According to Islamic teaching the duty of Adam and his children is to submit to God and serve him alone (Sura 36:60-61). Everyone is therefore by nature a Muslim, and Islam the religion in accordance with creation (cf. Sura 30:30).
Yet because mankind continually strayed from God’s path he sent prophets. They proclaimed his message to a particular people or to the whole of mankind. The infinitely distant God communicated his message to the prophets through angels. Thus, the prophet Muhammad received his revelations on each occasion through the archangel Gabriel.
Belief in all the prophets belongs to the fundamental articles of faith in Islam.
Islam does not specify how many prophets God called in the course of human history. Some verses in the Koran assume that at some stage God sent a prophet to each and every people (Sura 13:7b; 35:24). The Koran mentions 25 prophets by name. 19 of these names have a counterpart in the Old or New Testament: Adam, Noah, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Job, Zechariah, John the Baptist and Jesus.
Muhammad is considered to be the final prophet and apostle of God for the whole world. He is referred to as the ‘seal of the prophets’. For this reason it is claimed that he confirmed, fulfilled and concluded all prophecies from the past.
The Arabic word for prophet is “nabi” , which literally means ‘herald’. Some of God’s messengers though are referred to as “rasul” (apostle). Some theological schools in Islam see both titles as the same. According to other theologians only prophets who received a book or new law by revelation from God are to be called “rasul”.
The messages of the prophets can differ from each other in details depending on the people the prophet was sent to and according to cultural peculiarities and the historical situation. The basic message they preached, however, was always the same: To call people to turn from idols to the one God in view of the approaching judgement (Sura 21:25).
The prophet and his message always encountered resistance and animosity. But God always confirmed the messenger and his message (This included a confirming miracle that God did through each prophet and punishment for those who persisted in unbelief.)
According to recognised Islamic theology today, God also endowed his prophets with sinlessness in order to ensure their credibility. Nevertheless, the Koran definitely assumes the sinfulness of God’s messengers (e.g.: Adam: Sura 2:35-38; Noah: 11:46-47; Abraham: 26: 82-83; Muhammad: 40:55; 47:19; 48:1-2).
In the Image of Muhammad
The recurrent pattern in the accounts of the prophets before Muhammad points to an important feature in Islamic teaching about prophets: Muhammad mostly used their stories to justify and underpin his own mission (cf. Sura 4:163-165): Some Meccans did not believe his message, but didn’t many prophets before him already preach the same message? They mocked Muhammad, but didn’t this also happen to many messengers of God before him (Sura 43:7)? – and didn’t they see God’s judgment on those who mocked them (Sura 43:8)?
The special character of individual prophets fades behind this pattern especially adapted for Muhammad. This becomes obvious when you compare the accounts of the same prophet in the Koran and the Bible. In contrast to the very different characters of biblical prophets, the prophets in the Koran have hardly any independent significance. They have been created “in the image of Muhammad”.
Islam often presents its ‘belief in all the prophets’ as an example of tolerance. A closer look, however, reveals a very one-sided belief in one prophet, namely Muhammad, and the belief in his view of prophethood that incorporates all prophets before him. Without their consent, Muhammad literally turned all earlier prophets into Muslims. While in the Bible a plurality of witnesses with distinctive personalities make the one God and his Saviour known, in the Koran we encounter only one witness. The messengers of God before him may only be interpreted from his perspective.
Jesus – one of many
It is particularly painful for us Christians to see how Jesus also is placed into this pattern to confirm Muhammad. It is explicitly stated that he is “nothing more than a messenger” (Sura 5:75) as many were before him, and “nothing but a servant”(Sura 43:59). His divine sonship and deity are repudiated in the strongest terms (Sura 4:171; 5:17+116; 9:30-32 and other passages).
And yet the Koran contains indications that Jesus has a distinctive position above all other prophets. He is referred to by several outstanding titles (e.g. “Messiah” – Sura 4:171 among others; the “Word of God” – 3:45; 4:171; “Spirit of God” – 4:171…). Even the Koran does not give the slightest hint that Jesus ever sinned (in contrast to all other prophets).
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