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You are here: Home > Islam - Basics > Prophets & Messengers > Distinction between prophet & messenger

Distinction between Prophet & Messenger

The Quran makes a clear distinction between a prophet and a messenger. A prophet brings something new (a scripture) while a messenger simply confirms what exists (existing scripture). In imparting the message every prophet is also a messenger, while every messenger need not be a prophet.

God - Teacher of the Quran
Quran's view of Scholars
Quran's definition of messenger and prophet
Messenger prophet
Other examples

God - Teacher of the Quran

The Quran states categorically states that God is the Teacher of the Quran.
"The Most Gracious, teacher of the Quran" 55:1-2
Verse 42:51 provides the mechanism  of how (inspiration) God communicates with the humans.

Quran's view of Scholars

The scholars opinion has no value unless it conincides with what is advocated by God in the

[6:25]  Some of them listen to you, but we place veils on their hearts to prevent them from understanding, and deafness in their ears. Thus, no matter what kind of proof they see, they cannot believe. Thus, when they come to argue with you, the disbelievers say, "These are tales from the past."

[17:46]  We place shields around their minds, to prevent them from understanding it, and deafness in their ears. And when you preach your Lord, using the Quran alone,* they run away in aversion.

[18:57]  Who are more evil than those who are reminded of their Lord's proofs, then disregard them, without realizing what they are doing. Consequently, we place shields on their hearts to prevent them from understanding it (the Quran), and deafness in their ears. Thus, no matter what you do to guide them, they can never ever be guided.

Listening to scholars instead of God is tantamount to making the scholars gods.

[9:31]  They have set up their religious leaders and scholars as lords, instead of GOD. Others deified the Messiah, son of Mary. They were all commanded to worship only one god. There is no god except He. Be He glorified, high above having any partners.

Quran's definition of Prophet and Messenger

Verse 3:81 defines a messenger and a prophet.

[3:81] 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 fulfill this covenant?" They said, "We agree." He said, "You have thus borne witness, and I bear witness along with you." 

3:81 as tranlated by Yusuf Ali
Behold! God took the covenant of the prophets, saying: "I give you a Book and Wisdom; then comes to you an apostle, confirming what is with you; do ye believe in him and render him help." God said: "Do ye agree, and take this my Covenant as binding on you?" They said: "We agree." He said: "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses."

3:81 as translated by Pickthal
When Allah made (His) covenant with the prophets, (He said): Behold that which I have given you of the Scripture and knowledge. And afterward there will come unto you a messenger, confirming that which ye possess. Ye shall believe in him and ye shall help him. He said: Do ye agree, and will ye take up My burden (which I lay upon you) in this (matter) ? They answered: We agree. He said: Then bear ye witness. I will be a witness with you.

God, the Creator of everything in existence; the Creator of the Quran; and the Creator of Arabic language has given His definition of prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasool)

[3:81] "GOD took a covenant from the prophets, saying, "I will give you the scripture and wisdom." [Prophet (in Arabic: Nabi) given scripture and wisdom].

"Afterwards, a messenger will come to confirm all existing (scriptures)." [Messenger (in Arabic: Rasool) confirms what exists].

Verse 33:40 confirms that Muhammad was the last prophet, but not the last messenger. Verse 3:81 confirms that a messenger will come after all prophets to confirm what we have (Quran).

Verse 3:81, among many other verses, provides the definitions of "Nabi" (Prophet) and "Rasool" (Messenger). Thus, "Nabi" is a messenger of God who delivers a new scripture, while "Rasool" is a messenger commissioned by God to confirm existing scripture; he does not bring a new scripture. According to the Quran, every "Nabi" is a "Rasool," but not every "Rasool" is a "Nabi."

Not every messenger was given a new scripture. It is not logical that God will give a scripture to a prophet, then ask him to keep it exclusively for himself, as stated by some Muslim "scholars" (2:42, 146, 159). Those who are not sufficiently familiar with the Quran tend to think that Aaron was a "Nabi," as stated in 19:53, who did not receive a scripture. However, the Quran clearly states that the Torah was given specifically "to both Moses and Aaron" (21:48, 37:117).

In other words all prophets are messengers but all messengers are not prophets.

Messenger prophet

The Quran uses the phrase messenger prophet and not prophet messenger with clear implication that every prophet is a messenger, but every messenger need not be a prophet. Consistently the Quran uses messenger prophet (Rasoulan Nabyya), and never prophet messenger (Nabyyan Rasoula).

[7:157]  "(4) follow the messenger, the gentile prophet (Muhammad), whom they find written in their Torah and Gospel. He exhorts them to be righteous, enjoins them from evil, allows for them all good food, and prohibits that which is bad, and unloads the burdens and the shackles imposed upon them. Those who believe in him, respect him, support him, and follow the light that came with him are the successful ones."
[19:51]  Mention in the scripture Moses. He was devoted, and he was a messenger prophet.
[19:54]  And mention in the scripture Ismail. He was truthful when he made a promise, and he was a messenger prophet.

Other Examples

Every messenger is a human (Basharan Rasoula) but every human is not a messenger (Rasoulan Bashara)

[17:93] "Am I more than a human messenger"  
[17:94]  What prevented the people from believing when the guidance came to them is their saying, "Did GOD send a human being as a messenger?"

Every prophet is a saint (Siddiqan Nabyya) or but every Siddiq (Saint) is not a prophet.

[19:41]  Mention in the scripture Abraham; he was a saint, a prophet.
[19:56]  And mention in the scripture Idris. He was a saint, a prophet.

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