Last October a popular British tabloid, The Sun, printed a story about a young Muslim boy in Dagestan, dubbed “Koran Boy” whose family claimed that miraculous imprints of the Quran would appear on his body at varying times.1We all may have encountered stories in this vein at one time or another – reports of a tree in the perfect form of a man bent in ruku‘, a fish on whose scales “Allah” is clearly written, or clouds shaped into the testimony of faith La ilaaha illa Allah. Or perhaps we’ve seen charts indicating the number of times certain words are used in the Quran which amazingly coincide with scientific statistics, or read an email quoting verses from the Quran that seem to prove antecedent knowledge of math or astronomy. Each may be labeled as miraculous, but are these truly miracles? How should we understand and feel about these stories and ideas?
In Arabic there are a number of words that coincide with the common understanding of the word ‘miracle’. One such word is mu’jizah (pl. mu’jizaat), occurrences or abilities beyond the bounds of the regular laws of the universe, which were granted especially to the prophets. As Muslims we believe that Allah (subhanahu wa ta ‘ala – glory be unto Him) caused these mu’jizaat to occur at their hands as a means of affirming their nubuwwa [prophethood].2 For example, the noble prophet Esa (alayhis salam – may peace be on him) was granted the ability to speak while still an infant in the cradle, to bring the dead to life and to heal the leper.3 The Seerah [biography ] of our beloved Prophet ﷺ is replete with mu’jizaat.4 Among many other miraculous events, he caused the moon to split, heard pebbles testify to his prophethood, threw a handful of dust that blinded an entire army, and journeyed to Jerusalem from where he ascended the Heavens on the blessed night of Isra’ wal Mi’raaj. The greatest mu’jizah with which he came with was the Qur’an, the power of which Allah (swt) describes in a verse in Surat ar-Ra’ad:
“And if there had been a Qur’an with which mountains could be moved, or the earth could be split asunder, or the dead could be made to speak (it would not have been other than this Quran).” (13:31)
While the scientific details of the Qur’an are certainly part of its miraculous nature, there are many other elements it contains which, when studied and reflected upon, can be extremely faith affirming. Its literary power – its magnificent and inimitable rhythm, syntax and measure – is awe-inspiring, especially for one who has mastery of its language. The narratives of past prophets and peoples strike a chord in some, while for others the guidance which it offers from a philosophical perspective and its compelling answers to life’s ‘big questions’ is its most astounding feature. For the scholar, the legal derivations that can be drawn from the preciseness of its verses are remarkable, while, for the worshipper, its spiritual dimensions profoundly affect the heart and soul and deeply resonate. Hence we must be careful not to confine the power of the verses of the Qur’an to its scientific dimensions alone. We must also be wary of attempts to confirm every present-day theory of the sciences with the Qur’an, as it may be that some will later be amended or even discredited.
Mu’jizaat such as the Qur’an were a special gift given to the prophets. However, events or occurrences that go beyond the norms of nature are not limited to them alone. A common axiom that can be found in many books of Aqeedah [belief] is “Al mu’jizatu lil nabiy, wal karamatu lil waliy, wal istidraaj lil ghawiyy.” In the event that we find extraordinary occurrences happening with individuals other than the prophets, we regard them as either a karamah or as istdiraaj. If the individual is someone God-fearing, righteous and devoted to adherence of the Shari’ah, then one can assume that such an occurrence is a karamah, a sign of Allah’s (swt) favor upon the person and a means of confirming the veracity of Islam.5 A beautiful example of this can be found in the Qur’an in the story of Sayyidah Maryam (alayhaa salaam – peace be upon her). From among the karamaat she experienced was that she would be provided with fresh sustenance from an unseen source while alone in her private quarters, which she said was “from Allah; for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure” (Qur’an, 3:37). Another example of a karamah is in the well-known hadith of three men who were trapped in a cave, to whom Allah (swt) granted an escape on account of their good deeds.6
In contrast to the above, if we see miraculous events or abilities occurring at the hands of someone who does not show deference to the Shari’ah, or is openly a sinner (a faasiq), then this is a case of istidraaj. Instead of being a sign of Allah’s (swt) pleasure, it is actually a means by which that person draws closer to punishment and destruction. Linguistically, istidraaj connotes a slow, gradual progression by degrees. It denotes allowing a disobedient person to feel more and more confident in their transgressions, to arrogantly continue, unaware of their true state, only to reach their deserved fate and due punishment in the end. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is reported to have said, “When you see Allah [continuously] granting someone things that they love, while they are constantly in a state of disobedience to Him [muqeem ‘ala ma’asiyatihi], then know that this is istidraaj.”7 He ﷺ then recited the verse from the Qur’an, “But when they forgot the warning they had received We opened to them the gates of all (good) things, until, in the midst of their enjoyment of Our gifts, on a sudden We called them to account, and they were plunged in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
For this reason it is possible for two individuals to experience the same “miracle”; for one of them it is a reward from Allah (swt) for their devotion and steadfastness, while for the other it is a means of punishment due to their obstinate disobedience. Its outer appearance is exactly the same, while its inner truth could not be more dissimilar. This is the full meaning of the principle mentioned above, that the mu’jizah is for the prophets, while a karamah is for the waliy – one devoted to Allah (swt) with an intensely close relationship with Him, and istdiraaj is for the ghawiyy – the one misguided and who has gone astray.
On account of this we must be cautious when reading reports about karamaat. The specific individual in question, their practice and belief, is deeply linked to what the miraculous occurrence signifies. Further, Shaytan may try to deceive or corrupt a righteous servant through these means. Shaykh Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, known as the Sultan of the Awliyaa, recounts the following story:
“Once, while I was in ‘ibadah, I had a vision of a glorious throne before me, upon which was a figure of light. It said to me, ‘O Abdul Qadir! I am your Lord, and I have made permissible for you what has been made prohibited for others!’ I [immediately recognized this as deception from Shaytan, and] responded by saying, ‘Are you claiming to be Allah, the One besides whom there is no other god? Get away, you enemy of Allah!’ The light [that I saw] rent into pieces, and became instead a deep darkness, and the vision responded by saying, ‘O Abdul Qadir, you have defeated me with your understanding of religion, your knowledge, and your striving in spiritual endeavors. I have caused fitna to seventy people before you with this very trick.’’ Sh. Abdul Qadir was asked, ‘How did you know that this was Shaytan?’ He responded by saying, ‘[It was] by his claim that he had made permissible for me what was prohibited, while I know that the Shari’ah which Muhammad ﷺ established cannot be abrogated or altered [in such a way].’”8
Additionally, when hearing about extraordinary events we should apply the general principle taught to us in Surat al-Hujuraat about news: that we must verify whatever we hear, and be cautious in accepting reports especially when the source’s credibility may be in question. Allah (swt) says,
“If a faasiq comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done.” (Qur’an, 49:6)
Finally, while the stories we read of a tree, a fish, or other creation with a distinctive marking indicating Allah’s existence may certainly be an ayah [sign], is it not the case that the world around us, in all its beauty, complexity and design is a much greater ayah for us? Perhaps if we looked at things on a grander scale, and pondered more deeply on the everyday miracles we see around us – if we sought ‘to see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower’ as a poet once said – our faith can be renewed and uplifted without overly relying on these reports, and we can be of those who respond in affirmation when Allah (swt) asks, “Do they not contemplate in their own minds?” (Qur’an, 30:8)
“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth;- (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise.” (Qur’an, 2:164)
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding – who remember Allah while standing, or sitting, or [lying down] on their sides, and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], ‘Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; Exalted are You. Protect us from the punishment of the Fire. Our Lord, indeed whoever You admit to the Fire – You have disgraced him, and for the wrongdoers there are no helpers. Our Lord, indeed we have heard a caller calling to faith, [saying], ‘Believe in your Lord,’ and we have believed. Our Lord, so forgive us our sins and remove from us our misdeeds and cause us to die with the righteous.” (Qur’an, 3:190-191)
May Allah make us people of insight and reflection, and from those who see His Power, Ability and Beauty through the signs in His creation, ameen.
- http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2689523/Koran-boys-skin-mystery.html ↩
- Al Wadih al-Mubeen fi Aqidatil Islam. ↩
- The Noble Status of Jesus and Mary in Islam, by Sh. Muhammad Hassan, Translated By Faisal Ahmad. ↩
- There are certain intellectuals, particularly in more modern times, who have rejected the occurrence of any miraculous event at the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ other than the Quran. However, the large number of authentic texts we find in the corpus of ahadith which describe the mu’jizaat that occurred, as well as the references to them in many places in the Quran are a sufficient response to this assertion. ↩
- Al Wadih al-Mubeen fi Aqidatil Islam. ↩
- Bukhari and Muslim. ↩
- Ahmad, at-Tabarani, Bayhaqi. Reported by Sh. Albani as sound. ↩
- This is a well-known story that can be found in many biographies of Sh. Abdul Qadir al-Jilani. This particular narration has been mentioned in Majmu’ al-Fatawa by Sh. Ibn Taymiyyah. ↩