BY TUMA HAJI
What if you were invited to view miracles not simply as extraordinary events that defy the laws of nature, but as an opportunity, an insight and an enlightened appreciation for the ordinary aspects of life?
What if you were told that miracles bring something new to our lives and that we can reconcile the seemingly nature-defying core with the immutable laws of nature?
Isra Yazicioglu, an Islamic theologian and interpreter of the Quran in the contemporary age, extended that specific invitation to her audience Oct. 5 at Sussman Theatre in her lecture titled “Miracles: Invitations to Wonder and Gratitude.”
Yazicioglu wanted to extend her expertise beyond the scholarly community, “to reach out to a larger audience so that it is more connected to everyday life.”
The lecture circulated around the premise and belief that miracles are divine acts that “invite the heart and spirit and mind, hopefully” to become aware of how everything in life itself is a miracle. Drawing from the philosophies of Muslim theologists Ghazali and Said Nursî, Yazicioglu challenged the notion of natural causality, the scientific principle that an event cannot occur if it is not preceded by something that causes its effect, as not being an absolute law. She said people only think they know how things work through natural causality, but that does not mean that miracles are impossible.
Citing philosopher Ghazali, Yazicioglu explained the pen giving life (dictating whether or not to sentence someone to death) as an analogy to how humans view divine power. She said people praise the man for having saved a life because without his will to write, the pen would have never been able to dictate, much like how everything, including humans, is an instrument for God’s will.
Yazicioglu continued on to cite Nursî’s core interpretation of miracles being invitations to examine natural causality in appreciation of ordinary events as miraculous. She said the story of The Virgin Birth interrupted familiarity as a result of being beyond the capacity of “apparent causes,” similar to the miracles of Jesus and Moses. She defined miracles as being a “mismatch of what goes in and what comes out,” like the birth of Jesus being a metaphysics of grace.
Yazicioglu went on to say that the metaphysics of contingency treats natural causes as means through which Divine Agent occurs. Thus, the laws of nature are created and willed by God, and therefore he can interfere or manipulate them at whim. She analogized human’s agencies as a yardstick extending to understand how, while humans may “own” something, everything should be attributed to God.
Following natural order, such as watering a plant for it to grow, is viewed by Yazicioglu as an act of worship because it is obeying God’s greater law (sharia al-kubra). She believes it is a misconception to attribute life to water instead of God because the plant grows by God’s will.
Miracles, according to Yazicioglu’s interpretation of the Quran, signify divine wisdom, and that these “exceptions” or “irregularities” to natural causality are divine choices. She said the universe is not built off of a “rigid mechanistic” model but is rather a “world that is dynamic and customizable (by God) but cannot be generalized to the universe (miracles).”
Gulsum Kucksari, a friend of Yazicioglu who attended the lecture was particularly enamored with the concept of ordinary events being miracles that we do not appreciate until something out of the ordinary occurs. She said that she loved the emphasis Yazicioglu put on “God breaks his rules to bring compassion to his people; we need to respect the pattern of God but God is not bonded by his own laws which he can make customizations on.”
The lecture was hosted by the Comparison Project, an organization that seeks to “enact global philosophy of religion in the local Des Moines community.” This fall, the Comparison Project is featuring lectures that focus explicitly on miracles from religious, scientific and medical perspectives.