The Miracles of Prophets
Hawzah News Agency (Qom, Iran) – The difference between a miracle and other extraordinary acts will be briefly explained below:
1. Unteachability. One who performs miracles does so without any prior training or teaching, while other extraordinary acts are the result of a whole series of methodical practices and instruction. For example, Moses, as a fully grown man, set out for Egypt; on his way, he received his call to prophethood when a voice called out to him:
O Moses! Lo! I am God, the Lord of the worlds, throw down your staff. (Sura al-Qasas, XXVIII: 30–31)
Having done so, the staff suddenly took the form of a serpent, and Moses was terrified. The voice then commanded him to take his hand from his breast; it emerged luminous, glowing so much that it would have dazzled the sight of any onlooker. But the Qur’an also mentions the magicians of Solomon’s time [the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut] who teach mankind magic:
And from these two, people learn that by which they cause division between man and wife. (Sura al-Baqara, II: 102)
2. Indisputability. As a miracle derives from the infinite power of God, it cannot be disputed, whereas magic and witchcraft, and such practices as are associated with ascetics, since they derive from the limited power of man, can be disputed.
3. Illimitability. The miracles of the Prophets are not limited to just one or two types, but are of such diverse character that they cannot be simplistically classified under a single heading.
For example: how different are the throwing down of a staff that turns into a serpent, and the bringing forth of a luminous hand from one’s breast; then, how different these two miracles are from the springing up of fountains of water as a result of striking a rock with a staff; and again, how different these three miracles are from the parting of the sea upon being struck by a staff! As regards the Prophet Jesus, we read that he fashioned birds from clay, then breathed upon them and they came to life, by God's grace. In addition to this act, he told of things that were kept hidden within homes, he healed the blind man and the leper by passing his hand over their faces, and he even brought the dead to life.
4. Spirituality. In general, those who perform miracles or charismas are to be distinguished from other workers of extraordinary feats, such as magicians, both in respect of their aims, and in relation to spirituality generally. The first group have only the noblest aims in view, while the second have worldly aims; and, naturally, as regards spiritual temperament, the two groups differ markedly.
Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, Doctrines of Shii Islam, A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices, Translated and Edited by Reza Shah-Kazemi, published by I.B.Tauris Publishers, London • New York 2003.