Answered by Ustadh Sharif Rosen
Question: Assalam alaykum
I have heard many incidents of pious individuals performing miraculous feats, such as one scholar who pointed at a pile of chicken bones and it became alive and another scholar who would remember Allah with his limbs detached from his body. Would it be necessary to accept such occurrences despite them going against logic?
Answer: as-Salamu ‘alaykum.
Jazakum Allah khayran for your question.
Religion itself is founded upon the presence of miraculous acts and events. As we will see, miracles are established by the Quran and the Sunna. By definition, a miracle breaks conventional norms [khariq lil-‘adat] and bewilders the rational mind. Its appearance indicates to a spectrum of possibilities; from a divine sign of grace and support, to its opposite, as a mark of humiliation that exposes a claimant to a high spiritual rank as fraudulent.
Examples cited in your question, when true, would be part of the category of miracles called karamat given to the elect of Allah [auliya]. As Imam al-Laqqani stated in his seminal text on Islamic creed, Jawhara al-Tauhid, “And affirmed for the Auliya are miracles, so whoever refutes them, discard their words” [wa athbitan lil-auliya al-karama, wa man nafaha fanbidhan kalamahu]. Moreover, these occurrences are deemed by the majority of Islamic orthodox scholarship as plausible during and after the life of a wali (al-Bayjuri, Tuhfa al-murid ‘ala Jawhara al-Tauhid, 252).
To place karamat in their proper context, one should understand how the ‘ulema have differentiated between the six categories of miracles:
1) Prophetic miracle [mu’jiza]
A mu’jiza comes to incapacitate skeptics and verify the truthfulness of the one delivering the Message. Such are the miracles manifest by the permission of Allah on the hands of His prophets and messengers, as with those given to Noah (refer to the Quran 11:36-49); Moses (refer to the Quran 7:107-119; 10:65-70); Jesus (refer to the Quran 5:110-113; 19:30-33) and Muhammad (refer to the Quran 2:23; 10:37-38; 17:88), upon them be peace and blessings.
So, too, with the narrated traditions of the pebbles supplicating in the blessed hands of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings (related by Ibn ‘Asakir, al-Tabarani, al-Bayhaqi); the tree stump which wept when he took to his new pulpit in the masjid of Madina (related by al-Buhkari); the multitudes who made wudu’ from the water that flowed from his blessed fingers (related by Muslim and al-Bukhari); and the tree which uprooted itself and spoke declaring the shahada (related by al-Darimi, al-Bayhaqi, and al-Bazzar).
2) Preparatory miracle [irhas]
These miracles appear before the appointment to the station of prophecy. Examples abound in the life of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, from the events surrounding his blessed birth (related by al-Bayhaqi, Tabari, ibn Abd al-Barr, Tabarani); the visitation of the angels to him as a youth whence his noble breast was opened and his blessed heart cleansed (related by Muslim); and, when, during his travels to Syria, Bahira the Monk witnessed the caravan containing him being shaded from the sun’s intensity and upon meeting young Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, Bahira recognized the signs of prophecy on him (related by al-Timidhi).
3) Saintly miracle [karama]
Karamat are preternatural occurrences on the hands of the elect friends of Allah. Allah discloses a karama as a means of glad tidings to His auliya or salihin. As testified by the Quran, Maryam the mother of Jesus, upon them be peace, was given miracles, from her provisions appearing before her in other than their usual time and method (refer to the Quran 3:37), to her bearing the penultimate prophet without consort (refer to the Quran 3:45-47). In the Quranic account of the Companions of the Cave who lived for generations without food or drink is also evidence of the reality of karamat, all of which only occur by the permission of Allah.
4) Helping miracle [ma’una]
A miracle that is manifest upon a common Muslim, ostensibly to strengthen their spiritual certitude, is termed ma’una.
5) Exposing miracle [ihana]
These “miracles” reveal not divine favor, but humiliation, with emphasis on their bearer being patently false in their claim to prophecy. Musaylama the Liar [al-Kathhab] is the most famous early example. His claims were rendered a heinous lie given that the Quran had already confirmed that prophethood ended with the arrival of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Musaylama’s ihana was made clear on more than one occasion, including, when, in an attempt to make a well’s water gush forth, he spat in it, and the well dried up.
6) Misleading miracle [istidraj]
Like the previous category, such occurrences appear upon, or to those who have brought about the divine wrath through either disobedience by way of their corrupted religious doctrine, or sinful acts.
(Salman, al-Mukhtasar al-mufid fi sharh Jawhara al-Tauhid, 154-155)
We glean from the above classifications that a convention-defying act or event may be a sign of Allah’s good favor or proof of one’s misguidance. Their actual meaning may be inferred by consideration of the moral and spiritual standing of their bearer, typically as evidenced by their chosen creed and works.
And Allah knows best.
[Ustadh] Sharif Rosen
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Sharif Rosen is the Muslim Chaplain at Williams College (in the Northeastern United States). His formative Islamic studies in Amman, Jordan for five years, and ongoing, have been at the hands of scholars connected through unbroken transmission to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.