The difference between prophets and messengers

Difference between prophets and messengers

A common question that is asked is the difference between a prophet and a messenger. This is a good question. In most cases the difference really has no practical implications, except in one major issue which we will address here and in more detail in a course titled ‘Believing in the Prophets’ on Islamic Courses Online. Let us examine the two titles and look at their roles and responsibilities.

The word Nabi is derived from al-Inba’ , implying news or elevation, meaning information which carries great benefit, and raises one above others through that information. That was the linguistic breakdown of the word, now let’s looks at it from a more Islamic lense, a Nabi, is one who informs people on behalf of Allah and his rank amongst the people is the highest. He orders his people with that which Allah orders him with. And a Nabi is only sent to believers, he does not address the disbelievers.

The word rasool is derived from irsaal (guidance), its singular is mursal, the one who carries the message, the one who follows the instructions of the one who informed him to deliver a message to another people. So, Islamically a rasool is one who is commissioned by Allah with a message which he must deliver to the people.

So, the difference between the two is that the Rasool has been sent by Allah with wahy and a book, sometimes without a book but yet with divine laws. The Nabi is one who comes to complete the work of a previous messenger and not with a new book or law. Therefore, we can put together a simple formula that every Rasool is a Nabi, but not every Nabi is a Rasool.


Diagram 1: The Anbiyah and the Rosol


                                                                                            rosol ana anbiyah


Further differences can be seen with the books that were revealed, the Rasool was given a book whereas the Nabi was not. The total number of books revealed were 104 and the number of Rasool exceeded 300, meaning not ever Rasool was sent with a book. We also notice the number of Anbiya is greater than the Rosol, because the Anbiya are more general and comprehensive than the Rasol. In some narrations we find the total numbers of Anbiya are 124,000 while the number of Rosol is 315.

These definitions are not free from criticism, sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah states: “The correct view is that the Messenger is one is sent to a disbelieving people, and the prophet is one who is sent to a believing people with the sharee’ah of the messenger who came before him, to teach them and judge between them as Allah says:

Verily, we did send down the Tawraat (Torah) to Mosa, therein was guidance and light, by which the Prophets, who submitted themselves to Allah’s will, judged for the Jews.[1]

A third opinion is that there is no real difference between a Nabi and a Rasool, two titles for the same person.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the practical implications of this difference between these two terminologies is pretty much non-existent, except in one very important doctrinal   principle. There are those who may make the claim, that after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, there is room and acceptability for the arrival of another Rasool. I know this sounds absurd, but let’s hear it all out. The argument is as follows, the shahadah doesn’t restrict the arrival of more prophets, the shahadah is: “There is no God worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”, nowhere in this statement has Allah restricted Prophethood. It simply states that Muhammad was a prophet just like all the other prophets. So, then we turn to Surah Al-Ahzaab Verse 40:

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but is the messenger of Allah and the seal of the Prophets (Nabiyeen). And Allah has perfect knowledge of all things.”

So, this verse narrows things down further, that the Prophet Muhammad is definitely the last Nabi, there is no doubt in this matter, full stop. But, certain sects will say that yes, Muhammad is the last Nabi we accept that but there can be room for another Rasool. Hence, they believe in messengers after the Prophet Muhammad based on this argument. But if we go back to first principle and revisit our diagram 1 and our formula:

“Every Rasool is a Nabi, but not every Nabi is a Rasool.”


Now, we see the importance of making this specific distinction between a Rasool and a Nabi, Allah states that the Prophet Muhammad is the final Nabi, the more encompassing general definition, therefore by default it is impossible for there to come a Rasool!  No Nabi No Rasool!

In conclusion, the Prophet Muhammad is the final Nabi/Rasool of Allah, there is no one after him. And if anyone makes the claim of prophet hood after the Prophet Muhammad know that this person has left the fold of Islam and belongs to the pagans and not to the people of Tawheed.


[1] Al-maaidah 5:44

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