The False Allegation against Hazrat Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Sahib Nanotwi (Allah have mercy on him) of Denying the Prophetic Sealship
On pages 12-13 of Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib’s Husam al-Haramayn, from where the takfir of senior scholars of the Ahl al-Sunnah begins, he wrote regarding Hazrat Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Sahib Nanotwi (Allah have mercy on him), the founder of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband:
Qasim al-Nanotwi, the author of Tahzir al-Nas, who said therein:
“If a new prophet were supposed in his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) time, rather if it were to occur after him (Allah bless him and grant him peace), that would not infringe on his Sealship (khatamiyyah), and it is only the commoners who imagine that he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is the Seal of the Prophets with the meaning ‘last of the Prophets’ although there is no virtue in this at all according to the people of understanding” to the end of what he mentioned of irrational talk.
It says in al-Tatimmah and al-Ashbah and [other books] besides them: “When one does not recognise that Muhammad (Allah Most High bless him and grant him peace) is the last of the Prophets, he is not a Muslim, because it is from the necessities.” (Husam al-Haramayn, p. 12)
This slave [i.e. Mawlana Manzur Nu‘mani] submits that the ruling of disbelief which has been levelled at Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Sahib (Allah have mercy on him) in this statement of Khan Sahib Barelwi is, according to the view of this helpless one, nothing besides deception and deceit. Even the aforementioned Khan Sahib is not so ignorant and dimwitted to the degree of ignorance and dimwittedness that is understood as a consequence of this fatwa. And Allah knows best.
[Proofs of the Deception of Mawlawi Ahmad Rida]
The reasons for [concluding that] the verdict is erroneous and pure distortion and deceit are:
In quoting this text of Tahzir al-Nas, Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib undertook the most sorrowful display of distortion (tahrif) after which this cannot be said to be a quote from Tahzir al-Nas in any way. The reality is that this text of Tahzir al-Nas was manufactured by joining separate sentences from three different pages! Thus, one sentence is from page 3, another from page 14, and another from page 28. Apart from the different page numbers, there is no demarcation between the sentences, and as a consequence, any [casual] reader will not be able to understand that these are from different places; rather, he will be forced to believe that this is one contiguous quote. Moreover, it does not end here. Rather, to create a content of pure disbelief, the aforementioned Khan Sahib even changed the order of these sentences. Thus, he first wrote the sentence from page 14, and then after this, the one from page 28, and then the one from page 3.
The result of Khan Sahib changing the order was that if the three sentences from Tahzir al-Nas were read separately in their respective places, nobody would conceive of [the author] denying the Prophetic Sealship. But, in the way he quoted the statements from Tahzir al-Nas, denial of the Prophetic Sealship will clearly be understood. And this is a consequence of the handiwork of his pen. Otherwise, the author of Tahzir al-Nas is free from this, which – if Allah wills – will be made completely clear in the coming explanation. By translating these sentences from Tahzir al-Nas into Arabic, which he then presented before the scholars of the two Harams, he committed even greater injustice, and insolently completed the fabrication. He undertook the work of editing the sentences from pages 14 and 28 in order to manufacture one sentence. Thus he deleted the subject from the first sentence [on page 14] and made the subject of the second sentence [on page 28] the subject of the first sentence also in such a way that no one will imagine that these are statements from different places. These actions of his are called tahrif in the parlance of the Qur’an.
The Mighty Qur’an describes the tahrif of the Bani Isra’il in the following words: “They distort the words from its places.” (Qur’an 4:46) The aforementioned Khan Sahib himself in one place described such an action as “dangerous tahrif” (khawfnak tahrif). Khan Sahib in his treatise Bariq al-Manar wrote that a person whose hypothetical name is Zayd quoted the Qur’an to say tattakhidhuna ‘alayhim masajida [which was made by joining three separate words of the Qur’an]. In regards to this, the aforementioned [Khan Sahib] wrote on page 17 of Bariq al-Manar:
The most dangerous tahrif is this, that tattakhidhuna ‘alayhim masajida has been constructed as a Qur’anic phrase, whereas this is nowhere [to be found] in the Mighty Qur’an. These three words indeed come separately in the Mighty Qur’an.
From this quote of Khan Sahib it is clearly understood that to take words from separate places of any book and join them to make one contiguous quote and then to attribute it to [the author of] that book is the most dangerous tahrif, and this type of tahrif changes the original meaning; and it is not farfetched that [as a consequence of such tahrif] an Islamic speech may become pure disbelief. Tahzir al-Nas is a book authored by a human being. If some wretched person wanted to create a content of disbelief from the speech of Allah using this type of tahrif, he would be able to do so, yet such a person would probably not have to undergo such strenuousness as Khan Sahib did when selecting one sentence from page 14, and another from page 28, and another from page 3.
In one chapter of the Wise Qur’an, rather one verse, this type of action would change it to a content of disbelief. For example, the Mighty Qur’an states: “Verily the righteous are in bliss, and verily the wicked are in the Fire.” (82:13-4) Now, if a follower or student of Khan Sahib were to act upon the sunnah (practice) of Khan Sahib, and just made this degree of tahrif in the noble verse, of replacing “bliss” with “fire” and “fire” with “bliss,” the meaning will be completely altered, and the sentence will become clear disbelief – whereas all words are from the Qur’an and only the places of two words were changed. This is only one example. If readers paid careful attention, they would be able to extract thousands of examples like this. Here, the places of words are changed. In some situations just by changing the places of vowels (harakat), a meaning of disbelief will be created. For example, the Noble Qur’an says: “Adam disobeyed his Lord, and erred.” (20:121) Now, if some wretched person were to change the vowels of “Adam” (adam) and “Lord” (rabb) and place a fathah instead of the dammah on the mim of adam and place a dammah instead of the fathah on the ba [of rabb] [which would change the meaning to: “His Lord disobeyed Adam”], just this amount of change will make this [originally] pure speech, the reading of which would have been a cause for reward, into pure disbelief.
Anyhow, the reality is manifest that in some instances a slight distortion of a statement changes the meaning and this creates the difference between Islam and disbelief; let alone the great alteration that will occur by slicing sentences from different places, making them into one contiguous sentence, and even changing the order of the sentences. Since Khan Sahib gave the ruling of disbelief after making this type of tahrif, and since this tahrif and alteration of the sequence of the text from Tahzir al-Nas completely changes the meaning and creates a meaning constituting denial of Chronological Prophetic Sealship, I was forced to believe the verdict is deliberately deceptive and purposefully distorting.
The second reason and the second evidence for this opinion [that the passage from Husam al-Haramayn is pure deceit] is that in the Arabic translation of the sentences from Tahzir al-Nas, Khan Sahib undertook the most sorrowful display of deceit, which is that the sentence on page 3 of Tahzir al-Nas is as follows:
magar ahl e fahm pur roshun hoga ke taqaddum ya taakhkhur zamani meh bizzat kuch fazilat nehih
“But it will become clear to the people of understanding that in coming earlier or later in time, there is intrinsically no virtue.”
It is apparent that in this sentence only intrinsic virtue is negated, which according to the implied meaning (mafhum al-mukhalafah) necessitates the affirmation of extrinsic virtue [see footnote 1], but Khan Sahib made the Arabic translation as follows:
ma‘a annahu la fadla fihi aslan ‘inda ahl al-fahm
“Although there is no virtue in this at all according to the people of understanding.”
The meaning of which is that there is absolutely no virtue in the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) being the last prophet according to the people of understanding. In this there is negation of every type of virtue, and between the two there is the difference between the earth and sky, as is not hidden.
The third reason and the third evidence for this opinion is that the preceding and succeeding sections of those sentences from Tahzir al-Nas which Khan Sahib quoted in this passage, from which their true meaning would become clear and there would be no room for misunderstanding from readers, were deleted. The evidence for this will come later.
The fourth reason and the fourth evidence for this opinion is that Khan Sahib’s ruling of disbelief is based solely on the notion that Tahzir al-Nas denies the Prophetic Sealship, while from its start to its finish there is not even one word from which denial of the Messenger’s (Allah bless him and grant him peace) Chronological Sealship emerges. Rather, the subject matter of Tahzir al-Nas is the preservation and protection of every kind of Sealship for the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), whether essential, chronological, spatial or otherwise. And, specifically, with respect to Chronological Sealship, there are absolutely clear and obvious statements in it. For example on page 3, after the sentence which the Barelwi learned man quoted last, the deceased Mawlana wrote:
Rather, the [Prophetic] Sealship is based on another consideration by which chronological finality and blocking the aforementioned door (i.e. blocking the door of claimants to prophethood) will be necessitated automatically, and prophetic excellence will be multiplied.
Likewise, on page 10 of Tahzir al-Nas, the deceased Mawlana, after completing his explanation of the primary hypothesis, writes:
Therefore, if [Sealship] is absolute and general [i.e. includes all three types of Sealship: chronological, spatial and essential], then the establishment of Chronological Sealship is obvious. Otherwise [i.e. if only Essential Sealship is taken as the immediate meaning of “Seal”], accepting the necessity of Chronological Sealship by implicative indication (dalala iltizami) is immediately established. Here, the explicit statements of the Prophet, like: “You [i.e. Ali] are to me at the level of Harun to Musa, but there is no prophet after me,” or as he said, which apparently is derived from the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” in the aforementioned manner, are sufficient in this subject, because it reaches the level of tawatur. Furthermore, consensus (ijma‘) has been reached on this. Although the aforementioned words were not transmitted by mutawatir chains, despite this lack of tawatur in the words, there is tawatur in the meaning here, just like the tawatur of the number of rak’at of the obligatory prayers, the witr prayer etc. Although the words of the narrations stating the number of rak’at are not mutawatir, just as the one who denies that is a disbeliever, in the same way, the one who denies this [i.e. Chronological Sealship] is a disbeliever.
In this passage, the deceased Mawlana establishes Chronological Sealship for the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in five ways:
1. The Chronological Sealship of the Holy Prophet is established by the complete signification (dalala mutabiqi) of the text “Seal of the Prophets.” In this way, “Seal” is accepted as inclusive of Essential and Chronological [Sealship].
2. Or by means of the generality of the metaphor (‘umum al-majaz), the indication of the word “Seal” applies to both types of Sealship.
3. Or it applies directly to one of them and indirectly to the other. In all three cases, Chronological Sealship is established from the text of the Qur’an.
4. The Chronological Sealship of the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is established from the mutawatir hadiths.
5. There is consensus of the ummah on Chronological Sealship.
After establishing Chronological Sealship of the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in these five ways, the deceased Mawlana also stated that the denier of Chronological Sealship is a disbeliever in much the same way as one who denies the necessities and decisive elements of religion.
Despite such clear statements in Tahzir al-Nas, to say that there is denial of the Prophetic Sealship in it, if it is not severe injustice and deceit, what is it?
Furthermore, such clear statements are not found only in one or two places, but it would be difficult to miss it on nearly every page. At this juncture, I will present only one more text from Tahzir al-Nas for the readers in which the deceased Mawlana Nanaotwi explained Chronological Sealship of Prophethood using a wonderful and marvellous philosophical concept. On page 21 of Tahzir al-Nas, he writes:
If time is to be considered as motion, it must also have an endpoint, upon reaching which the motion ends. Thus, for the motion of the series of prophethood [which is one motion within the motions of time], the point of the essence of Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is its endpoint. And this point is in relation to the chronological and spatial lines just as the apex of an angle [in which two lines meet and end at one point]. By this indication, the reality is known that his prophethood is comprehensive of cosmos and space, earth and time.
Then after a few lines on the same page, he says:
From amongst the motions [of time] is also the motion of the series of prophethood. Thus, due to attaining the greatest endpoint, the essence of Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace), that motion returns to rest. Definitely other motions [of time besides the motion of the series of prophethood] still remain. This is also another reason for his appearance at the end of time. (Tahzir al-Nas p. 21)
Furthermore, this is not restricted to Tahzir al-Nas. Such clear statements are also found in other works of the deceased Hazrat. Just by way of example, note some passages from Munazarah ‘Ajibah. When this topic in Munazarah ‘Ajibah begins, the first line is:
The Chronological Sealship of the Revered Seal of the Messengers (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is accepted by all, and it is also accepted by all that he is the first of creation [either absolutely or relatively].
Further, on page 39 he says:
Chronological Sealship is my religion and faith, though certainly there is no cure for undeserved accusations.
Further, on page 50 he writes:
I never denied Chronological Sealship. Rather, it would be more correct to say I left no room for the deniers to deny it. I hold the [Prophet’s] superiority, and have strengthened the foothold of those who believe in this. Moreover, I believe in the prophethood of other Prophets, but I do not consider anyone equal to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
Further, on page 69 he writes:
Yes it is accepted that Chronological Sealship is a unanimous creed.
Further, on page 103, he writes:
There is no possibility of another prophet appearing after the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace). I consider the one who believes this a disbeliever.
These five passages are only from Munazarah ‘Ajibah. After this, one more passage from the deceased Hazrat Nanotwi’s final book Qiblah Nama will be quoted. On page 1 of Qiblah Namah, he says:
His religion is the last of all religions, and since religion is the name of divine decree, the one whose religion is last, he will be the chief, because [only] that person whose religion is last will be the master of all.
These were ten passages from the writings of Hazrat Qasim al-‘Ulum (his secret be sanctified). Can any person of integrity and intellect say after these clear statements that this person denies the Chronological Seal of Prophethood? But there is no cure for fabricators. Regarding such fabricators, ‘Arif Jami (Allah have mercy on him) said:
This they do in jest
This they say – how evil and how farfetched!
Because of this a righteous face is made ugly
And a mended heart is broken
The clear statements mentioned above from the various writings of the deceased Hazrat Nanotwi, and the academic and practical efforts of other Deobandi scholars against the Qadiyani group relating to this issue of the Prophetic Seal which till today appears in the form of books and debates that are known and accepted in the Islamic world, are more than enough for a fair person to recognise the clear position of the founder of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband and the scholars of Deoband regarding the Prophetic Seal. “And Allah guides whoever He wishes to the straight path,” (Qur’an 2:213) “and those who do injustice will soon know to which place they will return.” (Qur’an 26:227)
[An Explanation of the Correct Meaning of the Passages from Tahzir al-Nas]
After this, it will be appropriate to present with some detail the true meaning of the three sentences of Tahzir al-Nas which Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib sliced and joined together to slander the author with denial of the Chronological Sealship of prophethood. But for this it is necessary to summarise the methodology and theoretical viewpoint of the deceased Mawlana Nanotwi with regards to the exegesis of the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” (33:40) from the Qur’an.
The Deceased Hazrat Nanotwi and the Exegesis of
“the Seal of the Prophets”
Firstly, the hypothesis is made that the Messenger of God (may my soul and my heart be ransomed for him – Allah bless him and grant him peace) in reality has two types of Sealship:
1. One is chronological (zamaniyyah), which simply means he is the last of all prophets, and his time comes after all the prophets (upon them peace), and no prophet will be sent after his time.
2. The second is Essential Sealship (zatiyyah) which means that he embodies the attribute of prophethood essentially, and other prophets (upon them peace) accidentally. Meaning, Allah Almighty granted the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prophethood directly, and to other prophets (upon them peace) through the medium of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Just as the Lord Almighty gave light directly to the sun and its light is not gained from the light of anything else in the world of means, in the same way Allah Almighty gave the prophetic perfections directly and without any medium to the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and his prophethood is not gained from the prophethood of any other prophet. And just as Allah Almighty granted the moon and other heavenly bodies light through the medium of the sun and they are dependent on the light of the sun for light, in the same way He granted the other prophets (upon them peace) prophethood through the medium of the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Those revered personalities are truly prophets but their prophethood draws from the effusion of the prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) – and all this is with the permission of Allah Almighty. And just as the series of everything that has an accidental property ends upon something that has an essential property and does not precede it, like light that illuminates a room through the means of a mirror can be said to have originated from the mirror and the light of the mirror can be said to be a reflection of the sun, but once the sun is reached [in this process] the series comes to an end and no one can say that the sun’s light is a reflection of the light of such-and-such a body from the world of means because the sun was given light directly by Allah Almighty; in the same way, it can be said in relation to the prophethood of all prophets (upon them peace) that it was acquired from the Seal of the Prophet’s prophethood, but the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a seal to this series and in relation to him none can say his prophethood was acquired from such-and-such a prophet because he is the essential prophet by the permission of Allah. This is called “Essential Seal” and this rank is called “Essential Sealship.”
After this brief introduction, it should be known that the conclusion of the research of Hazrat Mawlana Nanotwi and other verifiers is that when the Mighty Qur’an calls the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) “Seal of the Prophets” both types of Sealship, essential and chronological, are established by it, while the commoners derive only one type of Sealship as its intended meaning, i.e. only chronological.
However, the disagreement between the deceased Hazrat Mawlana and the commoners is not over the Chronological Sealship of prophethood, nor is it over the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” being intended for Chronological Sealship, because Mawlana accepts both these things, but the disagreement is over whether the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” is intended for both Chronological Sealship and Essential Sealship or not. Hazrat Mawlana is a proponent of the [former] view, and he wrote a few possible scenarios for its [linguistic viability]:
1. The word “Seal” is a homonym relating to the meaning (mushtarak ma‘nawi), and just as in a homonym relating to the meaning all its components are intended, in the same way, here, in this noble verse too, both types of Sealship are intended.
2. The second scenario is that one meaning is literal and the other is metaphorical and by the method of “the generality of the metaphor” (‘umum al-majaz), such a general meaning will be taken which incorporates both types of Sealship.
In both these scenarios, the indication of the word “Seal” is completely (mutabiqi) towards both types of Sealship.
3. A third scenario is that only Essential Sealship is intended by the word “Seal” in the Noble Qur’an, but since by rational and transmitted proofs, Chronological Sealship is a necessary consequence of it, in this scenario too, Chronological Sealship will be indicated by the noble verse in an implicative (iltizami) way.
After writing these three scenarios on page 9 of Tahzir al-Nas, Hazrat Mawlana (Allah have mercy on him) states his own preference, which is that “Sealship” is a genus and Chronological and Essential Sealship are two species of it, and the Mighty Qur’an intends both types from the term “Seal,” in much the same way as the noble verse, “Wine, gambling, altars and divining arrows, are only filth (rijs),” (5:90) where “filth” simultaneously includes both external and internal types of filth. In fact, if considered carefully, Essential Sealship and Chronological Sealship are not as far apart as wine and gambling are in terms of the degree of their difference in impurity.
The upshot of Hazrat Mawlana Qasim Sahib’s (Allah have mercy on him) methodology in the exegesis of the word “Seal of the Prophets” is that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is both the Chronological Seal and the Essential Seal, and both these types of Sealship emerge from the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” in the Noble Qur’an.
The Correct Meaning of the Passages from Tahzir al-Nas
After this, I will present the correct meaning of the three sentences which Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib joined together to create a content of disbelief:
The first sentence is from page 14, and here the deceased Hazrat is further explaining the abovementioned research on “Essential Sealship,” and in this particular place, the full passage of Tahzir al-Nas is as follows:
The objective is that if Sealship in the meaning I presented [i.e. Essential Sealship] is determined [as one of the meanings of “Seal of the Prophets”], then his position as the Seal will not be specifically in relation to past prophets, for if it were assumed that in his own time any prophet appeared, even then his position as the seal will remain sound.
Khan Sahib deleted the underlined part from which every person understands that this text of the Mawlana is regarding Essential Sealship and is not in regards to Chronological Sealship, and he quoted an incomplete passage. He further committed the injustice of joining it to a sentence from page 28 in such a way that not only is the page number not mentioned but between the sentences there is no demarcation. In quoting this sentence [from page 28], there is also clear deception. Here, the full passage is as follows:
Yes, if Sealship in the sense of an intrinsic embodiment of the quality of prophethood is taken, as this humble one has submitted, then besides Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) any other individual intended for creation cannot be considered equal to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Rather, in this way not only is his superiority over external individual prophets established, his superiority over even conceivable (muqaddara) individuals is established. Therefore, even if it were assumed after the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that any prophet was born, even then there would be no difference to the Muhammadan Sealship.
In this passage also, Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib undertook the action of deleting the very important part from the first section – from which readers will clearly understand that here only Essential Sealship is being discussed not chronological, and they will also know the belief of the author in relation to the superiority of the Messenger (Allah blessing him and grant him peace) – and he only quoted the underlined part. He, further, joined this incomplete sentence to another incomplete sentence of page 3 without any separation between them.
Anyhow, in these sentences on pages 14 and 28, the deceased Mawlana was only discussing Essential Sealship, explaining that this is such a Sealship that supposing if in his time or after his time any prophet were to come, even then no difference will come to this Sealship of his. Here, Chronological Sealship is not discussed at all, and no sane person can say that if a prophet were to come after the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), that would cause no difference to his Chronological Sealship.
Explaining the Intent of Mawlana Nanotwi (Allah have mercy on him) from a General Example
Undoubtedly, an illustration of this explanation is exactly like the following:
In some country a pandemic spreads. One after another, many doctors are sent by the king and they treat patients according to their ability. At the end, this kind and generous king sends the greatest and most skilled doctor who was the teacher of all the doctors sent previously, and he announces: “Now after him no doctor will come. In the future whenever anybody becomes ill, the prescription of this final doctor should be used, and he will be cured, and after him whoever claims to be a doctor sent from the king, he is lying and must be executed.” Then this doctor opens his clinic and multitudes and multitudes of patients attend and are cured. In one decree, the king addressed this doctor as “the seal of doctors.” Now, the commoners understood from this that its meaning is only that this doctor is the last doctor in terms of time and no other doctor will be sent from the king, but one group of the people of understanding, while knowing with certainty that this is the last doctor that was sent, said that this great doctor was not called “the seal of doctors” only for the reason that he is the last doctor; rather, it is also because the medical knowledge of all the earlier doctors culminates at this great doctor, and all other doctors are his students and only learnt the science of medicine from him. This is a second reason for calling him “the seal of doctors.” And these two types of sealship emerge from the term “seal of doctors.” And if you think carefully you will realise that the king sent this skilled doctor at the end also because in the science of medicine he surpasses all and is more skilled than all doctors and he is their teacher, as the principle is that doctors are referred to in the order of hierarchy. After crossing all lower stages, the king sent the highest doctor. Anyhow, this doctor is not the seal in terms of time alone, rather he is also a seal in terms of perfection in the science [of medicine], and this second sealship is such that supposing that in his time and even after him another doctor were to come, there would be no difference in this sealship of his.
Readers should assess that if any stubborn adversary said with respect to this group of people of understanding that these people do not accept the seal of doctors as the last doctor and they deny this belief, how great a distortion and unadulterated shamelessness will this be – for this group from the people of understanding, while proclaiming the essential and positional aspect of the sealship of this imperial doctor, also clearly state that with respect to time he is also the last doctor, and after him no doctor will be sent from the king, rather if any doctor after him claims to be sent from the king, he must be executed?
Till here, the correct understanding of the sentences from pages 14 and 28 was presented. The third sentence, from page 3 of Tahzir al-Nas, which Khan Sahib quoted last, remains. It should be understood that this sentence is in effect the beginning of Tahzir al-Nas. The words are as follows:
After praising [Allah] and sending blessings [on the Prophet], before answering the question, I ask that the meaning of “the Seal of the Prophets” first be understood, so that no time is taken in answering the question. Thus, it is the understanding of the commoners that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a Seal in the sense that his time came after the time of the earlier prophets and that he is the last of all prophets. But it will become clear to the people of understanding that in coming earlier or later in time, there is intrinsically no virtue.
There are two things worth noting from this passage: first, the deceased Mawlana is not speaking about the issue of the prophetic seal, rather he is discussing the meaning of the phrase “Seal of the Prophets”; second, taking the intent of Chronological Seal from “Seal” was not regarded as the understanding of the commoners, but its restriction to Chronological Sealship was regarded as the understanding of the commoners, and this understanding was disputed by Mawlana. Otherwise, taking the meaning of Chronological Sealship with Essential Sealship is the preferred methodology of the deceased Mawlana himself, which was demonstrated earlier, and which Mawlana explained in full detail on pages 8 and 9 of Tahzir al-Nas.
Anyhow, since according to Hazrat Mawlana, Chronological Sealship is also intended by the phrase “Seal of the Prophets”, that is why it must be accepted that here it is only the restriction [to Chronological Sealship] which Mawlana expressed as the understanding of the commoners, and Mawlana’s intent is that the commoners believe that from the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” only Chronological Sealship is established and besides this nothing else is established, while according to the people of understanding both Chronological and Essential Sealship are established from this phrase of the Glorious Qur’an.
From this, the objection that Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib produced against this passage of Tahzir al-Nas in al-Mawt al-Ahmar is also answered – that is:
In this [book], taking the meaning of Chronological Seal from “Seal of the Prophets” was expressed as the understanding of the commoners while this meaning of “Seal” was stated by the Prophet, the Joy of the World (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and is also narrated from his noble Companions.
Consequently, according to the author of Tahzir al-Nas, the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and all the noble Sahabah are included amongst the commoners. (Allah forbid!)
The answer is that the author of Tahzir al-Nas did not consider taking the intent of Chronological Sealship from “Seal” as the understanding of commoners; rather, he regarded restriction of “Seal” to Chronological Sealship as the understanding of the commoners. And restriction is not established from the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) or any Sahabi. Rather, restriction has not been stated clearly by the firmly-grounded scholars, and nobody can venture to claim such restriction, since the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said regarding the verses of the Qur’an, “For every verse there is an outward and an inward, and for every letter there is a boundary, and for every boundary there is a spectacle,” from which is known that every verse of the Qur’an has at least two meanings. And if the wording of restriction is found in the speech of the scholars of the past, that is not literal restriction which the deceased Mawlana Nanotwi expressed as the understanding of the commoners, but its intent is relative restriction i.e. in relation to the false interpretation of the heretics.
Anyway, if anyone maintains this slander against the author of Tahzir al-Nas, that he (Allah forbid!) described the explanation of the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) as the understanding of the commoners, he should prove restriction from the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) or any Sahabi.
Furthermore, the deceased Mawlana in his Maktubat (letters) also clearly explained what is meant by “commoners” in the subject of Qur’anic exegesis. On this subject, the deceased Hazrat’s words are: “Apart from the prophets and the scholars well-grounded in knowledge, all are to be counted amongst the commoners in the science of exegesis.” (Qasim al-‘Ulum, no. 1, letter 2, p. 4)
With this clear statement, to say with respect to the author of Tahzir al-Nas that he included the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the noble Sahabah amongst the commoners is extreme dishonesty.
Support for Mawlana Nanotwi’s Methodology in the Exegesis of “Seal of the Prophets” from the Statements of Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib himself
After this, I also want to say that those people who derive only one meaning from the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” and restrict the meaning of “Seal of the Prophets” to this meaning, they are according to the Barelwi learned man also included amongst the commoners and not amongst the people of understanding. The aforementioned learned man wrote on page 43 of al-Dawlat al-Makkiyyah:
It is narrated from Abu al-Darda’ (Allah Almighty be pleased with hm): “A man will not understand with full understanding until he realises multiples viewpoints in the Qur’an.” I say: Ibn Sa‘d transmitted it from Abu al-Darda’ (Allah Almighty be pleased with him) in al-Tabaqat, and Abu Nu‘aym in al-Hilyah and Ibn ‘Asakir in his Tarikh and Muqatil ibn Sulayman mentioned it at the start of his book on the interpretations of the Qur’an, tracing [it to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)] with the wording: “A man will not have understanding with complete understanding until he finds many viewpoints in the Qur’an.” It says in al-Itqan: “Some of them interpreted it in that the intent is to find one word bearing multiple meanings such that one accepts them [all] when they are not conflicting; and he does not restrict it to one meaning.”
From this passage of Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib, rather from this narration of Abu al-Darda’ (Allah be pleased with him), it is clearly recognised that the person who takes only one meaning from a verse of the Qur’an and restricts it to this one meaning will be included amongst the commoners and not from the people of understanding. One will only be a complete person of understanding when multiple non-conflicting meanings are taken as the intent of a single verse, just as Hazrat Mawlana Muhammad Qasim (Allah have mercy on him) established three types of Sealship for the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) from the one phrase “Seal of the Prophets,” meaning essential, chronological and spatial.
All praise to Allah, the correct meaning of the three sentences of Tahzir al-Nas has been explained, and it is known to the readers that those people who the deceased Hazrat Nanotwi called commoners on page 3 of Tahzir al-Nas are commoners according to the Barelwi learned man also. After this I also want to say that from this research, the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), along with being the Chronological Seal is also the Positional Seal and Essential Seal, i.e. he is the essential prophet while other prophets are accidental prophets. His prophetic perfections were given directly by Allah Almighty while the other prophets received it through the medium of the Messenger. In this too, the deceased Hazrat Nanotwi is not alone. Rather, many earlier research scholars stated exactly this. However, I feel there is no need in making the speech long and the book big by quoting their statements because Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib himself also stated this, after which there is no need to quote any other text. This is why I will quote one passage from him in this respect to conclude the discussion. The aforementioned learned man wrote on page 23 of his treatise Jaza’ Allah ‘Aduwwah:
And from recurrent clear texts of the noble saints and the glorious imams and luminous scholars it is evident that every blessing, whether little or much, small or big, physical or spiritual, religious or worldly, outward or inward, from the first day till now and from now till the Resurrection, and from the Resurrection till the afterlife, and from the afterlife to eternity, whether a believer or disbeliever, obedient or disobedient, angel or man, jinn or animal, rather everything besides Allah which is acquired by anyone or has been acquired or will be acquired, its bud opens or opened or will open with his gracious breeze, and is distributed or was distributed or will be distributed from his hand. He is the secret of existence and the foundation of existence and the greatest vicegerent of Allah and the one given charge of the bounty of the world (Allah Almighty bless him and grant him peace). He (Allah Almighty bless him and grant him peace) said this himself: “I am Abu al-Qasim. Allah gives and I distribute.” Al-Hakim narrated it in al-Mustadrak and authenticated it and the critics agreed with him.
From this passage of the Barelwi learned man, it is acknowledged that whatever spiritual, bodily, worldly, religious, outward and inward blessing is acquired by anyone, it is a consequence of the generous favour of the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). And since prophethood is also one of the highest levels of spiritual blessings, therefore, this too is acquired through the medium of the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) by other Prophets (upon them peace). The name of this reality according to the terminology of Hazrat Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi is “Essential” or “Positional Sealship.” I will now close the discussion here, and I will turn my attention towards Mawlawi Ahmad Rida Khan Sahib’s slander against Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Sahib Muhaddith Gangohi of attributing lie to the Lord of Glory (Great is His Majesty).
1. The principle of implied meaning is taken into consideration in the case of authors. ‘Allamah Shami wrote in Radd al-Muhtar: “[It is written] in Anfa‘ al-Wasa’il: ‘The implied meaning of a writing [besides the texts of the Shari‘ah] is a proof.’” (Radd al-Muhtar 3:644) The famous disagreement which exists between Hanafis and Shafi‘is on this subject is restricted only to the texts of the Shari‘ah [and does not extend to the writings of other authors]. (Mawlana Manzur Nu‘mani)
2 For details, see Appendix A
3 For details, see Appendix A
4 Here it is worth noting the point that those hadiths like “there is no prophet after me” which clearly indicate Chronological Sealship, are according to Hazrat Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Sahib (Allah have mercy on him), derived from the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” from the Noble Qur’an. Meaning, it is the opinion and claim of the aforementioned Mawlana that those hadiths in which Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said he is the final prophet and that no prophet will come after him are derived from the word “Seal of the Prophets” from the Pure Qur’an and are like an explanation and elaboration of it. This very clear statement from Hazrat Mawlana (Allah have mercy on him) shows the shamelessness of those who say he believes “Seal of the Prophets” with the meaning of last prophet is merely the opinion of the commoners. Mawlana (Allah have mercy on him) only described the restriction of its meaning to “last prophet” as the opinion of the commoners, the explanation of which will come later. (Mawlana Manzur Nu‘mani)
5 A term of logic meaning the complete meaning for which a word or phrase was coined.
6 A juristic and linguistic principle in which the metaphorical meaning of a certain word broadens the original linguistic meaning of the word so as to incorporate its literal meaning and any other meanings intended by the metaphor.
7 Mawlana Muhammad Sayf al-Rahman Qasim collected all the passages from Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi’s works where he stated clearly his belief in the finality of prophethood in a large work called Hazrat Nanotwi aur Khidmat Khatm e Nubuwwat.
8 For a list of such works, see Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah, al-Tasrih bi ma Tawatara fi Nuzul al-Masih, Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, Sixth Edition, 1426 H/2005 CE, pp. 49-53
9 For a more detailed look at Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi’s exegesis of this phrase, with reference to the original work and a brief look at his proofs, see Appendix A
10 There are two types of homonyms (mushtarak), one relating to the word (lafzi) and one to the meaning (ma‘nawi). An example of the first is “‘ayn” which can mean “eye,” “spring,” “spy” and other meanings but when used in a sentence has only one meaning. An example of the second is “nas” (humanity) which is a homonym relating to the meaning as it comprises of both men and women, and when used in a sentence such a homonym includes all its subcategories.
11 This is another juristic and linguistic principle where the metaphorical meaning of a certain word broadens the original linguistic meaning of the word so as to incorporate its literal meaning and any other meanings intended by the metaphor.
12 For details of how Essential Sealship necessary entails Chronological Sealship based on transmitted and rational proofs, see the explanation in Appendix A
13 The word “assumed” (bil farz) is also worth noting. (Mawlana Manzur Nu‘mani)
14 A full explanation of this has passed above, and the statement of the deceased Mawlana has passed a few pages earlier that in his opinion those hadiths which clearly indicate the Chronological Sealship of prophethood like “there is no prophet after me” were derived from the phrase “Seal of the Prophets.” (Mawlana Manzur Nu‘mani)
15 An example is the early mystic al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d. 320) who offered a similar explanation to the phrase “Seal of the Prophets” and explicitly stated that restricting its meaning to last prophet is the view of the ignorant, as there is no [intrinsic] virtue and praise in this. For a translation of this passage, see Appendix B.
Summary of Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi’s Exegesis of the Phrase
“Seal of the Prophets” in Tahzir al-Nas
Tahzirun Nas is a treatise in the form of a legal response (fatwa) from Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi to a question posed regarding the belief that a report from ‘Abd Allah Ibn ‘Abbas confirming the existence of prophets like the prophets on this earth on six other earths is authentic, and how acceptance of the narration impacts on the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) position as the last and final prophet. (Tahzir al-Nas min Inkar Athar ibn ‘Abbas, Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi, Idarat al-‘Aziz Publishers, 2001, p. 40)
He begins with a lengthy explanation of the term “Seal of the Prophets” mentioned in the Qur’an, which he states if fully understood, would assist in answering the original question. Then he presents an exegetical dilemma on the interpretation of this phrase in the context of the verse. In the understanding of the common people, this simply means the last of a series of prophets. However, coming before or after in this chronological sense, does not in and of itself confer excellence [as, for example, the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) is superior to many prophets who came after him]. (ibid. p. 41)
However, the term “Seal of the Prophets” must be a term of merit and praise for two reasons: First, those things which are not praiseworthy in relation to his prophethood, like shape, colour, lineage, etc. are not given as titles to him in the Qur’an, so its mention without merit would be imagined as an “excess” in His speech, as there would be no difference between mentioning it and not mentioning it. Second, with respect to the people of perfection, like prophets and saints, titles used for them are for the purpose of adorning them with praise and merit, as is clear from historical writings, so the assumption that it is not praise may lead to lessening the greatness of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). (ibid. p. 42)
One objection to this reasoning is that the term “Seal of the Prophets” with this meaning is not devoid of purpose and benefit, as Islam, being the final religion, must negate the legitimacy of any false future claimants to prophethood who may be the cause of the misguidance of many. Hence, with this meaning of “the Seal of the Prophets,” this door leading to misguidance is closed. (ibid. p. 42)
The Conjunction of Rectification (istidrak) in Qur’an 33:40 implies the Term “Seal of the Prophets” Affirms Spiritual Fatherhood
Mawlana Nanotwi explains that, even then, with the lone meaning of “last chronological prophet” for the phrase “Seal of the Prophets,” the exegete is not free of difficulties. This is because the verse reads: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets.” (33:40). The word “but” (lakin) is a conjunction (‘atf) used for istidrak (rectification), that is, to correct a doubt (shubh) or false assumption that may have been created from the previous sentence. Hence, the sentence that he is “the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets,” must be correcting a misconception that may arise from the sentence, “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men.” (ibid. p. 42) While the verse clearly negates biological and physical (jismani) fatherhood, the doubt may arise that he does not deserve the respect a father deserves, or that he does not hold the position of a spiritual (ma‘nawi) father to anyone, and this false assumption is corrected by the sentence, “but the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of Prophets.” Thus, by this latter sentence, the doubt that he is not the “father” in any sense of the word is corrected. Spiritual fatherhood of this ummah is determined in the phrase “the Messenger of Allah,” and spiritual fatherhood of all previous prophets, and by extension, their peoples, is determined in the phrase “the Seal of the Prophets.” (ibid. p. 57)
The term “Messenger” implies he is the spiritual father of the ummah. Mawlana Nanotwi explains this at length in conjunction with the verse of the Qur’an which states, “The Prophet is closer to the believers than themselves.” (33:6) Because our belief is a consequence of his deliverance of the message from Allah, and as such, his belief was given directly by Allah, while our belief was acquired by means of him, he is our spiritual father. Mawlana Nanotwi writes extensively on this point based on linguistic, theological and philological analyses. (ibid. pp. 58-64)
Essential Sealship and its Proofs
In the same way the term “Messenger of Allah” implies he is the spiritual father of this nation, the term “Seal of the Prophets,” which is also part of the “rectification” (istidrak), implies he is the spiritual father of the previous prophets, and by extension the peoples of all the previous prophets. (ibid. pp. 57-58)
The verification Mawlana Nanotwi offers in explanation of this reality is that the prophethood of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is essential in that it was not gained from any other prophet but was given to him directly by Allah upon his creation, while the prophethood of all other prophets is accidental, that is, derived from his prophethood. Thus, their prophethood and all the perfections of their prophethood come to an end upon his prophethood and are in fact derived from his prophethood, and in this sense he is the “Seal of the Prophets.” (ibid. p. 43)
Mawlana Nanotwi gives three detailed proofs for this:
First, verse 3:81 of the Qur’an which states: “[Remember] when We took the covenant of the prophets: Indeed, that which I have given to you of book and wisdom, then a Messenger [i.e. Muhammad (peace be upon him)] confirming what is with you comes to you, you must believe in him and you must render him help.” This verse proves the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is the “Prophets’ Prophet” (nabi al-anbiya) as all prophets are commanded to believe in him and render him help if he were to appear in their time. Hence, Mawlana Nanotwi concludes that their prophethood is subject to his essential prophethood. This is also indicated by the hadith which states: “If Musa (upon him peace) was living, he would have no option but to follow me,” and is also indicated by the fact that upon ‘Isa’s (upon him peace) return he will be a follower of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). In this way, the prophethood of all other prophets ends and comes to a stop at the prophethood of the Seal of the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon him), as his prophethood is not an effusion (fayd) of or secondary (bi wasitah) to any other prophethood, while theirs is an effusion of his. Hence, his prophethood gathers and seals the perfections of all prophets. The hadith, “I was the Seal of the Prophets with Allah while Adam was mixed with clay,” can be understood in this way, that his prophethood was the initial spring of prophethood from which the other prophets gained their prophethood. (ibid. p. 44)
Second, there are two types of perfections: knowledge and deeds. Four categories of people are praised in the Qur’an: Prophets, saints (siddiqin), martyrs (shuhada) and pious (salihin) (4:69). The first two have perfections in knowledge and the second two in deeds. Prophets are the source of perfection in knowledge and saints their repositories and martyrs are the source of perfection in deeds and the pious their repositories. The word nabi (prophet) is derived from naba’a which means to inform, and siddiq (saint) from saddaqa which means to assent, so the Prophets are the fountainheads of knowledge and the saints its repositories i.e. those who assent to that knowledge. This is also corroborated by the hadith, “Whatever Allah poured into my chest I poured into the chest of Abu Bakr,” who is known as “the greatest siddiq.” Here, Mawlana Nanotwi also makes the point that because prophethood is perfection in knowledge and not deeds, apparently (bizahir) a follower’s deeds may become equal to or exceed the deeds of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). (ibid. pp. 44-48) The reason he mentions “apparently” or “outwardly” is because this is in terms of the “quantity” and not the quality of deeds, while his knowledge is both quantitatively and qualitatively superior. Although this statement was misused by the detractors of Mawlana Nanotwi to malign him, the very same point was articulated by Imam al-Razi under verse 2:34 of the Qur’an, in which he says, “We do indeed find in the ummah those who have a longer life and strive more rigorously than the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” This statement of fact, that sometimes outwardly a follower performs more good deeds than the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was used by al-Razi as a premise in his argument just as it was by Mawlana Nanotwi.
Mawlana Nanotwi also explains in some detail how martyrdom and piety are perfections in deeds and not knowledge. (pp. 48-49)
The knowledge of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was complete and perfect, while the knowledge of other Prophets was not as complete and perfect as his. Hence, he said, “I was taught (‘ullimtu),” or “I was given (utitu) the knowledge of the first and the last,” i.e. my knowledge encompasses the spiritual knowledge of all peoples. This is because he is the true knower (‘alim haqiqi) while the knowledge of all other knowers is derived from him. In just the same way our knowledge from our sense faculties combine in our rational soul (nafs natiqah), and the senses do not themselves “perceive,” knowledge of the divine and otherworldly realities combine in the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and originate in him, while for everyone else before and after him, it is derived from him. Verse 3:81 of the Qur’an describes the Prophet as “confirming all that is with you [i.e. the prophets],” where the word ma (that) is general (‘am), so includes all the knowledge in the books of the prophets that were sent previously. Hence, his essential knowledge – essential in the sense that it is not derived from any other but was given to him directly by Allah – is a corollary of his essential prophethood as prophethood is a perfection in knowledge, while the knowledge of other prophets and their prophethood is derived from his. Another proof which Mawlana Nanotwi presents for this perfection in knowledge is his greatest miracle, the Qur’an, which is a book of knowledge and “an explanation of all things” (Qur’an 16:89). (ibid. pp. 44-50)
Third, the hadith, “I was a Prophet while Adam was between body and spirit,” as it proves his prophethood was determined at a time before the creation of Adam, and his prophethood supersedes the prophethood all prophets. (ibid. p. 50)
Mawlana Nanotwi concludes based on these evidences that the prophethood of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is essential, that is, not derived from any other prophet, while that of other prophets is accidental and derived from his; and with this meaning, “the Seal of the Prophets” in the sense of the spiritual paternity of prophets fulfils the condition of the “rectification” (istidrak) in the verse.
Chronological Prophetic Sealship (khatm nubuwwat zamani) is a Necessary Consequence of Essential Prophetic Sealship (khatm nubuwwat zati)
Mawlana Nanotwi explains that Essential Sealship as described above also necessarily implies that he is the last of all Prophets chronologically. This is because the hypothetical new prophet will either bring a new law, or will not, and in both cases, the Essential Sealship of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prevents this from happening.
If the hypothetical prophet that was commissioned after the Seal of the Prophets came with a different law, this would mean a lesser prophet abrogated the law of a greater prophet, which is contrary to the rule established in verse 2:106 of the Qur’an that states: “We do not abrogate any revelation, or cause it to be forgotten, except we bring better than it or the like of it.” (ibid. p. 52)
And if he were to bring the same law, this prophethood would hold no meaning as prophethood is a perfection in knowledge and all knowledge has culminated in the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and his perfect knowledge kept in the Book that is an “explanation of all things” will forever be preserved (Qur’an 15:9); as opposed to the lesser prophets of the Children of Israel as the knowledge given to them was corrupted. Therefore, no new prophet can emerge after the Seal of the Prophets, with or without a new law. Hence, chronological finality (ta’akkhur zamani) is a necessary consequence of essential finality. (ibid. pp. 52-53)
The Multiple Meanings of Final
Coming first or last (taqaddum/ta’akhkhur) is a generic attribute (jins) which manifests in three different ways: chronological (zamani), spatial (makani) and positional (rutbi). Seal (khatam) implies finality, and thus also bears these three possible meanings. If however only one of the three meanings are meant in the statement “Seal of the Prophets” there must be a word omitted in the middle; i.e. it is either khatam zaman al-nabiyyin (seal of the time of the prophets), khatam rutbat al-nabiyyin (seal of the position of the prophets) or khatam makan al-nabiyyin (seal of the place of the prophets). However, in such generic words, if all meanings can be adopted, that is the preferred option. Hence, the preferred view according to Mawlana Nanotwi is that the complete signification (dalala mutabiqi) of the term “the Seal of the Prophets” is finality in terms of time, place and position. (ibid.p. 53-55)
This is akin to the verse, “Wine, gambling, altars and divining arrows, are only filth (rijs),” (5:90) where “filth” is a general (‘am) word including external and internal filth since wine is externally filthy and the others internally filthy. In the same way “filth” is inclusive of a number of subcategories with differing qualities included under its general meaning, “Seal” is inclusive of a number of subcategories included under its general meaning. Finality in merit was explained as Essential Sealship. Chronological finality means his time came after all prophets. And spatial finality entails prophethood manifesting on the highest of all earths, which is explained in hadiths that reveal that the earth we inhabit is the uppermost of all earths and the six remaining earths also have prophets as confirmed in the report of Ibn ‘Abbas in question.
The benefit of this interpretation, Mawlana Nanotwi insists, is that it solves the rectification (istidrak) present in the verse, it explains what Seal means in the best possible way, while not compromising on the chronological finality of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He writes: “Now you can see that if this view is accepted, the conjunction between the two sentences, the rectification and exception, will become clear, and Sealship is established in the best possible way, and Chronological Sealship is also not lost from one’s hand (aur khatamiyyat zamani bhi hath sey nehi jati).” (ibid. p. 57)
Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi’s Explanation of the Epithet “Seal of the Prophets”
in Kitab Khatm al-Awliya’
Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (230 – 320 H), a great scholar of hadith and Usul, author of the well-known work Nawadir al-Usul, and from the great masters of the science of tasawwuf, wrote in his work Kitab Khatm al-Awliya’:
A speaker said to him [al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi]: What is the Seal of Prophethood?
He replied: The proof of Allah over His creation, in realisation of His (Exalted is He) statement: “and give good news to those who believe that they have a ‘foot of truth’ with their Lord.” (10:2) So Allah certified for him [i.e. the Prophet (peace be upon him)] true servitude. Thus when the Judge appears in His majesty and greatness, on that plane, and He says: “O My bondsmen! I created you only for [My] servitude! So give [Me] the servitude!” There will be no sense or movement left for anyone due to the terror of that position, except Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace). For by that foot [of truth] that he has, he proceeds ahead of all the ranks of prophets and messengers, because he was given true servitude to Allah (Exalted is He). So Allah will accept it [i.e. servitude] from him and elevate him to the Praised Platform (al-maqam al-mahmud) near the Stool (kursi). Thereupon, the veil over that seal will be removed, and light will encompass him, and the rays of that seal will shine over him; and from his heart to his tongue will spring praise that none from His creation heard; until all the prophets will know that Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was the most knowledgeable of them about Allah (Glorified and Majestic is He). Thus, he is the first converser and the first intercessor, so he will be given the Standard of Praise and Keys of Generosity. The Standard of Praise is for the bulk of the believers while the Keys of Generosity for the prophets. The Seal of Prophethood has a profound condition and station, more profound than you can bear, so I hope that this much is sufficient for you of its knowledge.
So Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) became an intercessor for prophets and saints and those besides them. Do you not see his (upon him peace) speech regarding the station of the Praised Platform: “Until Ibrahim the Friend of the Merciful will need me on that day”? That was narrated to me by Jarud from al-Nadr ibn Shumayl from Hisham al-Dastawa’i from Hammad who traced it to Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Do you not see that Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) mentioned good news [to the believers] in many verses but did not mention it except with a condition: “and give good news to those who believe and do righteous works” (2:25) and he mentioned it here without a condition [i.e. without the condition of “righteous works”]: “and give good news to those who believe that they have a foot of truth with their Lord,” informing them that the salvation of all on that day is through this true foot [i.e. the Prophet (peace be upon him)]?
As for the proof, it is as though He says to the prophets (upon them peace): “O assembly of prophets! This is Muhammad. He came at the end of time, weak in body, weak in might, weak in livelihood, short in life. He produced what you have seen of true servitude and copious knowledge. And you in your speech and your lives and your bodies did not produce what he produced.” Thereupon, the veil over the seal will be removed, and all talk will end, and it will become a proof over all creation; because the thing that is sealed is guarded. And thus is Allah’s (Exalted is He) administration over us in this world: that when a thing is found with its seal, doubt is removed and argumentation ends amongst people.
So Allah gathered the particles of prophethood for Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and He perfected them for him and He sealed them with his seal. So neither his self (nafs) nor his enemy find a path to enter the place of [his] prophethood due to that seal. Do you not see the hadith of al-Hasan al-Basri (Allah have mercy on him) from Anas ibn Malik (Allah be pleased with him) in the hadith of intercession from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that he said: “When they come to Adam they will ask him to intercede for them to their Lord, Adam will say to them: ‘What is your opinion, if one of your goods were collected in his absence and then they were sealed [i.e. tied away], will the goods only be approached but from the route of the seal? So go to Muhammad for he is the Seal of the Prophets.’” Its meaning according to us is that prophethood in its entirety has culminated in Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace); so his heart was made a vessel for the perfection of prophethood and then it was sealed.
Allah did not leave the proof concealed in the inside of his heart for He made it manifest; so between his shoulders was that seal manifest like the egg of a pigeon. And this is for him a great station the story of which is long.
Indeed the one who is blind to this information, he thinks that the interpretation of “the Seal of the Prophets” is [only] that he is the last of them in being sent. But what virtue is there in this? And what [perfection in] knowledge is there in this? This is the interpretation of ignorant people.
Most recite khatam (seal) with fath on the ta’. As for those from the Salaf who recited with kasr on the ta’ [i.e. as khatim], its interpretation is that he is a khatim (sealer) in the sense of the active participle. That is, he sealed prophethood by the seal which he was given. Of that which confirms this is what was narrated in the hadith of the Ascension (mi‘raj) from the hadith of Abu Ja‘far al-Razi from al-Rabi‘ ibn Abi al-‘Aliyah from what he mentioned regarding the meeting of the prophets in the Aqsa mosque: “So every prophet mentioned the favour of Allah upon him, and it was from the speech of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that he said: ‘He made me the sealer and the opener.’ So Ibrahim (upon him peace) said: ‘By this, Muhammad is superior to [all of] you.’”
(Kitab Khatm al-Awliya’, Edited by Othman I. Yahya, Imperial Catholique, Beirut, pp. 338-342)