If God signals that a claimant to prophethood is truthful by supporting them with a miracle[1], then we come to know that it is rationally impossible for this claimant to be a liar. This is because a signal is nothing but an expression of what the signaler has signified[2], and we have already established that God does not signify lies[3]. Thus, if God signals that a man is telling the truth, then this man is necessarily telling the truth. And by extension, we also come to know that it is rationally impossible for a miracle to occur for a false prophet.

So if it is said: “you agree that it is possible for God to transform a staff into a snake. That it is possible for God to create a false prophet. That it is possible for God to make this liar throw a staff. So if each of the above is possible, then it should be possible for God to transform the liar’s staff into a snake when this liar throws it. Entailing that it is possible for a miracle to occur for a false prophet.”

We respond: we do not submit that the possibility of each potential event in a posited set of events, entails that the occurrence of the entire set is possible[4]. Consider the propositions: 

A.  Zayd is at rest at moment T1.
B.  Zayd is in motion at moment T1.

Each of A and B is possible. Since at T1, either rest or motion can be created for Zayd. However, it is impossible for both possibilities to occur[5][6]. And God’s Power does not pertain to impossibilities.

In a similar fashion, it is possible for God to transform a staff into a snake. It is possible for God to create a false prophet. It is possible for God to make this false prophet throw a staff. But all of the aforementioned possibilities cannot occur, such that a miracle occurs for the liar. As this would entail God’s signifying a lie, which is rationally impossible.

Sorcery

So if the opponent says: “your religion teaches that sorcery is a reality. And through magic, negations of nomic necessity can be achieved. As such, it is possible for any reported ‘miracle’ to have actually been the work of a deceptive sorcerer claiming to be a prophet from God.”

We respond: if we grant that nomic necessity can be negated through witchcraft, then what applied in the above section will apply here. This is because God is the only creator. And so everything that occurs in the world, including those events that occur through witchcraft, can only occur if He wills for them to happen. And in the same way He is able to not-create burning for cotton when it connects with fire, He is also able to not-create the event which would normally follow from the actions of the sorcerer. Thus, it becomes rationally impossible for nomic necessity to be negated for a sorcerer claiming to be a prophet for the reason mentioned above.

In reality however, we do not submit that what occurs through sorcery is nomically impossible. It is part of normalcy, except that most people are unaware of it. In the same way the result of a particular chemical reaction is part of normalcy, except that most people are unaware of it. Hence, sorcery is taught to the sorcerer, in the same way chemistry is taught to the chemist. And what one sorcerer is able to do, is possible for anyone who was taught the same information. In the same way what one chemist is able to do, can be replicated by any other chemist who was taught the same information. This is contrary to miracles, which are neither taught nor learnt.

Given the above, the work of any sorcerer can be exposed by anyone with his knowledge. Such that, if a false prophet misguides many people by using magic to fake a miracle, then this would motivate others who possess the same knowledge to expose his lies. And it would become nomically necessary for those people to appear to the sorcerer’s misguided followers, and show them that the alleged miracle is actually something that can normally be done by anyone who has the right knowledge[7][8].

The Dajjal

So if it is said: “what about the Dajjal? Your religion teaches that he will be supported with extraordinary events despite being a liar.”

We respond: the signification of a negation of normalcy, for the prophethood of the one the event supports, is only valid if the one being supported is a claimant to prophethood. As for the one who does not even claim to be a prophet, then the occurrence of such an event would obviously not be proof for his prophethood.

With the above in mind we say: what has been authentically transmitted from our Prophet ﷺ is that the Dajjal will claim to be God, not a prophet. So the negation of nomic necessity for the Dajjal is not proof for his prophethood. Nor are those events proof for the Dajjal’s divinity. Because it is rationally impossible for the necessary being to be a physical body, walking around on earth. Also because a true prophet, Muhammed ﷺ, warned us against him. Nor are those events proof that God signified the Dajjal’s divinity. Because the Dajjal himself claims to be the creator of those nomic impossibilities[9]. Also because the fools who will believe in the Dajjal’s divinity, disbelieve in the true God’s existence, and one cannot believe that a being signifies anything if one believes that this being does not exist[10].

And if it is said: “what about the narration which informs us that the Dajjal will first claim to be a prophet, before claiming to be God?[11]

We respond: a singular narration cannot impact what has been established to be true with decisive certainty[12]. And we have offered decisive rational arguments for our position.


 

[1] In summary: if normalcy is negated, and this negation aids a claimant to prophethood, then this signals God’s support for this claimant. Such that this negation of nomic necessity becomes equivalent to God’s saying: “this man tells the truth about Me.” More on this here.

[2] In the same way a nod signals that the one nodding has signified approval.

[3] God does not Signify Lies.

[4] In other words, the opponent has committed the fallacy of composition.

[5] Since it is impossible for a body to be both in motion and at rest simultaneously.

[6] Zayd’s motion is possible by virtue of what it is. But while Zayd is at rest, Zayd’s motion becomes impossible by virtue of what is other than it. More on intrinsic and extrinsic rational judgments here.

[7] Analogously: suppose someone who knew how to light a flame, met a group of primitive people who lacked this knowledge. This person then lit a flame in their presence, claimed that this is a miracle that proves his prophethood, and those people followed this liar as a result. 

If belief in this liar’s prophethood becomes widespread, then motivation to disprove his prophethood will naturally increase. And normalcy dictates that individuals who know how to light a flame, will approach those misguided followers, and show them that lighting a flame is not at all miraculous. But that it is something that is possible for anyone with enough knowledge.

[8] Such that, if a claimant to prophethood is aided by what is apparently extraordinary, the occurrence of this event becomes widespread to the masses, and no one appears to challenge this claimant to prophethood, we can come to know that this extraordinary event is actually a miracle. And in this is proof that the miracles of the prophets– like splitting the sea, or raising the dead, or multiplying food and water–  are not achievable through witchcraft. For if they were, the sorcerers would demonstrate that they aren’t miracles by replicating them through magic. Rather, the work of sorcerers is subtle, and limited to simple things like the manipulation of their victims’ emotions, or deluding them with visual trickery. Consider how the Quran describes the magic of Pharaoh’s sorcerers (20:65-66):

قَالُوا يَا مُوسَىٰ إِمَّا أَن تُلْقِيَ وَإِمَّا أَن نَّكُونَ أَوَّلَ مَنْ أَلْقَىٰ
The sorcerers told Musa: O Musa, either you throw [i.e. initiate the contest] or we will be the first to throw.

قَالَ بَلْ أَلْقُوا ۖ فَإِذَا حِبَالُهُمْ وَعِصِيُّهُمْ يُخَيَّلُ إِلَيْهِ مِن سِحْرِهِمْ أَنَّهَا تَسْعَىٰ
Musa responded: you throw. [So they threw their ropes and sticks] and their magic made their ropes and sticks appear to be moving snakes.

Notice that the ropes and sticks of the sorcerers didn’t transform into snakes. The magic only made them appear to be snakes for someone looking from afar. Contrary to Musa (عليه السلام)’s staff, which actually did turn into a great serpent, and devoured the ropes and sticks of the magicians to prove it. This is also why the sorcerers converted to Islam (the religion of Musa). They realized that it is impossible for what occurred at his (عليه السلام)’s hands to be mere magic.

[9]  Unlike a claimant to prophethood, whose claim is: if a miracle occurs, then it signals the true God’s support for me, because the true God is the creator of the miracle.

[10] Since belief that the true God signals anything, is tangential to first believing that the true God exists. And so the one who believes that the Dajjal is God, cannot argue that the true God is supporting the Dajjal. For belief in the Dajjal’s divinity is mutually exclusive with belief in the existence of the true God.

[11] The opponent refers to a narration that Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalani mentioned, and weakened, in Fath Al-Bari (Volume 13, page 91).

[12] Because a singular narration is indecisively reliable (Dhani Al-Thubut). Whereas a sound rational argument decisively entails its conclusion. And when what is indecisive conflicts with what is decisive, that which is decisive takes precedence. So we interpret the singular narration in light of the decisive proof.

In this case, the singular narration in question is weak. And it is ultimately unproblematic. For even if we suppose that the Dajjal will initially claim to be a prophet, it does not follow that any negations of normalcy will occur before his later claim to divinity. And the negation of normalcy for a claimant to divinity, is not proof of their divinity for the reasons offered above.

4 thoughts on “Prophets do not Lie

  1. As salaam alaikum akhi what about Ibn Sirin narrates from Abu Hurayra that said, “Ibrahim, (pbuh), never lied except three times, two were for the sake of God, the Mighty, when He said, ‘I am sick’ and ‘The biggest of them did it.’ And one was about Sareh. He went by the land of one of the tyrants with Sareh, who was very beautiful. He said to Sareh ‘This is a tyrant person, if he knows that you are my wife he will overcome me (kill me) because of you. So if he asked you tell him that you are my sister. You are in deed my sister in Islam, and I do not know any Muslims on the face of earth except myself and you.” … (Muslim, 2371).

    How would you respond to this narration?

    1. Wa ‘Alaikum Al-Salam,

      Imam Al-Razi speaks about this narration in his tafsir:

      قال بعضهم ذلك القول عن إبراهيم عليه السلام كذبة ورووا فيه حديثاً عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال: ” ” ما كذب إبراهيم إلا ثلاث كذبات ” ” قلت لبعضهم هذا الحديث لا ينبغي أن يقبل لأن نسبة الكذب إلى إبراهيم لا تجوز فقال ذلك الرجل فكيف يحكم بكذب الرواة العدول؟ فقلت لما وقع التعارض بين نسبة الكذب إلى الراوي وبين نسبته إلى الخليل عليه السلام كان من المعلوم بالضرورة أن نسبته إلى الراوي أولى، ثم نقول لم لا يجوز أن يكون المراد بكونه كذباً خبراً شبيهاً بالكذب؟

      Some have said: this statement [“I am sick” which is found in the verse the Imam is commenting on] from Ibrahim (عليه السلام) him is a lie, and they report a narration from the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Ibrahim has never lied except on three occasions’.

      I responded to some of them [i.e. those who narrate this report]: this narration cannot be accepted, for it attributes a lie to Ibrahim, and this is impossible.

      So the man [who informed Imam Al-Razi of this report] said: “how can you say that the narrators of this Hadith are liars when they are upright [‘Udul]?”

      I responded: if we had a choice between declaring either a narrator a liar, or Ibrahim (عليه السلام) a liar, then it is known by necessity from the religion that we should affirm the lie to the narrator [i.e. instead of to a prophet from Allah ﷻ]. Moreover we say: why can’t this statement be interpreted to mean: the three statements by Ibrahim (عليه السلام), are only similar to lies [i.e. true statements that can be interpreted to be lies, but they were not intended to be so by Ibrahim]?

      So there are two paths that Imam Al-Razi lays out for us concerning this Hadith. Either it is rejected, since it is a singular narration which is reporting something that conflicts with rational necessity. Or it is accepted, but we give it an appropriate interpretation.

      And an appropriate interpretation would be to say: Ibrahim didn’t lie, because a statement is either the truth or a lie, depending on the intentions of the speaker. So if Ibrahim (عليه السلام) intended truth by his statement, when it is possible for this statement to be misunderstood, then his statement would not be a lie if the misunderstanding occurs. And the scholars have shown how those three statements can be properly understood to be true statements. You will find detailed explanations in the Tafasir of verses relating those incidents, as well as in books dedicated to creed (in the chapters concerning the qualities of the messengers). But to quickly go over some possible interpretations:

      As for Ibrahim (عليه السلام)’s saying “I am sick”: then it could be understood to be a spiritual sickness of the heart, because of his people’s kufr, and their refusal to abandon idol worship despite the proofs he offered against their beliefs.

      As for Ibrahim (عليه السلام)’s saying “the largest idol did it”: then it is used with the intention to argue against the polytheists, not to deceive them. And this is something even they understood. Moreover, if you finish Ibrahim’s sentence you would find that it is part of a conditional. Because he said: “the largest idol did it, ask them if they can speak”. That is to say: “if those idols can speak, ask them if the largest idol was the one who broke them”. In other words, Ibrahim argued that if those idols are gods, then they can speak for themselves, so they should be able to tell you whether or not that biggest idol broke them.

      As for Ibrahim (عليه السلام)’s saying that his wife is his sister, then this is explained in the Hadith you referenced itself. He means: she is his sister in Islam.

      The question that remains for the one who takes the second path (i.e. accepting this narration, alongside an appropriate interpretation of it): why were those statements then called “lies” by the Prophet ﷺ, and by Ibrahim (عليه السلام) in a variant of the Hadith on the Shafa’a?

      And to this we can say: the prophets, peace be upon them all, far out rank the rest of mankind. And so they strive for perfection in all their actions. And sometimes, given several permissible options, a prophet might end up choosing an option that is less than the best possible one. When this happens, and they come to realize this, they feel immense regret given their stature. Perhaps those statements were called “lies” because Ibrahim considered them to be instances of such mistakes. As such, Ibrahim (عليه السلام) called them lies metaphorically, to signify his regret over this mistake. In the same way an extremely pious individual might take even his minor mistakes extremely seriously. But Ibrahim (عليه السلام) did not really lie, and he did not sin. And our Prophet ﷺ may have called them “lies” because this is what he knew Ibrahim would say on the day of resurrection.

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