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The Infallibility of the Prophets in the Qur’an

The Infallibility of the Prophets in the Qur’an

Publisher: Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania

The Infallibility of the Prophets in the Qur'an

Author(s):Sayyid MuhammadRizvi

Publisher(s):Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania



Thiswork is published on behalf of www.alhassanain.org/english

The typing errors aren’t corrected.

Table of Contents

Foreword 4

Preface 5

The Definition of ‘Ismah 6

Note 6

Muslims & the Belief in ‘Ismah 7

A. Sunni Muslims 7

B. Shí‘a Ithna-‘Ashariyyah Muslims 7

Notes 7

Why ‘Ismah? 9

The 1st Verse 9

The 2nd Verse 9

The 3rd Verse 10

Note 10

Humanism & Infallibility 11

Notes 11

The Allegorical Verses of the Qur’an 13

What should be done? 13

Note 13

The Case of Adam (a.s.) 14

Chapter 2 (al-Baqarah) verses 30-39: The Creation 14

Chapter 7 (al-A'râf) verses 19-25 14

Chapter 20 (Ta Ha) verses 116-126 15

Review of Adam’s Story 15

Note 18

The Case of Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) 20

Chapter 6 (al-An'am) verses 75-80 20

Chapter 21 (al-Anbiya') verses 62-63 20

Chapter 2 (al-Baqarah) Verse 260 21

Then why did he ask for a demonstration of resurrection? 21

Note 22

The Case of Prophet Musa (a.s.) 23

Chapter 28 (al-Qasas) Verses 15-16 23

The Case of Prophet Yunus (a.s.) 25

Chapter 21 (al-Anbiya') verses 87-88: 25

The Case of Prophet Muhammad (S) 27

Chapter 93 (az-Zuha) verse 7 27

Chapter 48 (al-Fath) verses 2-3: 27

Chapter 80 ('Abasa) 1-10 29

Chapter 66 (at-Tahrim) Verses 1-12: 30

Notes 32


Since the departure ofRais`ul-Mubaligheen Allamah Al-Haj Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi (r.a .) from this earthly abode in 2002, the Mission is grateful toHujjatul Islamwal Muslimeen Al-Haj Sayyid MuhammadRizvi (d.z .) for his wise guidance and advice.

The Mission is grateful toMaulana Rizvi for his valued contribution. This is not the first book byMaulana Rizvi , we are printing. We have already published three of his most valuable studies in the past two years and we hope hewill, by will of Almighty Allah, be able to send us more.

A sinful person, a transgressor of moral laws or a man dubious morality or respectability cannot be trusted and/or believed, as his own character is questionable. It is very pertinent, therefore that a prophet or Imam should be sinless and his character impeccable.

Our holy Prophet Muhammad (S) proved himself as as-Sadiq and al-Ameen among his people i.e. “truthful” and “trustworthy.”

History has recorded that he asked his people that 'if I tell you that there is an army beyond these mountains who are about to attack you, would you believe me?' they all replied in unison “Yes we believe you because you have proved yourself as-Sadiq and Al-Ameen .

His enemies called him a magician and gave him all other names but they could never call him a liar, as he had proved himself a man of integrity and trustworthiness.

Allah (s.w.t .) in the Holy Qur'aneulogises his Prophet (S) in the followingwords ” Verily there is for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern (of conduct”), 33:21; the real excellence and the matchless beauty of his divinelymoulded conduct and character.

“The Infallibility of the Prophets in the Qur'an” byHujjatul Islamwal Muslimeen Al-HajjSayyid MuhammadRizvi is an elaborated and serious treatise based on lectures he had delivered to the weekly classes on Islamic Theology.

I trust that the readers will benefit very much on the conceptof ” Ismah ” in the light of the Qur'an.

F. H. Abdullah

Founding Member & Trustee

Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الحمد لله رب العالمين

والصلاة والسلام على

سيد النبيين وخاتم المرسلين محمد وآله الطاهرين

Muslims consider 'ismah , infallibility, as an important quality for the person who holds the position ofprophethood . This quality is not confined to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) but is also found in all the prophets and messengers of God who came before Islam.

However,there are some verses of the Qur'an that apparently imply that Prophet Adam and some other prophets had committed sins. This treatise is an attempt to study the concept of 'ismah in light of the Qur'an.

This treatise is an expanded version of the lectures thatI had given to the weekly classes on Islamic theology at Toronto in 1995.I pray and hope that this serves as a small but important step in studying the Qur'an from the thematic approach.

Rabbana taqabbal minna ,innaka Samí'u 'd -du'a '.

December 2001 / Shawwal 1422

TorontoSayyid M.Rizvi

The Definition of ‘Ismah

The word 'ismah literally means “protection”. In Islamic terminology, it means “infallibility”. Infallibility is defined as “a spiritual grace (lutf ) of Allah to a person which enables him to abstain from sins by his own free will. 1

A person who has been given that grace of God is called ama'sum , infallible, sinless.

This power of 'ismah does not make thema'sum person incapable of committing sins. Ama'sum refrains from sins and mistakes by his power and will. If it were otherwise, then there would be no merit in beingma'sum ! Ama'sum is able to abstain from sins because of (a) highest level of righteousness, and (b) ever-present consciousness and love for God, and (c) certain knowledge about the consequences of committing sins.

We come across some ordinary people who arevery upright in their character and would not even dream of committing certain sins or crimes. The strength of their character makes them relatively an infallible person.

For example, it is within the power of any person to go naked on the streets.But would a person who was brought up as a good Muslim, ever think of doing so?No, because it is far below his dignity to behave in this way. It is not impossible for him to do so, but he will never even imagine of doing so.Why? Because he has beentaught and brought up with the idea that suchbehaviour will tarnish hishonour and is beneath the dignity of a civilized human being.

Similarly, though ama'sum has the ability to commit sin, he never even imagines of committing a sin because (a) the love for God in his heart leaves no room for displeasing Him by committing sins, and (b) he isfull aware of the consequences of committing sins.


1. Al-Mufid ,Tashihu 'l-I'tiqad , p. 128 (in vol. 5 ofMusannafatu 'sh-Shaykhi 'l-Mufid , Qum, 1413 AH); al-Hilli , al-Babu 'l-Hadi 'Ashar , p. 179 (Qum:Nashr Navid Islam, 1367 {solar}with Persian translation by A.R.A.Bakhshaishi ); also see its English by W.M. Miller (London:Luzac & Co, 1958) p. 58-59.

Muslims & the Belief in ‘Ismah

Although the majority of Muslims believe in the 'ismah of the prophets, there is a great difference about the extent of their 'ismah .

A. Sunni Muslims

As far as the Sunnis are concerned, they have a great difference of opinion among themselves. Their views are as the followings:

On lying & infidelity (kufr ): all Sunnis believe that prophets could not tell a lie, neither intentionallynor by mistake, nor could they be infidel before or after the declaration of theirprophethood .

Other sins intentionally: all Sunnis believe that the prophets could not commit other sins intentionally.

Major sins unintentionally: majority believes that the prophets could commit such sins; however, a minority says that this is not possible.

Minor sins: majority believes that the prophets could commit minor sins, though not such minorsins which would disgrace them in public's eyes.1

B.Shí‘a Ithna-‘Ashariyyah Muslims

TheShí'as Muslims believe that all the Prophets werema'sum , sinless and infallible; they could commit no sin - neither a major sin nor a minor sin; neither intentionally nor inadvertently; and this applies to them from the beginning to the end of their lives.

This is the belief of theShí'a Ithna-'Ashariyyah . Below are three quotations from theShí'a scholars of early days to the present century that shows the consistency of this belief among theShí'as .

Shaykh AbuJa'far as-Saduq , a scholar born during the Minor Occultation (ghaybat sughra ) of the Present Imam and died in 381 AH, says: “Our belief concerning the prophets, apostles, Imams and angels is that they are infallible (ma'sum ), purified from all defilement (danas ), and that they do not commit any sin, whether it be minor or major…He who denies infallibility to them in any matter appertaining to their status is ignorant of them. Our belief concerning them is that they are infallible and possess the attributes of perfection,completeness and knowledge, from the beginning to the end of their careers…”2

'Allamah Ibn Mutahhar al-Hilli (d. 728 AH) writes the following on prophecy: “He is immune to sin from the first of his life to the last of it. 3

Shaykh MuhammadRida al-Mudhaffar , a famousShí'a scholar of the first half of this century, writes: “We believe that all the prophets are infallible…Infallibility means purity from all sins, both major and minor ones, and from mistakes and forgetfulness. 4


1. See al-Qadhi 'Abdu 'l-Jabbar ,Sharhu 'l -Usûli 'l-Khamsah , p. 573-575; al-Qawshaji ,Sharhu 't -Tajríd , p. 464.

2. As-Saduq , al-I'tiqadat,p . 96 (in vol. 5 ofMusannafatu 'sh-Shaykhi 'l-Mufid ); the above quotation is based on its English translation, AShi'ite Creed, A.A.A.Fyzee , tr. (Tehran: WOFIS, 1982) p. 87.

3. Al-Hilli , al -Babu '-Hadi 'Ashar , p. 179; in its English translation, see p. 58.

4. Al -Mudhaffar , 'Aqa'idu 'l-Imamiyyah , (Qum:Ansariyan ,n.d .) p. 53-54; also see its translation, The Faith ofShí'a Islam (London:Muhammadi Trust, 1982) p. 21.

Why ‘Ismah ?

The prophets have to bema'sum for the same reason for which theywere sent : to guide and lead the people towards God. God, who decided to guidemankind, also intended to send immaculate and perfect human beings as models and examples.

If they were notma'sum , then it would have been extremely difficult even to believe in the message let alone the example they present to us. There would be no trust or confidence in whateverthey say: it could be true; it could be false.

Sending fallible prophets would have defeated the very purpose for which theywere sent : for the prophets to lead and guide, for the people to follow and obey.

* * *

The Qur'an also supports this reasoning.

The1st Verse

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلَّا لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ

“We did not send any prophet, except so that he may be obeyed by the will of Allah.” (4:64)

The verse very clearly presents the divine social order: the sole purpose of the prophets on this earth is to beobeyed by their followers, not that the followers are to check every action and statement of their prophet and then decided whether they should obey or not.

Such absolute obedience cannot be possible unless the prophets werema'sum , free from sins and mistakes.

The2nd Verse

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ

“O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger…” (4:59)

In this verse, Allah is ordering us to obey Him and the Messenger. There are at least ten other verses where Allah has used imperative forms to order the believers to obey the prophets and messengers. Besides these verses, there are also many verses where Allah describes the virtue of obeying the prophets, and the dire consequences of disobeying them.1

Secondly, in most such verses, Allah has mentioned obedience to Himself alongside with the obedience to His messengers. Actually, in one verse, obedience to the messengeris made synonymous with the obedience to Allah:

مَنْ يُطِعِ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللَّهَ

“And whoever obeys the Messenger has actually obeyed Allah.” (4:80)

Such assertion on part of Allah would have been impossible if the prophets and the messengers were notma'sum and infallible. Otherwise, we would have found ourselves in an impossible situation: a non-ma'sum prophet or messenger exhorts us to dosomething which is wrong - should we follow or not. In both cases, we would be doomed. If we obeyed the prophet and committed the sin, then we would be guilty of disobeying Allah who has told us not to commit sins. If we disobeyed the prophet and refused to commit the sin, then we would be guilty of disobeying Allah who has told us to obey the prophets and messengers in an absolute way!

The3rd Verse

To the above verses, add those verses in which Allah forbids you to obey certain types of people who commit sins:

فَلَا تُطِعِ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ وَلَا تُطِعْ كُلَّ حَلَّافٍ مَهِينٍ

“So do not obey those who accuse you of lying…& do not obey any meanswearer …forbidder of good, one who steps beyond the limits, a sinner.” (68:8-10)

وَلَا تُطِعْ مِنْهُمْ آثِمًا أَوْ كَفُورًا

“And do not obey among them a sinner or an ungrateful person.” (76:24)

وَلَا تُطِيعُوا أَمْرَ الْمُسْرِفِينَ

“And do not obey the command of the prodigals…” (26:151)

When you put these verses alongside the previous verses, you will get the complete picture:

a) The prophets are tobe obeyed unconditionally.

b) The sinners and wrongdoers are not tobe obeyed .

c) The only logical conclusion is that the prophets are not in the categories of the sinners or the wrongdoers.


1. See the following verses of the Qur'an: 4:14; 48:7; 33:66.

Humanism & Infallibility

A few Muslims intellectuals, swayed by the idea of humanism,relativity and pluralism, wish to present the prophets and messengers of God as fallible in order to justify the moral weaknesses found among ordinary people.

This motivecan also be observed in the early history of Islam when the scholars attached to the political establishments tried to water down the infallibility of the Prophet (S) in order to explain away the moral weakness and ethical wrongdoings of the rulers of their time. We have such examples in the modern era also.

Malcolm X, when he was a Minister in the Nation of Islam movement, describes how he attempted to justify the adultery of the self-proclaimed prophet,Elija Muhammad. He says:

“I thought of one bridge that could be used if and when the shattering disclosure should become public. Loyal Muslimscould be taught that a man's accomplishments in his life outweigh his personal, human weaknesses. Wallace Muhammad [Elija's son] helpedme to review the Qur'an and the Bible for documentation. David's adultery with Bathsheba weighed less on history's scales, for instance, than the positive fact ofDavid's killing Goliath.

Thinking of Lot, we think not of incest, but of his saving the people from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.Or , our image of Noah isn't of his getting drunk - but of his building the ark and teaching people to save themselves from the flood. We think of Moses leading the Hebrews from bondage, not of Moses' adultery with the Ethiopian women. In all of the cases I reviewed, the positive outweighed the negative.”

When he described his damage control strategy toElija Muhammad, the leader said, “Son, I am not surprised…You always have had such a good understanding of prophecy, and of spiritual things. You recognizethat's what all of this is - prophecy. You have the kind of understanding that only an old man has.I am David…When you read about how David took another man's wife.I'm that David. You read about Noah, who got drunk -that's me. You read about Lot, who went andlaid up with his own daughters. I have to fulfill all of those things. 1

TomHarpur , a theologian, an ex-Minister of the Church, and a columnist of the religious column of the Toronto Star, wrote the article “Not even Jesus claimed infallibility” on2nd May 1993. Once Jesus was stripped of infallibility, I was not at all surprised to seeHarpur taking the second step of publishing another article a year latter entitled as “Gospels could support speculation that Jesus might have been gay. 2

This is what happens when you take away the infallibility from the prophets and the messengers of God! Instead of looking up to them as models and guides, people - especially those in position of power - justify their own immoralbehaviour and lifestyle by presenting the prophets as fallible and sinners.


1. A. Haley,The Autobiography of Malcolm X (NY:Ballantine Books, 1964) p. 297-299.

2. SeeThe Toronto Star, May 2, 1993, p. B5; May 15, 1994, p. A13

The Allegorical Verses of the Qur’an

After explaining the meaning and importance of 'ismah for the prophets and messengers of Allah which is also supported by theQur'anic verses we quoted above, some people become confused when they come across verses which give an impression that Adam and other prophets committed some sins.

This confusion will only be clear if we realize that theQur'anic verses, according to the Qur'an itself, are of two types:

He is the one who sent upon you the book: some of its verses are clear (muhkamât ) - these are the basis of the Book, while others are allegorical (mutashâbihât ).

“As for those in whose hearts is perversity, they follow the allegorical verses, seeking to mislead and seeking to give (their own) interpretation. None know their (i.e., allegorical verses') interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge…” (3:7)

Those who do not differentiate between the clear and the allegorical verses will surely get confused when they apparently find two conflicting messages from the verses of the Qur'an. The issue of 'ismah is one of those issues in which people have become victim of confusion.

* * * * *

The situation, at this stage of our discussion, is as follows:

Our earlier discussion concluded that the divine guides must be immaculate and above reproach.

Many verses of the Qur'an support this view, as mentioned above.

But there are some verses of the Qur'an that apparently attribute sins and wrongdoings to some prophets.

Whatshould be done ?

We must accept those verses thatare supported by our reason as the clear (muhkamât ) verses. And the other verses should be considered allegorical (mutashâbihât ) and their true meaning must be sought in the light of themuhkamât , the teachings of the Prophet, and the Imams ofAhlul Bayt who are the twin of the Qur'an by virtue of the famous saying of the Prophet that “I am leaving two precious things among you [for guidance]: the Book of Allah and myAhlu 'l-bayt. 1

In the next lesson, we will study those verses and see how can we interpret them and, at the same time, hold on to our belief in the infallibility of the prophets.


1.Ibn Hajar al-Makki , as-Sawa'iqu 'l-Muhriqah , chapter 11, section 1.