The Tailor: Currently, most Muslims accept (or aim to accept) the shariah of Allah unconditionally, because unconditional submission to Allah’s will is the nature of our religion. This acceptance takes the form of embodiment, the physical living practice of religious piety (as opposed to a theological/philosophical hermeneutical negotiation). A good example is dietary and clothing laws: Muslims follow these laws by physically embodying them, without doubt or question or rationalization. They embody the law, simply because Allah lays down verses that command this in the Qur’an.
But the time has come for this embodiment to become something more, to become self-aware of the Body that is performing the embodying.
Q: Hmmm … I think I have a problem with the implications of that statement. Are you devaluing the worth of Muslims’ common form of unconditional acceptance of the Will, merely by virtue of the fact they are not utilizing your particular form of reading? Acceptance/submission (without question) to the Will — without the kind of quasi-cognitive content that many Sufis require — is surely a true modality of comportment towards God.
The Tailor: You are correct, of course – in fact, the ultimate modality of acceptance/submission to God is to accept without question. I think in general we all get there in salat: that pure form of submission in prostration. So I am not criticizing current practice. I’d like more of the same, in fact.
I am saying that right now, there is an opportunity to push it further, because we are currently relating to a fragment of the shariah, to a portion of the Qur’an, not to the entire book. I say that the opportunity we have now is to achieve to that state of submission all the time, with respect to all the verses.
Submission to many of the more difficult sign complexes of the Qur’an without question first requires us to navigate through this cognitive self reflective process. It requires this particular reading technology.
Diet and clothing appear straightforward. Hijab — for example — at first, seems easy. A woman might wear the veil because it is enjoined and the mode of accepting thus injunction appears clear to he.
But more “difficult” ayat-complexes – old chestnuts such as the hitting of wives, prostitution of slaves, striking necks of unbelievers, lashes for adultery, etc – can be accepted (perhaps unconditionally) in a variety of different ways. (And then that fact leads us back to realise there are also a variety of different ways of unconditional acceptance of supposedly simpler instances.)
It all depends on what you assume the world to be! The variety of assumptions about the world complicates the matter of acceptance, of understanding how a Muslim “accepts” a law unconditionally. Further, we might argue that unquestioning acceptance also involves the obligation to act, to embody, to live the ayat as a form of practice, and it seems that different ways of accepting also may entail different degrees of action and embodiment.
For example, because (following Deleuze and Guattari and ibn Arabi) I believe heads can detach and reattach to different necks, it is very easy for me to accept without question the verses regarding striking the necks of disbelievers wherever I find them. I believe heads/faces are entirely mobile and attach to particular necks: a face is an structuring, coordinating, physical, Divine map of a person’s being/body — it is linked to their eternal soul — while the neck is, if you like, the context in which this head/face is positioned at any moment in time (job, clothes, culture, social status, etc).
If I was a tougher warrior in a different age (or a particularly bloody Holy war zone) it might be equally easy for me to accept — unconditionally — a “literal” reading of the verse, and simply chop off heads of unbelievers wherever I encounter them. At least that would be full acceptance without question.
In both cases, there is a full, unconditional acceptance of the verse and a regular (!) enactment of its understood meaning. When I find a head stuck to a neck of disbelief, I strike it in my own way. Ditto for the warrior. But I don’t spill blood, while he does. Nevertheless, we are both unconditional in our acceptance to the verse, with respect to our assumptions about how the world works.
There are also other ways of acceptance that involve accepting the verse: treating it as applying to a particular context that is long gone, or accepting it as a metaphoric trajectory for future (nonviolent) activism. But those forms of acceptance don’t seem to be a full embodiment for me, as they allow me to avoid the verse, to evade its full personal impact on me, my practice, my action right now. I mean … with those readings, I never get to cut a neck! Which means no embodiment, not a full living of this particular order from Allah. And if we read the order, it appears, in and of itself, very strict about the necessity of striking necks of disbelief wherever we find them — it is requires additional assumptions about the world and Qur’an that we are able to “get off the hook”. For example, by buying into the assumption about the Qur’an that this verse concerns a specific series of battles during the time of Prophecy, that are in now way similar to modern day life, we find ourselves as Muslims breathing a sigh of relief because we don’t have to get the sword out. So the assumptions themselves here negate the possibility of a physical, practiced embodiment of this verse.
If we want embodiment, then it’s me and ibn Arabi or the psychopathic warrior: necks have gotta be struck somehow if there is to be full acceptance in the sense of a lived implementation of the verse in daily life. There’s something more I can say about why I am superior to the psychopathic warrior, but I anticipate this will arise in your next question.
Q: Well actually, I was going to change the subject somewhat. Tangentially, according to the Foucaultian reading surely your reading of the hadeeth and Quranic ayat is itself open to genealogical critique. That is, there are genealogical conditions (epistemes) which constitute the reading and make them possible. You employ a range of terms, distinctions and identities — symbolic/physical, reading=perception, acceptance/embodiment, deotion — that belie a subjectivity that has its conceptual roots in a range of philosophies and theologies. And you cannot, as a western writer, avoid Descartes here. These assumptions are dependent on a whole historical genealogy of values, a context that is wildly different — in fact, completely alien — to that of the Prophet. I believe we can never recover the actual context of the Prophet’s assumptions — instead, we can only query our genealogical relationship Islam’s evolving relationship to the revelation. This you have not done: instead, you have acted much like a Salafi and, with all your assumptions about reality, with your particular subjectivity, you have proclaimed how all Muslims should relate to prayer (and striking of necks).
The Tailor: Bringing your tangent immediately back to the evasive origin … The genealogy of my system forms a particular context as you say — it forms a particular neck. It is, as you say, a neck that references all kinds of strands of philosophy and assumptions about reality (from Deleuze and Guattari to Lacan, to Descartes, as well as various forms of Kabbalah and Sufism, Hermeticism, etc). And I am entirely open to a genealogical analysis, an opening of these assumptions: in fact, the performing of a genealogy upon this neck is part of my system!
Genealogies always make religious people nervous because they always imbalance faith and certainty, but Sufis are cool with bewilderment. Such a critique, if done carefully, is a strike that will release the perennial head/face that coordinates my system. This head is a map of eternal truth, though it finds itself stuck to this neck at this point of history (or a completely different neck at some other time in the future/past of Islam’s discursive unfolding).
So, within my system, such a critique is, in fact, demanded by my reading of Allah’s law (up to and including a genealogy of my use here terms such as “eternal” and “perenneal” truth). In this day and age, we use a Foucauldian blade, but some other time we might use poetry of Rumi or Nasruddin stories. Or we not employ Islamic terminology at all, just tell coded stories about life in the suburbs. There is a map of the body, a map of the soul of a person, and this map is a head, always attached to a context, to a neck. The head remains after this blow of critique, of deconstruction of context, liberation from assumptions. The face of the true self remains: a faithful map.
And, finally, we see here the superiority of the tailor over the warrior.
Both the warrior and tailor accept the shariah of Allah unconditionally and without question, with respect to the striking of necks. Further, they both enact and live out this shariah, repeatedly, in their daily lives: they embody the ayat of Allah, according to their own assumptions.
We cannot distinguish between their superiority inasmuch as it depends on whose assumptions were “correct”: that necks are physical necks or that necks are assumptions and context. Ah, but that’s the point! For the tailor, both he and the warrior posses necks of disbelief — their assumptions are necks that support their practice up to this point.
Only the tailor is prepared to admit this, to recognize the verse also refers to himself, and so offers his own neck to the chopping block of genealogical analysis and consequent deconstructive bewilderment. In this way, the tailor is superior to the warrior, by default — because he has located within his assumptions about revelation a meta-metric of superiority between the assumptions — the meta-metric being the unconditional fulfillment of Allah’s commandment to strike all necks of assumption (even his own, from which this meta-metric derives, paradoxically). The warrior does not follow the shariah through all the levels, so fails as a Muslim by default.
Hence, retroactively, we see it was the verses of the Qur’an itself that solved the problem of assumptions. There are so many options, but the Qur’an tells us what to do with them, how to judge between them, by paradox, by permitting us to a particular, self-referential assumption about the Qur’an.
Let the imams and jihadis be trained in paradox. Let paradox and logics of circular predicativity be the mathematics of the madrases. Though these are difficult verses, let’s study them, so that we can form the assumption of no assumption, so that heads will become freed from their necks. So that we can be led to embody all the verses, all the time.
Three possible ways of testifying to the truth of decapitation:
The criminal cried, as he dropped him down,
In a state of wild alarm —
With a frightful, frantic, fearful frown,
I bared my big right arm.
I seized him by his little pig-tail,
And on his knees fell he,
As he squirmed and struggled,
And gurgled and guggled,
I drew my snickersnee,
Oh, never shall I
Forget the cry,
Or the shriek that shrieked he,
As I gnashed my teeth,
When from its sheath
I drew my snickersnee!
We know him well,
He cannot tell
Untrue or groundless tales —
He always tries
To utter lies,
And every time he fails.
He shivered and shook as he gave the sign
For the stroke he didn’t deserve;
When all of a sudden his eye met mine,
And it seemed to brace his nerve;
For he nodded his head and kissed his hand,
And he whistled an air, did he,
As the sabre true
Cut cleanly through
His cervical vertebrae,
When a man’s afraid,
A beautiful maid
Is a cheering sight to see;
And it’s oh, I’m glad
That moment sad
Was soothed by sight of me!
Her terrible tale
You can’t assail,
With truth it quite agrees:
Her taste exact
For faultless fact
Amounts to a disease.
Now though you’d have said that head was dead
For its owner dead was he,
It stood on its neck, with a smile well-bred,
And bowed three times to me!
It was none of your impudent off-hand nods,
But as humble as could be;
For it clearly knew
The deference due
To a man of pedigree,
And it’s oh, I vow,
This deathly bow
Was a touching sight to see;
Though trunkless, yet
It couldn’t forget
The deference due to me!
This haughty youth,
He speaks the truth
Whenever he finds it pays:
And in this case
It all took place
Exactly as he says!
Exactly, exactly, exactly,
Exactly as he says!