According to the Qur'an, 'Muhammad is only a messenger before whom many messengers have been & gone.' How have Muslims viewed the role & status of Muhammad since his death in 631 CE?
Islam does, in fact, recognize many prophets and messengers, all of whom predated Muhammed. Among those whom are acknowledged or recognized as prophets and messengers are Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Precise numbers of recognized prophets and messengers are difficult to clarify, due in no small part to the absence, as with other Holy texts, on a universally-agreed-upon translation and interpretation of the text. On the one hand, there is a passage in the Hadith, a collection of Muhammed’s sayings and quotations from the Qur’an, that answers that question quite precisely: 124,000. Within the Qur’an, which is considered by Muslims to be the word of God, there are 25 recognized prophets – those to whom the word of God was conveyed in the form of instructions for action – five of whom are also messengers, those tasked by God with conveying His message to mankind. This is an important point in understanding Islam. It recognizes earlier faiths as having practiced monotheism. Where if breaks away from other religions, however, is the belief that Muhammed was the last, and most important, Messenger of God. To Muslims, Muhammed received the word of God and the command to spread His word among nonbelievers. Whereas some religions, for example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), believe that later prophets or messengers came along, Islam strongly rejects any such notion. The Qur’an is the word of God, and Muhammed is His messenger.
Earlier prophets and messengers are mentioned throughout the Qur’an, such as in the following quote from the Chapter of al-A’raf:
“Then we sent them Moses with Our signs to Pharoah and his chiefs, but they disbelieved in them; so see what the end of the corrupters was. Moses said: ‘O Pharoah! I am a messenger from the Lord of all peoples. It is a duty on me to say nothing about Allah but the truth; I have come to you with clear proof from your Lord, therefore send with me the Children of Israel’.” (7.103-137, 7.159-166)
Similarly, the Qur’an tells the story of Jesus, considered in Islam a prophet, but not a messenger:
“He [Jesus] said: ‘I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; He has me blessed wheresoever I be; and He has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live.” (19:30-35)
Moses was a prophet and a messenger of God. Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet, and plays a central role in Qur’anic prophecy, but whether Muslims consider Him to have been a messenger of God is open to interpretation. In any event, in Islam, Muhammed was indisputably a messenger of God who received the word of God from the angel Gabriel in oral form, and who later ascended to Heaven on a white horse. So revered is Muhammed to Muslims that depictions of Muhammed are considered blasphemous. Direct references to Muhammed in the Qur’an are few, but leave no doubt as his importance. In a message to Jews and Christians, the Qur’an states:
“O people of the Scripture! Indeed Our Messenger has come to you, expounding to you much of that which you used to hide from the Scripture, and forgiving much. Undoubtedly, there has come to you a Light from Allah and a clear Book.” (5:15)