The idea of prophets or message-carriers are common to almost every major religion. In Islam, they are key to an understanding of God.
Most people will associate the name and person of Muhammad with the Islamic religion. But Muhammad, who lived 14 centuries ago, can only be understood as being part of a collective, a special pool of individuals, known as Prophets. Indeed, Muhammad would repeat that he did not bring a new religion at all, and that his message was the same message of those before him.
Prophets had two main functions: one was to preach with a ‘prophetic voice’ to the people around them, and the second was to be the bearer of specific teachings, in some cases messages, or revelations, about God and the role of human beings. As a result some were also called Messengers.
Islam shares the same general idea regarding prophets with Judaism and Christianity, and indeed many familiar names of prophets such as Adam, Noah, Joseph, Jonah, Abraham and Moses are common across Abrahamic faiths. The Quran names these prophets (e.g. Abraham is known as Ibrahim) and mentions others too, saying there is no distinction between them that they submitted to God.
A belief that many earlier prophets having gone to many peoples underlines the basic Islamic premise that goodness and positive values will be found amongst people everywhere. Such values are not then alien to Islamic teachings, but rather, another rich expression of them.