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Understanding the Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age

By Isra Yazicioglu

Publication Year: 2013

The Qur’an contains many miracle stories, from Moses’ staff turning into a serpent to Mary conceiving Jesus as a virgin. In When the Staff Turns into a Serpent, Isra Yazicioglu offers a glimpse of the ways in which meaningful implications have been drawn from these apparently strange narratives, both in the pre-modern and modern era. It fleshes out a fascinating medieval Muslim debate over miracles, and connects its insights with early and late modern turning points in Western thought as well as contemporary Qur’anic interpretation. Building on an apparent tension within the Qur’an and analyzing crucial cases of classical and modern Muslim engagement with these miracle stories, this book illustrates how a site of conflict between faith and reason, or revelation and science, can become a site of fruitful exchange This book is a distinctive contribution to a new trend in Qur’anic Studies in that it reveals the presence of insightful Qur’anic interpretation outside of the traditional line-by-line commentary genre, by engaging with the works of Ghazali, Ibn Rushd and Said Nursi. Moreover, focused as it is on the case of miracle stories, the book also goes beyond these specific passages to reflect more broadly on the issue of Qur’anic hermeneutics. It notes the connections between literal and symbolic approaches, and highlights the importance of looking at reception history of the Quran through the lens of “pragmatic” hermeneutics.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: Signifying (on) Scriptures


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Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. viii-ix

I would like to thank Saint Joseph’s University for a 2011 summer research grant, which enabled me to make major progress on this book. It is a pleasure to be part of this university, and I am grateful for the collegial department in which I work and all the support I have received over the years.
I am grateful to the Penn State Press editors. The series editor, Vincent...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. x-x

In the transliteration of Arabic, this book uses the style of the Journal of Qurʾanic Studies, with the following exception: in order to make the book more accessible to nonspecialists in Islamic studies, I have often skipped elongation marks and other diacritics in the text. (The note citations and bibliography contain full diacritics.) Thus, for instance, I have used...

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Introduction: The Qurʾanic Miracle Stories: A Puzzling Motif?

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pp. 1-12

This book was born out of a casual conversation that first puzzled and then intrigued me. Years ago, I was talking to one of my relatives, and the topic of the virgin birth story came up. My aunt made a remark that has stayed with me since. She said, “I believe in this miracle narrated in the Qurʾan, but I must admit that if a pregnant woman comes to me now and...

Part 1: A Medieval Muslim Debate

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pp. 13-14

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Chapter 1: In Defense of a Literal Reading of Miracles: Ghazali’s Case for Contingency and Grace

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pp. 15-42

Ghazali (Abū Ḥāmid Muhammad al-Ghazālī), born in Tus, Persia, in 1058, is arguably one of the greatest scholars of classical Islam. He has had a major influence on various aspects of the tradition. Islamic theology, for instance, is divided into two periods—before and after Ghazali (al-mutaqaddimūn and al-mutaʾakhkhirūn). Similarly, Islamic mysticism gained new impetus...

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Chapter 2: A Cautious Approach to Miracle Stories: Ibn Rushd’s Case for Rationalism and Divine Wisdom

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pp. 43-68

Abu al-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn Rushd (d. 1198), also known in the Latin West as Averroes, was one of the major thinkers of medieval Islam. In addition to writing on philosophy, he composed works on Islamic jurisprudence and on medicine. Moreover, he served as a judge in the Islamic courts of Spain and as a physician for the caliphs. Among his various contributions...

Part 2: Reframing the Debate on Miracles in Modern Terms

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pp. 69-70

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Chapter 3: David Hume on Empiricism, Common Sense, and Miracles

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pp. 71-91

David Hume (1711–1776) was a Western thinker whose views on epistemology as well as philosophy of religion have left a crucial mark on modern thought. Known more as a historian than as a philosopher during his lifetime, Hume’s fame grew immensely after his death. He is regarded as the final major British empiricist, after John Locke (d. 1704) and Bishop...

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Chapter 4: Charles S. Peirce on Pragmatism, Science, and Miracles

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pp. 92-120

It is a great thing for the field of philosophy when a well-trained scientist becomes devoted to its study. Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1913), arguably the best American philosopher to date, represents such an immense gain: with an advanced degree in chemistry from Harvard, years of scientific practice at the U.S. Coast Survey, and an early kindled interest in philosophy...

Part 3: Contemporary Connections

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pp. 121-122

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Chapter 5: Said Nursi’s Contemporary Reading of Qurʾanic Miracle Stories

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pp. 123-163

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877–1960) was an important Muslim exegete and thinker whose writings and public engagements reflected a deep concern for interpreting the Qurʾan in the modern age. Nursi’s lifetime spanned the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, its collapse and dissolution after the First World War, and the first thirty-seven years of the nascent...

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Conclusion: Qurʾanic Hermeneutics in the Modern Age

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pp. 164-176

Familiarity is risky. It may bring the illusion that we have comprehended the world around us. By breaking into such familiarity, miracle stories can invite the reader into a world of wonder, gratitude, and discovery. Yet the miracle stories themselves, and the Qurʾanic text that contains them, can also become too familiar. This book was meant to make such narratives...


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pp. 177-200


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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-222

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271062570
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271061566
Print-ISBN-10: 0271061561

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Signifying (on) Scriptures
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OCLC Number: 868580705
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Understanding the Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Qurʼan -- Hermeneutics.
  • Miracles.
  • Miracles (Islam).
  • Islam -- Doctrines -- History.
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