بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A miracle [mu’jizah] is an extraordinary occurrence [khāriqun lil ‘ādah] and it occurs only at the hands of prophets and messengers. However the scholars also use the word ‘karāmah’. They give it various definitions and attempt to establish its reality by many āyāt and ahādith. The question is: does what is called a ‘karāmah’ exist or not? If the answer is yes we seek a comprehensive explanation in this matter, and if the answer is no, then how do we understand the story of the Ahl al-Kahf for instance or Ashāb al-Ukhdūd, or the saying of Umar ibn al-Khattāb (ra), ‘O Sāriya, the mountain!’ Similarly the incident of Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas in the Tigris river, and many like occurrences?
1. Allah سبحانه وتعالى has created the universe, man, and life with particular laws and characteristics which man is not able to change or break.
لَا الشَّمْسُ يَنْبَغِي لَهَا أَنْ تُدْرِكَ الْقَمَرَ وَلَا اللَّيْلُ سَابِقُ النَّهَارِ وَكُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
“Neither is it allowable to the sun that it should overtake the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day; and all float on in a sphere” (Yāsīn: 40)
وَفِي الْأَرْضِ آيَاتٌ لِلْمُوقِنِينَ • وَفِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ
“And in the earth there are signs for those who are sure, as also in your own selves: Will you not then see?” (al-Dhāriyāt: 20-21)
هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاءً وَالْقَمَرَ نُورًا وَقَدَّرَهُ مَنَازِلَ لِتَعْلَمُوا عَدَدَ السِّنِينَ وَالْحِسَابَ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ ذَلِكَ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ يُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ • إِنَّ فِي اخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَمَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَّقُونَ
“He it is Who made the sun a shining brightness and the moon a light, and ordained for it mansions that you might know the computation of years and the reckoning. Allah did not create it but with truth; He makes the signs manifest for a people who understand. Most surely in the variation of the night and the day, and what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for a people who guard (against evil).” (Yūnus: 5-6)
إِنَّا زَيَّنَّا السَّمَاءَ الدُّنْيَا بِزِينَةٍ الْكَوَاكِبِ
“Indeed We have beautified the nearest heaven with an adornment, the stars…” (al-Sāffāt: 6)
وَلَقَدْ جَعَلْنَا فِي السَّمَاءِ بُرُوجًا وَزَيَّنَّاهَا لِلنَّاظِرِينَ
“And certainly We have made strongholds in the heaven and We have adorned it for the beholders” (al-Hijr: 16)
These are just some of the many verses which show this.
2. Allah سبحانه وتعالى has also facilitated life for the creation in accordance with what he has determined in them of natural capacities. Man does not fly in the air with his body, like the birds, nor travel on water with his body like the creatures of the sea. He lives on his two feet on land, and cannot break the law by walking on water or flying in the air.
وَمَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلَّا أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُمْ مَا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الْكِتَابِ مِنْ شَيْءٍ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُونَ
“And there is no animal that walks upon the earth nor a bird that flies with its two wings but (they are) species like yourselves; We have not neglected anything in the Book, then to their Lord shall they be gathered.” (al-‘Anām: 38)
وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَ كُلَّ دَابَّةٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى بَطْنِهِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى رِجْلَيْنِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى أَرْبَعٍ يَخْلُقُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“And Allah has created from water every living creature: so of them is that which walks upon its belly, and of them is that which walks upon two feet, and of them is that which walks upon four; Allah creates what He pleases; surely Allah has power over all things.” (al-Nūr: 45)
3. Similarly, Allah has placed in things particular attributes which they cannot surpass. Fire burns, and none has the ability to remove this attribute from it. Only Allah himself can suspend such an attribute, such as when He سبحانه وتعالى saved Ibrāhīm عليه السلام from the fire by removing its attribute of burning.
He سبحانه وتعالى says,
قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ
“We said, ‘O Fire! Be cool and peaceful on Ibrāhīm” (al-Anbiyā': 69)
Thus are the attributes in other material things.
4. Further, Allah سبحانه وتعالى has subjugated this universe for us so that we can live in it in accordance with its natural laws. Any circumvention of these laws negates this subjugation. Only Allah is able to perform such circumvention. If He informs us of such we affirm it, and if he does not then any matter is considered to be within the subjugation of the universe for us.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ الْبَحْرَ لِتَأْكُلُوا مِنْهُ لَحْمًا طَرِيًّا وَتَسْتَخْرِجُوا مِنْهُ حِلْيَةً تَلْبَسُونَهَا وَتَرَى الْفُلْكَ مَوَاخِرَ فِيهِ وَلِتَبْتَغُوا مِنْ فَضْلِهِ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“And He it is Who has made the sea subservient that you may eat fresh flesh from it and bring forth from it ornaments which you wear, and you see the ships cleaving through it, and that you might seek of His bounty and that you may give thanks.” (al-Nahl: 14)
أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ سَخَّرَ لَكُمْ مَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَالْفُلْكَ تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِأَمْرِهِ وَيُمْسِكُ السَّمَاءَ أَنْ تَقَعَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ
“Do you not see that Allah has made subservient to you whatsoever is in the earth and the ships running in the sea by His command? And He withholds the heaven from falling on the earth except with His permission; most surely Allah is Compassionate, Merciful to men.” (al-Hajj: 65)
أَلَمْ تَرَوْا أَنَّ اللَّهَ سَخَّرَ لَكُمْ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَأَسْبَغَ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعَمَهُ ظَاهِرَةً وَبَاطِنَةً وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يُجَادِلُ فِي اللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَلَا هُدًى وَلَا كِتَابٍ مُنِيرٍ
“Do you not see that Allah has made what is in the heavens and what is in the earth subservient to you, and made complete to you His favors outwardly and inwardly? And among men is he who disputes in respect of Allah though having no knowledge nor guidance, nor a book giving light.” (Luqmān: 20)
وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ وَالنُّجُومَ مُسَخَّرَاتٍ بِأَمْرِهِ أَلَا لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَالْأَمْرُ تَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“…and the sun and the moon and the stars, made subservient by His command; surely His is the creation and the command; blessed is Allah, the Lord of the worlds.” (al-‘Arāf: 54)
وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْفُلْكَ لِتَجْرِيَ فِي الْبَحْرِ بِأَمْرِهِ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْأَنْهَارَ • وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ دَائِبَيْنِ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ
“and He has made the ships subservient to you, that they might run their course in the sea by His command, and He has made the rivers subservient to you. And He has made subservient to you the sun and the moon pursuing their courses, and He has made subservient to you the night and the day.” (Ibrāhīm: 32-33)
5. Allah سبحانه وتعالى has sent messengers and supported them with miracles which establish their messengership. These miracles are extraordinary occurrences, contravening the norm, whereby Allah سبحانه وتعالى suspends some of the natural laws making them subservient to the messenger as a challenge to people and a proof for them that the one who has performed this miracle is indeed a prophet sent by Allah.
Allah سبحانه وتعالى made the solid staff of Mūsā عليه السلام transform into a live snake – literally, not merely as an illusion like magic. When the magicians saw this they were of the first to believe in the Prophethood of Mūsā because they knew that such a literal transformation was not possible by a man himself. Similar to this was when Allah split the sea to allow Mūsā عليه السلام and his people to cross, and when he would bring the dead to life on the hand of Isā عليه السلام. Similar was the Arabic speech spoken by the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم which was not humanly possible for the Arabs.
Miracles occurring on the hands of prophets and messengers are a known matter, as are its evidences.
6. As for what people refer to as ‘karāmāt’ for other than the prophets and messengers, this is tawfīq from Allah for a slave of His in an action of his in a remarkable way. This can be something which is extraordinary or something within the ordinary. It occurs to something because of the strength of the tawfīq.
If it is extraordinary then Allah informs us of it because the texts are general about the subjugation of the universe for man, that is, within the universal laws, so suspending this subjugation or breaking these laws require a specifying text. If such a text is found, we affirm it. If there is no text about an extraordinary occurrence than any incident is seen as tawfīq from Allah within the laws of the universe.
Therefore we affirm the provision which used to come to Maryam in an extraordinary manner because Allah informs us about it,
كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِنْدَهَا رِزْقًا قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّى لَكِ هَذَا قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
“Whenever Zakariyya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Maryam! where does this come to you from? She said: It is from Allah. Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.” (Aāl-Imrān: 37)
The same applies to all the texts of the Book and the Sunnah about extraordinary incidents occurring to other than the prophets and messengers. We affirm them in accordance with how they are established. That is, we affirm them decisively if they are definite in transmission and indication and non-decisively if they are indefinite in either.
This is the answer to what you mentioned of extraordinary incidents mentioned in the texts like the story of Ahl al-Kahf, Ashāb al-Ukhdūd and Maryam عليه السلام. All of these came in Qur’an so we affirm them.
As for after the death of Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم then the transmitted texts have ceased except only the Ijma’ al-Sahābah which reveals an evidence which they heard from the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم but did not explicitly relate, and except some of the ahādīth of the Messenger mentioned in his life in which some Companions are praised by name for actions and sayings they perform with tawfīq which makes them of an extraordinary nature. Hence if there are texts which describe specific individuals as performing actions or sayings in specific situations, then we affirm them in accordance to their strength.
As for actions and sayings performed by some Muslims without there being a text about them, then these are never extraordinary. They are within the universal laws and are the result of tawfīq from Allah for his pious slaves for the success of their acts, and for salvation from the evil of their enemies, and the like.
7. With respect to what occurred on the tongue of Umar of his saying, ‘O Sāriya, the mountain!’ and Allah’s making this reach the soldiers such that they were victorious over their enemy, then we affirm this because of the Messenger’s صلى الله عليه وسلم saying about Umar, “Allah has placed the Haq on the tongue of Umar with which he speaks.” (Abu Dāwūd, from Abu Dharr)
And his صلى الله عليه وسلم saying, “Allah has placed the Haq on the tongue of Umar and in his heart.” (Tirmidhi, from Ibn ‘Umar)
And his صلى الله عليه وسلم saying, “Allah has placed the Haq on the tongue and heart of Umar.” (Ahmad, from Ibn ‘Umar)
Hence we take this ahādīth and affirm the saying of Umar, ‘O Sāriya, the mountain!’ in accordance with the strength of this transmission, on the basis of the mentioned ahadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
8. As for what has been narrated about Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas (ra) crossing the river, as above we affirm it in accordance with the strength of its transmission. This is because the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم praised Sa’d specifically, by his saying, “The first to enter from this door is a man from the people of Jannah; then Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas entered” (Ahmad, from Ibn ‘Umar).
Ibn Umar also narrates that, “We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم and he said, ‘A man from the people of Jannah shall enter upon you from that door.’ As he said that Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqās appeared (Ibn Hibbān).
Further the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم supplicated to Allah to accept the du’a of Sa’d as related in the Mustadrak of al-Hākim and in Dalā’il al-Nubuwah of al-Bayhaqi, and Ibn Hibbān from Qays ibn Abi Hāzim that he said, “I heard Sa’d say, ‘The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said to me, ‘O Allah, answer him when he calls upon you.”” Al-Hākim judged the chain of his narration to be sound.
In the narration of Sa’d traversing the (Tigris) river in the conquest of al-Madā’in, Sa’d mobilised his soldiers saying, “I have decided to fight the enemy before the dunya harvests you! Indeed I have decided to cross this river!” Then he called upon Allah saying to his soldiers, “Say, ‘We seek help from Allah and we place our trust in him. Allah suffices us and he is the best disposer of affairs. By Allah! Allah gives victory to His righteous slaves, He makes His deen dominant and vanquishes His enemy. There is no strength or power except with Allah, the High, the Great!” They then crossed the river, one after the other, followed by their horses.
Some of the narrations mention that the river had fords which would be as high as the body of a horse at low-tide. At high-tide the water would rise significantly, and this was the case when Sa’d plunged into the river. It may have been that they crossed the river from specific fords, although what is understand from the narrations is that they waded through whilst the water was high.
Some of the narrations mention that one of them drowned while crossing. Ibn al-Kalbi mentions that Salil ibn Zayd witnessed the conquests of Irāq and drowned the day the Muslims crossed the Tigris into al-Madā’in. Al-Tabarī mentions in his Tārīkh that when the Muslim crossed the Tigris all passed safely except one by the name of Gharqada who slipped from the back of his horse so al-Qa’qā’ bin ‘Amr threw him the bridle of his horse which he grasped and crossed.
Hence there are reports of one man drowning and others of a man slipping into the river. In any case, whether the incident was extraordinary or within the ordinary, we affirm it in accordance with the strength of its transmission, and that is on the basis that Sa’d dua’s are answered and he made du’a for Allah’s victory and the defeat of the enemy, and because the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم mentioned him as being of the people of Jannah and supplicated for his dua’s to be answered.
• The Universe is subjugated for man in accordance with its laws and attributes.
• Any contravention of these laws and attributes is a specification of the general texts about it being subjugated for man.
• In turn, affirming any extraordinary event (which breaks a universal law) requires a text.
• If no such text exists then all matters are considered to be operating in accordance with their inherent nature [fitra] upon which Allah created them.
• If there are texts, then we affirm them in accordance with their strength of transmission and indication, like the miracles of the Prophets and the karāmāt of other than the Prophets about which a text has come.
• As for everything else, that is, for that which a text does not exist, any remarkable act or saying of a Muslim, whatever his level of taqwa, it does not break the universal laws and attributes. Rather it is tawfīq from Allah for his slaves in terms of success in their actions, or protections from the evil of their enemies.