The Difference Between Prophet and Messenger

Many Muslims do not understand the concept of Imamate simply because they lack a general understanding of the difference between Prophet & Messenger/Warner/Apostle/Imam/Guide.

(A Quranic definition)

One of the issues that always comes up when discussing the Quran is the difference between a Prophet (Nabi) and a Messenger (Rasoul). Since it is God who sends all Prophets and Messengers, then who better than God to give us the definition of each? Even though the definitions of the words Prophet and Messenger are clearly given in the Quran, the majority of Muslims do not accept the Quranic definition and instead uphold a definition of their own making, or one which they have inherited from their predecessors. Placing the interpretations of some Muslims above the words of God reflects a disbelief in God and His word (Quran). For that, we read the following clear warning in the Quran:

They took their scholars, their monks and the Messiah, the son of Mary, as lords besides God when they were commanded to worship only One God, there is no god but He. 9:31

God’s Definition of Prophet and Messenger

(Nabi and Rasoul)

In 3:81 God defined the exact duty of the Prophet (Nabi) and also the duty of the Messenger (Rasoul):

God took a covenant from the Prophets, “For what I have given you of the Scripture and wisdom, then afterwards, a Messenger comes to you confirming what is with you; you shall believe in him and support him.” He said, “Do you agree to this and accept this obligation from Me?” They said, “We agree.” He said, “Therefore bear witness and I am with you among the witnesses.” 3:81

Verse 3:81, among many other verses, provide the definitions of a Prophet and also a Messenger. A Prophet is a Messenger of God who delivers a new Scripture, while a Messenger (who is not a Prophet) is commissioned by God to confirm an existing Scripture. Only the Messengers who deliver a new Scripture are called Prophets. As a result, every Prophet is also a Messenger, but not every Messenger is a Prophet. We have numerous pieces of Quranic evidence to confirm this truth. We read in the following verse how it is the Prophets who are sent with the Scriptures:

The people used to be one nation, then God sent the Prophets as bearers of news and as warners. He brought the Scriptures down with them bearing the truth to judge among the people in their disputes. 2:213

Those who are not sufficiently familiar with the Quran tend to think that Aaron was a Prophet who did not receive a Scripture. They claim that the Torah was given to Moses and not to Aaron! This is totally inaccurate since God ascertains that the Torah was given to both Moses and Aaron: The fact is that the Torah was revealed to Moses and Aaron at the request of Moses (20:29). Aaron would later act as a type  executor and confirm the teachings of Moses when Moses disappeared to get the 10 commandments.

And We gave the two of them (Moses and Aaron) the clarifying Book. 37:117 (also 21:48).

More Proofs from the Quran

Prophethood and Scripture:

Whenever God mentions Prophethood in the Quran, God also mentions Scripture. The following are some examples:

No human being whom God gave the Scripture, authority and Prophethood is then to say to the people, “Worship me rather than God.” But instead, “Devote yourselves to your Lord according to the Scripture you have been teaching and to what you have been studying. 3:79

These were the ones to whom We have given the Scripture, the law and the Prophethood. Therefore, if these people disbelieve in it, We have already entrusted it to people who do not disbelieve in it. 6:89

We granted him Isaac and Jacob and We placed among his descendants the Prophethood and the Scripture. We granted him his reward in this world and in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous. 29:27

We gave the Children of Israel the Scripture, judgement and Prophethood. We provided them with good provisions and favoured them over all people. 45:16

We sent Noah and Abraham and We placed among their descendants the Prophethood and the Scripture. Some of them were guided while many were wicked. 57:26

Messenger Prophet and not, Prophet Messenger:

In 7:157 God described Prophet Muhammed as, “the Messenger Prophet” and not as ‘the Prophet  Messenger.’ This is not a coincidence, God does not do coincidences! The reason is that not every Messenger is a Prophet, and so in the case of Muhammad, he was a Messenger who was also a Prophet (as opposed to Messengers who are not Prophets).

Moses, the Messenger Prophet:

Along the same lines, we read in 19:51 that Moses was a “Messenger Prophet,” and not as a Prophet Messenger.

Ismail, the Messenger Prophet:

The same in 19:54 about Ishmael.

The question is: if every Messenger is also a Prophet, why would God need to emphasize that Muhammad, Moses and Ishmael, each one was a “Messenger Prophet”?

Other examples are found in the Quran to clarify this description:

Messenger nor a Prophet:

Perhaps one of the strongest pieces of Quranic evidence that the words Prophet and Messenger do not have the same meaning, is found in the following verse:

We did not send before you any Messenger, nor a Prophet, without the devil attempting to tamper with his wishes. 22:52

If the words Prophet and Messenger had the same meaning God would not be saying “Messenger, nor a Prophet,” for it would be an unnecessary repetition.

Significance of 33:40 and 10:47

Muhammad was not the father of any of your men, but he was a Messenger of God and the seal of the Prophets. God is Knowledgeable of all things. 33:40

According to 33:40, Muhammad was the last of all Prophets. There will be no Prophets to come after him. And since it is only the Prophets who deliver the Scriptures, it follows that the Quran is the final Scripture to be sent by God. We must also be aware that 33:40 clearly states that Muhammad was a “Messenger of God” and not ‘the seal of the Messengers.’ God is very deliberate with His choice of words. If Muhammad was also the last of all Messengers, as the Sunni’s call him (Khatam Al-Mursaleen), then why does God call him only  “A Messenger of God”?

The reply is found in the following Quranic verses:

For every nation is a Messenger. After their Messenger comes, they are judged equitably and they will not be wronged. 10:47

And they say, “When will this promise come true, if you are truthful?” 10:48

The words in 10:47 confirm that every nation receive a Messenger, and since there will be nations on earth until the end of the world then it also follows that there will always be Messengers/Imams/Guides until the end of the world. That is why Muhammad is not the last Messenger. After Muhammad the 12 Shia Imams (AS) take on the role of being a type of “messenger” however, they are correctly defined as Imams.

The words 10:48 speak of the coming of Messengers/Imams/Guides in the future. It is an event which would happen after the revelation of the Quran and after the Prophet Muhammad. This is why the ones asking in 10:48 are asking about a future event and saying:

When will this promise come true?”


To conclude:

1- All Prophets are also Messengers, simply because they deliver a message from God.
2- Many Messengers do not deliver a Scripture, they are not Prophets but can be Imams or Guides.

3- There will be Messengers (The 12 Shia Imams) to come after Muhammad, all the way to the end of the world (10:47)

4- Muhammad was the final Prophet. No Prophets will come after Muhammad (33:40)

5- Therefore, all Messengers who come after Muhammad will not be Prophets; the divinely appointed messengers after Muhammad are simply the 12 Imams. A regular fallible person spreading the message of Islam today is also theoretically a type of messenger.

Was Muhammad the last Messenger?

Muhammad was not the father of any of your men, but he was a Messenger 

of God and the seal of the Prophets. God is Knowledgeable of all things. 33:40

This glorious verse, which speaks about Prophet Muhammad, tells us that he was a Messenger of God and the Final Prophet.

The Quran provides a clear difference between Prophets, and Messengers who are not Prophets as discussed above.

The meaning of this verse was sadly misunderstood by many sunni scholars so as to call Muhammad the last Messenger and last Prophet. It is clear that in this verse, Muhammad is called ‘A Messenger’ and not the ‘last Messenger.’ Nowhere in the Quran is Muhammad called the ‘last Messenger.’ Nevertheless, the traditional Sunni scholars insist on calling Muhammad the ‘last Messenger.’ Perhaps the main reason for this corruption is due to the scholars’ ignorance of the fact that God makes a clear distinction in the Quran between the terms ‘Messenger’ and ‘Prophet.’

We learn from the Quran that every Prophet is also a Messenger, but not every Messenger is a Prophet, please see above.

Only Prophets are sent with a Scripture to deliver. Thus, Moses (Torah), Jesus (Injeel), David (Psalms) and Muhammad (Quran) were among God’s Prophets because they delivered Scriptures. However, there are many Messengers (Imams, Guides, Hujja¹) sent by God who are assigned various tasks to accomplish without delivering a new Scripture. As a result, the number of Messengers far exceeds the number of Prophets. Hence, it is not necessary for God to list in the Quran the names of all the Messengers:

There have been Messengers about whom We have narrated to you, and Messengers We have not narrated to you. 4:164

We read in the Quran that God sends a Messenger to every nation and since nations will exist until the end of the world, then a Messenger will always exist among mankind at all times:

For every nation is a Messenger. 10:47

These words are then followed by:

They say, “When will this promise come true, if you are truthful?” 10:48

Say, “I possess no power to bring upon myself any harm or benefit; it is only what God wills.” For every nation there is a specified term. Once their time comes, they cannot move it backwards by one hour, nor bring it forward. 10:49

Verse 48 confirms that the subject of future Messengers does not speak of Muhammad since he was challenged with the words: “when will this promise come to pass?”

Verse 49 confirms that Muhammad is commanded to reply that he does not have the answer, and that it is a matter left to God’s will.

As a result, in accordance with 33:40, Muhammad was not the last Messenger. He was the last Prophet, which means that there will be no Scripture sent by God after the Quran.

  What is An Imam¹?

Now that we have discussed the difference between prophet & messenger we can elaborate on what an Imam is. The Imam is the highest level someone commissioned by Allah can reach. We read in the Quran that after Abraham was tested by his Lord and passed all tests he was promoted to the rank of Imam.

2:124. And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: “I will make thee an Imam to the Nations.

Imamate (leadership) is the authority to lead an Islamic government and also is a very lofty spiritual and religious position. In addition to leading the Islamic government, the imam is responsible for guiding people in all aspects of their religious and worldly lives. He guides people’s minds and souls, and protects the Holy Prophet’s laws from any alteration or change. He brings to fruition the purpose for which the Holy Prophet (S) was sent. He literally takes people by the hand and brings them to their destination

We believe that all of the arch-prophets (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus & Muhammad) were Imams. They brought about with actions that which they preached in their missions. They were the people’s spiritual, physical, external and internal leaders. In particular the Holy Prophet (S) possessed this lofty position of imamate and divine leadership from the start of his mission. His task was not summed up with merely proclaiming God’s commandments, rather he was given authority as an Imam to lead.  After the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) passed away the imamate passed to Ali (see the verse of proclamation 5:67) and then to the imams from Ali’s progeny. The appointment of each successive Imam was authorized by Allah similarly to how Aaron was appointed (Quran 20:29.) Since Muhammad and the 12 Imams are the last Imams they inherit all of the knowledge of all previous prophets; it is inculcated into their minds by Allah (Quran 3:81.) Hence, they have attained the highest levels ever reached by anyone commissioned by Allah (Quran 2:253 &17:55).

  Prophets and Messengers Were Sent Everywhere

At any given snap shot point of time from Adam till today the truth is always protected by God such that a truth seeker will always be able to find it and get guidance. This means a truth-seeker located in any part of the world will find guidance at any point in history (50:16. 10:25, 15:9)

Quran 10:47 “And every nation had a messenger; so when their messenger came, the matter was decided between them with justice and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.”

Quran 14:4 “And We have sent NO Messenger save with the tongue of his people, that he might make all clear to them; then God leads astray whomsoever He will, and He guides whomsoever He will; and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise.”.

Allah sent Messengers to every nation and He stated that they came one after another, as He says:

Quran 23:44  Then We sent Our messengers in succession. Every time there came to a nation its messenger, they denied him, so We made them follow one another [to destruction], and We made them narrations. So away with a people who do not believe.  

Quran 35:24 “Verily! We have sent you with the truth, a bearer of glad tidings, and a warner. And there never was a nation but a warner had passed among them” 

Allah has named some of those Messengers and told us the stories of some of them, but not of many others. Allah, may He be exalted, says:

Quran 4:163-164 “Verily, We have inspired you (O Muhammad SAW) as We inspired Nooh (Noah) and the Prophets after him; We (also) inspired Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaque (Isaac), Yaqoob (Jacob), and Al-Asbat (the twelve sons of Yaqoob (Jacob)), Iesa (Jesus), Ayub (Job), Yoonus (Jonah), Haroon (Aaron), and Sulaiman (Solomon), and to Dawood (David) We gave the Zaboor (Psalms). And Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to you, – and to Moosa (Moses) Allah spoke directly”  

Quran 40:78 “And certainly We sent messengers before you: there are some of them that We have mentioned to you and there are others whom We have not mentioned to you”

Allah reinforces this concept when he addresses Muhammad

Quran13:7 You are only a warner (Muhammad) , and for every people is a guide.

  1. Post Muhammad’s (S) death an Imam always exists on earth in the form of one of the twelve shia Imams. Prior to Muhammad’s (S) prophethood the more precise terminology is that a Hujja (proof) always existed on earth. The Hujja is an infallible person (who was either a prophet, an Imam or Guide) with a direct link to God that is greater than anyone else.  Prior to the prophethood of Muhammad (S) the Hujja  was either active and well known or inactive and unknown. If the Hujja was inactive and unknown it was due to the threat on his life that necessitated being hidden and protected. The Hujja’s duty is to be the repository of the divine trusts, books, and message of God; it is the Hujja’s duty to protect the message of God and God has given him this ability even if he is inactive and unknown. After the killing of the 11th Shia Imam (AS) it was necessary for his successor to revert back to an inactive and hidden state; however he is alive and among us and given whatever powers needed by God to protect his religion.