That is a very interesting verse for a number of reasons. I realized there are actually quite a variety of versions out there...
The Arabic transliteration is:
The following Muslim translations were found on the web:
|Pickthall||Yusuf Ali||Shakir||Sher Ali||Hilali/Khan||Muhammad Sarwar||T. Irving||Rashad Khalifa|
|Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. Will it be that, when he dieth or is slain, ye will turn back on your heels? He who turneth back on his heels doth no hurt to Allah, and Allah will reward the thankful.||Muhammad is no more than a messenger: many were the messengers that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude.||And Muhammad is no more than an apostle; the apostles have already passed away before him; if then he dies or is killed will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least and Allah will reward the grateful.||And Muhammad is but a messenger. Verily all Messengers have passed away before him. If then he dies or is slain, will you turn back on your heels? And he who turns back on his heels shall not harm ALLAH at all. And ALLAH will certainly reward the grateful.||Muhammad (SAW) is no more than a Messenger, and indeed (many) Messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or is killed, will you then turn back on your heels (as disbelievers)? And he who turns back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to All‚h, and All‚h will give reward to those who are grateful.||Muhammad is only a Messenger. There lived other Messengers before him. Should (Muhammad) die or be slain, would you then turn back to your pre-Islamic behavior? Whoever does so can cause no harm to God. God will reward those who give thanks.||Muhammad is only a messenger, Messengers have passed away before him. If he should die or be killed, will you (all) revert to your old ways? Anyone who turns on his heels will never injure God in any way, while God will reward the grateful.||Muhammad was no more than a messenger like the messengers before him. Should he die or get killed, would you turn back on your heels? Anyone who turns back on his heels, does not hurt GOD in the least. GOD rewards those who are appreciative.|
Observations on these translations:
Pickhall: messengers (indefinite)
Yusuf Ali: many were the messengers (He uses the definite article but is making it selective by inserting the word "many" which is not in the Arabic text. Actually, the original Yusuf Ali translation says "messenger" or "apostle" in the singular (I have seen both) but this is probably just a typo and is corrected in the revised Saudi version of his translation.)
Shakir: the apostles (definite)
Sher Ali: all messengers (definite, stresses that it is comprehensive by adding "all". Clearly inspired by the Ahmadiyya theory that Jesus has died already in India at some time before Muhammad.)
Hilali/Khan: many messengers (indefinite, stressing selectiveness by adding "many")
Muhammad Sarwar: other Messengers (indefinite, makes it selective by adding "other" which is like "some". Furthermore he translates "lived" instead of "passed away". If he focusses on "lived" shouldn't he be consistent in his corruption and then add "all" instead of "others" or are there others that will live after him? Maybe that is Shia bias seeing the 12 Imams in the role of messengers, and they are after him?)
T. Irving: messengers (indefinite)
Rashad Khalifa: messengers (indefinite, he completely passes over "passed away")
Clearly, the translators are struggling with this verse and its implications.
What does it say? The word used for messengers here is al-russul, which means THE messengers (al = the, russul = messengers), indicating that this verse refers to all the messengers. In other words it is definite even though most translators are trying to make it indefinite. Shakir (Shia) is for this phrase most literal, and the Ahmadiyya translation is indeed closest to the actual meaning. The Arabic text does not allow to make this selective. All messengers are in view here.
If I were to translate it, in order to be faithful to the meaning, it would be like:-
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