The Historical

The students had come to the Tailor’s shop to purchase some traditional Islamic robes, of which he had a wide and excellent selection. 

The students were arguing amongst themselves that all bidah (innovation) should be discarded, and we should aim to live as people lived at the time of the Sahaba and the Prophet, from ways of thinking and behaving to each other, conducting finances and politics, but even down to the level of personal hygiene. 

It was a particularly hot day and the rest of London was moving through the streets outside, girls in tank tops and men in shorts. The group were in high spirits and, seeing an Asian woman walk past, wearing a modern t-shirt and jeans, the sisters amongst them nudged each other, giggling, ”Allah protect us from such a display!”

One student declared that the dangers of living in London were very real: that Asian Muslims fall so easily into dressing in modern styles, leaving behind the correct way of dress clearly prescribed by the hadiths.

 

Another student agreed, but argued further, that the so-called caliphates after the four rightly guided caliphs were also doomed because of their neglect to preserve the entire sunnah prescribed by the hadiths and understood by the scholars. The sunnah in its entirety is perfect, from prayer, to law to clothing. The Ottomans invented their own style of clothing: it is of little wonder that God took the caliphate from them. It will only be given back if all aspects of the sunnah are reinstated, if all believers live in complete and absolute imitation of the lives of the Prophet and the Sahaba.

A third student, who appeared to be the leader of the group, agreed but went further, arguing passionately for the benefits of brushing with a miswaak over the use of a modern Western toothbrush, which, “while on its own is acceptable if no miswaak is available, if a believer has a choice between following the sunnah associated with miswaak and use of a Western substitute, and chooses the Western substitute, then he is being lead astray by Shaytan!”

They were talking amongst themselves loudly, and ignored the shopkeeper who was, nevertheless, listening. 

As they walked to his storefront to purchase their clothes, he said the following:

The Tailor spoke the following words:

You may purchase these garments. And you are right to yearn for and passionately desire the Prophet’s sunnah in manner, habit and clothing.

But do not think you are purchasing them to recreate an historical past, in the fashion that some tourist sites provide historical reenactments for education, or that hobbyists sometimes recreate medieval England or a battle of WWII on the weekend for amusement. Because such an historical past, while undoubtedly something that existed and has a science of scholarship attached to it, is past and, by definition, exists within historical time, while the sunnah of the Prophet leads us to the future in True Time.

You are concerned with what you consider to be an authentic past, even down to the level of personal hygiene. The non-Muslims look at you and some call you names because of your habit, they think you are fanatics. You are not fanatics, you are hobbyists and historical musicologists, dedicated to your project of accuracy.

You are like the Early Music Movement, those musicologists who employ the textbooks of the 18th century, hypotheses about performance style and content, using original instruments in an attempt to recreate the exact sound of, for instance,  Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. Their music is interesting to me. But they are in danger of losing their status as musicians, because they can miss the fact that the Mass moves into the future in True Time, its movements are lemmas within a proof that we have yet to complete.

Here: I also sell miswaak. Take a pack. Because mouths should be fresh and clean before the enunciation. 

Even to the level of personal hygiene, there is depth in the religion, and depths upon depths. 

So take the miswaak, not to be a musicologists, but to prepare your voice for the credo. Your future possibility. 

So, in terms of an historical understanding of the sunnah of the prophets, or even of their historical position, it is a question I am less interested in. 

That is mainly because I sell clothes, not antiques. But there are many antique shops across the road from me. I don’t have anything against them: every occupation has its place. And their presence is good for trade overall: the high street is more vibrant for the variety.

I could say this: imagine someone recorded what I am saying to you right now, and incorporated it within a book, perhaps with the intention of illustrating a difficult philosophical point about Time and religion, making it easier through the use of a character-led dialogue. How would the reader know that “the Tailor” is not, historically, in fact, the fiction of, say, seven wise men (or three idiots), created to inspire or persuade the seekers? The reader would never know for certain who the Tailor is, historically. Similarly with most people in life: we hear about them second or third or n-th hand, and rarely see them speak to us, face to face. I’ve never personally met the president of the USA: he might actually be a hologram. Maybe Socrates, Adam, Jonah, Shakespeare, Muhammed and his wives, Jesus were, historically, fictional characters. Or maybe not.

Bringing the question back to the prophetic voice and the prophetic vision. What we do know, if we see with the sight of the the Friends of Design, that the Logos is from the Real and that the Prophet lives by the Real. The Real is not historical, after all, because history is a time (little ‘t’) of interpretation: all history is interpretation (Who provoked the crusades? The Moors or the Christian Kingdoms? It is up to interpretation.) But the Real is the true Time (big ‘T’), the Time that permits the prophetic voice to speak.

Within this Real, moving through this Time, there is our guiding Seal, existing. Within this Real, situated and positioned perfectly in this Time, are the women of the Seal, the Law of Aisha and the Finance of Khadija, the sahaba and the secret signs they intimate. And within this Real are the rest of our guides, their companions and their enemies. And within this Real are ourselves and our companions and our enemies.

And within this Real, situated against this Time, there is our redeeming Christ, existing. Our Body of Truth.

Truly existing: existing in Truth. Not historically (literally, as you say), nor allegorically (created as a character by, say, a group of mystics), because historical existence is interpretation, and, as I wrote, interpretation is not applicable to the thepropheticprophetic voice and therefore is not a function of the Time of the Real. So we don’t contemplate Christ historically if we are being religious. Interpretation is relativity, as the philosophers told us, and so will not hold the key to the true understanding of the Christ, nor of the other players within our Cosmic Romance. All praise to the Beloved who created his creative agents in this perfect mould of perception! 

This is not to disallow the antique salesmen to peddle their wares opposite my shop: but everything has an appropriate time and place. I watched a program on TV hosted by a very entertaining historian that made all kinds of speculations about existence of the historical Jesus, and was quite amused. But speaking from experience, clothes are more important in life than antiques. Particularly if you have a long journey home. I bought an imitation shroud of Turin from one of those antique shops once, and then, in devious synchronicity, lost the keys to my house. I found comfort only in a bottle of Merlot and some crackers from our local grocer.

 

The difference illustrated. Anthony Rooley as ibn Tamiyah (though equisitely played to perfection, his wife Emma Kirkby wears an “authentic” nikab):


And in Tailorite spirit (though formed via a strong poetic influence to Rooley’s ilk):

Rooley’s “authentic” understanding is has much beauty. But which is closer to the historical Monteverdi?

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9 thoughts on “The Historical

  1. Hi Tailor (this is ned btw),

    I’m still reading your blog and will perhaps e-mail you at some point for further discussion. I like your ideas, but I’m wondering how you deal with the reactions of orthodox Sufis (and here I am not talking of Salafis or Wahhabis, but *Sufis* who still maintain a very rigid distinction between believer and unbeliever).

    In my own study of Islam, I was a bit disappointed to find that even Sufis like Ibn Arabi, for all their spiritual and ethical gifts, nevertheless remained orthodox in many ways and are widely respected by orthodox Sunni Muslims even today.

  2. Peace, Stumblingmystic!

    First, thanks very much for reading my blog: to have an intelligent seeker spend the time to consider my writing makes it worthwhile for me, as I believe it is only through intersubjective communication that we can approach the Truth (communication, not necessarily consensus or even proper argument!).

    Let me answer you as follows. For readers of my blog who don’t understand the context of how I met Stumblingmystic, we actually encountered each other at an atheist forum, where we were both making a kind of darwa. SM was making a darwa for a mystical form of atheism, and spoke favourably of a man called Jason Brown on youtube:

    Have a watch, and you will get the idea. Then inspect the comments associated with the clip and the poster’s comments and other videos at
    http://www.youtube.com/user/victimlesscriminal

    Now, Brown is espousing a kind of atheist mysticism here: of our personal relationship to the Other, to Alterity, to the unknowable. He is, I think you will agree, a mystic infinitely inferior to ibn Al Arabi. He is inferior, but a mystic nonetheless. The words of his speech ring true to me at moments, and recall the voice of the (also infinitely superior, but probably even more anti-religious) French philosophers I enjoy so much (such as Gilles Deleuze).

    But then look at the other things he has said about Islam on his site: he condemns entire faiths with too much anger. His voice is calm, but his anger, stemming from a kind of paranoia, is palpable. And look at the comments on his page: many are swearing, angry imbeciles, and, worst of all, Daily Mail readers. Imagine: Daily Mail mysticism!

    I don’t say he is exactly one of them. But his audience are a kind of orthodoxy that approves his mysticism. One might imagine a science fiction parallel universe where those imbeciles became the governing power of the city: they might uphold such a mysticism without fully understanding it, in the same way that poor foolish Heidegger’s mysticism could have become the official philosophy of the Nazis. I don’t say that he himself is a fascist, and don’t believe Heidegger was either, for that matter, (I have utilized his philosophy in my own world view). Perhaps his audience doesn’t represent him, but I can’t see anywhere where he has addressed their aggressive language. I don’t believe in censorship, but I believe in adab, which is to say I believe in keeping the vibes good and just being cool. If I had such an audience on my blog, who were enthusiastic but misguided say about my orthodox positions, I would at least respond to them publicly, to keep the vibes good.

    Brown’s manner, speech and friend list is simply not cool. Ibn al Arabi is a great Sheikh, infinitely greater than Brown, but I don’t deny that at times he was simply not cool about stuff.

    You have got something from Brown, I have got something from Heidegger and Deleuze. We have both got something (and there is always infinitely more to get) from ibn al Arabi. But we don’t have to defend their uncoolness. They have their flaws.

    There are actually some more serious flaws within Sufism and, I think, within ibn al Arabi. I plan to address these in my next blog post, but this is taking forever to write up 🙂

    This is the selling point of my clothes: they are chic, a la mode and, above all, the coolest threads in the business.

    Love and light,

    The tailor

  3. OK, hang on, hang on — I’m not an atheist from anywhere. I’ve had a number of mystical and paranormal experiences that pretty much shattered my materialism. That was three years ago. I’m an initiate into the Vedantic tradition, though I grew up a Sunni Muslim (in a very exoteric sense). I’m an admirer of certain kinds of Sufism also (in fact I am friends with Sadiq who commented on your post above).

    I linked to Jason Brown’s videos because even though he’s an atheist, he makes some very poignant points. And as per Vedantist teaching, atheism/agnosticism are actually just a stage in spiritual growth, and very often a much higher stage than conventional religiosity. Two quotes from my main spiritual teacher to illustrate the point:

    “Atheism is a necessary protest against the wickedness of the Churches and the narrowness of creeds. God uses it as a stone to smash these soiled card-houses.”

    “Atheism is the shadow or dark side of the highest perception of God. Every formula we frame about God, though always true as a symbol, becomes false when we accept it as a sufficient formula. The Atheist & Agnostic come to remind us of our error.”

    Atheism is simply a stage of spiritual development.

    As to why I’m on the aforementioned atheist forum, it is mostly because of my concerns about the rise of political Islam in my country, i.e. Pakistan, and I feel atheism/secularism/humanism are playing an important role in challenging organized and especially politicized religion. I need to network with other humanists in Pakistan so that we can mount some serious opposition to political Islam in the country. I also have some atheist friends on the forum (just because I am myself a theistic mystic doesn’t mean I don’t have atheist friends).

    Having given the whole above explanation, I will wait for your blog post addressing the flaws in Sufism and Ibn al Arabi. From my end, I am perfectly willing to admit that all religious mysticism contains “infrarational” distortions that dumb down the “suprarational” insights that are legitimately there. We are after all human beings, time-bound, space-bound, finite instruments of the Infinite. I have serious problems with traditional Vedanta myself — I actually follow a 20th century neo-Vedantist visionary named Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator known as the Mother, both of whom were very progressive and had many critical things to say about traditional Vedanta.

    Again, I have to emphasize that I have precisely zero problems with the universalistic Sufism of people like Hazrat Inayat Khan, etc. But Sufis like this, as far as I know, are considered completely heterodox — I would say they would be basically considered infidels.

  4. P.S. I actually like Ibn Arabi a lot. He was clearly a spiritual realizer. But I have been confused upon finding out that he is admired by extremely orthodox Sunni Muslims like Nuh Ha Mim Keller who reject the universalist interpretations of Ibn Arabi’s works. It would be great if you could write a post or essay clarifying some of these contradictions.

  5. P.P.S. I don’t advocate mystical atheism (such a term is an oxymoron anyway … after a certain number of spiritual experiences showing you the possibility of transcending the subject/object dichotomy and the limitations of the rational intellect, it is impossible to remain an atheist anymore imho) … but what I do advocate is a responsible spirituality that is purified of the religious distortions of the past. This is as true for Vedanta, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. etc. as it is for Sufism.

  6. Peace SM,

    Ah, thanks for clarifying: many apologies for the confusion. So … we both have an “agenda” on the forum (I’m also there for the friendship too, but nevertheless …) What an amusing situation! We are like moths to the flame (of the fire) in our darwa.

    Let’s discount anti-universalist readings for the moment 🙂

    But all the same, my point is that the politics of ibn al Arabi is sometimes just uncool, and that is the same with all philosophers and theologians. But in spite of this, like you, I get an awful lot from him.

    But hold on for a bit longer to see my deeper problems with the great Sheikh …

    It is very interesting that you revealed to me today that you are Vedantist. I was just in the process of writing up a blog piece about my experience at the forum, where I referred to someone with your views as “Yudistira” 🙂

    The Tailor

  7. lol, thanks for the compliment.

    I had announced my Vedantism elsewhere on the forum but most of the folks there are pretty rabid atheists so I restrict my posts to very practical political matters.

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