A broad analysis
It is the rather explicit teaching of the Qur’an that Muhammad performed no supernatural, verifiable miracles apart from the inspiration that he received. The Qur’an in several places emphatically negates the idea of Muhammad performing physical feats such as raising the dead, healing the sick, opening physically blind eyes etc. We present those citations here in order to see the Qur’an’s outright denial that Muhammad was able to perform the miraculous. (all quotations taken from A.J. Arberry, unless noted otherwise):
And they that know not say, 'Why does God not speak to us? Why does a sign (ayatun) not come to us?' So spoke those before them as these men say; their hearts are much alike. Yet We have made clear the signs (bayyanna al-ayati) unto a people who are sure. S. 2:118
Yet if thou shouldst bring to those that have been given the Book every sign (ayatun), they will not follow thy direction; thou art not a follower of their direction, neither are they followers of one another's direction. If thou followest their caprices, after the knowledge that has come to thee, then thou wilt surely be among the evildoers. S. 2:145
They also say, 'Why has no sign (ayatun) been sent down upon him from his Lord?' Say: 'Surely God is able to send down a sign (ayatan), but most of them know not.' S. 6:37
They have sworn by God the most earnest oaths if a sign (ayatun) comes to them they will believe in it. Say: 'Signs (al-ayatu) are only with God.' What will make you realize that, when it comes, they will not believe? S. 6:109
They say, 'Why has a sign (ayatun) not been sent down upon him from his Lord?' Say: 'The Unseen belongs only to God. Then watch and wait; I shall be with you watching and waiting.' S. 10:20
The unbelievers say, 'Why has a sign (ayatun) not been sent down upon him from his Lord?' Thou art ONLY a warner, and a guide to every people. S. 13:7
The foregoing text presupposes that Muhammad’s only function was to warn people, not to perform miracles. After all, the statement "Thou art ONLY a warner" would make no sense if a warner could in fact perform wonders. In other words, being a warner wouldn’t preclude Muhammad from doing any signs unless, of course, the point being made by the Qur’an is that such individuals who assumed this role were not empowered to do miracles.
The next text further illustrates this point:
Then, it may be that you will give up part of what is revealed to you and your breast will become straightened by it because they say: Why has not a treasure been sent down upon him or an angel come with him? You are ONLY a warner; and Allah is custodian over all things. S. 11:12 Shakir
I.e., "since you are only a warner it is not your job to perform miracles since you haven’t been given that ability. Rather, your job is to simply exhort and admonish people."
The unbelievers say, 'Why has a sign (ayatun) not been sent down upon him from his Lord?' Say: 'God leads astray whomsoever He will, and He guides to Him all who are penitent.' S. 13:27
Naught prevented Us from sending the signs (bial-ayati) but that the ancients cried lies to them; and We brought Thamood the She-camel visible, but they did her wrong. And We do not send the signs, except to frighten. S. 17:59
This last passage is one of the clearest proofs that Muhammad did absolutely no miracles whatsoever. The text says that Allah refrained from providing miracles, which would make no sense at all if Muhammad did indeed perform signs and wonders. Regarding this verse, the late Sunni scholar Muhammad Asad candidly admitted:
This highly elliptic sentence has a fundamental bearing on the purport of the Qur'an as a whole. In many places the Qur'an stresses the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, despite his being the last and greatest of God's apostles, WAS NOT EMPOWERED TO PERFORM MIRACLES similar to those with which the earlier prophets are said to have reinforced their verbal messages. His ONLY miracle was and is the Qur'an itself - a message perfect in its lucidity and ethical comprehensiveness, destined for all times and all stages of human development, addressed not merely to the feelings but also to the minds of men, open to everyone, whatever his race or social environment, and bound to remain unchanged forever… (Asad, Message of the Qur'an [Dar Al-Andalus Limited 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar rpt. 1993], p. 427, fn. 71; online edition)
There is more from the Qur’an:
They say, 'We will not believe thee till thou makest a spring to gush forth from the earth for us, or till thou possessest a garden of plants and vines, and thou makest rivers to gush forth abundantly all amongst it, or till thou makest heaven to fall, as thou assertest, on us in fragments, or thou bringest God and the angels as a surety, or till thou possessest a house of gold ornament, or till thou goest up into heaven; and we will not believe thy going up till thou bringest down on us a book that we may read. Say: 'Glory be to my Lord. Am I aught BUT A MORTAL, a Messenger?' S. 17:90-93
Yet when the truth came to them from Ourselves, they said, 'Why has he not been given the like of that Moses was given?' But they, did they not disbelieve also in what Moses was given aforetime? They said, 'A pair of sorceries mutually supporting each other.' They said, 'We disbelieve both.' S. 28:48
One Muslim writer claims:
Miracles of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are mentioned in both the Qur’an and Hadith. The Holy Qur’an collectively mentions them in many places; … (Source)
The author proceeds to present a series of quotes referring to signs given to Muhammad and then states:
The Arabic word "Al-Bayyinat" often comes in the Qur'an to mean miracles as in 2:87, 2:253, 4:153, 5:110, 7:101, 10:13, 10:74, 16:44, 20:72, 40:28, 57:25, 64:6 and others.
There are a couple of problems with the author’s claim. First, none of the citations he lists mention what the sign supposedly was, i.e. whether healing the sick, raising the dead etc. They do not specify the kind of sign performed by Muhammad. Second, there are places in the Qur’an where the specific Arabic words used for sign(s), i.e. ayat and bayyinat, do not necessarily refer to miracles such as raising the dead etc. These words are also used to refer to either the signs in creation, i.e. the design of the cosmos, the traversing of the sun, moon stars etc., or in connection with Books that God revealed. As even Muhammad Asad noted in his comments on Surahh 6:109:
Lit., "Miracles are only with God." It is to be noted that the Qur'anic term ayah denotes not only a "miracle" (in the sense of a happening that goes beyond the usual - that is, commonly observable - course of nature), but also a "sign" or "message": and the last-mentioned significance is the one which is by far the most frequently met with in the Qur'an. Thus, what is commonly described as a "miracle" constitutes, in fact, an unusual message from God, indicating sometimes in a symbolic manner - a spiritual truth which would otherwise have remained hidden from man's intellect. But even such extraordinary, "miraculous" messages cannot be regarded as "supernatural": for the so-called "laws of nature" are only a perceptible manifestation of "God's way" (Sunnaht Allah) in respect of His creation - and, consequently, everything that exists and happens, or could conceivably exist or happen, is "natural" in the innermost sense of this word, irrespective of whether it conforms to the ordinary course of events or goes beyond it. Now since the extraordinary messages referred to manifest themselves, as a rule, through the instrumentality of those specially gifted and divinely elected personalities known as "prophets", these are sometimes spoken of as "performing miracles" - a misconception which the Qur'an removes by the words, "Miracles are in the power of God alone". (See also and the corresponding note. (Ibid., pp. 188-189, fn. 94; online edition;)
The author himself realizes that the word al-bayyinat doesn’t always refer to miracles since he qualifies his statement by saying "often," meaning not always.
The following examples illustrate the point that these words are used in relation to things other than physical miracles, indicating that the use of these very words in relation to Muhammad do not conclusively prove that he actually performed miracles:
Say: 'Have you considered your associates on whom you call, apart from God? Show me what they have created in the earth; or have they a partnership in the heavens?' Or have We given them a Book, so that they are upon a clear sign (bayyinatin) from it? Nay, but the evildoers promise one another naught but delusion. S. 35:40
In the above passage the clear sign refers to instructions in a Book, that the unbelievers had no written command from God that they should worship others besides him.
In another place the clear sign refers to the prophecies, or the revelation, found in the previous Scriptures:
They say, 'Why does he not bring us a sign (ayatin) from his Lord?' Has there not come to them the clear sign (bayyinatu) of what is in the former scrolls? S. 20:133
Other times ayat and bayyinat are used in reference to the Qur’an, that the Qur’an is a sign, a clear sign from God:
The Lord of the heavens and the earth and what is between them, and Lord of the easts. Surely We have adorned the nearest heaven with an adornment, the stars, And (there is) a safeguard against every rebellious Shaitan. They cannot listen to the exalted assembly and they are thrown at from every side, Being driven off, and for them is a perpetual chastisement, Except him who snatches off but once, then there follows him a brightly shining flame. Then ask them whether they are stronger in creation or those (others) whom We have created. Surely We created them of firm clay. Nay! you wonder while they mock, And when they are reminded, they mind not, And when they see a sign (ayatan) they incite one another to scoff, And they say: This is nothing but clear magic: What! when we are dead and have become dust and bones, shall we then certainly be raised, Or our fathers of yore? Say: Aye! and you shall be abject. So it shall only be a single cry, when lo! they shall see. And they shall say: O woe to us! this is the day of requital. This is the day of the judgment which you called a lie. S. 37:6-21 Shakir
The context demonstrates that the sign being referred to in the above is the claim of the Qur’an that the dead will raise.
Those who conceal the clear signs (al-bayyinati) and the guidance that We have sent down, after We have shown them clearly in the Book -- they shall be cursed by God and the cursers, S. 2:159
The clear signs here are those mentioned in the Qur’an, which seems to refer to the arguments that the Qur’an sets forth in support of its supposed divine origin.
the month of Ramadan, wherein the Koran was sent down to be a guidance to the people, and as clear signs (wa bayyinatin) of the Guidance and the Salvation. So let those of you, who are present at the month, fast it; and if any of you be sick, or if he be on a journey, then a number of other days; God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship for you; and that you fulfil the number, and magnify God that He has guided you, and haply you will be thankful. S. 2:185
How can you disbelieve, seeing you have God's signs (ayatu) RECITED to you, and His Messenger among you? Whosoever holds fast to God, he is guided to a straight path. S. 3:101
And when Our signs (ayatuna) are RECITED to them, clear signs (bayyinatin), those who look not to encounter Us say, 'Bring a Koran other than this, or alter it.' Say: 'It is not for me to alter it of my own accord. I follow nothing, except what is revealed to me. Truly I fear, if I should rebel against my Lord, the chastisement of a dreadful day.' S. 10:15
And what of him who stands upon a clear sign (bayyinatin) from his Lord, and a witness from Him RECITES it, and before him is the Book of Moses for an ensample and a mercy? Those believe in it; but whosoever disbelieves in it, being one of the partisans, his promised land is the Fire. So be thou not in doubt of it; it is the truth from thy Lord, but most men do not believe. S. 11:17
A Surah that We have sent down and appointed; and We have sent down IN IT signs, clear signs (ayatin bayyinatin), that haply you will remember. S. 24:1
And when Our signs (ayatuna) are RECITED to them, clear signs (bayyinatin), they say, 'This is naught but a man who desires to bar you from that your fathers served'; and they say, 'This is nothing but a forged calumny.' And the unbelievers say to the truth, when it has come to them, 'This is nothing but manifest sorcery. S. 34:43
And when Our signs (ayatuna) are RECITED to them, clear signs (bayyinatin), the unbelievers say to the truth when it has come to them, 'This is manifest sorcery.' S. 46:7
The unbelievers of the People of the Book and the idolaters would never leave off; till the Clear Sign (al-bayyinatu) came to them, a Messenger from God, RECITING pages purified, therein true Books. And they scattered not, those that were given the Book, excepting after the Clear Sign (al-bayyinatu) came to them. S. 98:1-4
Not before this didst thou recite any Book, or inscribe it with thy right hand, for then those who follow falsehood would have doubted. Nay; rather it is signs, clear signs (ayatun bayyinatun) IN THE BREASTS of those who have been given knowledge; and none denies Our signs but the evildoers. They say, 'Why have signs (ayatun) not been sent down upon him from his Lord?' Say: 'The signs (al-ayatu) are only with God, and I am only a plain warner.' What, is it not SUFFICIENT for them that We have sent down upon thee the Book that is recited to them? Surely in that is a mercy, and a reminder to a people who believe. S. 29:48-51
This last one sounds the death knell for any Muslim who claims that Muhammad performed miracles. Muhammad presents the Qur’an as his only miracle, the one miracle he had which was sufficient to prove his prophethood. Lest any Muslim accuse Arberry of mistranslation note how others have translated 29:51:
Is it not ENOUGH for them that We have sent down unto thee the Scripture which is read unto them? Pickthall
And is it not ENOUGH for them that we have sent down to thee the Book which is rehearsed to them? Y. Ali
Is it not SUFFICIENT for them that We have sent down to you the Book (the Qur'ân) which is recited to them? Hilali-Khan
Does it not SUFFICE with them that We have sent down to you the Book to be recited to them? Daryabadi
Why - is it not ENOUGH for them that We have bestowed this divine writ on thee from on high, to be conveyed [by thee] to them? Asad
I.e., "are the contents of this revelation not enough for them to make them grasp its intrinsic truth without the help of ‘miraculous proofs’ of its divine origin?" (Cf. note 60 on the last sentence of 7: 75.) (Ibid., p. 614, fn. 50; online edition)
Some more translations:
Is it not SUFFICIENT for them that We have sent you down the Book to be recited to them? T.B. Irving
Is it not ENOUGH for them that We have revealed to you the Book which is recited to them? Shakir
Is it not ENOUGH FOR A SIGN for them that WE have sent down to thee the perfect Book which is recited to them? Sher Ali
Is it not ENOUGH for them that We have revealed the Book to you to be recited to them Muhammad Sarwar
And is it not SUFFICIENT for them that We revealed to you the Book [i.e. the Qur’an] which is recited to them? Saheeh International
Well, is this (sign of mercy) not ENOUGH for them that We have revealed to you this perfect Book which is recited to them. Amatul Rahman & ‘Abdul Mannan ‘Omar
Is it not ENOUGH OF A MIRACLE that we sent down to you this book, Khalifa
Is it not ENOUGH for them that We have sent down to you the Scripture, being recited to them? The Message (online source)
Is it not ENOUGH for them that We have revealed to thee the Book which is recited to them? ... M. M. Ali
Maulana Ali notes:
51a. This is another reply to those who demanded signs. The Qur'an is a mercy, if they would only accept it. They could see how the believers had benefited by it; how a wonderful transformation had been wrought in their lives. Was it not a SUFFICIENT sign for them? Indeed, this was direct evidence of the truth of the Holy Word, for to effect a pure transformation in the lives of those who would follow it was its avowed object, while the overthrow of its enemies was only an indirect testimony. (Source)
A final set of translations:
Is it not ENOUGH for them that We have revealed to you the Book for their instruction? N.J. Dawood
Is it not ENOUGH for them that we have sent down to thee the Book which thou dost recite to them? ... Palmer
Is it not ENOUGH for them that we have sent down to thee the Book to be recited to them? ... Rodwell
Is it not SUFFICIENT for them that we have sent down unto thee the book [of the Koran], to be read unto them? ...
Thus, if Muhammad did perform miracles then this falsifies the sufficiency of the Qur’an.
Now a Muslim may contest this by referring to the following citation to prove that the Qur’an mentions one specific miracle of Muhammad:
The Hour has drawn nigh: the moon is split. Yet if they see a sign they turn away, and they say 'A continuous sorcery!' S. 54:1-2
Many Muslims claim that this refers to the moon being split in the presence of the unbelievers during the time of Muhammad. This alleged miracle is reported in several hadiths:
Narrated Anas: That the Meccan people requested Allah's Apostle to show them a miracle, and so he showed them the splitting of the moon. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 831)
There are several problems in appealing to the above citation. First, this contradicts Surahh 29:48-51 which says that the Qur’an is sufficient as a sign, or miracle, from God. If Muhammad needed to provide a miracle in addition to the Qur’an then this only serves to falsify his own statement regarding the Qur’an’s sufficiency. Second, the Qur’anic text doesn’t give us any data whereby to connect this with the story found in the hadith that the moon was split during Muhammad’s time. It is vague and can refer to any incident, whether before, during or after Muhammad’s time. After all, even Muslims admit that the text may in fact be referring to a future incident, a sign to occur during the Day of Judgment:
As RAZI points out, the first verse of this Surahh appears almost like a continuation of the last verses of the preceding one, especially 53: 57 - "that [Last Hour] which is so near draws ever nearer" -: and so we may assume that both were revealed at approximately the same time, i.e., towards the end of the early part (perhaps the fourth year) of Muhammad’s prophethood …
Most of the commentators see in this verse a reference to a phenomenon said to have been witnessed by several of the Prophet’s contemporaries. As described in a number of reports going back to some Companions, the moon appeared one night as if split into two distinct parts. While there is no reason to doubt the subjective veracity of these reports, it is possible that what actually happened was an unusual kind of partial lunar eclipse, which produced an equally unusual optical illusion. But whatever the nature of that phenomenon, it is practically certain that the above Qur’an-verse DOES NOT REFER TO IT but, rather, TO A FUTURE EVENT: namely, to what will happen when the Last Hour approaches. (The Qur’an frequently employs the past tense to denote the future, and particularly so in passages which speak of the coming of the Last Hour and of Resurrection Day; this use of the past tense is meant to stress the certainty of the happening to which the verb relates.) Thus, Raghib regards it as fully justifiable to interpret the phrase inshaqqa l-qamar ("the moon is split asunder") as bearing on the cosmic cataclysm - the end of the world as we know it - that will occur before the coming of Resurrection Day (see art. shaqq in the Mufradat). As mentioned by Zamakhshari, this interpretation has the support of some of the earlier commentators; and it is, to my mind, particularly convincing in view of the juxtaposition, in the above Qur’an-verse, of the moon’s "splitting asunder" and the approach of the Last Hour. (In this connection we must bear in mind the fact that none of the Qur’anic allusions to the "nearness" of the Last Hour and the Day of Resurrection is based on the human concept of "time".) (Ibid., p. 818, fn. 1; online edition)
Third, it is just as likely that the story found in the hadith was fabricated around this passage, as opposed to the verses referring to a story which the hadiths later record. In other words, Muslims decided to fabricate a story in which Muhammad caused the moon to split as a sign to the unbelievers so as to connect it with this Qur’anic passage.
In conclusion, the Qur’an explicitly says that Muhammad performed no miracles apart from the alleged inspiration he received. His only miracle was supposedly the Qur’an. The claim that the word al-bayyinat implies that Muhammad did perform miracles is not substantiated by the data since the term is used in reference to Muhammad receiving or reciting the Qur’an. In other words, Muhammad’s clear signs, his al-bayyinat, were nothing more than the Qur’an itself.
Addendum: Miracles and the Bible
Can the same approach be applied to the Holy Bible? As anyone reading the Holy Bible can see, the Holy Bible, unlike the Qur’an, presents many examples of Jesus and the Apostles performing physical miracles.
"In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away." Mark 8:1-9
"And they came to
"After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the
"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in DEMONSTRATION of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Here are a few more citations which further establish this point:
"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around
"For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience--by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God--so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; Romans 15:18-19
"The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." 2 Corinthians 12:12
"Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—" Galatians 3:5
"how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." Hebrews 2:3-4
The foregoing makes it rather obvious that none of the passages cited by the author insinuate that Christ and the Apostles didn’t perform any miracles. The context of the citations shows that the meaning is either that they didn’t acquiesce to the demands of the unbelievers to perform the specific signs they asked for, since they were given plenty of proofs already; or that no matter how many signs they received the unbelievers weren’t satisfied and demanded that more be given.
What makes this even more astonishing is that the Qur’an mentions the miracles performed by Moses, Jesus, and a host of others, but doesn’t even list one supernatural feat performed by Muhammad. The silence is quite deafening. As one convert to Islam put it in regards to the miracles found in the Islamic tradition:
(2) The authenticated traditions contain numerous reports of the Prophet performing miracles - with God's permission, of course. Many of these are similar to ones attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, such as transforming small quantities of food into enough to feed a whole host of hungry followers and curing blindness with his saliva. Although the Qur'an recalls miracles of past prophets in its narratives, it identifies itself - and perhaps one other supernatural phenomenon - as the only observable miracle(s) granted to the Prophet. Moreover, the Qur'an states that the Prophet's opposition frequently complained that he produced no other miraculous signs. Yet if the Prophet indeed performed most of the miracles recorded in the Hadith literature, then it is a wonder that his opponents consistently complained of a lack of supernatural signs or that the Qur'an did not at least cite more of them in response to pagan objections. (Jeffrey Lang, Losing My Religion: A Call For Help [Amana Publications, 2004], pp. 249-250)
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
About Muhammad and miracles...a comparison with the Bible
A broad analysis