Miracles and causality in Islam 

Miracles and causality in Islam 

“Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.” (Qur’an 2:117) 

“This is the established way of Allah with those who passed on before; and you will not find in the way of Allah any change.” (Qur’an 33:62

“That is our established way for those We had sent before you of Our messengers; and you will not find in Our way any alteration.” (Qur’an 17:77)  

“We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things One competent?” (Qur’an 2:106) 

“Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is, over all things, Disposer of affairs.” (Qur’an 39:62) 

One of the issues that comes up in a discussion between skeptics and believers is the issue of miracles. The skeptic believes that miracles somehow violate the “laws of causality”.     

This strand of thinking has gained currency among some Muslims who do not know how to respond to this line perspective.  You can see this reflected in Muhammad Asad’s translation of the Qur’an into English. You can see this with Naheim Ajmal and Shabir Ally distancing themselves from the virgin birth of Christ Jesus.  

Their concerns are twofold. 

  1. There are natural laws of causality. Miracles would violate these laws of causality.  
  1. Living in an uncertain universe where anything could happen at any time.  

Basically, there are overall two camps in regard to the issue of miracles and causality. 

One camp is where we find most skeptics, atheist, agnostics. It is not surprising to find people who do not believe in the divine or the supranatural to hold such a position. However, we also find Muslims who find the position of this camp persuasive.  

Now there is a second camp that believe that that there is no contradiction between miracles and perceived observance of cause and effect. 

The second camp we can safely put most of the Muslims in today. In fact, most Muslims do not really give thought to these matters as they do not meet the very pressing day to day concerns that they face. 

This article is intended for those Muslims who may find themselves influenced by the first camp. The same camp which coincidentally we find the skeptics, atheist and agnostics.  

Me personally I believe that much of this debate also centres around how we understand and define a ‘miracle’. I believe that we as believers have acquiesced the understanding of ‘miracle’ to a world that sees a division between the natural and supra-natural, to a world where Allah (swt) plays little to no role at all. 

The word ‘miracle’ is defined in an English dictionary as an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency. 

However, the Qur’an the word ayat -signs, miracles are used in a fascinating number of ways. 

“And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” (Qur’an 2:39)  

“So, We said, “Strike the slain man with part of it.” Thus does Allah bring the dead to life, and He shows you His signs that you might reason.” (Qur’an 2:73) 

“And We have certainly revealed to you verses [which are] clear proofs, and no one would deny them except the defiantly disobedient.” (Qur’an 2:99) 

“We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth [one] better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent? (Qur’an 2:106) 

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and the day, and the [great] ships which sail through the sea with that which benefits people, and what Allah has sent down from the heavens of rain, giving life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and dispersing therein every [kind of] moving creature, and [His] directing of the winds and the clouds controlled between the heaven and the earth are signs for a people who use reason.” (Qur’an 2:164) 

“Or [consider such an example] as the one who passed by a township which had fallen into ruin. He said, “How will Allah bring this to life after its death?” So, Allah caused him to die for a hundred years; then He revived him. He said, “How long have you remained?” The man said, “I have remained a day or part of a day.” He said, “Rather, you have remained one hundred years. Look at your food and your drink; it has not changed with time. And look at your donkey; and We will make you a sign for the people. And look at the bones [of this donkey] – how We raise them and then We cover them with flesh.” And when it became clear to him, he said, “I know that Allah is over all things competent.” (Qur’an 2:259)  

“He said, “My Lord, make for me a sign.” He Said, “Your sign is that you will not [be able to] speak to the people for three days except by gesture. And remember your Lord much and exalt [Him with praise] in the evening and the morning.” (Qur’an 3:41) 

“And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed, in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.” (Qur’an 3:49)  

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding.” (Qur’an 3:190)  

“And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so, do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed, Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell altogether.” (Qur’an 4:140)  

The point is that the term (ayat) is translated into English as signs, verses and it is used in reference to the Qur’an itself, to the natural world and to the supra-natural. 

So, in this understanding, the Qur’an, biochemistry, human creation, anatomy, the birth of Christ Jesus through the virgin Mary, the creation of reality, Ibrahim not being burned by the fire, and everything is a miracle. 

It is a miracle in that everything in the universe is contingent upon Allah (swt). 

The Qur’an says of Allah (swt), 

“Allah! There is no god but He, –the Ever-Living, the Self-subsisting. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what is before or after them. Nor can they compass aught of His knowledge except as He wills. His Throne does extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Highest, the Supreme (in glory).” (Qur’an 2:255) 

In Islamic theology across the board, there is nothing else in existence that can make this claim. It is only Allah (swt) that is Self-Subsisting, Self-Existent. 

So now let us deal with the claims of those who say supra-natural miracles – let us just say that which cannot be verified through scientific experiments or which go against observations of perceptible interactions between cause and effect. 

Those of us who believe that everything in the universe is a miracle and everything perceptible even what we perceive as cause and effect all go back to this verse: 

“Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.” (Qur’an 2:117

Understanding the verse: The sunna of Allah (swt) is that when he decrees a matter he says to it, “Be” and it is. 

Our theology is that Allah (swt) creates the universe Ex nihilo.  

We do not believe that Allah (swt) created the universe through the logo (word) Christ Jesus, or that Allah (swt) had a magic bucket or that Allah (swt) had any aid in the creation of the universe. 

However, for those Muslims who believe that supra-natural miracles- let us just say that which cannot be verified through scientific experiments or which go against observations of perceptible interactions between cause and effect, they actually do believe there was a change in the sunnah of Allah. 

For they NOW (argue) -they had to change their position and we will come to that, but they NOW (argue) that Allah (swt) created the universe Ex nihilo and after that his new sunnah is that the universe is a universe of perceptible cause and effect. 

Eternality of the Universe. Or the idea of Allah’s perpetual activity.  

Now Ibn Rushd was aware of this, why else do you think he believed in the eternity of the universe? Ibn Rushd as intelligent and scholarly as he was absolutely clutched at straws to defend his position. 

He had to argue the pre-eternity of the universe otherwise you have to deal with the forceful arguments made above.  

As we see that change in position still leaves them in a quandary. 

Our position is that Allah (swt) creates everything with the command ‘Be’. That which is perceptible to us as cause and effect is because we are beings that live in time. 

Now when Ibn Rushd formulated this position it was way before the advancements that have been made by modern Astronomers and in particular cosmologist.  

Interestingly as well that among cosmologists more and more of them from theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku & astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, the late great theoretical physicist, and cosmologist Stephen Hawking have all talked about the universe being created ex nihilo. So much for Ibn Rushd! 

The consensus of cosmologist is that our universe had a beginning. 

 This sobering reality puts a major dent in the position of those who believe in the perpetual activity of Allah (swt) or the idea of the eternality of the universe.  

Point 1. 

Allah (swt) says,  

 “Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.” (Qur’an 2:117) 

  1. It is not possible to say to a ‘shay’ or a thing ‘Be’ if it already is!  

Point 2. Cosmologist have an ‘ijma or a consensus that states the universe had a beginning.  

Point 3. These “laws of the universe” that everyone thinks are constant actually break down (more accurately some) within a singularity (black hole). All of them break down at the beginning of the universe. And alas at the edges or the ‘boundaries’ of our known universe. 

“If there is a directionality in the universe, Professor Webb argues, and if electromagnetism is shown to be very slightly different in certain regions of the cosmos, the most fundamental concepts underpinning much of modern physics will need revision.” 

“Our standard model of cosmology is based on an isotropic universe, one that is the same, statistically, in all directions,” he says. 

“That standard model itself is built upon Einstein’s theory of gravity, which itself explicitly assumes constancy of the laws of Nature. If such fundamental principles turn out to be only good approximations, the doors are open to some very exciting, new ideas in physics.” 

Source: New findings suggest laws of nature ‘downright weird,’ not as constant as previously thought (phys.org) 

There is also discussion in physics circles about time running backwards. If time runs backwards or if there is a universe or layer of our own reality where time flows backwards, it would appear to us that the effect would be prior to the cause! 

I would implore Muslims who are critical of their own faith tradition to apply that same skepticism to the realm of science. Science evolves and changes. You may find this article interesting. What Is the Wigner’s Friend Paradox? | Wigner’s Friend: Explained (popularmechanics.com) 

Believing in far-fetched interpretations of the Qur’an.  

Point 4. This is where we need to be very careful. Although those Muslims who have fallen prey to the idea that miracles violate laws of causality, they end up losing the plot altogether. Why is that?  

It is irrefutable that the Muslim tradition across all schools of theology have brought to us that the early Muslims believed in miracles. Miracles that others would say violate the laws of causality.  

So, what happens is that this curious Muslims who is taken in by such a view starts to wonder how do we deal with concrete text of the Qur’an that mention miraculous events. This Muslim is often dismayed by such far reaching commentary stuffed into the narrative of the Qur’an to make it conform to the belief of the skeptics.  

Here are some case in points.  

Muhammed Asad who was deeply influenced by this strand of thought, when discussing his denial of the Virgin birth of Christ Jesus states: 

 
“In connection with the announcement of a son to Mary, the Quran states in 3:47 that `when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, Be, and it is’: but since neither the Quran nor any authentic Tradition tells us anything about the chain of causes and effects (asbab) which God’s decree `Be’ was to bring into being, all speculation as to the `how’ of this event must remain beyond the scope of a Quran-commentary.” 
Source: (The Message of the Quran, Muhammad Asad Note 15 on verse 19:11, p. 459) 

The correction to what Muhammad Asad said is as follows: 

Every Muslim doesn’t know the ‘how’ but we do know the ‘what’. We know that since Allah (swt) is the creator of ALL things. 

“Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is, over all things, Disposer of affairs.” (Qur’an 39:62) 

This entails that Allah (swt) didn’t create the universe from the logos (Jesus) or he didn’t do it from some magic bucket. He (Allah) swt created the universe ex nihilo. 

So, we do know that when Allah (swt) says, “Be” it is out of nothing. Now, if some people who are influenced by that particular theological strain now claim that there is a change in the sunnah of Allah (swt) that is for you them to sort out. 

Now let us look at what people who are influenced by this particular theological strain do to the Qur’an. I thought that the Muhsin Khan translation of the Qur’an was bad but the following takes the cake: 

Jesus making a bird out of clay.  

And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead – by permission of Allah. And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed, in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.” (Qur’an 3:49)  

Now let us look at how the above text of the Qur’an will take on a radical transformation under the influence of Muhammad Asad and his theological strain: 

Voila! 

“and [will make him] an apostle unto the children of Israel.” “I HAVE COME unto you with a message from your Sustainer. I shall create for you out of clay, as it were, the shape of [you’re] destiny, and then breathe into it so that it might become [you’re] destiny by God’s leave; and I shall heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead back to life by God’s leave, and I shall let you know what you may eat and what you should store up in your houses. Behold, in all this, there is indeed a message for you, if you are [truly] believers.” Source: (Muhammad Asad translation of Qur’an3:49) 

Comments: Apparently blind, leaper, and bringing the dead back to life can be interpreted as spiritually blind, spiritually sick, and spiritually dead. 

However not to be outdone Shabir Ahmed comes along with an even more bizarre translation:  

“And he will be a Messenger to the Children of Israel. He will say to them, “I come to you with Revelation from your Lord. If you follow me, I will raise you from dust to the heights of glory by the Command of Allah (7:176). The blind among you will begin to see the Truth. Those of you who are spotted with sin, I will heal them, and I shall grant real life to those who are just dragging on without purpose; all according to the Laws of Allah. I am here to establish justice and equity. I shall see to it how much you hoard in your houses and how much you spend on the community. My teachings are sufficient signs for you to believe.” Source: (Shabir Ahmed translation of Qur’an 3:49) 

So, what happens is we superimpose our philosophy on the Qur’an. 

I have honestly seen some very labored and I do mean extremely labored exegesis by these people to explain away the supra-natural miracles of the Qur’an. 

The other point is that all disputes among Muslims have to be settled by that which we have in common, the Qur’an. So, at the very least anyone who has this theological inclination should be able to provide their proofs and evidence from the Qur’an. 

Point 5. The challenge of the fly.

“O people, an example is presented, so listen to it. Indeed, those you invoke besides Allah will never create even a fly, even if they gathered together for that purpose. And if the fly should steal away from them a thing, they could not recover it from him. Weak are the pursuer and pursued.” (Qur’an 22:73)

If those who believe that causality violates miracles and that we live in a universe of perpetual activity and a universe of perpetual things, how does one meet this challenge of the Qur’an?

It is reasonable to believe that science will indeed be able to create a fly. Using some type of nano technology. Yet, the point being is that they will not be able to create a fly out of no thing.

If science can create a fly out of things than nothing about the statement of the Qur’an above would be marvelous. Yet, we know it is only Allah (swt) who can bring a thing out of a no-thing.

My advice to such people. Look I know you want to appeal to the atheist and win them over. However, be cautious when tickling their ego because you will find in the end that it is you that will be making all the concessions. 

Living in an uncertain universe where anything could happen at any time. 

So maybe there really are indeed miracles. Maybe they do seem to violate the laws of cause and effect. Yet, how am I to live in my day-to-day life? For example:  

Let us say that you are going to bake a cake. This cake requires that you put one liter of water in the mixture. In a universe where the laws of cause and effect can seemingly be violated how do you know for certain that the water in this mixture will not simply turn into salt? How do you know it won’t turn into gravel?  

For an answer to that I would also like to include a link to this excellently written article by my dear friend Professor Ed Moad (May Allah continue to bless him). 

https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/tying-your-camel-an-islamic-perspective-on-methodological-naturalism

The article is called: “Tying Your Camel: An Islamic Perspective on Methodological Naturalism.” 

I honestly will not entertain any comments on this article about its contents unless the person has read Professor Edward Moad’s short paper on it as well. It is an amazing article that will take about 20-25 minutes of your time to read. 

Insh’Allah more to come. We rely upon Allah (swt) and the help of Allah (swt) is sought. 

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