3. Concerning the Prophet's Other Miracles
Synopsis: Miracles established through logical proof; an examination of the documents used as evidence by those who deny those miracles; the annunciation of the prophethood of Muhammad in the Torah and the Gospel; the conversion of many Jews and Christians to Islam, which is the absolute proof that demonstrates the truthfulness of this annunciation; the Prophet's miracles, even more worthy of belief than the miracles performed by the past prophets.
No well-informed scholar will doubt that the Qur'an is the greatest miracle that the Prophet of Islam produced. This means that it is the greatest miracle worked by all the prophets and messengers. In the preceding discussion, we have mentioned some of these from the standpoint of their miraculous nature, and have clarified the superiority of the Book of God over all these miracles. However, we wish to reiterate here that the miracles of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) were not limited to the Qur'an; rather, he matched them in his ability to work miracles while, at the same time, distinguishing himself from the rest of them with the miracle of the Exalted Book. The evidence of this lies in two points.
First, [there are] the traditions reported among Muslims through uninterrupted transmission, which establish that the Prophet worked other miracles. Muslims of all doctrines and sects have compiled numerous books [on the subject] that any person interested in the subject can refer to. These reports are superior in two respects to those compiled by the people of the Book regarding their own prophets.
The first is the closeness of the period: Any report that is close to the event is easier to believe than later reports. The second is the large number of transmitters. The Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) who witnessed his miracles were far more numerous than the Jews and Christians who reported the miracles of their own prophets. The followers of Jesus (peace be upon him) during his lifetime could be counted on the fingers; therefore, the reports of his miracles must have originated with these few believers. Hence, if the reports concerning the miracles of Moses and Jesus have any claim to universal acceptance through uninterrupted transmission, so do, to a greater extent, the reports concerning the miracles of the Prophet of Islam. But, as we have just explained, the reports on the miracles of the earlier prophets are not confirmed to have been transmitted without interruption in the succeeding periods; hence, the claim is invalid.
Moreover, the Prophet of Islam confirmed many of the miracles of earlier prophets, and then claimed that he was superior to all of them, and that the line of prophets ended with him. This claim necessitates that his miracles should be more extraordinary than those that occurred before him, for it would be unreasonable for anyone to claim superiority over others while confessing that he is inferior to them in some of the attributes of perfection. Does it stand to reason for someone to claim that he is the most learned of all physicians, and, at the same time, concede that some of the other physicians are able to cure a disease that he is unable to cure? Reason rules against this. It is because of this that we see that most of the false prophets denied that miracles could occur. They repudiated all the miracles of past prophets and endeavored to explain away the verses which mention the occurrence of miracles, lest the people ask them for something similar, and their incapacity would thereby be exposed. Some ignorant persons and those who mislead simple folk have written that the verses of the Qur'an include things which deny any miracle for the great Prophet except the Qur'an. They maintain that the Qur'an is his only miracle to the exclusion of any other, and that it is the only proof of his prophethood. We shall now turn to the verses they have quoted as proof and discuss their arguments; then we shall point out their error.
One of these verses is [what] God says:
Naught hinders Us from sending signs [al-ayat] save that the folk of old denied them. And We gave Thamud the she-camel - a clear portent- but they did wrong in respect to her. We send not divine signs, save to warn (Qur’an 17:59).
The above passage, they assert, shows clearly that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) did not bring any divine sign except the Qur'an. The reason for not sending other signs is that the earliest of bygone communities [to which prophets were sent] denied the divine signs that were sent to them.
The response is as follows.
The signs which the verse repudiates, and which were denied by the earlier communities, were only the divine signs that the communities demanded from their prophets. Therefore, the verse simply indicates that the Prophet did not comply with the unbelievers in producing the divine signs they specified. It does not deny that he did not perform any miracles at all. That the signs intended here are only those which were demanded is indicated by the following.
First, the word ayat is the plural of aya, meaning "a sign." The word in the [Arabic] verse is the definite plural, preceded by the definite article al- (the). There are three possible meanings of the word in its present context. One is the generic meaning that would apply to every sign. This would entail that the verse denies the occurrence of any sign that confirms a prophet's claim. The corollary is that sending a prophet is futile, for there is no benefit in sending him without a clear proof of his veracity. In other words, to impose on people the obligation to acknowledge him creates a situation whereby the people have been asked to perform a duty of which they are not capable. Another possible meaning is that the term refers to all the signs, and this is also erroneous, for the confirmation of a prophet's veracity could be achieved by any divine sign. It does not require all the signs. Besides, those who demanded the signs did not ask him to produce all of them; hence, there is no point in ascribing this meaning to the verse. Evidently, the prohibited signs mentioned in this verse are certain divine miracles that are known.
Second, if the denial expressed by the doubtful were a good reason to prevent the sending of divine signs, it would have, likewise, been a good reason to prevent the sending of the Qur'an as well, for there is no sense in excepting the Qur'an, of all di vine signs, from this obstruction. We have already explained that the Qur'an is the most important miracle brought by any prophet, and that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) challenged all the communities with it in order to prove his prophethood as long as there remain days and nights. This also conveys to us that the prohibited signs were only a particular kind of signs, and not divine signs in general.
Third, the verse states that the reason for not sending the divine signs was that such signs were denied to the earlier communities. This amounts to explaining the absence of a thing by the presence of an obstacle. It is evident that a justification based on the existence of an obstacle is not rationally acceptable except if the cause necessitating the existence of that thing is present. An intelligent person, for example, would find it inappropriate to explain that a piece of wood is not damp, when the fact is that there is no fire around it to make it bum. This is self evident, and is not open to doubt. Therefore, to justify the absence of divine signs on the ground of the denials, it would be imperative that something existed that required sending them. The thing which required sending them could have been the divine wisdom of guiding human beings and leading them toward their happiness. In this case, the people's request for signs from the Prophet must have exceeded the number required to provide the proof [of his claim to divine office]. However, if divine wisdom were the thing that required sending signs, then they would have inevitably been sent. This is because nothing can prevent divine wisdom from effecting what it wants, because it is unthinkable that the All-Wise would choose to do something that would contradict His wisdom, regardless of the existence or nonexistence of denial. Besides, if the denials of past communities were admissible as an obstacle preventing divine wisdom from sending the signs, they would have also been admissible as obstacles to sending the Prophet. This and its opposite premises are necessarily false, and a contradiction of what is obligatory. Hence, it remains that the thing requiring the signs to be sent is the demand of the people. Those who demand divine signs inevitably require things that exceed the [number of] signs necessary for establishing the proof. This is to say that it is incumbent on God to send whatever signs are necessary to establish the proof, but any signs in excess of those must not be sent by God, neither of His own accord nor in compliance with the demand of the doubters. It is true, however, that it would not be impossible for Him to do that if circumstances deemed it necessary to establish the proof a second or a third time, or if it were necessary to respond to what the people demanded.
Accordingly, the demand for signs must have been made by some people after the proof had been established for them with the necessary signs, and after they had denied them. Moreover, denials by past communities were the reasons for not sending the signs demanded by those communities, because a further denial of the demanded signs would have made it necessary to send down punishment on those who deny. [But God could not do this], for He had guaranteed, as a favor for His Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), and out of respect for his status, to remove worldly punishment from those communities. Thus, God, the Exalted, says, "But God would not punish them while you were with them" (Qur’an 8:33).
That the denial of the demanded divine signs necessitates the punishment of those who deny it is because of the following: The initial signs are solely for the purpose of proving the prophethood of the prophet, and as such, denying them would not lead to more than the eternal punishment due them for denying the prophet. But signs demanded by the people reflect the disputatiousness and obduracy of those who demand them. This is because if they were after the truth, they would have believed the first sign, for it is sufficient proof. Moreover, their demand signifies that they committed themselves to believing in the prophet if the latter were to respond to the demand. Thus, if they were to deny the demanded miracle, they would have mocked the prophet and the truth toward which he had called them, as well as the signs that they had demanded. It is for this reason that God calls these types of signs "the signs of warning," as He does at the end of the verse under discussion. Otherwise, there is no sense in including all divine signs in the category of warning signs when some of them are mercy for mankind, and guidance and a light for their path.
One of the things that indicate to us that the prohibited signs are the signs of warning is the context of this verse and its narrative. In the preceding verse, God, the Exalted, says:
There is not a township [i.e., a community] that We shall not destroy before the Day of Resurrection, or punish with dire punishment. That is set forth in the Book [of Our decrees] (Qur’an 17:58).
The verse also mentions that the divine sign [the she-camel] is in connection with the Thamud, following which a punishment was inflicted upon them. Their story is mentioned in sura 26, entitled "al-Shu'ara"' (The Poets). However, this verse ends with God's reminder: "We send not the signs save to warn."
All these contextual factors demonstrate that the signs which were withheld were those which had been demanded, and which would have entailed the descent of divine retribution. If we examine the Qur'an sufficiently, it will become so evident to us as to admit no doubt, that the unbelievers of Mecca at times asked for divine retribution to be sent down on them, and on others. They asked for signs which had brought down divine punishment on past communities for demanding, then denying, them. The first type [of signs] includes [the following]:
And when they said, "O God! If this be indeed the truth from You, then rain down stones on us or bring on us some painful doom!" But God would not punish them while you [O, Muhammad] were with them, nor will He punish them while they seek forgiveness (Qur’an 8:32-33). Say, "Have you thought, when this doom comes to you as a raid by night, or in the [busy] day, What is there of it that the guilty ones desire to hasten?" (Qur’an 10:50). And if We delay for them the doom until a reckoned time, they will surely say, "What withholds it?" (Qur’an 11:8). They bid you hasten the doom [of God]. And if a term had not been appointed, the doom would assuredly have come to them [before now]. And verily it will come upon them suddenly when they perceive not (Qur’an 29:53).
As for the other type, it includes [the following]:
And when a sign comes to them, they say, "We will not believe till we are given that which God's messengers are given." God knows best with whom to place His message. Humiliation from God and heavy punishment will smite the guilty for their scheming (Qur’an 6:21). But when there came to them the Truth from Our presence, they said, "Why is he not given the like of what was given to Moses?" Did they not disbelieve in that which was given to Moses of old? They say, "Two magics [the Torah and the Qur'an] that support each other"; and they say, "Lo! In both we are disbelievers" (Qur’an 28:48).
What indicates to us that it was their rejection of demanded divine signs, like those which had earned, for earlier communities, God's retribution, is [the following]:
Those before them plotted, so God struck at the foundations of their building, and then the roof fell down upon them from above them, and the doom came on them whence they knew not (Qur’an 16:26). Those before them denied, and so the doom came on them whence they knew not (Qur’an 39:25).
Those are only a few examples of the numerous indications in the Qur'an concerning what we have said. Moreover, the exegesis of the verse under consideration [17:59], both by Shi’ite and Sunni commentators, supports what we have construed from its apparent sense. In this regard, the following tradition is related on the authority of the Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him):
Some people asked Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) to produce a sign. Gabriel came down and said: "Verily, God says, 'Nothing hinders Us from sending signs save that the folk of old denied them' [Qur’an 17:59]. And if We were to send to the Quraysh a sign and they were not to believe in it, then We would have destroyed them. It is for this reason that We have delayed sending signs to your people."1
Another tradition is reported on the authority of lbn 'Abbas, who said:
The people of Mecca asked the Prophet to change [Mount] Safa into gold, and to move away the hills for them so that they could cultivate the land. Thus, he was told [through revelation]: "If you so desire, We shall give them respite for a time [and] perhaps some of them will choose [to believe]; and if you so desire, We shall give them what they want, but if they were to disbelieve, they shall be doomed as were those before them." The Prophet said, "Rather give them time." Thus God, the Exalted, revealed, "Nothing hinders Us from sending signs save that the folk of old denied them . . ." [Qur’an 17:59].2
There are other traditions on this subject that can be referred to in the books of traditions and in the exegesis of Tabari.
Other verses that have been used to deny the Prophet any other miracle besides the Qur'an include [the following]:
And they say: "We will not put faith in you till you cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us; or you have a garden of date-palms and grapes and cause rivers to gush forth therein abundantly; or you cause the heaven to fall upon us piecemeal, as you have pretended, or bring God and angels as a warrant; or you have a house of gold; or you ascend up into heaven, and even then we will put no faith in your ascension till you bring down for us a letter that we can read." Say [O, Muhammad]: "Glorified is my Lord! Am I naught save mortal messenger?" (Qur’an 17:90-93)
The conclusion which the opponents [of our view] have drawn from these verses is that the unbelievers asked the Prophet to work a miracle which would testify to the truthfulness of his prophethood; but he refused, and admitted his inability, claiming for himself only that he was a mortal sent to them as a messenger. Hence, the verses indicate that the working of miracles was denied him.
The response is as follows:
First, we have already explained to the reader, in our response to the preceding arguments, the circumstances of the demanded signs. The miracles that the unbelievers asked the Prophet to perform were undoubtedly demanded signs, and the unbelievers were predisposed to be obstinate in denying the truth. This is indicated by two things:
l. They had made their acceptance of the Prophet's call conditional upon one of those things that they were demanding. Had they not been obstinate in denying the truth, they would have been satisfied with any divine sign that proved his truthfulness. There was no other reason for them to demand these things specifically to the exclusion of other divine signs.
2. Regarding their saying, "Or you ascend up into heaven, and even then we will put no faith in your ascension till you bring down for us a letter that we can read," what is the point of the stipulation to bring down a letter? Is not ascending to heaven a sufficient sign in itself of his veracity? Or is there not in these vain desires clear evidence of their obstinacy against the truth?
Second, some of the things demanded by the unbelievers in the verses above were impossible [demands] and others were no proof of the truthfulness of a claim to prophethood. Even if it were incumbent on the Prophet (peace be upon him) to acquiesce in their demands, these would not have been the kinds of miracles for him to perform.
To make this clear, there were six things that the Meccan unbelievers demanded from the Prophet in these verses; three of them were impossible, and three, though not impossible, had no connection with establishing the truthfulness of a claim to prophethood.
The first of the three inconceivable things was causing heaven to fall upon them piecemeal. This would entail the destruction of the Earth and the death of its inhabitants. Such a thing would occur only at the end of time. The Prophet had informed them about this, as is evident from their saying, "As you have asserted." The falling of heaven on the Earth is mentioned in several places in the Qur'an, as in God's saying:
When the heaven is split asunder (Qur’an 84: 1); when the heaven is cleft asunder (Qur’an 82: 1). If We will, We can make the earth swallow them or cause obliteration from the sky to fall on them (Qur’an 34:9).
What makes this inconceivable is that its occurrence before its appointed time is incompatible with the survival of mankind and the guidance toward their perfection that wisdom has determined. It is impossible for the All-Wise to act in a way that is incompatible with His wisdom.
The second inconceivable thing demanded by the disbelievers was that the Prophet should bring God so that they meet Him and see Him. This is indeed impossible, for God cannot be seen with the eyes; otherwise, He would be limited in certain ways, and He would have color and countenance, and all this is inconceivable for God. The third inconceivable thing was to bring down a letter from God. What made this impossible was that they wanted a letter sent down that was handwritten by God, and not one that could be created and brought into being. This may be inferred from the fact that if they had meant a letter sent down through any means possible, there was no reasonable ground for demanding that it should come from heaven. An earthly letter would have served the purpose just as well as a heavenly one. There is no doubt that what they demanded was impossible because it would have required that God should possess a body with limbs. Exalted is God from all this, Sublime and Supreme.
The other three things, although possible, had no bearing on the truthfulness of the claim to be a prophet. This is because causing a spring to gush forth from the Earth, or owning a garden of date-palms and grapes and abundant rivers, or owning a house of gold-these things have no connection with the claim to be a prophet. Many people have one of them, yet they are not prophets. Indeed, some people have all three of them, yet they are not necessarily believers, let alone prophets. Since these things have no bearing on the claim of prophethood, and do not prove its veracity, producing them in the context of proving this veracity would be a futile act that a wise prophet would not perform.
Some individuals may delude themselves into believing that these three things do not prove the veracity of a prophet only when they are realized through conventional and familiar means. But if they are realized through extraordinary means, then there would be no doubt that they are divine signs, which confirm the truthfulness of a prophethood.
The response to this is as follows. In itself, this is correct. But the unbelievers wanted these things even through the conventional means, for they found it inconceivable that a divine messenger should be poor and without possessions:
And they say, "If only this Qur'an had been revealed to some great man of the two towns [Mecca and Ta'if] (Qur’an 43:31).
Consequently, they asked that the Prophet be a wealthy person. What indicates this is that they qualified their demand by asking that the garden and the house of gold should belong exclusively to the Prophet. Had they truly wanted these things to serve as miracles, then there would have been no valid reason for this condition; rather, there was no reason for them to demand the garden and the house, for it would have been sufficient to produce a single grape or a little bit of gold.
As for the unbelievers saying, "Till you cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us," there is no evidence in it that they were asking for the spring for them, and not for the Prophet, but simply that they were asking him to make it gush forth for their sake. The difference between the two senses is clear. Moreover, the Prophet did not admit to them his inability to perform the miracle, as those [who subscribe to the view under discussion] have imagined erroneously. Rather, what he made clear to them by saying, "Glorified is my Lord" is that God is above any incapacity; that He is capable of anything possible; that He is above being seen or encountered; that
He is above being commanded to do something that the unbelievers demanded; and that the Prophet was a human being commanded by God, the Exalted, to whom alone belong all the commands-and He does what He wishes and commands what He wills.
Another verse employed by those who deny that the Prophet performed any miracle other than the Qur'an is God's saying:
And they will say, "If only a sign were sent down upon him from his Lord!" Then say [O Muhammad]: "The unseen belongs to God. So wait! Lo, I am waiting with you" (Qur’an 10:20).
What they deduced from the verse is that the unbelievers demanded a divine sign from the Prophet, and that he did not mention any miracles of his. Instead, he replied to them that the unseen belongs to God. This proves that he did not have any miracle except what he had brought in the Qur'an.
A number of other verses are close to this in meaning. They include God's saying:
Those who disbelieve say, "If only some sign were sent down upon him from His Lord!" You are a warner only, and for every community a guide (Qur’an 13:7). They say, "Why has no sign been sent down upon him from His Lord?" Say, "Lo! God is able to send down a sign." But most of them know not (Qur’an 6:37).
The response to this is as follows.
First, as we said above, these unbelievers and others like them were not asking the Prophet to produce divine signs that would establish his truthfulness. They, rather, asked him to produce special signs. This is clarified in many places of the Qur'an. Thus, for instance, God, the Exalted, says:
They say, "Why has not an angel been sent down to them?" (Qur’an 6:8). And they say: "O you to whom the Reminder is revealed; lo! you are indeed a madman! Why bring you not angels to us, if you are of the truthful?" (Qur’an 15:6-7); And they say: "What ails this messenger [of God] that he eats food and walks in the markets? Why is not an angel sent down to him, to be a warner with him, or [why is not] a treasure thrown down unto him, or why has he not a paradise from whence to eat?" And the evildoers say, "You are but following a man bewitched" (Qur’an 25:7-8).
We already noted that signs should not be produced on demand. Moreover, the unbelievers wanted only the signs they were demanding. What indicates this to us is the fact that, had they wanted the Prophet to produce just any sign that proved his veracity, he would have certainly responded by pointing to the Qur'an, by which he indeed challenged them in many of its passages. What is, in reality, clear from the verses used as evidence by the opponents [of miracles other than the Qur'an], and from similar other verses, are the following two points:
1. The challenge of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) to all people was made specifically with the Qur'an [and not with any] of his other miracles. This had to be so, as we explained above, because the everlasting prophethood requires the eternal miracle, and this can only be the Qur'an, for none of his other miracles could be expected to possess continuity.
2. The working of miracles was not the Prophet's own choice. He was only a messenger, subject in this matter to the permission of God, the Exalted. Accordingly, the demand of the disbelievers had no role in this matter. This applies to other prophets as well. The following revelations by God, the Exalted, point to this fact:
It was not [given] to any messenger that he should bring a sign, save by God's leave. For everything, there is a time prescribed (Qur’an 13:38). And it was not given to any messenger that he should bring a sign, save by God's leave, but when God's commandment comes [the cause] is judged aright, and the followers of vanity will then be lost (Qur’an 40:78).
Second, the Qur'an also contains verses which indicate that miracles issued from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). Among these are God's saying:
The hour drew nigh and the moon was split in twain. And if they behold a sign (aya), they turn away and say, "Prolonged illusion" (Qur’an 54: 1-2). And when a sign (aya) comes to them, they say, "We will not believe till we are given that which God's messengers are given" (Qur’an 6: 124).
Several things indicate to us that aya here means a miraculous sign [rather than a Qur'anic verse].3 The [first verse] speaks of seeing the aya. Had the reference been to the verses of the Qur'an, the correct expression would have been "hearing" it. "Seeing" the aya is, moreover, conjoined with the splitting of the moon. Finally, [the second verse] ascribes to the aya the act of "coming" to them, rather than of "descending," or any of the other expressions [used from the Qur'anic revelation]. In fact, their words "prolonged illusion" are evidence of miracles repeatedly performed by the Prophet. Consequently, if we were to concede that the previous verses deny his performance of miracles, then the denial applies only to the time when these verses were revealed. It cannot possibly apply to any subsequent period.
The summary of what has been said above is as follows:
1. There is no evidence, in any of the verses of the Qur'an, that would deny the occurrence of other miracles besides the Qur'an. On the contrary, a number of verses contain evidence that proves the occurrence of other miracles, which the opponents [of this view] allege to have been denied by the Qur'an.
2. Producing a miracle was not something which the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) could decide of his own free will. It was in the hands of God, the Glorified.
3. When a claim to prophethood is made, what is needed is a miracle which proves the claim and on which its verification depends. Any miracle which exceeds this purpose is not incumbent upon God to manifest, nor should the Prophet respond if one were demanded.
4. Any miracle which entails doom and torment for the community is forbidden for that community. It must not be performed in response to a demand from the community, regardless of whether that was [made] by all or some of its members.
5. The lasting miracle of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), by which he challenged all the communities until the Day of Resurrection, is the revealed Book of God. As for his other miracles, they are not lasting, no matter how numerous they were. In this respect they share the characteristics of miracles [performed] by the earlier prophets.
The Qur'an states in a number of its verses that Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them) announced the good tidings of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and that this annunciation was mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel. God, the Exalted, says in regard to this:
I shall prescribe it [my mercy] for those who follow the Messenger, the u nlettered Prophet, whom they will find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, enjoining on them that which is right and forbidding them that which is wrong (Qur’an 7: 157). And . . . Jesus, son of Mary, said, "O, Children of Israel, lo! I am the messenger of God to you, confirming that which was [revealed] before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who comes after me, whose name is Ahmad"4 (Qur’an 61:6).
Hence, many Jews and Christians, during and after Muhammad's lifetime, believed in his prophethood. This is conclusive evidence that this annunciation still existed in the texts of the two ancient scriptures at the time of his message. Had they not been there, the Jews and Christians would have possessed sufficient proof to deny the Qur'an's claim and to reject the Prophet's call, and they would have rejected him vehemently. The fact that so many of them embraced Islam and believed the Prophet's call, during and after his time, is indisputable evidence that the text of the annunciation was still preserved at that time. Accordingly, faith in Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them) necessitated faith in Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), without requiring any miracle to establish his veracity.
However, a miracle was necessary [to establish his veracity] for other communities that did not believe in Moses and Jesus and their revelations. It has been established earlier that the Noble Qur'an is the lasting miracle and the divine proof of the truthfulness of the Prophet and the veracity of his mission. Moreover, his numerous other miracles, which have been related by uninterrupted transmission, are more worthy of belief than the miracles performed by the other prophets who preceded him.
- 1. Hashim b. Sulayman al-Bahrani, Kitab al-Burhanfi Tafsir al-Qur'an, ed. Mahmud b.Ja'far al-Musawi al-Zarandi, 4 vols. (Tehran: Chapkhane Aftab, n.d.) vol. 2, p. 424.
- 2. Tabari, Tafsir, vol. 15, p. 74
- 3. The word aya serves both meanings.-Trans.
- 4. Ahmad (the Most Praised One) is an alternative name for the Prophet Muhammad.Trans.