وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُوحِى إِلَيْهِم مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْقُرَى أَﻓَﻠَﻤْ يَسِيرُواْ فِى الْأَرْضِ فَيَنْظُرُواْ كَيْفَ كَانَ عَـٰقِبَةُ الَّذِينَ مِن ﻗَﺒْﻠِﻬِﻤْ وَلَدَارُ الْأَخِرَةِ خَيْرُ لِّلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْاْ أَﻓَﻼَ تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿109﴾
And We have not sent [messengers] before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, [who were] from the people of the towns. Have they (the disbelievers) not then traveled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them? And surely the abode of the hereafter is better for those who act dutifully; do you [O people!] not understand? (109)
Allah says that all the messengers that He sent before Prophet Muhammad, such as prophet Joseph, were men from various towns, to whom He revealed the Message. In describing the “men to whom We gave revelations” as being “from the people of the towns,” Allah emphasizes that those messengers were human beings who were known to their people. They were not “jinn” men, who are also mentioned in the Qur’an:
وَأَنَّهُ كَانَ رِجَالُ مِّنَ الإِنسِ يَعُوذُونَ بِرِجَالٍ مِّنَ الْجِنِّ فَزَادُوهُمْ رَهَقًا ﴿6﴾. (سورة الجِـنّ).
And that human men used to seek refuge with jinn men, so they increased them in tiredness. (72.6)
The statement “We have not sent [messengers] before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, [who were] from the people of the towns” stresses that sending Muhammad, who was a man from the people of the town of Mecca, as a Messenger was not an innovation that had no precedent:
قُلْ مَا كُنْتُ بِدْعًا مِّنَ الرُّسُلِ وَمَآ أَدْرِى مَا يُفْعَلُ بِى وَلَا بِكُمْ إِنْ أَتَّبِعُ إِلَّا مَا يُوحَىٰ إِلَىَّ وَمَآ أَنَاْ إِلَّا نَذِيرُ مُّبِينُ ﴿9﴾. (سورة الأحقاف).
Say [O Muhammad!]: “I am no new thing among the messengers [of Allah], and I do not know what will be done to me or to you. I do not follow anything but that which is revealed to me, and I am but a manifest warner.” (46.9)
These are some of the verses that stress the human nature of all the messengers that Allah sent to people, and that they were men from the people of the towns:
وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ إِلَّا رِجَالًا نُّوحِىٓ إِلَيْهِمْ فَسْـٔلُوٓاْ أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ ﴿7﴾ وَمَا جَعَلْنَـٰهُمْ جَسَدًا لَّا يَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَمَا كَانُواْ خَـٰلِدينَ ﴿8﴾. (سورة الأَنبيَـاءِ).
And We did not send before you [O Muhammad!] but men to whom We gave revelations, so ask [O people!] the people of the revelations [those who know about the messengers of Allah] if you do not know. (21.7) And We did not give them bodies that would not eat food, and they were not immortal. (21.8)
وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنَ الْـمُرْسَلِينَ إِلَّآ إِﻧَّﻬُﻢْ لَيَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَيَمْشُونَ فِى الْأَسْوَاقِ وَجَعَلْنَا بَعْضَكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ فِتْـنَةً أَتَصْبِرُونَ وَكَانَ رَبُّكَ بَصِيرًا ﴿20﴾. (سورة الفُرقَـانِ).
And We have not sent before you [O Muhammad!] any messengers but they surely ate food and went about in the markets. And We made some of you a test for others whether you will have patience. And your Lord is ever Seeing. (25.20)
وَمَا قَدَرُواْ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ إِذْ قَالُوا مَآ أَنزَلَ اﻟﻠَّﻪُ عَلَىٰ بَشَرٍ مِّنْ شَىْءٍ قُلْ مَنْ أَنزَلَ الْكِتَـٰبَ الَّذِى جَآءَ بِهِ مُوسَىٰ نُورًا وَهُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ تَجْعَلُونَهُ قَرَاطِيسَ تُبْدُونَهَا وَﺗُﺨْﻔُﻮنَ كَثِيرًا وَعُلِّمْتُم مَّا ﻟَﻤْ تَعْلَمُوٓاْ أَنتُمْ وَلَآ ءبَآؤُكُمْ قُلِ اﻟﻠَّﻪُ ثُمَّ ذَرْهُمْ فِى خَوْضِهِمْ يَلْعَبُونَ ﴿91﴾. (سورة الأَنْعَام).
And they do not appreciate the real status of Allah when they say: “Allah has not sent down anything to a human being.” Say [O Muhammad!]: “Who sent down the Book which Moses brought as a light and a guidance to people, which you have made into parchments some of which you show and much of which you conceal? And you were taught that which you and your fathers did not know.” Say: “Allah,” then leave them sporting in their vain discourses. (6.91)
The following verses respond to the disbelievers’ misguided belief that Allah did not send human messengers:
وَمَا مَنَعَ النَّاسَ أَن يُؤْمِـنُوٓاْ إِذْ جَآءَهُمُ الْـهُدَى إِلَّآ أَن قَالُوٓاْ أَبَعَثَ اﻟﻠَّﻪُ بَشَرًا رَّسُولًا ﴿94﴾. (سورة الٕاسرَاءِ).
And nothing prevented people from believing when guidance came to them except that they said: “What! Has Allah sent a human as a messenger?” (17.94)
قَالَتْ رُسُلُهُمْ أَفِى اﻟﻠَّﻪِ شَكُّ فَاطِرِ السَّمَـٰوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَدْعُوكُمْ لِيَغْفِرَ لَكُم مِّنْ ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرَكُمْ إِلَى أَجَـلٍ مُسَمًّى قَالُوٓاْ إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا بَشَرُ مِّثْلُنَا تُرِيدُونَ أَن تَصُدُّونَا عَمَّـا كَانَ يَعْبُدُ ءَابَـآؤُنَا فَأْتُونَـا بِسُلْطَـٰنٍ مُّبِينٍ ﴿10﴾ قَالَتْ لَهُمْ رُسُلُهُمْ إِن نَّحْنُ إِلَّا بَشَرُ مِّثْلُكُمْ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ يَمُنُّ عَلَىٰ مَن يَشَآءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَمَا كَانَ لَنَآ أَن نَّأْﺗِﻴَﻜُﻤ بِسُلْطَـٰنٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اﻟﻠَّﻪِ وَعَلَى اﻟﻠَّﻪِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْـمُؤْمِنُونَ ﴿11﴾. (سورة إبرَاﻫِـﻴﻤ).
Their messengers said: “Can there be doubt about Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth? He invites you to forgive you your sins, and He reprieves you till an appointed term.” They said: “You are nothing but humans like us seeking to turn us away from what our fathers used to worship. Bring us therefore some clear authority.” (14.10) Their messengers said to them: “We are not but humans like yourselves, but Allah bestows favors on whom He pleases of His servants. And it is not for us to bring to you an authority except by Allah’s permission; and on Allah let the believers rely.” (14.11)
وَقَالُواْ لَوْلَآ أُنزِلَ عَلَيْهِ مَلَكُ وَلَوْ أَنزَلْنَا مَلَكًا لَّقُضضِيَ الْأَمْرُ ﺛُﻤَّ لَا يُنظَرُونَ ﴿8﴾. (سورة الأنعَامِ).
And they [the disbelievers] say: “Only if an angel has been sent down to him [Prophet Muhammad]!” And had We sent down an angel, the matter would have certainly been settled, and then they would not have been given a respite. (7.8)
It is important to realize that these verses talk specifically about Allah’s Messenger to all people for the purpose of bringing the good news and warning about the Day of Resurrection. Allah also has non‑human messengers, such as the angels, whom He sends to particular individuals on special assignments:
الْحَمْدُ ﻟِﻠَّﻪِ فَاطِرِ السَّمَـٰوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ جَاعِلِ ُ اﻟملائكةَ رُﺳُﻼً أُوْلِىٓ أَجْنِحَةٍ مَّثْنَىٰ وَثُلـٰثَ وَرُبَـٰعَ يَزِيدُ فِى الْخَلْقِ مَا يَشَآءُ إِنَّ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدِيرُ ﴿1﴾. (سورة فاطر).
Praise be to Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, the Maker of the angels as messengers who have two, three, and four routes; He increases the creation as He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things. (35.1)
One task that Allah assigned to angels is conveying His messages to righteous people, such as informing those who surrender to Allah and follow the straight path that they will go to paradise:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ رَبُّنَا اﻟﻠَّﻪُ ﺛُﻤَّ اسْتَقَـٰمُواْ تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ اﻟملائكةَ أَلَّا ﺗَﺨَﺎﻓُﻮاْ وَلَا ﺗَﺤْﺰَﻧُﻮاْ وَأَبْشِرُواْ ﺑِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِى ﻛُﻨﺘُﻤْ تُوعَدُونَ ﴿30﴾ نَحْنُ أَوْلِيَآؤُكُمْ فِى الْحَيَـٰوةِ الدُّنْيَـا وَفِى الْأَخِرَةِ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِىٓ أَنفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ ﴿31﴾. (سورة فُصِّلت).
As for those who say: “Our Lord is Allah,” and follow the right way, angels descend upon them, saying: “Fear not, nor be grieved, and here is the good news about paradise which you were promised (41.30). We are your guardians in this life and in the hereafter, and you shall have therein that which your souls desire, and you shall have therein what you ask for.” (41.31)
Another example is informing prophet Zachariah that he was going to have prophet John as a son:
هُنَالِكَ دَعَا زَكَرِيَّا رَبَّهُ قَالَ رَبِّ هَبْ لِى مِن لَّدُنكَ ذُرِّيَّـةً طَيِّـبَةً إِنَّكَ سَمِيعُ الدُّعَآءِ ﴿38﴾ فَنَادَتْهُ اﻟملائكةَ وَهُوَ قَآﺋِﻤُ ُ يُصَلِّى فِى الْمِحْرَابِ أَنَّ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ يُبَشِّرُكَ بِيَحْيَىٰ مُصَدِّقَا بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنَ اﻟﻠَّﻪِ وَسَيِّدًا وَحَصُورًا وَنَبِيًّا مِّنَ الصَّـٰلِحِينَ ﴿39﴾. (سورة آلَ عِمْرَان).
There did Zachariah pray to his Lord; he said: “My Lord! Grant me from You good offspring; surely You are the Hearer of prayers.” (3.38) Then the angels called him as he stood praying in the pulpit: “Allah gives you the good news of [the birth of] John, who will confirm with a Word from Allah [the previous messengers], be honorable, chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous.” (3.39)
One special assignment that Allah gives to angels is the infliction of revenge on wrongdoing people, as in the angels’ destruction of the people of prophet Lot:
فَلَمَّـا جَآءَ ءَالَ لُوطٍ الْـمُرْسَلُونَ ﴿61﴾ قَالَ إِنَّكُمْ قَوْﻣُ ُ مُّنكَرُونَ ﴿62﴾ قَالُواْ بَلْ جِئْنَـٰكَ بِمَا كَانُواْ فِيهِ يَمْتَرُونَ ﴿63﴾ وَأَتَيْنَـٰكَ ﺑِالْحَقِّ وَإِنَّا لَصَـٰدِقُونَ ﴿64﴾ فَأَسْرِ بِأَهْلِكَ بِقِطْعٍ مِّنَ الَّيْلِ وَاتَّبِعْ أَدْبَـٰرَهُمْ وَلَاَ يَلْتَفِتْ مِنْكُمْ أَحَدُُ وَامْضُواْ حَيْثُ تُؤْمَرُونَ ﴿65﴾ وَقَضَيْنَآ إِلَيْهِ ذَٰلِكَ الْأَمْـرَ أَنَّ دَابِرَ هَـؤُلَآءِ مَقْطُوعُ مُّصْبِحِينَ ﴿66﴾ وَجَآءَ أَهْلُ الْمَدِينَةِ يَسْتَبْشِرُونَ ﴿67﴾ قَالَ إِنَّ هَـؤُلَآءِ ضَيْفِى ﻓَﻼَ تَفْضَحُونِ ﴿68﴾ وَاتَّقُواْ اﻟﻠَّﻪَ وَلَا ﺗُﺨْﺰُﻭﻥِ ﴿69﴾ قَالُوٓاْ أَوَلَمْ نَنْهَكَ عَنِ الْعَـٰلَمِينَ ﴿70﴾ قَالَ هَـؤُلَآءِ بَنَاتِىٓ إِن ﻛُﻨﺘُﻢْ فَـٰعِلِينَ ﴿71﴾ لَعَمْرُكَ إِنَّهُمْ لَفِى سَكْرَتِهِمْ يَعْمَهُونَ ﴿72﴾ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّيْحَةُ مُشْرِقِينَ ﴿73﴾ فَجَعَلْنَا عَـٰلِيَهَا سَافِلَهَا وَأَمْطَرْنَا ﻋَﻠَﻴْﻫِﻢْ حِجَارَةً مِّن سِجِّيلٍ ﴿74﴾. (سورة الحِجْر).
So when the messengers came to Lot’s family. (15.61) He said: “Surely you are an unknown people.” (15.62) They said: “We have rather come to you with that which they have rejected. (15.63) And we have come to you with the truth; and we are surely truthful. (15.64) Therefore, go forth with your household in a part of the night, and follow their rear, and let not any one of you turn round, and go to where you are commanded.” (15.65) And We revealed to him this decree: the roots of these [his people] shall be cut off in the morning. (15.66) And the people of the town came [to him] with joyful expectations. (15.67) He said: “These are my guests, so do not disgrace me. (15.68) And act dutifully toward Allah, and do not put me to shame.” (15.69) They said: “Have we not forbidden you from [talking to] people?” (15.70) He said: “These are my daughters [to marry], if you must do so” (15.71). Verily! They are blindly wandering on in their intoxication. (15.72) So the blast overtook them at sunrise. (15.73) Thus, We turned it upside down, and rained down upon them stones of Sijjīl. (15.74)
There are non‑human messengers who are sent on other special missions, such as Gabriel who delivered the Message of Allah to Prophet Muhammad to guide the human beings and jinn:
قُلْ مَن كَانَ عَدُوًّا لِّجـِبْرِيلَ فَإِنَّهُ نَزَّلَهُ عَلَىٰ قَلْبِكَ بِإِذْنِ اﻟﻠَّﻪِ مُصَدِّقًا لِّـمَـا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ﴿97﴾. (سورة البقرة).
Say [O Muhammad!]: ‘Who is an enemy of Gabriel?’ For he brought it down to your heart by Allah’s command, confirming that [the Book] which was before it, and as guidance and good news for the believers. (2.97)
Allah also aided prophet Jesus with Gabriel (Rūḥ al‑Qudus):
وَلَقَدْ ءَاتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَـٰبَ وَقَفَّيْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِ ﺑِالرُّسُلِ وَءَاتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ ﻣَﺮْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَأَيَّدْنَـٰهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ﴿87﴾. (سورة البقرة).
And certainly We gave Moses the Book and sent messengers after him one after another; and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and strengthened him with the Rú< al‑Qudus. (from 2.87)
Allah, therefore, has non‑human messengers whom He sends to elite individuals, not common people, in order to deliver a particular message, or whom He sends to execute a particular task. The messengers that Allah sent to common people to deliver the good news and warning about the Day of Resurrection, such as the messengers that are referred to in verse 12.109, however, were all human beings.
Let us get back to the verse under discussion and turn our attention to the words “have they not then traveled in the land and seen what was the end of those before them?” This is also an indirect criticism of the polytheists and disbelievers. It is a denouncement of their adherence to polytheism and disbelief despite the fact that they have seen the relics and heard the stories of Allah’s punishment of past polytheistic and disbelieving nations.
Allah’s words “surely the abode of the hereafter is better for those who act dutifully” stress, implicitly, that the dutiful servants will have good in this world and, explicitly, that their reward in the hereafter will be even greater. They encourage people to seek the path of dutifulness.
Allah concludes the verse saying “do you [O people!] not understand?” emphasizing that His words and His other signs should convince every person with sound mind. Anyone who does not believe in Allah’s signs is therefore failing to understand properly.