The seventh surah is named Al-Araf (heights or places of elevation) after the description of the afterlife, in which the companions of the garden and companions of the fire are separated by a hijab, with the people “in between” standing on heights, speaking to both these two groups (and hoping to be amongst those of the garden):
And the dwellers of the garden will call out to the inmates of the fire: Surely we have found what our Lord promised us to be true; have you too found what your Lord promised to be true? They will say: Yes. Then a crier will cry out among them that the curse of Allah is on the unjust. Who hinder (people) from Allah’s way and seek to make it crooked, and they are disbelievers in the hereafter. And between the two — a veil — and on the heights, men who recognize all by their marks, and they shall call out to the dwellers of the garden: Peace be on you; they shall not have yet entered it, though they hope. (7:44-46)
There are various Sufi readings available of this scene.
One is that these three groups of people are aspects of our own selfhood in progress (hence their conversations are internal dialogues), a sort of distillation of truth taking place in discourse (conversation) between both “sides” of the hijab (the garment of interpretation, of reading, of signs, of language, perception, reality).
We have claimed that (from the human perspective), all is hijab. All is Symbolic. Problems of fascism and idolatry emerge when we fail to comprehend this and ascribe an “external” valuative semantics over the metonymies of the ayat. (This is not to deny an originator, merely that the originator is known through the ayat, including ayat that refer to “the originator”, “being known”, and “ayat”.)
If this is the case, what does it mean to have people on either “side” of this hijab? There are two sides of the space of signs, though it is complete surface without an upper or lower. There is a side of Truth, where the Light within all signs is manifest. Then there is the “other” side, of Falsity and Denial. Both sides are necessary in order for the hijab to exist. That is, it is not so much that the hijab exists to separate one from the other, or that the hijab is a veiling from the truth, keeping the disbelievers from the gardens of truth: but that both sides exist in order for the hijab to be.
The distillation process is one of a mobius strip conversation between affirmation and denial (the conversation between the sides of the hijab) — but ultimately has the character of affirmation, because through this conversation the deniers affirm the truth of what they denied.
The dialectic of their conversation is the distillation process: and the dialectic of conversation is hijab. Hijab is distillation of falsity from truth (with small f’s and t’s) that, in mobius strip formation of the hijab, leads to Truth (with a capital T, the immanence of affirmation).
The people of the heights are also able to speak to both the left and right hand side of this hijab, looking at the gardens with hope. They are the negotiators, those on the journey: a journey driven by hope to Truth.
But the journey takes place upon the hijab.
So why “heights”? Because the hijab is broken into a multiplicity of planes or plateaus of immanence, plateaus of language, levels of hijab: one for each seeker in their negotiation. The heights are a strictly relativized measure of depth that is possible between these planes of immanence by virtue of the hijab’s being experienced “down” from the 1st highest aeon into the 2nd non-unitary — and absolutely relativized – realms. These plateaus exist in an Alice-in-Wonderland aeon of relative perspectives, eating, drinking to get smaller or bigger in scale, raised in heights.
Note 2: Prophets and denial
Prior to telling the story of the Prophet Musa, the surah enumerates preceding generations and their prophets, with the repetition of a spiritual/relgious “elite” amongst the generation denying the Prophecy of the Unity of God and an emphasis that a Prophet’s duty is only to warn.
The interplay between denial and affirmation here echos that of the two sides of the hijab earlier: in fact, it is an expansion of that process, an extrapolation or monadic transmission from that ayat. The previous ayat predicates over/describes these stories.
When we think about the Unity of God as a message, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate how obliterating this message is, how contrary to the form and assumption of human existence it is. That is to say, we all deny it in various ways throughout the day, simply by buying into very basic assumptions about reality in order to get work done.
When we affirm tawhid continuously, we are in the Prophetic space and are obliterated. Prophecy warns us rather than converts us, because the movement to tawhid is cyclic and ultimately a Divine Mercy.
Tawhid is not merely thinking — there is a single God in contrast to the multiplicities of other religions. It is also not thinking, in a more sophisticated sense, that the “idols” of today are the false gods of consumerism, career, war, fear, etc (although that is closer to the truth). Rather, to affirm Tawhid is to comprehend that there is a unity, a unity of unbounded love and pleasure — and from this unity derives all our vision, all we survey. Our entire cosmos is a spectral perturbation in flux upon the surplus of love that extends even into its own impossibility of a differentiated lover. When we grasp this fact, we understand to the core of our being that the core of our being is a fundamentally unstable waveform-said-”Be” whose stability is only granted by the impossible excess of unity’s love … then we will find the world looking very different, and almost everything that “comes naturally” being obliterated.
Tawhid is not a simple thing, not intuitive (though rooted and recongized as Truth because it is planted within us, because we are moulded upon it): which is why there is always the same violent reaction against it within the cities.
Note 3: Musa’s staff
The surah continues with a telling of key moments in the Prophet Musa’s journey: from interaction with Pharoah, the exodus, the golden calf episode, the tablets and swallowing of the earth by the 70.
We make a few observations on particularly mindblowing aspects of this journey.
Musa speaks first:
Moses said: “O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of the worlds. One for whom it is right to say nothing but truth about Allah. Now have I come unto you (people), from your Lord, with a clear (Sign): So let the Children of Israel depart along with me.” (7:104-105)
Pharoah asks for a sign and two are given: Musa throws down his staff and it becomes a serpent, and the draws out his hand and it is white to all beholders (107-108).
Then Pharoah arranges for magicians to compete with Musa and Harun (intending to “postpone” them — meaning, halt the transmission of their Light). The magicians are to imitate his first miracle via their own magic:
They said: O Musa! will you cast, or shall we be the first to cast? Said Moses: “Throw you.” So when they threw, they bewitched the eyes of the people, and struck terror into them: for they showed a great magic. (7:115-116)
Their magic is a local power-system: all magic is localized second order power systems. Authorized, incorporeal means of inflicting imaginary wounds (the voodoo kills if you believe it does, if that is your power-system, its capital of fear deriving from valuative and local agreements between parties). Magic can be something as simple as a bank loan (a valuative agreement between powers facilitating power over you). Or something more complicated like a curse placed by a shaman on another person (also a valuative agreement between the shaman and the person, for it to work).
Importantly, Musa’s staff here does not turn into a serpent. The staff itself, in its wooden form is what swallows up the “fearful terror” of the magicians’ magic. It is not an imaginary incorporeal miracle of transformation that is achieved here, it is the true reality becoming apparent in its immanent power of containment.
Musa is not a magician, he does not arrive with crystalized speech acts/tricks/incorporeal transformations as the magicians do. Like all prophets, he depends on the Real alone: the Real surounds him and supports him, like a forcefield. When magicians go into defense mode, they employ their local power structures, their speech acts, their tafsir, their incorporeal transformative imaginations. When a Prophet speaks, his sole weapon and shield (his proofs or miracles) is Reality itself. There is nothing extraordinary about his work. Rather, the magicians are the one who are extraordinary (or extra-real, Imaginary) consumed (or better, subsumed) by this staff.
(We could go further to say that this reality is still language, but language of the Real or rather the language of Idris in the Real as Metatron — and by the Metatronic function, we know that the staff cast down is the letter Lam, not a “representative metaphor” of the Reality but, rather, a kind of fissure from which all of Reality can accompany Musa, a fissure of Reality that will always swallow the serpents of imagination).
The Torah says that it is Harun’s (Aaron’s) staff that was cast down, not Musa’s. Both sources are correct: but at this point in their preaching, Musa-Harun are a single Prophetic complex, so their staffs (which are upper and lower reflections of the same fissure) can be seen as a single staff. Musa-Harun stay as a face-to-face axis of Prophecy, following the release of the Children of Israel, the inheritance of the eastern and western lands, until verse 142 …
And We appointed with Musa a time of thirty nights and completed them with ten (more), so the appointed time of his Lord was complete forty nights, and Musa said to his brother Harun: Take my place among my people, and act well and do not follow the way of the mischief-makers. (7:142)
At this point, there is a “substitution” of Harun for Musa amongst the people. The Prophet-complex is split in two (before they were a unity, now they double). This is necessary in order for Musa to ascend through forty nights. But as we know, it leads to problems with respect to the lower level of the “people”, who turn to worship the golden calf.
When Musa returns from that ascension, he rejoins the Prophet-complex with Harun:
And when Musa returned to his people, angry and grief struck, he said: Evil is it that you have done after me; did you turn away from the bidding of your Lord? And he threw down the tablets and seized his brother by the head, dragging him towards him. He said: Son of my mother! surely the people reckoned me weak and had well-nigh slain me, therefore make not the enemies to rejoice over me and count me not among the unjust people.
When he seizes Harun by the “head”, he realigns his Musaic message with Harun’s submission (the two “heads” become locked in to each other again), thus beginning to correct the transmission. Without Musa, without the active messaging, the Harunic prophecy becomes unbalanced in its slavery within the minds of the people (not Harun himself).
(In 149, we briefly note that the expression for the people’s regret of idolatry is “the hands of regret”. This is because the hand of the ruhanic plane comes down upon them, decentering them so they are compelled to ask forgiveness.)
Note 4: 40 nights and Musa’s intimacy.
In verse 142 it is said that Musa is gvien 30 nights, perfected by 10. So a total term of 40.
We are children until we reach 40. At 40, the conduits of light extend down from the secret soul to the soul of ruh (wine) to the qalbic aspect of milk and into the fourth soul of water.
Tthe basic reason is that the nature of the human consciousness in resonance with god, at any level of the 4, is 10.
Why? 7 is the the human body (think miraj for the moment) + 3 for the relationship to god (via the 2 mother/father principle — breathing in and out of god — and the 1 unnamable source of light). This is 10 … scroll down to the middle of our previous notes to count them.
So it takes 10 predicates to negotiate our relationship to god at each of the 4 planes of reality.
The complete journey is 4×10 = 40 nights.
30 nights are what has permitted Musa to speak as a Prophet. But the next 10 perfect his ascent into the highest realm, with 40 in total.
What is the result? Moses passes through 40 and God spoke to him directly, not indirectly as with other Prophets. Musa has an intimate relationship with God’s speaking. We might call it a marriage to that speech: “I have chosen you over the people with my messages and my words” (144:7)
This transforms Musa: he comes down speaking in a different, crowned mode in comparison to his speech to Pharoah. This is apparent in verses 155-156:
And Musa chose out of his people seventy men for Our appointment; so when the earthquake overtook them, he said: My Lord! if Thou hadst pleased, Thou hadst destroyed them before and myself (too); wilt Thou destroy us for what the fools among us have done? It is naught but Thy trial, Thou makest err with it whom Thou pleasest and guidest whom Thou pleasest: Thou art our Guardian, therefore forgive us and have mercy on us, and Thou art the best of the forgivers.
And ordain for us good in this world’s life and m the hereafter, for surely we turn to Thee. He said: (As for) My chastisement, I will afflict with it whom I please, and My mercy encompasses all things; so I will ordain it (specially) for those who guard (against evil) and pay the poor-rate, and those who believe in Our communications. (7:155-156)
His plea here is almost an argument, it is more intimate in character. And here we see the relationship between the (sometimes apparently) angry or demanding speech of God (the Bride of Musa), an earthquake across the plane of immanence that is the earth/language, being spoken to as if placating a displeased wife …
It might be bad taste to recall Petruchio in irony, but that’s a clown’s reflection of the deeper truth here:
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous,
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers.
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will;
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk;
But thou with mildness entertain’st thy wooers;
With gentle conference, soft and affable.
It is not so much that Musa is taming God (astagfirullah) but, rather, the intimacy of his speech belies the intimacy of his relationship to Speech, to Divine speech that he uttered before, that followed him before, but now is transcendently immanent, utterly personal and simultaneously universal.
By this intimacy, God does not “change”, but, rather, the Mercy that encompasses everything (the Merciful Love a “father” of the Bride, so to speak, without getting polytheist, the father principle of absolute bestowal from which the resemblance of Divine Speech/Qur’an/Torah/Reading comes). That Mercy comes about personally through the very speech, the very intimacy that we might tap into via Musa, in making the transition from verse 155 to the end of 156:
He said: My chastisement, I will afflict with it whom I please, and My Mercy encompasses all things; so I will ordain it for those who guard and pay zakat, and those who believe in Our communications.
The final verse here being exactly a movement from that “harshness” of the intimacy into the Mercy that encompasses, the transcendence of Love through the intimacy with Speech that sometimes chastises (Speech that can be intemperate in her passion, a Lover who scolds and withholds her affection at the hint of perceived infidelity) as much as she yields (to the passion of the Reading — or, in the case of Musa’s supreme intimacy, a conversation).
Note 5: Changing the word.
But those of them who did wrong changed the word other than that which was said to them. We sent down upon them wrath from heaven for their wrongdoing.
What does it mean to change the word other than that which was said to them? Does it mean physically changing scripture? No. The sin here is bigger: it is to drained the active, performative aspect of the verses, changing them from inhabited, lived, proofs into a dry empty statement. It is to denying the transmissive, Divinely spoken aspect and to affirm that there is nothing more than the husk of the words.