The Shahada

The essential nature of Muhammed’s relation to Allah lies within the shahada, recited by Muslims at the end of every prayer.

There is no ilah other than Allah and Muhammed is the slave and messenger of Allah.

1) There is no ilah other than Allah.

Let’s think about the worship of ilah other than Allah: idolatrous worship. To worship in such a way is to defer significance from the subject to the object of worship. To worship is to distinguish, to identify an object. An ilah is that which is raised above, distinguished, identified, allowing significance to be passed to it. An ilah is something that does not defer its meaning, does not worship, but, rather, is identified, possesses an identity, in and of itself.

Common sense — our underlying assumptions about reality — suggests that there are many objects in life that can be identified, that possess identity. There are many things that have a meaning inasmuch as we can apprehend them, inasmuch as we can identify them and pass significance into them. I look at a rose in my garden, and identify it as a rose, as an object that has a particular significance and meaning to me (its colour, the quality of its bloom, the need for me to purchase more fertilizer, its individual beauty). Thus, common sense leads us quite quickly to idolatry.

The shahda informs us that common sense is flawed. To identify any object, to identify anything, to apprehend anything is to worship it as an ilah. But there is nothing that can be distinguished, nothing that can be identified, nothing that can be worshipped, apart from Allah. Ultimately, there are no objects in life. There is nothing apart from Allah.

Does this mean the universe is Allah? If we are conceiving of the universe here as a set of objects, of identities, as a multiplicity of ilahs — roses, books, stars and planets, Hamlet, the music of Bach, Apple computers — then no. Because that conception is an illusion: there are no identities other than that of Allah. Illusion is apprehension of something as a subject apprehends an object. That form of apprehension is the precondition for common sense belief in the universe. So the universe, in that form of conception, is ultimately Imaginary.

And from this perspective, the human subject is also a kind of illusion. Because we apprehend ourselves as objects — as false idols that we imbue with identity and self-contained meaning (our worklife, our memories, our desires, our families, our wealth, our poverty). This is Imaginary too: that kind of subjectivity is also the apprehension of an object, of an identity. “We” are an illusion. Or more accurately, our selfhood is a non-identity.

Furthermore, to say that there is no other ilah apart from Allah entails the impossiblity of the whole process of apprehension, the illusion of a common sense picture of the subject apprehending and identifying an object. To speak of a single identified object is to speak of a sole subject of apprehension. Which is to speak only of apprehending, of self-identification: “I am that I am”. No worshipper can identify Allah, can see Allah, because that worshipper would himself be a object, an identifier in that privilege, and such a a privileged worshipper cannot exist. Any worship can only be Allah worshipping, knowing, identifying Hu, proclaiming the existence and unity of Hu.

2) Muhammed is the slave and messenger of Allah.

Nevertheless, there are angels. They exist. And there are souls. They exist. And there are prophets and messengers. And, prior to all these things, there is Muhammed.

But if there is nothing identified, nothing “really” existing, no object, apart from Allah, then the question is: how can these other things be said to exist?

They exist, not as an illusion of a false ilah, and not “as God”, not as an object of apprehension. These things are not identities, but effectively function as identities. They are a sedimented crystallization of the Mercy that is Allah, in tension with the impossible border of the nothing that is apart from Allah. They are condensation of an impossible vapour. I’ll explain in a second.

The Human soul — the “Real” creation, the cosmos as a space of Divine ayat that we have spent so much time discussing from the psychological perspective — this space does possess an existence, of course, but not one of identities and relations. It doesn’t, in fact, contain any objects.

Divine Love “is”: that which “is”, is Divine Love. God’s unity of subject/object/apprehension is Love. The Love is total to all that “is”, to the identity. There is no exception to this Love. Including the impossible: there is nothing that is exempt from the Love. Allah is subject to Allah’s Love. There is no exemption to Allah: nothing is apart from Allah in identity. Love then lies in tension with this nothing: Allah loves totally, including this nothing apart from Hu. We call this a tension because it is precisely Hu’s Love in impossible relation to the impossibility of apartness, to the impossibility of an Other identity.

Loving that which does not exist — loving a nothing, loving an impossible apartness — is a special case of love, when the subject is, in reality, the only identity. It is not to be compared to the way in which we, as human subjects, objectify another object in affection and desire. It is different from the way in which we might desire something impossible, something inexpressible, outside or transcendent to our reality. But perhaps something like that, in reverse.

The Love becomes directed in relation to the impossible nothing. The Divine subject Loves the nothing and so the nothing takes on the role of an impossible object. It remains impossible: so how can it be distinguished as a separate object? It becomes distinguished by the form of a Seal.

The impossibility of exception — begins to be marked as an event horizon to the black hole of nothingness — by a binary interplay of directions of Love. Two directions of Love constitute a borderline to the nothing that is apart from Allah. They are Slavery and Messaging.

Messaging, from the Love’s perspective, is a Love that asserts itself, asserts its Tawhid, to the nothing. Slavery, from the Love’s perspective, is a Love that demands love in reciprocation. Messaging and Slavery are the nature of the Tawhid itself, of God’s worshiping/appreciating/proclaiming God. They are not directions in this general form. But in the specific form of Love appreciating the impossible exception of nothing, they become directed: Slavery is Love being received from the black hole of nothing, Messaging is Love descending into the black hole of nothing. As the nothing is a black hole, nothing is coming from it, in fact, but, rather, the (now binary) tension of Love to nothing gives it the appearance of an identity that consumes/accepts and reciprocates/worships Love.

The dialectic of Slavery and Messaging form the four worlds, the seven heavens, the angels, the souls, our imaginary reality. They are arrows, not identities. Directions. They are multiplicitous inasmuch as a binary dialectic can encode anything and everything, and so these two directions — form the nature of human reality — offering Love and hearing Love — that become shattered into the essence of the ayat of the cosmos. They form a space in which there are no real objects (because objects are impossible), there are only pure differences in Temporal, unfolding interplay, modes of slavery and messaging, wrapping each other in negotiation, forming categories of understanding that seem fixed in relation to each other, but are, in fact, directed arrows of Love in transformation/morphism of categories of arrows. They form the cosmos at all levels.

These two directions — Slavery and Messaging — are the essence of what Muhammed is. In this sense, he exists before the creation, before the body of Christ becomes the vine of the Real, as a precondition to the theomorphic unfoldings of the messengers and prophets and their families and companions divide, as a precondition to their recombination and balance to form the souls’ progress through to the finality of resolution and second life.

Muhammed exists: and it is his being that constitutes the possibility of the cosmos itself (in a way that precedes but complements our earlier — Gospel — assertion that the cosmos itself is the sublimated body of Adam Kadmon/Christ).

Muhammed is, in essence, the directioned/splitting of Love in tension with the impossibility of an exception to the “no ilah”. In this way, the second part of the shahada almost contracts the first part, in glorious, perfect anomaly.

We note that this entire piece is, itself, a mythopoeic fantasy, an impossible “God’s eye” view of the creation. How can we speak this way about God’s relation to the impossible, if our speech itself is illusory result of the tension that ensures from that relationship? We freely admit that our work is merely signs arranged in relation to one another — in our new understanding, they are fundamentally identityless arrows that stand in morphism/transformation to each other — but have particular directions of Slavery and Messaging. The two directions, as they figure within our fantasy of signs — the modes of Love that they manifest in their recitation/unfolding/morphism. The directions of these arrows reverse, from our psychological perspective — we are in slavery via the non-identified differentiation of our ayat, worshipping the only actual identity by negating ourselves to the Love that we feel and locate via the messages of intimation to that which evads us within our space of ayat. And in reversal, we ourselves are creating something in reciting Shahada — creating an image of creation, self-referentially (that’s how the Light gets in). Each Shahada is a creation of a universe, in microcosm. This happens by virtue of the directions, which are primordial, if you like, transcendent almost, foundational: when we recover these directions within the symbolic soup of non-identity and difference, then we are given a feel for the “Real” situation. That feeling is called Iman.


3 thoughts on “The Shahada

  1. To worship is to defer significance from the subject to the object of worship. To worship is to distinguish, to identify an object…

    doesn’t feel right to me – I struggle to recognise the experience of worship in the act of distinguishing or identifying an object. But perhaps I can pick up on this, and see where it goes?

    “God”, says Ibn al-‘Arabi in the fusus (I think in the chapter on Ishmael), “is One in His Essence and All by His Names”.

    How does one distinguish something that is – from one perspective – Unity and – from another perspective – Everything? Indeed, is it possible to distinguish Unity from Everything?

    But there is something like ‘distinction’ going on. Without getting into Spence-Brown’s “non arithmetical calculus of distinctions” (which does actually seem to have a bearing on this question, but which will take me way off into territory from which I will never be able to find my way back… πŸ˜‰ it is worth observing that the act of distinguishing presupposes an (ontologically?) prior state in which the distinguished, and that from which it is distinguished, were indistinguishable.

    Distinction therefore belongs to coming into being. “Let there be Light!” say the Elohim at the beginning of Genesis, and the first distinction is made: the “Light” of The Pen, the “First Intellect”, from the “Darkness” of the Cloud, the ama, the unknowable ghayb. Distinction is thus intimately tied up with the logos – “that which speaks in man”, whose function is the “marking-off of all things, and the firm uplifting of things fixed out of things unstable”, as the Acts of John has it.

    But let us suppose something that is the opposite of distinction: ‘undistinction’, as it were. Let us suppose that instead of distinguishing this cup as an object, from this environment in which it stands, I choose to focus instead on its belongingness together with its environment. This is not merely a reversion to a prior state of “undistinction”, but it is a conscious act of reuniting that presupposes that the two have already been distinguished (and does not require that the distinction is banished, but can be seen co-extensively with it). And in like fashion, I can take everything back to its belongingness together. This is tawil – taking back to the First principle, taking everything back to its belonginess together with The All.

    But there is something else at work here, too. When we make a distinction, we sever an ‘object’ from its matrix. We glimpse this when we talk about such things as ‘dehumanization’: when we distinguish people like them from people like us, we cut the ties of kinship and responsibility that existed between us and others, and thus objectify them. The same is true of the natural world: when we see a tree as ‘timber’, we are no longer bound to it as fellow creature to fellow creature, but instead come to treat it as a commodity (what Heidegger called Bestand, ‘standing reserve’).

    When, on the other hand, we switch perspectives and focus instead on the belongingness together of things, an energy begins to flow again between us and them. This would seem to be at the basis of ‘Nature mysticism’, where some people experience the ‘wholeness’ of Nature and their part within it.

    Here, I would suggest, we have the basis of worship: an intuitive grasp of the Unity and the co-inherence of things, that reveals itself in a sense of awe, wonder, and the transcendence of the mundane.

    Back to the Shahada. When we affirm that there is no being worthy of worship except the One Being worthy of worship, we are not only affirming the belongingess together of things, but that the vector of that affirmation extends towards the belongingness of things in that which is “One in its Essence and All by its Names”. Or, in other words, that there is no existence which is outside the One Existence.

    This affirmation is only possible if we shift our perspective: indeed, it demands of us a shift of perspective. This shift is the ‘turning upside down’ (taqallub) of our normal mentation of distinction (‘aql) such that it becomes a mode of perception of co-inherence instead (qalb).

    My ninety-nine pennyworth, anyway πŸ˜‰

    1. Peace James,

      Thanks for the 99 pennysworth, very good value for money!

      I realised that I was quite careless with laying down the trajectory of the piece: when I tried to characterise “worship” at the very beginning, I was actually speaking of Abraham’s father (from the human psychological perspective) and then attempting to move from that into Abraham’s form of worship via the second part of the shahada. And, simultaneously, working from a fantasy “God’s eye” creation myth towards a proof that man exists.

      I reworked the first few sentences, so thanks for alerting me.

      The Abrahamic worship of course is different from the Azaric. That’s because the Azaric 1) distinguishes other identities “in our world” other the Essential Identity and 2) implicitly fixates upon a particular raised human subjectivity as an identified object.

      I’m arguing here that there are no identities “in our world”, so to speak. There are only becomings, complete and utter difference, absolutely broken symmetries, a vine whose branches span out in complete multiplicity upon multiplicty without any origin. Philosophers like Deleuze say this is the universe and there is nothing else — while I am agreeing that it is, effectively, a description of what you have called the Logos. Like a Warhol multiple image print, signs appear to repeat, appear to hold identity, but each is unique and different — no identity — equality itself being another sign that is not repeated, unique and different. Another way of putting it is that all signs are becomings, arrows, movements — like in the foundational mathematics of category theory, even the sign of = is a trajectory, a function between numbers (which are in turn also functions, movements of “counting”, not objects per se). There is no static ayah: only symbolic functions.

      Now this pure differentiated realm of absolute multiplicity and “simulated” identity boils down to the Names, and I think your characterisation is perfect here. I guess a banal way of relating what I am saying about the Names is that they are all functions, something like verbs, rather than objects or identities.

      In the Abrahamic worship, these functions cannot be worshipped, because they are not identities, they are not “things”. Such a Azaric worship, upon closer examination, necessarily falls apart.

      But then there is the other question of how Abrahamic worship can even be possible — how can these functions (these Names-in-our-space) — how do they arise, seemingly, from nothing? Because they are functions, I am saying their impossible multiplicity “reduces” to two movements with respect to the Essence: slavery and messaging. There is “nothing” and Essence — but Essence loves nothing, and so loves to be known, or rather, leads to a becoming (slavery) of being known (messaging) that crystalizes as impossible Names about the impossible nothing. Nothing is beyond God as Essence, which is why “Kun” is the possible impossible.

      So the Logos (as a lived becoming of the body negotiating the Names) is preceded, rather extraordinarily, by the slave-messaging complex (by “primordial” Prophecy). No problem with conflating the two, but I enjoy drawing a separation, normally the other way around.

      But in terms of my creation myth here, it is slavery-messaging (or darkness/light) that then yields the Adamic living Word.

      That said, I didn’t say anything about the nature of Abrahamic worship — anything about the nature of Sufi worship. I merely attempted to use the shahada prove that man exists, in a way. And that a non-identitified multiplicitous cosmos of pure functions and no values — can stem from a Single Identity that provides the meaning for it all.

      If someone bought into this creation myth — and it is nothing more than exactly that, an imagination of something inconceivable doing something with the impossible … I think I’d go along with everything you said on Abrahamic worship. I have no need to add anything further to your chacterisation πŸ™‚ It would lead us to contemplate un-distinguishing the Unity — an inconceivable thing, but that’s what mysticism is all about anyway — and, at the same time, appreciating the Divine nature of the Names, of the functions in multiplicities of interconnected, neverending application, each ultimately leading us to Unity … it does fill us with awe and wonder.


  2. Musa, I know I keep saying this but you have such an original and brilliant ‘take’ that it is always a joy to catch a glimpse of your thought processes.

    I think you are developing something really interesting here, and love the way you use it to interrogate a Deleuzian perspective. I also think this is an extraordinary perceptive statement:

    I am saying their impossible multiplicity β€œreduces” to two movements with respect to the Essence: slavery and messaging.

    Yes, from the perspective of the Names, there is slavery. Or, as Ibn al-‘Arabi would have described it, ‘Lordship’. But it amounts to the same thing: “…for there is no living creature which He does not hold by its forelock. Verily, my Lord’s is a straight way!” [11:56]

    And from the perspective of Essence, there is messaging – the invitation, the call, to return.

    But I return to a familiar point, because I believe it is the key to this project of Islamic semiotics that you are developing here.

    Like a Warhol multiple image print, signs appear to repeat, appear to hold identity, but each is unique and different β€” no identity β€” equality itself being another sign that is not repeated, unique and different. Another way of putting it is that all signs are becomings, arrows, movements β€” like in the foundational mathematics of category theory, even the sign of = is a trajectory, a function between numbers…

    The essential fracture here is Saussure’s distinction of signifier and signified – his explicit disavowal that there is any necessity in the connection between them. In a word of such arbitraryness, signs cease to be symbols and become mere associations.

    But what de Saussure did not grasp is that, although there is no necessity of the connection between signifier and signified ‘out there’ – in an objectified world – there is necessity ‘in here’. The connection between signifier and signified is the human being, Adam, the Reality of Muhammad, the insan-i kamil. When the human being connects sign with meaning, “you did not throw but He threw”. “And God taught Adam all the Names.”

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