Of course, were it to ever really happen that a baby has a resemblance to Qur’anic verses on their skin, or were any other uncommon, mysterious event to happen, we admit that it is all part of Allah’s plan – and the mystery can bring about a humbleness to the awesome power and majesty of Allah. But with a number of instances, there is an explanation that we can understand at some depth at a later date.
Last year a story was circulated throughout the net about a nine-month-old baby from Russia who, as the parents claimed, had vivid Qur’anic verses mysteriously and miraculously appear upon his body. As news spread, thousands of Muslims began to flock to the war-torn region of Southern Russia, hoping to catch a glimpse of the “miracle child”. Many Muslims from across the globe wondered if this was more evidence of God’s existence in a modern world. Local doctors were dumbfounded as to how or why such markings were appearing, and could find no clear scientific reason for it (at least not right away). “What if it’s a miracle?” many wondered. “What if it’s a sign from Allah?”
The point is not to question the authenticity of these types of out-of-the-ordinary events. Maybe it’s a ruse conjured up by attention seekers, or perhaps the event was real – Allah knows better and only time will tell. But are events like these truly the signs that we’re looking for to believe in God and to strengthen our faith?
What I wish to question is the current perception of what events bear the signature of God and are deemed “miraculous”. To believe in God, are we in need of lightning strikes at opportune moments, unexplained healing of sicknesses, or inexplicable resemblances of natural objects to angels or Prophets? What are we to search for in order to increase our Imaan?
Martyr Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari discusses two types of theists: one group who sees God from a negative point of view and another group who sees God from the positive. Regarding the negative group, when faced with a failure to understand something unknown, they bring God to explain it. Testimony for God’s existence lies in those events that seem to completely break with the natural order and contain no other possible explanation. Regarding phenomena whose natural causes are unknown to them, they proclaim: “This was brought into existence by God’s will.” The implication of this would mean that normal events happen entirely on their own – without God’s involvement, while bewildering events are acts of God. They believe that the more cases there are that don’t have natural explanations, the more evidence there is for God. The supernatural becomes a storehouse of unknowns. The biggest threat to theists of this type is (unprejudiced) science and knowledge. The more humankind begins to understand – how life is formed, how diseases are cured, or other things we don’t understand at the moment – the evidence of God will dwindle.
This approach is entitled the “God of the gaps” argument, a humiliating label that many place upon theists who subscribe to the negative approach to evidence of God. So long as we take this approach, our Faith will remain on shaky grounds – only to remain so long as no one finds explanations for those phenomena. Certain mysteries, like that of the development of a living organism, once seemed completely outside the domain of human knowledge. Now, it seems that science is able to create the conditions for living cells to be developed in laboratories. The negative approach to God is completely antithetical to this recent development.
The second group of theists seeks knowledge of God’s existence through positive means – true knowledge, not mystery. To this group, scientific explanations and discovered causes do not necessarily conflict with the existence of God. According to Martyr Mutahhari, this is the approach of the Holy Qur’an: instead of relying on instances that seem extra-ordinary or unexplainable, it relies on cases whose preliminaries and natural causes are known to the people, and it cites this order itself as a testimony to God’s existence.
For believing in God and increasing our awareness of Him, we are asked in the Qur’an most often to see the way things are – to reflect – on the sun and the moon which follow their courses, on the ships that are able to sail elegantly through the ocean, on the rain that falls and the thunder that strikes, on the new-born baby, and other common events to realize how miraculous they truly are.
- “Have you considered the’ soil that you till? Do you yourselves make the plants grow or are We the one who makes them grow?” (56:63‑64)
- “Have you considered the seed that you spill? Do you yourselves create it, or are We the creators?” (56:58‑59)
- “Indeed in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, and the ships that sail at sea with profit to men, and the water that Allah sends down from the sky – with which He revives the earth after its death, and scatters therein every kind of animal – and the changing of the winds, and the clouds disposed between the sky and the earth, are surely signs for a people who apply reason.” (2:164)
Discovering the factors and causes of all these common occurrences will reveal the power, harmony, life, and consciousness that make it all possible. It is the Qur’anic approach to reveal the Divine through knowledge of everyday life – not the mystery of the unexplained or rare-occurring. Life itself is characterized as an ever-miraculous process, one that requires Allah’s constant involvement. Just because something happens all the time, that doesn’t make it any less miraculous nor does it ever stop pointing towards the All-Powerful and All-Knowing. Indeed, “Every moment His Glory manifests anew.” (55:29)
As for the development of cells and other living organisms in laboratories, the positive approach would not see this as contradictory to God. Rather, the conditions created in laboratory environments is fundamentally the same as bringing two people together for the act of procreation and the development of a living organism in the womb environment. In both cases, it would be incorrect to assume that human beings have created something out of nothing, performed a miracle, or are now in no need of God. Discovery of these conditions and causes are meaningless were it not for God’s coherent system and its corresponding laws.
In religion, there is a place for miracles (Mu’jiza) – inimitable deeds that are practically impossible for normal human beings to perform. However, extraordinary miracles have been for the purpose of proving one’s claim to Prophethood, not the existence of God.
Of course, were it to ever really happen that a baby has a resemblance to Qur’anic verses on their skin, or were any other uncommon, mysterious event to happen, we admit that it is all part of Allah’s plan – and the mystery can bring about a humbleness to the awesome power and majesty of Allah. But with a number of instances, there is an explanation that we can understand at some depth at a later date. There is a discoverable set of causes to these events, and I hope informed individuals and thinkers search deep to find out what they are.
If scientists were to find out the causes involved in events we normally deem as strangely extraordinary, and if they were able to duplicate these events in labs numerous times, would they be miraculous anymore? My thinking is yes, they would be. Everything about Allah’s creation is a sign of His remarkable order, and that they have found particular conditions and causes shows us that Allah’s system is working and never fails to work according to laws and reason – no ignorance, no exceptions, and no problems ever occur in the creation of Allah. Logical explanations for events don’t disprove God’s involvement in the world – they show that God’s world works according to norms and laws.
“It is He who has created seven heavens, one above the other. You can see no flaw in the creation of the Beneficent God. Look again. Can you see faults? Look twice (and keep on looking), your eyes will only become dull and tired.” (67:4)
This misunderstanding has been a detrimental factor to faith in the modern world. Ideally, the advancements of knowledge and science should provide more reason to seek the Divine World that lies connected – but beyond – the world that we live in. Instead, the negative approach to God has become an obstacle to faith for droves of people. I think that faith could retain its rightful place in the hearts of the modern human family if we enlighten ourselves with the approach the Qur’an mostly takes – the realistic approach that enlivens the world for us, that makes us see the divinity and remarkableness of what’s known to us right in front of our eyes. Every sunset you see is a miracle, every breath you take is a new reason to renew your faith; and that will never be properly understood if we’re explaining God’s existence in terms of confusing, strange events that are few and far between. Thus, authentic or not, the strange and paranormal events that we hear about in the news are hardly relevant in our search for God. Reflection upon everyday inner and outer life will be the sign-post that guides us towards our Creator.
1) Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari, Quran and the Nature of Life
2) Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei, Prolegomena of the Holy Quran