Q: What is your opinion of the theory that Sufism has its roots in the Ancient Egyptian Kemetic religion?
The Tailor: The connection to Egypt has been documented in the Holy Books in the journeys of the Prophets, in particular, those of the Prophets Abraham, Joseph and Moses.
More obscurely, it goes further back still, to the Prophecy of Idris and the Divine origin of the writing of signs.
These are Prophets of Islam and inasmuch as Sufism “is” Islam, there
is within it a direct connection, a root in Egypt (though not a central root because the tree of life is a rhizome).
But as Sufism is also all about deconstructing assumptions, before pursuing this line of inquiry as Sufis, we also need to question what “cultural and religious practice” is, what “having roots in something” means and what “Egypt” is!
Yes, I was asking more from a historical perspective of lineages and origins of practice, rather than actual Sufi spiritual metaphor.
The Tailor: The Hermetica is a safe place for you to start with if you wish to be remain, for the moment, conservative in your investigation. The recent CUP translation is excellent.
The authors you refer to, however, are somewhat less conservative and perhaps even disingenuous. We might argue that they have conflated a “spiritual” perspective with an “historical” one but are either unaware of or insincere to this fact. The insincerity would source from the utilization of a particular objective-historical position to empower an essentially spiritual perspective. All the while with the implicit distinction between history and spirituality remaining unquestioned! This is a problem if you are seeking Truth, because ultimately no one understands the (shifting) grounds of power over which they are playing a game.
You have brought to light a good example, because a lot of standard Muslim Prophetic biographies fall into the same trap.
The other day I brought my daughter and her cousin (visiting us from Kazakhstan) to the Natural History Museum. They hire out “Junior Explorer packs” for children under 7, fun backpacks full of activities to encourage investigation of the museum, spot the object games, colouring in booklets and so on. They come with a cute little safari helmet. We hadn’t been for a while, but she remembered the packs from last time so asked me to collect one for her. “The ones with the explorer hat, Daddy”
But when I asked the man at the desk, he looked the children over and suggested that both are probably old enough now for the 7+ activity set, a more serious and studious collection of scientific facts, museum routes, experiments and research activities. Minus the safari helmet. They accepted this new set happily.
And I became filled with that peculiarly parental combination of deep melancholy and overwhelming anticipation, at what beautiful innocent forms her sweet soul has passed through, forms that I have been blessed to witness beside her, and at what she moves into presently, into such glorious grown up worlds: she shall enter them brilliantly and, soon enough, alone.
No longer a little explorer, but forever the explorer, inshallah.
The Tailor: The Soviet propaganda machine produced a “Borscht Western” called “White Son of the Desert”. It was very popular in its day. It functions as entertaining fluff for the masses and a commentary on the socialist liberation of Central Asia from the barbarous fascism of Islamic tradition. Its emphasis is on the despotism/slavery inherent in the Islamic male, with the main conceit being the treatment of women according to oppressive, outdated means of regulation. The focus is on polygamy, but as a wider metaphor for the backward stranglehold that culture holds over the people of the Eastern steppes and deserts (my wife’s people).
Watch the clip above from 7 minutes in to get the idea. The plot is that the communist forces are chasing a bandit called Abdullah, on the run along with his 10 wives. When they corner him in a cave, he attempts to smother his wives to death. He inexplicably commits a range of atrocities against his own people, including the massacre of a local village. The Communist hero rescues both a male victim of Abdullah, Seyed, representing the common man and the 10 wives. The hero cares for them and, along the course of their adventures, educates them on the benefits of socialism.
Adbdullah, as the Muslim male archetype, is a raging psychotic, irrationally violent, oppressive, genocidal, subhuman. He is the Islamic world view. In contrast to the Capitalist worldview (tackled in other Soviet movies), he is an animal, irrational version of fascism. His wives are innocent victims with a potential (metaphoric of the peoples of Central Asia) that is liberated via the agency of their Russian comrade savior.
The fascinating thing is that this film was extremely popular during Soviet times in Central Asia. In fact, it is often still screened on TV during the holiday season. It’s considered a classic. Older Kazakhs find nothing problematic with it. I’ve heard them sing its catchy soundtrack during parties. Sufficeth to say, the older Kazakhs do not approve of polygamy (nor garments like the veil).
Forget nikab for the moment. It is our duty to deconstruct our colonial assumptions regarding family. I want all the married men here to rethink what the body is, what sexuality is, what love is … and secure 3 more wives! For the sake of the ummah’s renewal! Fight the power by making love.
When a bridge of love is deconstructed,
What was offered is now rendered stale bread
By bitter philosophy.
And, by that critique,
The drunken imprecision of my love is exposed
For but a mere fraction of prophecy.
I concede defeat on all fronts.
The ontology of my offer: voided by the definition of what such refusal constitutes.
Yet I am perplexed.
The offer was, after all, shaped according to the best of forms:
A party political broadcast by Sally Deen and the Tailor on behalf of the Verandah Vanguard, in support of the Fast/Not Feast campaign. For more information, search for “Fasting not feasting” in Facebook.
And your Lord inspired the bee: take among the mountains homes in mountains and trees, and in they build for you. Then eat from all the fruits, following the paths of your Lord, precisely. From their bellies (B-T-N) comes a drink of different colors, wherein there is healing for the people. This is a surely a sign for people who reflect. (16:68-9)
The paths of the Lord here consists of meta-meta-illocutionary acts, the bee’s language, simultaneously a speech, a dance and a collection and consumption of fruit. Both a kind of active higher-order dance that maps out all dances and a language of languages from which derive the lower levels of reality, languages (metamodels) and forms (models) and speech (lived life). The body of the bees form a predicative shell at the highest realm of Lahut, of honey, standing as an overarching meta-metamodel over all language, all representation, all forms of life, all paradigms of seeing how things stand and, finally, all actual lived lives, all actual traces of signification.
The “belly” of the bee is an interior, like a womb, something concealed. As we have said, not an inner meaning, but a sexual tension with respect to its outer and a anticipation with respect to that which derives from it, in becoming, being unfolding. Bees have an interior from which honey emanates, emanation being an active becoming, a multiplicitous, many coloured becoming of differentiation, deriving its active paths in tension with both the outer shell of predication, in tension with the self-referential, exterior exoskeletal sign of this honey-production machine that is constituted exactly by this description you have before, and with those differentiated signs of healing (differential leads inevitably to healing, to resolution of the Romance) that are preempted and anticipated by this machine.
The Consumers’ Association of Penang recently raised some concern at a statement made by the Malaysian Minister for Tourism Datuk Seri Dr. Ng Yen Yen regarding Ramadan. In a publicity drive designed to promote tourism in Malaysia during the Holy Month, he proudly announced “the first ever Ramadhan Summer Festival featuring food, shopping and other fun-filled activities”. The intent appears to be to specifically attract patronage from Middle Eastern tourists.
We can locate a problem with this. And then a problem with our problematization.
In D&G’s (mis)reading of Freud, desire derives from a lack, and to be satiated, must result in a subject that consumes. From consumption (of any form, sexual, culinary, literary, spiritual) comes representation, a theatre of being. This desire is ultimately sexual. Of course it is: everyone agrees on that. But the principle is general and applies to all modes of being. When life itself is construed as desire for lack/consumption-to-satiate, we are trapped in a misprison, an essentially capitalist state of values — at all levels of being, from the purchase of property, to how we read Shakespeare, to how we judge others, to how we do scientific research, to … how we read Quran and how we relate to our bodies (as regulated consumption machines) in Ramadan.
In thinking about life as satiation to make up for a lack, we live a theatre that represents what you might call “ordinary life”. A non-strange life.
So these philosophers’ solution is to call for a kind of hyper-Marxism, a Marxism at all levels of being. To smash this capitalist state of being — not merely at common sensical notion of a capitalist state — but the capitalist regulation of the body, of thoughts, of production, of consumption, the desire-as-lack world view. Then there are strategies for this. Let’s not discuss strategy right now.
What happens when this state is smashed, at all levels?
D&G propose a revised, anti-Oedipal (anti-Freudian) conception of desire as pure production. Not a Freudian theatre of lack and satiation, but a factory, with the workers of the “self” controlling the means of production. Living life as unadulterated, absolutely positive creativity — no longer regulated or driven by an assumed lack, no longer driven consume at all in the sense of consumption-as-satiation, but driven solely as creativity. Eating, feeding, would be an active creative form of production too: it would not be to fulfill a need so much as to temporarily conjoin (purely superficially, creatively and actively) a machinic assemblage of a sustenance component (for example, a nice carrot) with a digestive system component (as situated within the language game of biological science), resulting in a extended factory of production that might be directed anywhere for further productive conjunctions with other components of life (not necessarily biological at all) — more energy to participate in a race, to read Shakespeare, to play with the kids, to do an equation, to buy a bottle of milk … Bestowal outwards and undirected, not craving desire.
What would the implication of this be, spiritually, for Ramadan? Well, at all levels, we wouldn’t be slaves to capitalism, to an imaginary lack. We wouldn’t be hungry, as such. We’d be inspired, we’d be filled with the Divine word. We’d subsist on mana of creativity alone. This inspiration-as-creativity, inspiration as production would result in arbitrary assemblages: all taking the form of bestowal, all directed outwards, all productive. Charity is creativity, because creativity is bestowal outwards. So, feeding the homeless, first and foremost. Feeding the homeless at all levels of existence. Everyone suddenly creating: inspired, by the Divine, filled with the Power … to do new science, new art, new philosophy, new politics — no longer slaves to the inner and outer, to the lack-as-regulation principle, of a “me” that “needs” something — in breakage of that distinction of inner and outer, a Caliphate of Creation running freely, temporarily, assembling and reassembling eternally across all levels of reality. To feed the hungry at iftar would be exactly to arrange the ayat of Allah so that “the hungry” are indeed “fed”.
Ramadan would be the month of the “real” feast: a feast of gnosis.
But not quite — as a woolen footnote, I need to correct my misreading of D&G first.
The above makes for a nice manifesto. But, of course, we do experience a lack in Ramadan. A big lack. Freud is not the bad guy here. Rather, the Muhammedean reality is an interplay of the shahadic trajectories of desire as slavery (lack) and messaging (creativity) . So I need to balance my Freudian theatre with my D&G bacchanalia. Otherwise I might become drunk — like Noah — my workers controlling the means to wine production.
Freud is hiding behind a stone, ready to save the end of days by martyrdom. Let’s call him out now, reconstituted, according to a Sufi ear.
In Sufism, this movement from desire-as-lack (wanting) to desire-as-production is a movement from reception to bestowal. The movement is bidirectional, a diamond dialectic, a cosmic vibration. One without the other is imbalance.
D&G were hasty in their dismissal of Freud’s lack-as-consumption. Because we do consume to satiate.
O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for God loveth not the wasters.
We eat and drink, we wear clothes, we wear hijab that somehow satiates in an evasive sense that belies a desire for something else, something necessarily withheld.
That is to say, we do lack something, despite the call to creativity, to freedom from the lack, we nevertheless fall in debt:
Oh you who believe, when you contract (tadāyantum) between each other any debt (bidaynin) for a fixed term then write it. And let there inscribe between you a scribe in justice. (2:282)
The root of the Arabic for contract and debt here is D-Y-N, whose basic connotation is of Judgement or Belief System. What we have called the Fiery Left Hand of Logic.
The space of Judgement is the space of differentiated signs, the symbolic domain in which we journey. This space is the entirety of the Cosmos: we cannot escape the signs, being formed of signs ourselves. A contractual intersubjective debt is necessary in order for there to be differentiation, for there to be power/signification, in order for there to be systems (systems of selfhood, of politics, of countries, of belief — including the system we are constructing now). Or rather, strictly speaking, intersubjective debt is not necessary for the emergence of systems: rather, intersubjective debt is D-Y-N, it is the differentiated fabric of the reality behind all systems.
Systems are formed from debt to one another because we are, ultimately, in debt only to the One that cannot be signified: to Divinity. This something evades the capture of our systems of contract and, consequently, we necessarily transfer the debt onto a crystalized signifier, onto one another, onto the Others. This transference is for a fixed term, because ultimately the veil of the contract is lifted at the end.
But once the debt is transferred — contracted to the Others — we are given the capacity to discover exactly who and what we are, by means of intersubjective reflection. First we become aware of debt to Others. Then we perceive the the debt as a contract, as a Symbolic veil or hijab of D-Y-N, a veil of power play and capitalization between each other upon the Cosmic field of differentiation. That the intersubjective debt itself is fixed, is itself a debt owed, sourcing from, transferred from something much bigger. We then obtain an intersubjective self-awareness, reflecting upon the others reflection upon us reflecting upon them. Indebted to their loan that they borrowed from our debt sourced to them. The self-awareness takes the form of inscription between us (the root being K-T-B, as in Kitab, book) — its always there, between all human interactions — that encodes or traces our lives as power play, our lives as signification and arrangements of the Ayat of Allah. And we understand that the scribe (also of the root K-T-B) who encodes this book upon us, between us, is the Nur of Prophecy, the capacity of the human to arrange the signs in pure illumination, to form speech/inscription/life that is self-aware of its own ultimate deferral and submission to the Creator.
Or we can ignore all that and simply fall into the trap of believing the meaning of debt stops at owing money to others. To believe in the transfer of debt: and fall into a slavery to capitalism, to believe the verses concern solely the contract of base consumption rather than the nature of contraction. To stay locked into Freud’s Theatre of Desire: forgetting the fact that a scribe has drawn the stage as a contract for a fixed term.
This Ramadan, it’s our choice!
Rather than smashing the capitalist state, we need to recognize that there is actually only One Need, one thing Lacking. This recognition is to attempt to supplicate, becoming slaves — not to the Demiurge of the Capitalist Oppressor — but to the actual King.
I am not proposing to negate the previous generative, creative movement, D&G’s strong poetry that stands in reaction to the Freudian precursor. Their productive aspect is key. Rather, from the Sufi perspective, the D&G movement is complementary: it is the creative, generative, charitable aspect of our soul (from which zakat derives) that allows us to approach closer to Ultimate Creator, Generator, Charity. All comes from God’s charity, but from charity of the first movement, we can find ourselves in a space of Divine messaging, a productive, creative, inspired field of pure creative becoming. It’s like the light comes down as a charity from above to a mirror that reflects that light off at all kinds of crazy angles, out into the dark spaces of the universe, in a multiplicitious, purely productive, generative frenzy of reconstitution, forming, amongst other things, the last two paragraphs I just wrote.
Nevertheless, that movement, that framing of production sources from the greater debt. They themselves appear to be in debt, predicated upon, by the ghost of Freud: to mention his theatre in their strong reactive misreading is to form a contract of debt to him from which they cannot escape for a fixed term. If they were to locate the inscription, the trace of that poetric genealogy, their understanding would be incompletely complete in the Sufi mode we are attempting to generate (productively yet in contract to D&G) now.
The two movements of capital debt and hyper Marxist production are also known as martyrdom and victory, or slavery and messaging.
In summary, what would the implication of this twofold movement — of slavery and messaging — be, spiritually, for Ramadan? It would be, fundamentally, to understand that the Malaysian Minister for Tourism is within each one of us, there is a capitalist state within our basic outlook on life, telling us what we are lacking or other, determining our needs and wants by the agency of a false lack. We’d need to seek him out and reverse this morphism.
Only when this left handed morphism reversal is complete would we locate the Bride of tattered garments and ready ourselves for the marriage to the Nur of Submission. And then by that vertical movement, into the right handed Victory, the Power I mentioned above. If the morphism reversal doesn’t occur, then creativity will be adulterous, absolutely free, promiscuous: Foucaultian pork chops.
Before the symmetry was broken, all of this of course is simply about getting as close to the source as you can: the covariant is the meditation upon our existence of identityless identity in gratitude to the Mercy of the One Identity.