The Tailor had just finished a rather flowery reading of a narration regarding the death penalty for apostates in Islam.
One seeker said: “Okay. So there is a deeper, interior meaning to the narrations concerning death to apostates. An apostate is someone who attempts to leave the logical space of existence, who attempts a kind of transcendence from the Judgement that is life itself — who attempts to turn away from all judgement making, not just what we might narrowly consider to be spiritual judgement. In a way, you have inverted the obvious meaning and are saying: such an apostate is attempting to become a Saint like Hallaj in fact, drowning in the Waters of the Real’s oblivion. But then you are also saying that this attempt — this “offering” is too perfect — that, somehow, it is equally important to enter, to pass through the Fires of Judgement. To negotiate a path through Logic of Life. And somehow to do one without balancing the other is to commit a kind of cosmic sin, in the sense of an imbalance. This imbalance occurs after the death of the Prophet: hence the religious debate between Ali and ibn Abbas — or if not a debate, at least a distinction of stations, as the two men were allies. So you are saying that, in this hadith, there are the two approaches to the divine: the Fire of Judgement on the Left, and the Water of Love on the Right, and that both sides must be balanced if we are to regain the Prophecy, if we are to truly follow the inner meaning of the sunnah.”
”I have studied enough to say that this is plausible. However, it reinforces my growing anxiety that many Muslims would justifiably object: aren’t you just using figurative interpretations to make ostensibly repulsive texts more palatable? Whatever the right reading of the texts — whatever the deeper, inner meaning that we can find within them — did Ali really burn apostates? Even though I accept as a Sufi that there is a deeper meaning, interior meaning to the words spoken and actions committed by the Prophet, you have yet to answer the question: did the Prophet actually authorize the physical execution of apostates? ”
Another seeker considered for a moment and then said: “I am a Sufi in outlook and practice, but a Muslim first and foremost within my being. Sufism is one of the traditional sciences developed alongside the Islamic Sciences. You might call it a Science of the Soul, just as the Fiqh is the Science of the Body of the Ummah. The Sciences of Islam concern everything, the inner and outer aspects of reality. They complement each other perfectly and have evolved from the inception of Islam in perfect harmony, guided by sheikhs whose authority is infinitely greater than mine. I therefore do not reject the traditional shariah, even though the notion of death to apostates is very confronting and, yes, of course I admit, repugnant to me personally.”
“But it is not for me to question this at least: it is to question Islam itself then. Because Islam, unlike all other religions, brings the esoteric and exoteric together in perfect harmony. In recent centuries, we have lost this harmony: but in our golden age, to which, inshallah, we may return, this balance of the inner and outer was uniformly understood. The greatest Sufi sheikhs were often learned authorities on fiqh, precisely because both Sufism and Islamic Shariah derive from the same foundation of Islam itself. Fundamentally, the Prophet was a physical general and ruler who was guided in all things by God through the agency of angelic revelation. This is the nature of his perfection: he is a master of both the inner and outer, the exoteric and the esoteric worlds of existence.”
The Professor stood up and replied thus:
God is Love, first and foremost.The Breath of Mercy is infinite and continuous, a Cloud that never ceases, with no beginning nor ending. The Breath of Love whose nature is infinite milk Mercy and, consequently, flows into human consciousness, permitting a finite comprehension where we come to know it as a Face exhaled and inhaled, present and absent. But its absence is still the experience of the Breath, just as much as its presence infuses a portion of the spirit of Love into our being.
God’s Love is infinite. Therefore, it permeate all worlds, including Imaginary ones of the kind we are living in today.
By Imaginary, I am simply borrowing psychoanalytic terminology to designate what we “imagine” to be real, the reality we build for ourselves with our eyes, ears, actions, thoughts and speech. The realm of states, politics and warfare and of going down the Ikea store to pick up a flatpack bookshelf, of family picnics in the park and of office politics. We might be tempted to call it the Exterior world, the Exoteric, but this is not correct, because the Imaginary also includes the other aspects of reality we build for ourselves, such as games of chess, Shakespearean plays, doubts and uncertainties we have about ourselves, any kind of mental game we might play with ourselves or with others.
However, in psychoanalysis, this Imaginary realm does encompass many things we take for granted as “exterior” to our being because, whatever it is that is “out there”, it is still being filtered by our mental faculty: filtered into our Imaginary understanding. I do not imply the Exterior world does not exist. But I emphasise that our experience of the Exterior world is something filtered by our perception. It is never experienced directly.
There are other realms of human perception and experience, but the Imaginary is one of them, and an important one.
But God’s love permeates all realms of experience.
If we, existing in our Imaginary worlds as we do right now, were to kill someone for apostasy, then the Love would be obscured, probably permanently, and we would be in darkness. For any human who lives within the Imaginary worlds that we live in right now.
Including the Prophet.
So God would never command an execution to be conducted within the Imaginary worlds we build for ourselves. In particular, any political regime is a figment of the Imagination of its constituents. But God’s Love permeates all regimes, and so God would never command an execution within a political state.
A reading of the punishment for apostasy I have given would not violate this property of the Creator that, for the chosen amongst us who have truly (no matter how momentarily) felt the Breath, is a central article of faith. What makes us committed, bodily, to the True Religion in the Faith of Understanding.
But you have asked both an historical and a political question because, after all, the hadith itself appears to have a political and an historical context. Did the Prophet really command physical executions in the political state that he was ruler of.
History and politics are both intertwined by what Hegel called the master-slave dialectic. Your question appears simple on the surface, but it is complicated, and to understand it we need to understand a little bit of the nature of the master-slave dialectic.
Essentially, the dialectic involves one term supressing/repressing another term in order to create a power structure. For example, the official, documented prosperity of early America is founded upon the silent slavery of an African Other. Democracy grounds the notion of good governance by privileging the master of consensus over the slave of individuality. Within capitalism, the notion of free commerce requires we privilege the master of individual desire over the slave of equally distributed wealth.
A revolution is where these terms flip roles: this is always a danger, but a danger that fuels a structure’s potency.
It has been endlessly discussed in 20th century philosophy (and also in some Sufi circles over the ages) that the Exoteric/Esoteric, Outer World/Inner World distinction is also an instance of the master-slave dialectic. That is, this seemingly very metaphysical distinction is in fact a form of power-play, just as much as the politics of capitalism or communism. In the western world of ideas, the creation of the cousins of this distinction are often blamed on Descartes (he is blamed for inventing the mental/physical distinction) or on Plato (blamed for the dialectic of an ideal true reality versus an experienced false reality).
Now, a master-slave dialectic is not a bad thing in and of itself. If we open up a distinction, expose it to the light and understand what makes it tick, so to speak, then we are fine. The master-slave dialectic is a trinket, a toy, played with by a baby daughter: anyone who has babies will understand that toys are key to the development of the child. This is because toys and trinkets are exactly primitive forms of language: Wittgenstein taught us that language is, after all, a set of languages games. Language is the basis for perception and without perception we cannot exist as we do, striving to meet our Beloved. Thus, inasmuch as the games of language are essential to our True Path, the trinket of the dialectic is also essential. Otherwise there would be no communication, no differentiation, and then no difficulty in realising the Cosmic Romance and no life-defining movement through Time back to the Garden of the Beloved. Instead of a life as a Romantic Comedy, we would have a different experience of God’s Love — a nonlinguistic one, such as that given to a stone or mountain or star (all of which are immediately in submission to the Divine).
So the dialectic is key to our existence.
But the consensus of the philosophers is: that if the dialectic is left un-investigated and is itself taken as truth, then we risk a kind of fascist politics, fueled by paranoia. A master term becomes dangerous precisely when, within our Imaginary reality, we become fixated upon it. And this entails, by symmetry, being fixated upon the slave term, even if we are unaware of this. The two terms are dynamic totems. They are shifting signifiers. But if we fix them and say — “this is how things are, absolutely” — then the totems become idols.
Thus, if I blindly accept the dialectic of capitalism, then there is a danger that it will totalize my Imaginary reality — forming what a psychoanalyst might call a neurosis, a fixation, a pathology. I might, for example, insist on going to war on anyone who does not subscribe to my master term of capitalism, and persecute scapegoats in my country onto whom I perceive (fairly or unfairly) the demon of a desire for equally distributed wealth (it doesn’t matter if they are or not, the projection is what matters).
That’s an extreme case of course (although we see it time and time again in history). However, fascism need not always be so overt. Fascism is present even if we simply employ the terms “capitalism” and “equal distribution of wealth” in the same sentence, acting as though they divide up equally the possible ways of conceiving of commerce, without reflecting on how our whole commerce idea is a product — a toy — formed of this particular dialectic, without thinking about the construction of this particular toy, without understanding the power structure that resides within the sentence. Without considering alternatives. (What about a return to bartering or nomadic raids, etc?)
On the other hand, if I open up this dialectic — deconstruct it — and understand that it is simply a tool that enables a particular system of production to work reasonably well, then I won’t get attached to it, and everything will be groovy. Look Ma, no fascism. (If I go one step further, and transmute the master-slave dialectic into a diamond dialectic of the two brothers, then I get closer to Prophecy. But more on that later.)
The dangers inherent to language’s dependence on the dialectic (and the technology for avoiding these dangers) applies equally to the External/Internal distinction. The binary opposition generates a politics whereby we can make statements like: “The Prophet has Mastery of both the External and the Internal realities, of the politics of the world and the politics of the soul”. Such a statement has a power, a significance, that depends upon the power structure deriving from the external/internal division.
The distinction is, of course, useful in particular contexts: for example, when a brain surgeon needs to make a link between the internal faculty for mathematics and some part of the brain that handles this faculty. Very important in performing surgery on a mathematician! But in the case of theology and philosophy, the distinction has limited application and runs the same risk of fascism that all usage of master-slave terms entail, when employed in such a way that they totalize all of reality.
Here are two examples of how this totalization might occur within Islam, through an unreflective use of the dialectic.
Consider a member of a literalist activist group who says “The Prophet’s actions and rulings were always about the External reality: his purpose was to bring about the perfect political state — then and in our future.” Such a speaker would scapegoat people he would see as a threat to this view: a school of esoteric Sufis, for example, with their understanding of “the greater jihad” as a struggle for the soul and “death to apostates” as some kind of fana for those who leave behind logical judgement. “They are misguided by Shaytan and if they do not desist in these beliefs,
they will be in the eternal hellfire!” he might exclaim. And in doing so, he would be unaware that, in fact, the presence of this school of Sufis (with their internal Prophetic light as a slave term to his master term of the external light of politics and social laws) are precisely what lends political and historical power to his statement. Without the supression of the esoteric world, there could be no conception of an exterior politics of the ideal Islamic caliphate that has been and will be. The threat of the encroachment of the esoteric army of the greater jihad — the threat of fana in fact — is precisely what the literalist requires in order for there to be well defined walls around his caliphate.
But the Islamic seeker — who thinks more carefully about the possible modes in which the Qur’an can be read, both mystical and social and ethical — is also not immune to this risk.
In particular, to make the statement “The Prophet was King of both the External and the Internal realities” is also to run the risk of fascism, of fixation, of the totalization of reality by this particular external/internal dialectic. A naïve seeker, with the excellent intention of maintaining balance, in uttering this statement, still supports the hegemony of an internal/external master-slave distinction that totalizes reality. This innocent seeker will inadvertently lend arms to the political and historical power of these two terms, precisely through not taking a side, so to speak.
The naïve seeker, through retaining a romantic idealisation of the Islamic sciences and their precedent in the original Prophetic nature, through not to take a side, is still totalizing the internal/external dialectic by simply speaking as though these are the two realms do indeed absolutely divide up human reality.
In both the case of the literalist activist and the naïve seeker, both speakers are acting as though the dialectic were real — and so what was, previously, simply a useful tool for brain surgeons becomes something that totalizes all of reality. In both utterances, the toy, the language game, the trinket of the internal/external distinction, solidifies its political stranglehold on reality as an Imaginary fixation, precisely because the speakers act as if the external and external extend beyond useful activities such as brain surgery, to idle pursuits, such as Imaginary ontology.
In other words, we are saying that to the statement “The Prophet was King of both the External and the Internal realities” makes no sense, outside of the politics and historicity lent to it by the power-play generated by the balance of suppression and control within the internal/external dialectic. To utter it is to confine ourselves to the Imaginary plane of existence, a realm in which these terms totalize reality. We might even go further and say that such a statement is tacit support of linguistic fascism, because to make it is to facilitate the totalization of reality by an artificial distinction. In the worst case, the toolkit of brain surgery transmutes into a box of swastikas.
Or to place relate the problem of the utterance to Islam itself, we note that another word for totalization of reality — besides fascism — is idolatry. Games and trinkets are for the child, and the child is a blessing. But things get out of hand when the child is elevated to totalize reality:
Haven’t you seen those who were granted a portion of the scriptures? They believe in superstition and Taghut. Concerning the disbelievers, they say, “They are closer to the right path than the believers.” (Qur’an 004:051)
We have been granted a portion of the scriptures and, every day, in reflecting upon them, using language — inevitably employing loaded terminology — to discuss theology, we run the risk of taghut. It is almost unavoidable as we do it unconsciously: but the way out is to always reflect upon and bring to light whatever slave is being suppressed by whatever master term we are employing. Not for a revolution, not to invert whatever hegemony is currently implied by their structure, but to be self-reflective of the limits of power inherent to the language we employ when speaking about life.
We consequently have problems with any statement involving the internal and external that is uttered in a mode that lends itself to totalizing reality. Not just statements about the Prophet. I run the same risk of tacit support of a linguistic fascism and idolatry if I were to say the following — unreflectively — about any other human, including myself: “I’d like try to improve both the inner and outer aspects of my spiritual practice.”
This is not to say that this dialectic — any dialectic — should be extinguished. To do so would be to somehow eliminate all games: and this would be to extinguish judgement, to extinguish logic, language, perception, action, reality as we experience it. But, in a sentence, if we wish to avoid dangers of fascism, we need to live Symbolically rather that within the Imaginary.
First and foremost, the Prophet was free of this sin of idolatry, whilst the rest of us slip in and out of it constantly. Prophecy does not abide within the Imaginary. The Prophet did not perceive the world, commit actions or make statements in an unreflective, inauthentic fashion. It is clear that some of the sahaba themselves and certainly many of the scholars of Islam that have assisted in the development of the Islamic sciences did indeed live within the Imaginary: just as we do today. But the prophet did not. He did, nevertheless, perceive reality and spoke God’s revelations within a language: he was not a stone or a mountain.
What does it meant to experience reality, still filtered by eyes, ears, speech, language, but unencumbered by the Imaginary? It is to live within language — within a space of signs — but to perceive exactly, precisely and perfectly their deferral to God, and to see only this mode of deferral. It is to speak, judge, move, take actions — always within
this mode of deferral to the Beloved Other.
We call this abiding within the Symbolic realm in the mode of illuminated judgement. Living Symbolically. Other philosophers have called it authenticity or enlightenment.
Now, this is the way things are. And the Prophet only spoke Truth. Therefore, he never spoke with the voice of inauthenticity. And as a corollary, we can conclude he never spoke of the interior and exterior in such a way that their dialectic totalized reality.
So he could never have said something like: apostasy is an internal, mental concept. Equally, he also could never have said something like: apostasy is an externally punishable sin, within a social legal system. Nor could he have said that, in balance, there is both an apostasy and death of the ego and an apostasy and death of the physical. All three statements, said in an unreflective mode, ultimately are supported by, and support, the hegemony of an idolatrous power structure.
Okay, all very well and good. We have reiterated the nature of following the sunnah, and have performed some grammatical corrections to the usage of the internal/external distinction within spiritual reflection (matters beyond domains where this dialectic has a value, such as brain surgery). And we have asserted that Prophecy could not have uttered the command to execute apostates in such a way as to lend support for a politics of fixation that privileges as a master term the internal nor the external (which would even include an attempt at finding an hypothetical balance between them).
But we do not appear to have answered the question, “What was he really doing, from our perspective?” That is, what exactly would a subject have perceived at the time? What would have been seen by a subject (like me) who lives within the dialectic of the internal and external, and often finds himself speaking as if there is an internal and an external world of spiritual interaction?
Perhaps the Prophet didn’t see the Imaginary: but surely many people around him lived by the Imaginary. And, from their perspective, were there actual deaths (what we have redefined as Imaginary deaths) for apostasy?
As we have seen, language is such that it always folds up upon itself and provides us with toys in pairs: black and white on the chess board, an exterior/interior distinction in metaphysics, a communistic/capitalist distinction in commerce. It provides us, in other words, with rules and constraints to govern the application of signs.
This is how we relate to language — and this remains unchanged in the case of Prophecy. The fact that the Prophet was able to utter words means that he too utilized language just as we do and, consequently, could not avoid handling these toys, managing these signs, playing within particular language games, loaded as they are with their politics and historical power structures: games of culture, of tribal division, of war, of the state, of the family, of prayer, of pilgrimage and so on. Some games are familiar and intersect with those that we are born into today, as 21st century modern Muslims: other games are a completely different language to the one we are accustomed to. For example, I know what married life is like, and it is a language game that is common to the vocabulary of the Prophet and to me. However, the nature of trekking across the desert in a caravan is something I have experience of only through movies and my imagination: this language game, with its terminology, rules and constraints does not intersect with the vocabulary I was born into.
However, even when there is a very wide difference between some Prophetic context and my own, communication with Prophecy is possible. This is precisely the value of many of the hadiths. The unfolding narrative of Prophecy shows that there were people around him, each involved with different language games (e.g., of marriage, of devotion to God, of politics) who followed him. The asked him questions (for example, for marriage advice, arbitration in a dispute, or for a military command): he would answer them, in Truth, within his mode of deferral. And thus present them an opportunity to locate the Milk of Wisdom from within whatever context we have been assigned, from within whatever game we are playing, irrespective of its difference from that of the Prophet himself.
He communicated to them in their particular language, using their particular signs. If a soldier came to him and asked for orders, he would speak from within the game of war and still utter the Truth, unlocking the property of deferral — the spark of Light — within the signs of that particular game. The same with people asking him questions about family, about health, about devotion, and so on.
(And crucially, the record of these transactions permits us, as readers, with our third context, to triangulate the communication act so to speak, and gain access to this Wisdom through the act of reading, of communication with the language game of the hadith as a Prophetic record.)
This mode of communication includes the issue of apostasy. When the question of apostasy was raised, he answered purely Symbolically.
He did not perceive an exterior. He certainly did not mean to physically kill someone for rejecting Islam. But he also did not perceive an interior: he also absolutely did not mean a psychological journey of killing that aspect.
So, from the perspective of a hypocrite, for example, a literalist, or a naïve seeker — from a perspective that considers reality as filtered through an Imaginary fixation upon the interior/exterior power structure — and consequently believes that people physically die and that people mentally attempt to attain fana … From such an Imaginary perspective, what would we have seen?
(Here is where things get very difficult for those amongst us who are not comfortable with miracles. Or those of us who never believed in fairies as children.)
The answer is: nothing. We would not have seen the True Muhammed, because he existed — corporeally, linguistically, in all ways — within the Symbolic, and to be fixated upon an Imaginary dialectic would mean that we would be blind to his nature as a human.
Asking this question is precisely like imagining what would it be like such a subject to enter into the novel Pride and Prejudice and then to contemplate whether Darcy really married Elizabeth. Or to ask whether Darth Vader is really Luke Skywalker’s father in Star Wars. We would say: that’s a ridiculous thing to ask, because clearly these are fictional characters and there is no “really” about their love affair or family relationships, by definition. It was just fiction written by an author.
We carefully note: this is not to say that the Prophetic unfolding is fiction penned by a human author. Far from it! We assert that an illuminated existence within the Symbolic realm is closer to real life than our more common fixated existences within the Imaginary plane that we consider to be reality. Also, to say that Prophecy is fiction again this would play into the hands of the interior/exterior dialectic, shifting our speech back into the Imaginary realm, again denying Truth through inauthenticity.
However, we say the analogy is appropriate.
This is because the Prophetic life — its unfolding at a particular point in history — is a moment at which a particular human’s life (its actions and interactions with the world and people around it) transforms into something with a similar ontological status to a novel. But in this case, the novel penned by Divinity.
The Prophetic narrative consists of signs that do not draw their power from a politics or history relating to a particular master-slave dialectic. At the same time, this narrative cannot be said to transcend the words inscribed within it.
The Prophetic narrative is that rare moment in human history where life becomes precisely like a novel, and is incompatible with any question about what “really” went on. Was there “really” the death of apostates? Did he “really” marry Aisha when she was 6 and pass away in her lap? Did the various battles “really” happen? Was Medina “really” ruled over by him? All such questions are just as incompatible with the Prophetic life as asking whether Darcy “really” marries Elizabeth.
Let’s put it poetically.
Imagine reality before the arrival of the Prophet. It is just like our reality: something Imaginary, full of idols in different shapes and forms, fixated and unreflective upon its basis in the political power structure of the master-slave dialectic.
Then the Light of Prophecy descends upon the landscape. And everything connected with his Light basically turns into paper. And all the people around him — all things around him — all parts of reality perceived by and related to him — become like signs inscribed on that paper.
Even the apostates, the hypocrites, who maintained idolatry in spite of their conversion, or those around him (there were clearly many) who committed various forms of sin, sins of desires or imbalances, momentary fixations and so on. All these people, with their particular, imbalanced, politicized and historical Imaginary perspective, by virtue of being close to the Prophet, also become signs inscribed on that paper. They became the signs of apostasy, the signs of hypocrisy, the signs of belief, the signs of the seeker’s stations, the signs of politics and of history. Amongst them, we find the embodiment of Imaginary dialectic of language, the master term (with its accompanying slave term), the caliph principle — captured, as it were, rendered a higher captive by the Hand of the Author — mutated from something physical as we experience the physical into pure Symbolic Truth inscribed upon Real Paper.
This is the meaning of Umar’s experience, which is inscribed here for us:
Umar said … “My Lord agreed with me in three things. I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Would that you took the station of Abraham as a place of prayer.’ I also said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Good and bad persons visit you! Would that you ordered the Mothers of the believers to cover themselves with veils.’ So the Divine Verses of Al-Hijab were revealed. I came to know that the Prophet had blamed some of his wives so I entered upon them and said, ‘You should either stop or else Allah will give His Apostle better wives than you.’ When I came to one of his wives, she said to me, ‘O Umar! Does Allah’s Apostle haven’t what he could advise his wives with, that you try to advise them?’ Thereupon Allah revealed: It may be, if he divorced you his Lord will give him instead of you, wives better than you Muslims …” (Qur’an 66:5) (Sahih Bukhari 6:60:10)
At first glance, a naïve non-Muslim reader might surmise from this that, at best, Umar had some precursory coincidence with the inspiration for the Qur’an or, at worst, directly inspired three key verses of the Holy Book.
But in fact, this verse describes a situation that is similar to the breaching of the fourth wall of a narrative: a moment at which a character in a film or book acknowledges the fictional, authored nature of the very work in which they are situated.
Here Umar — who was a man before he met the Prophet, but once he had contact with Prophecy, is transmuted into nothing more nor less than a sign in the Prophetic narrative — reflects upon his Divinely Authored character as the Prophet’s commander, standing in relation to the Prophetic inspiration itself, that ultimately has engendered all that is Umar. It is the character of a commander who reflecting on his relationship to the Authorship that fashioned his character through the perception of Prophecy.
After the Prophet’s passing, the paper gradually starts to fade, and turn back into air. Those who were directly connected to the Prophet — the family and sahaba — are victorious at times and fail and make mistakes at other times. However, by virtue of their connection to the Message, their victories and their sins still remain signs and very much part of the paper of the Prophetic unfolding that still continues (as it does at the point of the hadith regarding apostasy that we have considered).
But with their passing away, the paper fades still more.
What was a sign of the Prophet’s Medina gradually changes into an actual city state of Medina. What was the sign of a Kingdom in Islam gradually fades and transmutes into an actual Islamic Empire. These things were not there before the advent of the Prophecy. Then there was a nuclear bomb that rendered everything Paper. And when the fallout clears, what is left is an Islamic empire: and the rest is Imaginary history (for history, let us not forget, is power gained through the master-slave dialectic itself).
So eventually, the world returns to normal. The Paper returns to air. Like Pinnocio transmuting from wood to flesh (only, we would say, actually in reverse — because Divine Paper is True Flesh and True Life, and the air we breath now in Imagination is closer to lifeless wood). The living signs disappear. Almost.
They are mapped into first and formost in the Qur’an itself and then also the hadiths, the narrations that preserve the signs that were inscribed upon the Divine Paper of the Prophetic Unfolding. From within Paper now, secondarily on paper.
So the Truth is not lost.
Occasionally, when we are closest to the Prophet, sometimes (by no means always) through interaction with the texts that preserve his unfolding, the air momentarily morphs back to Paper and the Divine Narrative is again perceived by the subject-as-character, a true awareness that we are nothing, except by the Pen.
At that point, we live Symbolically, and abandon our Imaginary fixations.
We access this state in all kinds of manners, in any number of contexts.
But there is a Muslim recipe for achieving this state: to access this Prophetic unfolding through following the sunnah. To follow the sunnah is to experience the air as Paper once more, so that our lives are lived as nothing more and nothing less than a self-aware Divine Narrative. So that we become characters whose every actions we understand is a plot twist prescribed by Divinity to intimate Divinity, to intimate Love.
So that life is understood for what it is: a romance novel, complete with an initial love at first sight, a separation, trials and tribulations and, at last, a happy ending.
In this way, we can read the story of the Prophet’s life as precisely that: a story. Such an understanding is quite close to the truth, for, like a work of fiction, there is absolutely no sense in which we could ask — did he really do such-and-such. And, like a work of fiction, we can find within it deeper significant meanings communicated to our lives.
But this is still the incorrect way to approach the Prophetic life, because it again plays into the exterior/interior dialectic, and we remain scholars basically, studying for an Imaginary foundation degree. It deprives us of the biggest miracle that is open to any human : that air can change to Paper, that what is seen as “physical” and “external” or “internal” can transmute into Inscription that understands itself as Inscription.
Islamic practice is to communicate directly with the story of the Prophet’s life through engaging with the inscription of that Unfolding: gradually knowing the Truth, that it was the True Life, whereas our lives, our beliefs, our mode of speaking and thinking and acting are paltry Imaginary things.
We should take the narrations and enter into them. What will happen is that, in spite of the often very different set of language games that we employ compared to those of Prophecy’s unfolding, the recipe, the functions, the predicates, the mode and scales by which our lives can also be turned into paper is precisely what is communicated. The hadith on apostasy is exactly a case in point of this.
This Miracle is an article of faith, that follows from the belief in God, the belief in Love, our certainty that God can speak through man via the agency of Prophecy.
One final article of faith then. This communication is a direct line to God, mediated by the agency of the Prophetic unfolding. God is Love. So any communication we receive must also take the form of Light, Mercy, Love. This Light permeates all existence and all human paths, including the perfect, Symbolic nature of Prophecy and flawed ones, imperfect ones such as ours that alternate between purely illuminated Symbolic life and fixated Imaginary lives. Therefore, if we take some sparks of this Light back into our Imaginary lives, retreating, as it were, back to our normal day to day existence — our paperless existence — then the sparks stay with us but never intimate their opposite.
Killing a human, we know, is not love, within any language game.
So Wisdom would never lead us to kill another human.
The Professor finished his speech and disappeared.
There was an astonished pause.
“But the Tailor said that the Professor was a purely fictional character he created to represent an aspect of our journey!” whispered one seeker to another.