"The first appearance of prophethood was in Adam,
and its perfection was in the Seal of the Prophets".
The Secret Rose Garden, by Mahmud Shabistari, Sufi poet

Genealogy tree of the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)The progression of faith has started ever since the early days of human life led by Allah’s messengers, the first of whom was Adam (pbuh), down to the last messenger conveyed by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to all mankind. We see a noble progression based on divine guidance and bringing light to mankind, and clear landmarks defining the way.
Click on the image (right) to see the genealogy tree of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

While Adam (pbuh) and all the prophets were prophets of Islam, the collective prophetic consciousness reached its completion with Muhammad (pbuh) (570-632 CE) whose name means "most praiseworthy". He lived 600 years after his predecessor Isa (pbuh). Allah sent each prophet as a warner to his community until the advent of the final prophet, Muhammad (pbuh), who came as a mercy to all of Allah creatures. God declares "We sent thee not, but as a mercy (Muhammad) for all creatures."
<Qur'an Anbiyaa 21:107>

Indeed, if it had not been for Muhammad (pbuh), we would not have known the true stories of the prophets as they took place. This is because their stories were distorted and corrupted before Muhammad's mission. The resulting versions did not respect the dignity of the prophets. For example, the books of the Jews narrate a story of a prophet who drank alcohol and committed adultery with his own daughter, of a prophet who worshipped idols after marrying a pretty young idol-worshipper. They said he preferred to please her by worshipping her idol than to please his creator!
If you leave the books of the Jews for those of the Christians, you will find a contrary attitude which is almost a reaction to the first. The Christians glorified the prophet Jesus to the degree that most of their sects call him the son of God. Allah is high above that.
(source: Stories of the prophets, Ibn Khatir)

The true image of the prophets was lost by either degrading or over-glorifying them. Were it not for the Qur'an and the beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh), we would be probably all worshipping idols and ignoring the Truth, our Creator.

Light may be physical, such as the light of the sun or the moon, or intelligible, like the light of the intellect. The latter illuminates the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge. This primordial light is what is called the Light of the Prophet, since he is the created being who received the major share of it. This is how the Prophet (pbuh) could say, "I was a Prophet when Adam was still between spirit and body."(source: Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Hakim and Bukhari in Tarikh.) The power of this light made the Prophet's radiation so powerful, once he appeared on earth, that Allah calls him in the Qur'an "an illuminating lamp." Allah describes the sun and the moon in the Qur'an in like manner explaining what He means when He says that He made the Prophet (pbuh) "an illuminating lamp". He says, Exalted is He: "Have you not seen how Allah created seven heavens, one upon another, and set the moon therein for a light and the sun for a lamp?"<Qur'an Nuh 71:16> Here he calls the sun a lamp, since its light is self generating, but He calls the moon a light, since it but reflects the light of the sun. The sun's light being extremely hot, and "Blessed is He who has set in the sky constellations and has set among them a lamp and an illuminating moon,"<Qur'an Al-furqan 25:61> emphasizing that the moon's light is light with little heat. When He says to His Prophet (pbuh): " O Prophet! We have sent you as a witness, a bearer of good tidings and of warning, as a caller to Allah by His leave and as an illuminating lamp," <Qur'an Al-Ahzab 33:45-46> we are to understand that He made the Prophet's light powerful like the sun's, yet cool and gentle like the moon's.
Some of the Prophet's Companions were given to see this light as even brighter than both the sun and moon, for when they walked with him they noticed that he cast no shadow on the ground.(source:al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi ) Those who saw him in the full moon noticed that his blessed face was brighter than the moon.(source:Tirmidhi )
The light of the Prophet shone at all levels, it filled the material, intermediary, and spiritual worlds, dispelled the darkness of ignorance and disbelief, and is destined to shine across the ages till the end of time.(source:The Light of the Prophet by Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi)

The Prophet (pbuh) is a spiritual guide, and he was also the organizer of a new social order with all that such a function implies. Many people have understood his political genius, power of oratory and great leadership, but few have understood how he could be, and still is, the religious and spiritual guide of men. This is particularly true in the modern world in which religion is separated from other domains of life and most modern men can hardly imagine how a spiritual being could also be immersed in the most intense political and social activity.

The Prophet (pbuh) did indeed participate in social life in its fullest sense. He underwent practically every possible human experience as he fulfilled the roles of husband, father, teacher, immigrant, merchant, political and social leader, military commander, judge and ruler. He had to undergo many hardships and experience all the difficulties which human life especially that of the founder of a new state and society, implies.

But within all these activities his heart rested in contentment with the Divine, and he continued inwardly to repose in the Divine Peace. In fact his participation in social and political life was precisely to integrate this domain into a spiritual centre.

The Prophet (pbuh) was not attached to this world. He did not entertain any political or worldly ambition. He was by nature contemplative. Before being chosen as Prophet he did not like to frequent social gatherings and activities. He led a caravan from Mecca to Syria passing through the majestic silence of the desert whose very "infinity" induces man towards contemplation. He often spent long periods in the cave of Hira' in solitude and meditation. He did not believe himself to be by nature a man of the world or one who was naturally inclined to seek political power among the Quraysh or social eminence in Meccan society although he came from the noblest family. It was in fact very painful and difficult for him to accept the burden of prophecy which implied the founding of not only a new religion but also a new social and political order. All the traditional sources, which alone matter in this case testify to the great hardship the prophet underwent by being chosen to participate in the active life in its most acute form.

Besides, the Prophet (pbuh) was full of love for the Almighty. Many hadith point out his depth of love for God which, in conformity with the general perspective of Islam, was never divorced from the knowledge of Him. For example in a well known hadith, he said, "O Lord, grant to me the love of thee. Grant that I love those that love thee. Grant that I may do the deed that wins thy love. Make thy love dear to me more than self, family and wealth." Such sayings clearly demonstrate the fact that although the Prophet was held in the highest esteem amongst his contemporaries, acting as ruler, judge and spiritual guide, he was one whose being was anchored in the love of God aiming only to please Him.

The characteristics that emphasise the Prophet Muahammad's (pbuh) spirituality, above others, are numerous. Here we only elaborate on three. Firstly, the Prophet (pbuh) possessed the quality of piety in its most universal sense. This profound piety which inwardly attached him to God made him place the interest of God before everything else including himself. Secondly he had a quality of combativeness, of always being actively engaged in combat against all that negated the Truth and disrupted harmony. Externally it meant fighting wars, either military, politically or socially, the war which the Prophet (pbuh) named the "little holy war" (al-jihad al-asghar). Inwardly this combativeness meant a continuous war against the carnal soul (nafs), against all that in man tends towards the negation of God and His Will, the "great holy war" (al-jihad al-akbar).

Thirdly, the Prophet (pbuh) possessed the quality of magnanimity in its fullest sense. His soul displayed a grandeur which every devout Muslim aspires to have. He is for the Muslim nobility and magnanimity personified. This aspect of the Prophet (pbuh) is fully displayed in his treatment of his companions which, in fact, has been the model for later ages and which all generations of Muslims have sought to emulate. In Islam, when one thinks of the Prophet (pbuh) who is to be emulated, it is the image of a strong character that comes to mind, who is severe with himself and with the false and unjust, and charitable towards the world that surrounds him. On the basis of these two virtues of strength and sobriety on the one hand and charity and generosity on the other, he is serene extinguished in the Truth. He is that warrior on horseback who halts before the mountain of Truth, passive towards the Divine Will, active towards the world, hard and sober towards himself and kind and generous towards the creatures about him. Thus personifying the perfect balance advocated by Islam and yearned for by every Muslim.

These qualities characteristic of the Prophet are contained virtually in the sound of the second shahadah, Muhammadun rasul Allah, that is Muhammad is the Prophet of God, in its Arabic pronunciation, not in its translation into another language. Here again the symbolism is inextricably connected to the sounds and forms of the sacred language and cannot be translated. The very sound of the name Muhammad implies force, a sudden breaking forth of a power which is from God and is not just human. The word rasul with its elongated second syllable symbolizes this "expansion of the chest" , and a generosity that flows from the being of the Prophet (pbuh) and which ultimately comes from God. As for Allah it is, of course, the Truth itself which terminates the formula. The second shahadah thus implies by its sound the power, generosity and serenity of reposing in the Truth characteristic of the Prophet (pbuh). But this repose in the Truth is not based on a flight from the world but on a penetration into it in order to integrate and organize it. The spiritual castle in Islam is based on the firm foundations of harmony within human society and in individual human life.
(source: The Prophet and Prophetic Tradition - The Last Prophet and Universal Man by Professor Syed Hossein Nasr Vol III No. 1 , 1397)

A universal message

The resolute prophets