A Quranic Criterion for a True Prophet

Sam Shamoun & Jochen Katz

In some of our papers we have presented the Biblical criteria to distinguish between true and false prophets. One criterion that the Holy Bible gives is that the teachings of a prophet or a messenger must fully agree with the previous revelations:

"If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from the midst of you." Deuteronomy 13:1-5

"I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded." Romans 16:17-18

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel -- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:6-9

"And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward. Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares his wicked work." 2 John 1:6-11

The Quran also agrees with this criterion since it says:

It is not (possible) that a man, to whom is given the Book, and Wisdom, and the prophetic office, should say to people: "Be ye my worshippers rather than God’s": on the contrary (He would say) "Be ye worshippers of Him Who is truly the Cherisher of all: For ye have taught the Book and ye have studied it earnestly." Nor would he instruct you to take angels and prophets for Lords and patrons. What! would he bid you to unbelief after ye have bowed your will (To God in Islam)? Behold! God took the covenant of the prophets, saying: "I give you a Book and Wisdom; then comes to you an apostle, CONFIRMING what is with you; do ye believe in him and render him help." God said: "Do ye agree, and take this my Covenant as binding on you?" They said: "We agree." He said: "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses." S. 3:79-81 Y. Ali

Other versions render Sura 3:81 slightly different:

AND, LO, God accepted, THROUGH THE PROPHETS, this solemn pledge [from the followers of earlier revelation]: "If, after all the revelation and the wisdom which I have vouchsafed unto you, there comes to you an apostle CONFIRMING the truth already in your possession, you must believe in him and succour him. Do you" - said He – "acknowledge and accept My bond on this condition?" They answered: "We do acknowledge it." Said He: "Then bear witness [thereto], and I shall be your witness." S. 3:81 Asad

Asad noted:

Lit., "the solemn pledge of the prophets". Zamakhshari holds that what is meant here is a pledge taken from the community as a whole: a pledge consisting in their acceptance of the messages conveyed through the prophets. (Source)

The late Muhammad Ali translated it similarly to Asad:

And when Allah made a covenant THROUGH THE PROPHETS: Certainly what I have been given you of Book and Wisdom – then a Messenger comes to you VERIFYING that which is with you, you shall believe in him, and you shall aid him. He said: Do you affirm and accept My compact in this (matter)? They said: We do affirm. He said: Then bear witness that I (too) am of the bearers of witness with you. M. Ali (Source)

Ali explains the reason for his formulation in a footnote:

81a. Mithaq al-nabiyyin means literally the covenant of the prophets, and may therefore signify either the covenant of the prophets with Allah or the covenant of the prophets with their people. As the words that follow are plainly addressed to the people, the Jews and the Christians being particularly addressed in the last two verses, I adopt the latter interpretation, and therefore translate the words as meaning a covenant through the prophets. Both Moses and Jesus especially laid an obligation on their people to accept the prophet about whom they prophesied. Thus, through Moses, Almighty God had warned the Israelites, after promising them "a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee", and that "Whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require of him" (Deut. 18:19). And Jesus was equally emphatic when, prophesying the advent of the Comforter, he added: "He will guide you into all the truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak" (John 16:13). As a matter of fact the Prophet had his advent foretold by all the prophets of the world. The new Testament bears testimony to this: "Whom the heaven must receive until the time of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all of His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me: him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you" (Acts 3:21, 22). The covenant referred to was made through each prophet separately as he appeared in the world. And just as all the prophets foretold the advent of the Prophet Muhammad and laid an obligation upon their people to accept him, so the Prophet Muhammad also told his followers to believe in all the prophets that had appeared among different people in different ages, and this is stated in what follows. The truth of the first statement that all the prophets foretold the advent of the Prophet Muhammad is borne out by the second statement that the Prophet would bear testimony to the truth of all the prophets of the world. (Source; bold emphasis ours)

The foregoing is significant for at least two reasons. First, Surah 3:81 is presupposing that the previous Scriptures, i.e. the Holy Bible, are the criteria determining whether a person is a true or false prophet. The author of the Quran essentially accepted the fact that all messengers must be in full agreement with the teachings of the Holy Bible, otherwise they would be rejected.

Second, the only way for Muhammad or anyone else claiming to be a messenger to be able to confirm the previous Scriptures is if these Books remained intact. If these texts were corrupted then the messenger wouldn’t be able to confirm them lest he be guilty of verifying scriptures that God had not inspired. And yet failing to confirm the Scriptures in the possession of the people before him would lead to a complete rejection of such a messenger. The people would consider such a person a false messenger for contradicting the Scriptures in their possession which they would view as being the uncorrupt revelations of God!

To put it in another manner, the only way for the community of the prophets such as the Jews and Christians to know whether someone like Muhammad was a messenger is if he confirmed their Holy Scriptures. But if these Scriptures had been corrupted then there would be no way for the people to know who that messenger was since they no longer had the authentic Scriptures for him to confirm. This would lead them to conclude that such a person was a false messenger for not confirming their religious texts!

It should not be hard for Muslims to see why this reasoning is valid. Just imagine another man coming today, claiming to be a prophet (or some other title to the effect that he is speaking with divine authority), and saying exactly what Muhammad said, i.e. he came to confirm what the earlier prophets said. Would Muslims accept him as a prophet because he claims to confirm what Muhammad had already said? The Muslim answer would obviously be no, since that person must not contradict the teachings of the Quran or Muhammad, and yet by claiming to be a prophet he would be contradicting the Quran’s testimony that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets.

In fact, isn’t that what Baha’ullah (founder of the Baha’is) and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (founder of the Ahmadiyya) did? Both acknowledge (confirm) Muhammad as a prophet and the Quran as divine revelation, but they are adding their own words to it. Their additional writings are foundational for the movements they have started. Yet Muslims reject them as false. Why would they if these men satisfy this quranic criterion of confirming the revelation that came before them?

Just as Christians do, Muslims test the later claims to prophethood with the former revelation — and they are right in doing so. That has to be the principle.

The foregoing leaves Muslims in a quagmire. If the Quran is to be believed then Muslims must accept the fact that the previous Scriptures have been preserved and Muhammad had to confirm them as true revelations. Yet, since these previous Scriptures of the Jews and Christians (i.e. the Holy Bible) contradict the teachings of the Quran and Muhammad on essential issues, this therefore means that Muhammad is a false prophet.

In conclusion, Muhammad fails the very biblical criterion – accepted by the Quran itself – for determining whether a person is a true prophet or not.

Further Reading

Here are the papers documenting the criteria which the Holy Bible gives to distinguish true and false prophets, showing how Muhammad fails the criteria for being a true prophet:


The Qur'an About the Bible
Answering Islam Home Page