The Dictionary Meaning of the Word 'Khatam-al-Nabiyyin'
Dr. Mohammed Alam Qurayshi
The word "Khatam" has been the object of much discussion especially in the interpretation of its usage in the context of "Khatam-al-Nabiyyin" (The Holy Quran, Chapter of Ahzab, verse 40).
It is the belief of all Muslims that "Khatam-al-Nabiyyin" stands for the finality of Prophethood with a clear implication that the prophethood has been culminated and finalized in Muhammad (p.b.u.h). It is not only the context that supports this interpretation but also the lexicography. The purpose of this treatise is to explore the dictionary meaning of the word and to arrive at a rationale explanation of its usage.
The Dictionary meaning of Khatam
According to Arabic lexicon and linguistic usage "Khatam" means to affix a seal; to close; to come to an end, and to carry something to its ultimate end. Here are some examples to support the above statement.
"Khatam-al-Amal" is equivalent to "Faragha min al-'Amali" which means, "to get over with the task."
"Khatam-al-Kitab" conveys the meaning "The letter has been enclosed and sealed so that it is finally secured."
"Khatama-'Ala-al-Qalb" means "The heart has been sealed so that it cannot perceive anything new nor can it forswear what it has already imbibed."
"Khitamu-Kulle-Mashrubin" implies "the final taste that is left in the mouth when the drink is over."
"Khitamu-kulle-shayin 'Aqibatuhu wa Akhiratuhu" means "The end in the case of everything denotes its doom and ultimate finish."
"Khatm-ul-Shaii Balagha Akhirahu" conveys the sense; "To end a thing or it means to carry it to its ultimate limit."
The term "Khatam-i-Qur'an" is used in the similar sense and the closing verses of Quranic Chapters are referred to as "Khawatim".
"Khatim-ul-Qaum Akhirhuum" means "The last man in the tribe."
(Refer to Lisan-ul-'Arab, Qamus and Aqrab-ul- Muwarid).
It is for this reason that all linguists and commentators agree that "Khatam-al-Nabiyyin" means 'The Last in the line of Prophets.' The word "Khatam" in its dictionary meaning and linguistic usage does not refer to the post office stamp that is affixed on the outgoing mail. Its literal meaning is the "seal" which is affixed on the envelope to secure its contents.
We have referred to three lexicons here, yet the elucidation of this point is not confined to these works alone. All authoritative dictionaries of the Arabic language interpret the word "Khatam" in the sense explained above.
Opponents misrepresent the word and its meaning
However the deniers of the Finality of Prophethood in their endeavor to make an assault on the religion of Islam argue that if we refer to someone as "Last of the Poets" or "Last of the Jurists" or "Last of the Commentators", we do not necessarily mean that no poet, jurist or commentator will come after them. Rather we only mean to say that all excellence of their act has been concentrated in such men. The actual position, however, is that when we do use these exaggerated epithets for someone we do not thereby replace or remove the original meaning of the word "Last". It is preposterous to assume that by its metaphorical use to refer to the excellence or perfection of a man, the word "Last" loses its original or real significance which is "Final". Such an assumption can only be accepted by a person who lacks elementary knowledge of the rules of grammar. There is no grammatical principle in any language by which the metaphorical meaning of a word may be taken as its real or original meaning. Besides, the metaphorical meaning in no case replaces or obliterates the real and basic meaning of the word.
When you tell an Arab "Ja'a Khatam ul-Qaum", he will certainly not take it to mean "the perfect or the most excellent man of the tribe has come." He will, on the other hand, take it to mean, "the whole tribe, even to the last man, has come."
There is another point to be considered. Such terms as the "Last Poet", the "Last Jurist" or the "Last Narrator" are eulogies used by men for other human beings whom they deem to be perfect and excellent. Those who use these hyperboles for other men certainly cannot say, nor do they know, that people of such excellence will come in later times or not. So in human language these appellations are hyperboles, but when God uses for a person that such and such quality has been culminated in him, there is no reason to take it in the metaphorical sense in the strain of human expression. If Allah had pronounced someone as "Last Poet", he would have been last poet in the literal sense of the word. If Allah appoints someone as His "Last Prophet", there is absolutely no possibility of any other person attaining to that dignity after that.
God is Omniscient. Man has but limited knowledge. This being so, how can one construe the human praise of a person as "Last Poet" or the "Last of the Jurists" in the same sense as God's pronouncement of a person as the "Last Prophet?"
Also it should be borne in mind that in the medieval ages the seal used to be worn on a finger ring, and so at times we find that a seal ring is also referred to just as a "Khatama". Here "Khatama" means a ring with an official seal. The rings that are used for decorative purpose are called "Raneen". The deniers of the finality of the prophethood of the Holy Prophet of Islam (p.b.u.h) in their misplaced zeal misinterpret "Khatama" as a decorative ring and say that The Holy Prophet was a decoration to the seat of prophethood. Any student with just preliminary knowledge of the Arabic language and its grammar will understand the misleading notion of such mischievous interpretations.
Proofs from Quran
Besides there are numerous instances in the Holy Quran itself that whenever the word "Khatama" or any of its derivatives are used in it they are always used in the meaning of a seal for completely closing something and never in any other metaphorical meaning like best/excellent/decoration/etc.
Pay attention to the following examples from the Holy Quran:
"Allah hath set a seal (Khatamal Allahu) on their hearts and on their hearing and on their eyes is a veil and for them is a great punishment."
(Ref: The Chapter of Baqarah, verse 7)
In this verse Allah mentions about permanently sealing the hearts of the sinners in such a way that they will never again be guided and will definitely taste the fire of Hell. Similarly the sealing of the heart, ears and mouths is also mentioned in other verses also. In all places the same root word "Khatama" has been used.
"And He (Allah) has placed a seal upon his hearing (Khatama ala Samehi) and his heart and put a cover on his sight"
(Ref: The Chapter of Jasiyah, verse 23)
"That day we shall set a seal on their mouths (Yauma Nakhtemo ala Afwahehem). But their hands will speak to Us and their feet bear witness to all that they did"
(Ref: The Chapter of Yasin, verse 65)
"But if Allah willed He could seal up Thy Heart (Yakhtim ala Qalbek)"
(Ref: The Chapter of Shura, verse 24)
The following verse talks about a seal made of musk, which will be used to seal pure wine in Heaven again using the root word "Khatama"
"Their thirst shall be slaked with a pure sealed wine (Rahiqim Makhtoom). The seal thereof will be of musk (Khetamoho Misk)"
(Ref: The Chapter of Muttaffifin, verses 25-26)
And so the same word has been used to indicate that the office of prophethood has been sealed by the Holy Prophet of Islam and that he is the LAST Messenger and that no other is going to come after him till the day of Judgement.
"Mohammed is not the father of any of your Men, but he is the messenger of Allah, and the seal (last) of the Prophets (Khataman-al-Nabiyyin)"
(Ref: The Chapter of Ahzab, verse 40)
The above references are sufficient to establish the veracity of the Muslim belief in the finality of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h) - both in terms of the finality of his office and the superiority of his being.
Written by:Dr. Mohammed Alam Qurayshi