The Apostles of Christ: Messengers of God or Mere Disciples?

Sam Shamoun


According to certain Muslim expositors, there is a story in the Quran that affirms that Jesus' disciples functioned as God's messengers. Here is the story in question, which will be followed with comments from some of Islam's best-known commentators and historians:

Set forth to them, by way of a parable, the (story of) the Companions of the City. Behold!, there came messengers to it. When We (first) sent to them two messengers, they rejected them: but We strengthened them with a third: they said, "Truly, we have been sent on a mission to you." The (people) said: "Ye are only men like ourselves; and the Most Gracious sends no sort of revelation: ye do nothing but lie." They said: "Our Lord doth know that we have been sent on a mission to you: "And our duty is only to deliver the clear Message." The (people) said: "For us, we augur an evil omen from you: if ye desist not, we will certainly stone you. And a grievous punishment indeed will be inflicted on you by us." They said: "Your evil omens are with yourselves: (deem ye this an evil omen). If ye are admonished? Nay, but ye are a people transgressing all bounds!" Then there came running, from the farthest part of the City, a man, saying, "O my people! Obey the messengers: Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves), and who are themselves guided. Why should I not serve Him Who created me, and to Whom ye shall (all) be brought back. Shall I take (other) gods besides Him? If the Most Gracious should intend some adversity for me, of no use whatever will be their intercession for me, nor can they deliver me. I would indeed, then so, be in manifest Error. For me, I have faith in the Lord of you (all): listen, then, to me! It was said: "Enter thou the Garden." He said: "Ah me! Would that my People knew (what I know)! For that my Lord has granted me Forgiveness and has enrolled me among those held in honor!" And We sent not down against his People, after him, any hosts from heaven, nor was it needful for Us so to do. It was no more than a single mighty Blast, and behold! they were (like ashes) quenched and silent." S. 36:13-29

Tafsir al-Jalalayn states regarding Surah 36:13:

And strike for them as a similitude (mathalan is the first direct object) the inhabitants (ashāba is the second direct object) of the town, [of] Antioch (Antākya), when the messengers, namely, Jesus' disciples, came to it (idh jā'ahā'l-mursalūna is an inclusive substitution for ashāba'l-qaryati, 'the inhabitants of the town'). (Source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

A Tafsir attributed to Ibn Abbas writes in reference to Surah 36:13-14:

(Coin for them a similitude) explain to the people of Mecca: (The people of the city) of Antioch, how We destroyed them (when those sent (from Allah) came unto them) i.e. when the emissary of Jesus, Simon the Pure, came to them and they disbelieved in and denied him; (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn 'Abbs; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

(When We sent unto them twain) two apostles: Simon the Canaanite and Thomas, (and they denied them both, so We reinforced them with a third) We strengthened them with Simon Peter who confirmed the message conveyed by the other two apostles, (and they said; Lo! we have been sent unto you. (Source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Islam's premiere historian Al-Tabari writes:

An event which also occurred in the days of the regional princes was (the arrival of the three envoys sent by God and) mentioned in the divine revelation "Spin a parable for them - the inhabitants of the city, when the messengers came to it. When We sent unto them two men, they declared them liars, so We sent a third as reinforcement." Such are the verses in which their story is told in scripture.

But the early authorities differ about their story. Some say these three, whom God mentioned in these verses and whose story He told therein, were prophets and messengers. He had sent (them) to the Roman king Antiochus, and the city in which this king dwelled and to which God sent these envoys was Antioch.

Those Who Held This View

Concerning the story of the man of Surah YaSin (in the Qur'an), according to Ibn Humayd- Salamah- Muhammad b. Ishaq- from Ka’b al-Ahbar and Wahb b. Munabbih al-Yamani: There was a man of Antioch. Habib was his name, and he was a silk-maker. A sickly man, he early contracted leprosy. His home was near the farthest city gate. He was a believer and an alms-giver. The man used to take his earnings in the evening, so they say, and divide them in two piles; one he would use to feed his family, the other he would give away in alms. Neither his sickness, nor his work, nor his weakness concerned him, as his heart was pure and his character upright. In the city of Antioch, in which he lived, was one of the pharaohs, Antiochus, the son of Antiochus, an idol-worshiping polytheist. God sent him three envoys: Sadiq, Saduq, Shalum. First, God sent to him and the people of his city two of the envoys, but the people declared them liars. Then God sent the third as reinforcement. Others say: no, they were the apostles of Jesus, the son of Mary. They were not God's messengers, but rather the messengers of Jesus. But as the mission by Jesus was upon the command of the Almighty, the mission was an extension of God's mission. So it says, "When We sent unto them the two men, they declared them liars; so We sent a third as reinforcement."

Those Who Held This View

According to Bishr b. Mu‘adh- Yazid b. Zuray‘- Sa‘id- Qatadah regarding the following passage: "Spin a parable for them- the inhabitants of the city, when the messengers came to it. When We sent them to men, they declared them liars; so We sent a third as reinforcement. They said, ‘We are assuredly messengers unto you.’" It was mentioned to us that Jesus, the son of Mary, sent two of the apostles to Antioch, a Roman city; but they were declared liars, so he sent a third as reinforcement. They said, "We are assuredly messengers," etc. (The History of Al-Tabari, Volume IV, The Ancient Kingdoms, trans. Moshe Perlmann [State University of New York Press, Albany 1987], pp. 167-168; bold emphasis ours)

There related to me al-Harith- Muhammad b. S'ad- Hisham- his father- Abu Salih- Ibn 'Abbas, who said: Between Musa, son of 'Imran, and 'Isa, son of Maryam (Mary), was nineteen hundred years, but there was no interval (fatrah) between them, because during this period, God sent a thousand prophets from Banu Isra'il (Children of Israel), apart from those whom He sent to other nations. Between the birth of 'Isa and the Prophet was 569 years, in the first part of which HE SENT THREE PROPHETS, as in His words, "When We sent to them two persons, and they branded them as liars, We strengthened them with a third person"; the person whom He sent as a strengthener was SHAM'UN (Simon), ONE OF THE APOSTLES. The interval during which God did not send any prophets was 434 years. When Jesus was raised up (i.e., in his Ascension to Heaven), he was thirty-two years and six months old, and his period of prophethood was thirty months. God raised him (to Heaven) corporeally, and he is still alive at this moment. (The History of al-Tabari: The Sasanids, the Byzantines, the Lakmids, and Yemen, translated by C.E. Bosworth, Volume V, pp. 414-415; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Although Ibn Kathir rejects the interpretation that the envoys were the Apostles of Christ, his comments are interesting nonetheless:

<so We reinforced them with a third> means, ‘We supported and strengthened them with a third Messenger.’ Ibn Jurayj narrated from Wahb bin Sulayman, from Shu’ayb Al-Jaba’i, "The names of the first two Messengers were Sham’un and Yuhanna, and the name of the third was Bulus, and the city was Antioch ...

<Verily, we have been sent to you as Messengers.>
meaning, ‘from your Lord Who created you and Who commands you to worship Him Alone with no partners or associates.’ This was the view of Abu Al-‘Aliyah. Qatadah bin Di‘amah claimed that they were messengers of the Messiah, peace be upon him, sent to the people of Antioch. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), Volume 8, Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 51 to the end of Surat Ad-Dukhan, abridged under a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors Riyadh, Houston, New York, London, Lahore; First Edition, September 2000], p. 179; bold emphasis ours)

Sham’un refers to Simon Peter, Yuhanna to the apostle John, and Bulus is Arabic for Paul. This source therefore affirms that the apostle Paul was one of the Messengers sent by God!

Al-Suyuti, another renowned exegete, concurs with the Salaf that the three messengers mentioned in S. 36:13-29 were Peter, John and Paul:

Verses 14-27

Narrated Ibn S'd and Ibn Asakir by the authority of Abi Saleh and Ibn Abbas who said:

There was a one thousand and nine hundred years gap between the time of Moses the son of Imran and Jesus. During which time one thousand prophets were sent to the people of Israel. And there was five hundred and sixty nine years gap between the birth of Jesus and the time of Muhammad. During the first part of this gap, three prophets were sent. The third one of these prophets WAS SIMON.

Narrated Ibn Abi Hatim by the authority of Shuwaib Al Jab'ayee who said: The names of the first two messengers were Simon and John. And the name of the third one was Paul.

Narrated Ibn al-Monthere from Saed bin Jubayr who said: The name of the third messenger was Paul. (Source; translated from the Arabic by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

Not only is Paul called a messenger, but Simon (referring to Peter) is also said to be a prophet!

This is highly interesting, especially in light of the fact that Muslims often vilify Paul, attacking his credibility. Yet, it seems that the first Muslims did not doubt for a moment that Paul was a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, or at least a true follower of Jesus' Apostles. For instance, in Alfred Guillaume's The Life of Muhammad (Oxford University Press Karachi) we find the first Muslims endorsing the legitimacy of Paul as a representative of Christ's teachings:

"God has sent me (Muhammad) to all men, so take a message from me, God have mercy on you. Do not hang back from me as the disciples hung back from Jesus son of Mary. They asked how they hung back and he said, ‘He called them to a task similar to that which I have called you. Those who had to go a short journey were pleased and accepted. Those who had a long journey before them were displeased and refused to go, and Jesus complained of them to God. (T. From that very night) every one of them was able to speak the language of the people to whom he was sent.’ (T. Jesus said, ‘This is a thing that God has determined that you should do, so go.’)

"Those whom Jesus son of Mary sent, both disciples and those who came after them, in the land were: Peter the disciple AND PAUL WITH HIM, (PAUL BELONGED TO THE FOLLOWERS AND WAS NOT A DISCIPLE) to Rome. Andrew and Matthew to the land of the cannibals; Thomas to the land of Babel, which is in the land of the east; Philip to Carthage which is Africa; John to Ephesus the city of the young men of the cave; James to Jerusalem which is Aelia the city of the sanctuary; Bartholomew to Arabia which is the land of Hijaz; Simon to the land of the Berbers; Judah who was not one of the disciples was put in place of Judas." (Ibid. p. 653; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Other Muslim sources that affirm the preceding statement include:

"Among the apostles and those disciples around them, whom Jesus sent out, there were Peter and his companion Paul." (Thalabii, Qisas al-Anbiyaa, pp. 389-390)

And,

"Among the apostles, and the followers who came after them were the Apostle Peter and Paul who was a follower and not an apostle; they went to Rome. Andrew and Matthew were sent to the country whose people are man-eaters, a land of blacks, we think; Thomas was sent to Babylonia in the east, Philip to Qayrawan (and) Carthage, that is, North Africa. John went to Ephesus, the city of the youths of the cave, and James to Jerusalem, that is, Aelia. Bartholomew was sent to Arabia, namely, the Hijaz; Simeon to the land of the Berbers in Africa. Judas was not then an apostle, so his place was taken by Ariobus. He filled in for Judas Iscariot after the latter had perpetrated his deed." (Tabari, History, Volume IV, p. 123; bold emphasis ours)

The translator, Moshe Perlmann, comments on the above statement that Paul was not an apostle:

317. In Islamic terms the messengers or apostles pave the new path. Their work is continued by the tabi'un, the followers, members of the next generations, who lead the Faithful. (Ibid.)

Hence, according to al-Tabari Paul was a faithful follower of the Apostles, especially the Apostle Peter. In fact, al-Tabari lists Paul as one of those martyred for the faith:

"Abu Ja'far says: They assert that after Tiberius, Palestine and other parts of Syria were ruled by Gaius, son of Tiberius, for four years. He was succeeded by another son, Claudius, for fourteen years, following which Nero ruled for fourteen years. He slew Peter and crucified Paul head down. For four months Botlaius [Vittelius] ruled thereafter. Then Vespasian, father of Titus whom he sent to Jerusalem, ruled for ten years. Three years after his rise to power, forty years after the ascension of Jesus, Vespasian sent Titus to Jerusalem. Titus destroyed it and slew numerous Israelites in his wrath over the fate of Christ ..." (Ibid., p. 126; bold emphasis ours)

Returning to Ibn Kathir, here are the reasons he gives for rejecting Christ's Apostles as the three envoys sent by God:

We have already referred to the reports from MANY OF THE SALAF that this city was Antioch, and that these three Messengers were messengers sent from the Messiah Isa bin Maryam, peace be upon him, as Qatadah and others stated. This is not mentioned by any of the later scholars of Tafsir besides him, and this issue must be examined from a number of angles.

(The first) is that if we take this story at face value, it indicates that these men were Messengers from Allah, may he be glorified, not from the Messiah peace be upon him, as Allah says ...

<When We sent to them Two Messengers, they denied them both; so We reinforced them with a third, and they said: "Verily, we have been sent to you as Messengers."> up to ...
<"Our Lord knows that we have been sent as Messengers to you. And our duty is only to convey plainly (the Message).">

If they had been from among the disciples, they would have said something to indicate that they had come from the Messiah, peace be upon him. And Allah knows best. Moreover, if they had been messengers sent by the Messiah, why would the people have said to them ...

<"You are only human beings like ourselves">?
(The second) is that the people of Antioch did believe in the messengers sent by the Messiah to them. Antioch was the first city to believe in the Messiah, and it is one of the four cities in which there are Christian patriarchs. These cities are: Jerusalem, because it is the city of the Messiah; Antioch, because it was the first city where all the people believed in the Messiah; Alexandria, because it was in that city that they agreed to reform the hierarchy of patriarchs, metropolitans (archbishops), bishops, priests, deacons and monks; and Rome, because it is the city of the Emperor Constantine who supported and helped to establish their religion. When he adopted Constantinople as his city, the Patriarch of Rome moved there, as has been mentioned by several historian, such as Sa‘id bin Batriq and others, both the People of the Book and Muslims. If we accept that, then the people of Antioch were the first to believe, but Allah tells us that the people this town rejected His Messengers and that He destroyed them with one Sayhah and lo! they (all) were still. And Allah knows best.

(The third) is that the story of Antioch and the Disciples of the Messiah happened after the Tawrah had been revealed. Abu Sa‘id Al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him, and others among the Salaf stated that after revealing the Tawrah, Allah, may he be blessed and exalted, did not destroy an entire nation by sending punishment upon them. Rather, He commanded the believers to fight against the idolators. They mentioned this when discussing this Ayah ...

<And indeed We gave Musa - after We had destroyed the generations of old - the Scriptures> (28:43).

This implies that the city mentioned in the Qur'an is a city other than Antioch, as also stated by more than one of the Salaf. Or, if we wish to keep the same name, it is possible that it is another Antioch, not the one which is well-known, for it is not known that it (the famous Antioch) was destroyed, either during Christian times or before. And Allah knows best. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Volume 8, pp. 189-190)

Assuming for argument's sake that this story is true, we proceed to respond to Ibn Kathir's arguments. In answer to Ibn Kathir's first point, al-Tabari provides an answer to this false dilemma. Here it is again:

"... Others say: no, they were the apostles of Jesus, the son of Mary. They were not God's messengers, but rather the messengers of Jesus. But as the mission by Jesus was upon the command of the Almighty, the mission was an extension of God's mission. So it says, "When We sent unto them the two men, they declared them liars; so We sent a third as reinforcement." (Ibid., p. 168; bold emphasis ours)

Furthermore, from a Christian perspective there is no problem with the Apostles of Christ being considered messengers in the same sense as Moses and other prophets and messengers. Since Christ is God, his disciples functioned as his prophets and messengers:

"Therefore I (Jesus) AM SENDING YOU prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town." Matthew 23:34

"Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles." Acts 2:43

"Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people." Acts 6:8

"Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city ... But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. Acts 8:4-8, 12-13

"During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem TO ANTIOCH. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea." Act 11:27-29

"In the church AT ANTIOCH there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." Acts 13:1-3

Notice here that there were Christian prophets in Antioch who accurately predicted that a famine would hit the area, and who had the Holy Spirit of God guiding them in making decisions regarding the church.

"So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders." Acts 14:3

"Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers." Acts 15:32

"Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, "In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles."’ When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’" Acts 21:8-13

"Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done - by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ." Romans 15:17-19

"And IN THE CHURCH God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?" 1 Corinthians 12:28-29

"I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance." 2 Corinthians 12:11-12

"built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." Ephesians 2:20

"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets." Ephesians 3:4-5

"It was he (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-13

"how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." Hebrews 2:3-4

Second, Ibn Kathir's claim that had the messengers been the disciples of Christ they would have identified themselves as such is essentially an argument from silence. The text does not tell us whether the messengers did or did not identify themselves as Christ's disciples. In fact, according to one commentator, the messengers were eventually identified as the Apostles. More on this below.

In response to Ibn Kathir's question as to why did the people exclaim that the messengers were essentially human beings, Kathir himself provides the answer:

<They said: "You are only human beings like ourselves…">
means, ‘so how could you receive revelation when you are human beings and we are human beings, so why do we not receive revelation like you? If you are Messengers, you should be angels.’ This is like what many of the nations said who disbelieved, as Allah has told us in the Ayah ...

<That was because there came to them their Messengers with clear proofs, but they said: "Shall mere men guide us?"> (64:6)
meaning that they were amazed by that and they denied it. And Allah says ...

<They said: "You are no more than human beings like us! You wish to turn us away from what our fathers used to worship. Then bring us a cleat authority."> (14:10).

And Allah tells us that they said ...

<"If you were to obey a human being like yourselves, then verily, you indeed would be losers."> (23:34).

And Allah says ...

<And nothing prevented men from believing when the guidance came to them, except that they said: "Has Allah sent a man as (His) Messenger?"> (17:94).

These people said ...

<You are only human beings like ourselves, and the Most Gracious has revealed nothing. You are only telling lies." The Messengers said: "Our Lord knows that we have been sent as Messengers to you."> (Ibid., pp. 179-180)

The disbelievers couldn't believe that God would speak to humans and send them as agents of his revelation. This same argument was leveled against Muhammad:

No just estimate of Allah do they make when they say: "Nothing doth Allah send down to man (by way of revelation)" Say: "Who then sent down the Book which Moses brought? - a light and guidance to man: But ye make it into (separate) sheets for show, while ye conceal much (of its contents): therein were ye taught that which ye knew not - neither ye nor your fathers." Say: "Allah (sent it down)", then leave them to plunge in vain discourse and trifling." S. 6:97

They say: "O thou to whom the Message is being revealed! truly thou art mad (or possessed)! Why bringest thou not angels to us if it be that thou hast the Truth?" We send not the angels down except for just cause: if they came (to the ungodly), behold! no respite would they have! S. 15:6-8

Their hearts toying as with trifles. The wrong-doers conceal their private counsels, (saying), "Is this (one) more than a man like yourselves? Will ye go to witchcraft with your eyes open?" Say: "My Lord knoweth (every) word (spoken) in the heavens and on earth: He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things)." "Nay," they say, "(these are) medleys of dream! - Nay, he forged it! - Nay, he is (but) a poet! Let him then bring us a Sign like the ones that were sent to (Prophets) of old!" (As to those) before them, not one of the towns which We destroyed believed: will these believe? Before thee, also, the messengers We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye know this not, ask of those who possess the Message. S. 21:3-7

In answer to the second point, it might be true that Antioch eventually became a seat of Christianity, but this says nothing about Antioch's initial reaction to the Gospel. It is quite plausible that Antioch initially rejected the message of the Apostles and only later accepted it, much like the Meccan Arabs had originally rejected Muhammad's message. In fact, after destroying the first inhabitants God may have replaced them with another group who were open to the message, or preserved the believers from amongst them and caused them to spread and increase in the land. We find something similar happening with the people of Ad:

To the d People (We sent) Hd, one of their own brethren. He said: "O my People! Worship Allah! Ye have no other god but Him. You are only forgers! O my People! I ask of you no reward for this (Message). My reward is from none but Him Who created me: Will ye not then understand? And O my People! Ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him (in repentance): He will send you the skies pouring abundant rain, and add strength to your strength: so turn ye not back in sin!" They said: "O Hd! No Clear (Sign) hast thou brought us, and we are not the ones to desert our gods on thy word! Nor shall we believe in thee! We say nothing but that (perhaps) some of our gods may have seized thee with evil." He said: "I call Allah to witness, and do ye bear witness, that I am free from the sin of ascribing, to Him, Other gods as partners! So scheme (your worst) against me, all of you, and give me no respite. I put my trust in Allah, My Lord and your Lord! There is not a moving creature, but He hath grasp of its fore-lock. Verily, it is my Lord that is on a straight Path. If ye turn away,- I (at least) have conveyed the Message with which I was sent to you. My Lord will make another People to succeed you, and you will not harm Him in the least. For my Lord hath care and watch over all things. So when Our decree issued, We saved Hd and those who believed with him, by (special) Grace from Us: We saved them from a severe chastisement. Such were the d People: they rejected the Signs of their Lord and Cherisher; disobeyed His messengers; and followed the command of every powerful, obstinate transgressor. And they were pursued by a Curse in this life,- and on the Day of Judgment. Ah! Behold! for the d rejected their Lord and Cherisher! Away with d, the People of Hd! S. 11:50-60

And the d, they were destroyed by a furious Wind, exceedingly violent; S. 69:6

And that it is He (Allh) Who destroyed the former (first) ‘Ad (people), S. 53:50

Suzanne Haneef comments on S. 53:50:

Arab historians considered ‘Aad to be among the extinct tribes, for none of its people survived except the prophet Hud (A), the believers who were with him, and the ‘Aadities living in Mecca. The territory which they once inhabited has been an empty desert for thousands of years, abounding in the ruins of bygone peoples, buried beneath the wind-blown, shifting desert sands.

It is said that Hud (A) lived for 150 years. Ancient historical records suggest that after their people's destruction, his followers formed a community of righteous believers. Syed Muzaffar-ud-din and Maulana Maududi report that an explorer, searching the area where the ‘Aad had lived, found an inscription in their language, written some 1800 years before Christ. The translation of the section of it reads:

We lived for a long period in this fort in great prosperity. Our canals were always full of water ... and our rulers were noble kings who were free from evil. They were, however, hard on those who disturbed the peace. They ruled over us according to the Law of Hud and used to enter all important decisions in a book. We believe in miracles and life after death. (Maududi/Q, 7:fn. 5:6; also Nadvi/History, p. 105)

It is reported that up to this day, the grave of the prophet Hud (A) can be found in a place called Mukalla in southern Arabia, the site of ancient ruins and inscriptions. Mukalla is in the region which has been known for centuries as Hadramaut, a name which, it is said, refers to the terrible end which came to those who once dwelt there. For a European exploring Hadramaut in the 1890s reported the people of the area as saying that Hadramaut got its name from the last words of Hud (A) uttered concerning his people, namely, "Hadra-I-maut," meaning "Death has come." This local tradition still connects this region with the prophet Hud (A) and, by association, with his people, the ‘Aad. (Haneef, A History of the Prophets of Islam Derived from the Quran, Ahadith and Commentaries, Volume I [Published by Library of Islam and Distributed by Kazi Publications, Inc. 3023 W. Belmont Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618; 2002 ], p. 214; bold emphasis ours)

In answer to the third point, Ibn Kathir had earlier reported that certain Muslims believed that the sending of the three men occurred in the reign of Antiochus III:

In the reports that he transmitted from ‘Ibn Abbas, Ka’b Al-Ahbar and Wahb bin Munabbih- Ibn Ishaq reported that it was the city of Antioch, in which there was a king called Antiochus the son of Antiochus the son of Antiochus, who used to worship idols. Allah sent to him three Messengers, whose names were Sadiq, Saduq, and Shalum, and he disbelieved in them. It was also narrated from Buraydah bin Al-Husayb, ‘Ikrimah, Qatadah and az-Zuhri that it was Antioch. Some of the Imams were not sure that it was Antioch, as we shall see below after telling the rest of the story, if Allah wills. (Ibid., pp. 178-179; bold emphasis ours)

Since Antiochus III reigned long after the time of Moses, we therefore see that both reports cited by Ibn Kathir place the destruction of the town after the giving of the Tawrah. Furthermore, even if the Quran hadn't referred to any other town that had been destroyed after Moses' time, this would not rule out this particular story from being the exception. In fact, this story actually provides evidence that the Quran does refer to a town that had been destroyed after the time of Moses. Third, that some of the first Muslims could place the destruction of this town during the reign of Antiochus or at the time of Christ, demonstrates that they saw no problem with this event taking place after Moses' time.

Fourth, Ibn Kathir's claim that after the giving of the Tawrah believers were commanded to fight the disbelievers does not establish his case. For instance, the believers during the time of Christ were in the minority and could not mount an offensive against the pagan powers. This would therefore necessitate divine intervention in the destruction of the town.

Finally, Ibn Kathir's claim that there was no record of Antioch ever being destroyed during the lifetime of Christ is actually an argument against the Quran. The Quran often alludes to legendary material which contain gross historical errors and anachronisms as the following links demonstrate: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7].

Therefore, none of Ibn Kathir's arguments refute the fact that the three envoys were disciples of Christ.

In fact, we are not the first ones to address Ibn Kathir's objections. Certain Muslims have also responded to his concerns:

The town in which this event took place
The Qur'an does not tell us the name of this town. In historical narrations, Muhammad Ibn Ishaq has reported from Sayyidna Ibn 'Abbas, Ka'b Ahbar and Wahb Ibn Munabbih that it was the town of Antakiyah (Antioch) and a majority of commentators have opted for it. Abu Hayyan and Ibn Kathir have said that NO STATEMENT COUNTER TO IT has been reported from any of the commentators. ...

Ibn Kathir has written that Antakiyah is one of the four major towns which have been deemed to be centers of the Christian faith, that is, al-Quds (Jerusalem), Rumiyyah (Rome), Iskandariyyah (Alexandria) and Antakiyah (Antioch). And he also said that Antakiyah is the first city that embraced the faith brought by Sayyidna 'Isa al-Masih. It is on this very ground that Ibn Kathir is reluctant in accepting that the town mentioned in this verse could be the famous town of Antakiyah - because, according to the explicit statement of the Qur'an, this was a town of disbelievers who refused to accept any prophet or messenger. And, according to historical sources, they were idolators and polytheists. If so, how can Antakiyah, that was foremost in welcoming and embracing the faith of Sayyidna 'Isa al-Masih, be the town referred to here? ...

Though, the author of Fath-ul-Mannan has also given answers to the doubts expressed by Ibn Kathir, however, the easiest way out has been offered by Maulana Ashraf 'Ali Thanavi in Tafsir Bayan al-Qur'an. To understand the subject of these verses of the Qur'an, he says, it is not necessary to determine the location of this town, and since the noble Qur'an has kept it ambiguous, there is just no need to exert so much effort to determine it.

What does 'messenger' mean? Who were these people?
In the Qur'an, the word ... (rasul: messenger) and ... (mursal: sent) is generally used for a prophet or apostle of Allah. In this verse, Allah Ta'ala has attributed their sending to Himself. This too indicates that they are prophets who have been sent to accomplish some mission. This is what Ibn Ishaq reports from Sayyidna Ibn 'Abbas, Ka'b Ahbar and Wahb Ibn Munabbih. According to the reports, these three elders mentioned as the ones sent to this town were the prophets of Allah. Their names as given in this narration are Sadiq, Saduq and Shallum, while in another narration, the name of the third appears as Sham'un. (Ibn Kathir)

And it has been reported from Sayyidna Qatadah that the word ... (mursalun: sent ones) has not been used here in its technical sense, instead, it appears in the sense of a bearer of message, and the three elders who were sent to this town were no prophets themselves, rather, were from among the disciples of Sayyidna 'Isa and were sent for the guidance of this town under his order (Ibn Kathir). And since their sender, Sayyidna 'Isa was a messenger of Allah, therefore, in a way, his sending was indirectly the sending of Allah Ta'ala. Hence, his sending has been attributed to Allah Ta'ala. Out of the commentators, Ibn Kathir has opted for the first saying while al-Qurtubi and others have gone by the second. From the apparent sense of the text of the Qur'an too, it is generally gathered that these blessed souls were prophets of Allah. Allah knows best. (Mufti Shafi' Uthmani, Maariful Qur'an, pp. 372-374; source; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Another great Muslim commentator that believed that the three envoys were the Apostles of the Lord Jesus was Al-Baidawi. T.P. Hughes comments:

Al-Baizawi, the commentator, says the people of the City of Antioch were idolaters, and that Jesus sent of his disciples, Yahya and Yunas (JOHN AND JUDE) to preach to them. And when they arrived they met Habib, the carpenter, to whom they made known their mission. Habib said, "What signs can ye show that ye are sent to God?" And the disciples replied, "We can heal the sick and give sight to those who are born blind, and cure the leprosy." Then Habib brought his sick son to them, and they laid their hands upon him and he was healed. And Habib BELIEVED ON JESUS, AND HE MADE KNOWN THE GOSPEL TO THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY. Many of the people then came TO THE DISCIPLES AND WERE ALSO HEALED. The news then reached the ear of the governor of the city, and he sent for the two disciples and they preached to him. He replied, "Is your God different from our God?" They said, "Yes. He it is who made thee and thy gods." The governor then sent them away and put them in prison. When they were in prison, JESUS SENT SHAM’UN (SIMON PETER), and he came secretly and made friends with the servants of the governor, and in time gained access to the governor's presence, and PERFORMED A MIRACLE IN THE PRESENCE OF THE GOVERNOR BY RAISING A CHILD WHO HAD BEEN DEAD SEVEN DAYS. The child when raised from the dead, AND HE HAD SEEN JESUS CHRIST IN HEAVEN, AND THAT HE HAD INTERCEDED FOR THE THREE DISCIPLES IN PRISON. The governor believed and many others with him. Those who did not believe raised a disturbance in the city, and Habib the carpenter exhorted them to believe. For this he was stoned, and having died, entered Paradise.

Habib's tomb is still seen at Antioch, and is visited by Muhammadans as a shrine. (Hughes, Dictionary of Islam [Kazi Publications, Inc. (USA), 3023 W. Belmont Avenue Chicago, IL 60618], p. 153; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Sa'd writes:

... There was a span of five hundred and sixty nine years between Christ's nativity and the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. In the beginning of the period THREE APOSTLES WERE RAISED AND CONCERNING THIS ALLAH SAYS: "We sent to them with the third." The one whom they were honoured was SIMON, who was a hawari (Apostle of Christ)... (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, Volume I, parts I & II, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi - 110 002 India], p. 46; bold and capital emphasis ours)

A. Yusuf Ali lends additional support that the three envoys refer to the Apostles:

... MANY of the Commentators have supposed that the City referred to was Antioch. Now Antioch was one of the most important cities in North Syria in the first century of the Christian era... Soon after Christ his disciples successfully preached there, and they "were called Christians first in Antioch": Acts. xi. 26. It afterwards became the seat of a most important Bishopric of the Christian Church. In the story told here "by way of parable", the City rejected the Message, and the city was destroyed... Following Ibn Kathir, I reject the identification with Antioch decisively. No name, or period is mentioned in the text... (Ali, p. 1172, fn. 3957; bold emphasis ours)

Ali's comment on S. 36:15 is noteworthy:

... Cf. Acts xiv. 15, where Paul and Barnabas say, in the city of Lystra near the modern Konia: "We are also are men with like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities ..." (Ali, p. 1173, fn. 3959)

Muslim writer Martin Lings mentions the story in passing and says:

... When the Prophet was told of his death, he said: "'Urwah is even as the man of Ya-Sin. He summoned his people unto God and they slew him." The man was Habib, a carpenter of Antioch, who summoned his people to accept the message of Jesus after they had driven away the Apostle Peter and others. They killed him ... (Lings, Muhammad his life based on the earliest sources [Inner Traditions International, Ltd., One Park Street, Rochester, Vermont 05767; 1983], p. 313; bold emphasis ours)

According to the authors of the True Guidance, Muslim commentator al-Qurtubi also believed that the three envoys were the Apostles. Commenting on S. 36:13-14, the authors write:

As an explanation of these two verses, al-Qurtubi said in his commentary: "It was said that Jesus sent two to Antioch. On approaching the city, they saw Habib the carpenter tending [a flock]. He said: ‘Do you have a sign?’ They said: ‘We heal the sick, restore the sight to the blind, and cure the leper.’ He had a sick child; they anointed him, and he recovered. Habib believed, and the news was spread abroad. Many were healed just by hearing it. Their story reached the king, who said: ‘Is there another god other than our gods?’ They said: ‘The one who has brought you and your gods into existence.’ He said: ‘Tarry until I have considered your matter,’ and put them in prison. Then Jesus sent Simon, who disguised himself and mixed with the king's retinue, so that they liked his company and brought him to the king, who liked his company also. Simon said to the king one day, ‘I learned that you imprisoned two men. Have you heard what they had to say? The king said: ‘No,’ and called for them. Simon asked them: ‘Who has sent you?’ They said: ‘Allah, who created everything.’ He said: ‘Describe Him for me briefly.’ They said: ‘He does whatever He wills and rules over whatever He wants to rule.’ He said: ‘What is your sign?’ They said: "Whatever the king wishes.’ So he called for a boy born blind. They called unto Allah, so that he would begin to see. They also took to hazelnuts, put them into his eye sockets and they were turned into eye-balls. Simon said [to the king]: ‘You see, if you ask your god to do [a miracle] such as this, both you and he will have honour.’ The king said: ‘I shall hide no secrets from you. Our god neither hears nor sees, neither harms nor profits. If your god can bring a dead man back to life, we will believe in him.’ Therefore, they called for a lad who had died seven days earlier and raised him from the dead, who [i.e., the lad] said: ‘I have been brought through six valleys of fire. I warn you of what you are at; believe! And he also said: ‘The gates of heaven were opened and I saw a beautiful youth interceding for these three men.’ The king said: ‘Which three?’ He answered: ‘Simon and these two.’ So when Simon saw that his words affected the king, he began to admonish him, so that he confessed his belief in public. Those who did not believe were destroyed at the shout of Gabriel." (True Guidance, part 5, Comments on Quranic Verses [Light of Life - P.O. BOX 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], pp. 241-242; bold emphasis ours)

Compare this with the following NT passage:

"He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: "The kingdom of heaven is near." Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.’" Matthew 10:1-8

In light of the preceding factors, there is nothing contextually to rule out the messengers from being the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. This implies that the Quran agrees with the NT that Christ's disciples functioned as prophets and messengers much like Moses and the rest.

Interestingly, one of Islam's premiere commentators had no problem with Jesus' disciples functioning as prophets and messengers. In his commentary on Surah Al-Imran, Mahmoud M. Ayoub includes the following comments from Ar-Razi on S. 3:53:

Razi relates on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that the witnesses in question are Muhammad and his community. Razi substantiates this view by citing verse 2:143. He then presents a number of possible interpretations of the verse:

I. The verse, also on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas, means "Inscribe us in the company of the prophets because every prophet shall be a witness over his people [on the last day], as God says, ‘We shall question those whom [messengers] were sent and We shall question the messengers’ (Q. 7:6). God answered the prayers of the disciples AND MADE THEM PROPHETS AND MESSENGERS, for they revived the dead and did all the things which Jesus was able to do." (Ayoub, The Qur'an and Its Interpreters, Volume II, The House of 'Imran [State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992], p. 163; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Even if one were to reject this interpretation one fact would still remain. Namely, the first Muslims believed that the apostle Paul was not one that perverted the true teaching of Christ, but was one who faithfully proclaimed the message of Jesus and was eventually martyred for it. In light of this, any Muslim that attacks Paul is not only denying the historical facts that establish the Apostle's credibility beyond any reasonable doubt, but also ends up denying his very own Muslim sources.

In the service of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and eternal Savior forever. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. We will always love you, beloved King of glory.


Further reading: The Quran Affirms: Paul Passed On The True Gospel of Christ.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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