It was the jummah before Christmas, and Sheikh Yufist (the Imam of the Dangerousnutter-on-Sea masjid) was delivering the guest hutba at Visible College.
The Professor was in attendance, breaking a several month long abstinence. An abstinence begun in the somewhat acrimonious aftermath of his previous Islamist fiasco, but which had gradually calmed into a blissful and noiseless state of permanently temporary ambiguity between his own Faddakian Autonomous Zone and the Walled and Wailing City. There was, however, a good reason to be in attendance: he was hosting a distinguished research visitor from the Far East who, with the refined and balanced character of his people, managed to maintain the group prayer as a rule. He had not intended to bring this friend to the College jummah, as the hutbas were generally of a low quality. Given the choice, he would have preferred the Urdu speaking masjid because, not knowing any Urdu, there was a no chance of comprehension and irritation. Unfortunately there was no time to go elsewhere.
Oh well, he resigned himself: this jummah might always present an opportunity for a reactive observation or two. Sometimes the worse the hutba the better in that respect. That’s how it worked out last year: a terrible hutba led to his solving the problem of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Who knows, this jummah might even provide the elusive conclusion to pages of his ongoing roman à clef, now long overdue for completion.
And as expected, the hutba was indeed weak, if not exactly bad. The sheikh railed against the dangers of the West, in typical fashion but, this time, with a seasonal twist. “You are students at this College, in this English country, and people here — maybe other students, maybe your lecturers — expect you at this time to conform to their ways. But their ways are those of jahiliya, ignorance. And you as Muslims, you have made a solemn pact with Allah subhanahu wa-ta’ala, not to return to that: if you return, you commit a serious sin and you risk the hellfire. So if someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ to you, do not reply back, oh my brothers. Tell them proudly you are a Muslim and that to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Isa (upon whom be peace) is shirk: we do not celebrate the birth days of any prophets! We submit to the one Allah alone, not to the grave Christian error of a God-in-a-man! Do not reply back ‘Merry Christmas’, even though you feel the social pressure of lecturers and students — that pressure is nothing more than shaytan’s whisper! And beware, oh my brothers, shaytan is closer to you than you think. There are those, they are even here, in this jummah, maybe even sitting beside you — who call themselves Muslims but they are munaqfiq, hypocrites: they will tell you it’s just a conventional greeting, this ‘Merry Christmas’, they who will argue for so called progressive Islam, secular Islam. But that is just their way of saying compromise with our enemies!”
And so on.
After the hutba the Professor met the Wild Haired Postcolonial Theorist, the Builder and the Geographer at a local cafe.
“I think that bit about munafiq was directed against me,” said the Builder. “You know he’s been banging on against Christmas for three weeks solid now. The College was got concerned so they called me in to mediate between the Rector and the students who invited him, but that seems to have only added fuel to the fire. There’s a real lost opportunity here: they could be speaking about Mariam, the fact that she’s mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in the Gospels. Instead they’re wasting their time on this stuff: of course there never was any danger we’ll all start celebrating Christmas, it’s insulting to the audience to even suggest this might be a temptation.”
“Oh, nuts to the colonial forces of Visible College! If you are serious about a true awakening of the student body, you ought to stop talking to the authorities and start giving hutbas yourself,” said the Geographer to the academics (the Professor, the Builder and the Wild Haired Postcolonial Theorist all worked in various departments within the College). “Work with the Muslim student association, not bemoan their poverty after prayer. Form an Tawhesive assemblage of students and academics. Just think of how powerful a force that would become for good. They respect you already as teachers, right? They’ll respect you if you sat down and explained it all to them, your reading, gave them the zakat of your marifat. What if the Professor and the Builder were to give a double hutba, say, about nature of your trip along the A12, what you saw, what you became at the end of that road. Of course you’ll have to step down from the high tower a bit — that’ll do you good too. Just say it clearly, without the difficult academic language. Bring them along for the ride, next time you head out that way, why don’t you?
“It would be funny too,” he mused, laughing, “improbably so: all those East End rudeboys and you camp academic types working to free the ummah from its enslaved mindset.”
“Tovarisch, if I related 1/46th of what I came up with in my last Ramadan Reading, loudly and clearly without the academic language, the people would kill me,” replied the Professor. “Plus, I’ve got this massive Christmas tree at home, so there’s my credibility blown.”
“We’ve got a little one too actually,” chuckled the Wild Haired Theorist. “I didn’t realise kuffardom was a size competition.”
We leave the men at their cafe and move forward a few hours, to the Ilford maisonette of Sheikh Yufist. Having stayed up a third of the night in recitation, making his Witr prayer and miswaking his teeth and putting on his thermal underpants, the sheikh was settling down to bed.
But what’s this? A scratching at the window. Outside, a storm is raging, and the rain weighs down heavily. The window was accidentally left half open, and the winds bellow the curtains out, like three sails (lightning flash) like three giants walking toward him (flash) like three angels, now towering over him, cowering in his nightgown.
“W-Who are you? What manner of jinn are you?” he whimpers.
“We are the triple spirit, thrice named, of Christmas past, present and future,” the being replies.
The sheikh is terrified, wants to run but finds this thought rapidly coming undone, as the three spirits metamorphose into a presence, filling his room, filling his mind, like water into a sponge, so that there’s almost no sponge left, only water… and then, being wrung out, so that something remains, but it’s not his mind anymore … it’s not the sheikh anymore … he has become 3 movements of Thought, a progression of Thought that is so alien and strange, an antithesis of not-him that is yet somehow grasped as his true form, what was present within him all these years, within him even at that hutba today …
1. First movement: the spirit of colonial past speaks
In a paper entitled “Secularism, Hermeneutics and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation”, Saba Mahmood detects a disconcerting form of secularism running through the discourse of progredssive Islamic reform. Not the obvious form of secularism that comes to mind (but which never really exists): what one might called a naive secularism of a complete divorce of church and state. Rather, she locates the essential form of secular subjectivity whose origin lies within the Western Enlightenment, a conception of how the individual relates to God and life that is, in its historical genealogy, intrinsically alien to traditional Islam as embodied by its ummah. And this is disconcerting in its essentially colonial aspect.
Her view is that there is a shared subjectivity that lies (unconscious, for the most part) at the heart of the progressive Islamic voice, is the existential basis of various Western governments’ attempts to tackle the war on terror through promoting a form of “secular Islam” and was the precondition for antecedent powers’ colonization of the Islamic world. She mentions a number of contemporary progressive voices (for example, Abu Zayd and Hasan Hanafi). While her accusation is not that these thinkers are deliberately cooperating with an external, Western agenda of power, they unwittingly complement it through buying into a particular concept of the subject in order to develop their hermeneutics.
Generalizing, their understanding is that the Quran, while having a divine origin (whatever that means), has entered into history and, as a consequence, carries both historical traces within its signs and stands for modern readers as a contextual and generative site of for multiple possibilities of meaning to emerge through interpretation.
She quotes Abu Zayd: “The Quran … [which is perceived to be] a fixed religious text from the standpoint of the literal wording … becomes a concept once it has been subject to human reason, which loses its fixedness as it moves and its meanings proliferate … It is imperative here that we affirm that the state of the original sacred text is a metaphysical one about which we can know nothing except that which the text itself mentions and which always comes to us via a historically changing humanity.”
In other words: we encounter the words of the Quran and the prophetic narrations as an historical trace. When the Quran provides us with an understanding of jihad or the treatment of women (e.g., treatment of wives, slave girls and polygamy), its signs are inextricably interwoven with the original context of the revelation (7th century Arabia where fighting was part of daily life and the nature of a family was radically different to ours today). Over time, the body we call Islam has evolved and mutated into many forms and contexts and has related to these verses accordingly: reconstituting, contradicting, affirming meanings that have come before, extracting new meanings for the needs of the time now. This process of interpretation is one that understands the past meanings, understands the historical traces of meaning that are bundled up into our reading now, but appreciates the necessity to reconstitute this trace and self-reflectively determine meaning for ourselves.
For these authors, the Quran is not just a static book of law: rather, it is a site of necessarily contemporary interpolation, where both the individual subject and the Islamic community is confronted with an essentially unknowable Divine word that is, at the same time, historically situated, demanding our interpretative eye.
What does this mean for us as contemporary Muslim readers? There is no absolute knowable meaning within the surahs: rather, the surahs are little bundles of multiple meaning that await our extraction and renegotiation. And the authentic way to do this is to be aware of our cultural context and how this reading context is bundled up with context that came before in the lineage of interpretations preceeding us. For example, we might take the verses concerning treatment of wives in a particular way. Families are different in the 21st century from the 7th. We cannot deny that the verses concerning treatment of women were delivered within a strictly patriarchal context — and in the context of that delivery, the verses are radically feminist. For example, in terms of rights of women in divorce or to property in marriage. Polygamy doesn’t work in today’s society: but the point of the verses permitting it was regarding care for the widows of the various defensive battles of the early Muslims.
But it would be inauthentic to simply pretend that nothing has changed since 7th century Arabia: in the 21st century, those same verses no longer pack the same punch and all that we are left with — if we read without contextual understanding, without a historically aware reconstitution — will be the underlying patriarchal context, ignoring the essentially feminist spirit of their delivery. The traditionalist driving through the east end of London with his multiple wives in full nikab: an inauthentic simulation of a previous age, missing the point of the verses. It would be authentic, however, to unearth the feminism inherent in that discourse and plot a new trajectory of meaning from it — to reconstitute an authentic Islamic feminism for today. Divorce and property are no longer major issues: but what about the salary gap between men and women? What about the lack of female CEOs in companies? Instead of strange bearded men playing creative anachronism, getting it on with the harem, what about thinking more carefully about the point of the polygamy verses and doing something good for the current female victims of defensive warfare today: employing the verses in campaigns to support the widows of the wars in Palestine or Bosnia or Chechnya. The verses prescribing the veil have a particular historical context: perhaps one in which the polytheist women were showing a bit too much skin, leading to various unsavory social problems. We can extrapolate from the site of the verses delivery to form an understanding of the veil in our context today as a liberating choice of the free woman: because it emancipates her from modern Western forms of objectification (with its associated, equivalently unsavory social problems, deriving from essentially forced sexualization).
It might surprise you to hear that Tailorite Sufism finds this reading unfaithful. We identify the same problem as Mahmood: a problem of subjectivity.
Briefly, her point is that this “progressive” call to interpret the Quran is grounded in a secular subject that has an historical origin in the rise of the European Enlightenment. Their writing belies a Kantian subject. A subjectivity that is alien to Islam’s traditional embodiment and, in fact, entered into the discourses of the ummah via colonialism and continues to be employed as the ontological basis of the ongoing violence against the ummah.
This progressive subject stands, not as a slave to God’s “literal” or absolute word, nor as a subject in relation to understanding traditional religious authorities, but as a privileged and creative interpreter, “[turning] to their own cultured sensibilities to experience the true meaning of the word.” She quotes Hanafi: “The interpreter, reading the text, recreates it by accomodating it to his own use. He may create new meaning; the present may be seen in the past; the past may be constructed in light of the present. Every interpretation expresses the psychological and socio-political position of the interpreter. Every interpretation expresses a certain Zeitgeist, a Weltanschauung of a special community in time and in space. Every text is a context.”
It is important that we consider the nature of subjectivity implicit within such a remark — not because it is a “false” subjectivity — but, rather, the subject of progressive hermeneutics is one of a spectrumof subjectivities — and the deployment of a particular subjectivity is always an act of power, regulation and control. By querying progressive subjectivity, we ask: Who wields the power here? What is being controlled? What purpose does this regulation serve?
There is a progressive subjectivity that encounters the Qur’an as an historically situated site of generative multiplicity and individual reflection. But this is one possible subjects amongst many. Merely one mode of being (one mode of life) amongst many. And modes of being always origininate within a power struggle: they are always a means to power, a means to oppose, a means to dominate. Thus, in order to be formed, the progressive subject necessarily defines itself against an overdetermined “traditional” Islamic subjectivity, one of literal interpretation, primitive adherence to ritual and blind allegiance to a religious state’s authority. It is through this overdetermination that power is gained, that control is enabled. The crude stereotype is necessary in order for the progressive subject to legitimate its claim to radical reform.
Mahmood argues that the stereotype is overdetermined because traditional Islamic subjectivity is itself an amorphous, complicated and interpretively rich beast. It has its own unique historical trajectory of practice — interpretation, religious authority, the individual — that are not reducible to literalism and fascism (because such a reduction already assumes the primacy of the progressive subject). Rather, that historical trajectory of practice might best be characterised as an embodied form of belief: the ritual, liturgy, code of practice and negotiated understanding of the text constitute a social practice, what Boudieu calls habitus, lived through the physical practice of the Muslims in an intersubjective evolution that consciously traces itself back to the initial point of revelation.
Mahmood’s conception of traditional subjectivity is one of a worshipper and a God that commands. That subject will wear the veil merely because God commands it, rather than because of a particular individual stance against feminine objectification. Yet within that core submission to the command is a wider embodied practice — an indigenous culture of the ummah — that has evolved and continues to evolve according to the function of indigenous institutions within the ummah: for example, the body of scholars with their intricate, ongoing discourses on what constitutes hijab, the non-obligatory nature of the full veil, its desirability and so on. To simply reduce the traditional Muslim understanding of family and male and female roles to a literalisation of rules from 7th century Arabia — is to neglect the fact that Islamic social practice (its scholars, its lands, its people) have, over the centuries, developing their own unique, embodied understanding of these structures and roles. They hold, not to a simple literalisation, but, rather an complex indigenous code of life, shaped around a core submission to God’s command.
The progressive overdetermines the traditional Muslim by saying: “He blindly follows the verses concerning treatment of wives literally — and so clings to 7th century patriarchal values.” But, in reality, the traditional Muslim does not beat his wives, because his relationship to that verse is not a simple literal reading, but rather he is situated within an ummah that, by means of its own practice — that is neither static nor radical, including indigenous systems of internal discourse and historical negotiation — has evolved into a way of life where such things are essentially never Islamically justified. Nevertheless, the literal and very harsh meaning of the verse is accepted as God’s commandment and is not questioned nor justified (at least, justification in the form we understand it today, of individual, Kantian comprehension).
Similarly, the body of Islam has reached its own natural position regarding polygamy in the Qur’an — and its apparently suggested benefits over monogamy. It is an understanding that is faithful to the Divine nature of the revelation, does not overdetermine it merely to a trajectory of charity to widows of warfare (for instance) but has an evolved consensus on the historical context of the verse’s revelation and its current applicability, a developed range of codes whereby it is acceptable and where it is difficult and not recommended together with a built in and very rich ongoing discursive tradition of tafsir regarding the moral implications (including charity and war windows) of the verse: a complex practice of understanding that, generally speaking, means the ummah is generally monogamous.
This traditional ummah continues to flourish with a subjectivity that is characterised first and foremost by embodied, lived faithfulness to the scripture. This is not to say that it exists today in a state that is hermetically sealed from western modernity. In her extended work, The Politics of Piety, Mahmood’s arguments are backed by her ethnographic study of the Egyptian piety movement, a traditionalist movement in Egypt whose participants practice their religion in relation (and sometimes reaction against) encroaching secularity. And to be a traditional Muslim is not to ignore the western subject — nor is it a dubious existence of recreating an imagined state of Islam at the time of Muhammed’s revelation (swords, miswaks, veils and all) and merely ignoring (Amish style) the present. (Mahmood concurs with Benjamin’s understanding of craft and authenticity here.) Rather, to be a traditional Muslim in the current globalized, fragmented state of the world is to attempt to move into embodiment, to move away from western subjectivity into a cultivation of embodied piety, into a state of practicing Islam, a becoming Muslim that is closer to tribal initiation than to both the progressive’s interpretive trajectory and the stereotype Salafi’s Amish style creative anachronism. Physical regulation of the subject according to the Qur’an: something continuously cultivated, continuously evolving by the traditional Muslim living in a secular world, the cultivation of a entry into the tribal practice of the ummah.
And this embodied, naturally evolving but internally negotiated, authentic form of Islam is denied by the progressive through overdetermination — a colonial overdetermination that is necessary in order for the progressive/secular subjectivity to exist at all. A colonial overdetermination that is necessary for Kant to exist.
Mahmood notes that the secular reading follows a Kantian perspective on what we might call an embodied religious practice — the ritual, liturgy, forms of prayer and codes of dress — as “a leftover from the infancy of the human race, when man needed such aids, and should be discarded when the human species has reached its appropriate level of maturity. For Kant, the value of scripture lay not in its temporal narrative but in the rational structure it symbolised”.
Stepping back from Mahmood for a moment, we might accept this state of affairs but then ask: what is precisely so bad about the admittedly Kantian subjectivity that grounds the progressive discourse? That is, what, exactly, is so wrong with Islam taking on a subjectivity that has its source in the Western Enlightenment? What’s wrong with alien perspectives being incorporated into Islamic reading?
The problem with a Kantian Islam is that its alien nature demands an essentially violent suppression of an embodied practice that has run through the entire history of the ummah. Kantian subject = empire = violence = bad.
The progressive perspective is secular with respect to the tradition of Islam in the sense that it owes its allegiance to the sovereign rule of the state rather than traditional religious authority: the power to interpret shifts from the traditional embodied practice and cumulative, collective, traced understanding of the ummah into the hands of the freely creative individual.
But this overdetermination of traditional modes of interpretation — traditional modes of being Muslim — is exactly an exercise in colonial oppression. Thus, the progressive “sin” lies in that hermenutics’ basis in a technology of secularity, a technology driven by alien powers whose very nature, whose very idea of what an “I” is, constitutes an aggressive colonization against indigenous Islamic subjectivities.
To take a simple example: the historical-generative subject who reads empowerment and choice in the verses concerning hijab — or the forms charity enjoined during the war effort within the verses concerning polygamy — is legitimated by the overdetermination of traditional Islamic subjectivities of embodiment, an identical overdetermination to that has been employed to justify foreign power over the Muslim world: we invade your country, blow up your cities, destroy your infrastructure and subjugate your resources to liberate your women. A progressive thinks he is doing Islam a favour by offering new creative entries for engagement with the text. But by not questioning the subjectivity implicit in his stance, he is, effectively, a colonial puppet, because his subjectivity is based on an external, alien overdetermination of indigenous, embodied lineages of understanding. He might appear quite distant from the Times pundit who argues for an invasion of Afghanistan in order to liberate Muslim women from oppression: but both men employ a Kantian, Enlightenment subjectivity as their basis, so their “I” is identical in the most basic sense. (I would have used Fox News instead of the Times, but with George Bush and Sarah Palin speaking in tounges, hearing messages from God and supporting creationism, the American subjectivity has largely segwayed from the still current European Enlightenment form.)
To get all defensive regarding hijab and and polygamy verses — to explain, justify or extract their contemporary relevance in this progressive mode is to deny the tradition’s physical, practiced embodiment of the verses. It is to overdermine as merely backward or regressive the woman who says “I wear hijab because God tells me to” or “I allow my husband 3 more wives because God has instructed me thus”. It is to become a pundit for the Times.
What’s the solution? Mahmood does not offer one in this paper: her goal appears to be solely to reveal the power struggle implicit in the assumed interpreting subject. Perhaps self awareness of the basis of their subjectivity is a good starting point for a more sophisticated progressive hermeneutics.
2. Second movement: the spirit of a Foucaldian present speaks
One solution: a Foucaldian-Bourdieuian trajectory, an interpolation I make of Mahmood’s intent. Speaking, as we all do, within a global, postcolonial space, the Kantian subject is familiar to us, it is part of our conditioning, our (ongoing, violent) colonization. Progressive Islam does not query this state of affairs and so inadvertently becomes a participant in this violence. The practitioners of traditional Islam find themselves in this space but, through their participation/entry/initiation into the embodied practice of Islam, they find a way to move away from Kant, to decondition themselves to the West, to become members of the tribe of Islam.
But what of the thinkers, the writers, the theorists, the activists of Islam? Clearly there are a great many social problems facing the ummah and the progressive intent is good. How can they do it better? It could be argued that by having a clearer understanding of the secular-colonizing power play at the heart of the progressive hermenutics, by deconstructing this power play and questioning the implicit subjectivity, contemporary Islamic thinkers can then evolve their religion through internal dialogue.
Here we would say that Islam — as a religion, as a field of practice — has always evolved through an organic, intra-ummah, global, intersubjective negotiation, discussion and reevaluation. This is its authentic, indigenous nature and it involves not one, but a multiplicity of indigenously evolving subjectivities, some of which are coalescending and morphing according to current external Western influence (perhaps a touch of Foucault, a dash of Mahmood) — but not a violent rupture, never a violent colonization. The ummah’s evolution on its own terms, according to its own established forms of regulation and modification.
To take a position on hadith, on scripture, on what Islam itself is (including this position itself), for example, is to occupy one node within a giant network of interconnected subjective nodes that interact and discuss across the entire span of the ummah as it has existed in time and space. In awareness of this, we take our stances in adab towards each other, embodying Islam as a discursive practice, in our very manner of speaking, arguing, changing and maintaining our religious positions.
Interaction, dialogue, negotiation, reevaluation and consensus or disagreement: this is what constitutes the fuzzy cloud of intersubjectivity that is the ummah, that is Islam. This negotiation is, importantly, an embodied aspect of the ummah’s practice — just as embodied as the jummah prayer — encoded naturally, indigenously over the form of the religion. Further, to characterise this negotiation, as I have just done, is simply another exercise in power/limitation — characterisation must necessarily be only partial and open to further negotiation (self-reflexively upon this global practice of the religion). This is the “sin” of the progressives. Consider, for instance, a broad brush stroke limitation of the “traditional” comprehension of shariah as fixed law — neglecting the more subtle indigenous forms of itjihad — neglecting the fact that Islamic embodied practice has and always will discursively (gently, subtly, internally) negotiate evolution in shariah.
Islam has always been evolved through such an organic, global reevaluated from within) in an authentic way that is still indigenous to its embodied practice. The religion of Islam is a sophisticated discursive practice. By aiming for awareness of this in our speech and by actively unpacking the power relations inherent in the deployment of Western ontology (by keeping Foucaultian), we may argue for change and maintenance of the religion in an indigenous fashion while evading the violence of Kant.
3. Third movement: the concluding speech of the spirit of the True Islam to come
I think this solution is fine, but incomplete.
Our Mahmoodean interpolation omits the possibility of direct contact with Prophecy (and the Awilya). Frankly speaking: where is the Uwaisi experience and astral travel in such a solution? Where is being Prophetic?
In this sense it is incomplete, because Prophecy completes all philosophy — in particular any philosophy of Islamic subjectivity. Sufism provides the solution but, rather like the Qur’an, reads the solution aloud by reciting (Prophetically) the signs of the problem itself, by reconsidering them in such a way as to make them reflect the Nur of Prophecy implicit therein (or unlock the nuclear power within their monadic structure).
By Prophecy we mean Divine Revelation/Recitation/Reading: God’s Truth revealed directly to us in our speech/perception/life, so that we speak/see/live God’s Love Loving to be spoken/seen/lived. Prophecy is hearing and understanding God’s words.
Here is the first issue with the position that protects an Islamic (or generally religious) subjectivity based in gentle, gradually negotiated, discursive, indigenous movements of reevaluation. Certainly this is how religions operate. All religions are indigenous practices, and those that are global evolve (often at a snail’s pace) according to internal, indigenous negotiation of the present. That leads to a religious subjectivity. And we do not deny it is the Islamic subjectivity, a subjectivity undeniably overdetermined by any number of forces with (conscious and unconscious) violence in mind.
But it is not correct to say that this is the Prophetic subjectivity. It is not correct to ascribe the sunnah to this: and inasmuch as Islam ought to flow forth from the sunnah, then the Islamic (religious) subject does not, strictly speaking, lead to Islam. To follow the sunnah, to be touched by the Prophetic, to enter into a becoming-Prophecy, we must always pass through an Ibrahimic becoming: which is necessarily destructive and revolutionary. This is because Ibrahim is Prophecy par excellence: the archetype of the submitting messenger, the messenger whose message is to submit.
And Ibrahim’s Prophecy, the sunnah of Prophecy is anything but linear with respect to forefathers. It is the exact opposite — a rupture with respect to ancestral practice. Ibrahim smashes the idols of his father, Muhammed does the same to the idols set up within the Kabaa erected by Ibrahim and Ismail. Each in defiance of their forefathers, each a difficult and painful rupture from tradition.
This is not to deny discursive negotiation: indigenous argument, suble indigenous interplay between the tradition of the priest and rupture of Divine prophecy. Prophecy itself contains the discursive within it, via the symbolic functions corresponding to Harun and Musa (and to the mountains Safa and Marwah and to the twin angels of the Ark of the Covenant, between whose discourse the Sakina dwells).
But Prophecy’s nature also entails a violent rupture of established discourse by absolute, eternal Truth: Truth that rearranges whatever cosy dialogue we might be having. After all, like all cultures, the pagans of either Ibrahim or Muhammed no doubt had an indigenous practice that also was lived and embodied, just as Mahmood’s traditional Islamic subjects live and embody their piety. Muhammed (like each Prophet before him) calls for destruction, disembodiment of practice, and the establishment of something new in its place (new or infinitely primordial and Adamic, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a rupture).
Destruction was Prophecy’s nature at the inception of a practice. As Sufis, we hold that Prophecy’s sunnah is not dead, but returns, repeatedly, in microseconds and flashes of inspiration, over a lifetime’s journey, over multiple generations of civilizational metamorphosis. We contend that new idols are being erected all the time to replace their predecessors, and so the Creator enjoins a continual Ibrahimic invariant, their continual destruction. Prophecy is a seal: but the Prophetic is not forever sealed off from us (in particular, it is not sealed or repressed by the embodiment of internal re-negotation).
We say that destructive love is intrinsic to the embodied practice of Islam. In fact, destructive, Prophetic love is precondition to our embodiment of Islam. Mahmood’s traditionalists — here, in Indonesia, Kazakhstan or in Egypt — will not succeed in fully embodying Islam without tasting that destruction, that rupture. They will not escape colonial subjectivity, the Kantian subject, without rupture.
We do not know embodiment without it. This is because there is no body to embody practice without an encounter of the destructive function of Prophecy. The true Body is sublimated — it is a Body whose nature is undifferentiated Truth — the Logos/Word made flesh — it is the insan kamil. Any man or woman who wishes to embody the Islam is of this Body, and it is by this Body that they will embody. But because the Word is sublimated, it cannot be apprehended in totality. Destruction (tearing down of idols, lashes and stonings) are the means by which the orders of our soul can be “jolted” into opening a conduit (or angle) into this Bodily state. There are four orders of the soul, four views of what we are — the higher we get, the more corporeal the reality of Selfhood. And we ascend the levels of the soul through the destructive function. The destructive function is how we can apprehend our relationship to the Insan Kamil, to the Body itself. To true corporeality. (This is what we have meant when we said that the Greater Jihad is corporeal, while the Lesser is not.)
This Greater Jihad must be waged, ultimately, against all discourses, including that of Islam as it stands today. Without waging Jihad against the religion of Islam, we will not know Islam, we will not embody it, we will be disembodied. This is a kind of reform — a rebooting.
We appear to condemn Mahmood’s traditional form of Islam, but on the basis of ontology and our (hyper) Shariah, as opposed to an overdetermination of its subjectivity. We accept the religious subjectivity’s richness and right to remain free of colonial violence. But we do not accept it as leading to Islam (or at least, to the sunnah, to Prophetic becoming). Because, while an embodiment of practice is seen within their ritual, their liturgy, their codes of practice, we also observe that precious little practice is embodied (today, in this fragmented globalized world), because the people don’t know what a body is. They are cut off from their body. They are disembodied, so cannot embody, not fully.
(We probably ought to go further here and claim here — nostalgically — that the ummah of Islam did fully understood what a “body” is, once upon a time. Say, before global colonization or at least at the time of the sahaba. But that would be a historical speculation, dependent on a discourse of history, which
again demand an alien linear, historical concept of “Time” with an associated alien subjectivity — because historical temporality entails the alien subject. To make a historical argument that Muslims of the past “embodied” Islam in one way or another, and use this to argue for how we are now losing our indigenous forms of embodiment, that we have lost our way or degraded in our spirituality — that is a deeply historical argument, not an Islamic one. I can illustrate the point best by contradicting myself: an Australian aboriginal 400 years ago would never refer to his ancestors 600 years ago as authentic exemplars of indigenous behaviour. He would not see the past generations as a means to define his “practice”. We wouldn’t refer to his past generations in a fashion that is measured by decades or centuries, ticked off according to changes in social behaviour, because such changes would not be privileged, and hence our historical time would be a nonsense to him. Our history is our morality, and the aboriginal would lack that morality, that temporality. In its place there would be the practice of his people, and a non-historical, amoral temporality, a relationship to the a Dreamtime, a mythic Imaginal, accessible past that does not tell us how bad we are today but, rather, how and why we came to be today.)
That is to say, the people of Islam, as we encounter them today, in general, from East to West, do not yet have access to their own bodies to make their salat — they do not have legs to stand with, hands and foreheads to prostrate (and we cannot speak of past generations at this moment, if we are to get to the Truth). They argue about about the law of an eye for an eye, or the cutting of a thief’s hand — but they do not have hands to grasp or eyes to see, let alone apply these laws in a Caliphate.
The texts and rites of that religion are untapped. These are the very technologies by which their body might be comprehended, experienced, reencountered, through which the “practice” of Islam might be entered into. There is an appearance of undergoing rites, of reading texts, but inasmuch as these acts could be said to be embodied, their embodiment amounts to an incorporeal, disembodied, spiritual carriage of information as opposed to the full, actual, experienced, realised corporeal embodiment of that information. Because to realise that information, to truly embody it, is to know what the Body is, it is to become the Body.
Now we must bring the focus back to the problem of secular subjectivity. This destructive function of Prophecy always contains an alien component. An alien aspect to the subject: or rather, an aspect of the subject that becomes differentiated from it and alien, a differential that initiates the destructive function, that initiates rupture. The destructive function is therefore in contrast to a closed loop of internal, indigenous negotiation but, rather, is dependent on the alien’s entrance (through differentiation from the subject).
God is reflected in all the signs, and signs form discourses built with implicit subjectivities and traces and assumptions. There is Divine light reflected by the alien Enlightenment subjectivity implicit to the progressive Muslim. We just need to locate the means to unlock that light. There is no problem with introducing an alien subjectivity into Islam — an individualist, Kantian subjectivity, say — provided that subjectivity is wholly faithful to the maintenance of the Shariah (the Shariah, after all, nothing more than a technology for extracting/unlocking the Divine Light from the signs we are confronted with).
The Shariah is perfect and considers all possible encounters we might face in our journey. In particular, the Shariah provides a logic for how Prophecy can be read in everything and anything — including alien subjectivities — but, in self-predication, the Shariah itself, its application and fulfillment, is dependent on both destructive Prophecy and an alien subject.
The discourse of Enlightenment, of the West can be a means to rupture, can be utilized to become Prophetic. In fact, it is the only means by which we can, right now, comprehend the Shariah, the only way we can read the Shariah. Not because a Western, alien subjectivity is what is necessary to re-interpret the Qur’an for a modern age, but because the application of Shariah to Western subjectivity is a performative act that will result in us knowing what the Shariah is, knowing who the agent doing the application is and, finally, locating our body. Knowledge of Shariah comes from its application, and its application demands an alien subject.
The symptom is its own medicine. This is Shariah’s operation. And Shariah operates according to the Love triangle of Ibrahim, Sara and Hajar.
Why Hajar? She was an Egyptian slave girl — what the right hand possesses — of Sara, the first wife of Ibrahim. She became Ibrahim’s second wife. But what is Hajar? Hajar is alien technology, married to the Love of Prophecy, crowned by his Ibrahmic judgement, a fire that never burns, leading her through the 7 levels of the Mi’raj up to the 4th Asalic Aeon of the Soul, the Aeon of True, undifferentiated Bodily gnosis. And through this process, she becomes the mother of Islam, initiator of the Muhammedean fulfillment: Islam’s solution to the problem of embodiment and colonization lies within its own origin, an origin that begins with the alien, the differentiated, but ascends to meet the undifferentiated Body.
Let me go a little slower.
Everything “I” think/do/am/perceive is grounded in difference — and discourse. In pretty much the way the postcolonial theorists have characterised it. You cannot escape our subjectivity’s situation in relation to discourse: whether you are progressive Muslims, attempting to reform Islam with modern theories or whether you are traditional Muslims, maintaining an embodied practice in the face of a changing world (or whether you are me, again falling into a particular subjectivity by framing things in terms of a duality between progressive and traditional).You cannot escape your subjectivity’s situation: you can only query it and negotiate it in discourse with other Muslims around the world.
Think about me, a Muslim educated within a Western tradition, speaking of the subject and the soul — always with a Cartesian trace, no matter how I wish to escape that trace, it’s there, contained in my terms, even if I position their signification in seeming opposition to the Cartesian origin. Can I escape a particular structural situation that is essentially relative in its Truth? And that all I can do is to keep speaking, but always acknowledging, deconstructing, from the margin of my text, the power structure, the traces that belies my speech? How can I then, thus relativized, always tentative, always in Foucaultian flux, how can I speak like a Muslim about absolute Truth in any legitimate way?
Yes. Truth is absolute. It is Identity, the undifferentiated Knowledge of Allah. Perhaps I cannot know any of it myself, but it is absolute, it is identity, it is not relative. The deeper question is not how much I can know or taste it — but to what extent can I even speak of such a thing from my position.(It is deeper because, as you know from us, to speak of it is to taste it.)
I can speak of absolute Truth, I can affirm it as I just did then, legitimately, provided I can (Rousseau) recover my Australian Aboriginal form, prior to the white man’s arrival, to recover myself as a purely subject free of that Demiurge’s colonization. I can speak of an absolute Truth (perhaps one I cannot know), but can still (paradoxically) speak of it in my relative, Foucaultian flux, if I perform a certain cleansing rite. That is, I can enter the Dreamtime of Ibrahim, the Imaginal, take on a Prophetic, Symbolic subjectivity, what might be called the authentic, True Islamic subjectivity, existing temporally in the differentiated space of signs, but reading everything with illuminated judgement. All this can be mine, if I perform a certain cleansing rite.
Imagine we were to speak of Identity. For example, to say “God is Identity, there is Absolute Truth and it is given clearly to humanity in the Qur’an”. Or, alternatively, more mystically, to say “God is Identity, there is Absolute Truth, but it is ineffable and unknowable by humanity, but there are embodied path/paths that lead us to it, and the non-intellectual embodiment — Zenlike embodiment — of Qur’an is important in the Islamic path to that Absolute Identity.” In both cases, we speak of Identity and Absolute Truth (because absolutes demand values, signifiers, and signifiers demand that there are constants, and constants demand there are equalities, and equalities demand Identity). Either example of such a speech is deeply problematic. A cleansing rite is demanded because to immediately speak of Identity is inauthentic illusion: it is to establish sign that is idolatrous in its failure to ascend, in its failure to move, to change us. It blocks the circuit by ignoring the differentiation of speech upon which its establishment depends: see Figure 1. As such, such a theological proclamation is merely (like most things we say or do without thinking) based upon a power structure that privileges of an image of identity over a differential calculus of becoming. To immediately speak of Identity is philosophy, not ritual.
A cleansing rite is demanded. Figure 2 is the nature of the rite: it displays a key by means of differential foregrounding, but involves a harsh self-negation whose activation — whose ritual recitation, whose embodiment — will result in the turning of that key.
Identity can be spoken of — but it must be recited — through a ritual ascension of difference. Difference must be comprehended for identity to be grasped in speech. Through Differentiation we ascend into encounter with Identity. So I can speak of these things — Identity, embodiment, theories of Allah and Prophetic subjectivity — in a seemingly absolute fashion. I am unlike the two examples I gave, because I recognize the relative situation of my speech, I can perceive it in flux as it leaves my mouth: each sign a play of differential traces with any number of alien knots and origins, each word a maneuver in (often Kantian, Cartesian, colonial) power struggles that belie the “I”, the very speaking subject that utters. Yet I speak with Divine Authority now, because these words become separate from their origins, cast out from their power play, sent out now into the desert of the paragraphs anticipated by this paragraph, pregnant with the Ismailic point I wish to conclude with. I speak with Authority in Flow because I am speaking — not as a philosopher — but I am uttering a rite whose form is called “The Sa’y” and whose ultimate conclusion is the founding of a new Nation of Islam. Whose conclusion is the wedding of Hajar.
I think I am with the generally accepted scholarly position in understanding Hajar as the second wife of Ibrahim, not merely a slave girl. However, in a particular sense, she begins as a slave girl and only after he sends her out into the desert does she fully become his wife, does she grow in stature to the wife of Ibrahim.
Like the slaves that the Seal of Prophecy married: she her status as a wife is significant. If Ibrahim is the Prophet of Love, then he loved her as a wife. Her banishment was — like the apparent sacrifice of his son — despite the apparent harshness, always an act of Love rather than a test of faith in God. Ibrahim is the Prophet of Love/Submission, he can get away with doing all kinds of things that might seem shocking or offensive in other contexts. Here the banishment and what follows is in fact the lead up to the marriage vow and its consummation.
The apparent harshness is a fictional motif that allows us to locate the key of the text. And the performance of locating the key constitutes the turning of the key: it is the rite of Hajar we are describing now.
That is not to deny her difficulty — or, specifically, her panic in Sa’y. That hardship is Real and Bodily: it is the entrance into the Real and Bodily.
Sara is the ever beautiful wife of Ibrahim: she is his Truth, his Divine Text, his Divine Hijab, his Tent. She is an Immanent Plane of Divinity. We might think of her as a Qur’an or Torah. Now, whenever we read slave girl, maidservant or helper of a wife like Sara, we read a conduit of activity, of assistance, of Prophetic channelling into/out of the experiential Femininity of a Truth that Prophecy possesses, that Ibrahim possesses — because such conduits are what lays the cosmic “plumbing” for immanence. Less colourfully, we might speak metaphorically: Hajar is the reflective capacity of Sara as a mirror, reflecting Ibrahim’s light.
Ibrahim tells Sara: she is your maidservant, do with her as you please. That is, she is part of Sara, in the same way that the identity has within its identity an implicit self-differentiation (I am that which I am not): contained within my familiarity is that which is alien to me. Part of me, part of my world view, part of my religion, part of my city, part of my life. To be banished out, send off: this is the moment at which the identity’s self-difference leads to something new, a new trajectory, an implicit potential now an active offshoot.
When an alien maidservant becomes cast out by the Wife — it means that a channel of differentiation has itself now becomes an offshoot or active trajectory. A trajectory whose nature is channelling. She is a conduit from Nur of Ibrahim into the Text of Sara, whose principle is her implicit differentiation (alienness) from the Truth of Sara. Hajar is the reflective capacity of Sara as a mirror, reflecting Ibrahim’s light. That reflective capacity is differentiation itself (we cannot reflect light without difference) — and so it is differentiation itself, the relation of differential reflection that is being cast out here. Hajar now becomes an entity in her own right, a conduit-of-differentiation as wife of Ibrahim.
That trajectory from the Feminine Truth — that bifurcation from Sara’s Truth moves from an implicit alien-contained-within-the-familiar, into an explicitly alien subjectivity, the moment it separates from Her.
(In Torah and Islamic narrations, there are many interesting maidservants … And even a humorous matrioyska doll minor replication of Hajar for the Seal of Prophecy, in the form of Mariam the Copt, stories of jealous wives included.)
Hajar is a bifurcation of Sara — she is the active, alien image of Sara — a surplus of Truth, a further differentiation of a Truth. A relational satellite in orbit, now examined in her own right by Ibrahim as NASA. Differentiation from falsity could be anything (false or true). But Sara is Ibrahim’s Truth (she’s his scripture). So what is this differentiated bifurcation from Truth? It is yet more Truth, though alien and unrecognizable. This is because Truth is not Sara’s nor Ibrahim’s, but rather the Truth of God, the Love of God, and that Love overflows from Sara, her function cannot contain it, so there is always a surplus, always a Hajar in flowing out. Sara remains absolute reflection, a perfect Hijab — Hajar is a second order reflectiveness, cast out, that must now also find a way to reflect (lest it be doomed to Foucaultian limbo).
And here we employ a particular myth: that the philosophy of the West derives from a fragmented source of this subjectivity. To speak of difference — differentiation’s supression by the assertion of Identity — the philosophers of difference are employing technology that has its origin in a Truth possessed by Prophecy (Ibrahim’s, Muhammed’s, Osiris’s, it doesn’t matter as its all one) but has become bifircated, differentiated from that individuality. The philosophy of difference lies scattered throughout our history with an ironic origin in Atlantean civilization or alien pyramid constructors. If the eternal truth of scripture (illuminated, read by us in our way) is Sara, then our current, situated, Enlightenment subjectivity or post-Enlightenment (Foucaltian) subjectivity — my subjectivity that I employ, speaking these words — these subjectivities are actually reflections (or distortions), differentiated satellites, alien trajectories out of Sara: they are trajectories from Sara, they were once of her and have become alien slave girls. The myth is Nation of Islam irony: there, the subjectivity of the West is a genetic experiment concocted in a laboratory by the Prophet Jacob. We are not in the business of archeology here, but of Prophecy, and irony is Prophecy, so we are not yet out of line.
Thus all I have said so far — all the terminology and technology I am bringing into play here, their implicit discourse, their genealogy of power — this has an origin beyond, say, Foucault, or Kant or Descartes or the Greeks (or Islamic theology for that matter): these signs and sign regimes are all contained within the beautiful Sara, Hijab of the Wife of Nur. But now, as I begin to use them to reflect upon Sara and Prophecy, and on the Identity of Truth and its embodiment, these words becomes alien and differentiated from that Feminine garment, the garment appears on the verge of being torn, of rupture, by the tension/jealousy whose nature is surplus of Love. What was a set of relational signs to carry light into Her Text now would become an independent, alien, utterly foreign object crystalization now, pregnant now, an entity worthy of study in and of itself.
Another way of putting this is that we are talking about how my particular, relativized reading of the Qur’an, necessarily involving alien components, how it can be reconciled with the Qur’an’s Absolute Truth. How I reap a harvest of Tafsir from that Truth, a harvest apparently referring to Identity in an authentic fashion. It begins with a jealous first wife. The Truth of the Qur’an is jealousy of the relativized reading. The jealousy of Sara is, to put it less poetically, the beauty of Feminine Absolute Truth in a state of self-tension, moving into an anxiety of intra-textuality (we are operating symbolically here, at the level of texts alone, hence the irony) that is the means by which God’s surplus overflows into the relativized alien reading. Sara is necessary in order for Hajar to become fully differentiated from her, for the satellite to begin to pass into the rite of the search, to become Truth. This self-tension is the precondition for the Torah’s prophecy to be fulfilled: the emergence of a great nation. From revelation, there is revelation, from sunnah there is sunnah.
To reiterate: the terminology and technology I am employing to describe Ibrahim, Sara and Hajar is Hajar. But, at this penultimate part of my speech, Hajar still in a state of jealousy/self-tension in relation to Truth.
It is therefore necessarily to now move this description into banishment: to banish these signs from my mouth, to let them part from my tounge into the aether of negation and affirmation. Banishment from my mouth is necessary for me to recite, to conclude this ritual. The jealousy of Hajar from Sara (the self-tension of a mirror from its reflective capacity) is the key to our ritual. And running her through, reciting her banishment is the means by which we might turn the key.
The banishment/bifircation/full enunciation is a several stage process. Hajar is not fully separated from Sara until the very end of the story, until she is cast out, wanders in sa’y between Mawah and Safa, until she locates the fountain. She does not become fullly Truth from Truth (Hajar from Sara) until all these events take place: until she has passed through the destructive love of Prophecy to reach and know what the Body is. Until the alien, the new, the surplus becomes corporeal, embodied Truth. Before she has undergone these events — before we have entered into the process as readers — she is “trapped” still as an unlocked alien surplus to Truth, but without Truth uncovered, without the Truth read, without Prophecy being located in that differentiation from Sara. Without Hajar the conduit becoming Hajar the object crystalization and then becoming the complete Wife of Ibrahim, to Ibrahimic emodiment.
How does this process work, and why does it lead to True embodiment, to knowing what the Body is?
Hajar’s Sa’y consists of the destruction of the illusion of what all subjectivity is — this requires an ascension, a soaring, a flight whereby the entire geography of our various territories can be observed (a drunken flight from Mecca to Jerusalem over manmade discourses and cities but also natural formations, river courses, mountain formations — resonating into a state of Medina). We have to climb mountains in order to observe, to gain a vantage point. The problem is that, in our Hajarian capacity, now outcast from the Wife, a capacity of pure reflectiveness separate from the mirror itself, pure alienation, utter differentiation separated from any Wifely identification, the vantage point is (by definition) not a fixed signifier, it is an elusive search, a doubling of the signifer (the alien, the reflective capacity separated from the mirror object, is the doubling in nature, so everything is doubled) and hence there are two poles, two mountains to alternate between. She cannot fixate on Identity: she is difference. She cannot gain a vantage point on the cities, on geography from a single mountain: pure flux in flight, in search of water, she is not permitted the luxury of Figure 1. Instead, the doubling of the negation (the “-” in the “- Difference”) in Figure 2 is the basis of her eventual ascent to see the water.
Hajar’s differentiation is an alternating current of reflectiveness: a desert freakout between two poles, an electric shock that wipes out all thought of identity in its desparate alternation between this and that.
“Ishmael’s mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had). When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Ishmael) tossing in agony; She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwah mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwah) seven times” (Bukhari 60:9).
The shock of this alien alternation is a physical shock, a corporeal panic that yields the corporeal, yields the cities, yields the geography, yields the Body as Bodily gnosis, as the ritual of our telling it, of her experience of it. Look, she’s running that circuit even now:
We make four points.
1) The alternating currency of the alien freakout operates between the two poles, the doubling of a vantage point, a search based upon a dialectic of the negation. Safa/~Safa, Marwah/~Marwah, ~~Safa/~~~Safa, ~~ Marwah/ … (“~” is negation here).
2) As pure difference, pure alienation, her process of negating the negation by definition means that each time she occupies one vantage point it is differentiated from the previous, but also, importantly (in a desert without Identity, without equality) each time she apparently returns to Safa or Marwah, it’s a different Safa or Marwah, respectively. Without Identity, idempotency is illusion: 1 is distinct from -(-1), 2 is distinct from -(-2). They are repetitions, but not Identified, in a pure alien space, a space of repetition, not equality. We are in the desert, after all: static, pure randomness, where even mathematics becomes an incompressible string of characters. Safa is distinct from its repetition, ~~ Safa, which is distinct in turn from ~~~~ Safa, and so on. (So we told a lie about our symbolism: “~” is a repetition of negation here.)
But this means that each searching flight from hill to hill creates an ascent of planes or aeons. She begins moving along an initial plane of Safa to ~Safa. Then “returning” she is now at a second plane, ~~Safa to ~~~Safa. A third: ~~~~Safa to ~~~~~Safa. A fourth: ~~~~~~Safa to ~~~~~~~Safa. Seven negations ascend to the “end” of the fourth plateau.
Each negation is a purely differential act, an alienation from alienation. And so, though played out within the Kolmogorvian static of the dessert, this second Wife in her AC panic generates orders of reflection, generates/locates, creates/remembers a fourfold process of reflection and meta-reflection.
We have already described the fourfold aeons of reflection and meta-reflection: they are the aeons of water, milk, wine and honey. However, Hajar is key to the ritual, the embodied practice of moving up through these aeons. She is the key and the embodiment and the ritual at the same time. And in following Hajar through these aeons, we locate the (differentiated, locally total, ironic) origin of the Sufi Doctrine of the seven levels of the nafs.
3) The first plateau — of water — is the order of objective life, absolute objectivity, pure static in flux, the incompressible information of the Creation. The philosophers of difference sing its praises daily, idolaters would isolate portions of it and hold them up as Gods.
But the self-negation, the innate Hajarian lifeforce running through that objectivity, the primordial Feminine conduit that is the nature of the flux, that is the Creation — this flux that cannot help but compress, coalesce and crystalize the incompressibility of its information in local-but-totalizing “fields”. What Jung calls archetypes, the neoplatonists called “forms”. These forms are, as pure differentiation in flux/search, purely local to their own individual process of uncovering, yet, paradoxically, absolutely total in their extension to the rest of creation. They do not compress information, so to speak, they do not encode or generalize: they are singleton predicates that reflect the incompressible in their differentiation/predication (they are monads). This flux of Hajar “uncovers” these fields of predicates/forms as conduits of regulation within their own nature as conduits, by means of reflecting upon their own essence as pure reflective capacity.
What is uncovered here is called the second plateau of life: the Angelic realm of milk, forms and and archetypes, the space of language games and sign regimes. Of course, this space is one of sign regimes, viewpoints, an infinity of different crystallizations of the information “below” in the space of water: each a city, each a state of mind, each a identity, each a science. That single plateau is really a thousand plateaux of being.
In the uncovering from water into milk, being passes through two phases. It begins in a journey from one pole to another along the plateau of what the Sufis call the being of Commandment, the first phase of the subject.
Behold! The nafs of commandment enjoins evil, except when my Lord bestows mercy. (Qur’an 12:53)
Hajar at this stage is pure alienation, pure reflection without a visible source to reflect nor material to reflect from, information alienated from itself as alien information. Thus she passes through a being of Commandment, a kind of (pure, unadulterated) will to power as a side-effect of of her alienation differentiation, of the random, of her static in flux. She is Commandment because it is Creation and Creation is the Commandment of God. In the state of sa’y, her being is neither good nor bad because morality does not come into play at this phase. There is a natural enjoinment toward evil, consisting of nothing more than a metaphysical tendency toward colonial response, at any level of reading, a tendency of all terms to wish to dominate, born out of the natural dialectic power struggle that is the first plateau of Creation as Commandment. The colonial danger identified by Mahmood, present within our use of technology with Kantian baggage, with Cartesian traces.
But her panic, her search, her flux is unbound (her husband knows what he is doing when he sends her out in Love). As she moves between the binary poles down into the (Feminine) Valley, she encounters the first Wife of Water: the Sakina of Pure Commandment in Water, unadulterated by domination. The Divine Exception: “except when my Lord bestows mercy”. Her freakout does not permit her to fixate. She passes through being Commandment, the Valley of Commandment in fluctuation between Safa and its negation. But then, in the double negation –Safa, passes in repetition (not identical) “return” to Safa, into the realm of Milk. Her double negation (irreducible) constitutes a second phase of being: what the Sufis call Self-Accusing being (the Self-Reflecting subject).
And I swear by the self-accusing (blameworthy) soul, does the man not think that we will assemble his bones (in ressurection)?” (75:1-2)
The double negation is a diagonal from the first plateau to the second. In contrast to the first phase, which is horizontal, a being within a plateau, this diagonal is a state of being in ascent. It therefore constitutes means by which the second plateau of forms may be encountered from the first plateau of pure differentiation: by self-accusation, by culpability, by self-reflection. By reflecting upon the reflective nature of being as Commandment within the plateau of water (according to the negation of the horizontal first negation), being as self-reflection allows Hajar to uncover herself within the space of milk. Her resurrection here is one of comprehension of skeletal frameworks: of being as bone assemblage, of being in models and formation. She enters into milk, into the space of forms and archetypes, gaining civilized eloquence of the language/shariah of forms, of crystallization, of regulation. And it is her self-reflection that her to be skeletal in this way.
This leads to a new horizontal, the third phase of a state of being in Milk, being in the city, being as modelling, as abiding by (or within) the law. This third phase is known to the Sufis as being Inspired:
Him who gave order to the nafs and inspired it to distinguish its waywardness from its righteousness. (Qur’an 91:8)
Milk, and being Inspired between right and wrong is essentially a moral state of being. But but morality in a non-valuative sense, because the Hajaric being is still pure differentiation: there are no values to speak of here, because there is no Identity (apart from a dangerous threat of Colonial Identification). Hajar is still an alternating current, oscillating between the two poles, she is still flux, just a higher order reflective flux emerging from herself. Uncovering of the milk shariah — the second order laws/models that frame the random space of water — is an emergent differentiation, a triple negation: because the milk shariah is random itself. (Just as in information theory we understand that the laws of mathematics are, in their essential form, random.) Shariah is flux, pure differentiation. Morality is differentiation between good and evil — but, above all, as Hajar’s being at this phase of ascent, morality is pure difference as Inspiration. It is as far from valuative morality as we can get: it is comparative, relative morality (Alice, through the looking glass, moves into Inspiration, running to stay still within the rules of the chess game, running twice as fast to move a square ahead.)
And again, the Grace of God’s Love becomes apparent within this morality, at the point of the valley encountered by Hajar when she moves again, becoming Inspired but onwards to Safa’s 4th negation.
Because within the circularity of flux’s reflection-as-flux on flux, within the comprehension of each term within a city, each sign within a regime referring, grasping, desiring to refer but never obtaining reference, illumination becomes apparent within judgement. Within the closed referential loops of the city’s laws, the ultimate “Referent”, that which the non-valuative loops of signification fail to refer to in their differential, relativized construction, is a Loving Otherness, that which is always “other” to whatever the forms, the language games, the regimes attempt to frame. Judgement is illuminated (righteous) when we realise — in self reflection — that this impossibly hopeless situation is precisely what is being encoded within the shariah, within the mutual predication, the closed loops, the mandalas and mythology, the archetypes enacted. The shariah’s true meaning — the true meaning of any formed model of reality put before us — is its reference to its own impossible desire to grasp and capture the evasive Other (the Womb, the Left Eye of the Face of Allah).
This utter state of self-awareness, of self-referentiality within the shariah of our forms: this is what unlocks the archetype’s light, releases the sparks of Grace that constitute the hidden essence, the Divinity of the True randomness (because the random is Divine commandment, creation, uniqueness of command from the atomic to the galactic perspective) behind non-valuative law. Encountering the randomness of law, being touched by the truth of shariah’s utter randomness (any shariah’s randomness, any structure’s randomness) is the Gnosis of milk. This is experienced as the Kiss of the Random: a Kiss that is both Kolmogorovian and Feminine. It is the second wife, the wife of Milk. She emerges from the static flux of shariah. She is what Hajar encounters at the second valley.
Static’s in the air/signals everywhere/contact in cold war/on your 64 (Static, The Friends of Design)
Hajar has thus located the two Graces of Allah, releasing the Light of the Random within her given shariahs/language games/sign regimes by correct reading, by reciting to extract the reflexive loop of impossible reference to the Other. In particular, as Hajar is my cosmology, my metaphysics, what I am reciting to you: in ritual, “my” Hajar has released the Light of Random speech within my shariah, within this cosmology I am putting before you, as alien as it stands, as dependent as it is on a Kantian lineage, an Enlightenment subjectivity, as strange as it sounds to you and as (yes, completely) Randomly as it has come to my mind.
And I could almost stop there: because what is to follow from me, though speaking of invisible plateaux above the visible plateau of milk, will still be a visible recitation whose recitation’s ritual, whose Grace I feel in negotiating it, is a Grace of milk. I am going to continue speaking within a particular language game, with a particular (visible) model, even though what I am about to say will speak of a higher view, a higher model above all models. That’s still spoken by me (and heard by the listener) according to an interplay that is temporally situated within a particular language game. But it is not what I am about to say that is of value — it has no value — the Truth of what I am about about the higher planes will come to you as Truth according to the second Grace of milk. Extraction of light from the reflexive, demonstrated, performative loops built into my speech, into my models: rather than any assumed valuative content. It is this extracted Light that I offer, that is the opportunity for us to share today. The ritual of my speech, not any apparent content or reference. (In this way I am merely following the sunnah of Prophecy, who drank milk when offered wine in Mi’raj: I am following a textually, incorporeally communicative, second order sunnah even when I speak, as I am about to speak, of corporeally transmissive third order Realities.)
The alien conduit, the being of pure difference now moves along a fourth phase of being, the diagonal between the plateaux of Milk and of Wine. This state of being is known as being returned, Satisfied:
O, you satisfied soul, return to your Lord … (Qur’an 89:27)
This diagonal is particularly significant, because it is a phase of becoming that bridges the visible realms of water and milk (information and models of information) with the invisible realms of wine and honey. It is a state in which we begin to drink the wine. It is essentially an entrance into Jihad, because to wage war is to drink wine. Wine is the plateau of metamodels: of modelling models, of their manipulation, their maintenance, their transmission, bifurcation, combination, unlocking, reloading. Within wine the truth of our modelling, the Truth of Inspiration unlocked in the valley of milk below is harvested from one territory, one city and transmitted into reformed cities. Wine is the space of flight and exodus from one city/model to another, violent ruptures of a city/model, deterritorialization, the consequent collapse of identities. Wine is the space of reterritorialization, of new identities. Wine is the space of of redistribution of the spoils of these wars, of 3rd order inheritance laws, governing these movements.
And the 4th diagonal of Satisfaction is one in which that wine is imbibed. To become Satisfied, one drinks of this plateau: we roll it around, examine it against the light, we put it to our lips, we drink. And inheritance, deterritorializing jihad takes over, we are obliterated by that wine of jihadic transmission.
Inasmuch as wine is invisible and milk is visible, Hajar is effectively shifting psychic gears, now becoming bodily, corporeally transformed. This is because the world we normally operate within, the visible world (of the Muslims of today, in particular), is a world of information, of pure text, of symbols. Symbols both at water and at milk (first order symbols as objects or second order symbols/predicates and assemblages of symbols in a shariah). The world we live in is non-physical, it is information. Hajar has passed through that non-physical realm completely, unlocking its Kiss of Gnosis. And in this unlocking of the Graces, by the reading of the archetypes, by the illumination of her judgment, she now finds herself able to leave behind the city, to deterritorialize her crystalized regime of signs. But she does not descend to the pure differentiated flux of water.
Instead, the fruits of differential ascent make a wine from her calm waters and their milky Inspiration: a blood that runs thorough the veins of … something — someone — familiar, more familiar to her than friends, family, these roles she has played within the shariah of then, the Shariah of now. The Body is not yet encountered, while the experience has moved into the invisible corporeal, the flesh is asleep, subsumed. But the blood is now drunk, now experienced, running through it.
And she ha now become this blood, differentiated water now differentiated from itself so that the Graces have rendered the light released, transforming, transmuting, the harvests of each individual’s progress in the lives of water lived through the models of milk, the harvests of her ascents are what she is now, what she has become. She passes through the 5th phase of being that the Sufis call being returned, Pleased:
O, you satisfied soul, return to your Lord, Pleased, Pleasing. So enter among my slaves, and enter My paradise. (Qur’an 89:27-30)
This is to abide within wine. This phase of being Pleased, being in Pleasure is not merely a spiritual joy at having ascended closer to the corporeal Truth of the existence. It is not happiness at anything in particular because Hajar is still flux remember, despite the corporeality: she is still an alternating current between ~~~~Safa, moving toward the negation ~~~~~Safa, each a mount that is still not to be identified though repeated. All we said before holds, nothing “changed” as such in her ascent through pure, valueless, random differentiation and alienation. There is still no Identity for her to be pleased with.
Nor is her pleasure undirected, at nothing, because nothing is also an Identity. (Undirected pleasure is, in fact, the primary danger of this reality, a Deleuzian danger: pleasure into power and promiscuity, a state of drunkenness in jihad, whereby we become unable to ascent further but take our ability to navigate the spectrums of lives/archetypes/games and do what we will with them, as Gods in a Deluzian laboratory. This is another form of reality fascism — but a particularly wealthy and extravagant form. It is this decadent drunkenness in power that is the subject of Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time series.)
What is her pleasure then, if it is not directed and not undirected? It is the pleasure of the cells of the Body, working to construct it, to realise it, to repair it, recreate it. The pleasure of the light extracted from lives lived below in milk and water, from harvests of symbolic Truths past, the pleasure of their extraction, carriage, continuation. And this phase of being Pleased follows the Return. It is the pleasure to be of the Body in return to the Lord who is closer to the Body of the Real, closer to the subject than to the jugular veins through which subjecthood now flows.
And this is the nature of the Grace that is felt here, moving horizontally toward the 5th order of being, ~~~~~Safa. She ambiguously immanent, yet locally anthropomorphic. The Hajarian flux, this differential alienness is so far from what we think of as local, as human, so far out into the upper levels now. And yet the kiss-breath of power and pleasure that appears to take hold of her and be her, being blood: it enters into her flux as Pleasure of blood excited, blood through Body. The Houri and the state of the men in jannah. Corporeal, anthropomorphic, we begin to understand what the Body is, how specifically humanoid Bodies can come to be in the image of God, though breath they be, though flux of differentiation they are.
Here we note that returning Pleased is a call from the Lord to the subject: a call to Return, a call to the subject to harvest and become satiated, pleased blood of the Body. But the call like the call of the Shepherd to the sheep. They go in and out to pasture, in repeated cycles of grazing. The call to return is a scythe that harvests the Truth extracted at the lower spaces. Hence, Hajar’s subjecthood will return repeatedly downwards as well as upwards, moving back into milk and water. At the realm of wine, new territories and cities are constructed, into which the flux of Hajar descends, repeating the process of obtaining Graces, extracting light from judgements of the new cities, returning up again, to drink the wine, to be the wine. Each time she carries — as a higher order discursive trace — an accumulated vinology utilized as her soul’s breath in the lower realms, assisting her as the signals get more complex: complicated and difficult cities will be entered, rare and hybrid shariahs practiced, alien tafsirs recited, science fiction jihads waged, livelihoods. And each time, by this increasingly kenetic, frenetic cycles she brings back rarer and finer beauty, rarer and finer (random) forms of Truth in enunciation. And the blood becomes richer, the body of paradise becomes more beautiful by this, the spoils of wars to come.
And all the while the sa’y is going on, in each descent, and each return to being Pleased, Hajar, the ascent, the descent. All are part of the sa’y. So all are flux, all are the mirror’s reflective capacity cast out, pure differentiation, pure alienation searching in initial panic (up to penultimate pleasure) at/through/in differentiation to an Identity-less, valueless space of its own flux. When she extracts light, when she ascends and returns, when she descends again, carrying her inheritance as a trace: it is not like a woman holding a bag with a collection of books of truth inside. Rather, it is a woman as a breath, each cycle the breath becoming stronger, more complicated, becoming a choir in breath, but breath in flux, exhalation in flux, even when it becomes a tornado of light. The inheritance, the spoils of war are carried as air, not as a Caesar’s coinage.
The final diagonal, from ~~~~~Safa to ~~~~~~Safa, takes Hajar from the plateau of Wine into the plateau of Honey. And here our cosmology, begun so nicely, couched in reference to respectable academia reduces to completely to pure mythopoeia. Because mythopoeia is the literal Reality of the Real, while it is our phrasing that is metaphoric. The call of the Lord becomes stronger and strong, until the Shepherd takes the sheep in for the final time. The diagonal is of the 6th phase, what the Sufis call being Pleasing to the Lord:
The Lord of Love calls for final return:
O, you satisfied soul, return to your Lord, Pleased, Pleasing. So enter among my slaves, and enter My paradise. (Qur’an 89:27-30)
It is part of a bidirectional arrow links God’s Love as a conduit into the process we have described. God’s Love is Pleased with Hajar’s Pleasing being, an Hajar as flux — a flux who is ultimately “only” differentiated reflective capacity — now takes that Love downwards, in the reverse direction to the entire description we have given. It was that Love’s Pleasure that was the cause of her breath, that operated the cycles of song between wine and milk and, lower down, it was that Love’s Pleasure, passed down and hidden within the traces of the terms of water, forming the very Symbolic substance from which the archetypes of reflexive illumination might be recited by the Hajarian ascent. All that framework began at this point of being Pleased with Hajar: Time runs backwards, so to speak, and the precondition of her ascent, the fabric of her ascent — going further back to Sara and Ibrahim — these are all the 6th phase of her becoming, a becoming in realisation that it was breath running backwards from this moment all that time. Breath of the Lord’s Pleasure, transmitted via the conduit that is the slave-girl, that is the maid-servant.
And in this way, she enters the fourth plateau of Honey completely. In the 7th phase, ~~~~~~~Safa, we are back at Genesis, but also at the End of Days, and Hajar has found her Body, what the Sufis call the Perfect Being. She was blood of the Body, but now she is the Body. A unique, individual Body of Islam. It is of a likeness to Adam, to Christ, but is unique and individuated. Formed out of flux, out of the extraction of light from words but, via the previous diagonal, a transmission now reversed to be both a perfect mirror of Prophecy’s Light and sublimely anthropomorphic, a Body more human than anything we might imagine, standing within our symbolic space, speaking of this. And this Body is Masculine and Feminine at once. In a sense, Hajar marries Ibrahim at the point of ascent by becoming Ibrahim within this body. Yet the Body is intimate with the fourth valley/Feminine/wife here: the Wife of Honey, Asal. It is this Grace that we dare to call undifferentiated Grace, though completed in pure differentiation, we reach negotiation’s end, a source and origin of Love, a source of the differentiation’s movement, an ultimate regulating principle, which must (according to Hajar’s pure differentiation) be purely undifferentiated. It is honey, and it “seeps” down to us from the fourth space according to a final regulating framework, a single undifferentiated language, a meta-metametamodel: the language of the bees.
The Perfect Being and Asal as the Grace of Perfect Being are not Identity. They form a final, corporeally active higher order (non-symbolic) complex, the initial and final point of the differential movement, a beginning and end to my ritual, the ritual of Hajar. We can say that the differentially undifferentiated language, her corporeal meta-metamodel, his Perfect mirroring relate to everything below as a kind of proxy Identity. But they remain a waveform of waveforms, a waveform of masculinity and femininity that reflect perfectly the countenance of Allah. Because there was no reflective surface to begin with, only transmissive relation, the capacity made object — this is a reflection without foundation, so to speak. Nevertheless, by reflection, at the end of days, nothing remains but the Face of God, the Face of Love.
And by this proxy Identity-as-waveform, this reflective (Hajar-Ibrahim) Masculine/Asalic Grace: together this completion of the circuit is how we can speak of Identity, differentiated in say though we are. Embodied, we speak-know Identity and Absolute Truth as a vibrational resonance that runs the entire 4×7 circuit.
4) This then is the problem with both the progressives and with the Mahmoodean interpolation: when discussing both internal discourse and alien subjectivities, both views do not take into account God’s Shariah regarding these things. They do not take it into account because we have become ignorant of it.
The progressive position is indeed flawed — both in its failure to recognize the alien power play behind their implcit subjectivity (Mahmood’s point) — their overdetermination of traditional embodiment — but also (my point) in their failure to embody Islam’s intrinsic relationship to the alien. But the Mahmoodean defense, though morally sound from an anthropological socio-political perspective, requires us to ignore Prophecy and Hajar in determining Islamic subjectivity. It ignores the 4×7 orders of the soul. And these orders determine Hajar and Hajar is the mother of Islam. So something’s gone wrong there.
Prophecy relates to the alien code. Prophecy’s body is born from the Prophetic reading of alien code. Prophecy’s birth, the Prophetic reading alien codes, this relationship of birth and reading demands the destructive capabilities of Prophecy and the continual reconstitution/rebooting/creation of ummahs.
Hajar’s ascent is bodily. Or rather, her ascent maps out the body: the body is nothing more than the 7 over the 4. That which is the Body, that which is the reflection, that which is made in the image of Allah — that is given and know to us according to the map of her ascent. The map is the body. From this map, from entering into and living this map in ritual we have a body that can embody the sunnah, that can embody Islamic practice, in a Real sense.
For transmission to be effected: by taking our trajectory — still a feminine trajectory — from the Feminine scripture and at last learning what the body is, learning how to embody the practice of Islam.That body, Hajar’s body, our body, is the key of the text. And that trajectory, that casting out/ascent/learning/reading, is the act of turning the key. Turning the key is embodiment. It is opening the door to the Truth. That is what the Sa’y is: the ascent to the fourth level of via difference, a turning of the key that locates the key, that locates us in our True bodily form, our encounter with the body.
This is what it means to follow the sunnah.
The three spirits concluded.
The Sheikh awoke from his sleep and the spirits were gone. But he understood this was not a dream. Running out onto the streets of Ilford in his nightgown, he cried:
“Merry Christmas everyone! A Christ mass pleased and pleasing to all!”