Who is Khatam an-Nabiyyin?
Khatam an-Nabiyyin (خاتم النبيين, khātam an-nabīyīn; or Khātim an-Nabīyīn), usually translated as Seal of the Prophets, is a title used in the Qur’an to designate the prophet Muhammad and it is also translated as The Best and The Most Perfect of all Prophets. It is synonymous with the term Khātam al-Anbiyā’ (خاتم الأنبياء; or Khātim al-Anbiyā’) .It is generally regarded to mean that Muhammad was the last of the prophets sent by God.
Occurrence in the Quran
The title khatam an-nabiyyin or khatim an-nabiyyin, usually translated as “Seal of the Prophets”, is applied to Muhammad in verse 33:40 of the Qur’an. The popular Yusuf Ali translation reads,
“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things.”— The Qur’an – Chapter 33 Verse 40
There is a difference among the schools of Qur’anic recitation regarding the reading of the word خاتم in verse 33:40 – it can be read as either khātim or khātam. Of the ten qirā’āt (readings, methods of recitation) regarded as authentic – seven mutawātir and three mashhūr – all read خاتم in this verse with a kasrah on the tāʼ(خاتِم, khātim) with the exception of ‘Asim, who reads with a fatḥah on the tāʼ (خاتَم, khātam). The reading of al-Hasan, a shadhdh (aberrant) recitation, is also khātam.
The recitation that has become prevalent in most of the world today is Hafs ‘an ‘Asim – that is, the qirā’ah of ‘Asim in the riwāyah (transmission) of his student Hafs. The reading of 33:40 according to Hafs ‘an ‘Asim is as follows:
(Arabic:) مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَـٰكِن رَّسُولَ ٱللَّـهِ وَخَاتَمَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ وَكَانَ ٱللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ عَلِيمًا [note 1]
(Transliteration): mā kāna muḥammadun abā aḥadin min rijālikum wa lākin rasūla ’llāhi wa khātama ’n-nabīyīna wa kāna ’llāhu bikulli shay’in ‘alīmā— The Qur’an – Chapter 33 Verse 40
Quranic use of the root kh-t-m
The nouns khātam and khātim are derived from the root kh-t-m (خ ت م). Words based on this root occur in the Quran eight times:
- five times as the Form I verb khatama (خَتَمَ)
- once as the noun khātim (خَاتِم), or khātam (خَاتَم) according to the qirā’ah of ‘Āṣim
- once as the noun khitām (خِتَـٰم), or khātam (خَاتَم) according to the qirā’ah of al-Kisā’ī
- once as the passive participle makhtūm (مَختُوم)
“Keystone” (“brick”) metaphor
In a well-known hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah, Jabir ibn Abd Allah, Ubayy ibn Ka’b, and Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, and recorded by al-Bukhari, Muslim, at-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, an-Nasa’i, and others, Muhammad compared the relationship between himself and the previous prophets to a building missing a single brick. In Sahih al-Bukhari it is reported by Abu Hurayrah that Muhammad said, “My similitude in comparison with the 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 seal of the prophets” (fa’anā ’l-labinah, wa anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn). This hadith is narrated with similar wording in Sahih Muslim, Musnad Ahmad, Sunan al-Kubra of an-Nasa’i, and Sahih Ibn Hibban. In Mu’jam al-Awsat, at-Tabarani narrated a variant wording of the hadith with the last statement being, “So I am that [brick], I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me” (fa’anā dhālika, anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn, lā nabīya ba‘dī). Ibn Hibban also has a variant ending with “I was the place of that brick, with me concluded the [line of] messengers” (fakuntu anā mawḍi‘u tilka ’l-labinah, khutima biya ’r-rusul). In Sahih Muslim and Musnad Ahmad the hadith is also reported by Jabir ibn Abd Allah, with the last statement being “So I am the place of that brick, I have come and concluded the [line of] prophets” (fa’anā mawḍi‘u ’l-labinah, ji’tu fakhatamtu ’l-anbiyā’). Abu Dawud at-Tayalisi in his Musnad has from Jabir, “So I am the place of that brick, with me concluded the [line of] prophets” (fa’anā mawḍi‘u ’l-labinah, khutima biya ’l-anbiyā’).
In another hadith, Muhammad prophesied the appearance of a number of false prophets before the day of judgement, while asserting his status as the seal of the prophets. It is reported by Thawban ibn Bajdad that Muhammad said, “The Hour will not be established until tribes of my ummah (community) unite with the idolaters, and until they worship idols. And in my ummah there will be thirty liars, each of whom will claim to be a prophet, (but) I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me.” (kulluhum yaz‘umu annahu nabī, wa anā khātamu ’n-nabīyīn, lā nabīya ba‘dī). Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman reports that Muhammad said, “In my ummah there will twenty-seven liars and dajjals, among whom are four women, (but) I am the seal of the prophets, there is no prophet after me”.
According to the authoritative dictionary Lisan al-Arab of Ibn Manzur,
The khitām of a group of people, the khātim of them, or the khātam of them, is the last of them, according to al-Lihyani. And Muhammad is khātim of the prophets. At-Tahdhib (of al-Azhari): Khātim and khātam are among the names of the Prophet. And in the Qur’an: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and khātim of the prophets,” that is, the last of them. And: It was also recited as khātam. And the saying of al-‘Ajjaj, “Blessed to the prophets is this khātim,” is based on the well-known recitation, with a kasrah (khātim). And also among his names is al-‘āqib, and its meaning is “last of the prophets.”
According to Taj al-Arus of al-Zabidi,
Khātam: The last of a people, like khātim. And with this definition is the saying in the Qur’an, “khātam of the prophets,” that is, the last of them.
And among the names of the Prophet are khātam and khātim, and he is the one who sealed prophethood by his coming.
The title is generally regarded by Muslims as meaning that Muhammad is the last in the series of prophets beginning with Adam. The belief that a new prophet cannot arise after Muhammad is shared by both Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. Some of the most prominent historical Sunni texts on creed (aqidah) explicitly mention the doctrine of finality of prophethood. For example, in al-Aqidah at-Tahawiyyah it is asserted that “Every claim to the prophetic office after his is a delusion and a wandering desire.” In another popular work, al-Aqidah an-Nasafiyyah, it is stated, “The first of the prophets is Adam and the last is Muhammad.”
Hartwig Hirschfeld doubted the authenticity of the verse 33:40 and claimed it to be of late origin. Yohanan Friedmann states that Hirschfeld’s arguments “that the title khatam an-nabiyyin is unusual, that it only appears once in the Qur’an, that the word khatam is not Arabic…do not seem valid arguments against the authenticity of the verse.”
Frants Buhl accepted the traditional meaning of last prophet.
Josef Horovitz suggested two possible interpretations of khatam an-nabiyyin: the last prophet or the one who confirms the authenticity of the previous prophets. Heinrich Speyer agreed with Horovitz.
According to Alford T. Welch, the traditional Muslim belief that Muhammad is “last and greatest of the prophets” is most likely based on a later interpretation of 33:40.
The first modern academic to have studied in detail the history of the doctrine of finality of prophethood is Yohanan Friedmann. In his seminal article, Finality of Prophethood in Sunni Islam (1986), he concluded that although the notion of finality of prophethood “eventually acquired an undisputed and central place in the religious thought of Islam,” it was contested during the first century AH. He states, “While it is true that the phrase khatam an-nabiyyin is generally interpreted as meaning ‘the last prophet’, the exegetical tradition and other branches of classical Arabic literature preserved material which indicates that this now generally received understanding of the Qur’anic phrase is not the only possible one and had not necessarily been the earliest.” Due to this Friedmann states that the meaning of khatam an-nabiyyin in its original Qur’anic context is still in doubt.
Wilferd Madelung takes Friedmann’s findings into consideration in observing that the original Qur’anic meaning of the term is not entirely certain. However, in a more recent paper he states, “Most Muslims at the time no doubt understood it to mean that he was to be the last prophet and Islam was the final religion, as Muslims have commonly understood it ever since.”
Carl W. Ernst considers the phrase to mean that Muhammad’s “imprint on history is as final as a wax seal on a letter.”
David Powers, also making use of Friedmann’s research, believes that the early Muslim community was divided over the meaning of the expression, with some understanding it to mean he fulfilled or confirmed the earlier Christian and Jewish revelations, while others understood it as signifying that Muhammad brought the office of prophethood to a close. He suggests that the Qur’anic text underwent a series of secondary omissions and additions which were designed to adapt the text to the dogma of finality of prophethood, and that the idea of finality only became the prevailing interpretation (alongside the notion of confirmation or fulfillment) by the end of the 1st century AH / 7th century. In a review of Powers’ book, Gerald Hawting goes further, suggesting that the development of the doctrine was not complete before the 3rd century AH / 9th century. Madelung comments that Power’s argument, that verses 36-40 are a later addition dating from the generation after Muhammad’s death, is “hardly sustainable.”
Uri Rubin holds that the finality of prophethood is a Qur’anic idea, not a post-Qur’anic one, and that the expression khatam an-nabiyyin implies both finality of prophethood and confirmation. In response to Powers and other modern scholars skeptical of the early origin of the doctrine, Rubin concludes from his study “that, at least as far as Sura 33 is concerned, the consonantal structure of the Qur’anic text has not been tampered with, and that the idea of finality of prophethood is well-represented in the text, as well as in the earliest available extra-Quranic materials.” Rubin reexamines the early extra-Qur’anic texts cited by Friedmann and other modern scholars, and concludes that rather than indicating that the notion of finality of prophethood is late, the texts confirm the early origin of the belief. He concludes that “there is no compelling reason to assume that the Muslims of the first Islamic century originally understood the Qur’anic khatam an-nabiyyin in the sense of confirmation alone, without that of finality.”
- Friedmann, Yohanan (1986). “Finality of Prophethood in Sunni Islam”. Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam. 7: 177–215.
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وخِتامُ القَوْم وخاتِمُهُم وخاتَمُهُم آخرُهم عن اللحياني ومحمد صلى الله عليه وسلم خاتِم الأنبياء عليه وعليهم الصلاة والسلام التهذيب والخاتِم والخاتَم من أسماء النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وفي التنزيل العزيز ما كان محمد أبا أحد من رجالكم ولكن رسول الله وخاتِمَ النبيين أي آخرهم قال وقد قرئ وخاتَمَ وقول العجاج مُبارَكٍ للأنبياء خاتِمِ إنما حمله على القراءة المشهورة فكسر ومن أسمائه العاقب أيضا ومعناه آخر الأنبياء
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- p.45: والخاتَم آخر القوم كالخاتِم ومنه قوله تعالى وخاتم النبيين أي أخرهم
- p.48: ومن أسمائه صلى الله عليه وسلم الخاتَم والخاتِم وهو الذي خَتَم النبوة بمَجِيئه
- Esposito, John L., ed. (2003). “Khatam al-Nabiyyin”. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 171.
Khatam al-Nabiyyin: Seal of the prophets. Phrase occurs in Quran 33:40, referring to Muhammad, and is regarded by Muslims as meaning that he is the last of the series of prophets that began with Adam.
- Mir, Mustansir (1987). “Seal of the Prophets, The”. Dictionary of Qur’ānic Terms and Concepts. New York: Garland Publishing. p. 171.
Muḥammad is called “the seal of the prophets” in 33:40. The expression means that Muḥammad is the final prophet, and that the institution of prophecy after him is “sealed.”
- Hughes, Thomas Patrick (1885). “K͟HĀTIMU ‘N-NABĪYĪN”. A Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopædia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, Together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion. London: W. H. Allen. p. 270.
K͟HĀTIMU ’N-NABĪYĪN (خاتم النبيين). “The seal of the Prophets.” A title assumed by Muhammad in the Qur’ān. Surah xxxiii. 40: “He is the Apostle of God and the seal of the Prophets.” By which is meant, that he is the last of the Prophets.
- Goldziher, Ignác (1981). “Sects”. Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law. Translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori from the German Vorlesungen über den Islam (1910). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 220–221.
Sunnī and Shī‘ī theology alike understood it to mean that Muhammad ended the series of Prophets, that he had accomplished for all eternity what his predecessors had prepared, that he was God’s last messenger delivering God’s last message to mankind.
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- Andrea Lathan (2008) ‘The Relativity of Categorizing in the Context of the Aḥmadiyya’Die Welt des Islams, 48 (3/4): p.378 “It is primarily Ghulām Aḥmad’s prophetical claim based on his reinterpretation of the prophetology mentioned above that distinguishes the Aḥmadiyya Muslim Jamāʿat from the Muslim “mainstream”. In spite of the differentiation Ghulām Aḥmad had made between the two kinds of prophets and his acceptance of Muḥammad as the last law-bearing one, many of his adversaries consider his claim as an offence against the finality of Muḥammad.”
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Violent Dhaka Rally against Sect, BBC News
Eight die in Pakistan Sect Attack, BBC News
Sect offices closed in Pakistan, BBC News
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