The following is a transcript of an interview between that dashing dilettante and neoplatonic man about town, Herman U. Ticz, for “Playsaint” magazine.
It began with a discussion of the following hadiths and verses.
Narrated Ibn Muhairiz: I saw Abu Said and asked him about coitus interruptus. Abu Said said, “We went with Allah’s Apostle, in the Ghazwa of Barli Al-Mustaliq and we captured some of the ‘Arabs as captives, and the long separation from our wives was pressing us hard and we wanted to practice coitus interruptus. We asked Allah’s Apostle (whether it was permissible). He said, “It is better for you not to do so. No soul, (that which Allah has) destined to exist, up to the Day of Resurrection, but will definitely come, into existence.” (Bukhari 3, 46, 718)
Marry off the single among you and those of your male and female slaves who are fit [for marriage]. If they are poor, God will provide for them from His bounty: God’s bounty is infinite and He is all knowing. Those who are unable to marry should keep chaste until God gives them enough out of His bounty. If any of your slaves wish to pay for their freedom, make a contract with them accordingly, if you know they have good in them, and give them some of the wealth God has given you. Do not force your slave-girls into prostitution, when they themselves wish to remain honourable, in your quest for the short-term gains of this world, authough, if they are forced, God will be forgiving and merciful to them. (Qur’an 24:32-33)
Question: What is your position on Islam and Slavery?
Answer: I read the use of “slave” in the Qur’an both literally and ironically. Revelation is often ironic because, by definition, the fragmentation of God’s Light into the fabric of the human misprision of Shariah/perceptive grammar is ironic. But irony may turn to sincerity and ecstasy: this is understood in a non-religious context within the act of making love.
Islam (specifically, the Tailorite Sufism that I converted to) does not abolish slavery: although it intimates we should try our best to be kind and charitable to the poor and, when possible for us, to assist our slaves to move out of slavery. But as long as humans are alive, they will enslave each other, in some form or another.
Thanks to humanism and progressive thinking, in the West we don’t have slavery in front of our faces as we might have had, say, 200 years ago. Nevertheless, slavery permeates our existence at all levels and,
contrary to Marx’s reading of Hegel, slavery is impossible to eliminate. In our current cultural context, the clothes we wear, the coffee we drink, the devices we purchase are produced by what would be called slaves in a more plain speaking past. We can certainly try to improve their lot and be as kind and as charitable as possible. But wherever there are humans, there are egos, commanding selves, people who will set themselves up as rulers over slaves. To live in society (any society) is to be surrounded by slavery in some form.
Even language itself, the dialectic of scientific discovery or philosophical inquiry, all concepts source their power from a form of slavery (slavery of one term to another: democracy exists by virtue of the slavery of anarchy, the natural numbers exist by enslaving the concept of “nothing,” etc).
The Tailorite position accepts this situation: it does not attempt a revolution to rid the world of slavery. The Tailorite position is to be kind to our slaves and assist them whenever we can. But as long as we have politics and states (including any Islamic state), there will be some form of slavery. Sad, but accepted.
The Shariah? The Divine Shariah, by its nature, is ironic regarding slavery, because it utilizes this unhappy misprison of mastery/slavery that humans find themselves in and subverts the terminology itself self-reflexively so as to suggest, by means of irony, the only pay to actually leave this misprison — not by transcending it — but by finding the Nur/Light “within” the terminology.
In this sense, the Shariah gives an ironic recipe escape by devoted reading.
For example, when we are commanded not to prostitute our slave girls, the command refers to the dangers of promiscuity inherent within the sexual sharing of our slaves, of our words, of our subordinate concepts, particularly when they are brought out or rendered explicit, as is encouraged through deconstructivist readings — such as the very reading I am giving you now of the Qur’an. So it is a warning about reading as I am reading. Don’t get all promiscuous in your ideologies and perspectives, using this reading to legitimate a state of Alestair Crowley state of “anything goes”. Another way of putting it: don’t go schizophrenic dealing with the horrible mess humanity sometimes creates for itself. At this point, the Shariah is giving a law for how the master and slave “within” should interact.
We could keep going like this with other verses and narrations. The hadith and the verse you cite above concern this master/slave relationship within. But depending on the context, of course, the master-slave relationship can also refer to the act of escape from this lower form of slavery to a higher form of slavery to God. (Let us leave that for the moment).
The use of the term slavery here is ironic and sublime in that it utilizes the generally unpleasant (often abominable) situation of slavery in (any) society, a situation that we perceive all around us (even today within the comfort of the West), a situation we intrinsically desire would somehow disappear — and the revelation subverts our perception, so we then see … yes, there is a relief from it all. Whenever you come across a seemingly spiritually crazy law: search our the irony and you will be met with sublimity.
Question: Hang on. Islam allows acquiring new slaves from prisoners of war. Women and children are legitimate war booty, and men can expect sexual favours from their slave girls.
I don’t think I follow you. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in your line of thought, you consider slaves to be metaphors for books and prisoners of war for libraries and sexual favours for knowledge!
You are quite close to reality. Slavery is sexual. And sexuality is information. But not a metaphor, never a metaphor: they are the same thing. If you follow much (atheist) European philosophy of the 20th century, from Lacan to Foucault to Derrida, this is well understood.
Consider online pornography. Anyone who indulges in pornography has a direct intuition for this Reality, albeit repressed and
unconscious. If we enter into a feminist critique of porn (see, for example, the work of philosopher Rae Langton), we know that its status is one of slavery (generally consensual, agreed slavery, but slavery nonetheless). I don’t condemn it. Irrespective of whether I personally think it is a human tragedy, an exploitative medium, a means for women to assert or empower themselves sexually, or just a business, I believe it is permitted, as a consequence of the very hadith you cite regarding the slave girls.
Online pornography is slavery. But, if you think about it carefully, what is the viewer indulging in exactly? 0′s and 1′s, transmitted over the internet. Information.
Sexuality and slavery is information: those of us who elect to indulge in it are living this reality And our narrations guide us through this, and do not condemn it, but lead you away from the dangers inherent within this situation.
And, in fact, all life at all levels, because life is exactly interaction with information, with the 0′s and 1′s of reality.
Question: Mr. Ticz, do you accept the prophet used slaves and Allah approved of their usage? If so, do you accept the prophet and the Quran as a perfect example of all time?
Answer: I accept that he had slaves, just as you and I have slaves (we — everyone, even Kings and Caliphs, living in a system– cannot “physically”/”socially” escape the master-slave dialectic). The Buddha is an exception. But the King — he is ultimately an illuminated management consultant, and does not “give it all away”. The King lives the Sublime Truth through perceiving the illumination via the filter of irony.
Do I consider him to be a good example for the kids to follow? Yes, because the Truth comes through a Rock and Roll lifestyle. It is one of Truth through righteous rule, control of information flow, through command of sexuality. Now, puritans try to transform him into a celebate Stalin (or Victor Hugo) figure. But I’ve bought his album and learnt the lyrics. I am a true fan and aspire to imitate his style.
Regarding God’s approval: God does not approve nor disapprove of many of the things we humans get up to, but nevertheless, trapped within in the misprisoned concept of master and slave there is much meaning to be gained — in particular, the only escape possible.
Question: I understand what you are saying. But I disagree with your equating of slavery in the past with
pornography today. Pornography is information, but many post-feminists now argue that it is a form of empowerment.
Witness, for example, the number of women that have become wealthy and fulfilled through that industry.
Answer: Okay, I don’t really want to get too into a whole discussion on the equation between porn and freedom, as it is a whole area of research.
If pornography is manufactured for profit, then the equation with slavery is appropriate.
Don’t forget that your arguments about empowerment have been used (sometimes, quite legitimately!) to highlight the “positives” of the systems of slavery employed by the Roman Empire and the Ottomans. When we think of slavery today, we imagine the racist system of “absolute” slavery run in the the US, where the slavery was more or less permanent. But in the Roman Empire and under various Islamic states, it was reasonably common (but not the norm at all) to grant a freedman status to a slave who served the master well — or for slaves to work their way up to positions of great power in business and in the military.
To take a single example (of interest to me), see the Roman playwright Terrence (one of the classical influences on Shakespeare and, as a result, all the pop culture we watch today).
He was a Libyan slave who was educated by his master and eventually granted freedom. And went on to make a significant contribution to the media, which we still feel indirectly.
I could mention similar stuff from other cultural contexts — masters marrying their slave girls, etc. Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid Caliph, was the son of a former slave girl who somehow used her previous connections and networks formed to make machinations for her son’s career. Etc.
Not the norm of course — but there are many cases in which slavery of previous Empires –including our own Western Empire — was not completely absolute, where some slaves could “use” their situation to “empower” themselves and rise up the ranks, eventually gaining fame and fortune. The American system was an attempt at absolute slavery based around a deep racism, which is why it was not sustainable. Our own forms of slavery that the West operates today, from the porn we watch to the clothes we wear, is not really racist, and, while ultimately unfair and repressive by definition
Terrence, al-Rashid’s mum, all those guys: no different from, for example, Danni Ashe.
Forms of slavery DO empower. And slave girls can become CEOs. And more power to them! say I with my fatwa hat on.
Of course you would admit that there is a also class of porn which clearly exploits poverty, weakness or addiction in some kind of form. I’m not really talking about junkie or third world porn (although that exists too), but instead the large numbers of performers. You will find that most of these guys are doing it because they have to for some reason or another: they are compelled (maybe not to buy drugs, but maybe to pay the mortgage). They don’t earn large amounts of money or live a particularly empowered lifestyle: they are simply wage-slaves like the rest of us, prostituted out to viewers, enslaved to a machine that keeps most of its profits, but with the difference that their bodies are the commodity.
Now, my point is: we are all masters at some point and all slaves at others, in all areas of information/capital exchange. In watching pornography, we are certainly the masters, as we are paying the money to the industry and the actors. This does empower someone out there — maybe the film company — but in the case of a fortunate few — this transaction also empowers the slave. So that she might become a master herself at some stage. To rise up the ranks and become a master is certainly a form of “empowerment”.
And the holy books, in utilizing the whole master/slave terminology, still work in any day and age because, wherever you find humans, you will find new and interesting ways of exchanging capital between masters and slaves. Abrahamic religion is not Marxism: the master/slave dialectic is not an inherently immoral situation, even though it is a tragedy, but then tragedy is the nature of the human situation before we arrive at a Sublime Reunion.
Even if we leave society and try to run away to a commune (or even sit in a hut by ourselves), the master-slave thing will crop up in some form, either between us and other people, or even just in our own personal thoughts and the fragments of personality that make up the self.
Sufism offers a transcendence from this, the only “true” empowerment, comes from an entry into the 5th and 6th (tied) heavens of the Mi’raj, those occupied by Aaron/Harun and Moses/Musa. Their duality denotes the reversal of the master/slave dialectic, so that there is still transactions of capital, still conversations/trades/sex acts/books written but purely in a mode of perception of the Nur/Light of the Divine within the capital. Basically to see the “real” meaning behind the concepts of mastery and slavery is the “transcend” their “early” analogs.
At this point we are no longer “freed” or “empowered” slaves-turned-CEOs. At this point, Danni Ashe becomes transmogrified into an entirely different archetype: the gnostics called THAT empowered slave the Sophia or Norea, but we also have a different name for it in Sufism. We become a Wife of Prophecy.