Muslims claim Muhammad was the last prophet, and was the most important prophet. Is this supported in the Qur’an? Let’s see what the Qur’an says.
Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Apostle of Allah and the Last of the prophets; and Allah is cognizant of all things.
(Qur’an, Surah 33:401).
This is what the Bible says concerning the last days near the end of the world.
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
(Revelation 11:3 RSV).
Muslims claim Muhammad was the last prophet. The Bible indicates there are more prophets to come. If the Muslims are correct, then the Qur’an and the Bible contradict each other. One of these two books must be wrong.
As seen on the page Was The Bible Corrupted?, Jesus makes it highly unlikely that the Bible is in error. But this does not necessarily mean the Qur’an is in error on this point either. It could be a problem of interpretation.
There are two ways of reading Surah 33:40.
- The verse can be read on its own.
- The verse can be read in context with 33:37-39, along with the beginning of the Surah (33:4-5).
1. Reading Surah 33:40 on its own.
There can be no mistake in interpreting Revelation 11:3. On the other hand, the verse from the Qur’an hinges only on the word “last.” The Arabic word is “khatam”, which means “final”. But some Muslims translators have translated it as “seal.”2 Does this word mean “last”, or does it mean “seal”? If neither the Qur’an or the Bible are wrong on this point, this word must mean “seal.”
What does “the seal of the prophets” mean? There are three possibilities: 1) It could still mean “the last prophet.” 2) It could also mean, “an important prophet”, or 3) it could also mean “sealed as a prophet.”
As seen before, the first possibility causes a contradiction between the Bible and the Qur’an. If we wish to avoid this contradiction, the first possibility should be rejected.
The second meaning is possible, but it would not fit the beginning part of the verse: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men.” In the Middle East, families have always been very important. Being a “father” meant being a respected member of the community. To be a “father” of a group would be even more important. This verse from the Qur’an appears to start out negatively concerning Muhammad. He was not a leader in the community. He was not someone special.3 It would appear strange to suddenly turn around and say Muhammad was an important and great prophet.
This leaves the third possibility. Muhammad was “sealed as a prophet.” In other words, Muhammad performed the duties of a prophet, but was not actually a prophet. Is this possible? There are two precedents for this in the Bible: Saul and Amos.
1 Samuel 10:10-12, and 19:19-24 relate how king Saul prophesied twice when the spirit of God came upon him. He started out serving God faithfully, but in the end strayed and rebelled. This produced the Hebrew proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” He was not a prophet even though he prophesied.
In the book of Amos, the shepherd says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son.” (Amos 7:14) And yet, God told him to “prophesy” (Amos 7:15). The traditional explanation is that the prophets of Israel at this time were corrupt, and Amos didn’t want to be associated with them. But it is also possible Amos meant literally what he said. He was not a prophet, but he could prophesy.
If Muhammad was like Saul and Amos, functioning as a prophet without being one, why would he have to be “sealed”? No mention is made of Saul or Amos being “sealed.” The difference is because Muhammad was not descended from the line of Isaac (the true heir of Abraham’s spiritual and physical blessings).
2. Reading Surah 33:40 in context.
Surah 33:4-5 sets the law on adoption. Adopted sons were not considered as natural born sons. Surah 33:37-39 gives the background for verse 40.
- Muhammad told a follower “Zaid” to keep his wife and not divorce her.
- Allah had another “instruction.”
- Muhammad did not pass this “instruction” along because he feared popular reaction. (This tells us any prophet can make a mistake when he does not follow God’s will.)
- The follower “Zaid” divorced his wife for Muhammad to marry (possibly because Muhammad had adopted Zaid’s son).
- Muhammad was supposed to marry Zaid’s recently divorced wife.
- The whole incident was “Allah’s will” to set a precedent concerning divorce and re-marriage. Divorce and re-marriage were allowed as long as certain “formalities” were observed.
- This precedent was set down from the past.
Thus, verses 37-39 show Muhammad marrying a divorced woman and adopting her son to set the standard of how it was to be done properly.
However, verse 40, “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men,” seems to imply that Muhammad and his men were not to consider their adopted sons as their actual natural born sons (see 33:4-5).
In most societies, it is understood the “son” succeeds the father. In Muhammad’s case, since his adopted son was not considered his actual son, this adopted son would not succeed him.
The middle of verse 40 continues with Muhammad being Allah’s messenger, and the “last” (sometimes translated as “seal”) of the prophets.
Muhammad died in 632 A.D. and was succeeded by his father-in-law Abu Bekr. 4
One reason Muhammad was the last prophet was because he had no son to succeed him. The other reason was because Abu Bekr was not a prophet. Abu Bekr never received any divine revelation.
But does this mean Muhammad was the last “Arab” prophet, or the last prophet for the rest of the age?
Verse 40 says, “your men”. This refers to Muhammad’s followers and community (i.e. the Arab community). Taken in conjunction with the rest of the verse, this appears to mean Muhammad would be the last or only prophet from the Arabs, but not necessarily the last prophet for the rest of history.
Neither interpretation contradicts the Bible. The Arabic word “khatam” more properly means “last” and by extension “sealed”. However there are no problems with either meaning. In fact, both interpretations taken together make more sense. Muhammad could not have a successor because he was not of the “line of the prophets.” Thus he was the only (the last) Arab prophet.
- Qur’anic verses obtained from: http://www.hti.umich.edu/k/koran/simple.html
- The Qu’ran translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc, 1998, Elmhurst, NY
- There are other verses in the Qu’an that appear to imply Muhammad was not supposed to be an “important person” (i.e. a ruler or chief). Check out Surahs 6:66, 107; 10:108; 17:54; 26:216; 39:41; 42:6 and 88:21-22. All these verses state clearly Muhammad was not to be a “disposer of affairs”. In other words he was not to be caught into the management of events in this world. Muhammad was a messenger. If people did not listen, he was free of his responsibility. If people did listen, he was to give the message. This would fit perfectly with Muhammad being “sealed as a prophet”.
- Bold print added to highlight information.
- Bernard Grun, Timetables Of History, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 1982
Note: The author of the database to the website mentioned in #1 has the same name as the translator of the Qur’an in #2. Unless these are two different people, Mr. Ali (or someone else) changed the printed Qu’ranic reference, Surah 33:40 concerning Muhammad having the “Seal” of the prophets, to “Last” of the prophets on the database.