The word mujizah is derived from ijaz meaning inability, referring to the miracle. The Koran exhorts miracles in a threefold sense: the sacred history, in connection with the Prophet, and in relation to revelation. The threefold sense of the miracle corresponds to the three meanings of the word aya (pl. ayat), which indicates the verse of the Koran as well as the miracle of it and the sign, particularly those of creation. The term aya is often followed or replaced by its nominalized qualifier, bayyina (pl. bayyinat) i.e. a clear sign, a designation which underlines the relation between miracles and the Koran, which is itself qualified as bayan (clear, evident or speech). The sense of astonishment and wonder, which the concept of miracle evokes, may be rediscovered in the term ajab, a word used with regard to the attitude of humans, positive or negative when faced with the supernatural. The prophetic miracles are called mujizah, while the miracles ascribed to the saints are termed karamat or karishma.
Thus, mujizah or the miracle is such an occurrence which ordinary reason is unable to comprehend or accept it. Maqdisi writes in al-Bad wal Tarikh (Paris, 1899, 4:175) that, “A thing may be a miracle at one time while at another time it is not a miracle. It may be miracle for one nation but not for another. A thing may in the totality of its parts be a miracle but each individual part by itself might not be a miracle.” The miracle thus relative to time and circumstance. In general, miracle cannot take place except at the hands of Prophets or Imams or in their time. Thus, an allegorical interpretation is necessary to translate the miracle attached to the Koran.
The modern mind finds it well nigh impossible to give credence to miraculous happenings. For the scientists, nature is a closed system and any incursions of the supernatural into it are unthinkable. The history however testifies to the close association of religion with belief in miracles. The prophets in the olden times were generally credited with the power of working miracles, so much so that a prophet was judged not by the value of his teaching, but by his miracles.
Whatever may be the case with religion, Islam, at least, lends no support to such superstitions. The Koran appeals to reason. Its professed aim is to make men rational and clear sighted, not to make them superstitious. The Koran directs man’s attention to the phenomena of nature and the facts of history, as they reveal the power of God and His wisdom. Man is invited to look at and reflect upon the grandeur of the heavens, the beauty of the earth, the freshness of dawn, the glory of sunset and the terrifying force of the wind as it sweeps over the open spaces of the desert. Pointedly, it asks: “Are not these marvelous? What more do you want?’ The phenomena of nature, at once beautiful and mysterious, can fully gratify man’s sense of wonder. However, the people with whom the Prophet of Islam had to deal were steeped in superstition. They were obsessed with the craving for the miraculous. They not only believed that the law of nature could be violated but regarded such a violation as the only proof that could be offered for the truth of a statement. Instead of scrutinizing the rational grounds of the statement and accepting it if adequate evidence was adduced in its favour, they asked whether the man who made it could work wonders or not. It was not easy to deal with and win over people whose attitude to truth was so irrational. The Prophet did the best that he could in these difficult circumstances. With gentle persuasion he strove to turn their attention from figments of imagination to the concrete facts of life and history. He exhorted them to reflect upon nature and history make a serious attempt to understand them both. With fervent earnestness he assured them that he did not claim the power to work miracles but that he rested his case on rational arguments and on the beneficial effects of his teaching. His opponents could not be expected to be satisfied with this simple explanation. They retorted that if he were a true Prophet, he would surely have worked miracles; his inability to do so was proof that he had no valid claim to Prophethood. The accusation was without foundation. If the Prophet had been an imposter, he could easily work on their superstitious minds. A single instance will suffice to prove his integrity of character. Soon after the death of his beloved son, there was a solar eclipse. People were frightened by the unusual darkness and they humbly suggested to the Prophet that nature seemed to be convulsed by the shock of his son’s death. Without the least hesitation, he assured them that this was a natural phenomenon and had no bearing on his personal affairs. Nature goes on its course unconcerned with the calamities that may befall man. Only a man of his stature could have refused to seize an opportunity of convincing people absolutely that he was a miracle worker, and therefore, a true Prophet.
The Prophet was consumed with the passion to reform the people and to induce them to accept the truth, which he had placed with them. Their insistent demand that he should work miracles to convince them. On such occasion, the Koran counsels him to remain and not to give way to despair. Sometimes, he might have thought that if only he possessed the power to work miracles, he could quickly have persuaded the people to accept his teaching and follow the right path. The Koran did not leave even such a remote thought unanswered: “If their aversion (to the truth) is grievous to thee, then, if you can seek a way down into the earth or a ladder into the sky that you may bring to them a portent (to convince them all). If God willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance; so you be not of the ignorant” (6:35). God wants men to see and accept the truth through understanding and not dogmatically and irrationally: “Those who do not use their intellect, the matter remains confused to them” (10:100).
The Koran calls upon men to apply their minds to its teaching, to strive to grasp its meaning and rationale. If they remain unresponsive to the call, the Koran refuses to stoop to irrational methods of influencing their minds. It would rather leave them to follow the wrong path, if they have chosen it freely than consent to any kind of compulsion, however well-intentioned, to lead them to the right path. Greatness may be thrust on some but goodness can be thrust on none. All that the Koran does is, it sounds the warning, time and again, that if the thought-provoking faculties were suppressed for long, they would ultimately lose their power to kindle the pulse of thought. It says: “Those who just go on rejecting the truth (without trying to understand it), it is all one for them whether you warn them (against the consequences of their actions) or not. They will not accept the truth. (As a result of their obstinacy, the law of God) has sealed their hearing and heart and on their eyes is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom” (2:6-7).
Those who possessed reason and did not use it to acquire true knowledge and to gain an understanding of the revelation are denounced as the vilest of men, and contempt is poured on them: “And We have struck out for men in this Koran all kinds of similitudes (to make the matter clear) but, notwithstanding all this, if you place before them a verse of the Koran, those who disbelieve will surely say: You are but given to vanity. Thus does God seal the hearts of those who do not try to understand” (30:58-9). Again, “And We send not Our messengers but as bearers of glad tidings and as warners (to those who tread the wrong path) : but those who reject the truth dispute with vain words that they may refute the truth thereby, and they take My revelation and what they are warned of as a jest. And who does a greater wrong than one who being reminded of the laws of God, turns aside from them and forgets what his hands have sent on before. (This is how Our law of retribution) places veils upon their hearts, so they understand not, and heaviness is in their ears. (The result of their obstinacy is that) though you call them to the right path, they will never adopt it” (18:56-57).
Again and again, in support of itself, the Koran directs a man’s attention to natural phenomena and historical events. It justifies its teachings on verifiable grounds and on historical evidence. The Koran assures man that his highest aspirations and ideals are attainable as he lives in a friendly and sympathetic universe, which is controlled by a wise and compassionate power. Miracles are repugnant to the consistently rational spirit of the Koran. Those who demand miracles are occasionally humoured but are more often reproved in plain terms.
The view advocated here may, however, be challenged on the ground that the Koran recounts many miracles which were wrought by the prophets in olden time. There are several possible interpretations of these miracles. Some scholars have had recourse to allegorical interpretation. Others have held that the figurative language and vivid imagery served to drive home a general truth. Another plausible theory is that the Koran in describing people of an earlier age had to mention the unusual events, which had psychological reality for them. However it is a question, which concerns the scholars who is interested in the mental development of man. It has no bearing on din as such. We subscribe to the view that they have been narrated metaphorically and can be interpreted rationally.
Events, which have been reported in ancient scriptures as miracles need not at all be dismissed as the unconscious fabrications of credulous people. The mind of man may possess powers which are unsuspected by science. Some present day scientists are not so skeptical as their predecessors were. A new science, parapsychology, has sprung up and for the moment seems to be vigorously active. A few eminent psychologists are working in this field and have already collected evidence and discovered facts in the face of which dogmatic scepticism appears to be as absurd as the credulity of the ancients. Telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and psychokinetic phenomena are being experimentally studied. All we can say at present is that the mind may well possesses supernormal powers. We are learning the lesson that intellectual arrogance is an obstacle in the search for truth. Whatever may be the outcome of the investigations into the occult, the truly Koranic response to the universe will remain unchanged. The question of miracles may enlist the interest of the scientist but it has no vital relation to a quest, which has any connection with the din. The Koran seeks to awaken in man the consciousness of his intimate relation to the universe. Its purpose is to help to build up a free, self-reliant and rational personality, vivified with the sense of God’s working in the universe according to His unalterable laws.