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Do messengers eat?

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setMissionary Sam Shamoun from Answering-Islam has come up with what he believes to be a contradiction in the Quran.

He writes:

The Quran records the unbelievers' objections to Muhammad's apostleship on the grounds that he was a mere mortal who ate just like them:

The Quran proceeds to respond to the complaint of the unbelievers:

We never sent before thee any messengers but lo! they verily ate food and walked in the markets. And We have appointed some of you a test for others: Will ye be steadfast? And thy Lord is ever Seer. S. 25:20 Pickthall

And

The Quran records an instance where Allah sent messengers who refused to eat food:

Our messengers came to Abraham with the good tidings; they said, 'Peace!' 'Peace,' he said; and presently he brought a roasted calf. And when he saw their hands not reaching towards it, he was suspicious of them and conceived a fear of them. They said, 'Fear not; we have been sent to the people of Lot.' S. 11:69-70 Arberry

Has the story reached you, of the honoured guests [three angels; Jibrael (Gabriel) along with another two] of Ibrahim (Abraham)? When they came in to him, and said, "Salam, (peace be upon you)!" He answered; "Salam, (peace be upon you)," and said: "You are a people unknown to me," Then he turned to his household, so brought out a roasted calf [as the property of Ibrahim (Abraham) was mainly cows]. And placed it before them, (saying): "Will you not eat?" Then he conceived a fear of them (when they ate not). They said: "Fear not." And they gave him glad tidings of an intelligent son, having knowledge (about Allah and His religion of True Monotheism). Then his wife came forward with a loud voice, she smote her face, and said: "A barren old woman!" They said: "Even so says your Lord. Verily, He is the All-Wise, the All-Knower." [Ibrahim (Abraham)] said: "Then for what purpose you have come, O Messengers?" S. 51:24-31 Hilali-T

Shamoun then concludes by saying:

Hence, the Quran provides an example of certain messengers, believed to be angels, who did not eat food, contradicting its claim to the unbelievers that all messengers were human beings who necessarily ate.

There is no contradiction here, when the Quran says:

We never sent before thee any messengers but lo! they verily ate food and walked in the markets. And We have appointed some of you a test for others: Will ye be steadfast? And thy Lord is ever Seer. S. 25:20 Pickthall

The messengers being referred to here are human messengers who were sent. And off course human messengers are human so therefore they must eat food.

Ibn Kathir explains:

All of the Previous Messengers were Human

Allah tells us about the previous Messengers He sent: they all used to eat food needing the nourishment in it. They used to go around in the marketplaces seeking to engage in trade and earn a livelihood. This should not, however, affect their status as Messengers, for Allah gave them good characteristics and caused them to speak fine words and do noble deeds, and gave them miracles and clear proofs, from which any person with sound insight may see the confirmation that what they brought from Allah was true. This Ayah is similar to the Ayat;

And We sent not before you any but men unto whom We revealed, from among the people of townships) (12:109).

(And We did not create them bodies that ate not food) (21:8).

(And We have made some of you as a trial for others; will you have patience) means, `We test some of you by means of others, so that We may see who will be obedient and who will be disobedient.' Allah says:

(will you have patience And your Lord is Ever All-Seer.) meaning, He knows who deserves to receive revelation, as Allah says elsewhere:

(Allah knows best with whom to place His Message) (6:124). And He knows who deserves to be guided to the Message with which He sent them, and who does not deserve to be guided.

(And We have made some of you as a trial for others. Will you have patience) Muhammad bin Ishaq said: Allah is saying, "If I had willed that the world be such that no one would oppose My Messengers, I could have made it so, but I wanted to test My servants by means of them.'' In Sahih Muslim it is narrated from `Iyad bin Himar that the Messenger of Allah said:

(Allah says: "I will test you and test others by means of you.'') In the Sahih it is recorded that he was given the choice between being a Prophet and king, or being a servant and Messenger, and he chose to be a servant and Messenger.

Now to the verse about angels refusing to eat food:

Our messengers came to Abraham with the good tidings; they said, 'Peace!' 'Peace,' he said; and presently he brought a roasted calf. And when he saw their hands not reaching towards it, he was suspicious of them and conceived a fear of them. They said, 'Fear not; we have been sent to the people of Lot.' S. 11:69-70 Arberry

To begin with, these angels are messengers of God indeed, but what kind of messengers are they? Not all messengers of God serve the same functions, for instance, human messengers of God are sent to man to teach them about God's revelation. When humans are referred to as messenger of God the context is always generally meaning a person who is doing the duty of spreading God's word.

However so, angel messengers of God which are sent to man are not there to teach men as human messengers do. Rather when angels are sent to men they have a specific command from God to perform, such as carrying out a specific task, or to deliver a warning to a human messenger or to give some news to a human messenger. This is exactly the case with this verse.

These angels came to Abraham, not to teach Abraham's people about God and so on, rather they came to Abraham to deliver a message to Abraham from God, which is that his barren wife Sarah was going to deliver a son named Isaac: 

011.071 
And his wife was standing (there), and she laughed: But we gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob.

011.072 
 She said: "Alas for me! shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!"

011.073 
 They said: "Dost thou wonder at Allah's decree? The grace of Allah and His blessings on you, o ye people of the house! for He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of all glory!"

So as you can see, the angels were revealing a message from God to Abraham and his wife Sarah. Now another part of the angels mission was go to Prophet Lot's people. The reason they were being sent to Lot's people was not to teach the people about God, rather it was to warn Lot of the impending destruction of the town, so therefore Lot was warned so he and his family could leave and avoid harm.

011.077  When Our messengers came to Lut, he was grieved on their account and felt himself powerless (to protect) them. He said: "This is a distressful day."

011.078 
And his people came rushing towards him, and they had been long in the habit of practising abominations. He said: "O my people! Here are my daughters: they are purer for you (if ye marry)! Now fear Allah, and cover me not with shame about my guests! Is there not among you a single right-minded man?"

011.079  They said: "Well dost thou know we have no need of thy daughters: indeed thou knowest quite well what we want!"

011.080 
He said: "Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could betake myself to some powerful support."

011.081  (The Messengers) said: "O Lut! We are Messengers from thy Lord! By no means shall they reach thee! now travel with thy family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time appointed: Is not the morning nigh?"

011.082 When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer,-

So as you can see, these messengers were sent by God to carry out orders on behalf of God, specific orders, these angels were not sent to teach man about God or to try and end their sinning, they were sent to deliver a message to Abraham, and they were sent to deliver a warning to Lot to leave his town.

So there is no contradiction at all, all human messengers eat food, and human messengers were sent to men, these angel messengers were angels, therefore they do not eat, and these angels were not sent to men to teach them about God as human messengers are, rather they were sent to deliver a message and a warning.

So to make it short, Surah 25:20 is referring to human messengers being sent to men, not all type of messengers which includes angels, and the jinn. The context is very clear that the verse is directed at humans after an objection made by some of the pagans.

To put it simply, when the Quran says all messengers ate food, it’s referring to the human messengers, it’s as simple as that. 

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