Question: In some of your articles in this journal you have referred to various usages of the word rusul in the Qur'ān. Can you please explain for me its literal meaning as well as the one when it is used as a term?
Answer: The word الّرُسُل (al-rusul) is a plural of الّرَسُوْل (al-rasūl). It has two connotations: one as a common Arabic word and the other as a term having a specific meaning. As a common Arabic word, it means a "messenger". So the rusul of the Almighty can be His angels and His Prophets since both bear His message.
Here are some usages of rusul in the Qur'ān as a common Arabic word signifying the angels and prophets:
i. Signifying Angels:
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ (19:18)
This is the word of a gracious and mighty messenger. (81:19)
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ فَاطِرِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ جَاعِلِ الْمَلَائِكَةِ رُسُلًا أُولِي أَجْنِحَةٍ مَّثْنَى وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ (1:35)
Praise be to God, Creator of the heavens and the earth! He sends forth the angels as His messengers, with two, three or four pairs of wings. (35:1)
اللَّهُ يَصْطَفِي مِنَ الْمَلَائِكَةِ رُسُلًا وَمِنَ النَّاسِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ بَصِيرٌ (75:22)
God chooses messengers from the angels and from men. Indeed, God hears all and observes all. (22:75)
ii. Signifying Prophets:
آمَنَ الرَّسُولُ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِ مِن رَّبِّهِ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ كُلٌّ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَمَلآئِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ (285:2)
The Messenger believes in what has been revealed to him by his Lord, and so do the faithful. They all believe in God and His angels, His scriptures, and His prophets. (2:285)
يَا مَعْشَرَ الْجِنِّ وَالإِنسِ أَلَمْ يَأْتِكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِّنكُمْ يَقُصُّونَ عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِي وَيُنذِرُونَكُمْ لِقَاء يَوْمِكُمْ (130:6)
Then He will say: 'Jinn and men! Did there not come to you prophets of your own who proclaimed to you My revelations and warned you of this day?' (6:130)
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ إِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِّنكُمْ يَقُصُّونَ عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِي فَمَنِ اتَّقَى وَأَصْلَحَ فَلاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ (35:7)
Children of Adam! When prophets of your own come to proclaim to you My revelations, those that take warning and mend their ways will have nothing to fear or to regret. (7:35)
As a term of the Qur'ān, the word rasūl signifies a cadre among the prophets (anbiyā') of Allah. The difference between a prophet (nabī) and a rasūl is that the latter decides the fate of his immediate and direct addressees from among his nation in this world. The righteous among them are rewarded and wrongdoers punished. The Qur'ān says:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُحَادُّونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ أُوْلَئِكَ فِي الأَذَلِّينَكَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَأَغْلِبَنَّ أَنَا وَرُسُلِي إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ(58 :20-1)
Indeed, those who show hostility to Allah and His rasūl are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained that I and my rusul shall always triumph. (58:20-1)
In other words, the direct addressees of a rasūl cannot triumph over him, and they must be the losers in the end. This humiliation has various forms. In most cases, the addressees are destroyed in their capacity as a nation if they deny their respective rasūl. Take, for example, the case of Muhammad (sws). His opponents among the Idolaters of Arabia were destroyed by the swords of the Muslim believers until at the conquest of Makkah, the remaining accepted faith. In the case of Moses (sws), the Israelites never denied him. The Pharaoh and his followers however did. Therefore, they were destroyed. In the case of Jesus (sws), the humiliation of the Jews has taken the form of servitude to the Christians till the day of Judgment as referred to by the Qur'ān in 3:55 and 59:3. The 'A%d, nation of the rasūl Hūd (sws), the Thamūd, the nation of the rasūl Sālih (sws) as well as the nations of Noah (sws), Lot (sws) and Shu'ayb (sws) were destroyed through natural calamities when they denied their respective rasūl as is mentioned in the various sūrahs of theQur'ān. In this regard, Sūrah Qamar can be referred to since it summarizes the fate of the nations who denied their respective rasūl.