with Muhammad, there is no hadith that contradicts it. At
the most one could refer to a saying attributed
to Ayesha, the Prophet's wife: "Say that he (i.e., the Prophet) is
khatam (seal)
of the prophets, but do not say, there is no prophet after him." But
of this saying is very late and no early oral authority is known for it.
Also, it is a
view of Ayesha which by itself cannot be a source of Islamic belief,
unless it
represents a consensus among the companions of the Prophet. This is
not the case, since we have earlier quoted ahadith in which the Prophet
is quoted as saying, "There is no prophet after me". But most
importantly we
need to inquire into what the saying is attempting to communicate,
regardless of
whether it is authentic or not.

     In order to understand the saying we have to recall a question that
arose after
the compilation of the major collections of hadith: How can it be said
that there
is no prophet after Muhammad when according to some ahadith Jesus will
again near the end of the world? The question is raised and answered by
Zamakhshari in his comment on 33:40: "If you ask how Muhammad can be the

last of the prophets when Jesus will appear towards the end of the
world? I shall
reply that the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad means that no one
be endowed with prophethood after him. Jesus is among those upon whom
prophethood was endowed before Muhammad. Moreover, Jesus will appear as
follower of Muhammad and he will offer prayers with his face towards the
of Islam, as a member of the community of the Muslims." We can now
the meaning of the saying attributed to Ayesha: The Prophet Muhammad is
indeed the last prophet but it is not quite accurate to say that no
prophet will
come after him since the return of the Prophet Jesus will take place
after him.

     It is interesting to note that the literature on prophetic
traditions does not deal
with the relationship between the end of prophethood with Muhammad and
return of Jesus after him, although both beliefs are mentioned in
Hadith. Clearly,
in earlier centuries Muslims saw no contradiction between the two
probably because the understanding expressed by Zamakhshari was taken
granted. This suggests that the saying attributed to Ayesha originated
after the
period of the compilation of the major books of hadith, that is, after
the fourth
century of the Islamic calendar. This is why it has no chain of
narration and no
early source.

                   Classical commentators and jurists

     After the time of the hadith compilation we come to the time of the
classical commentators of the Qur'an and other Islamic scholars,
although one
major commentator, Ibn Jarir at-Tabari (224 A.H.-310 A.H.) lived in
about the
same period when the major collections of Hadith were being compiled. In
view of
the solid foundation provided by the Qur'an and Hadith for the belief in
the end of
prophethood it is hardly surprising that there exists an equally solid
among the commentators and other scholars. Thus At-Tabari interprets the

words, "seal of the prophets" as follows: The Prophet Muhammad "has
closed and
sealed the prophethood and the door (of prophethood) shall not open for
till the end of the world."

     After At-Tabari a major commentator is Baghawi (died 510 A.H.). He
writes in his commentary Ma`lam at-Tanzil: "God brought the line of
Prophets to an end with him. Hence he is the final Prophet.......Ibn
`Abbas affirms that (in this verse) God has given his verdict that no
prophet will come after the Prophet Muhammad."

     Next important commentator is Zamakhshari (467 A.H.-538 A.H), whom
we have already quoted. After him there is Imam Razi (543 A.H.-606
A.H.), who wrote a massive commentary on the Qur'an entitled at-Tafsir
al-Kabir. He explains the relevant Quranic passage thus: "In this
context the term khatam an-nabiyyin has been used in the sense that a
prophet whose ministry is not final may leave some injunctions or
commandments incomplete or unexplained, thus providing scope for a
succeeding prophet to complete the task. But the prophet who will have
no successor is more considerate and provides clear guidelines for his
followers, for he is like a father who knows that after him there will
be no guardian or patron to look after his son."

     Baydawi (died A.H. 685), in his commentary, Anwar at-Tanzil,
writes: "In other words he, Muhammad, is the last of the prophets. He is
the one in whom the line of prophets ends or the one whose advent has
sealed the office of prophethood.
     The appearance of Jesus (peace be upon him) after the Prophet
Muhammad is
not a contradiction of the finality of Muhammad's prophethood, because
will appear as a follower of the Shariah of Muhammad."

     Indeed, there is no single Muslim commentator of the Qur'an, modern
or ancient, who expresses any different view. This is not because these
commentators agree on everything. On many verses their interpretations
can differ considerably. But on the meaning of the "seal of the
prophets" there is no disagreement.

     The view unanimously expressed by the commentators is also
reflected in Islamic law or fiqh, where the question of the position of
a person who does not believe in the finality of Muhammad's prophethood
is answered. Again the unanimous answer is that such a person is not a
Muslim. Thus, for example, in the Hanafi school, which has the largest
number of adherents, the following position is
attributed to Abu Hanifa (80 A.H.-150 A.H.), the founder of the school:
A man
laid claim to prophethood and said "Let me show you the proofs of my
prophethood." Abu Hanifa warned the people: "Anyone who asks of this man
credentials of prophethood, shall become an apostate, for the Prophet of
has explicitly declared: "No prophet will come after me" (Manaqib al-
al-Azam Abi Hanifa, by Ibn Ahmad al-Makki). It is for this reason that
the Muslim
ummah has declared the Ahmadis a non-Muslim sect. Their entry into the
precincts of Makkah is prohibited like the entry of other non-Muslims.
It should be noted that the Muslim Ummah as a whole is extremely
reluctant to declare as
non-Muslim any group describing itself as a Muslim group. Probably the
are the only example. This one example is by no means a manifestation of

intolerance. For tolerance does not mean that the followers of a
religion cannot
decide what beliefs define their religion and must be adhered to by all
those who
want to join them.

                         Philosophers and Sufis

     At one point some philosophers and extremist Sufis probably said
things that
might not have been entirely consistent with the belief in the finality
Muhammad's prophethood. This is seen from a passing reference to
and Sufis by 'Iyad (died 544 A.H.), an Islamic qadi or judge, in the
statement: "He who lays a claim to prophethood or affirms that a man can
the office of prophethood by his efforts or can attain the status of a
through purification of soul, as is alleged by some philosophers and
Sufis; and likewise a person who does not claim to be a prophet, but
that he is the recipient of divine revelation, all such persons are
apostates and
deniers of the prophethood of Muhammad, for Muhammad has conveyed the
message of God to us that he is the final prophet and no prophet will
come after
him. He had also conveyed to us the divine message that he has finally
the office of Prophethood and that he has been sent as a prophet and a
messenger to the whole of humankind. It is the consensus of the entire
that these words of the Holy Prophet are clear enough and eloquently
speak of
the fact that they can admit of no other interpretation or amendment in
meaning. Hence there is no doubt that all these sects are outside the
pale of
Islam not only from the view-point of the consensus of the Ummah but
also on
the ground of these words having been transmitted with utmost
(Shifa', Vol. 2, 270- 271).

     Here the philosophers and extremist Sufis seems to be admitting the
that by self development one can acquire the status of a prophet,
although they
are not necessarily saying that someone will actually do so. We may
admit that
such opinions were expressed by some people who called themselves
     But that by itself does not constitute a proof that the belief in
question is not
authentic. Only a challenge to the belief on the basis of the sources of
Islam can
prove that, and no such challenge is in sight.

     Reputed Sufis in fact believed in the last prophethood of Muhammad.
Thus both Ibn Arabi and al-Ghazali (450 A.H-505 A.H.) affirm the belief.
A statement by the latter is particularly interesting.

     Al-Ghazali wants to prove the following point: If we go by only the
words of the revelation,then many possibilities of interpretation may
exist, some of which may seriously undermine the purpose of revelation.
Hence in interpreting revelation we need to look at how it was
understood in the community. If there exists a
consensus in the community about any one interpretation of a principle,
belief or
law, then this consensus must reflect the intended interpretation of
principle, belief or law and such a consensus must be binding. In order
to make
this point he takes the example of the belief in the end of prophethood
and says
in al-iqtisad fi al-'itiqad:

       `[If the right of denying the authority of consensus be admitted,
it will give
       rise to many errors. For example,] if someone says that it is
possible for a
       messenger of God to rise after our prophet Muhammad, one cannot
       to pronounce him as non-believer. But in the course of a
discussion a person
       who wants to prove this (that any hesitation in pronouncing such
a person as a
       non-believer is a sin) will inevitably require the aid of
consensus. For reason
       cannot decide the matter. As for the received tradition, the
person (who says
       that a `new messenger' can still arise) will not be incapable of
making various
       interpretations of the prophetic tradition la nabiya ba`di
("There is no prophet
       after me") and God's words khatam an-nabiyyin ("seal of the
prophets"). Thus
       he might say that by khatam an-nabiyyin God means the last of the
       messengers. If you argue that nabiyyin (prophets) is general and
is used
       without any specification, then it is not difficult to give a
general term a
       specific meaning. In respect of the prophetic tradition la nabiya
ba`di ("There
       is no prophet after me"), such a person can say that this
_expression does not
       cover messengers and there is a difference between a messenger
       prophet, prophet being (according to his view) superior to a
messenger (so
       that a prophet cannot arise after the Prophet Muhammad but a
       can still arise). Similarly, he can put forward many other
arguments, which on
       the basis of the language used cannot be rejected. Indeed, we
admit the
       possibility of even more remote interpretations of words used in
the symbolic
       statements (zawahir at-tashbih). We cannot even say that a person
       makes such interpretations is guilty of rejecting the clear
injunctions. But in
       refuting him we shall say that the entire ummah by a consensus
       that the word (la nabiya ba`di) in view of the circumstances of
the Prophet
       means that neither a prophet nor a messenger will ever arise
after him. There
       is no room  for any different interpretation nor for giving
special meaning (to
       the term nabiyyin, prophets). If, therefore, any one denies this
       interpretation, he can (in the first place) be described only as
the denier of the
       consensus. (And  then in the second place, if the consensus is
       binding, can we unhesitatingly pronounce such a person a

     By way of a conclusion of our discussion of the first of the two
questions raised
at the beginning of this article we contrast the belief in the end of
with a couple of other beliefs in Islam and Christianity. This should
enable the
reader to assess more fully the strength of the evidence presented

     It is widely believed by Muslims that the punishment of adultery by
a married
person is death by stoning. This belief is duly supported by many
ahadith but we
cannot take the consensus to the first century and back to the Qur'an.
In fact,
the Qur'an contradicts this belief and ahadith have preserved evidence
that in
earlier centuries some Muslims rejected the stoning penalty on the
grounds that
it is not mentioned in the Qur'an. Contrast this with the fact that the
belief in
the end of prophethood has considerable basis in the Qur'an and there
has been
a solid consensus of the Muslims on it throughout the centuries.

The point can be further illustrated by an example of a Christian
belief: The belief in Jesus as God. In the Bible there are many
statements that stand in the way of  this belief, which holders of the
belief have to explain in some contrived ways. And throughout history there have raged fierce battles between those who worshipped Jesus as God and those who regarded him as a creature of God. Only in the fourth century of the Christian era the belief became an official
teaching of the church and achieved some measure of consensus -- a somewhat shaky consensus with controversy about the belief starting periodically. This is again in contrast to the fact that in the Qur'an and Hadith there is no statement that stands in the way of the belief in the end of prophethood that have to be explained away and there has never been any real challenge to the consensus of the Muslims on it. This is certainly not because Muslims do not have serious differences of opinions, for the literature of Islam is full of controversies over
numerous issues.

                      REASONABLENESS OF THE BELIEF

In his writings Bahaullah has ridiculed the Muslim belief in the end of prophethood as if this is a logical absurdity. Yet if one believes in the end of the world, this belief, far from being a logical
absurdity is seen to be a logical necessity. For if history as we know
it is bound to come to an end, then there has to be at least one last
prophet. The question therefore is whether the belief in the end of the world is an absurd belief. Apart from the fact that such a belief is found in the teachings of many of the prophets whom Bahaullah
recognizes, this belief is consistent with whatever we known about the universe. In this universe everything is in a state of transition. It is therefore to be expected that this world as we know it will one day be radically transformed so that it is no longer possible to think of it as the same world as before. This, as noted before, necessarily leads to the conclusion that there has to be a last prophet.

One basis on which the belief in a last prophet is ridiculed by
Bahaullah is that new questions always arise and therefore there is need for new revelation to answer those questions. This objection, however, assumes that the purpose of the messengers of God is to answer all questions. If this was so, then why has God given humankind a strong intellect and intuition? The truth is that the purpose of the prophets is not to answer for us all necessary questions but to enable us to answer all necessary questions. They bring human beings in touch
with their true nature (fitrah), enabling them to use their God-given
faculties to answer all necessary questions. Of course this process is not irreversible in that it is possible that despite the work of the prophets people once again get disoriented from their true nature and their God-given faculties and judgment get blurred, disabling them from finding solutions to the questions they face. Before Islam this situation could prompt the rising of another prophet, but after the
Prophet Muhammad this work will be done by reformers from within his

This is because through him the religious truth has been expressed in a sufficiently universal and complete way and has been preserved in its original form. Prior to him a new prophet was required under one or more of the following situations.

1) There was need for a prophet to be sent to a certain nation to
which no prophet had been sent before and the message brought by the prophet of another nation either could not have reached these people or it was not expressed in a way suitable for them.

2) The teachings of earlier prophets had been forgotten by the
people or distorted so that they could no longer properly guide the people.

3) The teachings of the earlier prophets did not provide complete
enough guidance so that there was need for some further guidance from God.

But when finally the Prophet came with a complete, universal and
faithfully preserved revelation from God which has reached or can reach all nations, there remained no need for a new prophet. Through his well-preserved revelatory words and deeds the spirit of prophecy has achieved a permanent and universal presence in the world and hence the need for a new prophet has been removed forever.

Another reason that Bahaullah ridicules the Muslim belief in the end of prophethood is that for him it means that mercies of God have come to an end. But God can shower his mercies on humankind either through a new prophetic revelation or a well-preserved existing revelation. Muslims in any case believe that Muhammad is the source of everlasting mercies of God for all the nations till the day of judgment. Far from the mercies of God coming to an end with the conclusion of prophethood, they have become everlasting. Through hisword and example, fortunate among the humans will forever experience the presence of God and receive his abundant grace. As God says in the

We have not sent you (O Muhammad) save as a mercy for all humankind.
We have given you (O Muhammad) kawthar (a source of abundant grace).

                          EVIDENCE FROM HISTORY

The end of prophethood is supported by the history of the world, at
least up to the present time.

The first religion to spread across the globe and have a large number of followers was paganism, although it was a diffused tradition
without any central founding figure. Then there was Buddhism which swept a large part of Asia and has been followed for centuries. Buddhism was followed five or six centuries later by Christianity. About another six centuries after Christianity there came Islam. But
more than fourteen centuries have passed and no new major religion has
appeared in history, whether centered around a founding figure or not.
This supports both that there was need for Islam after Buddhism and
Christianity and that there is no need for any other religion after Islam. For if there were no need for Islam after Buddhism and Christianity it would not have emerged in history and would not have found such wide acceptance for so long and if there were need for a new religion after Islam it should have emerged by now and found a
wide acceptance. For, it may be safely assumed that no new religion gets accepted by a major part of the human population for centuries unless there is a genuine need for it.

Of course, followers of Joseph Smith, Bahaullah and Ghulam Ahmad
will say that their religions have emerged after Islam and will in the
future find world-wide acceptance. But their claims conflict with one another and therefore at least two of them are under self-deception and/or are liars. Moreover, for the moment at least all three new religions are marginal religious movements with very little impact on the world at large. The belief in the end of prophethood is a prophecy
that this marginality will be one of the permanent features of these

                            A LOOK AT BAHAISM

I conclude this article by a closer examination of one of the three
religions or sects founded by claimants of prophethood in the past couple of centuries.

As we noted earlier, one reason that Bahaullah ridicules the Islamic belief in the end of prophethood is that there always arise new questions which require fresh guidance from God. Let us see three new things that Bahaullah has introduced into religion and see what new questions they answer which are not answered or could not be answered within the earlier religious traditions.

1) Bahaullah has replaced the lunar year which determines Muslim
holidays by a solar year divided into nineteen months of nineteen years. This has two implications.

First, it has fixed the lengths of the months, which can make the
organization of the society smoother. But the same result could have been achieved either by adopting the common calendar which is now followed throughout the world or by promoting the view that the start and end of the lunar months be determined by astronomical calculations. Any one of these two solutions are in fact far more
convenient and economical. For Bahaullah's innovation would require that at one point the world should change to his new system. However, our experience with the Y2K problem, which cost the world an estimated 100 billion dollars, shows that such a change would be fraught with unnecessary dangers and expenses.

Second, Bahaullah's rearrangement of calendar has shortened the
Ramadan fast. But if in the past centuries when humans were less
protected against heat and cold, God required believers to fast for thirty days despite saying that "God wants ease not hardship for you", now that most of us are living in much more comfortable conditions how is it that he wants them to fast for 19 days? The truth is that fasting is the most popular of the practices of Islam, which shows
that it was never the sort of thing which needed to be made easier by
the advent of another prophet.

2) Bahaullah has "prohibited" slavery. In regard to this we need to
make two important observations.

First, it is easy to take a pen and write beautiful things or beautiful sounding things, but to actually effect changes in history is the real job. Divine intervention through a prophet should achieve this latter, harder task. But when Bahaullah lived, slavery was on its way out already. In prohibiting it, he was simply following a strong existing trend. Abraham Lincoln, in eliminating slavery from his country, where it was a really big and serious problem, did more for the slaves than did Bahaullah's prohibition of slavery on paper. If a
prophet was needed to eliminate slavery, God might have appointed Lincoln as a prophet.

Second, the Islamic teachings about slavery are such that a reformer within Islam could have done whatever he or she wanted for eliminating slavery. A prophet was hardly necessary. Let us briefly review those teachings.

Freeing of slaves is part of being a believer in the Qur'an:

What will make you understand what it is, that steep upward road (that leads to God and salvation)? It is the freeing of one in bondage; Or the feeding on a day of hunger An orphan near of kin, Or some needy [stranger] lying in the dust. Then will he be among those who have faith and who exhort one another to perseverance and exhort one another to compassion (90:12-17).

This is an early Makkan passage. But since the orientalists love to
say that Muhammad's Makkan message was one of love and compassion which he later abandoned in Medina, we also quote a passage from a late chapter of the Medinan period:

Virtue is not that you turn your faces to the East or the West. But virtuous is he who has faith in God and the last day ... and gives his wealth, for love of God, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask for help and to set those in bondage free ... (2:177).

The freeing of slaves is not only to be done at an individual
level, but also a portion of the government or community funds is to be used for this purpose.

And the offerings are only for the poor ... for the freeing of those in bondage and those overburdened with debts ... [this is] an ordinance of God and God is all knowing and wise (9:60).

If a believer does not free one of his slaves, it is only because
the slave does not want to be freed or is incapable of supporting
himself. For the Qur'an lays down the law:

And if any of those whom you own as slaves want a deed of freedom, write it out for them if you know of some good in them. Also, give them some of the wealth of God that he has given you (24:33).

The slaves that are for some reason or the other not freed, are to
be treated with kindness:

And serve God and do not associate any partners in his Godhead. Show kindness to parents, and to near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor who is of kin and the neighbor who is not of kin, and the companion by your side,and the wayfarer, and those whom you own as slaves ... (4:36).

This is further stressed in the prophetic traditions. Thus there is
the well-known story of Zayd bin Harithah, a slave of the Prophet. Zayd's father and uncle came to take him with them. They were willing to pay any price. The Prophet said that they need not pay anything; they can take him if Zayd so chooses. But Zayd decided to stay with the Prophet rather than go with his father and uncle. Later the Prophet adopted him as his son. The following traditions, which give rules about the treatment of slaves, are quoted from Bukhari, fi al-'itaq wa fadl hi:

The Prophet said: " Your slaves are your brothers upon whom God has
given you authority. So, if one has one's brothers under one's control, one should feed them with the like of what one eats
and clothe them with the like of what one wears. You should not
overburden them with what they cannot bear, and if you do so, help
them with the work."

The Prophet said:" One should not say to any one, "my slave" ('abdi)
or "my slave-girl" (amati), but should say, "my lad" (fatai), "my lass" fatati), and "my boy" (ghulami).'

The Prophet said:" He who has a slave-girl and teaches her good manners and improves her education and then manumits her and marries her, will get a double reward.:

In classical Islamic law enslaving of a free person without war is
prohibited. A Muslim or a non-Muslim dhimmi (one who in exchange for a tax is given protection by the Muslim government) cannot be enslaved even in a war. Prisoners of war may be enslaved only in a nation that would enslave Muslim  prisoners of war. In the presence of an international treaty about the treatment of prisoners, enslaving prisoners of war will also be prohibited.

Thus Islam prohibits slavery, but not in the way some people may in
our age want it to prohibited. They expect that a passage in the Qur'an should say:

"From now on free all the slaves and do not make any new ones and fight any one who makes or keeps a slave". In the real world things do not work that way, not even when a prophet of God is amongst us. The Qur'an and Hadith have the wisdom to take into account factors that produced slavery in the first place as well as the consequences of freeing slaves by a legal decree. We can imagine some of these consequences from the American experience, where Lincoln had to
use only legal instruments to eliminate slavery. It created a civil war and only after one and a half century the descendants of slaves have begun to gain some measure of acceptance and integration into the economic and social life of the   country. In contrast, in the Muslim world slaves to the extent that they existed enjoyed as slaves greater acceptance and integration than did blacks in America as free men for most of their history after the emancipation.

This is dramatically illustrated by the fact that slaves could rise to become kings, as is shown by the fact that there was a "slave dynasty" of kings in India. In any case in the light of the Qur'anic verses, prophetic traditions, and fiqhi positions reviewed above, it is clear that Islam wants a world without slavery. They leave no need of a new prophet to eliminate slavery. The Qur'anic revelation provides enough basis for Muslim reformers to come forward and legally ban slavery, if at any time it becomes clear that this is the wisest thing to do.

New major prophet is expected when earlier revelation does not provide basis to move forward. This can be seen in relation to the emergence of Islam. There were so many things that could not be done within the earlier Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus, for example, the idea that salvation and revelation were first channeled through one nation (Israel) and then through one individual (Jesus) got so firmly established in the Christian tradition that a truly universal view of
salvation and revelation could not be established within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Also, the belief in the divinity of a man had taken deep roots in the Christian tradition so that it could not be combated from within that tradition.

Only a new prophet could correct these other errors introduced and
sanctified in the earlier religious traditions. Now contrast this with Bahaullah's "prohibition" of slavery. There never was in the history of Islam any time when Muslims believed that slavery is desirable and the world should always have some slaves. At the most one could say that Muslims were not doing enough to realize the Islamic ideal of ridding the world of slavery. But that hardly requires a new prophet. Any reformers really concerned with fully eliminating slavery could achieve the task within Islam.

3) Bahaullah established a movement to form a world government. The
idea of such a government is not new. In Islam, especially its Shi'a
branch, to which Bahaullah originally belonged, there is a belief in Imam Mahdi who will come as a world ruler and fill the earth with peace and justice. What is new in Bahaism is that it has started a movement to create such a world government.

That there will be some kind of world government is highly likely in view of the world increasingly becoming a global village. But the formation of such a government will be the result of an interplay of global political and economic forces at an opportune time. And it is probable that when it happens bahaism will be simply bypassed. In any case, it is not clear why a new prophet was needed for forming such a government. Why, for example, a Muslim reformer and Imam cannot achieve this task, considering the fact that it is one of the missions of Islam to unite all humankind in a single brotherhood/sisterhood under the one true God?

First published in Al-Ummah, Montreal, Canada in 1985.
Copyright:Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.

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