THE PROOF FOR THE TRUTHFULNESS
OF THE PROPHET
(A paper read at the 1967 annual meeting of the Western Branch of the
American Oriental Society in Portland, Oregon, and updated in 2006 and
In order to avoid having to accept revelation as true on the basis of faith
alone, later Ash‘arite theologians attempted to prove the truth of revelation
by completely rational means. To this end they developed a series of rational
proofs which culminated in a proof for the truthfulness of the Prophet; for
if the Prophet could be demonstrated to be truthful, then all statements
contained in revelation, both in the Qur’an and in h.adı̄th, would be true
statements and one could believe in their truth on the basis of reason rather
than on the basis of faith alone.
This series of rational proofs developed by the Ash‘arite theologians included proofs for the following doctrines or propositions:
1. The universe is originated.
2. The universe has an originator or creator.
3. The creator of the universe is knowing, powerful and willing.
4. Prophecy is possible.
5. Miracles are possible.
6. Miracles indicate the truthfulness of one who claims to be a prophet.
7. Muh.ammad claimed to be a prophet and performed miracles.1
According to the theologians each of these propositions had to be demonstrated by what they called a rational proof or dalı̄l ‘aqlı̄. They defined a
See, for example, al-Taftāzānı̄, Sharh. al-Maqās.id I, 39-40; al-Jurjānı̄, Sharh. alMawāqif , II, 50-51; al-Qūshjı̄, Sharh. al-Tajrı̄d , p. 462.
rational proof as a proof based on premisses known intuitively or necessarily
to be true through reason or sense perception, and which as such was consequently said to yield certain knowledge. Six varieties of necessary premisses
upon which rational proofs could be based were commonly accepted by the
theologians. These were:
1. Awwalı̄yāt, first principles or axioms, such as the statement that the
whole is greater than any of its parts.
2. Qadāyā qiyāsātuhā ma‘ahā, which are propositions containing their
own syllogisms, such as the statement that four is an even number.
3. Mah.sūsāt, or sense perceptions, such as the statement that this fire is
4. Mutawātirāt, or historical or geographical facts reported by a sufficient
number of witnesses such that it would be impossible to suppose that they
were all lying.
5. Mujarrabāt, or facts known through experimentation, such as the
statement that scammony is a laxative.
. adsı̄yāt, or acute guesses, as, for example, the statement that the
light of the moon is derived from that of the sun.2
Distinguished from the rational proof was the traditional proof or dalı̄l
naqlı̄, which was defined as a proof containing one or more premisses taken
from revelation. Traditional proofs could not, of course, be used in the series
of arguments to establish the truthfulness of the Prophet. Once, however,
the truthfulness of the Prophet had been rationally demonstrated, traditional
proofs could be used in proving additional theological doctrines.
How successful were the Ash‘arite theologians, then, in establishing the
truth of revelation by means of rational proofs? To their own satisfaction, at
least, they were able to formulate proofs for all of the doctrines mentioned
above except for the proposition stating that a miracle indicates the truthfulness of anyone claiming to be a prophet. Here they had to admit their
inability to come up with any rational proof at all. Nevertheless, in spite of
their inability to prove this proposition rationally, they still felt that it was
a true proposition. How could people be convinced, however, that it was a
true proposition in the absence of any rational proof?
See al-Rāzı̄, Qut.b al-Dı̄n, Sharh. al-Risālah al-Shamsı̄yah, II, 240; al-Is.fahānı̄, Mat.ā1i‘
al-Anz.ār , pp. 26-7; al-Taftāzānı̄, Sharh. al-Maqās.id , I, 19; al-Jurjānı̄, Sharh. al-Mawāqif ,
I, 123, II, 36; al-Āmidı̄, Abkār al-Afkār , fols. 17b-18a. It should be noted that these
six premisses are derived from Ibn Sı̄nā. See his al-Ishārāt wa-al-Tanbı̄hāt, I, 213-219;
al-Shifā’ , al-Mant.iq, al-Burhān, pp. 63-64; and al-Najāh, pp. 61-66.
One solution to this problem was to resort to the following argument by
Suppose that a powerful king is sitting on his throne before an audience.
A man rises and announces that he is the messenger or spokesman of this
king to his people. He then turns to the king and says: Your majesty, if I
am speaking the truth with regard to my claim to be your spokesman, then
perform some act which is contrary to your usual custom. If the king then
performs such an act, all those present will know that the king performed
that act only in order to confirm the truthfulness of the man claiming to be
his spokesman or messenger. In like manner God performs a miracle by the
hand of the prophet and in so doing confirms the claim of the prophet to be
telling the truth.
Realizing, however, that this argument by analogy fell short of being a
really convincing argument, the theologians attempted another solution to
the problem. This was to claim that the proposition that a miracle indicates
the truthfulness of a prophet is known necessarily to be true in spite of the
fact that it cannot be classed under any of the six varieties of necessary
premisses commonly accepted as being necessarily true.
The explanation of how such a proposition could be known necessarily to
be true and why such a solution was acceptable to Ash‘arite theologians, can
be found in the Ash‘arite doctrine of what can be called immediate causality
as opposed to the Mu‘tazilite doctrine of mediate causality or tawlı̄d .
As is well known, God’s power according to Ash‘arite doctrine, is limited
only by logical impossibility. God is free to do anything except that which
involves a logical contradiction or contrary. He cannot, for example, cause
something to exist and not exist at the same time.3
God is furthermore the immediate and only cause of everything that exists
or occurs in the universe. All effects are caused directly by God rather than
by the causes to which we commonly ascribe these effects. Thus, if someone
moves his hand on which he is wearing a ring, God is the direct and immediate
cause not only of the movement of the hand but also of the movement of the
ring. The movement of the ring is not caused by the movement of the hand,
nor the movement of the hand by the person who wills to move his hand.
A full discussion of the limitation of God’s power to what is logically possible can be
found in al-Sanūsı̄, Sharh. Umm al-Barāhı̄n, pp. 98-105. See also Ibn H
. azm, al-Fis.al , II,
pp. 180-193 and Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Kalam, pp. 578-589. For a discussion of
the limitations on God’s power in Judaism and Christianity see Wierenga, The Nature of
God , pp. 12-35.
Because God customarily acts in accordance with certain patterns and
always, or almost always, causes the ring to move at the same time He causes
the hand to move, it appears that the movement of the hand is the cause
of the movement of the ring. It is, however, entirely within God’s power to
cause the hand to move without simultaneously causing the ring to move.
Acts of God which are in accord with His customary pattern of acting
are known as ‘ādiyāt. Acts which occur counter to this customary pattern
are miracles or khawāriq al-‘ādah, which literally means things which pierce
or penetrate or go beyond the customary.
This doctrine of immediate causality is not only used to explain the occurrence of miracles but also to explain how knowledge is acquired. Like
everything else knowledge is something created directly by God. If we know
that a first principle or axiom is true, it is because God has created this
knowledge in our minds following the conception of both the subject and
predicate of the axiom. Similarly the knowledge that the conclusion of a
syllogism is true is created by God after he has created in our minds the
knowledge of the premisses.
This doctrine of God-caused knowledge thus explains how the proposition
that a miracle indicates the truthfulness of a prophet can be known necessarily to be true; for when we witness a miracle and hear the words of the
prophet, God creates in our minds the knowledge that the prophet is telling
However, since God is not under any compulsion to act according to His
customary patterns and does, in fact, act counter to these patterns in the
case of miracles, God can refrain from creating in our minds the knowledge
of the truth of a proposition, even though that proposition might be true.
Can God, however, create in our minds the knowledge of the truth of a
proposition which in itself is false? Can He, for example, create in our minds
the knowledge that a prophet is telling the truth when in reality the prophet is
lying? The theologians answered this question in the negative on the grounds
that such an act on the part of God would involve a logical contradiction in
that the prophet would be both telling the truth and lying at the same
time. God’s power extends only to acts which are logically possible and
He consequently cannot create in our minds knowledge of the truth of a
proposition which in itself is false.4
For the arguments concerning the proposition that miracles indicate the truthfulness of
prophets see al-Rāzı̄, Fakhr al-Dı̄n, Kitāb al-Arba‘ı̄n fı̄ Us.ūl al-Dı̄n, pp. 316-324; al-Jurjānı̄,
LIST OF WORKS CITED
al-Āmidı̄, Sayf al-Dı̄n ‘Alı̄ ibn Abı̄ ‘Alı̄, Abkār al-Afkār . MS Petermann I
233, Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.
. azm, Abū Muh.ammad ‘Alı̄ ibn Ah.mad, al-Fis.al fı̄ al-Milal wa-al-Ahwā’
wa-al-Nih.al . Five volumes. [Cairo] 1321.
Ibn Sı̄nā, Abū ‘Alı̄ al-H
. usayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh, al-Ishārāt wa-al-Tanbı̄hāt.
With the commentaries of Nas.ı̄r al-Dı̄n al-T.ūsı̄ and Qut.b al-Dı̄n al-Rāzı̄.
Three volumes. Tehran 1377-1379.
Ibn Sı̄nā, Abū ‘Alı̄ al-H
. usayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh, al-Najāh fı̄ al-H
. ikmah alMant.iqı̄yah wa-al-T
. abı̄‘ı̄yah wa-al-Ilāhı̄yah. Cairo 1357/1938.
Ibn Sı̄nā, Abū ‘Alı̄ al-H
. usayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh, al-Shifā’ , al-Mant.iq, al-Burhān.
Edited by Abū al-‘Alā ‘Afı̄fı̄. Cairo 1375/1956.
al-Jurjānı̄, al-Sayyid al-Sharı̄f ‘Alı̄ ibn Muh.ammad, Sharh. al-Mawāqif . Eight
volumes. Cairo 1325/1907. (A commentary on al-Mawāqif fı̄ ‘Ilm alKalām of ‘Ad.ud al-Dı̄n al-Ījı̄)
al-Qūshjı̄, ‘Alā’ al-Dı̄n ‘Alı̄ ibn Muh.ammad, Sharh. al-Tajrı̄d . Tabriz(?) 1307.
(A commentary on Tajrı̄d al-‘Aqā’id of Nas.ı̄r al-Dı̄n al-T.ūsı̄)
al-Rāzı̄, Fakhr al-Dı̄n Muh.ammad ibn ‘Umar, Kitāb al-Arba‘ı̄n fı̄ Us.ūl al-Dı̄n.
al-Rāzı̄, Qut.b al-Dı̄n Mah.mūd ibn Muh.ammad, Sharh. al-Risālah al-Shamsı̄yah.
Two volumes. Cairo 1323-1327. (A commentary on Najm al-Dı̄n alKātibı̄’s al-Risālah al-Shamsı̄yah)
al-Sanūsı̄, Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muh.ammad ibn Yūsuf, Sharh. Umm al-Barāhı̄n.
Printed in the margin of H
. āshiyat al-Dasūqı̄ ‘alā Umm al-Barāhı̄n. [Cairo]:
Dār Ihyā’ al-Kutub al-‘Arabı̄yah, n.d. (al-Sanūsı̄’s own commentary on
his Umm al-Barāhı̄n, which is also known as al-‘Aqı̄dah al-S.ughrā)
al-Taftāzānı̄, Sa‘d al-Dı̄n Mas‘ūd ibn ‘Umar, Sharh. al-Maqās.id . Two volumes. Istanbul 1277. (al-Taftāzānı̄’s own commentary on his al-Maqās.id
fı̄ ‘Ilm al-Kalām)
Wierenga, Edward R., The Nature of God: An Inquiry into the Divine Attributes. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.
Wolfson, Harry Austryn, The Philosophy of the Kalam. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1976.
Sharh. al-Mawāqif , VIII, 228-30, 236-240; al-Taftāzānı̄, Sharh. al-Maqās.id , II, pp. 131-132;
al-Āmidı̄, Abkār al-Afkār , fols. 214b-215a, 217a-217b, 218a, 22la-221b.
ASSIGNMENT #1: KEY IDEAS, ORIGINS OF ISLAM
Instructions: In response to each of the five questions given in this sheet, give a clear,
well-structured answer. While you should study the material from the books and the
lectures in order to give the best answer you can, each answer that you hand in must be
the result of your own work, reflection, and understanding.
Please review this sheet carefully several times and make sure to ask me questions
about it by email if there is anything you don’t understand.
Format for Each Answer:
Maximum 1 page, typed, double-spaced.
Required font size: 12.
Use only Times New Roman font.
Put your student ID number on each sheet.
Do not put your name on any sheet.
Use standard margins (1.0-1.25”).
Use a separate sheet for each separate answer.
Emailed answers will not be accepted.
Format for Assignment
All sheets are to be stapled together.
Academic Honesty: Any objective, convincing evidence that someone has copied the
writings of others without giving due credit, even to the extent of a single sentence, and
even if some minor changes have been made, will result in an ‘F’ for this assignment, and
an ‘F’ for the course. No exceptions will be made for any reason.
All your assignments will be rigorously cross-checked against each other and
against the textbook, and a random sample will be processed using other methods as well.
None of these rules is subject to any discussion whatsoever.
Working With Others: You are allowed, and encouraged, to discuss these questions
with your classmates. However, the goal of any such discussion must be to understand
the material for yourself, and then to explain the material according to your own
understanding, and in your own words.
Key Theme of Assignment 1: The point of this assignment is to give you a chance to
prove that you understand this material.
So you must first have an understanding of the relevant topics, and then you must
demonstrate that understanding by imagining that in each answer, you are explaining the
material to someone new to the study of Islam and new to the topic of the question.
This will be repeated frequently, because it can’t be stressed enough: you are not
addressing Professor Mirza with these answers, rather you are addressing a hypothetical
beginning student who is new to these topics.
Strategy for Working on These Questions:
For each question, it is recommended that you follow these steps.
(1) Make sure you understand the question as it is stated to the best of your ability,
and make notes on any ideas that you have in response to the question.
(2) Determine what aspects of your lecture notes are most relevant to answering the
(3) Study carefully the parts of your lecture notes that you identified in the second
step above, until you are sure you understand them.
(4) Think about how to apply your understanding to the specific question in front of
(5) Make notes about how to explain your answer to a beginner who is new to this
(6) Write a draft of your answer within the space limits already mentioned.
(7) Revise and check your draft to improve it until you are confident that it satisfies
that requirements laid out in the relevant section.
(8) Make sure that your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all correct, and that
each answer as well as the assignment as a whole satisfies the format
requirements laid out above.
Warning: If you merely try to loosely copy some passage from someone else while
changing names and details, you will not only risk getting charged with dishonesty, but
you will most likely get very few points.
1. Explain clearly and briefly, in your own words, the key events of the Meccan
phase of the Prophet's mission.
2. Explain clearly and briefly, in your own words, the key events of the Madinan
phase of the Prophet's mission.
3. Monotheists say that only God is worthy of worship. What do you think might
make an object or person worthy of worship? Include a brief explanation of how
you understand ‘worship’.
4. Explain clearly and briefly, in your own words, what it means to call someone a
'prophet' from God.
5. What criteria would you recommend to people to help them decide whether or not
someone was a prophet from God?
How Your Assignment Will Be Graded
(1) In this assignment, and every assignment in this course, it is your job to prove to me
that you understand the material. I will assume that you do not understand what you are
talking about until I see clear proof, on the paper in front of me, that you do.
This is very important: you do not get the benefit of the doubt for this or
any other assignment.
(2) Any pages in excess of the one-page limit for each answer will be ignored, and only
the first page will be graded.
(3) Every answer can receive a maximum of 10 points.
(4) For any answer you hand in, I will deduct one point for each sufficiently bad violation
of one of the following requirements.
Requirements for Answers:
(a) Make sure that your understanding of the topics you are required to explain is correct.
If you show an inaccurate understanding, you will lose points.
(b) Make sure that every sentence you write is true, justifiable, and clear.
(c) Make sure that you are writing for a beginning level student who is new to the
material, and write so that such a student can understand what is going on. (Professor
Mirza is not your audience here, so do not write to explain things to him). Lack of clarity
will lead to losing points.
(d) Make each answer sufficiently clear and detailed that any reasonable and informed
person can see that it correctly answers the question.
(e) If you have any doubts about whether or not you have put in enough detail, be on the
safe side and put in more detail, while still keeping your answer within the space limits
(f) There is no minimum length, but if your answer is less than a page in length, it most
likely does not have enough detail in it.
(g) Use standard, neutral English in your answer (not slang).
(h) Keep your answers focused and concise: do not waste any words, do not write
introductions, do not put in anything more than what you need to get your point across.
(h) Each answer should be understandable independently of every other answer.
(i) Use a new paragraph for each new idea.
(j) Use proper spelling throughout each answer.
(k) Use proper punctuation throughout each answer.
(l) Use proper grammar throughout each answer.
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