The Concept of Miracles in Islam

Know that the reason we call what the Prophets have brought a “miracle” (mu‘jiza) is that creatures are incapable (‘ijaz) of doing the like of it. There are two sorts of miracle. One sort is something that human beings are potentially able to do, but which they are prevented from doing by an act of Allah in order that the truthfulness of His Prophet should be confirmed. These include such things as their turning away from seeking death (when they were asked to do so) and their incapacity to bring the like of the Qur’an and similar things.

The other sort is things that are beyond their power and which they cannot do – such as bringing the dead to life, turning a staff into a snake, bringing the she-camel out of the rock, the tree speaking, water flowing from between the fingers, and splitting the moon. Only Allah can do these things. They are things that Allah does at the hand of one of His Prophets. The Prophet’s challenge to those who denied him to produce something similar was in order to show their incapacity.

Know that the miracles which appeared at the hand of our Prophet, the proofs of his prophethood and the indications of his truthfulness are made up of both types. He is the Messenger with the most miracles, the one with the clearest sign and most manifest proof as we will make clear. Due to their great quantity, his miracles cannot be numbered. The number of subsidiary miracles contained by just one of them– the Qur’an – cannot be counted. There are literally thousands of them which is shown by the fact that the Prophet issued the challenge to bring a sura like it and none of the people of knowledge was able to do so, not even to the extent of the shortest sura, al-Kawthar (108). Every single ayat is therefore a miracle. And it also has other miraculous properties as we will explain further on.

The miracles of the Prophet fall into two categories. One category is of those that are well-known and have been transmitted to us through many channels – like the Qur’an. There is no doubt or dispute that the Prophet brought it and it appeared from him and that he used it as a proof. If some pig-headed denier rejects this, it is like denying the fact that Muhammad existed in this world. The deniers themselves are refuted by the very existence of the Qur’an itself. It in itself and all the miracles that it contains are, therefore, indisputable. The fact of its inimitability is also both indisputable and verified by investigation as we will demonstrate.

One of our Imams stated: “This principle applies generally to the signs and the breaking of norms that occurred at the hands of the Prophet, for if no single one of them on its own is absolutely fixed and decisive, all of them together reach the level of indisputability. There is no doubt these extraordinary things occurred at his hands and neither believer nor unbeliever dispute their occurrence. What the obstinate do dispute is that they were from Allah.” We have already stated that they were from Allah Almighty and that this is the confirmation of His words, “You have been truthful.”

It is well known that these sort of things happened in the case of our Prophet just as it indisputably follows that Hatim was generous, ‘Antara was brave and al-Ahnaf[1] was forbearing since the reports transmitted about them all agree that the first was generous, the second brave, and the third forbearing. However each separate report would not in itself necessitate coming to that conclusion nor would it constitute decisive validation.

The second category consists of those things that do not reach the level of certainty and this category is divided in two. There are those things that are famous and widely known – a number of people relate them and they are well-known to the people of hadith and the relators and transmitters of the seerah. These include things like water flowing from his fingers and a little food becoming copious. There are also things that were only known to one or two people. A small number relate them and they are not as famous as the other category. But when they are joined to others, they are compatible with them and together they confirm the miracles as a whole as we have already stated.

Many of the signs related from him are definitely known. There is the splitting of the moon whose occurrence is confirmed by the Qur’an and about which there are subsidiary reports. One should never depart from the literal meaning unless a definite proof is produced. Its probability is increased by sound reports from many places, so our resolution to uphold it should not be weakened by the opposition of some stupid weakling devoid of religion nor should one pay any attention to the stupidity of an innovator who casts doubts into the hearts of weak believers. Nay, rather we throw this in his face and turn our back on his stupidity.

It is the same with the story of the water flowing and the small amount of food becoming larger. Reliable people and numerous individuals related these things from a great number of the Companions. Among them are the things that have been universally related directly from a group of the greatest Companions such as when many of them were gathered together on the Day of the Ditch,[2] the Battle of Buwat,[3] the ‘Umra of Hudaybiya,[4] the raid on Tabuk,[5] and other times when the armies of the Muslims were assembled together. It is not related that any of these Companions contradicted any transmitter in what he said nor did they object to any of the statements attributed to them, and in their case the silence of those who remained silent is the same as the words of those who spoke since they were not silent about anything that was untrue and they were not given to lying sycophancy. Neither desire nor fear stopped them. If they heard something that was not generally acknowledged as true and not known to them, they would reject it, as some of them did reject things which others among them related regarding the sunna, the seerah and the readings of the Qur’an. Some of them are known to have said that others had erred or misconstrued something. All of this is connected to his indisputable miracles as we have already made clear.

Also, any examples of traditions which have no basis and which are founded on falsehood must necessarily be discovered to be weak or obscure with the passage of time and the number of people who investigate them as is seen in the case of many untrue traditions and false rumours. These signs of our Prophet related through different individuals are only made more manifest by the passage of time. In spite of a succession of sects, frequent attacks by the enemy with the purpose of undermining and weakening the reports of such signs and the efforts of the unbelievers to suppress them, the strength and acceptance of them is only increased. All who attack these signs are only increased in grief and rancour. It is the same regarding his reports about the unseen worlds and his foretelling what was to come. This in itself is known to be one of his signs, which is true and cannot be covered up.

This has all been stated by our Imams, Qadi Abu Bakr al-Baqillani, Abu Bakr ibn Furak and others. And everything I know verifies that if anyone states that these famous stories have only reached us by the report of a single person, it is due to their lack of reading the reports and their transmission and their occupation with other sciences. Whoever studies the paths of transmission and reads the hadith and the seerah will not be able to doubt the validity of these famous stories as we have mentioned. It is by no means unlikely for one person to acquire knowledge of something by many paths of transmission while another does not. Most people know that Baghdad exists and that it is a large city and the place of the Imamate and Khalifate, yet there are people who do not even know its name, let alone what it is like.

It is because of this that the fuqaha’ among Malik’s companions know by necessity and multiple transmission from him that his school requires recitation of the Fatiha in the prayer by the Imam and the person praying on his own and permits making the intention on the first night of Ramadan for the rest of it, while ash-Shafi‘i thought that the intention had to be renewed each night and that it was enough to wipe only part of the head in wudu. It is likewise the reason for the Maliki fuqaha’s position regarding retaliation for killing with a blade and other such things, the obligation to make the intention for wudu, and the precondition of there being a wali for a marriage to take place, whereas Abu Hanifa disagreed with them concerning these matters. Other people are not concerned with their own schools and do not even relate what their schools say, not knowing what is in their own school, let alone the schools of others.

FOOTNOTES

1. Pre-Islamic Arabs famous for these particular qualities.

2. When the idol-worshippers and Jews besieged Madina, the Prophet, following the suggestion of Salman al-Farisi, commanded that a ditch be dug to protect the city. It was something unknown among the Arabs, although common for the Persians. This happened in 4 or 5 AH.

3. Buwat is one of the mountains of Juhayna in the territory of Radwa about fifty miles from Madina. The Prophet intercepted a caravan of Quraysh there. This event took place thirteen months after the Hijra.

4. A place near Makka. The Prophet and his companions had set out to perform ‘umra and were prevented from doing so by Quraysh. The Treaty of Ridwan was signed under a tree there in 6 AH.

5. Tabuk was the last of the expeditions of the Prophet and took place in 9 AH. It is a place near Syria, fourteen travel stages from Madina.


Source: Qadhi ‘Ayyadh’s al-Shifaa’ translated by Aisha Bewley.

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