Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
How does dua work? Does it change reality?
In as far as our vantage point of the perceptible world supplication can change things. But in regards to what Allah Most High has in His ultimate knowledge, all that He knows will come to pass and will never change.
Through this breakdown, we can understand the following two verses:
1) Allah Most High says, “Allah eliminates and confirms what He wills, and with Him is the Master Record.” [Quran; 13:39]
Allah Most High can eliminate and confirm in the Sacred Preserved Tablet (Lawh Mahfuz) whatever He wills. This can be a result of people’s supplications.
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Nothing repels destiny except supplication, and nothing increases one’s lifespan except righteousness.” [Tirmidhi]
2) Allah Most High says, “The Word of your Lord has been perfected in truth and justice. None can change His Words (i.e., Decree). And He is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” [Quran; 6:115]
For example, one may be decreed in the Sacred Tablet to die on a specific date. The Angels expect this to occur. However, because Allah Most High knows they will make dua and act in righteousness, He changes the Sacred Tablet and extends their life. Allah had pre-eternal knowledge that this would occur – but it was unknown to the Angels who only know what is in the Sacred Tablet.
Asking for the Impossible
When we use the word impossible we must understand the context we are using it in. There is a difference between something customarily impossible and rationally impossible.
It is impermissible to ask Allah Most High for something rationally impossible. An example of this would be making a square circle or making it night and day at the same time. These things are irrational.
As for the customarily impossible – these are things that go against the customary norm of cause and effect. These things are not rationally impossible because we can conceive of them occurring.
An example of this is someone flying, walking on water, healing the blind, coming back to life, not being burned by fire, living long periods of time without food, etc…
Cause and effect are creations of Allah Most High. If He wills, He can break the normal connection of causation between the two. This is what is known in Islamic theology as ‘Kharq li’l-‘Ada – A break in the norm’
Breaks in the Norm
A break in the norm is a break in the normal cause and effect that we perceive in the world.
There are six types:
1) Pre-Prophetic Miracles (Irhasaat) – Breaks in the norm that occur at the hands of Prophets before they receive prophethood.
The events that occurred at the birth of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), the clouds following him, the stones of Mecca sending [Amiri, Bahjat al-Mahafil]
2) Prophetic Miracles (Mu’jizat) – Breaks in the norm that occur at the hands of a Prophet as proof of their claim of Prophethood.
The are numerous miracles of the Prophets mentioned throughout the Quran. The miracles of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and give him peace) are to many to list here but can be found in the Quran, Hadith and Prophetic biography. Of the greatest of these miracles is the Quran itself.
3) Saintly Miracles (Karamat) – Breaks in the norm that occur at the hands of those who follow the Prophets with steadfastness and righteousness and they are not claiming prophethood.
There are many examples of this. Among them are the Mother of Jesus giving birth without male intervention, the People of the Cave sleeping for 309 years, the Companions riding horses over water, and on and on.
Imam al-Laqqani says in his dictation of the creed of the Sunni mainstream:
وأثبتن للأولياء كرامة – ومن نفاها فانبذن كلامه
And affirm for the saints miracles –
and whoever rejects them, reject their opinion.
[Laqqani, Jawhara al-Tawhid]
4) Misleading Miracles (Istidrajat) – Breaks in the norm that occur at the hands of sinful people in accordance with their intentions. This causes them to be even further misguided and deceived.
This type of break in the norm is what occurs at the hands of the False Messiah (Dajjal). He will perform certain acts, such as bringing the dead to life, to support his claim of divinity. Allah Most High will allow it to happen in order to further delude him and as a test for the people.
Allah Most High says, “As for those who deny Our signs, We will gradually draw them to destruction in ways they cannot comprehend.” [Quran; 7:182]
This is what occurred at the hands of Musaylama, the Liar. Musaylama claimed to be a Prophet and promised certain miracles to the people. Amongst them was the promise that he could spit in a well (as the Messenger of Allah did) and the small amount of water in the well would increase. He spat in the well and what little water was there dried up into the ground – contrary to what he intended. [Amiri, Bahjat al-Mahafil]
6) Magic (Sihr) – Breaks in the norm that occur through seeking help through the Jinn and Devils through specific actions like blowing on knots.
This is the type we seek refuge from by reading Sura al-Falaq:
Allah Most High says, “and (I seek refuge) from the evil of those ˹witches casting spells by˺ blowing onto knots,” [Quran; 113:4]
Additionally, all six types of breaks in the norm only occur by the permission of Allah Most High – even those that occur at the hands of sinful people like the Dajjal.
Asking for something that is rationally impossible is sinful; asking for a break in the norm is not. However, one should be careful of their intentions for asking for such things.
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.