Man has been placed on this earth by God in order that his obedience to his Maker may be put to the test. For this purpose he has been given complete freedom to tread the paths of both good and evil. He has his choice. But to follow the path desired for him by God, man is in need of guiding principles. The true source of guidance, according to Islam, is to be found in prophethood. Throughout human history, God in His infinite Mercy, has selected certain individuals to communicate His message to mankind, so that all human beings might be enabled to follow the right path. These chosen people were called prophets or messengers. They received God’s message through His angel and then conveyed it to their people.
All the prophets, according to Islam, brought the same basic truth: that there is only one God and that all human beings are accountable to God for their actions: when Doomsday finally comes, they will be judged by Him according to their good and bad deeds. Those who believe in God and His Prophet shall be rewarded by God in the next world. While those who disbelieve shall be punished by God in the next world according to the deeds they have performed on earth.
“God chooses to Himself whom He will, and guides to Himself those that repent.” (42:13)
God’s messengers came in every age and to every region. According to a hadith, starting with Adam and ending with the Prophet Muahmmad 1,24,000 messengers were sent to guide the people to the right path. The prophets mentioned by name in the Qur'an are two dozen in number. The five major prophets who came before Muhammad were Adam, Nuh, (Noah) Ibrahim, (Abraham) Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus). The Prophet Muhammad, the last in this long line of prophets, was known as the ‘seal of the Prophet.’
In the past the need for new prophets had arisen because God’s religion was no longer in its pristine form, having been distorted in a number of different ways. New prophets had to come to the world periodically in order to revive the true spirit of religion, and thus restore it to its original form. After the Prophet Muhammad, there was no need for another prophet, for the Book— the Qur'an— which he gave to the world has been preserved intact, in its original form.
The Islamic concept of prophethood is different from that of other religions. Some religions would have it that even God Himself becomes incarnate in human shape, and that his prophets are in some way superhuman or other-worldly. But a prophet in the Islamic sense is no different from any other human being. His uniqueness lies simply in his being the chosen messenger of God.
God’s Apostles were born into this world just like any other human beings. They led their lives just as others did, thus demonstrating to their people how God’s servants should, in practice, conduct themselves on earth and showing them clearly what path they must tread in order to avert God’s displeasure and be worthy of His blessings.
The prophets who brought books were called rasul, while those who did not were called nabi.
Of the holy books, four find mention in the Qur'an: the Sahifa, scrolls given to Ibrahim; the Tawrat, the revelations to Musa; the Zabur, the psalms given to Dawud (David); the Injil, the teachings given to Isa (Jesus). Each of these was originally a complete revelation, but unfortunately, these books and teachings were not properly preserved. Some, like the Sahifa, were lost completely. Others were changed in various ways by human intervention. Thus these previous scriptures are no longer in their original form. They could best be described as edited versions of divine revelations, which have been altered from time to time by editors and commentators. Since these holy scriptures are no longer in their original form.