True understanding of Finality of Prophethood: Reconciliation of two conflicting narrations by Imam Ibn Qutaybah

Sulaiman Tasleem, Missionary, Nigeria
muhammad g8ddc9acfe 1920
Sardar Faizan | Unsplash

Hadith, the corpus of the sayings or traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, is considered a major source of religious law and guidance after the Quran and sunnah. In order to protect these sacred reports, Muslim scholars, since the early centuries of Islam, have worked greatly in the development of a systematic science of Hadith (‘Ilm al-Hadith), a science that has grown widely and firmly into different fields over time. It covers the study of the chains of narrations, as well as the study and analysis of the contents of Hadith (i.e., matn).

‘Ilm Mukhtalif al-Hadith is one of the fields of knowledge branching out from the sciences of Hadith, which involves contradictions in Hadith contents (matn). Imam an-Nawwawi defined it as “two ahadith that are outwardly contradicting each other but are reconciled together in such a way that the contradictions will cease to exist or that one of them is given precedence over the other one”. (Imam Jalaludeen Suyuti, Tadrib ar-Rawi Fi Sharh Taqrib an-Nawawi, under An-Na’u 36, p. 412)

Great scholars of Islam have contributed to this important field of Hadith, such as Imam Muhammad bin Idris as-Shaf’ee, Imam Ibn Khuzaimah, Imam Ahmad bin Muhammad at-Tahawi, etc.

Imam Abu Muhammad Ibn Qutaybah is one of the known scholars in this field, and his book Ta’wil Mukhtalifil Hadith (lit., The Interpretation of Conflicting Narrations) bears witness to this.

In this article, we will look into the topic of the finality of prophethood (i.e., the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa being the final prophet) vis a vis the coming of Prophet Jesusas in the latter days as prophesied by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa in various narrations of hadith.

Ibn Qutaybah also recognised that this issue falls under the topic of Mukhtalifil Hadith, which needs clarifications to remove the doubts and contradictions.

Among the Muslims of today, the claims of the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have caused the Muslims to raise eyebrows at him. He claimed to be a prophet, whereas the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa has clearly stated that:

لاَ نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي

“There will be no prophet after me.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ahadithi l-anbiya, Bab ma dhukira ‘an bani isra’il, Hadith 3455)

It needs to be understood that the advent and the claims of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas do not in any way invalidate the hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa. His claim is not a regular one; he claimed to be the Promised Messiah and the Mahdi prophesied by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.

If he truly is the Messiah promised to come, should the Muslims still have problems with his claim to prophethood?

Imam Ibn Qutaybah recognised the contradictions here. If truly there is no prophet at all after the Holy Prophet Muhammad’ssa demise, why then did he prophesy the coming of Prophet Jesusas in the Latter Days? Is nor that a paradox?

We shall explain these two narrations, considering the solution proposed by Imam Ibn Qutaybah in his explanations.

Replying to those who claim the ahadith are contradictory, Ibn Qutaybah said:

قَالُوا روِّيتُمْ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، قَالَ لَا نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي، وَلَا أُمَّةَ بَعْدَ أُمَّتِي، فَالْحَلَالُ مَا أَحَلَّهُ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى عَلَى لِسَانِي إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ، وَالْحَرَامُ مَا حَرَّمَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى عَلَى لِسَانِي إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ

ثُمَّ رُوِّيتُمْ أَنَّ الْمَسِيحَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ يَنْزِلُ، فَيَقْتُلُ الْخِنْزِيرَ، وَيَكْسِرُ الصَّلِيبَ

“They said: You narrated that the Holy Prophetsa said, ‘There is no Prophet after me, and there is no ummah (religious community) after my ummah. Now the lawful is that which Allah declares as lawful through my tongue till the day of resurrection, and the unlawful is what Allah declares as unlawful through my tongue till the day of resurrection.”

“Then you also narrated from the Holy Prophetsa that ‘The Messiah as will descend (i.e., in the Latter Days), and he will kill the swine and break the cross.” (Imam Ibn Qutaybah, Ta’wil Mukhtalifil Hadith, al-Maktbah al-Islamiyyah, Beirut, p. 271)

One basic rule in this field is that before one goes about reconciling a hadith, one must first evaluate the authenticity of each hadith. For if one is weak and invalid, then there is no call for reconciliation, as the weak hadith cannot oppose the authentic one. A person should not expend energy in trying to reconcile, say, a fabricated hadith with external realities because it cannot be reliably attributed to the Prophetsa, to begin with and therefore should not be a matter of concern.

The first hadith is reported fully in Sunan ad-Darimi, no. 447, and the same point is also reiterated in many ahadith as well, which are widely accepted and sound.

As for the second hadith about the coming of the Messiah, they have been reported in many ahadith and the number of narrators is enough for nobody to reject them.

They have reached the level of mutawatir ma‘anawiy, which is forever accepted according to the science of Hadith, because such ahadith are conveyed by narrators so numerous that it is inconceivable that they have agreed upon an untruth, thus being accepted as unquestionable in its veracity. More than 50 different ahadith transmitted directly from the Allah’s Messengersa (marfu‘), each with a number of narrations, have come down to us about the descent of Jesusas, most of which are classified as authentic (sahih). In addition, there are over 50 ahadith whose chains extend to the Messengersa of Allah prophesying the Promised Messiah under the title of Mahdi (the guided one). So, who then can reject this clear statement from the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.

There is no question of rejecting either of the two narrations, as they are both sound and acceptable.

Now, back to the question: won’t the coming of Prophet Jesusas break the finality of prophethood? He would become the last prophet if he came last, and it would no longer be the Prophet Muhammadsa.

Scholars have tried to find an excuse for this; they claim that when he comes back, he will no longer be a prophet of God, so he won’t break the title of Holy Prophetsa as the last prophet. What an outrageous claim!

This explanation has created more questions than answers.

At the time of his descent, would all the areas in the Quran where he is called a prophet of Allah be cleared away? Wouldn’t it be rather unfortunate or disgraceful for a person to be relegated from the position of prophet? Who gave them the audacity to bring such insults to Prophet Jesusas?

One basic rule in the reconciliation of ahadith is that it should not be interpreted in such a way that it will clash with the Quran or more authentic narrations. No proof whatsoever proves that a time will come when Prophet Jesusas will be stripped of his prophetic status. Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Quran about him:

اِذۡ قَالَتِ الۡمَلٰٓئِکَةُ يٰمَرۡيَمُ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ يُبَشِّرُکِ بِکَلِمَةٍ مِّنۡہُ ٭ۖ اسۡمُہُ الۡمَسِيۡحُ عِيۡسَي ابۡنُ مَرۡيَمَ وَجِيۡہًا فِي الدُّنۡيَا وَالۡاٰخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الۡمُقَرَّبِيۡنَ

When the angels said, ‘O Mary, Allah gives thee glad tidings of a word from Him; his name [shall be] the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those who are granted nearness [to God]. (Surah Aal-e-Imran, Ch. 3: V. 46)

Allah has established in this verse that Prophet Jesusas will always be honoured both in this world and the hereafter. What honour is there for a prophet to be stripped of his prophethood? This shows that the escape created by these scholars holds no water.

In his own approach to this question, Ibn Qutaybah did not remove prophethood from Prophet Jesusas; rather, he said since his own prophethood is old and not new, it wouldn’t affect the Holy Prophetsa. He said:

وَنَحْنُ نَقُولُ إِنَّهُ لَيْسَ فِي هَذَا تَنَاقُضٌ وَلَا اخْتِلَافٌ، لِأَنَّ الْمَسِيحَ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ نَبِيٌّ مُتَقَدِّمٌ، رَفَعَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى، ثُمَّ يُنْزِلُهُ فِي آخِرِ الزَّمَ  وَإِذَا نَزَلَ الْمَسِيحُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ، لَمْ يَنْسَخْ شَيْئًا مِمَّا أَتَى بِهِ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، وَلَمْ يَتَقَدَّمِ الْإِمَامَ مِنْ أُمَّتِهِ، بَلْ يُقَدِّمُهُ، وَيُصَلِّي خَلْفَهُ

“In our own explanation, we say that there is no discrepancy in this because the Messiahas was an old prophet and Allah raised him, then he will make him descend back to the world in the Latter Days. And when the Messiah will descend, he will not abrogate anything in what the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa brought, and he will not lead but pray behind the Imam of the ummah.” (Imam Ibn Qutaybah, Ta’wil Mukhtalifil Hadith, al-Maktbah al-Islami, Beirut, p. 271)

This is also a flawed argument because, whether an old or new prophet, the Holy Prophetsa made it clear that he was the last prophet. No matter how we try to twist it, with this line of argument, Prophet Jesusas is still the last prophet chronologically. Let us illustrate this with an example.

Let’s say that Zaid enters a room at 3pm and leaves, then Bakr enters it at 4pm and leaves, then Zaid re-enters the room at 5pm and leaves. Who was the ‘last’ person in the room? Undoubtedly, Zaid was the last person in the room; whether he had been there before Bakr or not, chronologically, he was the last person in the room. This is the same line of argument here, and it would be Prophet Jesusas who came last.

The source of the problem with these arguments from these scholars is their belief that Prophet Jesusas is still alive in heaven, a belief clearly against the Holy Quran because it is not supported by any verse of the Quran. Rather, the same Hazrat Jesusas who came as a prophet to the Israelites about 600 years before the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa has passed away like a normal mortal and like all prophets before him. Another person was to be raised by Allah the Almighty from this ummah bearing the title of “Isa al-Masih” in the spiritual sense because of his similarities with Prophet Jesusas. This is the solution to this question, as clarified by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi.

How can Prophet Jesusas still be alive in heaven when neither the Quran nor any authentic ahadith support it?

Let us look into a solid argument from the Quran that invalidates the return of the old Prophet Jesusas who was sent to the Israelites in the latter days as the Messiah for Muslim ummah.

In Surah al-Mai’dah verses 117-119, Allah the Almighty informs us of the questions He would ask Prophet Jesusas about his followers on the Day of Judgement. The reply he would give to Allah the Almighty would be:

وَاِذۡ قَالَ اللّٰہُ يٰعِيۡسَي ابۡنَ مَرۡيَمَ ءَاَنۡتَ قُلۡتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُوۡنِيۡ وَاُمِّيَ اِلٰہَيۡنِ مِنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰہِ ؕ قَالَ سُبۡحٰنَکَ مَا يَکُوۡنُ لِيۡۤ اَنۡ اَقُوۡلَ مَا لَيۡسَ لِيۡ ٭ بِحَقٍّ ؕ؃ اِنۡ کُنۡتُ قُلۡتُہٗ فَقَدۡ عَلِمۡتَہٗ ؕ تَعۡلَمُ مَا فِيۡ نَفۡسِيۡ وَلَاۤ اَعۡلَمُ مَا فِيۡ نَفۡسِکَ ؕ اِنَّکَ اَنۡتَ عَلَّامُ الۡغُيُوۡبِ مَا قُلۡتُ لَہُمۡ اِلَّا مَاۤ اَمَرۡتَنِيۡ بِہٖۤ اَنِ اعۡبُدُوا اللّٰہَ رَبِّيۡ وَرَبَّکُمۡ ۚ وَکُنۡتُ عَلَيۡہِمۡ شَہِيۡدًا مَّا دُمۡتُ فِيۡہِمۡ ۚ فَلَمَّا تَوَفَّيۡتَنِيۡ کُنۡتَ اَنۡتَ الرَّقِيۡبَ عَلَيۡہِمۡ ؕ وَاَنۡتَ عَلٰي کُلِّ شَيۡءٍ شَہِيۡد اِنۡ تُعَذِّبۡہُمۡ فَاِنَّہُمۡ عِبَادُکَ ۚ وَاِنۡ تَغۡفِرۡ لَہُمۡ فَاِنَّکَ اَنۡتَ الۡعَزِيۡزُ الۡحَکِيۡمُ

“And when Allah will say, ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, ‘Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?’’, he will answer, ‘Holy art Thou. I could never say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art the Knower of hidden things.

“‘I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me — ‘Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among them, but since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher over them; and Thou art Witness over all things.

“‘If Thou punish them, they are Thy servants; and if Thou forgive them, Thou surely art the Mighty, the Wise.’”

It is clear from these glorious verses of the Holy Quran that this conversation between Prophet Jesusas and Allah the Almighty would take place on the Day of Judgement. Allah the Almighty will question him regarding his followers taking him as a partner with Allah. He would deny responsibility by stating that he was only aware of their state while he was still alive, that he kept watch over them, and that none worshipped him while he was alive. He will tell Allah the Almighty that it was only after his death that his people started to worship him. This, in fact,  is the reality of the matter. The concept of the Trinity and the sonship status of Jesusas were never preached by him while alive. It was introduced to Christianity much later on by others.

The interesting thing about this verse is that it exposes the shallowness of the arguments of the scholars saying that Prophet Jesusas of the Israelites is still alive in heaven and will be the one to descend in the Latter Days.

If Prophet Jesusas truly came back to this world before the Day of Judgement, would it be right for him to tell God on the Day of Judgement that he knew nothing about anyone taking him as God? His coming to the world would have afforded him the opportunity to see the state of Christianity and those who claim to be his followers. He would have seen how far they have gone in taking him as god apart from the Almighty. Telling God, “I know nothing of their doings after my death,” would become a false statement, as he would have been aware of the state of his followers before Judgement Day.

The correct interpretation

In his further explanation of these narrations, Imam Ibn Qutaybah gave a beautiful approach to this issue. He quoted the statement of Hazrat Aishara to explain these two seemingly contradictory narrations:

وَعَنْ عَائِشَةَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهَا أَنَّهَا كَانَتْ تَقُولُقُولُوا لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسلم، خَاتَمَ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ، وَلَا تَقُولُوا لَا نَبِيَّ بَعْدَهُ

“It is narrated by Hazrat Aishara, that she used to say that: ‘Say that Allah’s Messengersa is the Khaatamul Anbiya (i.e., The Seal of the Prophets, but mostly translated by most non-Ahmadis as the  Last of Prophets), but do not say there will be no prophet after him.”

This narration is recorded by Imam Ibn Abi Shaybah in his “Musannaf”, with this sanad (chain):

“Husain bin Muhammad narrated to us that Jarir bin Hazim reported to us from Hazrat Aishara

This narration is also recorded by Yahya bin Salaam in his tafsir. The narration is recorded under the tafsir of Surah al-Ahzab with the sanad:

“Ar-Rabee’ bin Sobeeh reported from Muhammad bin Seerin, who heard it from Hazrat Aishara

The statement is confirmed to be from Hazrat Aishara as it is reported by more than two different people from her, Ibn Seerin and Jarir bin Hazim.

Imam Ibn Qutaybah explained this statement by Hazrat Aishara. He said:

وَأَمَّا قَوْلُ عَائِشَةَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهَاقُولُوا لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَاتَمُ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ، وَلَا تَقُولُوا لَا نَبِيَّ بَعْدَهُ فَإِنَّهَا تَذْهَبُ إِلَى نُزُولِ عِيسَى عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ، وَلَيْسَ هَذَا مِنْ قَوْلِهَا، نَاقِضًا لِقَوْلِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَا نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي لِأَنَّهُ أَرَادَ لَا نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي، يَنْسَخُ مَا جِئْتُ بِهِ، كَمَا كَانَتِ الْأَنْبِيَاءُ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَسَلَّمَ تَبْعَثُ بِالنُّسَخِ، وَأَرَادَتْ هِيَ لَا تَقُولُوا إِنَّ الْمَسِيح لَا ينزل بعده

“The interpretation put forth by Hazrat Aishara that ‘Say, the Holy Prophet is Khatam of Prophets but do not say no prophet will come after him’, refers to the coming of Jesusas in the Latter Days. This does not contradict the words of the Holy Prophetsa that ‘There will be no prophet after me’ because the Holy Prophetsa meant that there would be no prophet after him who would abrogate his law. Hazrat Aishara meant that ‘do not say that the Messiah will not come’” (Imam Ibn Qutaybah, Ta’wil Mukhtalifil Hadith, al-Maktbah al-Islami, Beirut, p. 272)

This is exactly the belief of all Ahmadis. It has been passed down to them not just from the Promised Messiahas, but also from the earlier righteous ones of the Muslim ummah.

The only way these two narrations won’t contradict each other and won’t also contradict the true stance of the Holy Quran is that the Messiah of the Latter Days will come with no new law or teachings, but rather with the teachings of Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, and his being a prophet will not affect the Seal of Prophethood of Prophet Muhammadsa.

Hazrat Aishara knew that the Holy Prophetsa had used that phrase. However, she also understood that his words could be misunderstood. Therefore, she made a point to clarify that by saying “La nabiyya ba‘di”, the Holy Prophetsa did not mean that there would be no prophet after him.

It is agreed by all that the Messiahas of Nazareth did not receive his blessings through the Holy Prophetsa, nor can he do so. Suppose Jesusas returns; he would have read the Torah and Bible, not the Quran or the ahadith. The question arises, would he take on a mentor? Would he become a disciple of a religious cleric to learn the Quran and Hadith?

Some people say that God will directly reveal the Holy Quran to him just like it was revealed to the Holy Prophetsa. Even the sayings of the Holy Prophetsa will be revealed to him. If this were the case, how is that blessing received through the Holy Prophetsa? Jesusas is an independent prophet who had no relation to the Muslim ummah, he belonged to another dispensation.

According to this belief, he sat in heaven for 2000 years, and when he comes again, he will receive direct revelation from God! The Promised Messiahas says that one of the meanings of Khatam an-Nabiyyin is that no law-bearing prophet can come because Khatamiyyat has the connotation of encompassing all goodness and qualities. If a teaching has reached perfection and does not exclude any good quality, then the question of a new teaching only arises if the teaching has been disfigured and tainted. However, Allah the Almighty has also guaranteed that the Quran will be protected. (Surah al-Hijr, Ch. 15: V.10)

The natural and logical conclusion of these two facts – Khatamiyyat, ensuring that the book revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa encompasses all good qualities, and God simultaneously promising that the jurisdiction of His law will extend till the Day of Judgement – is that this is the last teaching. The Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said that he and the Day of Judgement are as close together as two fingers of a hand. That is, there cannot be anybody who would abrogate his commandments or interfere in his law till the Day of Judgment – and beyond that, the question does not even arise. This is exactly what the Promised Messiahas has said and it is what riles the opponents of Ahmadiyya the most. Our opponents attack us, claiming that on the one hand, we believe that the Holy Prophetsa is Khatam an-Nabiyyin and profess on oath that we believe in the verse of Khatam an-Nabiyyin in the Quran, but on the other hand, we open the door to the advent of an ummati Prophet. They claim that we say Khatamiyyat means ‘the last’ with reference to shari‘ah [Islamic law], but not with reference to the non-law-bearing prophethood. The Promised Messiahas writes in this respect:

“The Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was granted the unique honour of being Khatam an-Nabiyyin because, firstly, all spiritual qualities of prophethood have reached their pinnacle in him. Secondly, there cannot be a law-bearing prophet after him or one who is not in his ummah. Everyone who receives the honour of divine revelation does so only through the Holy Prophetsa and his blessings. Such a one is designated as an ummati prophet and not an independent Prophet.” (Tatimmah Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 23, p. 380)

Further, the Promised Messiahas writes:

“All prophethood has come to an end except the prophethood of Muhammadsa. No law-bearing prophet can come after him. A prophet who does not bring a new law can come, but he has to be a follower of the Holy Prophetsa first”. (Tajalliyyat-e-Ilahiyyah, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 20, p. 412)

This is the true interpretation and reconciliation of these two narrations, as explained by the Promised Messiahas himself. Ponder over his claims and do not reject them in haste or arrogantly.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here