Historical usage of I‘jaaz and Mu‘jizah (miracle)

Dr. Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Musleh

It can be traced, according to the following, how the term first appeared and became used conventionally:

The first person considered to have used the word was An-Nithaam Al-Basri, the Mu‘tazilite, d. 231 AH. [Lisaan al-Meezaan, Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalaani] Apparently, someone preceded him in this, as he says that the Arabs were unable (‘ajizoo [which shares the same radical letters as I‘jaaz]) to come up with a counterargument. [Al-Burhan Al-Kaashif, Kamaal Ad-Deen Az-Zamalkaani]. This is an incorrect view.

The first to carry out research on the issue – according to available sources – was Abu ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Bahr Al-Jaahith, d. 255 AH. [Wafiyyaat Al-A‘yaan, Ibn Khalikkaan] Professor ‘Abd Al-Kareem Al-Khateeb statesthat Al-Jaahith was the first to address the issue and make it anindependent subject for study and examination. [I‘jaaz Al-Qur’an fee Diraasaat As-Saabiqeen (Qur’anic miracles in the studies of the past),‘Abd Al-Kareem Al-Khateeb]

  Al-Jaahith discussed the issues of I‘jaaz and Balaaghah (rhetoric) in detail. He sought to answer whether the miracle was associated with the Qur’an’s arrangement, style, structure or meaning. He mentioned the details as well as the strongest arguments.

Al-Jaahith’s work indicates that the issue was discussed before him. There may even have been literature on the subject which has not been preserved; but it is impossible to say for sure.

  Without doubt, both of these men were staunch Mu‘tazilites, but this did not prevent Ahl As-Sunnah from studying the issue using the same terminology, as we will soon demonstrate, Allah willing.

The terminology was used by Abu Al-Hasan Al-Ash‘ari and his student Al-Baaqillaani, who, despite having been influenced by scholars of Kalaam (Muslim philosophy or dialectics), used proof and evidence to debate with the Mu‘tazilites and others. It is also established historically that Al-Ash‘ari returned to the beliefs of Ahl As-Sunnah while at Basrah Mosque. Among those who explicitly used this term were Al-Khattaabi, Ibn Hazm, Abu Bakr Al-Jarjaani, Qaadhi ‘Iyaadh, Ibn ‘Atiyyah, Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and his two pupils, Ibn Al-Qayyim and Ibn Katheer as well as AshShaatibi, Ibn Hajar and others.

The term continued to be used by Muslim scholars without objection, as evidenced by this partial representation. It is used by Tafseer scholars; however, we cannot  find the term Mu‘jizah being used by the Imaam of Tafseer scholars Ibn Jareer (At-Tabari), as demonstrated in the previous citation with reference to the verses:

{And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. }

[Qur’an 2: 23-24]

This is the first instance associated with I‘jaaz in the Qur’an. Although no derivative of the wordI‘jaaz is used here, such can be found explicitly used by both scholars of Tafseer and Hadeeth, as was demonstrated with the citations from Al-Khattaabi, Ibn Hazm, ‘Iyaadh, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Hajar, may Allah have mercy on them. The term is predominantly used by scholars of principles of doctrine (Usool), creed (‘Aqeedah) and rhetoric (Balaaghah). It also appears that the idea behind the study of rhetoric stems from the issue of I‘jaaz, as is the view of Professor Na‘eem Al-Homsi, as he states:

Without doubt, the idea of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an was one of the strongest motives in the origins of the study of rhetoric, if not the strongest altogether.

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