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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'a 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 preserve 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.[1] The belief in prophethood is an essential element of Islam as well as other divine religions.[2] The word, "nubuwwa" (Arabic: نبوّة) and its cognates in Arabic have been used to mean different things, such as giving news[3], heights[4], going out of a place[5], a clear path[6], and a secret voice[7].

According to the majority of scholars, there are differences between a "nabi" (Arabic: نبي, prophet) and a "rasul" (Arabic: رسول, meaning: messenger): while every "rasul" is also a "nabi", not all "nabis" are "rasuls".[8] A "rasul" receives revelations in both waking and sleeping times, but a "nabi" only receives them while dreaming.[9] 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.[10] However, some people take "rasul" and "nabi" to be synonymous.[11]

General and Special Prophethood

In theological books, prophethood is discussed under two major sections i.e. general prophethood and special prophethood. General prophethood refers to a set of discussions addressing such issues as the necessity of sending prophets, infallibility and miracles while in special prophethood the issues about the prophethood of a specific individual are discussed including the reasons for his prophethood and his miracles.

Reasons for its Necessity

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.[12]

  • The Qur'an has emphasized the necessity of prophethood due to the human needs, including their need for justice, purification, and learning.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]
  • 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.[16] 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.[17]
  • 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.[18] 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.[19] 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, Muslim 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.[20]


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.[21]

  • 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.[22]
  • 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 punished in the Afterlife.[23]
  • The Qur'an takes justice to be another goal of prophets. They fought social corruptions and tried to establish justice in their communities.[24] The prophet Saleh's fight with extravagance and wastefulness,[25] Lot's fight with sexual deviations,[26] and Shu'ayb's fight with fraudulent transactions and economical corruptions[27] are instances of attempts made by prophets to establish social justice, as mentioned in the Qur'an.[28]
  • 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)[29], Hud (a)[30], Saleh (a)[31], Lot (a)[32], Shu'ayb (a)[33], and Elijah (a)[34] have recommended their people to observe piety.[35]


Shi'a Beliefs
Tawhid (Monotheism)Tawhid of EssenceTawhid in AttributesTawhid in ActionsTawhid in Worship
Other BeliefsTawassulShafa'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) • Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a)Raj'a
End TimeHereafterBarzakhEmbodiment of ActionsBodily ResurrectionAl-SiratTatayur al-KutubMizanHashr
Other Outstanding Beliefs
Ahl al-Bayt (a)The Fourteen InfalliblesTaqiyyaMarja'iyyaTawalliTabarri

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

"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).[36] God conveys religious doctrines and orders to guide people to prophets through Jabra'il or without any mediation.[37]


A miracle is an extraordinary act performed by prophets to prove their prophethood—such acts are the ones that cannot be done by ordinary people.[38] Various verses of the Qur'an refer to miracles by prophets.[39] 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.[40]


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.[41]

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").[42] 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.[43]


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.

Five 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.[44] Prophets have different degrees.[45] The Qur'an has only mentioned twenty-six 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 eight thousand prophets. According to al-'Allama al-Majlisi, these eight thousand people were prominent prophets.[46]

Prophets with 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).[47]

Women’s Prophethood

No women in the Quran is called a "prophet" or "apostle" and thus the commentators have disagreed as to whether there were any female prophets.


Al-Baydawi, the Sunni commentator of the 8th/14th century states that it is the consensus of Muslims that women did not reach the position of prophethood. According to some other commentators, almost all Muslim scholars agree that there were no female prophets.

Allama Tabatabai believes that women were not prophets, but there is another kind of revelation that is not exclusive to prophets such as the revelation to the mother of Moses.

Ayatollah Javadi Amoli maintains that there are two types of prophethood: informed (inba'i) prophethood and legislative (tashri'i) prophethood. Since the latter involves administrative tasks, it was not given to women, but the former, which is about knowing the truths of the world, is not exclusive to men.

Among the reasons used by the opponents of the prophethood of women is the verse "We did not send [any apostles] before you except as men to whom We revealed" [48], which indicates that only men reached this position.


Al-Qurtubi, the 7th/13th century commentator, believes that Mary reached the position of prophethood, because, like other prophets, God spoke to her through angels.

Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani reports that Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari and Ibn Hazm believed in the prophethood of women. The latter counted Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Moses’ mother, Asiya (a), and Mary (a) among prophets.

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.[49] 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).[50]


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 perfection.


  1. Parcham, "Guftugū-yi si dīn-i ilāhī", p. 112.
  2. Rabbānī Gulpāygānī, Dar Āmadī bi Shīʿa shināsī, p. 195.
  3. Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān al-ʿarab, vol. 1, p. 162.
  4. Ṭurayḥī, Majmaʿ al-baḥrayn, vol. 1, p. 405.
  5. Fayyūmī, Miṣbāḥ al-munīr, vol. 2, p. 591.
  6. Farāhīdī, al-ʿAyn, vol. 8, p. 382.
  7. Jawharī, al-Ṣiḥāḥ, vol. 1, p. 74.
  8. Muṣṭafawī, al-Taḥqīq fī kalamāt al-Qurʾān, vol. 3, p. 116.
  9. ʿAskarī, Muʿjam al-furūq al-lughawīyya, p. 362; Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 176.
  10. Jurjānī, al-Taʿrīfāt, p. 105.
  11. Māwardī, Aʿlām al-nubuwwa, p. 51.
  12. Iīzadī Tabār, "Ithbāt ḍarūrat-i nubuwwat", p. 12.
  13. Ismāʿīlī, "Ḍarūrat-i risālat", p. 70-74.
  14. Ismāʿīlī, "Ḍarūrat-i risālat", p. 70-74.
  15. Ismāʿīlī, "Ḍarūrat-i risālat", p. 70-74.
  16. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 168.
  17. Ismāʿīlī, "Ḍarūrat-i risālat", p. 70-74.
  18. Naṣīrī, "Muqāyisi-yi ḍarūrat-i nubuwwat", p. 59.
  19. Bakhshī, "Nubuwwat dar āyinih ʿilm kalam", p. 18.
  20. Naṣīrī, "Muqāyisi-yi ḍarūrat-i nubuwwat", p. 59.
  21. Naṣrī, Mabānī-yi risālat-i anbyāʾ dar Qurʾān, p. 33-53.
  22. Naṣrī, Mabānī-yi risālat-i anbyāʾ dar Qurʾān, p. 33-34; also see: Qurʾān, 16:36 ; 41:14 ; 21:25 ; 43:45 ; 71:2-3 ; 11:50,61.
  23. Naṣrī, Mabānī-yi risālat-i anbyāʾ dar Qurʾān, p. 35-37; also see: Qurʾān: 23:35-38 ; 7:59; 26:135 ; 11:84 ; 29:36.
  24. Naṣrī, Mabānī-yi risālat-i anbyāʾ dar Qurʾān, p. 35-37.
  25. See: Qurʾān, 26:151-152.
  26. See: Qurʾān, 26:151-152.
  27. See: Qurʾān, 26:181-183.
  28. Naṣrī, Mabānī-yi risālat-i anbyāʾ dar Qurʾān, p. 35-37.
  29. Qurʾān, 26:106.
  30. Qurʾān, 26:124.
  31. Qurʾān, 26:142.
  32. Qurʾān, 26:161.
  33. Qurʾān, 26:177.
  34. See: Qurʾān, 37:123-124.
  35. Naṣrī, Mabānī-yi risālat-i anbyāʾ dar Qurʾān, p. 49-51.
  36. Ranjbar, "Barisī wa taḥqīq pīrāmūn-i wazhih waḥy dar Qurʾān", p. 18-19.
  37. Ranjbar, "Barisī wa taḥqīq pīrāmūn-i wazhih waḥy dar Qurʾān", p. 15.
  38. Mufīd, al-Nukat al-iʿtiqādīyya, p. 35.
  39. Qadrdān Malikī, "Chīstī wa fāʿil-i muʿjizih", p. 48.
  40. Qadrdān Malikī, "Chīstī wa fāʿil-i muʿjizih", p. 48.
  41. Sīlānī, "Falsafi-yi ʿiṣmat-i Anbyāʾ wa Imāmān", p. 76-77.
  42. Pīrmurādī, "ʿIṣmat-i Rasūl-i Khudā dar Qurʾān", p. 54, 55.
  43. Pīrmurādī, "ʿIṣmat-i Rasūl-i Khudā dar Qurʾān", p. 54, 55.
  44. Sabziwārī, Sharḥ al-asmāʾ al-ḥusnā, p. 552, 553.
  45. Qurʾān, 2:253 .
  46. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 11, p. 31.
  47. See: Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 240.
  48. Quran 12:109
  49. Āmadī, Ghāyat al-marām, p. 360.
  50. Baghdādī, Kitāb uṣūl al-dīn, p. 162; also see: Fāḍil al-mighdād, al-Iʿtimād fī sharḥ wājib al-iʿtiqād, p. 84; Ālūsī, Rūḥ al-maʿānī, vol. 22, p. 34.


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