When did Muhammad (pbuh) become a nabi (prophet) and when a rasul (messenger)?
Nabi is an Arabic word derived from “naba”, which means news; so nabi means a person who was given prophethood and some divine decrees by Allah.
“Rasul” means a person who was sent by Allah to convey divine decrees to people. (1)
In short, a “rasul” has a book and shariah (legal system), but a nabi is responsible for inviting people to the shariah of the antecedent messenger. Every rasul is a nabi but not every nabi is a rasul. After that explanation, it will be better to mention how revelation came to our Prophet (pbuh). The first revelation came to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) as a true dream. Every dream that he saw came true in every detail. After that, he was made to like to be alone. Therefore, he sometimes went to the cave of Hira and started to worship there as in the religion of Hazrat Ibrahim (pbuh). Once, he went to the Cave of Hira to worship. On Allah’s command, Gabriel (Jibril) came and said to Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) “Read”. “Read in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created? Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Read! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful? He Who taught (the use of) the Pen? Taught man that which he knew not.”(2) Thereupon, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) got excited and went home; he said to his wife, Khadija, “Cover me with something, cover me.” He remained covered until his fear died away.(3)
Thus, the first revelation came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He was forty years old then. After that revelation, the revelation ceased for a period of time. There are various narrations about the length of the period. It is at least fifteen days and at most three years.(4)
Our Prophet (pbuh) says the following about the resumption of the revelation:
“One day, I heard a voice from the sky while I was walking. When I looked up, I saw the angel that came to me in Hira. He was sitting in a chair between the sky and earth. I was afraid a lot. I returned home. I said, “Cover me with something, cover me.” Then, Allah, the Almighty, sent the following verses: ‘O thou wrapped up (in a mantle)! Arise and deliver thy warning! And thy Lord do thou magnify! And thy garments keep free from stain! And all abomination shun!’ (5).
“After that, the revelation did not cease again.”(6)
Our Prophet (pbuh) became a nabi not a rasul with the first revelation in Hira. Then, he had not been appointed with the duty of messengership. He became a rasul when the revelation resumed again after a period of cessation.(7)
So, it is true that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) became nabi first and then a rasul. However it is not certain how much time passes between his prophethood and messengership. There are different narrations about it.(8)
1- Hussain Jisrî. Ar-Risalat al-Hamidiyya, p. 524-531
2- Chapter al-Alaq, 1-5.
3- Muslim, Eeman; 73.
4- Tajrid translation, 2:13.
5- Chapter al-Muddathir, 1-5.
6- - Chapter al; 73.
7- Hak Dini Kur'ân Dili, 8:5944.
8- Zekâi Konrapa, Peygamberimiz, p. 72.
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