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This article is about Prophethood as a principle of religion. For explanation about the Prophets, see Prophets.
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Al-Nubuwwa (Arabic: النُبُوَّة) or Prophethood is a divine selection of a person to whom divine teachings are revealed in order to lead people to the path of perfection and happiness. The main features of the prophets include the reception of wahy (revelation), the power to perform miracles, and infallibility.

The necessity of prophethood and the rise of prophets is emphasized in the Qur'an, hadiths from the Infallibles (a), and theological texts. Reasons given for its necessity include giving an ultimatum to human beings, their essential need for revelations, and their need for a community. According to the Qur'an, all the prophets shared common goals, such as calling to monotheism and resurrection, pursuit of justice, teaching and training people, purification of their souls, piety, and liberating people from their burdens and shackles.

The doctrine of prophethood counts as a principle of religion, the belief in which is considered as a necessary condition of being a Muslim. In Islam, the doctrine refers to the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and other prophets referred to in the Qur'an or the Prophet Muhammad's (s) tradition. The prophethood began with Adam (a), and according to explicit verses of the Qur'an, it ended with the Prophet Muhammad (s). This belief is shared by Shi'as and Sunni Muslims. By an appeal to Quranic verses and hadiths from the Infallibles (a), the Shi'as believe that after the end of prophethood, God has selected the Imams (a) to protect and explain the religion.

The Notion

According to the Qur'an, prophethood is a divine selection of certain people to whom divine teachings are revealed in order to guide people to the path of perfection and happiness. The belief in prophethood is an essential element of Islam as well as other divine religions. The word, "nubuwwa" (Arabic: نبوّة) and its cognates in Arabic have been used to mean different things, such as giving news, heights, going out of a place, a clear path, and a secret voice.

According to the majority of scholars, there are differences between a "nabi" (Arabic: نبي, prophet) and a "rasul" (Arabic: رسول, divine messenger): while every "rasul" is also a "nabi", not all "nabis" are "rasuls". A "rasul" receives revelations in both waking and sleeping times, but a "nabi" only receives them while dreaming. Moreover, a revelation to a "rasul" is more transcendent than the one to a "nabi", since a revelation to a "rasul" is delivered by Jabra'il, while a revelation to a "nabi" is delivered by other angels or by an inspiration to the heart or through a true dream. However, some people take "rasul" and "nabi" to be synonymous.

Reasons for the Necessity of Prophethood

The necessity of prophethood has been emphasized by the Qur'an, hadiths from the Infallibles (a), as well as theological texts. Reasons for its necessity include giving an ultimatum to people, as an essential need of human beings, and their need for a community.

The Qur'an has emphasized the necessity of prophethood due to the human needs, including their need for justice, purification, and learning. This is explained by the fact that human beings cannot realize justice in their communities on their own and without guidance by prophets, since the realization of justice in all aspects of life requires the clarification of its various instances by the prophets. Moreover, it requires that a justice-based law guarantees the rights of all people in all aspects. It also requires a just, fair enforcer who is not under the influence of his psychological desires and personal needs. Since all these conditions require prophethood, they are considered as reasons for its necessity. Prophethood is also considered as a preliminary for other human needs, such as education and training.

The necessity of prophethood has been expressed in hadiths in different ways. In reply to a question, Imam al-Sadiq (a) referred to the impossibility of a direct relation between God and people and considered the prophets to be messengers who should be among people to let them know about divine commands and prohibitions. In another hadith, Imam 'Ali (a) considered the reasons for prophethood to include the confirmation of the human intellect, revival of fitra (human initial nature), prevention of ignorance, as well as reminding divine blessings.

In Islamic mysticism, philosophy, and kalam: in the Islamic philosophy, the necessity of prophethood has been explained in mundane, this-worldly terms. They take prophethood to be necessary because human beings are social and civil creatures, and a social life requires prophets. In Islamic theology or kalam, the necessity of prophethood is explained, inter alia, by the Principle of Kindness (Qa'ida al-Lutf). According to this principle, since God is required to help His servants to obey Him and to avoid sins, He is required to send prophets. In Islamic mysticism, the necessity of prophethood is explained in terms of a heavenly outlook according to which the existence of a Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil) is necessary, and thus, prophethood is necessary. In other words, Muslims mystics take the prophet to be a complete manifestation of the Greatest Name (al-Ism al-A'zam) of God, and thus, maintain that the presence of such a person is necessary.

Goals of Prophethood

According to Quranic verses, all prophets shared some goals, including the call for monotheism and resurrection, establishing justice, education and training, purification and piety, as well as liberating people from their burdens and shackles.

The call to monotheism is taken to be the most important goal of prophets. According to the Qur'an, all prophets called people to believe in monotheism and avoid polytheism and idolatry.

According to the Qur'an, the call to resurrection was also a goal of prophets. They warned people about a life after death in which all human actions will be examined, and so, everyone has to be careful about what they do in order to avoid being tortured in the Afterlife.

The Qur'an takes justice to be another goal of prophets. They fought social corruptions and tried to establish justice in their communities. The prophet Saleh's fight with extravagance and wastefulness, Lot's fight with sexual deviations, and Shu'ayb's fight with fraudulent transactions and economical corruptions are instances of attempts made by prophets to establish social justice, as mentioned in the Qur'an.

Purification of the soul and piety are also goals of prophets which, according to the Qur'an, play a significant role in the salvation of the human being. Purification is mentioned as a goal of prophets in at least three Quranic verses. Piety is also mentioned in various Quranic verses as a goal of prophets. In Sura al-Shu'ara' and Sura al-Saffat, there are verses with the same composition implying that prophets such as Noah (a), Hud (a), Saleh (a), Lot (a), Shu'ayb (a), and Elijah (a) have recommended their people to observe piety.

Characteristics of Prophets

Shi'a Beliefs
Tawhid (Monotheism) Tawhid of EssenceTawhid in AttributesTawhid in ActionsTawhid in Worship
Other Beliefs TawassulShafa'aTabarruk
Divine Justice
Bada'Amr Bayn al-Amrayn
Infallibility'Ilm al-ghaybMu'jizaIntegrity of the Holy Qur'an
InfallibilityWilaya'Ilm al-ghaybOccultation of Imam al-Mahdi (a) (Minor Occultation,Major Occultation) • Reapearance of Imam al-MahdiRaj'a
AkhiraBarzakhBodily ResurrectionSiratTatayur al-KutubMizanHashr
Other Outstanding Beliefs
Ahl al-Bayt (a)The Fourteen InfalliblesTaqiyyaal-Marja'iyya al-DiniyyaTawalliTabarri

Prophets have certain characteristics, such as the direct or indirect reception of wahy (revelation), performing miracles to prove their prophethood, as well as 'isma (infallibility).

Reception of Revelations

Main article: Wahy

"Wahy" (or revelation)—the conveyance of God's words to prophets—is, according to the Qur'an, a common characteristic of all prophets, including Noah (a), Ibrahim (a), Isma'il (a), Jesus (a), and Muhammad (s). God conveys religious doctrines and orders to guide people to prophets through Jabra'il or without any mediation.


Main article: Miracle

Miracle refers to an extraordinary act performed by prophets to prove their prophethood—such acts are the ones that cannot be done by ordinary people. Various verses of the Qur'an refer to miracles by prophets. The majority of Shiite theologians believe that miracles are directly performed by God. On the contrary, the majority of the philosophers maintain that prophets can perform miracles because of the extraordinary power of their souls.


Main article: Infallibility

According to Shiite theologians, infallibility is a grace bestowed by God, and according to philosophers, it is an internal power within the prophets which helps them avoid sins or disobedience of God, although they have the power to do so.

Some Shiite muhaddiths, such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, believe that prophets become infallible from the beginning of their prophethood. According to al-Saduq, the prophet might make inadvertent mistakes ("sahw"). However, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, a prominent student of al-Shaykh al-Saduq, criticized his teacher's view, considering the theory of inadvertent mistakes to fail to acknowledge the place of prophets. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid takes the infallibility of the Prophet Muhammad (s) to be superior and more wide-ranging than that of other prophets.


Main article: Prophets

The first prophet was Adam (a) who was created, together with his wife, Eve, in heaven, and was ousted from there because of eating the "forbidden fruit". And the last prophet was Muhammad (s) who was born in 570 in Mecca.

5 prophets are considered as Ulu l-'Azm, that is, they brought a new religion with new rulings. Other prophets propagated the religion of their Ulu al-'Azm predecessors. Prophets have different degrees. The Qur'an has only mentioned 26 prophets.

In most of the hadiths, the number of prophets is said to be 124000, 313 of which are "rasuls". According to other hadiths, there were 8000 prophets. According to al-'Allama al-Majlisi, these 8000 people were prominent prophets.

Prophets who Had a Divine Book

Some prophets had a divine book. Divine messages they received were collected in a sacred or a divine book and served as the main source for their followers to act upon. Some prophets who had a divine book include: Noah (a), Ibrahim (a) (Suhuf or Scrolls of Abraham), David (a) (Zabur), Moses (a) (Torah), Jesus (a) (Gospel), and Muhammad (s) (the Qur'an).

The Finality of Prophethood

Khatamiyya (or Finality of Prophethood) is a theological notion and a doctrine shared by all Muslims. According to this doctrine, there will be no prophets after the Prophet Muhammad (s) and thus, there will be no new religion after Islam. The term has its origin in the Qur'an. According to the verse 40 of Sura al-Ahzab, Muhammad (s) was the last prophet.

The belief in the finality of prophethood was a widely-accepted doctrine both in the period of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and later periods. It has always been considered as an essential part of Islam, that is, if someone denies the finality of prophethood, then they will be excommunicated from Islam and it would be as if they have not accepted the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (s).


Main article: imamate

The Shi'as appeal to several Quranic verses and hadiths, such as Hadith al-Thaqalayn, to hold that after the end of prophethood, God has preserved the last religion—Islam—by Imams who are supposed to protect the religion. They believe that the last Imam who is still alive and lives anonymously will someday be commissioned to rule the whole world with Islam and guide the human beings to their perfections.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from نبوت in Farsi Wikishia.