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?