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Verses from Surah Maryam (51-58)

63. Being true to the promise is specifically mentioned as Isma`l’s quality because he stayed true to the promise he gave his father that he will not flinch when the knife is applied to his throat. Otherwise, of course, all Prophets were endowed with this quality. Our own Prophet was particular about it even before he was chosen for the mission. `Abdullah ibn abi al-Hamsa’ says in a report of Abu Da’ud,

“I made a deal with the Prophet in pre-Islamic days. I paid him partly and told him to wait at the spot for the rest. However, as I went off to fetch, I entirely forgot about it. I happened to pass by the place after three days and found him right there. He remarked, “Young man, you put me into hardship. I am waiting for you here since three days” (Qurtubi).

But the hadith has been declared not quite trustworthy by some authorities, while Ibn Kathir evinces some confidence (Au.).

64. Ibn Kathir points out here that while mentioning Is-haq, Allah qualified him as a Prophet, while mentioning Isma`il, he qualified him both as Prophet and a Messenger. This demonstrates the superiority of Isma`il over Is-haq. This is strengthened by a Prophetic statement which says, “Indeed, of the sons of Ibrahim, Allah chose Isma`il..”

There is a lack of clarity about the exact functions of a Prophet (nabiyy). This rises from the simple fact that we do not know enough about the anbiya’ of the past. Previous nations have not preserved their history to any degree of credibility. In fact, the term nabiyy itself has been variously understood. In the words of Mawdudi, “Lexicographers disagree as to the exact meaning of the word nabi. Some consider it to be the derivative of the term naba’ and denotes ‘to give news and hence the word nabi means someone who brings news. Others consider it to be derived from nabu, meaning height and elevation.. Accordingly, nabi is a person who holds a high, elevated position.”

What in any case, is the difference between a Prophet and a Messenger? Mujahid answered in very simple terms. He said, as in Ibn Abi Hatim, “Prophets are those who are revealed to, but not sent to a people. In contrast, Messengers are those who are given revelations, and, in addition, are sent to a people” (Shawkani).

Alusi adds: However, a Messenger need not carry a new Shari`ah altogether. According to one opinion, sometimes he is sent with the Shari`ah of a previous Messenger, to a people who had not received a revealed Shari`ah earlier. This is the case with Isma`il. A new Shari`ah was not revealed to him. But rather, he carried the Shari`ah of Ibrahim to a people – in this case the Jurham tribe – who had not received any Shari`ah through any earlier Messenger.

Yusuf Ali simplifies it while writing about Musa: “.. he was a prophet (nabi), in that he received inspiration; and he was a messenger (rasul) in that he had a Book of Revelation, and an Ummat or organized community, for which he instituted laws.”

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