Muhammad: The Signless Prophet

The Quran repeatedly stresses the fact that Muhammad was incapable of performing a single miracle, even though the unbelievers repeatedly asked him for a sign to validate his prophetic claims:

They say: “Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “God hath certainly power to send down a sign: but most of them understand not. S. 6:37

They swear their strongest oaths by God, that if a (special) sign came to them, by it they would believe. Say: “Certainly (all) signs are in the power of God: but what will make you (Muslims) realise that (even) if (special) signs came, they will not believe.”? S. 6:108

If thou bring them not a revelation, they say: “Why hast thou not got it together?” Say: “I but follow what is revealed to me from my Lord: this is (nothing but) lights from your Lord, and Guidance, and mercy, for any who have faith.” S. 7:203

They say: “Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “The Unseen is only for God (to know), then wait ye: I too will wait with you.” S. 10:20

And the Unbelievers say: “Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?” But thou art truly a warner, and to every people a guide. S. 13:7

The Unbelievers say: “Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “Truly God leaveth, to stray, whom He will; But He guideth to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence, -… If there were a Qur’an with which mountains were moved, or the earth were cloven asunder, or the dead were made to speak, (this would be the one!) But, truly, the command is with God in all things! Do not the Believers know, that, had God (so) willed, He could have guided all mankind (to the right)? But the Unbelievers, – never will disaster cease to seize them for their (ill) deeds, or to settle close to their homes, until the promise of God come to pass, for, verily, God will not fail in His promise.S. 13:27, 31

And We refrain from sending the signs, only because the men of former generations treated them as false: We sent the she-camel to the Thamud to open their eyes, but they treated her wrongfully: We only send the Signs by way of terror (and warning from evil). 17:59

Here is what the late Jewish convert and Sunni Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad stated in respect to this verse:

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; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Other verses include:

They say: “We shall not believe in thee, until thou cause a spring to gush forth for us from the earth, Or (until) thou have a garden of date trees and vines, and cause rivers to gush forth in their midst, carrying abundant water; Or thou cause the sky to fall in pieces, as thou sayest (will happen), against us; or thou bring God and the angels before (us) face to face: “Or thou have a house adorned with gold, or thou mount a ladder right into the skies. No, we shall not even believe in thy mounting until thou send down to us a book that we could read.” Say: “Glory to my Lord! Am I aught but a man, – an apostle?” S. 17:90-93

But (now), when the Truth has come to them from Ourselves, they say, “Why are not (Signs) sent to him, like those which were sent to Moses?” Do they not then reject (the Signs) which were formerly sent to Moses? They say: “Two kinds of sorcery, each assisting the other!” And they say: “For us, we reject all (such things)!” S. 28:48

The Quran is equally clear that the only sign Muhammad brought was his so-called revelation:

Ye they say: “Why are not Signs sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “The signs are indeed with God: and I am indeed a clear Warner.” And is it not enough for them that we have sent down to thee the Book which is rehearsed to them? Verily, in it is Mercy and a Reminder to those who believe. S. 29:50-51

And yet even though the Islamic scripture emphatically and repeatedly insists that Muhammad failed to perform a single miraculous sign to back up his prophetic assertions, the later Islamic sources attributed dozens of miracles to him, many of which resemble the miracles performed by the Lord Jesus and some of the other prophets/messengers.

The following renowned Islamic scholar explains how and why this happened:

Down to the Abbasid times there was evidently opportunity for the exchange of ideas, as the Risala of Al Kindi, written in the reign of Al Ma’mun, proves. The hadith literature preserves a very large number of examples of this borrowing, ranging from the earliest and best-known doctrines of Islam, which were taken over from Jews and Christians, and are already incorporated in the Quran, to those sayings attributed to the prophet which betray a knowledge of Christian writings. Muslim theologians were not content to borrow the sayings of their predecessors in the counsels of God they borrowed also events from the life of Jesus, attributing them to their own prophet. Muhammad himself constantly insisted that he was not sent to work miracles. His miracle for all time was the Quran. This is the opinion held by the authors of the oldest hadith: the chapter Fadailu-l-sayyidi-l-mursalin does not contain a single miracle of Muhammad’s: on the contrary, there is the express statement of Abu Huraira that whereas the former prophets were given signs to induce the people to believe, Muhammad was given only the Quran, which nevertheless might secure him more followers than all that were before him. Naturally people who were familiar with many of the noblest writings of all time denied the claim of Muslims to possess a book of surpassing literary merit; and the polemical literature of the time abounds in taunts that Muhammad could not have been a prophet because, unlike the Messiah and the earlier prophets of Israel, he worked no miracles.

It is interesting to notice that apparently the only miracles said to have been performed by Muhammed and known to Al Kindi are: the wolf and ox that spoke; the tree that moved towards the prophet; the shoulder of goat’s flesh, poisoned by Zainab bint Harith the Jewess, which called out that it was poisoned, and the miraculous production of water. Some, this writer says, the Ashabu-l-Akhbar reject altogether, while others are from reporters branded da’if1. Al Kindi’s testimony to enlightened opinion on these miracles is worthy of note, because he wrote some years before Al Bukhari’s collection was made, and he expressly refers (p. 60) to the traditions in terms which imply that they were not written.

Muhammadan apologists could not afford to allow their apostle to labour under the disadvantage apparent when his everyday mundane life was compared with the mighty works of Christ, which seem to have been believed without question. And thus the curious and interesting fact is that the later picture of Muhammad approximates in tradition ever more closely to that of the Jesus of the gospels. No biographer, either ancient or modern, has succeeded in giving his readers an entirely satisfactory appreciation of the baffling personality of the great prophet of Arabia. His loyalty and treachery, abstinence and debauchery, wisdom and ignorance, mediocrity and inspiration, demand the pen of a Boswell.

The most prejudiced among his followers or his enemies could hardly trace in the authentic record of Muhammad’s life the lineaments of the Prince of Peace. Yet this is what a certain group of traditionists and theologians have constructed. Weary of hearing of the acts of love and mercy, of supernatural power and forgiveness of ‘Isa b. Maryam, they have made a Muhammad after his likeness. Not content with the picture of a courteous, kindly, and able man, famed as the possessor of all human virtues, the idol of his race, if he was to compete with the Messiah they must represent him as a worker of miracles. There is an unmistakable reference to the slavish imitation of Christians in the plaint put into the prophet’s mouth, ‘Verily you would follow the paths (sunan) of those who were before you foot by foot and inch by inch so that if they went down a lizard’s hole you would follow them!’ ‘Do you mean the Jews and Christians?’ said they. ‘And who else?’ he answered. (Alfred Guillaume, The Traditions of Islam, pp. 133-135 https://answeringislam.net/Books/Guillaume/Traditions/ch6.htm; bold emphasis mine)

1 The great tolerance displayed towards Jews and Christians during the first centuries is well illustrated in the saying reported by Abu Huraira (Bukhari): The People of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and expound it in Arabic to the people of Islam. The apostle of God said: ‘Do not believe the people of the book and do not disbelieve them, but say, “We believe in God and what he has revealed to us.”’ (Ibid., p. 133)

1 He calls them Akhbarun baridatun wa-kharafatu ‘ajdiz, ‘witless fables and old wives’ tales’.(Ibid., p. 134)

Controversy with Christians on the rival merits of Jesus and Muhammad may fairly be regarded as the origin of the pretended miracles, flatly contradicting the plain statement of the great Arabian and those of many of his immediate followers that he was not sent with power to work miracles. Whether the object of the inventors was to elevate their prophet to a position equal to that held by Jesus in the estimation of His servants, or whether it was to furnish themselves and their pupils with a messenger of God who satisfied a natural craving of the human heart for a visible manifestation of divine power, it is not our purpose to determine. There are good reasons for believing the deliberate imitation was resorted to for the reasons already given and because the ashabu-l-hadith did not stop ascribing the works of Christ to their prophet. His words and those of his apostles are freely drawn on and put into the mouth of Muhammad.1 (Ibid., p. 138; bold emphasis mine)

1 Muhammadan critics quite frankly draw a clear line between hadith of a legal and an edifying nature. They confess that where a pious motive underlies a tradition there is not the same necessity for scrutinizing the isnad. Thus Al Nawawi says of a hadith of this kind, ‘it is weak, but one is delighted by it’; and Ahmad says that he deals gently with the genealogy of traditions concerning virtuous behaviour. (Ibid.; bold emphasis mine)

The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that, as time went on, Muslims turned Muhammad into a Christ-like figure, a demigod of sorts, in order to make him more comparable to Jesus Christ and the other true prophets/apostles of God. These Muhammadans shamelessly lied by inventing miracle stories of their prophet since they were embarrassed by Muhammad’s lack of supernatural, miraculous verification for his prophetic claims. As the late Dr. Robert A. Morey wrote: 

Miracles

During his lifetime, Jesus did many great and mighty miracles. He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and even ruled the wind and the waves.

But according to the Quran in dozens of places such as Sura 17:91–95, Muhammad never performed a single miracle…

Muhammad did no miracles. He did not heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, or rule the wind and the waves. He had no more power than any normal man.

The only sign that Muhammad could point to was the existence of his revelations, the Suras that made up the Quran (Sura 29:47–51). (Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting the World’s Fastest Growing Religion  [Christian Scholars Press, 1992], pp. 106-107)

And:

Now to be sure, Western scholars are perfectly aware of the fact that in later conflicts between Muslims and Christians there were those Muslims who attempted to renovate the life of Muhammad so that it would more closely correspond to the life of Jesus Christ…

These later legends claim predictions were made for Muhammad’s coming, add a supernatural element to his birth, depict him doing miracles, and claim that he was sinless and perfect and that he ascended into heaven. But these claims are not found in the Quran or in early Muslim traditions.

As all the standard reference works point out, they are later fabrications made by embarrassed Muslims who were faced with the rather obvious fact that Muhammad was inferior to Jesus Christ. This led them to remold the life of Muhammad to parallel the life and miracles of Jesus…

A Hindu Parallel

We are reminded of the followers of Krishna in India who, in response to the Christian teaching that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, immediately answered, “Well, then Krishna too must have died on a cross for our sins.” 

This fabrication did not last long as it was revealed that in all the literary sources concerning Krishna, no such death or crucifixion was mentioned until after the followers of Krishna had engaged in debate with Christians.

In the same way, Muslim legendary material concerning the miracles of Muhammad all date after heated debates between Christians and Muslims.

These myths and legends were created in response to the challenge that Jesus Christ was obviously superior to Muhammad. (Ibid., pp. 115-117)

Finally:

The Miracles of Muhammad

There are no recorded miracles of Muhammad in the Quran. We already documented from the Quran that Muhammad denied that he did any miracles except for the Quran.

But after his death, Muhammad’s disciples began to invent miracles for him because they had to escape the stigma that their prophet was inferior to the miracles of Moses, Jesus, and the pagan soothsayers.

What is so amazing about some of these pretended miracles is that they were often originally performed by Moses, Jesus, and pagan magicians but now transferred to the prophet!

One gets the distinct impression that when a Jew or a Christian pointed out some miracle recorded in the Bible, the Muslims replied, “Then our prophet Muhammad must have done that too.” (Ibid., p. 227)

What makes this all the more ironic is that the Quran mentions the miracles performed by Moses, Jesus, and a host of others, but doesn’t even list one supernatural feat performed by Muhammad. This silence is quite deafening, as even one celebrated convert to Islam noted in discussing 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; bold and capital emphasis ours)

One cannot help but recall the words of the late Iranian Muslim scholar, Ali Dashti, who sadly wrote:

Moslems, as well as others, have disregarded the historical facts. They have continually striven to turn this man into an imaginary superhuman being, a sort of God in human clothes, and have generally ignored the ample evidence of his humanity. They have been ready to set aside the laws of cause and effect, which governs real life, and to present these fantasies as miracles. (Dashti, 23 Years: A Prophetic Career of Muhammad [Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, CA 1994], p 1; underline emphasis ours)

Dashti also wrote about how this process of deification began and how it directly contradicts the teachings of the Quran:

Many Iranians have been raised on a diet of myth and are ready to believe that any emamzada, of however ancestry, can at any moment perform a miracle. But if they were to read the Qor’an, they would be surprised to find no report of a miracle in it at all. They would learn from twenty or more Qor’anic passages that whenever the Prophet Mohammed was asked by doubters to perform a miracle, he either stayed silent or said that he would not do so because he was a human being like any other, with no function except to communicate, to be a “bringer of good news and a warner.” (Ibid., 38)

The Qor’anic verses on this subject are explicit and clear, and the Hadith and the contents of the reliable biographies confirm that the Prophet Mohammed never laid claim to either sinlessness or knowledge of unseen things. He was well aware of his human frailties, and he openly and frankly admitted them. According to a well attested Hadith, he had this to say about an attempt by some polytheists to fluster him with irrelevant questions: “What do these folks expect from me? I am one of God’s servants. I only know what God has taught me.” (Ibid., p. 60)

Taken together, these explicit and incontrovertible Qor’anic passages prove that the Prophet Mohammed, far from claiming the infallibility and superhuman rank later attributed to him by others, knew himself to be prone to sin. For anyone willing to study and to think, this greatly enhances Mohammed’s spiritual stature.

In matters such as religious and political beliefs and social concerns, which lack the certainty of mathematics and the relative demonstrability of the natural sciences, human beings are always disinclined to use their rational faculty. Instead, they first acquire a belief and then rack their brains for arguments with which to support it. The ‘olama of Islam were no exception to this rule. In their zealous devotion, they began with belief in the Prophet’s infallibility and then, in the hope of proving it, tried to explain away clear Qor’anic statements.

The eager sophistry of the Qor’an-commentators in this matter brings to mind a story about Sahl Tustari (a renowned early Sufi preacher in Khuzestan, d. 273/886). One of his disciples came and told him, “The people say that you can walk on water.” Sahl answered, “Go and ask the muezzin! He is an honest man.” The disciple went and asked the muezzin, who answered, “I do not know whether or not Sahl can walk on water. But I do know that when he walked up to the pool one day to perform ritual ablutions, he fell in and would have drowned if I had not pulled him out.”…

Notwithstanding the testimonies of the Qor’an, the Hadith, and the biographies, Mohammed was quickly dehumanized. The process began as soon as he passed from the scene. On the day after his death, ‘Omar (or perhaps another leading companion) threatened with drawn sword in hand to cut the throat of anyone who said that Mohammed was dead, and Abu Bakr protested, quoting the Qor’anic words, “You are mortal and they are mortal” (sura 39, ox-Zomar, verse 31). How right Abu Bakr was!

The greater the distance in time and space from the Prophet’s death in 11/632 and from Madina, the more the Moslems let their imaginations run loose. They exaggerated and rhapsodized so much that they forgot two premisses [sic] which are stated in the five daily prayers as well as in many Qor’anic verses, namely that Mohammed was God’s servant and God’s messenger. Instead, they turned him into the ultimate cause of the creation, saying “But for you, the universe would not have been created.” One zealous writer, Shaykh Najm od-Din Daya (d. 654/1256), went so far as to assert in his book Mersad ol-‘Ebad that the omnipotent Creator, who could make all things exist by uttering the single word “be”, first had to bring the light of Mohammed into existence and then, after casting a glance at the light and thereby causing the light to sweat with embarrassment, was able to create the souls of the prophets and angels from the sweat beads. (Ibid., pp. 61-63)

Dashti’s assessment is only partially correct, in that the Quran itself provided the basis for later Muslim deification of Muhammad, even though it goes out of its way to present Muhammad as a fallible, mortal sinner. The Islamic scripture presents two conflicting pictures of Muhammad simultaneously.

All quranic references taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version.

Further Reading

Muhammad and Miracles (https://answeringislam.net/Responses/Azmy/mhd_miracles.htm)

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