Chapter 26: Miracles

Before we discus Imam Husayn’s miracles, it is necessary to understand the meaning, connotation, and genesis of miracles. Simply defined, a miracle is an act of a Divinely appointed Prophet, Apostle, or Saint which is contrary to the ordinary nature of things, incapable of being explained or duplicated by human beings, performed not by any practiced skill but as a Grace endowed by God, rendering the beholders spellbound and submissive to a Superior and Omnipotent Power. The Arabic word ‘Mu’jizah’ simply means that which makes man acknowledge his helplessness, incapacity and inferiority before a Supreme Omnipotent.1

Miracle is the proof of Prophethood; vicegerncy of the Supreme, Almighty Lord, the Creator. Non-believers turned away from the miracles, declaring them to be ‘magic’.2 They accused the Prophets as liars and sorcerers and the Scriptures as nothing but empty words to veer them away from their ancestral deities.3 A third category of people took a converse sense and started worshiping Prophets, Rabbis, and monks as gods besides Allah.4

One of man’s inborn qualities is the tendency to gloat over his achievements. When men perform great deeds or achieve great objects, they fall into two categories; firstly, those who acknowledge and prostrate before that Supreme Power that enables men to reach the pinnacle of success, and secondly, those who in their conceit deny a Supreme Power while giving credit to themselves for their success. In the later case, the heady wine of conceit confers a sense of invincibility on the vainglorious. This assumed sense of invincibility breeds arrogance. Tyranny is nothing but an aggravated form of arrogance on a larger scale.

The basis of tyranny is a false sense of freedom from accountability to one’s actions. Unrepentant tyrants consider that there is none who would be able to subjugate them to render account. For the tyrants, there is no concept of a reward for good deeds, while he imagines that his evil deeds will go unpunished.5

The religious and pious men, on the other hand, tremble at the very thought of the Supreme Lord calling them to account and punishing them for the injustice they are guilty of while they hope for a reward for their good deeds and redemption through intercession and Divine Mercy.6 This combination of fear and hope acts as a major deterrent against their committing evil deeds and at the same time acts as an incentive to do good deeds. Despite this restraint, if anyone commits a sin, the penitent sinner hopes, as a Grace, for the Mercy of the Almighty Lord.7

Religion is nothing but a reminder to man that he is accountable and shall be punished for his evil deeds while his good deeds would bring in suitable rewards both in this life and in the afterlife.8 God propagates the religion – a code of conduct in this life- through His chosen Apostles, Prophets, Deputies, and Saints. In order to distinguish them from pretenders, God bestowed the power of miracles upon His chosen ones. The pretenders could not match the miracles performed by God’s chosen ones and were fully exposed as frauds. Another reason for the miracles is that after God had sent His Messengers and Messages, no soul which denied the Messenger or the Message should say:‘If Allah had guided me, I would have been one of the righteous’, or ‘If I were allowed to go back to life again, I would lead a righteous life’.9

Whenever tyrants committed great atrocities, God sent His chosen Apostles, Prophets, Deputies, and Saints with miracles in order to relieve the oppressed, and to re-establish harmonious and peaceful life and to confound the tyrant. The miracles, therefore, were in accordance with the need of the time so that man may be confronted with something more superior and wondrous than the bet of his latest achievements.

But, when men saw the Apostles in a human form leading an ordinary life, they assumed that the Apostles were not different from ordinary men.10 Therefore, they demanded that the Apostles should perform some miracles (do something super-natural). The miracles were such that they excelled far beyond and were superior to man’s achievement of the time.

Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) said that miracles were endowed on the Divinely appointed persons as proof of their veracity that they were indeed sent by an Omnipotent Lord. Imam Ali bin Musa ar-Ridha (a.s.) said that the types of miracles varied according to the need of the time and were accepted as conclusive proof of the Prophet’s Divine appointment.11

In early days when a Prophet (S) preached obedience to One Omnipotent God Who will hold them to account, people reviled him saying that if there would be punishment in the hereafter why they were not tormented immediately. However, God always warned in advance through His Apostles before sending down chastisement on any nation or community.12

Thus, God sent the deluge and those who disbelieved Noah’s Messengership and Message were drowned.13 Similarly, the people of Aad disbelieved the Prophet Hud whom they called a liar. They said, “Should we abandon our ancestral deities and worship one God? Then bring down the scourge with which you threaten us if you are really in truth.” The believers were saved and the disbelievers annihilated.14 On similar lines, was the case of the prophets Salih,15 Lot16, Shu’aib…etc.17 The reason for the annihilating scourges is to make men realise that there is an Almighty Lord before Whom they are humble.

Abraham (a.s.) was sought to be punished by his people for calling them to worship One Almighty God and to desist worshiping idols of their own making. A huge fire was prepared which was so intense that a catapult was made and Abraham (a.s.) was thrown from it into the fire. Miraculously, on the Command of the Almighty, the fire did not harm Abraham (a.s.).18 The saving of Ishmael (a.s.) from being sacrificed by Abraham was yet another miracle.19 Abraham was endowed with the miracle of raising the dead to life when he wanted to know how the dead would be raised to life. He was asked to tear birds into pieces and throw the pieces on the tops of mountains and then to call them back. The birds came flying.20

During the period of Solomon, Satan taught sorcery. Harut and Marut in Babylon taught magic to men who used it only to cause harm and no benefit to anyone.21

The people of Moses demanded miracles as assurance that he was indeed divinely appointed.22 During the period of Moses (a.s.), men became so adept at sorcery that they thought they were invincible. Moses and Aaron (a.s.) were unable to convince the Pharaoh to give up the claim of his godship and to accept and submit to an Almighty Lord Who will call the Pharaoh to account for his deeds. Instead of meeting the arguments in the debate, the Pharaoh wanted to see a sign whereupon Moses (a.s.) threw down his rod, which became a serpent. He showed his palm which shone like a brilliant light. The Pharaoh’s men said that Moses (a.s.) was practicing sorcery to veer them away from worshiping the Pharaoh. They advised him to summon all the skilled sorcerers in the kingdom to confront and challenged Moses and Aaron (a.s.). When the sorcerers gathered together, Moses’ rod became a huge serpent and swallowed all their serpents. This miracle led some of the assembly to acknowledge the truth of the Message of Moses (a.s.) and to submit to the Lord of all Creation, the God of Moses and Aaron (a.s.). However, the denial by the Pharaoh led to the final scourge and his destruction by drowning.23 His last moment repentance could not save him and as the excavations in Egypt have revealed, his body was preserved as a lesson to posterity.24 The Qur’an reveals that Moses (a.s.) was given nine clear signs which the Pharaoh denied and was made to drown.25 Moses (a.s.) was asked to strike his rod on the water that parted and gave way to him (a.s.) and his companions to escape.26 Thus, the miracle of Moses (a.s.) overwhelmed the sorcery of all other sorcerers, which subdued the arrogance of the people of Egypt. God sent miracles that every miracle would be mightier than the previous one, yet the non-believers denied the signs saying that it was nothing but magic. They called upon Moses (a.s.) to invoke God to send down the promised punishment. It was then that they were all drowned. 27

Qarun was the richest man in the time of Moses (a.s.). He spurned the advice of Moses (a.s.) to obey the Almighty Lord, but Qarun was insolent and proud. He denied the Message and Messengership of Moses (a.s.) and was swallowed along with his palace and immense wealth. Haman, the Pharaoh’s vizier was also a vicious man28

Prophet David (a.s.) was given two miracles. One is he was blessed with a mellifluous voice that when he sang the praise of the Lord, the mountains and birds joined in his singing. The other is that iron became soft to him like wax so that Prophet David (a.s.) could mould it into anything he desired.29 This indeed was necessary because the ‘Iron Age’ had started and anyone who could strive and make a weapon became more powerful. David (a.s.) had no need to strive to make a sword, for iron was soft as wax in his hands.

Prophet Solomon (a.s.) was given the miracle of speaking to birds, animals, and Jinn.30 He was given control over the elements.31 By this time, man had started understanding the elements and was trying to put them to his own advantage. Man also was in the process of understanding the behaviour of animals. His miracles were in tune with the times.

By the time Jesus (a.s.) was born, man had advanced by leaps and bounds in the field of medicine. By this time, cures were found from herbs, trees, metals, and minerals. Man boasted that he had found cures for everything except congenital blindness, leprosy, and death. Jesus (a.s.) was sent with the power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cure the leprous, and raise the dead to life.32 The most wonderful miracle of Jesus (a.s.) was that he spoke while in his cradle during his early infancy.33

However, man misconstrued that miracles were performed not by Prophets, Apostles or Saints but by God Incarnate. Thus, Prophets, Apostles and Saints themselves came to be worshipped as gods.34 The real object of miracles as proof of an Omnipotent Almighty God became obscure and miracles were assumed of lesser importance. Man had grown out of the stage of wondering at abnormal things. Man realised that some miracles could be scientifically explained. What man has thirsted for now is knowledge of the unknown, what lay beyond the range of the eye, ear, or mind.

Though the Prophet (S) was surrounded by infidels and hypocrites who challenged his Messengership and Vicegerancy of God, no scourge came down because the Prophet (S) was designated as ‘Rahmatul lil Aalameen’ or ‘Mercy for the creatures’. It is therefore that the Qur’an reveals, “Allah was not to send them any chastisement while you (the Prophet) were among them, nor was He going to send it while they could seek pardon.”35 Now, the time for seeking pardon is given to every person until the last moment of his life.

In due course of time, medical science developed very fast. Healing was no more a specialty. Man devoted himself to studying nature and acquiring knowledge. Literacy and acquisition of knowledge of the unseen and unknown took priority. Therefore, the miracle then had to be related to reading and acquiring of knowledge. The very first word revealed to the Prophet (S) in the Qur’an was ‘Iqra’ or ‘Read’.36 The Qur’an urges man to think, ponder, and see his intellect. Intellectual reasoning is given top priority in the Shiite thought. Miracles, though important in themselves, are yet relegated to a secondary position.

During the Prophet’s time, the Arabs had reached the zenith of literary acumen and culture in addition to other sciences. It is a different matter that their way of life was extremely clannish in which vengeance was largely practiced, earning them the sobriquet ‘Barbaric’. The Arabs were extremely proud of their literature and there would be frequent open challenges to excel their poetry or prose. In such an atmosphere, the Qur’an brought in a mixture of poetry and prose in an unequalled style of its own, taking the Arabs by surprise in the field which they boasted supremacy in.

The Qur’an’s challenge that it was revealed by God and no man could bring even one verse similar to it remains valid even today.37 The Qur’an was not revealed all at once like the Torah which was revealed all at once to Moses (a.s.). It was revealed gradually to meet the arguments raised from time to time and to bring out the truth.38

The Qur’an reveals the unseen events of antiquity, past generations and their Prophets and the tyrants who opposed them.39 It revealed that the Pharaoh was preserved in his body as a lesson to posterity, centuries before his body was excavated in Egypt. It prophesies the future. It reveals about the creation of the universe, the cosmos, the sun, moon, stars and the earth. It reveals about the Doomsday and the life after death in a scientific manner. In the Qur’an, Maurice Bucaille found scientific facts that were unknown for centuries after they were revealed in the Qur’an.40

In addition to this, it contains prayers as cure for sickness of the body and mind; as solace for the depressed psyche and for exorcism. Allama al-Majlisi devotes chapter seven for the miraculous nature of the Qur’an.41 The Qur’an by itself is an everlasting and ever present miracle of the Holy Prophet (S)

The Holy Prophet (S) was endowed with innumerable bodily miracles in addition to those that he physically performed. Allama al-Majlisi devotes too chapter eight of over 80 pages to the miracles of the Prophet (S).42 It is beyond our scope to relate those miracles of the Qur’an and the Prophet (S).

The twelve Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) designated by the Prophet (S) as his heirs, successors, vicegerents and deputies, were endowed with miraculous powers, which successfully warded off the challenge to their Divine appointment, by imposters from time to time. Sheik al-Mufid devotes chapter seven, running to about 38 pages, to the miracles performed by the first Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).43

Allama Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani has written five volumes under the title ‘Miracles of Aal Muhammad’. Pages 18 to 111 of volume two are devoted to the miracles performed by Imam Hasan (a.s.). Pages 113 to 291 are devoted to the miracles of Imam Husayn (a.s.).

It may be mentioned here that some pious men who are related to Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) or those who became devout followers of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) have also manifested minor miracles. For example, Salman (al-Farsi) is reported to have performed miracles to show that pure devotion and absolute obedience to the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) elevates even ordinary men to a status and position similar to the Prophets of the Israelites. The Prophet (S) had foretold, “The learned men from my Umma are like the prophets of the Bani Israel.

Though there are countless miracles of Imam Husayn (a.s.), we refer to a few of them from his early life, in the prime of his life, in the battlefield at Karbala, and those miracles which were manifested after he attained martyrdom until this day.

Shurahbil bin Own reports that at the time when Imam Husayn (a.s.) was born, an angel descended from the heavens and proclaimed that people should obseve mourning for the one, who would be massacred at Karbala, was born. He gave a handful of soil saying, “O Prophet, keep this (soil) safely. I have brought it from Karbala. When this soil turns red (like blood), know that your beloved son Husayn is slain.” The Holy Prophet(S) handed over the soil to his wife Umm Salama…Then, the Prophet (S) wept and said, “O Allah, forsake those who desert Husayn. Kill those who kill Husayn and frustrate their hopes both in this world and the hereafter.”44

At the time of his departure from Medina, Imam Husayn (S) met Umm Salama. On her request, he miraculously showed her the spot where he would be slain. He then gave a handful of soil and said, “Mix it along with the soil given by the Prophet. It will turn blood-red when I am slain.” Umm Salama kept the soil in a glass jar. She along with Fatima as-Sughra, the teenage daughter of Imam Husayn (a.s.) who left behind due to sickness, watched the glass jar anxiously every day after Imam Husayn (S) had left Medina. On the tenth of Muharram just before dusk, they saw that the soil had changed into blood-red. Both ladies realised that Imam Husayn (a.s.) was slain. With loud lamentations, they mourned for the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a.s.).45

Imam Ali’s retainer Nejad relates, “I had lost my vision when I saw some angels picking and giving the arrows which Ali was shooting in a battle. Later, I complained to al-Husayn about the loss of my eyesight. He asked me if I had seen any angel. I replied in the affirmative. Al-Husayn passed his palm over my eyes and I got back my vision instantly.46

For several years, it did not rain in Kufa and people facing severe starvation requested Imam Ali (a.s.) to pray for rain. He asked Imam Husayn (a.s.) to do so. As Imam Husayn finished his prayer, it started raining profusely.47

Ata’ bin as-Sa’ib narrates that his brother reported that he was present in Karbala when ibn Jowria accosted Imam Husayn (a.s.) and said, ‘I foresee your departure to Hell’. On hearing this, Imam Husayn (a.s.) lifted his hands towards the sky and prayed, ‘O Lord, let this wretch taste Hell fire’. On hearing this, ibn Jowria became enraged and he wanted to attack Imam Husayn (a.s.). His horse shied throwing him off the saddle. His leg was caught in the stirrup and the terrified horse dragged him over boulders smashing his head and dispatching him to hell instantly.48

It is reported from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) that on the day of Ashura, Tamim bin Hussayn taunted Imam Husayn (a.s.) saying, ‘Look Husayn, how cool water flows in the river Euphrates! Even till your death you shall not have even a single drop of it’. Hearing this taunt, Imam Husayn (a.s.) asked who the speaker was, and it was said to him that he was Tamim bin Hussayn. The Imam (a.s.) said, ‘Both he and his father are from the people of Fire. O Lord, even this very moment let him taste the torment of thirst and die’. Even as the Imam (a.s.) finished his prayer, Tamim was seized by a burning thirst and he wanted to quench it by jumping down from his horse. His violent action terrified the other horses and in the melee, Tamim was trampled to death.49

A similar incident is reported by al-Asbaqh bin Nabata about Bani Aban bin Darim, who taunted about Imam Husayn’s thirst. When Imam Husayn prayed Allah, Bani Aban was seized with severe thirst and he called for water. People gave him gallons of water that he drank and ultimately his stomach burst and he died.50

Imam Husayn used his supernatural power when his daughter Sukaina wanted water to be brought for the infants who were near dying because of the three-day’s thirst. Imam Husayn (a.s.) tried to explain by saying that the enemy forces had surrounded them and that they prevented his companions from fetching water. He also told her that they made unsuccessful attempts to dig wells. However, when the child insisted, Imam Husayn (a.s.) struck the ground with his toe and water gushed out. He then told:‘Sukaina, Here is water. If you quench your thirst with it, there will not be any intercession for the Umma of your grandfather, the messenger of Allah. Would you still prefer to drink water?’ The noble child preferred to bear the thirst than to quench it and thus deprive her grandfather’s Umma of his intercession.

When Imam Husayn (a.s.) wanted to address Yazid’s army for the last time, he asked their commander Umar ibn Sa’d to silence his men so that they might hear what Imam Husayn wanted to say. Umar replied, ‘I can order my men to keep quiet, but what about the neighing of horses and the tingling of their bells? How can I silence them?’ Imam Husayn (a.s.) replied, ‘Of course, you can not do that, but I can do it’. Imam Husayn (a.s.) cast a glance all around him and absolute silence prevailed, so that everyone present at Karbala heard his sermon clearly. This exercise of Imam Husayn’s power was necessary because the Imam (a.s.) wanted to convey and establish his righteousness and the injustice of the enemy.

The Qur’an categorically declares that those who attain martyrdom are not to be reckoned as ‘dead’, for they are alive and they get their sustenance from their Lord.51 The one and only proof of this is to be found in the events that took place after Ashura.

It is reported that a man from the tribe of Bani Asad went into the battlefield on the night after Ashura. He found a radiance and fragrance emanating from the bodies of the martyrs. When he went closer, he saw that a lion was going around the bodies and was moaning as if in great pain.52

At-Tabari reports from Harith bin Wakidah who said, “I was one of those who accompanied the head of al-Husayn to Syria when I heard the head, which was mounted on a spear, reciting (Qur’anic) verses from the Sura of al-Kahf. I assumed that I must have been imagining it. The head then addressed me and said, “O son of Wakidah, don’t you know that we the Imams live and get our sustenance from our Lord?’ At that time, I planned to secrete the head. The severed head once again addressed me, ‘O ibn Wakidah, remove all such thought from your mind, for it is a greater crime to parade my severed head than slaying me. Leave them to their devices’. The head then recited, ‘Soon, they shall know when they will be dragged with chains and yokes around their necks.’ [Qur’an, 40:71].53

Abu Makhnaf reports that when the severed head of Imam Husayn (a.s.) was hung in the market place of Kufa, they heard it reciting the Sura of al-Kahf. Similarly, he reports on the occasion when the head was hung on a tree, it recited ‘Soon the tyrants will know how they will be punished’. In Damascus, people heard the head saying loudly, ‘There is no might except in Allah’.54

Abdurrahman al-Khath’ami reports from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) who said, ‘Once, I and my father Imam Zainul Aabidin were going to one of our farms. Leaving Medina, we entered a desert area. There appeared a noble and venerable sage. On seeing him, my father got down from his steed and paid his respects. Then my father sat near him, attentively hearing every word. My father was repeating the endearment every now and then, ‘May my life be sacrificed for you’. After some time, the sage left, but my father stood watching him until he disappeared from sight. I then asked my father who the sage was, and he replied, ‘It was your grandfather Imam Husayn (a.s.).’”55