A Sheikh and a Rabbi walked into a bar one day and found a Priest sitting on a stool with a dog by his side. (They had come for an interfaith dialogue event.)
“I’m terribly sorry,” apologized the Sheikh, firmly. “But I cannot sit here.”
“What’s the problem?” inquired the Rabbi.
“The dog is an unclean animal for us Muslims: we do not allow them.”
“We also think poorly of dogs,” concurred the Rabbi. “Although we allow them.”
The priest was silent, observing an earlier vow. However, the dog was a talking dog, and so replied: “I don’t see the problem. Let me review your narrations and holy books for you.”
The dog’s speech went as follows:
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever keeps a dog, one Qirat of the reward of his good deeds is deducted daily, unless the dog is used for guarding a farm or cattle.” (Bukhari 3:515)
Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying; “Angels do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture of a living creature.” (Bukhari 3:515)
All you beasts of the field, come to devour — all you beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all. “Come,” they say, “let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.” (Isaiah 56:9-12)
What is a dog? A good dog guards the cattle and the wheat. A good dog acts as a shepherd to its flock, and keeps the beasts of the forest away from the crops.
A useless dog is kept within the house, idle, consuming, dreaming, in slumber.
As a metaphor, the meaning is clear: a dog is like a minister, a shepherd, a sheikh. Their purpose is to keep their flock along the path, to protect the fields of Wisdom, the fields of tafsir free of blight and vermin, for our consumption. The useless dog of the narration is the same kind of dog spoken of in Isaiah, an idle, corrupt sheikh, without knowledge, shepherds without understanding, intoxicated, consuming themselves the food of Wisdom, consuming the Qur’an, but without understanding. And angels will not enter a house with an idle dog. A house should be a shelter, a refuge, a sanctuary, a masjid. A house is a masjid. And the City of London has many houses now, the ummah rejoices in their plenitude: but how many contain idle dogs? Muslims check your houses, Angels fear to tread therein.
But the Qur’an and the narrations surrounding Prophecy are not metaphoric. The dog spoken of is not simply a metaphor, it is a Symbolic Function, regulating our relationship to the Real. Its function is to herd our relationship with the Real. Our relationship with the Real is linguistic, perceptual, active, communicative, logical: and so the way in which the dog herds this relationship is perceptual, linguistic, active and logical.
In this case, the dog is serves as a symbolic function for any form of guidance, any form of maintenance, any form of herding we might encounter in our relationship with the Real: including the herding that comes “without” from any external agent (the dog as a sheikh), including herding that comes from within (the dog as my internal guards and checks), including the herding that I am fashion with my tafsir (a Tailor as a dog), including the herding that is provided by metaphoric interpretation (metaphoric interpretations of dogs are dogs), including the herding provided by the very symbolic function of the dog itself (the sign of a dog is a dog).
The house is a symbolic function for the masjid, the shelter, tent and cloak of language and perception, the veil of the symbolic, within which, if fashioned righteously, we may encounter the presence of Allah.
But the narration does not concern the presence of Allah, but the means by which the revelation of Allah is channelled to us. It concerns the conduits of revelation, the Angels.
Angels do not enter a house that contains a dog.
What are Angels? Angels do not live within our space: that is to say, they do not exercise free will, they do not make choices, they do not negotiate a path of judgement through Logical Time. Our existence is one of proof: making active choices to determine (constructively) an inhabiting value for the Theorem of Life. We are not judged externally — rather, we live the Judgement, constructing a trace, a proof, a book of deeds — which becomes final at the End of Days. Our lives are lived as inhabitations of Theorems, Types and Forms: our lives are sequences of values, actions, choices obtained by playing out our games. So we occupy a space of values, the world of nasut. From our perspective, forms and theorems are sets and predicates that we can inhabit.
Angels, in contrast, occupy the space of the Theorems, Types and Forms, separate from our Temporal journey, uninhabited by our proofs. These sets, in the angelic realm, become elements themselves, become the things and stuff — become the signs, rather than orderings of signs. Meta-objects rather than classifiers. Angels inhabit the space of forms of values, of models of our lives, of malakut/yetzirah. The Angelic realm classifies and categorizes our actions. We decide our own destiny, we play the game through action, but the angelic realm classifies and defines the parameters by which an actions are performed. This is the meta-information that forms the angelic realm. This classification is recording, and this is why angels record our book of deeds, maintaining the trace of values as an entity itself (Qur’an 82:11).
Mathematically speaking, the Angelic realm is the space of sets of human information. Sets classify objects and values — they classify information. Our lives are a succession of manipulation of information of an infinite variety (physical objects, intentions, actions, thoughts, paintings, musical notes and words are all kinds of information).
Sets are predicates and models: they gather together groups of information and categorize them. The set of integers gathers together the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3 … The set of cats gathers together all cats in the universe. A set is exactly a logical predicate. From the set of all cats Cat, we can construct a predicate IsCat(x) which is true of x if x is in Cat — and vice versa. So we treat them as identical.
The sets/predicates/model of a communism defines the parameters, rules, regulations and exceptions that make up that political system. In general, a set, in our sense, may be fuzzy and open or approximate: nevertheless, it categorizes and binds or groups together types of information. Within our human realm of information, we encounter these classifications as judgements that we can inhabit — I judge that I stand within the set of all things in this room, I judge that I stand within the set of Muslims, etc. But in the angelic realm of forms it is these classifications that are the first class objects — the meta-objects, the meta-information.
We can thus give a number to both these realms, enumerating the objects and meta-objects they contain, respectively. Both realms are infinite. But more than a hundred years ago, a mathematician called Cantor made the rather extraordinary discovery that there are different infinities — some smaller and some larger than the other. So we can compare the size of these infinities. The size or cardinality of the Angelic realm is exactly the size of everything that can be said of our human realm. Take all the information in the cosmos, which is infinite, and arrange it in all possible permutations and combinations. In mathematics, this is known as taking the power set of infinity. The resulting (higher-order) set will also be infinite, but a larger infinity than that of the original elements being permuted. The infinity that characterises the human realm, in mathematics, is called Aleph-null. The infinity that characterises the Angelic realm, the universe of categorizations of human lives as-information, is 2 raised to the power of Aleph-null.
We appear to have reduced the Angelic realm to a space of sets/models/predicates-as-meta-information, elements that, for us, characterize/type/predicate over our lives of object-level information exchange: even to the point of ascribing a size to it (albeit an infinite size). But then where are the Angels here and how do they relate us to God?
Note that in our characterisation, the Angelic realm does not transcend language or perception. It is still linguistic and Symbolic, just as much as our lives are linguistic and Symbolic. The Prophet perceives and speaks with Gabriel. During the Mir’aj, he perceives Gabriel in his true form. Gabriel is individual and distinct from, for example, Michael or the Metatron.
Angels are not static models, types or forms: they are live, dynamic, communicating entities that inhabit the space of models, types and forms. They possess identity, because they are named. Just as we are entities that inhabit the space of information and have identity. As each of us is defined by a path in the space of information, a path that is navigated through that space via signification, Angel are also defined within the realm of models. However, their definition is of Light, not proof, of Light, not a path, of Light, not a Temporal judgement-as-signification. Our difference: humans weave paths through choice, and Angels have no choice.
There are forms of sentience and intelligence that are not bound to choice: Angels are not free to choose, but they are consciousness that are formed in this realm and can be directly perceived and communicated with. Just as we are intelligences formed of values, choices and information, the Angels are intellects formed from models and types: intellects of form.
If this is how Angels are formed, then what is their purpose? Their constitution is of models and types, sets and predicates that categorize information and judge our lives. Models are their makeup, just as information is ours. Models do not have a sentience of their own. The set of integers does not speak to us. It is just a set. The model of communism categorizes particular forms of living collectively in a state, but it does not speak to us directly, in prayer or meditation or dream. Angels do this, though they are formed from the space of models, types, sets and predicates.
From the perspective of our relationship with the Real, Angels can be thought of as higher-order Symbolic Functions that correspond to the the formation and structure for how we relate, ultimately to God.
Before we continue, we recall that a symbolic function is a predicate whose domain is all signs, including themselves, self-referentially, and whose output is some kind of effect or regulation of other signs, providing our relationship with the Real. We encounter an heterogeneity of symbolic functions in our journey — from the mother and father, to prophets, mountains and milk. A symbolic function, from a logical perspective, is a function that ranges over the universe of propositions. We have been sketchy about the nature of this universe of propositions. It is, in fact, not a simple totality, but a hierarchic order of universes of propositions, and we are able to differentiate between one universe and the next, as we have just done (from nasut to malakut). Angels are also symbolic functions that totalise and regulate all possible signs, but the signs being regulated and predicated upon here are second order signs — models and types of first order signs — taken from the angelic realm. To relate to an Angel — to comprehend the physical nature of an Angel — is therefore to physically encounter the entire structure of the second order realm as a second order intrusion of the Real. To ride the waves of a meta-curvature of the fabric of the Real, so to speak.
Gabriel is a significant angel because he corresponds a sentient aspect of the characterisation of the metonymic space of the Symbolic. He is the angel of angelic inspiration itself. Metatron is another because he corresponds to a sentient aspect of the characterisation of space itself (space being language and inscription): as a Symbolic Function he corresponds to a meta-fold, a meta-curvature of the Real (just as values correspond to folds, models and types are curves of curves), that, covariantly and retroactively permits all Symbolic Functions to be inscribable (including his own). He is the mental glue that enables inscription to hold fast. Other angels provide warnings etc: reflections upon the implications of a model.
Let’s think Symbolic Functions again. The purpose of a sign like — say — my garden — is to provide an access to the Comfort of God’s presence through exposing the fabric of our judgement — of our modelling — through self-reflexively inhabiting and living through the classification of gardens as Tranquility. We have called such a process of finding this — a means of obtaining a spark of Light from within the sign.
Similarly, but at a different level, an Angel to provide a conduit to God’s revelation at a second order level, through exposing the fabric of metamodelling space: to engender within us an inspired, inscribed, written Divine model with which to characterise our reality. Usually we play a language game that we are born into and do not reflect upon its formation. An Angel comes to us as we are playing that game and forces us to read the classification of signs at an illuminated, second order level. We are led to see: what is it that this classification intimates? What is its purpose? The Angel forces us to illuminate our metamodel (the metaclassifiers and types that categorize the Angelic realm in turn, existing in Jabarut) through consideration, breakage, reformation of our model.
The angels come to destroy the city of Sodom. Breakage of the metamodel.
An angel comes to Mariam with the Word. The Flesh revealed within all metamodels.
The Prophet describes revelation as being like split from the head to the navel. A new ummah emerges. Breakage and repair of the metamodel.
Forcing us to think about how we think. Forcing us to take our choices, and the rules we take to govern our choices, and restructure them, to play them in illuminated, inscribed judgement. To live through Qur’an. In this way we, as human subjects, engage with the Angelic realm.
Am important point about my speech. Being composed and formed of (what for us are) forms, types and models, just as our lives are information flow, Angelic movement is meta-information flow. Angels abide within the realm of formation — all formation given to our lives is Angelic.
So there is circularity in the previous paragraphs: to speak of what an Angel is composed of, or formed from, we are attempting to be Angelic within our human space, so that our characterisation, if it possesses any illumination, has this illumination via the Angelic agency. To talk about the nature of an angel is to attempt to give a form to form, but working only with what we are given, human voice: that which is formed. To build a picture of a living thing out of our actions, deeds and thoughts, and to say: this is a form, this is a model.
Our characterisation is not yet illuminated, because it is spoken by a dog and is an image of a living thing.
The Holy Books possess this circularity, but it circumvent it by avoiding dogs and pictures.
No dogs allowed. Because bad dogs do not herd where they should herd. A herd is a guard of the Law, but an Angel breaks us up to form Laws: and we cannot form Laws when a guard is already in place, restricting and constraining this. The correct place for the dog/sheikh is near the fields of Qur’an, after the revelation has taken place, guarding the revelation and the Laws from vermin, protecting the cattle from beasts. But revelation won’t occur when a herder occupies the masjid.
As I am doing right now! You read me, and I am a dog to you (good or bad, it doesn’t matter if I am in your house).
No images permitted. Because images are metaphors: they say — this sign means this sign. Here is a picture of a pipe — it is the meaning of the pipe. But it is just one sign exchanged for another: this is, after all, not a pipe.
Images firmly occupy the space of values, even though they seem to be forms. They are metaphors, Imaginary things that provide a model or a predicate of how life might be. An Image claims: this is how things stand. But an Image, as a model, always lies: precisely because it claims Truth with a straight, unreflective face. Just like, for example, a literal interpretation of my garden is an unreflective, unilluminated judgement, an image of living things provides a model of the other signs that is the polar opposite of the illuminated Angelic model that reflects upon and unlocks the second order light contained within its own metamodel.
Angels offer the illuminated metamodel that their constituent sets and models occupy. They are prefectly Symbolic to the second order. And for this reason, they are incompatible with images, second order Imaginary occupants.
So have I built an image for you? Yes, so you must beware of what this dog writes. But within this exposition is a (meta-) illumination drawn via a weak chain of transmission from the hadiths: a self-destruct button.
I have not made an image of a living thing, nor an image of God, but an image of an angel and labelled it thus: this is not an angel. And so my tenuous house may be used as a masjid and Angels may tread here anon.
The dog finished his speech, and went back to panting and wagging his tail.
The Rabbi and Sheikh were flabbergasted. The priest, breaking his silence suddenly, said: “If you think that’s something, you should see my goldfish.”