DEFINITION OF A NABI (PROPHET) [Lisaan al-'Arab , 3/561, 573; Ba$aa*ir Dhawiy at-Tamyeez , 5/14; Lawaami' al - Anwaar al-Bahiyah, 1/49, 2/265. ]
In Arabic, the word Nabi (Prophet) is derived from the word naba which means news. Allah, says:
"What are they asking [one another] about? About the great news [An-Nabaa ’ al- ‘ Azeem ] [i.e. Islamic Monotheism, the Qur’an, which Prophet Muhammad brought and the Day ofResurrection]."(Qur ’an 78: 1-2)
The Prophet is called Nabi in Arabic because he is told, i.e., Allah tells him and reveals to him:
"..She said: ‘Who told you this [man anba’aka haadha]? He said: ‘The All-Knower, the All-Aware [Allah] has told me.’"(Qur’an 66: 3)
He tells what Allah commands him and reveals to him:
"Declare [nabbi][O’ Muhammad] unto My slaves, that truly, I am the Oft-Forgiving, the Most-Merciful.^"(Qur’an 15: 49)
"And tell them [ wa nabbi’hum] about the guests [the angels] of Ibraheem [Abraham]." (Qur’an 15: 51)
It is said that the word nubuwwah (Prophethood) is derived from the word nabwah, which means a raised portion of land. The Arabs used the word nabi to refer to landmarks which could be used for navigation. This semantic denotation befits the word nabi, because a Prophet is the one who has a high status in this world and in the Hereafter, and the Prophets are the most noble of creation, the signposts by whom people are guided and reformed in this world and in the Hereafter.
DEFINITION OF A RASOOL (MESSENGER) [Lisaan al-‘Arab, 2/1166-1167; Al-Misbaah al-Muneer, Pp. 226.]
In Arabic, irsaal means directing. If you send a person on a mission then he is your rasool (messenger). Allah says, describing what the queen of Saba’ (Sheba) said: "But verily, I am going to send him a present, and see with what [answer] the messengers [al-mursaloon] return." (Qur’an 27: 35)
The word rasool may also refer to the person who follows the news of the one whom he sent, based on the Arabic saying, jaa ’at al-ibl rasalan meaning, the camels came one after another.
So the Messengers are called rusul (sing, rasool) because they receive direction from Allah:
"Then We sent Our Messengers [arsalnaa rusulanaa] in succession..." (Qur’an 23: 44)
So they are sent with specific messages and are enjoined to convey it and follow it.
The difference between a Messenger and a Prophet
The view of those who say that there is no difference between a Messenger and a Prophet is not correct. The falseness of this view is indicated by the reports which mention the number of Prophets and Messengers. The Messenger (salllalahu alayhi wa sallam) mentioned that the number of Prophets was 124,000, and the number of Messengers was three hundred and in teens.(A saheeh hadith narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad). This difference is also indicated by the conjunction wa (translated here as “or”) used in the Qur’an to connect Prophets to Messengers, in the aayah (verse):
"Never did We send a Messenger or a Prophet before you but when he did recite the Revelation or narrated or spoke, Shaytaan [Satan] threw [some falsehood] in it..."(Qur’an 22: 52)
Allah, the All-Glorious, All-High, describes some of His Messengers as being both Prophets and Messengers, which indicates that being a Messenger is something additional to being a Prophet, as when He says concerning Moosa (Moses) (may Allah’s peace be upon him):
"And mention in the Book [this Qur’an] Moosa [Moses]. Verily, he was chosen and he was a Messenger [and] a Prophet." (Qur’an 19: 51)
The commonly-held view among the scholars is that a Messenger is more general than a Prophet. The Messenger is the one to whom laws (shari ‘ah) are revealed and he is commanded to convey them, whereas a Prophet is the one who receives revelation but he is not commanded to convey it. On this basis, every Messenger is a Prophet, but every Prophet is not a Messenger. [Shark al-‘Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyah , 167; Lawaami' al-Anwaar al-Bahiyah, 1/49]
What they mentioned is unlikely to be correct for several reasons:
1) Allah stated that He sent the Prophets as He sent the Messengers: "Never did We send a Messenger or a Prophet before you..." (Qur’an 22: 52)
The word “send” implies that the Prophet must also convey the message.
2) Not conveying the Message means concealing the Revelation of Allah. Allah did not send down His revelation to be buried in the heart of one person, and to be died when that person dies.
3) The Messenger (sallalahu alayhi wa sallam) 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...” [Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Nasaa’i]
This indicates that the Prophets are commanded to convey the Message, and that they vary in the extent to which people responded to them.
The favoured definition is that, “A Messenger is the one who receives the revelation of a new law (shari ‘ah), and a Prophet is the one who is sent to confirm the law of the one who came before him.” [Tafseer al-Aaloosi, 17/157]
The Children of Israel were led by the Prophets. Every time a Prophet died, another Prophet would come, as is stated in the hadith. [Bukhari in his Saheeh. See Fath al-Baari, 6/495] The Prophets of the Children of Israel were all sent to confirm the Law of Moosa (Moses), the Tawraat (Torah), and they were commanded to convey the Revelation of Allah to their people: "Have you not thought about the group of the Children of Israel after [the time of] Moosa [Moses]? When they said to a Prophet of theirs, ‘Appoint for us a king and we will fight in Allah’s Way.’ He said, ‘Would you then refrain from fighting, if fighting was prescribed for you? " (Qur’an 2: 246)
As is clear from the aayah (verse), a Prophet is the one who receives revelation concerning something that is obligatory upon his people; this can only mean that he is obliged to convey the message.
This conclusion is drawn from studying the case of Dawood (David), Sulaymaan (Solomon), Zakariya (Zachariya) and Yahyaa (John), who are all Prophets. They were leaders of the Children of Israel, who judged among them and conveyed the truth to them. And Allah knows best.
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