This subject has been source of great controversy all through the history, which increased, lately, with the rise of Islamophobic interpretation of the fundamental Islamic Sources of Legislation and Creed; i.e. the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet.
However, a perceptive and simple look into the events and facts referred to in those two primary sources of Islamic Knowledge would render a clear and far from confusing understanding of the true boundaries of infallibility of the Prophets, that neither raises them to the level of divinity that is supremely attributed to the One and Only God, Allah, the Exalted, nor equate them with normal individuals.
Firstly, the infallibility of the Prophets, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all, is a fact that shouldn’t be questioned or become subject to any scrutiny of any kind and for any reason. And this has been, as aforementioned, clarified by well interpreted examples and evidences from the Quran and Sunnah. They’ve been assigned a divine mission, delegated to them by Almighty Allah, carrying a certain value to convey to people, let that be a legislation or just the word of Allah.
And questioning their infallibility is absolute rejection of the purity of the message they’re brought with, the divine revelation that came to them.
Had not they been infallible, that Divine Revelation that descended upon them would have been restricted, polluted, and eventually died away, which never happened and shall never happen.
Allah says in the Quran;
“And We did not send before you any messenger or prophet except that when he spoke [or recited], Satan threw into it [some misunderstanding]. But Allah abolishes that which Satan throws in; then Allah makes precise His verses. And Allah is Knowing and Wise.”
-- Quran 23:44
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has mentioned that the number of Prophets was 124,000, and the number of Messengers was three hundred and in teens.
So this proves that there is a difference between a Prophet and a Messenger.
Now, let’s differentiate between the Prophet and the Messenger, to better understand their infallibility.
Prophet is the English word of Nabi, an Arabic word derived from the root naba’ or news.
Thus the Prophet is called so because he is told, Allah has told him and revealed unto him.
Here are two examples form the Quran to further illustrate the meaning:
Allah says in the Quran;
“About what are they asking one another? About the great news-“
-- Quran 78:1-2
“And when he informed her about it, she said, "Who told you this?" He said, "I was informed by the Knowing, the Acquainted.”
-- Quran 66:3
“[O Muhammad], inform My servants that it is I who am the Forgiving, the Merciful.”
-- Quran 15:49
As for the Messenger; it is the English word of Rasool, derived from the Arabic root Irsaal, or to send, such as sending a person, or a delegate to some people. He or they, then, become messenger or messengers, so they are sent with specific messages to convey to people, not by Allah of course.
As Allah says in the Quran;
“He sends down from the sky, rain, and valleys flow according to their capacity, and the torrent carries a rising foam. And from that [ore] which they heat in the fire, desiring adornments and utensils, is a foam like it. Thus Allah presents [the example of] truth and falsehood. As for the foam, it vanishes, [being] cast off; but as for that which benefits the people, it remains on the earth. Thus does Allah present examples.”
- - Quran 13:17)
According to some interpretations, Allah, the Exalted has described some of his Messengers as being both Prophets and Messengers, which indicates that being a Messenger is something additional to being a Prophet.
Dr. Umar S. Al Ashqar in his “Islamic Creed Series”, rejects the commonly held view that a Messenger is more general than a Prophet and that he’s the one who received laws and is ordered to convey it, whereas the Prophet is the one who receives revelation but is not commanded to convey it. This view renders the conclusion that every Messenger is a Prophet, but not every Prophet is a Messenger.
But Dr. Al Ashqar refutes such theory, providing evidences such as that the fact that:
1- Allah stated that He has sent messengers as He has sent Prophets- the word send implies that a Prophet, as well, is commanded to convey a message.
2- Not conveying the Message means attempting to conceal the Revelation of Allah, and surely Allah hasn’t sent revelation to be restricted and confined, and eventually die away.
3- The Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has said: “The nations were shown to me, and I saw a Prophet who had a group of people with him, a Prophet with one or two people with him, and a Prophet who had no one with him.” Related by Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Al Nesaai. This indicates that the Prophets as well were commanded to convey a message, with the number of their followers varying.
Dr. Al Ashqar supports a totally unique view regarding the difference between the Prophet and the Messenger, stating:
“A Messenger is the one who receives the revelation of a new law, and a Prophet is the one who is sent to confirm the law of the one who came before him.”- this is according to Tafsir Al Aaloosi.
Now were they infallible or not- were they completely infallible?
There is unanimous agreement amongst the Ummah that Messengers are infallible in their bearing of the Message. In the sense that they do not forget any of teachings and revelations they were commanded to convey.
They are infallible in their conveying of the Message. Messengers never concealed what was revealed onto them, as doing so would be an act of betrayal to their mission.
Also in contrast to heresy claimed by Christians and Jews, Prophets are infallible from major sin and evil actions.
The Muslim Ummah has agreed that Prophets and Messengers are free from that kind of sinning that Jews and Christians attributed to them.
Most scholars, however, agree that Prophets were not infallible against committing minor sins.
According to Ibn Taymeyah:
“The view that the Prophets were infallible against major sins but not minor sins is the view of most of the scholars of Islam, and of all different groups. It is even the view of most of Ahl Al Kalam (Islamic Philosophers and scholaristics), as was stated by Abu Al Hassan Al Aamidi that this is the view of most of Al Ashaaris. This is also the view of most of the scholars of Tafsir and hadith and the fuqahaa.”
They may err in normal acts such as forgetfulness (see Hadith of Prophet Muhammad mentioning his seeming forgetfulness in Zur prayer. Also the forgetfulness of Prophet Adam).
Also they may err in judging between people, example for that is Prophet Solomon’s famous incident.
However, following the teachings of our concluding Prophet remains part and parcel of our Islam. Also believing in and revering each and every single Prophet and Messenger who was sent is an obligation and part of our Iman that is inseparable of our belief in Allah, His Scriptures, and His attributes.
More into that in future episodes.
So Stay Tuned.
Posted on: June 26, 2012