“Everybody Draw Muhammed Day” is a Facebook fan page that went viral recently. It stems from the idea of a cartoonist called Molly Norris. She was originally protesting the censorship by Comedy Central of a South Park cartoon that depicted the Prophet Muhammed wearing a bear suit. Her protest was to draw a picture of Muhammed on a slice of toast, declaring May 20 “Everybody Draw Muhammed Day”. She says she never intended this to be actually taken literally. However, someone else then ran with the idea, setting up a fan page on website Facebook. Facebook is a popular example of a Social Network: a website that allows users to locate old and new friends who have joined the network and then share information (usually trivia about their day to day lives or idle vagaries of opinion). Over 17,000 people subscribed to the “Draw Muhammed Day” fan page — and many uploaded their own images of the Prophet of Islam onto the page.
At 26, Mark Zukerberg has become one of the youngest billionaires in the world due to his founding the system.
Facebook is a very popular preoccupation for the under 30s set — in fact, it appears to be an genuine addiction for that species, at the same level as drugs, supplanting the television and computer games of their childhood. And as a subset of usage, it has large Muslim base. Perhaps as a result of this, there have been some street protests, a Pakistan court has banned access to the website and — who knows, the way the ummah works in these cases — there might well be recourse to further legal action.
So it’s a smaller repetition of what happened with the Danish cartoons. In the grand cosmic scheme of things, this is a mere tweet, an ignored status update from a friend recommendation of a friend I never really knew so well at school. What has it got to do with the two seas of Surah Rahman? Or the Celestial Tablet? Why is the Tailor interested in speaking on such obscure and irrelevant trivia?
Is there any illumination to be gained within Facebook — either through retaliation or through reading it?
Well … yes. First, it affords us the opportunity to reappraise the sunnah of retaliation to insults against Islam in general and the depiction of Prophecy in particular.
You might have heard the following story, or something similar, regarding the time of the Meccan revelations when Prophecy suffered much documented prejudice and abuse, eventually leading to real physical threats of violence.
One old woman made a habit of throwing rubbish on Prophet Mohammed (saw) whenever he passed from her house. Prophet Mohammed (saw) had to pass that house daily on the way to the mosque. Even when the old woman threw rubbish on him, he would pass silently without showing any anger or annoyance. This was a regular, daily event.
One day when Prophet Mohammed (saw) was passing by the woman was not there to throw the rubbish. Prophet Mohammed (saw) stopped and asked the neighbor about her well-being. The neighbor informed Prophet Mohammed (saw) that the woman was sick and laying on the bed. Prophet Mohammed (saw) politely asked permission to visit the old woman. When allowed he entered the house, the old woman thought that he had come there to take his revenge when she was unable to defend herself because of her sickness. But Prophet Mohammed assured her that he had come to her, not to take any revenge, but to see her and to look after her needs, as it was the command of Allah that if any one is sick, a Muslim should visit him and should help him if his help is needed.
The old woman was greatly moved by this love and kindness of Prophet Mohammed. By the example of greatness of Prophet Mohammed, she understood that he was truly the Messenger of Allah and Islam was the true religion. She accepted Islam at once by reading the Shahadah.
Now, regarding a reinterpretation of this story in relation to Facebook, we appear to arrive at a blasphemous image of Prophecy, of a sunnah in which, after having rubbish regularly thrown upon him, he either takes to the streets in protest, blogs/tweets/updates heavily and angrily or — even worse — defers to the European Court of Human Rights to sue the woman concerned on charges of Islamophobia.
That image is blasphemous at a number of levels. First, if we believe the story, then clearly Prophecy’s nature is patience and love in the face of suffering and insult. His sunnah is to care for all, even the wicked, because they still might be saved. A Meccan sunnah, so to speak.
But it might also be argued that the image is blasphemous at a deeper level — not so much because of reimagining a Facebooking Prophet who defers to European courts and secular Human Rights records — but because it is based upon a fabricated story. The story of the rubbish thrower is certainly part of general (often Persian) Islamic folklore — but has no precedent in the early sirra nor any good degree of authenticity within the accepted hadeeth.
I do not wish to debate the actual authenticity of this story. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, it is a fiction invented about Prophecy. Any lie, any depiction of Prophetic becoming, from Mecca to Medina — even if employed for the positive purpose of da’wah — is blasphemy. Even a white lie that depicts the Prophet in a particular fashion is still a lie of depiction. To attribute falsehood to the Messenger, even with good intent, is still to attribute falsehood. These things are forms of blasphemy: slander against the Deen of Islam.
The story itself is therefore itself a form of rubbish thrown by a fabricating old lady against Prophecy!
The Muslims must take to the streets to purge ourselves within of that story. But then, what to do with the external blasphemy of the Facebook site, with its blatantly intentional slander? Well, even though the story of rubbish is also slander, we still might argue that a Muslim’s sunnah cannot be recourse to legal action within an external, secular system? That would be to say that the sunnah of Prophecy defers to secular subjectivity … and surely that is a depiction that is the slander of slanders?
Here we get ourselves into very uncomfortable waters. The very small group of crazy believers who actually have intent to kill (not to sue!) those who slander Islam — the small group so well utilized by the Authorities within the current conflicts between the secular and the Islamic — these guys are claiming an authentic response, an authentic subjectivity, a Prophetic subjectivity in their retaliation to slander.
Because they have consulted the authentic Divine narrations and listened literally. We find in Bukhari that Prophecy in fact sanctioned the assassination Kab al Ashra essentially for composing an offensive poem about Islam (some say the poem was offensive specifically to the women of Islam). The hadith goes as follows:
Volume 5, Book 59, Number 369:
Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah:
Allah’s Apostle said, “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” The Prophet said, “Yes.” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab).” The Prophet said, “You may say it.”
Then Muhammad bin Maslama went to Kab and said, “That man (i.e. Muhammad demands Sadaqa (i.e. Zakat) from us, and he has troubled us, and I have come to borrow something from you.” On that, Kab said, “By Allah, you will get tired of him!” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Now as we have followed him, we do not want to leave him unless and until we see how his end is going to be. Now we want you to lend us a camel load or two of food.” (Some difference between narrators about a camel load or two.) Kab said, “Yes, (I will lend you), but you should mortgage something to me.” Muhammad bin Mas-lama and his companion said, “What do you want?” Ka’b replied, “Mortgage your women to me.” They said, “How can we mortgage our women to you and you are the most handsome of the ‘Arabs?” Ka’b said, “Then mortgage your sons to me.” They said, “How can we mortgage our sons to you? Later they would be abused by the people’s saying that so-and-so has been mortgaged for a camel load of food. That would cause us great disgrace, but we will mortgage our arms to you.” Muhammad bin Maslama and his companion promised Kab that Muhammad would return to him.
He came to Kab at night along with Kab’s foster brother, Abu Na’ila. Kab invited them to come into his fort, and then he went down to them.
His wife asked him, “Where are you going at this time?” Kab replied, “None but Muhammad bin Maslama and my (foster) brother Abu Na’ila have come.” His wife said, “I hear a voice as if dropping blood is from him, Ka’b said. “They are none but my brother Muhammad bin Maslama and my foster brother Abu Naila. A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed.”
Muhammad bin Maslama went with two men. (Some narrators mention the men as ‘Abu bin Jabr. Al Harith bin Aus and Abbad bin Bishr). So Muhammad bin Maslama went in together with two men, and sail to them, “When Ka’b comes, I will touch his hair and smell it, and when you see that I have got hold of his head, strip him. I will let you smell his head.” Kab bin Al-Ashraf came down to them wrapped in his clothes, and diffusing perfume.
Muhammad bin Maslama said. ” have never smelt a better scent than this. Ka’b replied. “I have got the best ‘Arab women who know how to use the high class of perfume.”
Muhammad bin Maslama requested Ka’b “Will you allow me to smell your head?” Ka’b said, “Yes.” Muhammad smelt it and made his companions smell it as well. Then he requested Ka’b again, “Will you let me (smell your head)?”
Ka’b said, “Yes.” When Muhammad got a strong hold of him, he said, “Get at him!” So they killed him and went to the Prophet and informed him. (Abu Rafi) was killed after Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf.”
I believe this hadith is True: the nature of its Truth will become clearer shortly.
The hadith is amazing from a literary perspective, reading like a series of Hollywood action vignettes. It stands, for example, as a direct precursor of all J. J. Abrams movies (e.g., the Mission Impossible series). There is a camera framing the views. It moves rapidly from one scene to the next — from the order of execution, to the blokey riffing with overdrawn Mafia style villain, luring him into their confidence, their violent intent seething underneath this ploy, to the sudden nod — in typical Hollywood shorthand! — to Shakespeare (the fearful wife hearing blood like Lady Macbeth, Ka’b's tragedy voiced by himself “A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed”), to the second Arab Mafioso riff (“Oh, I’ve got the best smelling women”/”Let me smell your hair”/Haw haw haw), this time, at the climax, with that river of violence against the blasphemer surging out of the trap.
I go further and declare that every action blockbuster necessarily passes through the hadith of Kab al Ashra. It doesn’t matter if this is unconscious to the authors/viewers. The hadith — and its archetypes contained within — have always existed within the atemporal nexus of Symbolic space. All forms of becoming are mediated by particular fields of archetype according to the laws of influence (no matter how unconscious, as the Symbolic is the unconscious). In this case, the Hollywood action blockbuster as we know it truly derives from the hadith of Kab al Ashra. The genre is predicated upon by the events of that narration. (This is interesting, given that Hollywood action blockbusters are, generally speaking, the preferred fare of the global 21st century ummah as it stands: the insensitive, uncouth, macho and banal tastes that it exhibits and — despairingly for me! — no doubt will continue to exhibit, until we can bring about the full Renaissance of the Body’s True Science.)
Now — both the literalist and we who would evade the colonial sting of secularism would say — even in that case, no courts were consulted. How to respond correctly then? What is the sunnah of retaliation?
The answer is straightforward if we were to adopt a secular, progressive line — we could attempt to form a historical trajectory. The progressive might, for example, accept that the Kab al Ashra assassination did occur. They might say that, in that context at that particular historical moment assassination was the appropriate response at that time, because there was no European Court of Human Rights. And so, to protect the Deen and the people of Islam from defamation, assassination was the contextual solution. But in our 21st century context, the trajectory were can extract from the hadith is simply that Prophecy treats slander against Islam very seriously — because, even in this day and age, just as with Kab al Ashra’s poetry — there is a real danger that blasphemy and slander can turn ugly, into actual violence against Muslims. Stick a poem up — or a few racial caricatures up — and it seems an innocuous application of free speech. But from that lack of adab, from that granted social permission (or Socially Networked permission!) to insult or spit upon our neighbours … we will slide into repetitions of man putting the jackboot into the face of his cousin, and a democratic body will transform — oh so quickly — into a explicitly open fascist war machine against Islam.
The progressive (or secular) Muslim would then argue that to follow the sunnah of Prophecy is to take into account the historical context of today and form a trajectory from Prophecy’s motivation and solution to a contemporary solution conducted in the same spirit: Prophecy in the 21st century would have, in fact, sued Kab al Ashra to within an inch of his life. Mark Zukerberg as Kab al Ashra — but now with lawyers and human rights charters instead of perfume and licensed trickery.
Clearly this is a very boring solution. And not Islamic, for reasons we have been going on about for a while (and that we hope to expound further soon): it requires a secular subjectivity — not an atheist subjectivity — but, rather, a subjectivity in which the texts of the Qur’an and narrations is one that can be treated as a set of historically situated intentions, rather than — as we believe — ahistorical — but Truly Temporal — signs that can guide us into Light. Ultimately this is achieved through their embodiment, through living through the signs — and, by their agency, by correct reading of the signs configuration, through becoming — we end up embodying Islam, truly aware of our body, becoming aware of who we truly are.
So what is the Light within this narration?
First and foremost, Ka’b is what Sufis call the Commanding Self — what the Gnostics called the Demiurge. He is the false aspect of ourselves that acts as if he has complete dominion over the kingdom we call our reality. He lives within the fortress — with his guilty Lady Macbeth — the fortress being a fortress of disbelief that each and every one of us has inside us, a fortress of imagination and sleep that has sealed itself off from awakening to the Truth of Prophecy.
We all take on the mask of Ka’b in some form or another during our process of reading life, and recognizing this is a form of assassination. This is true, even for the best, most noble sheikh. How can this be? Because Ka’b's sin, first and foremost, is the depiction of Prophecy. But Prophecy cannot be captured by depiction. Is it possible to capture a subjectivity (or process of becoming) that touches all subjectivities (as their potential to become) in an image of a single face?
Because the Prophetic “subjectivity” is the becoming of all becomings: it predicates upon all journeys. All journeys — beginning in whatever historical or religious context, in whatever century of time — are journeys that are Muhammedean. The voice is in second person. The divine narratives are virtual reality headsets. The Qur’an is your revelation.
To position Prophecy as an image exterior to the journey — is to imagine that, somehow, there is a “me” that has some dominion outside of the journey, outside of Prophetic becoming, outside the sunnah. A “me” as Ka’b: writing a blasphemous poem that presumes to mock the women of Islam, the women of Prophecy, the submissive female. This is what we are when we are Ka’b: blasphemous, denying the nature of reality, the nature of our becoming: turning our face from the sunnah of Muhammedean perception — from the perception that the signs are arranged to turn our face to the sunnah of Muhammedean perception. When we are Ka’b, we compose blasphemous poems and draw images of Muhammed that convince us that he was a historically situated person, whose reality is exterior (maybe relational) to ours.
And hence the meaning of assassination and the ploy. Prophecy recognizes that Ka’b is there within the fortress and so sends assassins in to deceive this Commanding Self into losing its head. His tragedy is that he recognizes it at the end — because he is generous, after all, in his belief that he has dominion, in his belief that he possesses wealth to be generous — he recognizes that his death comes naturally from this temporary wealth of the fold of Reality that is part of his waveform.
When the Self is assassinated, what happens? And why is Prophecy concerned with its destruction, exactly? The Commanding Self has a power — absolutely transitory, like the wink of an eye — that depends specifically on the drawing of Muhammed. Through drawing Muhammed, the Commanding Self creates the illusion, the image of Prophecy-as-exterior and, consequently, allows for a dominion or fortress that is not subject to the Shariah/the self-aware logic of life, not subject to the sunnah of becoming. Thus, by definition, Prophecy always demands assassination of this Self and the consequent revelation of the True Self, of our pure soul.
The image of Prophecy-as-exterior is destroyed and Prophetic becoming again becomes our possibility — we are free to become, freedom deriving from awareness of the True Self unfolding, freedom being unfolding awareness of the signs, freedom being the sunnah.
The astute reader will have noticed a problem with this description.
If all images of Prophecy are problematic, if all images exteriorize Prophecy and form the fortress of Ka’b, then have I not just created my own image of Prophecy by framing the hadith in this way? Sure, it is an image of Prophecy-as-internal, as a becoming of becomings — but, nevertheless, it is still an image and, consequently, external. Clearly the progressive, secular image of Prophecy is also a blasphemy. As is the literal reading. We — myself doubly included — are all damnable Ka’bs, each drawing Muhammed after our own naive or self-reflexive inclination!
There is, however, a solution to this problem and it is within the hadith itself. The agents of Prophecy work to assassinate this part of the Self through a lie. Through vanity, through flattery, through working the Self’s perfume against it. Without ever needing to bargain with the Women of Reception, nor the Sons of genealogy: the Truth stays safe throughout the entire deed. Rather, Prophecy permits a lie to destroy this Self. The lie begins with the story of the agents being unable to afford a Sadaqa demanded of them by Prophecy — and the lie continues in terms of flattery regarding perfume (that genuinely comes from the Self). They play upon the Self’s comprehension of his own wealth, and request assistance in this.
We who would interpret this hadith — we possess a wealth of comprehension, a wealth formed from the ability to interpret, a wealth of knowledge. And so the agents come to us, informing us falsely that Prophecy demands a charity. We have no idea that our head will soon be detached from its neck of certainty.
The lie is always given to us in a state where we imagine that we are in dominion of a reality separate from the sunnah, separate from the True shariah. But the lie is the means by which we transform into actual actual faces/heads and actual bodies, freed from illusion.
The lie can take many forms. But a good example is the first story we presented — the apocryphal story of rubbish. It is a lie, as we have presented it. A lie that presents a Meccan Muhammed that is peaceful, accepting of abuse. The story is in need of sadaqa: it demands we interpret it with all our wealth. Say we derive an interpretation that leads to an obvious secular, progressive understanding of religious tolerance. Such an interpretation will not touch the truth of the Women of Islam, nor will it do any damage to the Sons of genealogy. But it will make us feel comfortable, make us suppose ourselves safe in our fortress of progressive understanding. We will feel Prophecy to be external. But one day, by virtue of this lie, the agents will then come and the head will be detached.
Similarly, the second hadith itself — while no doubt authentic — is also a self-reflexive lie. Again, it demands we interpret it with all our wealth. Some have interpreted it in poverty, literally or in a secular way. My interpretation, on the other hand, I am laying out before you, is financed by great wealth. But as long as I keep writing it, and you keep reading it with understanding, nothing will truth of the Women of Islam, nor will it do any damage to the Sons of genealogy. But it will make us feel comfortable, make us suppose ourselves safe in our fortress of Tailorite Sufi understanding. Because we will feel Prophecy to be external — even as we say Prophecy is in fact internal, even as we understand that Prophecy is with us if we are awake. But by virtue of this lie delivered to a wealthy man, the agents will then come and the head will be detached. And then we really will be awake!
Okay, so what does that mean for the sunnah of retaliation? Practically?
If it is all an internal process of overcoming the Commanding Self, should we just sit idly by and let the racists and bigots pour rubbish over us? In a way, yes — but only if we understand that such a course of action — as a narrative of Prophetic unfolding that we engage with — is a lie of following the sunnah that is necessary in order for a True assassination of the Self to take place. That is the only authentic way we could follow through the first story as the sunnah.
But there is more to it than that. Prophecy is intersubjective action: the True Self, the True becoming is found through interaction with other fragments of the original soul — through negotiation or revolution or retaliation against other children of Adam.
The practical course of action must begin with learning how to read. Once we have achieved divine literacy, then we can act. If we had a sufficient body of Muslims, then we could construct a narrative — an instructive and transformational story to be read throughout the meeting places of an awakened ummah. The Social Network of the Mind: a living mythology in which Muslims became addicted and enslaved to its space of continual updates and image feeds, and react as sleepers in a dream to externalized Prophecy, unconscious, unknowing reaction. A mythology of liberation in which the Facebook fan page was the fortress and its administrators constitute the demiurge, the images themselves include and preempt our own narrative and in which an assassination took place to free everyone. The True Social Network awakens, globally, to become a Network of Freedom and Light. No European courts would be required. The narrative mythology — shared and embodied by the knowers of the Body — would be Truth and Truth would radically change the world, Truth would be more viral than a banal fan page or youtube clip.
How would this revolution work? Wouldn’t the fascist boot land squarely upon our face while we’re all singing Sufi peace and love and writing parables? No. The revolution will transcend that fear. It is the fear of illusion, and when we speak Truth — perceive Truth — directly, illusion is vanquished. We have nothing to fear but the assassins of Prophecy — who are coming for us, the wealthy interpreters making dhikr of imagery in our forts. The change would spread this Holy fear to everyone, including the old ladies with their rubbish facebook artwork.
We could send in agents to carry out the assassination. But no “actual”, physical blood would be spilt. Just as it “was” with Prophecy. Just as it “is” with Prophecy. Because — for those who know how to read — for those who are awake to their becoming: the Muhammedean Reality will defeat all who would Command over an imaginary dominion, internal or external.