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Doing the Impossible: Miracles

Artist's rendition of Prophet Musa parting the Red Sea.The concept of “miracle” which is known to popular culture is not the same as the concept of “miracle” which answers the aforementioned questions.

Artist's rendition of Prophet Musa parting the Red Sea.“How do we know that Islam is the religion revealed by God? How do we know that ANY of the prophets in history were actually sent by God? I mean, what if they were all just brilliant minds that developed advanced philosophies and social theories?”

Well, the answer to these questions is simple: They brought forth miracles.

Perhaps that answer may sound a bit childish. After all, popular culture has always portrayed the issue of miracles as a stretch of the truth which fools simple-minded individuals. But one thing we should pay attention to is the fact that the concept of “miracle” which is known to popular culture is not the same as the concept of “miracle” which answers the aforementioned questions.

As for the following citations, we bring them forth not as “believe it blindly” statements since they are by a great scholar who spent his life delving into the depths of theological knowledge. Rather, we discuss them as realities that can, without a shadow of doubt, be deduced by a fair, clear thinking mind.

The late Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei explains what is meant by “miraculous” in his exegesis al-Bayan: “It is – terminology-wise – that one with a claim to a divine post brings forth something which penetrates the natural laws, while others are unable to do the same, as a witness to the truthfulness of his claim.”

Sayyid al-Khoei continues to explain another criterion: “And the miracle would only be a witness to the truthfulness of the claimant’s claim if it is possible for him to be truthful in such a claim. However, if it is impossible, by the rule of rationale, or by the rule of a proven narration of a prophet or an Imam who is known to be infallible, then it would not be a witness to truthfulness, and it would not be called a miracle – terminology-wise – even if people cannot do the likes of it.”

To sum up the criteria mentioned thus far, a miracle is only a miracle – terminology-wise – if:

  1. It is brought forth by someone who is claiming a divine post as a witness to his link to the divine (i.e. prophet-hood, messengership, Imamat, etc.).
  2. It penetrates the natural laws/routines. (Note: it does not penetrate the law of cause and effect, but it does go beyond the strictly physical laws which we are familiar with.)
  3. Others are unable to do the same.
  4. The claim is possible (e.g. does not go against rational).

In order to make sure we understand the criteria presented, we need to clarify what is meant by “possible/impossible”. There is a difference between claiming something which is uncommon, but rationally possible, and claiming something which is uncommon, and rationally impossible. For example, we can imagine that it is possible, although unlikely, that if we were being burned by fire, some unannounced force could turn the fire into a cool and peaceful entity. On the flipside, we cannot even imagine the possibility of the text on this screen, as it is, being here and NOT being here at the SAME time from the SAME perspective. What was the difference in those two examples? The difference was that the first one was still rationally possible, while the second one was definitely rationally impossible.

So now Sayyid al-Khoei gives examples in explaining the definition: “First Example: If someone claimed that he was a god, then this claim is not possibly truthful by the rule of rationale –because of the correct proofs which show the impossibility of it.

“Second Example: If someone claimed prophethood after the prophet of Islam, this claim is undoubtedly a lie by the rule of the definite narrations by the Prophet of Islam and his Infallible Successors that his prophethood would be the seal of all prophethood.”

The reason the second example is impossible is because it goes back to a rational impossibility. Think about it: if we definitely know that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and the Infallible Imams (peace be upon them) told us there would be no more prophets, we have certainty of that. But then, if someone claims to be a prophet, we cannot possibly accept both statements to be true. Or else, we would be accepting that two contradictory things can exist at the SAME time – essentially, that you could be reading this text on this screen and NOT reading this at the SAME time from the SAME perspective.

Expanding on the point that the claimant’s claim must be possible, one can see that since it is impossible for the Perfect God to send us a flawed example to follow, then the one who makes the claim must be upright and infallible. Moreover, it would also be impossible for the one truly sent by God to say he will bring forth one thing and then bring forth another. In regards to such a liar, it would not be necessary that God deactivate the claimant’s ability, because there is enough evidence in his lies to prove the falsehood of his claims.

Sayyid al-Khoei proceeds to address another situation:

“And it is not miraculous – terminology-wise – that which appears from magicians, or some scientist with high-precision theoretical knowledge, or others, and it is not necessary that God deactivate it if it is known that such deeds are dependent on some natural explanations.” In other words, as long as the “supernatural” phenomena have natural explanations, they would not be miracles.

If one reflects on the reality of miracles in relation to the Holy Qur’an – Islam’s living miracle – it would not be difficult to bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. The Holy Qur’an meets the intellectual criteria discussed earlier and has survived the test of time, even when other miracles faded away into the forgotten shadows of history. The reader may refer to the numerous volumes of literature on the topic of the Qur’an’s miraculous nature. Better yet, an open mind can see its miraculous nature simply by opening it up and contemplating.

When the miracle becomes clear, so will the one who brought it forth. When the messenger is clear, and we take the message from him, there can be no doubt in the message.

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  • Azhar Sheraze

    Another, more clear example of an ‘impossible’ thing would be a 4 sided triangle.