Holy Prophet Muhammad’s superiority to other Prophets
By: Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabataba'i
Is there any other verse in addition to Surah al-Ahzab 33:40 that expresses the Noble Prophet’s finality and superiority in comparison to the other prophets?
In addition to the verse you have mentioned: “…He is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets…” Surah al-Ahzab 33:40
there are others that proclaim the universality and perpetuality of the message of Islam. The following are some examples: “…And this Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may warn thereby you and whomever it may reach…” Surah al-An‘am 6:19
“…Indeed it is an august Book: falsehood cannot approach it, neither from before it nor from behind it…” Surah Fussilat 41:41-42
The claim to perpetuality of a religion would be meaningless without the finality of the bringer of the religion.
Furthermore, the following verses that aver the Qur’an’s superiority to other revealed books also imply the Noble Prophet’s superiority, for the Noble Qur’an is the Prophet’s message, and a prophet’s merit is determined by his message “…We have sent down the Book to you as a clarification of all things…” Surah al-Nahl 16:89
“We have sent down to you the Book with the truth, confirming what was before it of the Book and as a guardian over it…” Surah al-Ma’idah 5:46
“He has prescribed for you the religion which He had enjoined upon Noah and which We have also revealed to you, and which We had enjoined upon Abraham, Moses, and Jesus…” Surah al-Shawra 42:13.
The Intercession of the Fellows of Divine Unity [Ahl Al-Tawhid]
In his “Al-Tawhid”, Majlisi, describing the qualities of the fellows of Divine Unity, narrates the following hadith from the Noble Prophet: “And verily the fellows of Divine Unity intercede [on behalf of others], and their intercession is heeded.” Al-Tawhid, p. 29, hadith 31
Please explain for whom do the fellows of Divine Unity intercede? Clearly, they do not intercede for the polytheists; the monotheists, as affirmers of Divine Unity, are themselves fellows of Divine Unity. So then for whom do they intercede?
The above hadith may be construed in one of two ways. First, the “fellows of Divine Unity” may refer exclusively to the highest elite of the monotheists, the Gnostics.
(This reading is supported by the following verses of the Qur’an: “Those whom they invoke besides Him have no power of intercession, except those who are witness to the truth and who know.” (Surah al-Zukhruf 43:86)
“…None shall speak except whom the All-beneficent permits and who says what is right.” (Surah al-Naba’ 78:38)
Second, the phrase may be understood to include all monotheists. In the latter case, those interceded for will be the masses of unbelievers (who constitute the majority of humankind), the “intellectually destitute,” those concerning whom God, the Exalted, says “There are others waiting God’s edict: He shall either punish them or turn to them clemently…” Surah al-Tawbah (or Bara’ah) 9:106
A Rational Proof for the Termination of Prophethood
Is there any rational proof for the termination of prophethood [khatm al-nubuwwah]?
In logic, in the chapter on rational demonstration [burhan], it is demonstrated that rational reasoning cannot render particular conclusions. Thus, particular prophethood cannot be deduced by any rational reasoning, whereas general prophethood may be. Nonetheless, one may reason that since the purpose of prophethood is to perfect and guide human beings, it takes on different forms (hence, the plurality of Divine Dispensations) corresponding to the progressive development of humankind, each successive form presenting a more perfect degree that supercedes its predecessor.
However, as the human being is obviously not infinite in his capacity to achieve perfection, no matter how numerous the perfections he is capable of attaining, there is a point where he will cease to go further. Naturally, the particular Divine Dispensation that encompasses this climax of human perfection would be the termination of prophethood and as such would endure as the binding law of God until the Day of Judgment.
The Noble Qur’an, the heavenly book of the sacred religion of Islam, explicitly testifies that Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets and that the Qur’an is the final indissoluble book of God: “… [Muhammad] is the apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets…” Surah al-Ahzab 33:40
“…Indeed [the Qur’an] is an august book: falsehood cannot approach it, neither from before it not from behind it, a gradually sent down revelation from One All-wise, All-laudable.” Surah Fussilat 41:41-42
Hence, Prophet Muhammad being the Seal of the Prophets and the Qur’an the Seal of all Divine Dispensations is thus demonstrated.
An additional point that the above explanation clarifies is that the termination of prophethood in no way implies that the human being has reached a point of intellectual sufficiency where he is no longer in need of Divine Dispensation, for in such a case the manifold instructions of Islam would be in vain.
Distinguishing ‘idalah (Uprightness) from ‘ismah (Infallibility)
What is the distinction between “idalah” and “ismah” in prophets who, unlike angels, are susceptible to anger and lust?
‘Idalah is the state of mind that empowers one to refrain from committing the major sins and repeating the minor sins but is not strong enough to prevent the isolated commission of minor sins. ‘Ismah, on the other hand, is the state of mind that renders one immune from committing any sin whatsoever, whether major or minor.
This state of mind, according to Qur’anic verses, is of the nature of knowledge—the knowledge of the awfulness of sin—the possession of which makes the commission of sin impossible. It may be likened to one’s knowledge that a liquid is lethally poisonous, which would definitely prevent one from drinking that liquid. Thus, with ‘idalah one may sin but not with ‘ismah.
The Impossibility of Violating Ontic Reality [Takwin]
The grounds for the doctrine of the absolute infallibility of prophets, one of the unquestionable tenets of the Shi‘ah faith, cannot include such mundane matters as a simple chitchat with one’s wife, for instance. But assuming that the prophets are inerrant even in such matters, the state of ‘idalah would be sufficient to explain it.
Thus, even if there is sufficient evidence for this doctrine, it would only serve to prove infallibility solely in the scope of the duties that pertain to the Divine ministry—i.e., being immune from error and negligence in passing the Divine Dispensation to the people—but not in regard to other sins. Furthermore, what is the reason for this insistence on proving this doctrine? Would the prophethood of an ‘adil38—but not infallible—prophet entail any adverse consequences?
Based on the rational argument that proves the necessity of general prophethood, the guidance of humankind is part of the order of creation, of reality. As there is no possibility of error and contravention in reality, the contents of Revelation, emanating from the wellspring of Divine Knowledge, reach humankind intact. Hence, the prophet, as the conduit of Revelation, is immune from error and perfidy in receiving the Revelation, preserving it, and conveying it to the people. This requires that he be infallible in his speech and conduct, as conduct is also a means of guidance.
It can, therefore, be concluded that the prophet is untouched by sin, whether minor or major, in speech and conduct, prior to and following his ministry, for each of these states affects the conveyance of the articles of faith, and as sin is meaningless beyond these states, the prophet’s infallibility is proven. This topic, however, has other dimensions for which you may refer to the third volume of “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”, “Shi‘ah dar Islam” [The Shi‘ah in Islam], or “Risalah Wahy wa Shu‘ur-i Marmuz” [A Treatise on Revelation, the Mysterious Intelligence].
The Superiority of the Station of Imamate to That of Prophethood
In the story of Prophet Abraham we are taught that God conferred the status of imamate on him (who was already a prophet) only after “completing the terms” and succeeding in all the tests He set before him. How is the status of imamate superior to prophethood? And granted that it is superior, then why is there consensus among all Muslims that the Prophet was more elevated in status than ‘Ali?
When God said to Abraham, “…I am making you the Imam of mankind…” Surah al-Baqarah 2:124
he was already a prophet—one of the “Ulu al-‘Azm”50. He had brought for humankind a new book and a new Divine Law from God. This means that when God conferred on him the position of imamate, he had already been entrusted with the duty of guiding and preaching to humankind. Moreover, in His Book, God in several instances describes an “imam” as one who is responsible for the guidance of humankind.
“…We made them Imams who guide by Our command…” Surah al-Anbiya’ 21:73
Juxtaposing the above two points, it becomes clear that the guidance that an imam is responsible for is different from that for which a prophet is responsible. The guidance that is the responsibility of a prophet is to preach and to exhort people to embrace the true faith. That is, it is a prophet’s duty to shed light on the true path of guidance. The duty of an imam, on the other hand, is to shepherd humankind toward the True Destination.
Thus, in addition to explicating the doctrines and practices of faith, an imam is in charge of correcting the conduct of the believers. He oversees the spiritual growth of the believers and directs their deeds in the way of God so that their actions would lead to the desirable end.
This interpretation of an imam’s status is supported by a number of Islamic tenets. Shi‘ahs believe that the record of the conduct of all believers is submitted to the Imam of the Time on a number of occasions; that the Imam is present at the death of all people; that the Imams hand out the records of conduct to people on the Day of Judgment; and that they are the yardsticks according to which the conduct of all others is measured.
Moreover, according to Shi‘ah belief, the universe would cease to exist in the absence of an imam. All this proves that the Prophet was also the imam of his time. And as the Prophet was entrusted with three simultaneous ministries—nubuwwah, risalah, and imamah—his rank was above that of ‘Ali. This is definitively attested to by the consensus of all Muslims.