I was talking once with an elderly Baha'i from Iran, who asked numerous questions about my faith and church. When I told him we'd had fifteen prophets lead our church since 1830, he was stunned. A prophet's arrival, he said, is not an everyday event. A prophet comes perhaps only once every thousand years--how could we claim to have had fifteen in so short a time? And why would we need to revolutionize religion so often?
I referred to the Biblical tradition we would each have some familiarity with. There had been a Moses, but also a Joshua, an Isaiah, a Daniel. Moses had brought the Law, I explained, but even with further prophets to guide them, people barely remembered it! Joseph Smith had restored our kind of religion to earth, but every generation needs a prophet to lead and guide it.
He nodded, apparently satisfied with my answer, and explained, "I've been told Arabic is the most perfect language in the world; maybe it's true. In Arabic, there are two words for "prophet": rasul and nabi. A rasul brings a new kind of religion; a nabi helps guide it. Every rasul is also a nabi, but not every nabi is a rasul." He went on to say that Baha'is see Muhammed not as the last rasul, but rather the last nabi of his age, leaving room for Baha'is to accept the claim of Muhammed to be the "last prophet" (nabi) and yet to believe in the nineteenth-century revelations Baha'u'llah as a new prophet (rasul).
Which makes me wonder if it's easier in the handful of LDS branches where Arabic is spoken to talk about our doctrine of dispensations. We believe, after all, in a distinction between prophets who ushered in new dispensations and prophets who operated within existing dispensations, and why not use the words rasul and nabi to talk about that difference? (We wouldn't be using the words in exactly the same way as Muslims do, or in the somewhat different way Baha'is do, but we don't use most Biblical terms quite the way most Protestants do, either. It is the right of every faith to give new meaning to old language.)
So here's to the rasuls Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith, with apologies to those who I have missed--and here's to the many nabis we honor alongside them, to the tireless Joshuas and Brigham Youngs, sent by God to guide his people in the wake of recently-arrived dispensations.