Islam and the Bahá’í Faith
"Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but He is the Messenger of God and the Seal of the Prophets". - [Qur'an 33:40]
Disclaimer (on Interpretation): Beseech God, and let your prayerful attitude and a clean heart guide you to see the meanings in God's words.
The word "Seal" (kha'tam in Arabic), in the verse above, has been interpreted over the centuries to mean the: "Last", "Final", "Seal" (as in a stamp sealing closed a document), "Seal" (as in seal of authority, officiating a document), and a few other meanings along similar lines of interpretation. Bahá’ís don't object to these possible meanings, and readily believe in the more common interpretation of : (Seal meaning Last), as Muhammad (PBUH) is repeatedly referred to in the Bahá’í Writings. This may at first appear contrary to believing that there is a new religion, but the visitor is invited to read further.
Followers of all past religions have believed, based on certain verses in their holy books, that their religion would not be followed by any other.
Verses such as this have prevented the Jews from accepting newer revelations:
"Go thy way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end." - [Daniel 12:9]
Another verse in the Old Testament says that the law of the Sabbath shall not be broken.
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For our Christian brothers and sisters, it was verses such as these below, which lead them to believe that there would not be any revelation after that of Christ:
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." - [John 14:6]
"Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away." - [Luke 21:33]
"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. " - [Hebrews 1:1]
These and many other verses that talk about, how only through Jesus (PBUH) we can know the Father, and how His words will never be replaced, were the reason that Christians would not accept any Messenger after Christ.
Going back to the meaning of the "Seal of the Prophets", this verse, and other verses about the completion of religion in Islam, have been interpreted by the majority of Muslims as indication of the finality, not only of Prophethood, but of all revelation. Other opinions and interpretations, including some by Muslim scholars, have argued that since there are many other verses in the Qur'an which explain the endless nature of the Words of God, in addition to other verses and Hadiths (traditions and sayings of the Prophet), which talk about the return of Jesus and the coming of the Mahdi, these opinions, have argued that there may be other interpretations for these verses. Some of these interpretations are mentioned here:
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Many passages in religious scripture and other studies of theology hint at the idea that the Reality of the Messengers of God is the same reality, in as much as, They all came from the same Source, bringing us God's Teachings, and mirroring forth His attributes. In this light, it can be understood for example, how Jesus (PBUH) could also claim that He was the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Here are some Muslim sources which contribute to such theme:
The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - the which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein ... - [Qur'an 42:13]
Say ye: "We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we submit to Allah (in Islam)." - [Qur'an 2:136]
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"Anas ibn Malik said,
One day the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, offered his morning prayer and ascended the pulpit. His face was resplendent as the full moon. We asked the Messenger of God to interpret the verse of the Qur'an: "...they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favor of the Prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous." [4:69] He said, (ama-an-nabiyoona fa-ana...) By the term "Prophets" I am meant, by the term "saints" Ali ibn Abi Talib is meant, by "martyrs" my uncle Hamzah is meant and the "righteous" are my daughter Fatimah and her two sons Hasan and Husayn."
[Bihar'ul-Anwar vol. 7 by Majlesi, cited from Riyaz ul Janan by Fazl'u'llah ibn Mahmood al-Faresi] In this section of the book there are several references based on similar ahadith. Other Shi'ah scholars such as Allamih Kulaini in the book of Kafi and Mohsen Fayz Kashani in Tafseer-e Safi refer to the same set of ahadith with similar interpretations
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Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one." - [Sahih-Volume 4, Book 55, Number 652]
"The prophets are brothers of different mothers, but their religion is one. Of all men I am the most deserving to be the brother of Jesus Son of Mary, for there was no prophet between me and him." - [Al Hendy, Kanzol 'Ummal, Vol. 17, Hadith No. 1033.]
Salman al-Farsi (RA) narrated that:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) saying: "I myself, and Ali were one light in the hands of Allah fourteen thousand years (14,000) before He created Adam (AS). When Allah created Adam (AS) He divided that light into two parts, one part is me and one part Ali."
- Mizan Al-Ei'tidal, by al-Dhahabi, v1, p235
- Fada'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v2, p663, Tradition #1130
- al-Riyadh al-Nadhirah, by al-Muhib al-Tabari, v2, p164, v3, p154
- History of Ibn Asakir
Also see point 5 in the previous section
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Bahá'u'lláh on the Oneness of the Prophets:
"The door of the knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace, according to His saying, "His grace hath transcended all things; My grace hath encompassed them all," hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence.
These sanctified Mirrors, these Day Springs of ancient glory, are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory. They are the Treasuries of Divine knowledge, and the Repositories of celestial wisdom. Through them is transmitted a grace that is infinite, and by them is revealed the Light that can never fade.... These Tabernacles of Holiness, these Primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. By the revelation of these Gems of Divine virtue all the names and attributes of God, such as knowledge and power, sovereignty and dominion, mercy and wisdom, glory, bounty, and grace, are made manifest.
These attributes of God are not, and have never been, vouchsafed specially unto certain Prophets, and withheld from others. Nay, all the Prophets of God, His well-favored, His holy and chosen Messengers are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their light. Even as He hath revealed: "Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others."
It hath, therefore, become manifest and evident that within the tabernacles of these Prophets and chosen Ones of God the light of His infinite names and exalted attributes hath been reflected, even though the light of some of these attributes may or may not be outwardly revealed from these luminous Temples to the eyes of men. That a certain attribute of God hath not been outwardly manifested by these Essences of Detachment doth in no wise imply that they who are the Day Springs of God's attributes and the Treasuries of His holy names did not actually possess it. Therefore, these illuminated Souls, these beauteous Countenances have, each and every one of them, been endowed with all the attributes of God, such as sovereignty, dominion, and the like, even though to outward seeming they be shorn of all earthly majesty.... " - [Kitáb-i-Íqán]
Opinions have differed on whether the word "Rasool" (Messenger /Apostle), and the word "Nabi" (Prophet), are interchangeable. Notwithstanding the fact that Muhammad (PBUH) was both a Prophet and a Messenger, there obviously are differences, at least in definition, between the two words. Some people argue that the term "Seal of the Prophets" does not apply to Messengers, while others have argued that all Prophets by definition, are Messengers as well, which would mean that by sealing prophethood, messengership is also sealed.
One definition of "Messenger" given, is that a Messenger brings a revelation, a religion. The following verse from the Qur'an is repeated three times, always with the word "Rasool":
"He it is Who sends the Messenger for guidance, with the true religion." - [Qur’an 9:33 , 48:28, and 61:9]
Only a few Individuals mentioned in the Qur'an are called Messengers. In chapter 61 of the Qur'an (Al-Saf) , in verses 4,5, and 8, the word "Rasool" is used for Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (PBU Them). All Three were law bearing Messengers with Books and Revelation (Deen).
In the Holy Qur'an, we find many more names of prophets mentioned than of Messengers. Some of these names are, Isaac, Jacob, Ismael, Idris, David, Solomon and many many others (PBU Them all). They were all prophets, and non of Them came with a new religion. It is also interesting to read in the following verse that those who obey the Messenger, will be in the company of the prophets and the saints (who also obey the Messenger) :
"All who obey God and the Messenger are in the company of those on whom is the grace of God, of the Prophets, the sincere, the martyrs (or witnesses) and the righteous". - [Qur'an 4:69]
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Another definition of the term "prophet" (nabi) is that prophets (such as the minor prophets of Judaism), received their inspiration usually in the form of dreams:
I (Burayd) said: May my life be your ransom. What is a Messenger, a Prophet and one who is told? He said: A Messenger is one to whom the angel appears and speaks. A prophet is one who sees in his dream. Possibly the Prophethood and Messengership is combined in a single person.b> - [Usul al-Kafi, Book 4,442-4]
In the same book (Usul al-Kafi), 439-1 states:
A Prophet is one who sees the angel while asleep, and hears him but does not see the angel while awake. A Messenger is one who hears the voice while awake and sees while asleep, and also with his eyes sees the angel when awake. *
* see further explanation below.
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More to consider:
Allamih Majlesi in Bihar'ul-Anvar Vol 13, p.323 mentions one of the discourses of Imam Ali. In that discourse Ali says: "I am the Commander of the faithful. I am the King among the pious..... I am the Khatam'u-Vasieen [which can be either taken as "The Seal of the guardians and successors", or, as "The Ornament of the Guardians and successors".] and the heir of the prophets and the representative of the God of the worlds."
This Hadith is referred to as the Hadith Nuraniah as is reported by several people such as Ibn Babyih (Sheikh Sadooq) in "Uyoon'ul-Akhbar Ar-Rida".
This tradition of Imam Ali is a very interesting. One must be fair in one's judgment. If we are to take, in this tradition, the term "Khatam" as "the Seal", "the ender", "one who completes", then one is obliged to accept that Ali was "the seal of the guardians, and successors", after Muhammad, Who is the Seal of the prophets. Yet, Shi'ahs believe that after Muhammad there was supposed to be twelve Imams, only the first of Whom was Ali. So, assuming that the term Khatam in Khatam'u-Vasieen must have a similar meaning to the term Khatam in Khatam'u- Nabieen, then one is to question why were there more Imams after Ali. How are we to reconcile the existence of the other Imams, Who came after Ali, based on this interpretation? Let this be food for thought for the possessors of pure heart and open mind.
Let us now examine the meaning of the term Khatam'u-Nabieen from the perspective of Sunni scholars and theologians, so that the seekers of truth obtain a wider spectrum of views for their judgment:
In the commentary of Fat'hol-Ghadeer by Hafiz Mohhades-i-Shokani we find: "All the Ghoraba use KhatEm, while Athim use KhatAm. KhatEm in Khatem'un-Nabeein means the Ender of Prophets, or the Seal of Prophets, while, KhatAm in Khatam'un-Nabeein means ring and ornament. In essence Muhammad, the Messenger of God, was the Ring or Ornament of (i.e. among) the Prophets, due to His exalted station compared to other Prophets."
The same book quotes from Dorr'ul-Mansoor of Allamih Jallal'u-Din Suyutti, who quotes Ayeshih, the wife of Muhammad, who said: "Say KhatAm-un-Nabeein (i.e. The Ring or Ornament of the Prophets), and never say no prophets shall come after Him (i.e. Muhammad)".
One can find the same references in the commentary of Kashaaf, by Zamakhshari, who says: "Muhammad, the Messenger of God, was called Khatam'u-Nabieen, since, He did not have any male offsprings to inherit prophethood from Him." He goes on and presents a Hadith from Prophet Muhammad who says about His deceased son Abraham (from Marieh, the Egyptian wife of Muhammad):"If my son Abraham was alive, he would have been a Nabi (i.e. He would have become a Nabi after Me.)". However, all of Muhammad's male offsprings die in early childhood, thus, the verse of the Qur'an: "Muhammad is not the father of any man among you...." comes into fulfillment, and Muhammad become Khatam'u-Nabieen, according to the same verse."
Abo'l-Bagha, another trusted Sunni source discusses this issue in his book, "Mofeed", from the same angle, which I will not quote here in order to prevent excessive repetition of the same idea.
It is apparent from what has been mentioned at length, that both Shi'ah and Sunni sources agree that:
1- There is a more profound meaning associated with the title Khatam'u-Nabieen.
2- Finality of Muhammad's revelation is not implied by this term, mentioned in the Qur'an, the Confederates: (33:40).
* Let me close this note with the view of Abol-Fada'il-i Golpayegani, a prominent Bahá’í scholar, from a Muslim background, who, in his book Fara'id addresses the question of Khatam'u-Nabieen as follows: "No wonder if the learned of Islam too, argue against the renewal of revelation from God [like their predecessors, Jews and Christians, who are firmly convinced that their respective religions are the final revelation from God], based on such references as: Khatam'u-Nabeein, or such traditions as: "There shall be no prophet after me....", and by doing so become subjected to a test of faith; and join their predecessors [Jews and Christians]. Not realizing that the purpose of Muhammad in using the term Khatam'u-Nabeein was to suggest the progress of the Islamic nation, and unveil the ascendancy of the station of the Imams in comparison to the prophets of Israel. It is clear to those who are familiar with the Scriptures of the past, who are aware of the events which are associated with the histories of the nations of antiquity that the prophets of Israel, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc... one and all prophesied about the future events according to dreams and visions. And they interpreted their vision or dream as a revelation from God. As a result, the book of these prophets became known as the vision of Isaiah, vision of Daniel, vision of Jeremiah, and vision of Ezekiel. By the same token, if we are to examine this issue from a Christian perspective, the Revelation of St. John is in essence the Dream of John. As a result the term Nabi (Prophet) was given to the ones who prophesied based on visions, or dreams. This usage was solidified during the Jewish and Christians dispensations. However, after the appearance of Prophet Muhammad (Khatam'ul-Anbia), the ender of the prophetic cycle, the era of revelation from God "through the medium of dreams and visions" was ended and a new era of "revelation through direct inspiration" had begun. Viewed from this perspective, we can see that the tradition; "There will be no prophets after me..." was a true statement. - [Fara'id, p. 311]
One way to think of the finality of Prophethood may be, that Muhammad (PBUH), is the Seal of the Prophets until the Day of Resurrection. Whether this means the physical end of the world is discussed further under the topic: Day of Judgment.
As fervor for the coming millennium has been on the increase among many of our Christian brothers and sisters (with possible implications of the Second Coming of Christ, and the end of the world), we notice to a lesser degree, a parallel increase among some Muslims, of the idea that the Day of Judgment is not very far. They base these beliefs on the appearance of many of the signs of the Day of Judgment, mentioned in the Qur'an and Hadith.
The possible nearness of the Hour, may give more validity to the notion that there is no further need for divine guidance since the world is coming to an end very soon anyway.
Others insist that only God knows the time of the end, and it is quite possible that life on this planet may continue for millennia to come. Many of this second group insist however, that the laws of Islam are valid and appropriate for all people, for all times, and all places. When it is pointed out to them that there have not been any societies or countries which practice the Islamic way of life according to the Shari'a (Islamic Jurisprudence) for quite some time now, these people insist that Islam will have a second zenith, even as it had its first zenith during the middle ages when the Islamic Khalifate ruled from Spain to the boarders of China.
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Others still, have argued that according to the Qur'an, and even when (or if) there is a physical end of some kind, creation is cyclically renewed, and as long as creation continues, humankind will always be in need for guidance, in fulfillment of what is known as the eternal Covenant of God, which He established with humanity: that in return for obedience to His laws and teachings, He would not let us go astray. After all, even angels will continue to need guidance according to the Holy Qur'an:
"Say, if there were settled on earth angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent them down from heaven an angel for an apostle." - [Qur'an 17:95]
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Some verses from the Holy Qur'an about the continuation and renewal of creation:
"On the day when We will roll up heaven like the rolling up of the scroll for writings, as We originated the first creation, (so) We shall reproduce it; a promise (binding on Us); surely We will bring it about." - [Qur'an 21.104]
"See they not how Allah originates creation, then repeats it: truly that is easy for Allah. Say: Travel in the earth and see how He makes the first creation, then Allah creates the latter creation; surely Allah has power over all things." - [Qur'an 29.19-20]
"Were We then fatigued with the first creation? Yet are they in doubt with regard to a new creation." - [Qur'an 50.15]
Some hadith (tradition of the Prophet) may indicate, that the sealing of the office of prophethood, is to be understood in the light of the manner of, how guidance was continued in previous dispensations, and how that method was changed in Islam.
Through Muhammad's revelation the office of prophethood was ended. That is to say, no other prophet like those of Judaism (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc... ) were to appear. Instead Khalifs (according to Sunni terminology), and Imams (according to Shi'ite usage) appeared. The following Sahih Hadith hints at this issue:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "The Israelis used to be ruled and guided by prophets: Whenever a prophet died, another would take over his place. There will be no prophet after me, but there will be Caliphs who will increase in number."
The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What do you order us (to do)?" He said, "Obey the one who will be given the pledge of allegiance first. Fulfill their (i.e. the Caliphs) rights, for Allah will ask them about (any shortcoming) in ruling those Allah has put under their guardianship." - [Sahih Bukhari 4:661] (see Arabic)
This issue may be best understood when we study the historical context and the circumstances of the revelation of verse 33:40. Most importantly, the verse itself should not be taken out of the context of the Sura (chapter) which it is a part of.
The Prophet (PBUH), had adopted Zaid ibn Al-Haritha and treated him as His own son and made him part of His household. The people started calling him Zaid ibn Muhammad. Verses 4 and 5 of the same sura, clearly discourage such practice :
[33:4] YUSUFALI: Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body: nor has He made your wives whom ye divorce by Zihar your mothers: nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way.
PICKTHAL: Allah hath not assigned unto any man two hearts within his body, nor hath He made your wives whom ye declare (to be your mothers) your mothers, nor hath He made those whom ye claim (to be your sons) your sons. This is but a saying of your mouths. But Allah saith the truth and He showeth the way.
SHAKIR: Allah has not made for any man two hearts within him; nor has He made your wives whose backs you liken to the backs of your mothers as your mothers, nor has He made those whom you assert to be your sons your real sons; these are the words of your mouths; and Allah speaks the truth and He guides to the way.
[33:5] YUSUFALI: Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is juster in the sight of Allah. But if ye know not their father's (names, call them) your Brothers in faith, or your maulas. But there is no blame on you if ye make a mistake therein: (what counts is) the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.
PICKTHAL: Proclaim their real parentage. That will be more equitable in the sight of Allah. And if ye know not their fathers, then (they are) your brethren in the faith, and your clients. And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that ye make unintentionally, but what your hearts purpose (that will be a sin for you). Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.
SHAKIR: Assert their relationship to their fathers; this is more equitable with Allah; but if you do not know their fathers, then they are your brethren in faith and your friends; and there is no blame on you concerning that in which you made a mistake, but (concerning) that which your hearts do purposely (blame may rest on you), and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
As people were using the name Zaid ibn Muhammad, the expectation of some was also that he would become His successor, as had been the case the prophets of the children of Israel.
When Zaid divorced his wife, who later was married to the Prophet (PBUH), many people objected to this and expressed their displeasure that He would marry His "son's" divorced wife, verse 33:40 made it clear that Zaid was neither the Prophet's son nor was he or anyone else to be a prophet after Him.
When chapter 33 is read in its entirety, this issue becomes much clearer.
Bahá'u'lláh wrote: ' ...how many are those who, through failure to understand its meaning, have allowed the term "Seal of the Prophets" to obscure their understanding, and deprive them of the grace of all His manifold bounties! Hath not Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am all the Prophets?" Hath He not said as We have already mentioned: "I am Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus?" Why should Muhammad, that immortal Beauty, Who hath said: "I am the first Adam" be incapable of saying also: "I am the last Adam"? For even as He regarded Himself to be the "First of the Prophets" - that is Adam - in like manner, the "Seal of the Prophets" is also applicable unto that Divine Beauty. It is admittedly obvious that being the "First of the Prophets," He likewise is their "Seal." .. ' - Book of Certitude * - [Book of Certitude *]
Notwithstanding the fact that all the Messengers of God were different individuals, Baha'is believe that the Reality of all these Messengers is one and the same in the sense that They all came to reveal aspects of the same Truth, and to help us learn about the one and same God. This is an aspect of the concept of the Oneness of God (Tawheed). In this sense, They were all the beginning and the end as Jesus (PBUH) proclaimed that He was the Alpha and the Omega.
* see also above 1. Oneness of the Prophets