The Arabic word for “prophet” is nabī, whose root is naba’, which means “news” or “tidings.” The word for “prophecy” is nubū’a and is derived from the same root. A “prophet” in the Qur’an is a human being to whom God revealed tidings of the Day of Resurrection and religious teachings. The prophet is charged with communicating this knowledge to people so that they may know the purpose of their creation and live as God wants. As we have already seen, Biblical figures, such as Adam, Solomon, David, Moses, Zechariah, John, and many others, were all prophets.
Jesus, the Qur’an tells us, was a prophet (also 4.163):
He (Jesus) said: “I am Allah’s servant. He has given me the Book and has made me a prophet.” (19.30)
And when We took a covenant from the prophets; and from you [O Muhammad!]; and from Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus son of Mary. We took from them a solemn covenant. (33.7)
The following verse also confirms the prophethood of Jesus, but in the context of reminding the Jews, Christians, and Muslims that they must believe in all prophets and equally honour them (also 3.84):
Say [O you who believe!]: “We believe in Allah; in that which has been sent down to us; in that which was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the children of Jacob; in that which was given to Moses and Jesus; and in that which was given to the prophets from their Lord. We do not discriminate between any of them, and to Him we are Muslims (we submit).” (2.136)
As all prophets were Muslims and taught Islam, their true followers were also called Muslims. These two verses show that Jesus’ companions called themselves Muslims:
But when Jesus perceived disbelief on their (the Children of Israel’s) part, he said: “Who are my supporters in the cause of Allah?” The companions said: “We are Allah’s supporters. We believe in Allah, and do you bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3.52)
Lo! When I inspired the companions: “Believe in Me and in My messenger (Jesus).” They said: “We believe. Bear witness that we are Muslims.” (5.111)
Jesus was one of the prophets, but he was also distinguished and, in some aspects, unique. He is the only prophet who did not have a biological father. Probably related to his unique miraculous conception is his other distinctive quality that he became a prophet while still in his mother’s womb or immediately after his birth. This is what the infant Jesus said to his mother’s people in defence of her chastity when, upon returning to them carrying her newborn, they suspected that she had conceived Jesus illegitimately: “I am Allah’s servant. He has given me the Book and has made me a prophet” (19.30). Jesus’ unique conception and the fact that, unlike other prophets, he was made a prophet immediately after his birth, or even while still in his mother’s womb, must have distinguished him with special spiritual qualities.
Believing in every prophet is an essential requirement of Islam, because all prophets had one and the same message. This duty does not mean that all prophets have the same spiritual status. God mentions in a number of verses that He privileged some prophets more than others. For instance, some prophets were given more knowledge, others were given scriptures, and so on:
Your Lord [O Muhammad!] best knows those who are in the heavens and the earth. We conferred on some prophets more favour than others, and We gave David a Book. (17.55)
In another verse that states that God endowed some prophets with more gifts than others, Jesus is singled out as one of those specially favoured prophets:
Those are the messengers. We conferred on some more favour than others. Among them there are some to whom Allah spoke, while some of them He exalted [above others] in degree; and We gave Jesus son of Mary clear proofs and supported him with the Spirit of Holiness (Gabriel). (2.253)
God here emphasize two major favours that He bestowed on Jesus but not on many other prophets: the ability to perform miracles and the support of Gabriel. Although Gabriel delivered the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad and probably communicated with other prophets, only Jesus is described as having been “supported” by Gabriel — probably hinting at a unique role that Gabriel played in Jesus’ life. This should not be surprising given that, according to the Qur’an, Gabriel was also involved in the miraculous conception of Jesus; he did not only convey the news about it. As I have explained elsewhere, Gabriel’s visit was conducive and essential to the occurrence of the miracle of non-sexual conception (Fatoohi, 2007: 90-97).
With respect to miracles, the Qur’an tells us that other prophets were also given the gift of performing miracles. The verse above contrasts Jesus with other prophets who did not work wonders, but it may also imply that Jesus performed more miracles than the prophets who did. This may also be concluded from the mention of Jesus’ miracles in some detail in a number of verses. These are the kind of miracles that the Qur’an says Jesus performed:
(1) Speaking in infancy.
(2) Showing paranormal precociousness in infancy.
(3) Creating figures of birds from clay and then giving them life.
(4) Healing blindness.
(5) Healing albinism or serious skin diseases.
(6) Raising the dead.
(7) Knowing what people ate and stored in the privacy of their homes.
(8) Bringing down from heaven a table of food.