The Theological Definition of Miracles
By Osama Rayan (4th Year ʿĀlim Student, DarusSalam Seminary)
There are fundamental points in creed that Muslims believe in. We believe in Allāh’s Oneness, the Holy Scriptures that were revealed unto the Prophets, the Angels, and the Last Day. One thing that is essential in our belief structure is our belief in miracles or “muʿjizāt.” In this writing, I will define miracles according to Islām’s theologians. This article will focus on the theological definition of miracles without enumerating the miracles that are ascribed to the Prophets in a detailed listing.
In Arabic, the word muʿjizah is derived from the root letters ʿayn, jīm, and zāy. These convey the meaning of “to be weak or incapacitated.” An elderly person may be referred to as ʿajūz because, as one gets old, they are no longer able to function with the agility that they had during their youth. Therefore, they cannot perform certain tasks.
The word muʿjizah comes from the active participle form of the Verbal Stem IV. This stem imparts the meaning of transitivity, which denotes weakening someone or rendering them incapable. The connection between the word’s lexical meaning and the subject-specific term that is derived from it is that a miracle renders one who denies a Prophet’s Prophethood unable to justify their denial, just like how an elderly individual is unable to carry out certain tasks.
There are two possibilities regarding the tāʾ marbūṭah at the end of the word. It may be for emphasis (ar. mubālaghah) or because the word transitioned from its participle meaning to being used as a noun (ar. naql). An example of the first would be like how the word “nassābah” is used for a scholar who mastered the subject of lineages. And an example of the second would be like how the word “dhabīḥah” is used for a slaughtered animal. Accordingly, it should be noted regarding the word muʿjizah that it is a non-adjectival nomenclature with a specific theological meaning. And in considering the aspect of emphasis that may be added through the suffix of the tāʾ marbūṭah it renders those who challenge the truth not just incapable, but completely incapable.
The Theological Definition
Shaykh Ṭāhir al-Jazāʾirī defined it as:
أمر خارق للعادة يظهر على يد مدعي النبوة موافقا لدعواه على وجه يعجز المنكرين الإتيان بمثله
“An event that breaks established norms that manifests from one claiming Prophethood to support his claim in such a way that the event renders the rejecters unable to do anything like it.”
Imām Nasafī defined it as:
أمر خارق للعادة يظهر على يد مدعي النبوة
“An event that breaks established norms, which manifests from one claiming Prophethood.”
Shaykh Muṣṭafā Ṣabrī defined it as:
أمر خارق للعادة يظهر على يد مدعي النبوة موافقا لدعواه
“An event that breaks established norms; it manifests from one claiming Prophethood to support his claim.”
Shaykh Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī defined it:
هي كل أمر خارق للعادة يظهر على يد مدعي النبوة عند تحدي المنكرين له على وجه يبين صدق دعواه
“Every event that breaks established norms, which manifests from one claiming Prophethood when challenged by those who reject him. This event shows the reality of his Prophethood.”
Shaykh al-Azhar Ibrāhīm al-Bājūrī defined it:
أمر خارق القدرة للعادة مقرون بالتحدي الذي هو دعوة الرسالة أو النبوة مع عدم المعارضة
“An event that breaks the power of established norms, accompanied with a challenge, namely the claim of Messengership or Prophethood [that occurs with] the absence of opposition.”
Upon reviewing these definitions, one may notice that the scholars define miracles through qualifications, thereby narrowing down exactly what they are. One crucial qualification that is found in each definition is “khāriq lil-ʿādah.” This implies that miracles are supernatural events that contravene the observational evidence that has led man to discover universal scientific laws; thus, I translated this qualification as “breaking the norm.”
Science is based on repeated observation and experimentation, and miracles are events that happen outside of those limits. Miracles are not impossibilities; rather, science cannot solve how they happen. And there is wisdom in them not being subject to what is known from mankind’s scientific discoveries. Verily, they show that the Prophet from whom they manifest is divinely supported.
God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And He can change the physical dynamics of what happens in His kingdom even in such a way that goes against what we know based on scientific discovery. In witnessing a miracle, man knows that no mortal could perform such an act, and that it transcends the bounds of the physical parameters that define our earthly perception. Thus, miracles deaden the voices of those who controvert the truth and liven the hearts of those who confirm it.
Allāh knows best.
 al-Muʿjam al-Wasīṭ, 606.
 ʿUmdat al-Murīd, 2:1057.
 al-Jawāhir al-Kalāmiyyah, 80.
 Tabṣirat al-Adillah, 2:81.
 Mawqif, 1:25.
 Kubrā al-Yaqīniyyāt al-Kawniyyah, 214.
 Tuḥfat al-Murīd, 244.
 Kubrā al-Yaqīniyyāt al-Kawniyyah, 214; Tuḥfat al-Murīd, 244.