Ulu l-ʿAzm (Arabic: أولو العَزم, literally: the determined or steadfast) refers to a group of prophets. The term has occurred once in the Qur'an, Sura al-Ahqaf, verse 35. Different views have been proposed about the instances of "Ulu l-'Azm" prophets and whether they have a global mission or a more local one. It is widely held that the term refers to the five prophets who had their own sharia: Nuh (a) (Noah), Ibrahim (a) (Abraham, Musa (a) (Moses), 'Isa (a) (Jesus), and Muhammad (s).
"Ulu" means possessors or owners, and "'Azm" means steadfastness or strong will. In his al-Mufradat, al-Raghib al-Isfahani says: "'Azm" means the determination to do something. three views have been proposed as to the meaning of "Ulu l-'Azm" and the prophets to whom the term refers:
- Patience: some people take "'Azm" to mean patience (or steadfastness), and thus, they believe that "Ulu l-'Azm" prophets are called so because they were patient in the face of difficulties and troubles on their way to propagate divine rulings. The view might be supported by the Verse of Ulu l-'Azm because in this verse, patience is referred to as a prominent characteristic of these prophets.
- Holders of a Pledge: some people appeal to the verse and some hadiths to take "'Azm" to mean pledge or promise. They have also appealed to some other Quranic verses, such as Sura al-Ahzab, verse 7, which points to a pledge taken from great prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them. Some exegetes of the Qur'an hold that the pledge in this verse is a particular pledge tied to the prophethood of these prophets, but the five prophets are singled out because of their being "Ulu l-'Azm" and owners of a new sharia. If "'Azm" is taken to mean pledge, then "Ulu l-'Azm" prophets will be those from whom God has taken the pledge of absolute obedience or the pledge for the wilaya of the Prophet (s) and his Ahl al-Bayt (a).
- Owners of Sharia: some other exegetes have appealed to some Quranic verses and hadiths to interpret "Ulu l-'Azm" as referring to prophets who had their own Books and sharia. A significant such Quranic verse is the verse 13 of Sura Shura in which God has referred to these prophets as prophets with sharia. 'Allama Tabataba'i writes in his interpretation of this verse in which the five prophets are mentioned: "divine sharias and religions based on revelation are limited to the ones mentioned in this verse, that is, the sharia of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, God's peace be upon them, because if there was another sharia, it should have been mentioned in the context of showing that Islam is the most comprehensive sharia". The idea is also supported by some hadiths. For example, Imam al-Rida (a) was asked why some prophets were Ulu l-'Azm, and he replied: "because Noah was sent by God with a book and a sharia, and everyone after him acted upon his book, his sharia, and his practice, until Abraham appeared with a new book and Suhuf, and so every prophet after him acted upon his sharia. And then Moses came and brought Torah which was a new book, and then the Jesus came with his Gospel as a new sharia. Until the period of the Prophet of Islam, everyone acted upon the sharia of Jesus. The Prophet of Islam came with the Qur'an and a new sharia whose halal and haram will remain in force until the Resurrection. Some divine prophets did have divine books, but their books did not constitute new independent rulings and sharias, such as Adam, Seth, Idris, and David. Thus, they were not Ulu l-'Azm."
The Number of Ulu l-'Azm Prophets
There are disagreements among the exegetes of the Qur'an about the number, and instances, of Ulu l-'Azm prophets:
- All the prophets: some exegetes believe that all prophets are characterized by patience, steadfastness, and divine test, and thus, all of them were Ulu l-'Azm.
- Some prophets: the majority of exegetes maintain that only a specific number of prophets count as Ulu l-'Azm. Some of them take Ulu l-'Azm to refer to the 18 prophets mentioned in verse 82-90 of Sura al-An'am. After mentioning them, God says: "therefore follow their guidance". Other exegetes appeal to some hadiths to restrict the number of Ulu l-'Azm prophets to 9, and others to 6 or 7. 'Allama Tabataba'i and other exegetes take Ulu l-'Azm prophets to be the five prophets who brought new sharias, that is, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad peace be upon them. They believe that there are mustafid hadiths supporting this view. However, others believe that the number of these hadiths is not such that they count as mutawatir, and thus, they are not decisive, and Quranic verses do not decisively imply that prophets with new sharias were restricted to these five.
Ulu l-'Azm Prophets and the Global Mission
According to the view that Ulu l-'Azm prophets are the ones with sharias, the following question arises: was their mission global or were they just commissioned to guide a particular nation? There is no doubt that the mission of the Prophet of Islam (s) was global, but three theories have been proposed about other Ulu l-'Azm prophets:
- The global mission of all: some people, such as 'Allama Tabatab'i, believe that the mission of Ulu l-'Azm prophets was global. To support their claim, they appeal to Quranic verses as evidence. They maintain that Ulu l-'Azm prophets, the ones with books, had two sorts of missions: a call to the worship of God, monotheism, and the rejection of polytheism, and a call to particular rulings and sharia. The first call was global, unlike the latter which was limited to a particular nation who were obliged to act upon them.
- The global mission of some: the mission of some Ulu l-'Azm prophets was not global. For example, Moses (a) and Jesus (a) were commissioned to guide only the Israelites. Some Quranic verses seem to support this view, such as "a messenger to the Children of Israel" (Sura Al 'Imran: 49) as well as other verses: Sura al-Saff: 6, Sura al-Isra': 101, Sura al-Shu'ara': 17, and Sura al-Ghafir: 53. Therefore, there is no correlation between a prophet being one of the Ulu l-'Azm (owner of a sharia) and his mission being global.
- A hybrid view: the third theory is that if a global mission means that the prophet is obliged to propagate his religion to all nations throughout the world and not just his nation, then the missions of many prophets, even Moses and Jesus, were not global. But if it is considered as an obligation to propagate the religion in his encounter with other nations and their obligation to follow the new religion, then all prophets had global missions. Therefore, in one sense, the missions of many of the prophets were not global, and in another sense, the missions of all prophets were global.
It is worth noting that the connection between Ulu l-'Azm prophets and the wilaya of the Infallible Imams (a) has figured in several hadiths; for example, a hadith in which the Imams (a) are introduced as inheritors of the knowledge, miracles, and virtues of Ulu l-'Azm prophets.
The material for this article is mainly taken from اولو العزم in Farsi Wikishia.