Six meanings associated with the terms
"Seal of the Prophets" & "Seal of the Messengers"  - by Kamran Hakim

"Muhammad is... the Messenger of Allah, and
the Seal of the Prophets..."
-Qur'an 33:40

"the Prophets are of two kinds. One are the independent Prophets Who are followed; the other kind are not independent and are themselves followers.

The independent Prophets are the lawgivers and the founders of a new cycle. Through Their appearance the world puts on a new garment, the foundations of religion are established, and a new book is revealed. Without an intermediary They receive bounty from the Reality of the Divinity, and Their illumination is an essential illumination. They are like the sun which is luminous in itself: the light is its essential necessity; it does not receive light from any other star. These Dawning-places of the morn of Unity are the sources of bounty and the mirrors of the Essence of Reality.

The other Prophets are followers and promoters, for they are branches and not independent; they receive the bounty of the independent Prophets, and they profit by the light of the Guidance of the universal Prophets. They are like the moon, which is not luminous and radiant in itself, but receives its light from the sun.

The Manifestations of universal Prophethood Who appeared independently are, for example, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha'u'llah. But the others who are followers and promoters are like Solomon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For the independent Prophets are founders; They establish a new religion and make new creatures of men; They change the general morals, promote new customs and rules, renew the cycle and the Law. Their appearance is like the season of spring, which arrays all earthly beings in a new garment, and gives them a new life.

With regard to the second sort of Prophets who are followers, these also promote the Law of God, make known the Religion of God, and proclaim His word. Of themselves they have no power and might, except what they receive from the independent Prophets." -from: "Some Answered Questions" by Abdu'l-Baha, pages 164-165

The term "Nabi" or "Prophet" has been used in the past Scriptures including the Qur'an in two ways. The understanding of this term is crucial in discussing this topic. Likewise the term "Rasool" or "Messenger" also has two meanings:

In light of what has been discussed above, there are several implications associated with the terms Khatam'un Nabi-een, and Khatam'ur Rosol-een which I will summarize:

Shi'ah scholar's views on Seal of the Prophets
Let us now examine the opinions of various Muslim theologians, from both Shi'ah and Sunni backgrounds, on the meaning of the term Khatam'u-Nabieen. I will first focus on this, from a Shi'ah perspective... then I will discuss the Sunni view as well as some other views:

Mulla Fatth-i-Kashani, who is one of the highly respected Shi'ah scholars, in his commentary on Manhaj-ul-Sadegheen, addresses the concept of Khatam'u-Nabieen as follows: "Muhammad's fear became a reality, after He married Zei'nab. After marriage, the idolaters, and His enemies started criticizing Him, and accusing Him of hypocrisy. They'd say, Muhammad teaches His followers that it is unlawful for a father to marry his son's divorced wife, while He has married Zayd's wife. [Zayd was purchased by Muhammad and freed to live as a free man, and Muhammad had adopted him as His son. Arabs of the time of Jahliah, considered one's adopted son as the real son. This is why they started to accuse Muhammad of hypocrisy.]

As a result of this criticism, God revealed to Muhammad, Peace be upon Him!, as reflected in the Su'rih of the Confederates, that, Muhammad is not the father of any man (i.e. any male offsprings) among you (since, no surviving male offsprings remained after He passed away). As a result, the law of not marrying the divorced wife of a son would not apply to Muhammad. Furthermore, God calls Muhammad an Apostle of God, in that same verse, (suggesting that He was the spiritual father of all Arabs, and Zayd was simply an Arab with no blood relationship to Him).

Moreover, the verse identifies Muhammad as the seal of the prophets, that is to say, since He did not have any surviving male offsprings to inherit prophethood from Him, thus, prophethood was sealed with Him. That is to say, no prophets shall appear after Him... All of Muhammad's male offsprings died in early childhood, prior to Muhammad's own passing, thus, this verse of the Qur'an came into fulfillment."

In the same book [i.e. his commentary on Manhaj-ul-Sadegheen], Mulla Fatth-i- Kashani, offers a tradition attributed to Muhammad, where He says: "I am Muhammad, and I am Ahmad and I am that gatherer, through Whom God shall gather His people. And I am the last, after Me there shall be no other prophet."

Also, he offers another tradition, in the same book, where, Muhammad the Messenger of God tells Ali, Peace be upon Him!: "If it was allowed that after me there be another prophet, that would have been you, and no one but you."

Allamih Jallal-u-Din Suyutti in Jami-ul-Saghir quotes Ayeshih (one of the wives of Prophet Muhammad), who had quoted Muhammad saying: "No prophet shall appear after Me, but Omar-ibn-Khattab." [For the information of the non-Muslim readers, Omar was one of Muhammad's son-in-laws, who agreed to become the 2nd Khalif after Abu-Bakr].

Clearly, the concept of no Nabi, or prophet, appearing after Muhammad must have been associated with His immediate successorship, and had nothing to do with coming of future Messengers from God. Otherwise, why would Muhammad want to discuss Omar's -the second Khalif's- name in this tradition.

Many of the Shi'ah commentators believe in a literal meaning of the term Khatam-u- Nabieen (Seal of the Prophets, after Whom no other Messengers of God shall come), however, there are other commentators who believe differently: Ibn-i Babuyih known as Sheikh Sadoogh, another highly respected Shi'ah scholar/theologian argues in his book, Ekmaal-ud-Din, vol I: "All the Messengers of God who appeared prior to Muhammad, were succeeded by a Nabi (i.e. a prophet). Adam was a Rasool (Messenger of God), and His successor was Shais the Nabi (Seth the prophet). Noah was a Messenger of God and His successor was Saam the Nabi (Shem the prophet). Abraham, Moses, Jesus and David (peace be upon Them!), were also God's Messengers, Whose successors were Isaac, Joshua, Simon (St. Peter) and Solomon Who were all prophets.

However, the successors of Muhammad, Rasool-Allah (the Messenger of God), were not called Nabis (prophets). They were referred to as Imams. Therefore, Ali was not a Nabi, Hasan was not a Nabi, Hossein was not a Nabi, etc...., since, with the Manifestation of Muhammad, the usage of the term Nabi was abandoned (i.e. He was Khatam-u-Nabieen), and ended. As Muhammad was greater than the previous Messengers, so were His appointed successors (i.e. Imams) were greater than Nabis (prophets)."

This commentary of Sheikh Sadoogh appears to clearly reason out the inner significance of traditions such as: "Seal of the prophets", "There will be no prophets after me....".

Among other Shi'ah sources there is a Hadith (tradition) recorded by Ibn-i-Shahr Ashoob in his book, "Managhib". The very same Hadith can also be found in vol IX of Bihar'ul- Anvar of Allamih Majlesi. This Hadith is from Imam Ali, (Peace be upon Him!), where He discusses the meaning of the term Khatam-u-Nabieen. After describing the ascendancy of His own station, Ali says: "...Anyone who disagrees with me, has disagreed with God, and in arrogance has surpassed all others. No prophet has achieved the station of prophethood except through the Khatam of Nabovvat (i.e. literally meaning prophethood) he received from Muhammad. And Khatam is a ring. Only after receiving the Khatam (ring) of Nabovvat, one can be called a prophet. This is why Muhammad has been called Khatam'u- Nabieen in the Qur'an....." Then He says: "Muhammad is the Seyyed (master) of the Nabieen (prophets), and I am the Seyyed and master of the Vaseein (guardians and successors)."

Clearly Ali's explanation of "Khatam'u-Nabeein" is drastically different than the meaning the literalist Muslims have given to it. There does not appear to be any implications whatsoever about cessation of revelation after Prophet Muhammad.

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.

Sunni scholar's views on Seal of the Prophets
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:

Let me close this note with the view of Abol-Fadail-i Golpayegani, a prominent Baha'i 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

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Kamran Hakim is a member of the Baha'i Faith. The opinions expressed in this article constitute his own personal understanding and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Baha'i Faith or it's teachings.