The term “Khatamun-Nabiyyin” which when literally translated means ‘Seal of the prophets’ is grammatically a compound phrase. It is a matter of common knowledge that when two words join together to make a phrase, they do not necessarily give their literal meaning. For example, ‘Ibn’ means ‘son’ and ‘Sabil’ means way; but when these words is joint together to make ‘Ibn-Sabil’ it does not reflect an absolutely literal meaning. We thus don’t consider it to mean: ‘Son of the path’, it only means a traveller.
Such titles was also a practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) whereby he used to name his companions according to sometimes memorable events or simply because of the situation in which he found them. For example, he named his cousin, son-in-law and his fourth successor Ali (ra), Abu Turab, which literally means: Father of the soil/sand, which of course Hazrat Ali (ra) was not literally one, but the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) gave him the name as an adjective or attribute and not as a literal meaning. So the real sense of a phrase is determined by grammar, its usage in language and the context in which it is used.
It is an established and unchangeable rule of Arabic grammar and language that when the word ‘Khatam’ is used in the praise of a person and its combining word is a ‘group of talented people’, it never means that the person called ‘Khatam’ is the last or final to appear in respect of time. It always means that in the opinion of the user, the person concerned is the perfect and supreme in that ‘group of talented people’ and that he has achieved the last and final grade in that particular excellence. The Islamic literature is full of such instances and not a single example can be cited against this rule.
1. Khatamun-Shua’ra (Khatam of poets) never means last and final poet, but a perfect and top-most poet, the best achiever from among the poets.
2. Khatamun-Mufasarin (Khatam of commentators) does not mean a last born one but a supreme commentator.
Similarly the word ‘Khatam’ has been used with many other ‘groups of talented people’ like, ‘Muhaqaqeen’ (investigators), ‘Muhadaseen’ (reporters), Hukkam (officers), Mualameen (teachers) and Auliyya (friends of God). In none of these terms the word ‘Khatam’ means the last born or the last one to appear in the world. It only means that, in the opinion of the user, the person called ‘Khatam’ is the best and the most perfect of all in that particular talent which belongs to the group.
It may, however, be noted that when ‘Khatam’ is not used in praise of a person and its combining word is not a group of talented people, then it does mean the last or at the end in respect of time; because in that case it is used not to praise the person for any excellence or talent but as a mere statement of fact. For example, “Khatamul-Aulad” (Khatam of sons) will mean last-born because to be born is not a talent and the term is used not to praise the boy but merely to point out the fact that he is the youngest son. Similarly, the term ‘Khatamul-Muhajireen’ as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said of his uncle Abbas (ra) will mean last one to migrate (in the context of Islam and emigration at the time of the Prophet (pbuh)) because to migrate is not a talent nor is the term used to praise the last migratory. The neglect of this point is the most common mistake which, even the learned among the Muslims make or pretend to make. They prefer to use certain words to put weight on their deaf argument that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the last of prophets of God, absolutely and literally.
Keeping the rules of the Arabic language which I have just cited in mind, it will be clear to every truth seeking person that the term ‘Khatamun-Nabiyyin’ as used in the praise of the holy prophet, can only mean that he is the best, perfect and the supreme prophet who has attained the last, final and the highest rank in prophethood. No prophet superior or greater than him can appear after him but the appearance of a prophet, subordinate to him cannot be contrary to this title. This is what the holy prophet as well as the scholars of Islam understood by this term.
The Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said of Hazrat Ali:“O, Ali you are ‘Khatamun-Auliya’ just as I am ‘Khatamun-Anbiyya’.” (Tafseer-Safi p. 111)
Evidently this saying could not mean that Hazrat Ali was the last Wali. It can only mean that he was the best Wali just as the Holy prophet was the best Nabi. And as it is expected, the majority of scholars in Islam who are blinded by just one meaning of “Khatam” deny the source as weak and without chain of narrators. It is to be precise that thousands of Hadiths which held truth coming from the mouth of the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) have been put aside and made to forget only because they do not tally with their literal analysis and interpretation of the words of the Holy Prophet of Islam. Thus, many Hadiths concerning the end of time and the advent of Mahdi and Messiah as being one person and hailing from no other community than Islam have been silenced and erased from history. But Allah has the power to reveal yet again the concealed teachings and give back to Islam its glory by revealing the true meaning of the words of His perfect prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh).
Hazrat Aisha, the wife of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said of the Holy Prophet (pbuh): “Say that he is ‘Khatamul-Anbiyya’ (seal of prophets) but do not say that there is no prophet after him”. (Durre-Mansoor Vol. 5, p. 104 and Takmila Majmaal Bihar vol. 4, p.85)
Now if, ‘Khatam’ meant ‘Last’ then why not say so? Some confused and insolent scholars have condemned this saying Hazrat Ayesha as ‘worthless’. But one wonders what do they say about all the saints and scholars of Islam who tolerated such a ‘worthless’ statement in the Islamic literature for more than a thousand years and who even commented and explained this statement. For example, Imam Mohammad Tahir (died 986 H) comments:
“This (statement) is in view of the advent of Isa, and this is not contrary to the Hadith ‘No prophet after me’; because by it he (the Holy Prophet) meant that there would be no prophet who would abrogate his law”. (Takmila Majmaal Bihar p. 88)
Hazrat Muhyuddin Ibn Arabi (died 638 H) writes: “The prophethood that ended with the Holy Prophet is the one with the law and not the very institution of it … And by this saying ‘No prophet after me’ he meant that no prophet can come who would be against his law; rather any prophet that appears after him, would be under his law”.
And further it is explained: “… so prophethood will continue till the Day of Judgement but the Law has come to an end; and to bring Law is only a part of prophethood… Isa will descend without a Law but he would be a prophet without any doubt”. (Fatuhate-Makia Vol. 2, pp. 3, 100)
Allama Abdul Wahab Shirani (died 972 H) writes: “Know it that prophethood has not ended absolutely; only the Law-bearing prophethood has been lifted …” “There have been prophets in the world in the past and there will be in future too, but they will be subordinate to the Law of the Holy Prophet. Most people, however, do not know this”.(Alyawakit-wal-Jawahar)
Imam Fakharuddin Razi (died 606 H) explains: “It is essential for ‘Khatam’ to be supreme. Look! Just as the Holy Prophet has been declared supreme on account of being ‘Khatam’ of all the physical creatures”. (Tafseer-e-Kabir Vol. 6, p. 31)
Before we consider the context of the term ‘Khatamun-Nabiyyin’ let us have a look at the literal meaning of the word ‘Khatam’.
‘Khatam’ means ‘the seal’ which is defined as ‘an instrument which leaves its impression on other things’. The main purpose of creating this impression by using a seal, is to attest, to verify or to issue something on the authority of the bearer of seal. Speaking literally, therefore, ‘The seal’ of the prophets would mean a prophet who attests and verifies the prophethood of other prophets and whose complete and perfect obedience can leave an ‘impression of prophethood’ on his perfect and chosen followers.
The fact that the Holy Prophet (pbuh), serves as a source of all kinds of spiritual blessings including prophethood, is supported firmly by the verse (4: 70) which attests:
“And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger – these are with those upon whom Allah has bestowed favours from among the prophets and the truthful and the martyrs and the righteous. And excellent are those as companions.”
It is clear from this verse that the mentioned four spiritual ranks are now attainable through the obedience of the Holy Prophet. The significance of this verse becomes even clearer when we compare it with the verse 57: 20 which reads:
“And those who believe in Allah and His messengers, they are the Truthful and the Martyrs in the presence of their Lord”.
By analysing the two verses together, it can be easily inferred that, whereas the followers of all ‘the messengers’ in general could reach up to the ranks of the Martyrs and the Truthful (siddiqin) and no higher, the followers of the Holy prophet (this messenger) can go even higher and be blessed with prophethood if and when necessary.
It must be noted that the sense of ‘closing’ or ‘finishing’ something, which is commonly linked with the word ‘seal’ is not its real meaning or purpose. In fact, the seal is put on an envelope or lock not to close but to attest the closure. The closure is always done by putting gum or lock, while seal is applied to attest that the closure has been done by the owner of the seal. If the seal is not clear or is tempered with, the closure of the object may be rejected because the purpose of attestation is not served in that case. So the real and the primary purpose of the seal remains ‘to attest or to issue’ something by creating its impression on other objects.
Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi, the founder of the ‘Dewband’ school of thought in Islam, has explained the word ‘Khatam’ as follows: “Just as the Khatam (seal) leaves its impression on the objects, so does the self luminous personally affect his noble followers …” “The prophethood of the Holy Prophet is intrinsic in his blessed personality while that of the other prophets is through his effect. Others are prophets through his grace but he is prophet through nobody’s grace; and that is how the prophethood ends with him. He is, therefore, prophet of God as well as the prophet of the prophets”. (Tehzir-an-Nas pp. 3, 4 and 10)
Maulana Shabeer Ahmad Usmani, ‘Sheik-ul-Islam’, Pakistan while commenting on the title ‘Khatam-Nabiyyin’ writes in his translation of the Holy Quran: “. . . so we can say that he (the Holy Prophet) is the ‘Seal of the prophet’ with regards to rank as well as time; and those who got prophethood, got it only through the impress of his Seal”.
Let us now study the title ‘Khatamun-Nabiyyin’ with its context because it is only in the light of the context that the real and exact sense of a word can be ascertained. Allah says in the Holy Quran: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men; but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of prophets, and Allah knows everything”. (33: 41)
The use of the word ‘But’ in the verse is particularly noteworthy. ‘But’ is a conjunction, used to join two sentences and it serves to remove any doubt or objection that may possibly arise from the first sentence. Now if the term ‘Seal of the prophets’ is interpreted to mean ‘the last prophet’, as is generally understood, then the information given by God in the verse can be briefed as follows:
i) Muhammad is not the father of any man but he is last of all the prophets. Or that
ii) Muhammad is at the end of his lineage. But he is at the end of the line of prophets. Or that
iii) Muhammad has no son after him but he has no prophet after him.
Analyse these sentences again and see that the use of the word ‘But’ is absolutely wrong because both parts of each sentence have something negative in them. The use of the word ‘But’ demands that if there is anything negative in the first statement, the other statement should contain something positive or vice versa. It makes it necessary that if a fact is denied in the first statement, this denial should be compensated by acknowledging some positive fact in the other statement.
Supposing that the ‘Seal of the prophets’ means supreme head, the top-most and the ‘Issuer’ of the prophets and analyse the same sentences again:
i) Muhammad is not the father of any man but he is the father (head) of the prophets. Or that
ii) Muhammad is at the end of his lineage but he is at the top of line of prophets. Or that
iii) Muhammad has no sons as issues after him but he has prophets as spiritual issues after him.
The use of ‘But’ in these sentences is absolutely correct because the objection that arises by denying one fact in the first part of the sentence is removed by acknowledging some similar or even better fact in the other part of the sentence. (It must be remembered that a prophet is the ‘father’, a ‘Spiritual father’ of his followers because the wives of the prophets are declared as ‘mothers of the followers’ in the Holy Quran, especially the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself as well as the wives of all those prophets who shall come subordinate to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and this till the Day of Judgement (33: 7))
With these facts in mind, when you analyse the verse (33: 41) once again, then see that when Allah said ‘Muhammad is not the father of any man’. God denied the ‘physical fatherhood’ of the Holy Prophet, but He compensated this loss with a big ‘But’ and added that he is the father of a nation as ‘Messenger of Allah’ and even father of the prophets as ‘Seal of the prophets’. The ‘seal’ mentioned in this verse could never mean ‘the last or the end’. It can only mean the seal that issues something because it is the physical issues of the Holy prophet that are denied in the first part of the verse; and the second part, therefore, must necessarily acknowledge the existence of ‘spiritual issues’. So what God really wants to tell mankind is that, although Mohammad is not the physical father of any man but he is the ‘spiritual father’ of a nation, and above all he is the ‘father of prophets’, thus having even prophets as his spiritual sons.
It should be noted that every prophet is the ‘father’ of his followers and the words ‘Messenger of Allah’ in the verse, made the Holy Prophet only the spiritual ‘father’ of his followers in common with other prophets. It is the next title of the ‘seal of the prophets’ that exalted him above all other prophets as ‘father’ yet again of the prophets.
Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotvi again explains: “The common people think that the Holy prophet is Khatam in the sense that he is the last of all the prophets. But it will be clear to the men of understanding that to be first or last or last in respect of time is not creditable in itself. In this sense, therefore, to praise him by saying ‘but he is the messenger of Allah and seal of the prophets’ cannot be correct . . . The real sense of this verse is that the Holy prophet does not possess the fatherhood in respect of any man; but the spiritual fatherhood in respect of his ‘followers’ as well as ‘prophets’ does belong to him”. (Tehzir-an-nas pp. 2 and 10)
The seal then upon setting a distinction also shows how perfect a Law-bearing prophet the Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) was. He was chief prophet of the prophets and the human most exalted in position in the eyes of Allah, making him the excellent model for humankind to follow. Such model is to be followed and those who copy him, by putting into practice his teachings in the righteous way, then there is no doubt that Allah (the Exalted) can make these people reach to prophethood through their obedience to that exemplar prophet who was not only an inspiration for mankind to perfect themselves, but also to his followers to embrace his way for it is in this way that they can accede to the fruits of prophethood which he planted with Islam. Spiritual fruits, not physical fruits, just like he was a spiritual father to mankind and the prophets and not a biological father to adult sons.
May Allah enable you all my dear disciples and seekers of truth to realise this truth and may we all follow the model which our perfect spiritual father Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) is (I say “is” because his teachings are alive even if our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) died), because we are temporary in this world and have the duty to abide to the truths revealed by Allah as long as there is breath in us to breathe in the truth from Allah. Insha-Allah, Ameen.
- Friday Sermon-February 07, 2014 Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib (atba) of Mauritius