EVIDENCE IN THE AHADITH
Here, I present evidence in support of the idea from the "Ahadeeth", sayings of the Prophet himself, recorded by his companions in writing. Ahadeeth are the second most authentic and authoritative source of information and guidance for Muslims next to the Holy Quran.
At the demise of the Prophet's (pbuh) son, Hazrat Ibrahim, he made an important statement which remains on record to this day:
"AN IBNI 'ABBAASIN QAALA LAMMAA MAATA IBRAAHEEM UBNU RASOOLILLAHI SALLA ALLAHU ALAIHI WASALLAMA SALLAA RASOOLULLAHI SALLALLAHU ALAIHI WA SALLAMA WA QAALA INNA LAHU MURZI'AN FIL JANNATI WA LAU 'AASHALA KAANA SIDDEEQAN NABIYYAA"
IT IS NARRATED BY HAZRAT IBNE ABBAAS (R.A.) THAT WHEN IBRAHIM, SON OF THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH PASSED AWAY, THE PROPHET (PBUH) SAID HIS FUNERAL PRAYER AND SAID THAT THERE IS A NURSE FOR HIM IN PARADISE AND IF HE HAD LIVED HE WOULD HAVE BEEN A TRUE PROPHET (Ibne Maja vol. 1, Kitaabal Janaiz, p. 237)
Ibne Maja is one of the Siha Sitta, the most authentic books of Hadeeth. It is interesting to note that Ibrahim passed away a number of years after the verse about "Khatam-an-Nabiyyeen" was revealed. He died in the year 9 A.H. and the verse was revealed in 5 AH. About four years after he knew through revelation that he was "Khataman Nabiyyeen", his saying about his son: had he lived, he would certainly have been a prophet, clearly implies that he himself did not interpret the meaning of "Khatam-an-Nabiyyeen" literally, as "Last of the Prophets".
Regarding the authenticity of this Hadeeth, Shahaab Ali Baidaawi writes:
AMMAA SEHAT AL-HADEETHE FALAA SHUB-HATA FEEHI LI-ANNAHU RAWAAH-UBNU MAAJATA WAGHAIRUHU,
There is no doubt about the authenticity of the Hadeeth because it was reported by Ibne Maja etcetera. (Shahab Ali Baidaawi vol. 7, pg 175)
Similarly, Hazrat Mulla Ali bin Muhammad Sultan Al Qari, a renowned divine of the Hanafi school of thought wrote:
"If Ibrahim had lived and became a prophet and likewise if Hazrat Umar became a prophet, then both of them would have remained his (the Prophet Muhammad's, pbuh) followers". (Mauzoo'aati Kabeer, p. 58)
Then he went on to write:
"...their becoming prophets would not have gone against the Almighty God's saying Khatam-al-Nabiyyeen, since Khatam-al-Nabiyyeen simply implies that after the Prophet (pbuh) there cannot be any prophet who abrogates his Shariat and is not of his Umaah(is not his follower)" (Mauzoo'aati Kabeer, p. 59)
Another Hadith is narrated slightly differently, and is even more interesting and decisive, narrated by Hazrat Ali Ibn Abi Talib (R.A)
"QAALA LAMMAA TUWAFFIYA IBRAAHEEMU ARSALANNABIYYU SALLALLAHU ALAIHI WA SALLAMA ILAA UMMIHEE MAARIYYATA FAJAA'AT-HU WA GHASALATHU WA KAFFANATHU WA KHARAJA BIHEE WA KHARAJANNASU MA'AHU FA DAFANAHU WA ADKHALAN NABIYYU YADAHU FEE QABRIHEE FA QAALA AMAA WALLAAHI INNAHU LA NABIYYUBNA NABIYYIN"
"Said (Ali): When The Holy Prophet's (pbuh) son, Ibraheem, passed away, he sent a message to his mother, Mariya, to prepare for the funeral So she came and bathed him and put a coffin over him; He (the prophet, pbuh) brought the funeral out along with his companions and buried him, and putting his hand in the grave, said: I SWEAR BY ALLAH, HE IS A PROPHET, SON OF A PROPHET". (Tareekhul Kabeer Al Ibne Asaakar, p. 295; Al Fatawil Hadeethiyya Al Ibnul Hajr Al Haithmi, p. 125)
In another Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
ABU BAKRIN AFDALU HAAZIHIL UMMATI ILLAA AN YAKOONA NABIYYUN.
Abu Bakr is the most exalted person in THIS "Ummah" except if there happens to be a prophet (Kanoozul Haqaaiq Fee Hadeeth Khairul Khalaiq)
This leaves open the possibility of advent of prophet(s). The following similar Hadith has also been reported:
ABU BAKRIN KHAIRUN NAASE BA'DEE ILLAA AN YAKOONA NABIYYUN.
Abu Bakr is the most exalted person AFTER me except if there happens to be a prophet. (Kanzul A'maal, vol. 9, p138; Tabraani & Ibne Hadee Fil Kamil reference Jamiah Sagheer Al Siyotee, p. 5)
Now, it is clear from the mention of the word "after" in the Hadith, that the possibility of prophets' coming remains existent even "after" the Prophet (pbuh). Furthermore, the use of the word "except" makes matters pretty clear, meaning that if a prophet DOES appear, then his status would be higher than Abu Bakr (RA). The Prophet of God (pbuh) graphically portrays a vivid picture of the future conditions of his group of followers:
"O YE MUSLIMS THE PRESENT PROPHETHOOD PERIOD AMONGST YOU WILL LAST AS LONG AS ALLAH WILLS. ON ITS CONCLUSION THERE WILL BE A PERIOD OF 'KHILAAFAT 'ALAA MINHAAJIN NABUWWAT' (KHILAAFAT ON THE DESIGN, PATTERN AND SUCCESSION OF PROPHETHOOD; I.E. IN CONTINUATION OF THE PROPHET'S MISSION). THIS KHILAAFAT WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A SUCCESSION OF KINGSHIP, WHICH WILL BE FOLLOWED BY DICTATORIAL REGIMES OF TYRRANY AND OPPRESSION, WHICH WILL BE FOLLOWED BY NON-DEMOCRATIC REGIMES. ON ITS CONCLUSION THERE WILL THEN BEGIN A SECOND SPELL OF REAL KHILAFAT ON THE PATTERN OF THE INITIAL ISLAMIC PERIOD." (Masnad Ahmad, vol. 5, p. 404)
One cannot help remaining flabbergasted at the precise nature of the descriptions that the Prophet (pbuh) gave about future events, as if he were in our midst today, seeing what is going on with his Ummah. The prediction that after a long break during which will appear the kings, dictators and other non-democratic "regimes", there will resume a Khilafat on the pattern of the first "Khilaafat 'alaa Minhaajin Nabuwwat" clearly indicates that the Prophet (pbuh) not only left open the door for other prophets to come in the future, but knew for certain that this would happen. The fourteen centuries after the Prophet (pbuh) have evinced the fulfilment of all the above conditions, including resumption of Khilafat on the pattern of prophethood (I leave you to decide whether this resumption was genuine or not, based on references). A Hadith of "Mishqaat" includes an insertion in Hadith indicating or clarifying that the reference of the second "prophet-based" Khilafat was indeed to the future advent of the Messiah.
Similarly, Hazrat Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet (pbuh) referred to the fact that there would be no prophet between him and the Messiah: LAISA BAINEE WA BAINAHU NABIYYUN, that there is no prophet between me and him.
This does not in any way exclude the Messiah himself from prophethood, nor does it close the channel for further prophets after the Messiah. Interesting, isn't it?
Hitherto, it appears that I have been avoiding the meaning in which the Holy Prophet would be believed "last of messengers or prophets". This is not so. Let me write here plainly -- open your eyes wide and read:
Hazrat Muhammadsaw was, indeed the last of prophets, but in what sense?
In the figurative sense, and in no other sense, as we see in the following Ahadeeth, in which even though the word "Akhar" -- last or end, is used as such, it is clear that it does NOT mean "chronologically last".
"I AM THE LAST OF THE PROPHETS AND YOU ARE THE LAST OF THE PEOPLES" (Sahih Muslim)
It is true that the word used is "last", but in the same sentence is also mentioned that "you are the last of peoples". Have there not been people (chronologically) after the people who were addressed by the Prophet (pbuh)?
"INNEE AAKHIRUL ANBIYAAI WA INNA MASJIDEE AAKHIRUL MASAAJID"
I AM THE LAST OF THE PROPHETS AND MY MOSQUE IS THE LAST MOSQUE. (Sahih Muslim, Kitabul Haj Fazlis Salaat, p. 531)
It is crystal clear that even though the Holy Prophet called himself the "last of the prophets", it should not be taken in its literal meaning, for then one would have to believe that the Prophet (pbuh) also implied that there would not be any mosque after his. Any one who has seen a mosque has probably seen one that was constructed after the Holy Prophet's. I have not yet had the chance to see his mosque, but have seen hundreds that were built after his. The real meaning implied by the Prophet (pbuh) is clearly "of the greatest rank", or "highest in rank" rather than "last" in order of time.
There are other examples in support of the continuity verdict, but (for the sake of brevity) I am not including them here.