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Karama (Wonder)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-3

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WonderBefore explaining karama, since there is a close resemblance between it and miracles (mu‘jiza) in respect to their occurrence, we will first briefly examine miracles.

Derived from the root verb A-Ja-Za, meaning "that which people cannot imitate," a mu'jiza (miracle) is the extraordinary state, event, word or attitude which God creates at the hands of a Prophet to show the truth of Prophethood, confirm the Religion, and generate conviction and contentment in the hearts of believers. It is beyond the power and ability of other people. A Prophet works a miracle according to God's will in order to demonstrate his Prophethood in an undeniable and indisputable way. The miracle is created by God, not the Prophet. The Qur'an, other Divine Scriptures, and the Prophetic Traditions all mention numerous miracles worked by the Prophets, and refer to the consequences of believing or not believing in them.

As for karama (wonder), this word is derived from karam, the root meaning of which is honor, munificence, and bounty. Karama is used to designate extraordinary states, words, acts, and effects displayed by saints through God's will and creation. To give a more detailed description, the extraordinary states displayed by the Prophets to demonstrate their Prophethood are "miracles," while such states exhibited by the saints who have succeeded in purifying their souls and refining their hearts in adherence to the true Religion are considered to be "wonders." Similar extraordinary states and acts can sometimes be witnessed in some people who have no belief in and adherence to the true Religion. But these states and acts are called "gradual perdition," as they usually cause particularly the unjust, dissolute and sinful people gradually to descend into perdition.

From another viewpoint, a wonder (karama) is an extra miracle like gift of God with which He honors His servants who love and obey Him and whom He loves; it is God's unusual or exceptional treatment of these servants for following the Prophet. The beloved people of God have divided this treatment into the spiritualkarama and the karama that is beyond the normal laws of life and creation:

  1. The spiritual karama or wonder is the sum of perfect belief, good deeds, sound knowledge of God, heartfelt love for God, and perfect devotion to God, the Ultimate Truth. The people of God usually refer to this state, which is a gift from God, when they talk about karama. Profundity in knowledge and efforts to disseminate it, effectiveness in endeavors to guide others, the effort to love God and make others love Him, and the resolution and performance displayed to enable the Muhammadi spirit to blossom throughout the world can also be included as examples of this kind of Divine gift or karama.
  2. As for the wonders that are beyond the normal laws of life and creation, they consist of certain extraordinary performances such as increasing a little food or drink without making any addition, being able to remain hungry for days without eating or drinking anything, covering great distances in a very short time, being present in many places at the same instant, walking on water without sinking, and moving some objects from afar. The devoted people of God have never considered such performances as a virtue, nor have they sought them; if God creates such things in their hands, they try to conceal them. Fearing that such extraordinary performances may be the cause of gradual perdition, the faithful servants at the door of God have turned to God with repentance, penitence, and contrition, scrutinized their sincerity, and renewed their devotion from the heart. Furthermore, some of them have likened such wonders to playthings of children and never attached any importance to them. The respected scholarly saint Ahmad ar-Rifai maintained that such wonders should be kept concealed, and he emphasized following the way of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. Some others with the same approach have regarded wonders such as flying in the air and walking on water as the acts of some animals, and stressed that the main wonder is being able constantly to pursue God's good pleasure and approval while trying to remain distant from other kinds of extraordinariness. They have prayed, saying, "O my God! Favor my 'secret' with familiarity of Your Essence, and do not test me as one who is familiar with Your secrets!" They have preferred to remain shut off from all other kinds of extraordinariness than belief, knowledge of God, and love of God, and they have not even sought spiritual pleasures.

Nevertheless, there may be some sincere ones who view wonderworking as a gift from God and make it a means of praising and thanking Him. However, it is always possible for those who have not yet been able to purify their souls completely to fall into conceit and pride. For this reason, if such a gift and performance, which is regarded as a fruit of nearness to God Almighty, causes one to become distant from God instead, then it must be more prudent to keep one's heart distant from everything, including spiritual pleasures, other than His approval and good pleasure purely for His sake.

However, miracles are not like wonders. First of all, since miracles are displayed to confirm a Prophet in his Prophethood, to silence the opposing side, and reinforce the believers, they concern the spirit of the Divine Messengership, and a Messenger is obliged to display them when necessary. For Prophethood is one of the basic pillars of the Religion, and the most important support of religious life. Miracles are granted to draw attention to this pillar and support, and they are able to silence the opposition. Miracles have other benefits such as reinforcing the believers, offering a proof for the truth of the Divine Message to those who are sincere in their quest for the Straight Path, and depriving the obstinate unbelievers of their excuse for denial. It is for all these reasons that Prophets are obliged to display miracles.

Numerous books have been written concerning the meaning, content, sorts, and truth of miracles. The Nineteenth Letter, included in The Letters by Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, is one of them. Those who want more information about miracles, in particular the miracles of our Prophet, may refer to those books. Here we will be content with a quotation from Mawlana Shibli an-Nu'mani[1] about the spiritual life of our Master, upon him be peace and blessings:

Just as the "natural" world has disciplines and laws of its own, manifested in whatever takes place in it, such as the alternation of the day and night, and the spring and the winter, and the opening of flowers in spring, the trees yielding fruits in summer, and the harmonious movement of some stars in the heavens, so too does the world of spirituality have laws and rules particular to it. In the same way that the sun, the moon, the stars, and the events that take place on the earth display continuity according to certain laws that have been appointed for each, guidance and deviance, mercy and punishment, the Divine Messengership and the realities relating to it occur in accordance with certain Divine laws. The Prophets are chosen by God and sent at the time which He wills. People either accept or reject them. Those who accept them and believe are saved, while the others, who reject them, suffer loss and punishment. As a dimension of the struggle between the Prophets and those who reject them, God Almighty creates certain wonders that are beyond our capacity at the hands of those perfect ones whom He chose and sent to us as His Messengers…

However, just as we are unable to know completely how the flowers come into existence in spring or how the trees yield their fruits, of which we are in need, or how some stars move around their appointed orbits, or why the trees grow from seeds, or how the seeds are formed, or the exact nature of the mysterious relationship between our bodies and the sustenance we take, so too we cannot comprehend fully or exactly why the Prophets are chosen as Prophets and sent at different times. We can only know the fact that some persons are chosen and sent to certain people with the mission of Prophethood, and that they realize important revolutions, concentrating on such basic matters as belief and religious life.

In fact, it is a miracle that the Prophets emerge as Prophets, and all the states of their manners are silent proofs of their Prophethood. Those with open eyes immediately know and understand them without needing another sign; those who are not deaf know them from their messages; and those who are able to use their intellects confirm them. But there have always been others with a lower level of sight, hearing, and understanding. Therefore, in order not to deprive the latter of knowing the Prophets, God Almighty created miracles which would cause their guidance and silence the deniers. As a matter of fact, miracles were displayed to such people. Indeed no one among those who were fortunate enough to recognize the Prophets by virtue of their good conduct and character demanded miracles from the Prophets.

Distinguished personalities such as Aaron and Joshua, who were in the company of the Prophet Moses, and the Apostles around the Prophet Jesus, and "the first and foremost" to embrace Islam from among the Companions of our Master, upon him be peace and blessings, never demanded miracles. They unhesitatingly confirmed their Prophets, whom they knew by their absolute truthfulness, their trustworthiness, their dedication to their cause and communication of God's Message, their sinlessness, and unerring and undeceiving intelligence and prudence, their straightforwardness in their relationship with people, and their untainted altruism.

Those distinguished followers of the Prophets never demanded miracles; but if they witnessed some miracles of their Prophets, this increased their confidence in their way and urged them even more to follow it with greater zeal.

As for the others, such as the Nimrods, Pharaohs, and Abu Jahls,[2] they insistently demanded miracles from the Prophets; but when they witnessed the miracles, such as the fire being cool and peaceful for the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace (21:68–69), the Flood, in which the people of the Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, drowned (11:42; 54:12), the invasion of the residences of Pharaoh's clan by floods, locusts, vermin and frogs, and water turning into blood while the Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, was still in Egypt (7:133), and the moon being split into two by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, (54: 1), they described them as magic and continued in their obstinate denial. There were indeed those who came to belief from among those who witnessed these and similar other miracles, but the others who insisted in their denial did not abandon their way. Nevertheless, many among the believers increased in their belief, certainty, and conviction in the face of such unusual Divine acts.

After having assigned tens of pages to the meaning, content, and nature of the miracles, Shibli an-Nu'mani then gives answers to the objections raised by some concerning the miracles. He sums up his views as follows:

  • A miracle is an extraordinary accomplishment created by God at the hands of a person who has been distinguished with Prophethood and who possesses its basic characteristics; it is not possible for us to perceive how it actually occurs.
  • Although miracles are extraordinary, they are not impossible. Even though they are rare with respect to their occurrence, they are accomplishments which the infinitely Powerful One has created time and again.
  • Such extraordinary events do not show continuity like what we perceive as ordinary "natural" events. However, it is only because of their continuity that we view those latter events as ordinary. Each of them is, in fact, a miracle; indeed, all events of creation, origination, giving life, and causing to die, as well as many others, are miracles. Since the miracles of the Prophets happen outside what we see as the "usual or normal laws of nature," we call them miracles. What we see as normal or usual laws of nature are, in fact, excuses for us to be able to observe and describe what we call "natural events" and continue our life. Such events have no creative effect at all in their own coming into existence.
  • Belief is not always the result of an apparent effect or sense- perception. Seeing is something, while comprehension is another thing, and evaluating our sense-perceptions is completely different from both. As for belief, it is a spirit or meaning which Divine Will kindles in the consciences of those who can evaluate, free of any prejudice. No one can kindle it by means of apparent causes.
  • The emergence of such a spirit or meaning in the heart or conscience partly depends on being open to believing in the Unseen. The haughty, obstinate ones, the unjust deniers, the distorting commentators, and those who crawl in the net of false imitations can in no wise attain belief unless extra Divine aid comes.
  • If a conscience is open to the Unseen and ready to believe, its owner believes in both miracles and the message intended by them.[3]

* * *

The considerations of Elmalili Hamdi Yazir concerning the subject are also worth quoting. After setting forth a powerful defense in his monumental Qur'anic commentary against the thinkers and philosophers who deny miracles, he gives invaluable explanations, which we can summarize as follows:

We do not have substantiated or confirmed information about how the "law of causality," which we regard as responsible for the apparent continuity of "natural" events, works in nature. We have only partial and relative knowledge about this matter. For this reason, we have no right either to deny the forces originating in Divine acts and wisdom, and the substantial causes the Almighty creates and employs, or to regard the law of causality as an absolute principle responsible for everything that happens, thus attributing impotence to the Absolute Divine Power by claiming that "that thing is impossible." Leaving the existence of the spirit aside, simply, the speed in the shining and extinguishing or the appearance and disappearance of a light shows us the rapid events of creation and extinction that happen. But unfortunately, those with hardened hearts are blind to all these observable and similar occurrences and drown in despair in every matter which their narrow minds cannot grasp and with which they are entangled. More than that, among those are some who never accede to anything which does not suit their interests or taste, even if that thing is a truth, nor do they avoid committing any wrong to fight with it. Each of these is a pharaoh, and what they do is pharaohship (absolute despotism).[4]

Humankind has seen many pharaohs, ranging from those who claim divinity to those who deny everything beyond matter, from those who use humans like slaves and brutalize them to those who regard them as animals, from those who put a ban on the freedom of thought and speech to those who degrade and mock the Religion and religious life, and from those who ignore the events that are extraordinary in occurrence or spiritually to those who deny the limitlessness of the Power. Even though these pharaohs are not based on any right or substantiated truth in their claims and actions, they have been able to impose their wishes on the masses with brute force. Without needing to justify their plans even once, they have always applied brute force with the belief that "might is right." These are such rebellious spirits that they neither recognize God and the Prophet nor accept Messengership and the miracles. They are examples of those who have disrespect for both the creation and the Infinite Power Which creates. It is useless to spend time hoping whether they will reform their ways; what we should do concerning them is to avoid provoking them so that they do not bite people. Both miracles and wonders are manifestations of Divine favor for unprejudiced persons and acts of stirring up certain inherent tendencies. Even if thousands of such acts are displayed before those with deformed characters, they are not in the least affected by them.

Even though miracles and wonders resemble each other in appearance and occurrence, they are different in essence. Miracles are extraordinary states or events that confirm the truthfulness of the Prophets in their claim of Prophethood. They are the means of coming to belief and salvation for some, while they cause the destruction of haughtily obstinate ones. As for wonders, they are special favors of God Almighty bestowed for adherence to Prophets.

Miracles are displayed to confirm the claim of Prophethood and silence the deniers, while wonders are and should be kept concealed as a mystery of God so long as there is not something that requires their exhibition.

Besides being a proof for Prophethood, miracles are such exceptional Divine gifts which awaken hearts to the Divine Message that they are binding on anyone who witnesses them or hears of them from a reliable source. As for wonders, they are God's gifts that are particular to those who have been favored with them and are binding on no one.

When a Prophet works a miracle, he can comfortably describe that extraordinary state, action, or word, which God Almighty has created in his hands as a miracle; indeed, he is obliged to display it. But at whatever level they are, saints cannot claim any similar extraordinary accomplishment when they are favored with a wonder. More than that, they shudder with fear that such an accomplishment may be the beginning of their gradual perdition, or that they are consuming here the fruits that will be given to them in the Hereafter for their good deeds.

A Prophet who works miracles proclaims his mission with a miracle, using it as grounds for conveying his Message and the fundamentals of the religious life he must communicate. As for the saintly people of God, they see whatever gift and effulgence they are favored with only as a reflection of the miracles of the Prophet they follow.

A miracle indicates the truth of the office of Prophethood, which is one of the essential pillars of Divine Religion, while wonders and other accomplishments or Divine gifts, such as the discovery of some realities that are hidden to common people, are evaluated as the fruits of following a Prophet.

Truthfulness, trustworthiness, freedom from sin and any mental or physical defect, intellect or perfect sagacity, and being a Prophet receiving Divine Revelation are the prerequisites for any unusual accomplishment or state to be accepted as a miracle. However, in addition to the fact that a saint favored with wonder-working can never be regarded, and indeed never is, as a Prophet, he or she is not necessarily expected to have perfected the other attributes mentioned as well.

As discussed before briefly, a Prophet displays extraordinary things by God's creation, and is doubtlessly certain that they are miracles—but saints feel doubt about the extraordinary things that originate from them whether purposely or unaware, because unless these are intended for guidance knowingly, they may be a test for them involving the risk of loss.

It is a fact that sometimes, because of some necessity or need, and sometimes with the intention of serving a religious purpose or under the unavoidable influence of the spiritual state they are in, some saintly people of God may display some extraordinary things within the limits of Divine permission. However, they should view this Divine gift as a reward for their adherence to the Prophet they are believing in and following, and never attempt to use it as a means of personal credit. Whether a saintly friend of God works it knowingly, or it appears purely as an unexpected Divine gift, a wonder resembles a miracle with respect to its occurrence. For example, miracle- like wonders, such as being unexpectedly offered some food or water in time of dire hunger or thirst, exhibiting extraordinary behavior in time of war, covering a great distance or extraordinarily performing many things in a very short time (shortening of distances or expansion of time, respectively), breathing temporary life by God's leave to someone who has just died, walking on water without sinking, and traveling in the air as if flying, like the Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, have been frequently witnessed.

Both the Qur'an and the books of the reliably narrated sayings of our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, mention similar and other kinds of miracles worked by different Prophets. We read about many extraordinary states, action, and words of respectful saints in the books that narrate their lives. Here we will be content with a few examples:

  • We read in the Qur'an (2:49) that the Prophet Jesus, upon him be peace, revived the dead by God's leave. Similarly, it is narrated in reliable books that just like some saintly people of God, such as Abu Ubayd al-Busri,[5] Shaykh Ahdal,[6] and Abdu'l-Qadir al-Jilani, revived dead animals. When, during a war, Abu Ubayd beseeched God to revive his dead horse, God Almighty restored the horse to life. Shaykh Ahdal called to his cat that had just died, and the cat was revived by God's leave and approached him. Abdu'l-Qadir al-Jilani ordered the bones of a consumed chicken, "Rise up, by God's leave!" and the chicken came to life and stood up. These are only a few examples; many others can be found in relevant books.
  • It is narrated in the same books that some saints, such as Abu Sa'id al-Harraz[7] and Abdu'l-Qadir al-Jilani, spoke with corpses.
  • There are many other miracle-like wonders worked by saints, such as flowing water parting and opening a passage for the saints, some saints not dying even though they were poisoned many times, the shortening of distances, wild animals serving them, their prayers being instantly accepted, their being prevented from eating and drinking any forbidden thing, their observing events that occurred in distant places, and their being protected against their enemies. All these events demonstrate that wonder-working is undeniably real, and some saintly friends of God have been honored with it.

The extraordinary states and actions which proceeded from our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, from his birth until his Prophethood, are of the same nature as wonder-working. However, the wonders and gifts which are, in one respect, a means of honor for saints, are only of a primordial degree in proportion to the gifts and honors of the office of Prophethood, and they are regarded as drops that emerge from the atmosphere of the Prophet whom the saints follow. For this reason, the friends of God never think of using such Divine favors in promoting themselves, nor do they pursue them. Neither do they damage their relationship with God based on their servanthood by making use of them for personal credit. They try their best to keep the favors that come without demand concealed, and they even check their relationship with their Lord, fearing that these acts may be a test for them. They renew their devotion to Him and only pursue His approval and good pleasure. This is what is most suited to the faithful servants of God, the Ultimate Truth.

Those faithful servants of God turn to Him a few times a day with the petition of their awareness and admission of their innate impotence and poverty; they are enraptured with the joy of being the servants at His door and always move with thankfulness for being on His way. They are in turmoil with the hope of attaining His constant company. Consequently, they are shut off from anything— whether it is a spiritual discovery or wonder-working, or spiritual pleasures, or any other kind of favor—other than intense longing to meet with God. They consider themselves to be nothing within nothing, recognizing others as much more virtuous than themselves, always living as examples of utmost humility and the deepest sincerity toward God, and they are so compassionate and magnanimous toward people that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their happiness; they abandon all desires and expectations for any Divine gifts that will come to them in the world, they pursue only God's approval and good pleasure at every instant of their lives.

These heroes are primarily distinguished with such qualities as equipping as many hearts as possible with belief, endeavoring that the Religion becomes the life of all humankind, illuminating all dark souls, trying to remove all the hardship and troubles that their community suffers, showing the same degree of sensitivity to preserving the honor of others that they show to preserving their own honor, asking for the good of all Muslims as much as or even more than they ask for their own good whenever they stretch out their hands to pray to God, praying every morning and evening for mercy toward and forgiveness of the Community of Muhammad, saying, "O my God! Have mercy on the Community of Muhammad! O my God! Forgive the Community of Muhammad!"; they act so magnanimously and tolerantly that they forgive those who have done them harm, embracing everyone with love, mercy, and generosity, showing the utmost care in adhering to the Religion down to its smallest detail, and following the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, step-by-step in their life. They try to fully represent the elevated morals and virtues that the Qur'an portrays and are resolved to remain distant from all evils and vices, such as resentment, vengeance, hatred, jealousy, suspicion, and enmity. Each of these qualities is a wonder to be sought and much more valuable than the other wonders that are manifested as some extraordinary actions or events, some examples of which we have mentioned above.

Indeed, the greatest wonder is living a life completely according to the precepts of the Qur'an, and those who are the nearest to God must be the representatives of this spirit.

O my God! Make us among Your servants who are sincere and who have been endowed with sincerity in faith and in the practice of the Religion, and who have achieved piety and righteousness, and abstinence from all forbidden things, big or small, and whom You have made near to You, and who are well-pleasing to You, and with whom You are well-pleased, and who love You and are loved by You, and who stand in awe of You, and whose character has been molded by the Qur'an! Amen! And bestow blessings and peace upon the Master of those who love You and are loved by You, and on his Family and Companions, whom You made near to You.

[1] Mawlana Allama Shibli an-Nu'mani (1857–1914) was a Muslim scholar from India. He founded the Shibli National College in 1883 and the Daru'l-Mussanifin in Azamgarh. Shibli was a versatile scholar, especially in the fields of history and literature. He was also a poet. His famous work is Siratu'n-Nabiyy. ("The Life of the Prophet"). However, he only managed to write two volumes of it, and his disciple Sayyid Sulayman an-Nadwi made use of an-Nu'mani's material and his own and wrote the remaining five volumes of the work after the death of his teacher. (Tr.)

[2] Abu Jahl, 'Abr ibn Hisham (d. 624 CE) was the most obstinate and merciless one in opposition to the Prophet Muhammad in Makka. Abu Jahl, meaning the Father of Ignorance, was the name given to him by the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. He was killed at the Battle of Badr two years after the Prophet's emigration to Madina. (Tr.)

[3] an-Nu'mani, Asr-i Saadet ("The Age of Happiness": Turkish translation of Siratu'n-Nabiyy), vol. 3, under the heading of "The Spiritual Life of Our Prophet." (Tr.)

[4] Yazir, Hak Dini Kur'an Dili ("The Qur'an, the Language of the Religion of Truth"), 2:2238. (Tr.)

[5] Muhammad ibn Hasan Abu Ubayd al-Busri (d. 859) was a famous Syrian scholar and Sufi. He is regarded as one of the greatest saints. (Tr.)

[6] Shaykh Abu'l-Hasan Ali al-Ahdal al-Husayni (d. 1604) was one of the saints from Yemen. The Sufi order of Ahdaliya is attributed to him. (Tr.)

[7] Abu Sa'id Ahmad ibn 'Isa al-Harraz of Baghdad, a cobbler by trade. Author of several books including some which have survived, the date of his death is uncertain but probably occurred between 892 and 899. (Tr.)