"Universally, the Prophets are of two kinds. One are the independent Prophets Who are followed; the other kind are not independent and are themselves followers.
The independent Prophets are the lawgivers and the founders of a new cycle. Through Their appearance the world puts on a new garment, the foundations of religion are established, and a new book is revealed. Without an intermediary They receive bounty from the Reality of the Divinity, and Their illumination is an essential illumination. They are like the sun which is luminous in itself: the light is its essential necessity; it does not receive light from any other star. These Dawning-places of the morn of Unity are the sources of bounty and the mirrors of the Essence of Reality.
The other Prophets are followers and promoters, for they are branches and not independent; they receive the bounty of the independent Prophets, and they profit by the light of the Guidance of the universal Prophets. They are like the moon, which is not luminous and radiant in itself, but receives its light from the sun.
The Manifestations of universal Prophethood Who appeared independently are, for example, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha'u'llah. But the others who are followers and promoters are like Solomon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For the independent Prophets are founders; They establish a new religion and make new creatures of men; They change the general morals, promote new customs and rules, renew the cycle and the Law. Their appearance is like the season of spring, which arrays all earthly beings in a new garment, and gives them a new life.
With regard to the second sort of Prophets who are followers, these also promote the Law of God, make known the Religion of God, and proclaim His word. Of themselves they have no power and might, except what they receive from the independent Prophets."-from: "Some Answered Questions" by Abdu'l-Baha, pages 164-165
The term "Nabi" or "Prophet" has been used in the past Scriptures including the Qur'an in two ways. The understanding of this term is crucial in discussing this topic. Likewise the term "Rasool" or "Messenger" also has two meanings:
2- dependent, or promulgator Messengers like the twelve Apostles of Christ, or Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul. Once again, the understanding of this issue is crucial in recognizing the meaning of "Seal of the Prophets" and Seal of the Apostles.
In light of what has been discussed above, there are several implications associated with the terms Khatam'un Nabi-een, and Khatam'ur Rosol-een which I will summarize:
This continued until the robe of Revelation was granted to Jesus, during Whose period (until the revelation of Muhammad) many individuals also became the exponents of His law and Revelation.
Through Muhammad's revelation the office of prophethood was ended. That is to say, no other prophet such as that of Jewish or Christian prophets were to appear. Instead Khalifs (according to Sunni terminology), and Imams (according to Shi'ah usage) appeared. The following Sahih Hadith hints at this issue:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "The Israelis used to be ruled and guided by prophets: Whenever a prophet died, another would take over his place. There will be no prophet after me, but there will be Caliphs who will increase in number."
The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What do you order us (to do)?" He said, "Obey the one who will be given the pledge of allegiance first. Fulfill their (i.e. the Caliphs) rights, for Allah will ask them about (any shortcoming) in ruling those Allah has put under their guardianship."- Sahih Bukhari 4:661
2- The same argument which was applied to "seal of the prophets" applies to the concept of "seal of the apostles". That is to say, no apostles (of the promulgator kind) were to appear after Prophet Muhammad. Such a commandment was revealed by Muhammad, in my opinion to place a control over this offices of prophethoodship or that of apostleship which thrived rather wildly during Christian dispensation. A study of the Christian Scriptures and the examination of arguments offered by Christian scholars might clarify the reason behind behind sealing of these two offices.
In I Corinthians 12:28 Paul says: "And God hath set some in the church [i.e. the church of Christ or the religion of Christ], first APOSTLES, secondly PROPHETS, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of headings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."
He elaborates further on this subject in Ephesians 4:7-12; 4:7: "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." And later on in verse 4:11-12, he says: "And He gave some, APOSTLES; and some, PROPHETS; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. For the perfecting of the saints, FOR THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY, for the edifying of the body of Christ. TILL WE ALL COME IN THE UNITY OF THE FAITH, and of the knowledge of the Son of God..."
Here Paul is referring to various responsibilities and functions within the Christian community, which is given to each and every individual according, "to the measure of the gift of Christ", received by that person. In essence He established the foundation of the future Christian administrative order, by identifying various categories of responsibility and organizing the foundation of the early Church.
In I Corinthians 14:26 He says: "How is it then brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a Psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let the PROPHETS speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For YE MAY ALL PROPHESY [i.e. to reveal by inspiration like a prophet] one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets...."
Later on in verse 37 He says: "IF ANY MAN THINK HIMSELF TO BE A PROPHET, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."
Interestingly enough Miller in his book "The History of the Church of Rome and Persia" (Persian translation page 105) refers to the same concept, which I will translate myself (since I do not have an English translation of this book handy). He describes the meaning of apostleship and prophethood according to the early church terminology as follows:
"The term apostle has been used in two ways throughout the New Testament; In the majority of cases it has been used to identify the twelve pupils of Jesus Christ; as in Matthew 10:2, Acts 1:26 and Revelation 21:14. This term has also been used to identify the early teachers who were directly commissioned by the church to go and spread the glad tidings of the appearance of Jesus throughout various countries; as is suggested by Acts 14:14, Colossians 1:1 and 1:19. An example of this latter category are Paul and Barnabas.
"The term prophet was on the other hand used to indicate a form of responsibility within the church hierarchy. The function of the prophets was very similar to that of the apostles, but the main difference was that while the function of the apostles was to teach the newly born faith to the non-believers, the purpose of the prophets was to deepen the believers in the teachings of Christ."
Miller later on in his book mentions that, and I am paraphrasing here, never had God raised SO MANY PROPHETS in the world as He did during the first century of Christ's dispensation. He furthermore, suggests that, as the prophets of Israel caused the establishment of Jews in their faith and theology, by the same token, these Christian prophets deepened the early believers and established them in their faith towards Jesus and the theology promulgated by the Apostles.
In page 189 of Miller's history, the false prophets referred to in the Gospels are identified with these early Christian prophets discussed above. He suggests that among these early Christian prophets, there were many false prophets or false teachers, some of whom not only taught incorrect doctrines, [not in tune with the teachings of Christ and the apostles] to the masses of the early believers, but also promoted and encouraged the people to commit seditious acts and unworthy behavior.
In light of the problems which resulted from this specific usage of the term "prophet" and "apostle" during Christian dispensation, Prophet Muhammad, in His role as a Messenger of God and the Promised One of Christianity and a Warner of the people of the Book offered an inspired correction to this theological problem by SEALING once and for all these two offices of PROPHETHOOD and APOSTLEHOOD through His own revelation. Thus, the sayings of and "Khatam'un Nabieen" and "Khatam'ur Rosoleen" (Seal of the Prophets and Seal of the Apostles)
3- As a direct result of the points raised in 1 and 2 the Revelators of God's Grace appearing after Prophet Muhammad will not be identified as "rasool" (Messenger or Apostle), or "nabi" (prophets).
Another term, other than "nabi" and "rasool", will be used to identify these Revelators. This term, according to the designation made by The Bab'is: "Manifestation of the Cause of God" or in short "Manifestation of God".
Of course to you and I a Revelator is always a Representative or Messenger of God and as a result in our discussions we refer to them as such. In fact the only way I can convey my views to... a Muslim is to present my understanding in the context of Muslim beliefs and definitions.
It is the directive of the Qur'an that the Day of the appearance of the future Revelator of God's Commandments is the "Day of God". It is the Day when God will appear among His servants: "What can such expect but that God should come down to them overshadowed with clouds."-Qur'an 2:210
It is the Day when God appears in His Glory. According to Sahih Ahadith it is the Day when the Revelator of God's Grace would CLAIM: "ana rabbokom".
The days when These Revelators (i.e. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, etc...) said: "ana nabiakom" and "ana rasoolokom" are ended and sealed with the Advent of Muhammad Who was the Seal of the Prophets and the Seal of the Apostles. The reason why previous Revelators were identified as Messengers was to bring the Message about this particular Day when "God should come down to them". How absurd it would be that such a Revelator Who is to appear in that Day to identify Himself as a Messenger. This is one of the reasons why the usage of the two terms "nabi" and "rasool" are discontinued and sealed by Prophet Muhammad. He was the last Messenger until the Day of God. I hope you get the gist of this issue which is at the heart of the claims of the Bab as Mahdi and Baha'u'llah as Return of Isaa bin Maryam.
4- As a direct result of the point raised in 1 and 2 will there appear after these FUTURE Manifestations of God NO minor prophets such as the Jewish Prophets, or Christian prophets/apostles (These minor Prophets such as Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc... did not abrogate nor did they established any new laws. They simply promulgated the same laws and elaborated on their range of applications. Such task/office was ended with the Advent of Prophet Muhammad).
If you pay attention to what happened after the passing of Prophet Muhammad you will see that those claiming successorship were known as Khalifs (per Sunni terminology) or Imams -Who were Khalifat'u'llah- (per Shi'ah belief). These successors were not called "prophets". Additionally, the Revelators Who are to appear after Muhammad per directive of the verse of the Qur'an: "O children of Adam [i.e. Muslims. KH], verily apostles from among you shall come unto you, who shall expound my signs unto you: whosoever therefore shall fear God and amend, there shall come no fear on them, neither shall they be grieved." [Qur'an 7:35] must not be designated or identified as "nabi" or "Prophet". As a result, those Who succeeded Baha'u'llah are not called Prophets. 'Abdu'l- Baha is known as the Center of Baha'u'llah's Covenant and His grandson was designated as the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith.
5- Prophet Muhammad was the last Messenger/prophet in the Adamic cycle. That is to say He ended the prophethood for the cycle of 6000 years (i.e. 6 days) of creation/revelation which was INAUGURATED by Prophet Adam and SEALED by Prophet Muhammad.
Please consider the following Hadith Narrated by Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "My similitude in comparison with the other prophets before me, is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: 'Would that this brick be put in its place!' So I am that brick, and I am the last of the Apostles.-Sahih Bukhari 4:735
Allah the Creator and the Builder has indeed built the house, and Prophet Muhammad was indeed the last brick of that house or the last of the Apostles. However, the IMPLICATION that this house constitutes the END of God's Creativity and Buildership is a theological absurdity which is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an about Godhood.
The most profound meaning of this Hadith is the one which does not limit God's Creativity and Buildership. That is to say: God, the Builder, built a HOUSE through His Messengers and Prophets (i.e. 124,000 of Them from the time of Prophet Adam to the time of the Seal of the Prophets according to a Hadith from Imam Ali.) and Prophet Muhammad was the last brick in this HOUSE, or the last Apostle in the Adamic cycle of God's Creativity. However, upon the completion of this HOUSE, God's creativity DOES NOT STOP, it rather continues towards building a CITY in a new cycle of creation whose plans are ushered by Imam Mahdi (i.e. The Bab) and whose foundation is laid by Issa bin Maryam (i.e. Baha'u'llah) as a token of God's grace in a NEVER-ENDING process of God's Creativity. Such an approach in understanding the finality of Prophet Muhammad keeps the Creatorship of God intact and bestows meaning to the Mission of Mahdi and the Return of Christ.
Baha'u'llah, similar to Adam is viewed as the INAUGURATOR of a new cycle (In this cycle the intent is not to build a house, per above mentioned Hadith's terminology, but to build a city.) which is to last 500,000 years (compared to 6000 years of Adamic cycle.), within which God will inspire His Manifestations to appear approximately every 1000 years.
6- "...the term Nabi (i.e. prophet) was given to the ones who prophesied based on visions, or dreams. This usage was solidified during the Jewish and Christians dispensations. However, after the appearance of Prophet Muhammad (Khatam'ul-Anbia), the ender of the prophetic cycle, the era of revelation from God "through the medium of dreams and visions" was ended and a new era of "revelation through direct inspiration" was started."-Fara'id, A. Golpayegani
Mulla Fatth-i-Kashani, who is one of the highly respected Shi'ah scholars, in his commentary on Manhaj-ul-Sadegheen, addresses the concept of Khatam'u-Nabieen as follows: "Muhammad's fear became a reality, after He married Zei'nab. After marriage, the idolaters, and His enemies started criticizing Him, and accusing Him of hypocrisy. They'd say, Muhammad teaches His followers that it is unlawful for a father to marry his son's divorced wife, while He has married Zayd's wife. [Zayd was purchased by Muhammad and freed to live as a free man, and Muhammad had adopted him as His son. Arabs of the time of Jahliah, considered one's adopted son as the real son. This is why they started to accuse Muhammad of hypocrisy.]
As a result of this criticism, God revealed to Muhammad, Peace be upon Him!, as reflected in the Su'rih of the Confederates, that, Muhammad is not the father of any man (i.e. any male offsprings) among you (since, no surviving male offsprings remained after He passed away). As a result, the law of not marrying the divorced wife of a son would not apply to Muhammad. Furthermore, God calls Muhammad an Apostle of God, in that same verse, (suggesting that He was the spiritual father of all Arabs, and Zayd was simply an Arab with no blood relationship to Him).
Moreover, the verse identifies Muhammad as the seal of the prophets, that is to say, since He did not have any surviving male offsprings to inherit prophethood from Him, thus, prophethood was sealed with Him. That is to say, no prophets shall appear after Him... All of Muhammad's male offsprings died in early childhood, prior to Muhammad's own passing, thus, this verse of the Qur'an came into fulfillment."
In the same book [i.e. his commentary on Manhaj-ul-Sadegheen], Mulla Fatth-i- Kashani, offers a tradition attributed to Muhammad, where He says: "I am Muhammad, and I am Ahmad and I am that gatherer, through Whom God shall gather His people. And I am the last, after Me there shall be no other prophet."
Also, he offers another tradition, in the same book, where, Muhammad the Messenger of God tells Ali, Peace be upon Him!: "If it was allowed that after me there be another prophet, that would have been you, and no one but you."
Allamih Jallal-u-Din Suyutti in Jami-ul-Saghir quotes Ayeshih (one of the wives of Prophet Muhammad), who had quoted Muhammad saying: "No prophet shall appear after Me, but Omar-ibn-Khattab." [For the information of the non-Muslim readers, Omar was one of Muhammad's son-in-laws, who agreed to become the 2nd Khalif after Abu-Bakr].
Clearly, the concept of no Nabi, or prophet, appearing after Muhammad must have been associated with His immediate successorship, and had nothing to do with coming of future Messengers from God. Otherwise, why would Muhammad want to discuss Omar's -the second Khalif's- name in this tradition.
Many of the Shi'ah commentators believe in a literal meaning of the term Khatam-u- Nabieen (Seal of the Prophets, after Whom no other Messengers of God shall come), however, there are other commentators who believe differently: Ibn-i Babuyih known as Sheikh Sadoogh, another highly respected Shi'ah scholar/theologian argues in his book, Ekmaal-ud-Din, vol I: "All the Messengers of God who appeared prior to Muhammad, were succeeded by a Nabi (i.e. a prophet). Adam was a Rasool (Messenger of God), and His successor was Shais the Nabi (Seth the prophet). Noah was a Messenger of God and His successor was Saam the Nabi (Shem the prophet). Abraham, Moses, Jesus and David (peace be upon Them!), were also God's Messengers, Whose successors were Isaac, Joshua, Simon (St. Peter) and Solomon Who were all prophets.
However, the successors of Muhammad, Rasool-Allah (the Messenger of God), were not called Nabis (prophets). They were referred to as Imams. Therefore, Ali was not a Nabi, Hasan was not a Nabi, Hossein was not a Nabi, etc...., since, with the Manifestation of Muhammad, the usage of the term Nabi was abandoned (i.e. He was Khatam-u-Nabieen), and ended. As Muhammad was greater than the previous Messengers, so were His appointed successors (i.e. Imams) were greater than Nabis (prophets)."
This commentary of Sheikh Sadoogh appears to clearly reason out the inner significance of traditions such as: "Seal of the prophets", "There will be no prophets after me....".
Among other Shi'ah sources there is a Hadith (tradition) recorded by Ibn-i-Shahr Ashoob in his book, "Managhib". The very same Hadith can also be found in vol IX of Bihar'ul- Anvar of Allamih Majlesi. This Hadith is from Imam Ali, (Peace be upon Him!), where He discusses the meaning of the term Khatam-u-Nabieen. After describing the ascendancy of His own station, Ali says: "...Anyone who disagrees with me, has disagreed with God, and in arrogance has surpassed all others. No prophet has achieved the station of prophethood except through the Khatam of Nabovvat (i.e. literally meaning prophethood) he received from Muhammad. And Khatam is a ring. Only after receiving the Khatam (ring) of Nabovvat, one can be called a prophet. This is why Muhammad has been called Khatam'u- Nabieen in the Qur'an....." Then He says: "Muhammad is the Seyyed (master) of the Nabieen (prophets), and I am the Seyyed and master of the Vaseein (guardians and successors)."
Clearly Ali's explanation of "Khatam'u-Nabeein" is drastically different than the meaning the literalist Muslims have given to it. There does not appear to be any implications whatsoever about cessation of revelation after Prophet Muhammad.
Allamih Majlesi in Bihar'ul-Anvar Vol 13, p.323 mentions one of the discourses of Imam Ali. In that discourse Ali says: "I am the Commander of the faithful. I am the King among the pious..... I am the Khatam'u-Vasieen [which can be either taken as "The Seal of the guardians and successors", or, as "The Ornament of the Guardians and successors".] and the heir of the prophets and the representative of the God of the worlds."
This Hadith is referred to as the Hadith Nuraniah as is reported by several people such as Ibn Babyih (Sheikh Sadooq) in "Uyoon'ul-Akhbar Ar-Rida".
This tradition of Imam Ali is a very interesting. One must be fair in one's judgment. If we are to take, in this tradition, the term "Khatam" as "the Seal", "the ender", "one who completes", then one is obliged to accept that Ali was "the seal of the guardians, and successors", after Muhammad, Who is the Seal of the prophets. Yet, Shi'ahs believe that after Muhammad there was supposed to be twelve Imams, only the first of Whom was Ali. So, assuming that the term Khatam in Khatam'u-Vasieen must have a similar meaning to the term Khatam in Khatam'u- Nabieen, then one is to question why were there more Imams after Ali. How are we to reconcile the existence of the other Imams, Who came after Ali, based on this interpretation? Let this be food for thought for the possessors of pure heart and open mind.
Sunni scholar's views on Seal of the Prophets
Let us now examine the meaning of the term Khatam'u-Nabieen from the perspective of Sunni scholars and theologians, so that the seekers of truth obtain a wider spectrum of views for their judgment:
In the commentary of Fat'hol-Ghadeer by Hafiz Mohhades-i-Shokani we find: "All the Ghoraba use KhatEm, while Athim use KhatAm. KhatEm in Khatem'un-Nabeein means the Ender of Prophets, or the Seal of Prophets, while, KhatAm in Khatam'un-Nabeein means ring and ornament. In essence Muhammad, the Messenger of God, was the Ring or Ornament of (i.e. among) the Prophets, due to His exalted station compared to other Prophets."
The same book quotes from Dorr'ul-Mansoor of Allamih Jallal'u-Din Suyutti, who quotes Ayeshih, the wife of Muhammad, who said: "Say KhatAm-un-Nabeein (i.e. The Ring or Ornament of the Prophets), and never say no prophets shall come after Him (i.e. Muhammad)".
One can find the same references in the commentary of Kashaaf, by Zamakhshari, who says: "Muhammad, the Messenger of God, was called Khatam'u-Nabieen, since, He did not have any male offsprings to inherit prophethood from Him." He goes on and presents a Hadith from Prophet Muhammad who says about His deceased son Abraham (from Marieh, the Egyptian wife of Muhammad): "If my son Abraham was alive, he would have been a Nabi (i.e. He would have become a Nabi after Me.)". However, all of Muhammad's male offsprings die in early childhood, thus, the verse of the Qur'an: "Muhammad is not the father of any man among you...." comes into fulfillment, and Muhammad become Khatam'u-Nabieen, according to the same verse."
Abo'l-Bagha, another trusted Sunni source discusses this issue in his book, "Mofeed", from the same angle, which I will not quote here in order to prevent excessive repetition of the same idea.
It is apparent from what has been mentioned at length, that both Shi'ah and Sunni sources agree that:
2- Finality of Muhammad's revelation is not implied by this term, mentioned in the Qur'an, the Confederates: 39.