LESSON TWENTY-SEVEN: MIRACLES
Ways of proving prophecy
The third fundamental point in the section about prophecy is to establish how the honesty of the true prophets (a) and the dishonesty of the false prophets are verified.
If a person is a wrong doer, or commits sins whose disgracefulness can be distinguished by wisdom, he cannot then be trusted, and his honesty can be falsified by referring to the requisites of the prophets’ chastity. Such false claims can also be rejected if they are against wisdom or man’s intrinsic nature, or if there are contradictions in them.
Nevertheless, it is possible that a persons clean record of life maybe so, that impartial people trust his claim, especially if his claims are in agreement with wisdom.
Moreover, it is also possible that a person’s prophecy maybe approved through the predictions made by previous prophets. In such cases those who search for the truth will have no doubt in accepting him as a Prophet.
However, if the people are left with no trustworthy indications, and there have been no predictions or approvals by previous prophets, there would be a need for additional proof before first accepting a person as a legitimate Prophet. Almighty God on the basis of His absolute wisdom, has provided the evidence by giving His prophets the miracles, which are signs to their true claims. God refers to these as ‘evidences’ (āyāt). The term ‘evidence,’ has other implications as well; for instance it may refer to God’s Knowledge, Power, and Wisdom presented in all the usual and unusual aspects of creation.
To summarise, the veracity of the claims of the prophets can be verified in three ways:
Through reliable signs, such as honesty and truth, and by having no deviation from the path of God and justice during their life. However, this way of distinguishing the prophets is applicable to those who have lived among people for several years and their way of life is known to the society. Whereas if for example, a Prophet is appointed by God in his early youth or the people know very little about his personality or way of life, such clues cannot be helpful in recognising the person’s honesty in his claim.
Through introduction by the previous or contemporary prophets. This is relevant to the people who have distinguished the previous Prophet and are aware of his prediction. This however is obviously not applicable to the first Prophet.
Through miracles, this can have a wider and more popular application. I will explain this third way in the following sections:
The definition of a miracle
A miracle is an extraordinary act, which is performed by a person who claims to be a Prophet. It is rooted in God’s will and used as a clue to the Prophet’s true claim.
The above definition comprises of three points:
A) There are some extraordinary events, which do not emerge from usual, or common causes.
B) Some of these extraordinary acts are performed by the prophets and are rooted in God’s will.
C) Such extraordinary acts can be the evidence for the honesty of the prophets’ claims, and can therefore be termed as miracles.
The following provides an explanation for each of the three points in the definition:
The events of this world emerge from causes, which can be recognised through various experiments: for example all the events, which take place in physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology. However, there occur some rare situations where such events happen in a different way, so that their causes cannot be distinguished experimentally. For instance the amazing acts of the Yogis have been recognised by the specialists of various sciences, as not following the rules of empirical or material sciences. Such acts are called ‘extraordinary’!
Divine extraordinary acts
Extraordinary acts can be divided into two general groups:
One group includes acts, which have no usual cause, but are at the same time accessible to man through education, or rehearsal similar to the practice of the Yogis.
Another group of extraordinary acts happen specifically by God’s permission. Those who have a special relationship with God can only perform such acts. Therefore, such acts have two fundamental characteristics:
First, they cannot be taught or learnt, and secondly, they cannot be affected by another stronger power, nor can they be defeated by it. Such extraordinary acts are dedicated to the selected servants of God, and will never be exposed to the misled. At the same time, they are not specific to the prophets, as occasionally other great saints (awliyā) have had access to them. But it should be noted however, that not all such extraordinary acts are termed as miracles.
The extraordinary acts committed by the non-prophets are called saint-miracles (karāmāt). This is just as unusual heavenly knowledge is not merely transferred to man by the revelation presented to the prophets, but can also be provided to others (non-prophets) by inspiration (ilhām, tahdīth, etc.).
In the above discussion, the ways of distinguishing between the two types of extraordinary acts (Divine and Non-divine) were explained. It was also discussed that if the performance of an extraordinary act can be taught or learnt, or if another factor can avoid or provide a barrier to it or eliminate its effect, it will not then be classified as a ‘divine’ extraordinary act.
A person’s corruption of belief or personal behaviour could also point to the lack of relationship he has with Almighty God, and indicate that his actions are rooted in satanic temptations and manly desires. It seems reasonable at this point to state that the only performer of extraordinary acts
is Almighty God, insofar that such acts need His permission to happen (refer to al-Ra’d:37, Ghāfir:78, this is in addition to the necessity of His permission for all creation including usual events). Such extraordinary acts can also be attributed to those who function as mediators like the angels or prophets. As it is stated in the Holy Qur’an; giving life to the dead, curing diseases, and creating birds have been attributed to Jesus (a) (refer to Āl-‘Imrān:49, al-Māi’dah:110).
There is, therefore, no contradiction between the two attributions-God’s or His servants-as God’s performance of the actions parallels that of His servants.
Characteristics of the miracles of the prophets’ (a)
The third point discussed in the aforementioned definition, is that ‘miracles’ are the clues to the honesty of the prophets (a). Therefore, rather than being permitted by God, such extraordinary acts should be employed as clues to the prophecy of the Prophet. At the same time, and with a little generalisation, they should also include acts, which are performed to provide evidence for the honesty of Imams (a).
The term ‘Generosity’ refers to all of the divine extraordinary acts performed by non- prophets, and is against the extraordinary acts, which are rooted in manly or satanic desires, such as magic, divination, or what the Yogis practice, which can be taught and learnt or defeated by other stronger powers. It is also possible to determine the unholy nature of such acts by referring to the corruption of beliefs or behaviour of those who perform them.
It seems necessary to maintain here that the miracles of the prophets directly prove their honesty in their claim of prophecy. However, the accuracy of the content of their message and the necessity of obeying their commands is proven indirectly. In other words, the approval of the prophecy of the prophets is through intellectual reasoning, whilst the validity of the content of their messages is through devotional ones (Refer to lessons 4 and 21 of this book).
How can one recognise a true Prophet? What are the differences between the different ways of such recognition?
What clues can distinguish a false Prophet?
What are extraordinary acts?
What is the difference between Divine and non-divine extraordinary acts?
How are the divine extraordinary acts recognised?
What are the characteristics of the miracles of prophets?
Explain the difference between ‘miracle’ and ‘generosity!
Who actually performs the miracles- God or the prophets? Are miracles the evidence for the honesty of the prophets or the evidence for the accuracy of their message?