Is Paul a Prophet in Islam? A Refutation of a Desperate Christian Claim

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

Is Paul a Prophet in Islam? A Refutation of a Desperate Christian Claim

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“We sent them two messengers, but they rejected both. So We reinforced ˹the two˺ with a third, and they declared, “We have indeed been sent to you ˹as messengers˺.” (Surah Ya-Seen, 36:14)[1]

220px-Giovanni_Francesco_Barbieri_-_Saint_Paul
Figure 1: Paul, as depicted by the Italian artist Guercino (Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/79/Giovanni_Francesco_Barbieri_-_Saint_Paul.jpg/220px-Giovanni_Francesco_Barbieri_-_Saint_Paul.jpg).

In recent times, some desperate and deceptive Christian apologists have promoted the theory that Saul of Tarsus, or Paul, the most influential figure in early Christianity, is also a prophet in Islam whom Muslims must accept and respect. They base this ridiculous claim on an obscure report mentioned in some of the classical commentaries on the Qur’an that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) sent three “messengers” to a certain town, one of whom was allegedly named “Bulus” (Paulus). In this article, we will debunk and dismantle this laughable and desperate claim.

Is Paul Mentioned in the Qur’an?

            The Christians have latched onto an obscure report in the commentaries on Surah Ya-Seen, 36:13–14. The verses state:

“Give them an example ˹O Prophet˺ of the residents of a town, when the messengers came to them. We sent them two messengers, but they rejected both. So We reinforced ˹the two˺ with a third, and they declared, “We have indeed been sent to you ˹as messengers˺.”

Before we examine the commentaries, it is pertinent to note that the names of the messengers or the town have not been mentioned, so any guess as to the identities of those messengers will be an exercise in speculation. In addition, the Christian claim can be very easily dismissed by citing an authentic hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari that states that there was no prophet between Jesus (peace be upon him) and Muhammad (peace be upon him)! The hadith states:

“Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) saying, “I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him (i.e. Jesus).”[2]

Thus, according to the authentic sources, Paul cannot be considered a “prophet” or “messenger” on par with Jesus or Muhammad (peace be upon them both), no matter what the commentaries say. Unfortunately, the Christians need to cling to the commentaries, so let us now deal with them.

“Bulus” in the Classical Commentaries

            The particular narration that has excited the Christian apologists so much is found in the commentary of Ibn Kathir (d. 774 AH/1373 CE), in which he relates a report of Ibn Jurayj from Wahb bin Sulayman from Shu’ayb Al-Jaba’i stating that:

“[t]he names of the first two messengers were Sham’un and Yuhanna, and the name of the third was Bulus, and the city was Antioch (Antakiyah).”[3]

In addition, this same report is also mentioned in other commentaries, which causes more excitement for the Christians. However, the fact that multiple commentaries relate the same story should not be surprising, nor does it prove anything regarding its authenticity (or lack thereof). The authenticity of a particular report is not grounded in how many times it is repeated by different sources.

To illustrate the Christian fallacy, consider the following analogy: the “Jack the Ripper” murders (1888 CE) remain unsolved. “Jack the Ripper” is one of the most notorious serial killers in British history. In 1888 CE, he killed and mutilated at least five prostitutes in London.[4] The crimes were never solved, and the identity of the killer has remained a mystery.

Jack-the-Ripper-The-Nemesis-of-Neglect-Punch-London-Charivari-cartoon-poem-1888-09-29
Figure 2: “The Nemesis of Neglect” cartoon from Punch magazine was published in 1888 in response to the murders by Jack the Ripper (Source: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-nemesis-of-neglect-from-punch).

Now suppose a random person approached police in the year 2021, obviously not as a witness, and told them that he had figured out the name of the murderer. However, he has no corroborating evidence. He just has the name: H.H. Holmes (Figure 2).[5] Suppose that the media picked up this story, and many platforms, like CNN and BBC, reported that the name of Jack the Ripper was H.H. Holmes. Does the mere fact that multiple media sources repeat this theory make it true? Of course not. The mere fact that the person offering the theory was not a witness and has no conclusive evidence makes his/her information regarding the name of the murderer irrelevant, unreliable, and most importantly, unverifiable. This is the same situation with the report on the names of the messengers in Surah Ya-Seen.

H._H._Holmes
Figure 3: H.H. Holmes was hanged in 1896, after confessing to at least 27 murders in America from 1891 to 1894 (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._H._Holmes).

Shu’ayb al-Jaba’i is not an authoritative source, especially since his report does not go back via an unbroken chain to the Prophet of God, Muhammad (peace be upon him), who is regarded by Muslims as the only infallible source for the interpretation of the Qur’an. To make matters worse for the Christian apologists, the fact is that there are different reports on the names of the messengers and there is not even ANY firm evidence as to the time period when these messengers were sent by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). In fact, as we will see later, there are good reasons to doubt that the messengers were sent to the city of Antioch either during or shortly after the time of Jesus (peace be upon him). This is stated by Ibn Kathir himself and yet the Christians always seem to ignore (or be oblivious of) this fact!

In fact, the first report mentioned by Ibn Kathir gives three completely DIFFERENT names for messengers! Despite the town still being Antioch, as in the report from Shu’ayb al-Jaba’i, the names of the messengers are completely different! As Ibn Kathir states (emphasis ours):

“In the reports that he transmitted from Ibn ‘Abbas, Ka’b Al-Ahbar and Wahb bin Munabbih, Ibn Ishaq reported that it was the city of Antioch, in which there was a king called Antiochus, the son of Antiochus, the son of Antiochus, who used to worship idols. Allah sent to him three messengers, whose names were Sadiq, Saduq, and Shalum, and he disbelieved in them. It was also narrated from Buraydah bin Al-Husayb, ‘Ikrimah, Qatadah and Az-Zuhri that it was Antioch. Some of the imams were not sure that it was Antioch…”[6]

Unlike the report about “Bulus”, this report is at least attributed to Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), who was a companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), though it does not go back to the Prophet himself, whom we already noted is considered by Muslims to be the only infallible interpreter of the Qur’an. By contrast, Shuayb al-Jaba’i was not a companion. He died in the year 106 AH (724 CE).[7]

But it gets worse for the Christians. There are still other reports listing completely different names as well (though Antioch is again named as the town)! For example, in the commentary of Muqatil ibn Sulaiman, the names of the first two messengers are “Tuman” and “Yunus”. The commentator Al-Qurtubi repeated the report (quoting Al-Tabari and echoing Ibn Kathir), that the names were Sadiq, Saduq, and Shalum, but he also noted that “others said” (note the vagueness) that the names of the first two were Simon and John (Yuhanna).[8] Additionally, the Indian scholar Siddiq Hasan Khan (d. 1890 CE) summarized the different reports on the names, noting that Al-Tabari (Ibn Jarir) and “others” said the names were “Sadiq, Masdouq, and Shalum”, while “it was said” by other people that the names were Simon, John, and Paulus (Bulus).[9]

Speaking of Al-Tabari, he did not mention Paul at all, and only noted the names as mentioned in the other commentaries: Sadiq, Masdouq (or Saduq according to Al-Qurtubi), and Salum/Shalum. He also noted that “the people of knowledge” had differed about the messengers, including whether they were sent by Jesus (on Allah’s behalf) or by Allah Himself. This is important since if there was any firm evidence regarding the identities of the messengers, then such differences would not have existed.[10]

Interestingly, even though the report from Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) related by Ibn Kathir mentions the names Sadiq, Saduq/Masdouq, and Salum/Shalum, the so-called “tafsir” of Ibn Abbas (called Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas, though it was not actually written by him) gives another report with yet another combination of names (Bulus not being one of them). The names of the messengers are “Simon the Canaanite”, “Thomas”, and “Simon Peter”.[11]

Clearly, there is no agreement on this issue. The only point of agreement in these obscure reports is the town: Antioch. But even this is not as clear as it appears. While most commentators identified Antioch as the town to which the messengers were sent, Ibn Kathir provided good reasons for why it cannot be the town. He observed that:

“…the people of Antioch did believe in the messengers sent by the Messiah to them. Antioch was the first city to believe in the Messiah, and it is one of the four cities in which there are Christian patriarchs. […] If we accept that, then the people of Antioch were the first to believe, but Allah tells us that the people of this town rejected His Messengers and that He destroyed them with one Sayhah and lo! they (all) were still. And Allah knows best.”[12]

Additionally, Ibn Kathir observed that:

“…the story of Antioch and the Disciples of the Messiah happened after the Tawrah had been revealed. Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) and others among the Salaf stated that after revealing the Tawrah, Allah, may He be blessed and exalted, did not destroy an entire nation by sending a punishment upon them. Rather, He commanded the believers to fight the idolaters.”[13]

The hadith from Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) clearly states that Allah did not punish any towns with divine destruction after the Torah had been revealed. In other words, He only destroyed some nations before the revealing of the Torah (e.g., the people of Noah, Lot, Salih, and Hud [peace be upon them]).  The hadith is found in Al-Mustadrak of Al-Hakim and was graded sahih (authentic),[14] though other scholars regarded it as a “mawquf” hadith.[15]

Yet, Surah Ya-Seen, verse 29, states that the town in question, alleged to be Antioch by most of the commentators, was destroyed by a “mighty blast”:

“All it took was one ˹mighty˺ blast, and they were extinguished at once.”

So, the hadith contradicts the views of the commentators. The fact of the matter is that we have no information from the Qur’an or authentic Ahadith clearly identifying the town and the messengers. Also, it is known that Antioch was not destroyed during or after the time of Jesus (peace be upon him) and none of the reports in the commentaries originate with Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).[16]

Conclusion

            This article has analyzed the obscure report in the classical commentaries about “Bulus”, which some desperate Christian apologists see as “proof” that Paul/Saul of Tarsus is regarded as a legitimate “prophet” in Islam. Not only has this narration been cherry-picked by the apologists (it is one of many vague reports, none of which originate with Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]), it does not in way, shape, or form have scriptural authority. The Qur’an mentions an incident with an unnamed town to which three unnamed messengers were sent by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), not by Jesus (peace be upon him). The town was destroyed for rejecting the messengers. This is all the information we have, and we should leave it at that. There are no authentic reports identifying Saul of Tarsus as a legitimate “prophet” in Islam, no matter how much the Christian apologists may protest. This claim is just another desperate act of deceptive cherry-picking by the Christian apologists. Paul was not a true prophet. In fact, he was a false prophet, as his own letters demonstrate.[17]

And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran. This translation is used for all verses of the Qur’an in this article.

[2] https://sunnah.com/bukhari:3442

[3] http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Ya-Seen/The-Story-of-the-Dwellers-of-t—

[4] https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/jack-the-ripper

[5] It has been theorized by some researchers in modern times that H.H. Holmes, who was America’s first serial killer and was hanged for his crimes in 1896, may have been “Jack the Ripper”. However, this has not been conclusively proven and the identity of “Jack the Ripper” remains a mystery (https://www.historicmysteries.com/was-hh-holmes-jack-the-ripper/).

[6] http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Ya-Seen/The-Story-of-the-Dwellers-of-t—

[7] In his translation of Al-Tabari’s “History”, William M. Brinner states regarding Shu’ayb al-Jaba’i:

“…a scholar from Yemen…who died in 106/724” (The History of al-Tabari, Volume III: The Children of Israel, trans. William M. Brinner (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), p. 47).

[8] https://tafsir.app/qurtubi/36/14

[9] https://tafsir.app/fath-albayan/36/14

[10] https://tafsir.app/tabari/36/14

[11] https://www.altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=0&tTafsirNo=73&tSoraNo=36&tAyahNo=14&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=2

[12] http://m.qtafsir.com/Surah-Ya-Seen/The-Story-of-the-Dwellers-of-t—

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://al-maktaba.org/book/2266/3676#p1

[15] While it was graded sahih by Al-Hakim, it is most likely not a “prophetic hadith”, i.e., not originating from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but from a companion, similar to the report of Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) regarding the names of the messengers (it does not go back to Prophet Muhammad himself). This sort of hadith is known as “mawquf”. In Nukhbat Al-Fikar by Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, a “mawquf” hadith is defined as “a halted Companion-report” (Hadith Nomenclature Primers, trans. Musa Furber [Islamosaic, 2005], p. 12).

The scholars Al-Bazzar, Al-Tabari, and Ibn Abi Hatim related the hadith from Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri as a “mawquf” hadith, meaning that they regarded it as a statement of Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri rather than of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) (https://islamweb.net/ar/library/index.php?page=bookcontents&idfrom=2045&idto=2045&bk_no=203&ID=2069). Thus, since only Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is considered infallible in interpreting the Qur’an, we cannot say with certainty that this particular hadith proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) did not destroy any town after the Torah was revealed. Nevertheless, it is certainly more authoritative than the narration of Shu’ayb al-Jaba’i and as authoritative as all the differing narrations about the three messengers being sent to Antioch.

[16] In fact, it is virtually impossible for the town mentioned in the Qur’an to be Antioch for the simple reason that it was just one city among many under Roman control in the first century CE. What would make this city more special or important than others? Why would it be necessary to send three messengers to just one particular city? Why not send them to Rome instead? For all these reasons, in addition to the complete lack of scriptural evidence, there is no justification for Muslims to believe that the destroyed town mentioned in Surah Ya-Seen was Antioch.

[17] https://quranandbibleblog.com/2021/10/09/the-coming-of-the-lord-pauls-failed-prophecies-on-the-parousia-of-jesus/

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