WHO ARE THE ULU’L-AZM PROPHETS?
It is understood that some prophets chosen among the messengers are called ulu’l-azm due to their qualities different than the others. Although there are different views about the number and identity of these prophets, it is generally agreed that ulu’l-azm refers to the five greatest messengers, that is, Muhammad (pbuh), Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Noah, peace be upon them.
All prophets cited in the Quran strived greatly to fulfill the holy duty assigned to them by Allah. From this perspective, no prophet should be discriminated against because they were all sent as leaders to humans. Prophet Muhammad emphasized this issue in the following hadith: “I am the closest to Isa (Jesus), the son of Mary, among all humans. Indeed prophets are half-brothers. Their religions are the same.” This should be taken into consideration when assessing prophecy and divine religions.
Another point to be considered is that the time periods, communities for which these prophets were sent and the dimensions of their missions differed. It is significant in this regard that Allah uses the expression "Ulu'l Azm" for some prophets in particular. They are those who are sent at turning points of humanity and hold certain qualities that the others don't.
COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF ULU’L-AZM PROPHETS
In this section, we will explain the common characteristics of ulu’l azm prophets. It must be acknowledged that other prophets also possesed most of these qualities.
1- Coming from distinguished families mentioned in Quran
In surah Al-i Imran (the Family of Imran), Allah states: “God did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of 'Imran above all people. Offspring, one of the other: And God heareth and knoweth all things.” Even though Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were not mentioned clearly in this verse for they descend from Ismail and Ishaq, Abraham’s sons and Jews, Christians, and Muslims accepts Abraham as their forefather these prophets are within scope of this verse.
Additionally, in verses in which Prophet Noah’s progeny was made enduring and Abraham was his descendant. That is, in Sura al-Saffat, Allah declared: “We made only Noah’s progeny to endure. And We left this blessings for him among generations to come in later times. Verily among those who followed his way was Abraham.”
It is unquestionably accepted that after Prophet Adam, Prophet Noah had a significant role in the continuation of humanity. For the five of the prophets who are descendants of Adam, it is said: “The most distinguished among sons of Adam are five people: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.” Additionally, although there were centuries of time difference between them, Abraham was bonded to Noah in terms of the essentials of belief including the oneness of Allah.
2- Being sent as a Messenger
These abovementioned prophets are both nabi (prophet) and rasul (messenger) because they were given a message for a community in the form of a holy book. Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) described Prophet Noah as the “first messenger.” A prophet who continues the book and the divine law of the previous prophet is a nabi; a prophet who was sent a new book and a new religion is both a nabi and rasul. That is, there is difference between a nabi and a rasul. A rasul was given a divine law and when he is conveying Allah’s commands, he is allowed to fight against the rebels and has the power to rule, and can actually enforce rules. However, a nabi does not fight against the rebels to his message. His duty is only to convey Allahs word to people and to warn them.
The following verses indicate that these five prophets were given a new book besides prophecy:
“And We sent Noah and Abraham, and established in their line Prophethood and Revelation: and some of them were on right guidance. But many of them became rebellious transgressors (57/26).”
“And We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and We established the prophethood and the Scripture among his seed, and We gave him his reward in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he verily is among the righteous (29/27).”
“...We bestowed upon the house of Abraham (of old) the Scripture and wisdom, and We bestowed on them a mighty kingdom (4/54).”
Furthermore, Prophet Abraham prayed for his descendants to be sent prophecy and book. It is known his prayer was accepted: “Our Lord! send amongst them an Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom, and sanctify them: For Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise (2/29).” A book and wisdom was given to Prophet Muhammad. Prophet Jesus was taught wisdom, Torah, and Bible. It was also mentioned in some verses that Prophet Moses was also given a book.
In addition to the information given in many verses of Quran, Prophet Noah’s and Prophet Abraham’s qualities different from other ulu’l-azm prophets were mentioned in this verse: “And We sent Noah and Abraham, and established in their line Prophethood and Revelation: and some of them were on right guidance. But many of them became rebellious transgressors (57/26).” Their names being mentioned in this verse is important because they lived through important events at their times and they made major contributions to humanity. Therefore, they are like two important persons who came out during important milestones of human history. Prophet Noah survived the flood remembered with his name during his time. Therefore, he is considered as the second Adam. It is known that different nations grew from the races of Prophet Noah’s sons; Ham, Sam and Yafes. Similarly, Prophet Abraham is considered as the father of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
3- Possessing Divine Law
One of the most significant qualities of ulu’l-azm prophets is their possessing divine law as declared in this verse: “The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah, which We have sent by inspiration to you and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus: Namely that you should remain steadfast in religion and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than God, hard is the way to which you call them. God chooses to Himself those whom He pleases and guides to Himself those who turn to Him (42/13).” In this verse is first mentioned Prophet Noah, secondly Prophet Muhammad, and then Prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus who are among the ulu’l-azm prophets. In fact the names of these prophets were given together in the Sura al-Azhab. This verse emphasizes that the common message of all religions brought by prophets is that they call people to be servant of only Allah and to worship only to Allah.
In the Quran, Allah points out this: “Not a messenger did We send before thee without this inspiration sent by Us to him: that there is no god but I; therefore worship and serve Me (21/25).” Prophet Muhammad also emphasized the same fact: “In fact, prophets are half-brothers; their mothers are different but their religions are the same.” Thus, their common destiny is to worship Allah who is one and unique. All prophets invited people to believe in tawhid (oneness of Allah) to ameliorate religious disorders in their time.
4-Being given superiority in some aspects by Allah
In the following verse of Sura al-Baqara, it is pointed out that some of the prophets were endowed above others in terms of perfection and virtue: “Those apostles We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them God spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit (2/253).”
“And it is your Lord that knoweth best all beings that are in the heavens and on earth: We did bestow on some prophets more (and other) gifts than on others... (17/55)”
Surely this difference of degree between prophets is not material and physical but it is in spiritual virtues and gifts. In the Quran, it is declared that similar differences exist among people as well: “See how We have bestowed more on some than on others; but verily the Hereafter is more in rank and gradation and more in excellence.”
As all the ulu’l-azm prohets are not specified in the verse 253 of Baqara, it is impossible to claim that the prophets who are superior to others are not only the mentioned prophets. But it can be said that ulu’l-azm prophets are among the prophets who are distinguished from others in terms of degree and excellence.
Some of the mentioned prophets’ closeness to God was indicated in different ways. Based on the verse 125 of Sura an-Nisa’, Prophet Moses is described as Kalimallah, Prophet Jesus as Ruhallah and kalimatullah, Prophet Abraham as Halilallah, and Prophet Muhammad as habiballah.
However, these descriptions are not the only ones which made these prophets superior to others. For instance, Prophet Muhammad had many qualities that made him superior to others. Even though in the Quran it is stated that believers say “We do not discriminate among any of God’s prophets”, this is true for stating that believers reject prophecy of some prophets while they accept some of them. As indicated in the verses 253 of Sura al-Baqara and the verse 55 of Sura al-Isra, it is truly clear that Prophet Muhammad is above all prophets in terms of virtue and degree because he was sent as “mercy to all creatures,” the last prophet, and the speaker of a unique religion while the other prophets were sent to a certain nation and for a certain period of time. Also the superiority of the religion he brought was indicated as in this verse:
“It is He Who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth, to proclaim it over all religion: and enough is God for a Witness (48/28).
However, Prophet Muhammad asked people not to start a race of virtue between himself and other prophets, and he said: “do not discriminate prophets in terms of virtue”. Besides all believers accept this in principle, it is understood that accepting Prophet Muhammad’s prophecy should not lead to reject the prophecy of any other prophets. Prophet Muhammad pointed out the fact that he was superior to other prophets as in the following hadith:
“The difference between me and the prophets before me are like this man who built that building; this man built a building nicely, decorated it, and finished it. But there was a missing adobe in one of the corners of the building. People began to walk around it. They adored it but they said ‘we wish that adobe was in place, too.’ That adobe is me. I am the last of prophets.”
“I am the master of sons of Adam. I will be the first whose tomb will be opened. I will be the first to intercede and whose intercession would be accepted.”
“I am above all human beings on the day of judgement. The flag of praise will be in my hands but I am never boasting. On that day Adam and all other prophets will be under my flag. I will be the first to intercede and whose intercession would be accepted but I am not boasting with that either.”
As it is clear in these hadiths, Prophet Muhammad gathered the high characters and qualities of all prophets in himself. As Quran is the core of all the books sent to humanity he is the core of all prophets and humanity.
5- Possessing Strong Will and Perseverance
In verse 35 of Sura al-Ahqaf, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is advised to persevere patiently using the expression of ulu’l-azm and giving ulu’l-azm prophets as an example of strong will and perseverance. This shows that one of the common qualities of ulu’l-azm prophets is their perseverance. Indeed prophets who had strong will worked very hard to spread the word of God, and persevered the difficulties and enmities they faced with.
Moreover, these prophets were sent in time periods in which communities were degenerated and infidelity and furor were pervasive in those communities. Sometimes they were not supported even by their families. For instance, Prophet Noah’s son did not believe him. Upon inviting his nation to believe in God, Prophet Noah was exposed to oral and verbal insults. But despite these tortures and difficulties he tried to fulfill his duty.
Prophet Abraham’s father did not give up making idols which were opposite of the faith his son was trying to spread. He did not support his son. When Prophet Abraham is described in the Quran, it is said: “And Abraham prayed for his father's forgiveness only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy to God, he dissociated himself from him: for Abraham was most tender-hearted, forbearing.” So his tender-heartedness and perseverance were emphasized.
Prophet Moses was born in period in which Pharaohs’ tyranny and tortures were prevailing. He himself was exposed to Pharaoh’s oppression and tortures. He lived most of his life in Madyan, and after he returned back he fought against Pharaoh and people of Israel who rebelled against him. Moreover, after reminding the tortures people of Israel made to their prophets, believers are warned not to resemble them.
Prophet Jesus was born fatherless and only a few people believed in him when he was alive. He struggled with the rulers of Rome and rebellions of Jewish religious men. The most piteous is that he was betrayed by Yahuda Iskariyot, one of his companions and lived the crucifix event.
Similarly Prophet Muhammad was born as an orphan because he lost his father before he was born. He lost his mother and grandfather when he was just a child. He was raised under protection of his uncle Abu Talip, and he struggled with difficulties caused by being an orphan and lonely. In order to make Prophet Muhammad give up his claims and beliefs people of Quraish made appealing offers which could make him a very rich man. But he refused all their offers unhesitatingly. He did not lose his perseverance and strong will when he faced with oppressions and tortures and he achieved his duty. None of the prophets gave up their duty and claim when they faced with difficulties.