This dilemma is the result of a common mistake in translations and commentaries. Scholars ascribe the same meaning to the words “Nabi = نبي” and “Rasul = رسل”, which are in fact completely different words in Arabic. The information below is an extract of the long-lasting research that Süleymaniye Foundation has made:
“Nabi = نبي” is a person whose worth has been increased by God and who is made noble by God. Nabi is of high worth because of the messages he receives from God. Every nabi is granted The Book and The Wisdom according to the verses al-An’am 6:83-90. Although the meaning of the word “prophet” is far from the root meaning of “nabi”, it is used to refer to “nabi” in our translations.
The word “rasul = رسول” means both “information that is sent (in other words: the message)” and “the messenger who delivers the sent information” (Raghib al-Isfahani, Mufradat al-Fazl al-Qur’an, art. رسل).
The information is of higher worth than the messenger, and therefore the Almighty God has decreed:
“Muhammad is only a messenger. Messengers have passed on before him. If he dies or gets killed, will you turn about on your heels?” (Al-e Imran 3:144).
The information that the Messenger Muhammad (pbuh) brought is gathered in the Quran, and in this age the “rasul” is the Quran Itself, becoming so after the decease of Messenger of Allah (pbuh).
Therefore, the word “rasul” must be translated as “the Book of God”, or “the Messenger of God” depending on the context.
In the verse 5:15, you shall see that the word “Rasul” is used. The word “noor” refers to “the Rasul”:
قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ نُورٌ وَكِتَابٌ مُبِينٌ
In this case, as we mentioned above, the message is of higher worth than the messenger. So, the noor refers to the Book of Allah. Indeed the verse continues “a clear Book”. The letter “و = wa” before the word “kitab” has also the function of explanation in Arabic. So, you can understand the verse:
“A Light has come to you from Allah as a Clear Book.” (al-Maidah 5:15)
This is the best translation when we also note that the word “noor” is used in several verses to refer to the information in the Qur’an and in previous Books. See the verses 4:174, 5:44, 5:46, 6:91, 7:157, 39:22, …. about this.
Indeed, Muhammad (a.s.) was a human being who was of high worth, and the information that he brought from God as a messenger has been the light over the world.
For more information about the differences between the functions of nabi and rasul please see the article: