Borscht westerns, polygamy, matriarchy in Sumatra, temporary marriages … and Islamic flirtation: the Tailor and postcolonialism

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inherent in the Islamic male, with the main conceit being the treatment of women according to oppressive, outdated means of regulation.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.

The wild haired postcolonial theorist: Okay Tailor, we know your game by now. Some kind of hyperliteralism is at play in your last call to arms. But surely, regarding the verses of polygamy, there is a problem in the sense that — either viewed as a Divine trope based on actual historically situated embodied practice or an embodied practice of today based on a Divine command — you must admit that the wider global micro-practices of Islam have evolved a miriad of alternative (non-colonial, quite to opposite) ways to negotiate God’s word. Alternative ways that do not lead to your posture (whether it is metaphoric or embodied, I can never tell with you).

For instance, what’s your take on the groovy sisters that Peggy Reeves Sanday studied?

Here we have a matriarchal inheritance system, “adat matriarchaat”, set up that has naturally negotiated (discursively) a position on men and women, authentic to its practice of Islam, yet does not actually adopt (in any emphasized form) the patriarchal system of Islamic Arabia.

She writes: “The accompanying photograph [see below] taken this summer in the village, which was my home for many years, illustrates the interlocking of adat and Islam. The picture shows matrilineal longhouses built in the 1920s and ’30s on clan land. The houses face toward Mt Merapi, famous as the pre-Islamic site for the origin of the Minangkabau people. The axes of the houses point to a local hill on which famous spirits are believed to alight as they move from hill to hill in the adat village universe. In the foreground there is an Islamic prayer house built after the return to the traditional adat village structure, part of the renewal of the adat-Islam relationship in the post-Suharto era. Traditionally, the prayer house was a place where older men taught Islam and adat to boys of the clan. It also functioned as an alternative residence for boys and men, an usage which accords with the adat ideal that boys and men live outside their mother’ s house so as not to compete for clan property with their sisters.”

The Tailor: Ah, those troublesome Islanders with their creative bidah. You guys are lucky you only have to suffer one of them (and a half breed at that).

I could trump your groovy sisters with the transcendent gendered bissu of the Bugis group in Sulawesi. They are not male, nor female, nor transvestites or transexuals in the ways generally understood in the West (though I understand vaguely that is a multiplicity as well).

They have their own peculiar dress type, neither male nor female. Kind of like Prince in the 80s. They are integrated into that group’s strict, hyper-literalist understanding of Islam because of the verses concerning the two seas and the barrier between them.

This is comprehended as the batin and zahir, the interior and exterior — not in terms of an innner and outer meaning — but of a cosmic sexuality of co-garmenting (see the verses on men and women as garments for each other). Here I am in complete agreement, along with my Lacanian reading. There is feminine and a masculine interplay between the signs of the universe. And these bissu, as “transcendently” gendered, are understood as guardians to a barrier of transition between the inner and outer. Kind of like Prince in the 80s.

Sorry, I got distracted there.

Oh yes, Sumatra. Their negotiation is rather beautiful, no?

I could give my views on its beauty in two ways.

From my own spiritual practice, “my own mother” (ties of kinship to the Womb) are the source of all wisdom. The Qur’an commands me not to sever those ties. Hence Bundo Kanduang as a central aspect of how I live anyway, for me as a Muslim with no direct relationship to that group. (Actually, my brother’s wife is from exactly that ethnic group and my brother visited her ancestral matriarchal lodge when he got married over there.)

Speaking purely artistically (ironically posturing, so to speak, because I am always actually only speaking about my own house, my own fort, my own autonomous territory, not about the general ummah in Babylonian exile), if “we” were to all get a little bit more West Sumatran, we’d all realise the meaning of “ties of kinship” and thus become illuminated Muslims. I think that appreciation is a beautiful thing to proclaim, as a Muslim, which is what they are doing by living it in their houses, their practice, their ceremonies, their inheritance rules. Spiritually, I’d like to think I have a village inside me that is configured exactly as theirs is in that paper.

On the other hand, in terms of reconciliation with the Islamic fiqh (hyperliteral or literal, Sufi or otherwise) of patrilineal inheritance, it would appear at first glance that they could not be said to “embody” fully the meaning of the verses that relate to a more Arab-centric patrilineal tradition.

But think about bodies for a moment. Think about corporeality. And inscription upon bodies. I don’t think they were very rational in their approach of what to “embody” and what not to: this came about through organic, non-colonial negotiation. Through a corporeal (not so much unconscious as geological) transformation of their practice. Their practices are like the formation of a stalactite in a cave (though war and conflict were involved in its formation, this could be seen as still local and geological, like a bushfire, rather than alien, like a colonial meteorite).

Ultimately, according to the Tailorite position, we can fulfill all the obligations of the meaning of patrilineal inheritance (because they concern our spirit’s evolution and unfolding rather than who gets what in a will) with a fully matrilineal practice that appears contradictory. But at the same time, I don’t mean that the laws and obligations are in any way metaphoric. It is a question of bodies and inscription.

How does this work? Their decision of what to retain and what not to retain of their pre-Islamic practice and would have been done on what we might (perhaps romantically) frame as a sensation of what they felt was important.

These people evolved into a tradition, organically, corporeally, geological evolved, durable. The garment is no doubt very different in fabric and style from, say, an Egyptian Islamist garment, but as long as neither trails below the ankles, no problem. Both garments are acceptable in the masjid that is the cosmos. Because, now reading the signs of this dialogue in recursive anticipation of what is to follow, both are matrilineal in silence and patrilineal in (bodily) recitation/vocalization. (In Sephirotic anticipation of the following two paragraphs, already contained within the batin of this paragraph, our dialogue itself is ready to saddle your donkey, to be inscribed and then in final movement be carried … )

I’m not saying that “we” can do whatever we want with the Shariah — because the Shariah governs our spiritual evolution irrespectively, whether we want it to or not. But we do need to negotiate how our donkey (the codeword of the Sufis and Torah for the nafs) is to inscribe/carry the books of Shariah. And that necessarily involves preserving the Shariah somehow. Bodily preservation. This might be preserved simply by ignoring some parts and realising others — in the literal sense of “embodying” rules. In order for a sister in the west to say “Oh, I’ve got inner hijab, so I don’t wear the veil” — she has still negotiated an aspect of literalisation and, consequently, preserved the Shariah’s words on her donkey.

And the preservation of Shariah — like a Derridean origin — upon the donkey is a precondition for weaving oneself a greater garment — for self-reflexively carrying, recursively reading/inscribing — to facilitate the realization of that body, of that true prayer.

Those who were entrusted with the Torah but then did not carry are of a likeness to the donkey who carries books. (62:5)

First “we” need to load books onto the donkey. We need to negotiated the Shariah in a way that has organically evolved to be an inscription upon our the body of our lower self, upon the surface of the nafs.

For transformative progress to occur, for the journey to begin, this must be an inscription that is liberated from colonial discourse. Because if colonial discourse is part of it, the books will still be loaded, but the donkey will become psychotic — in conformance to image of the colonial oppressor or in reaction to the oppressor’s framing of subjectivity, it does not matter — like Abdullah in the movie.

This should be an inscription organically, geologically, corporeally transmuted through natural, discursive negotiation — through corporeal transformation in relation to (and actually, moving upwards, according to!) the Shariah. The Sumatran sisters are a good example. Western Muslims generally don’t have such an organic negotiation, their donkey’s loading being somewhat “interrupted”.

But that’s just the first step. The next step is to read the books — to “really” carry them, not simply with the donkey of the lower soul — which means simultaneously weaving and wearing the garment. The garment is woven by living life in self-awareness of our reading a process of highlighting/differentiating from aspects of an image of what Prophetic literalisation might have been and how it might be worn (negotiation with respect to a fantasy of Prophetic garment) and, then, a comprehension that this negotiation itself is anticipated by Prophecy, by the very Shariah we are trying to highlight/differentiate from in literalisation. By the realisation that this negotiation is the Real, corporeal garment of Prophecy …. so it’s all okay: God still loves us. Light abounds within speech.

So in relation to polygamy verses, I am proposing 1) that we attempt to live by that verse (even if you can’t find the 3/4 others “literally” or are within a matrilineal micro-Islam) 2) that we start thinking about highlighting that verse, rather than differentiating from it, because I am thinking a colonial force (who might not exist literally, but nevertheless exists) has not so much emasculated the Muslim male from his rights, but has placed blockages on our capacity to give and receive love or, more correctly, live through love across the 4 levels.

Colonial forces have managed to realise two things that come down to the same thing: 1) The age of Prophetic revelation is over until the return of the Mahdi. This is why there are no miracles, fairies etc, and rational assumption rules the ummah in its Babylonian exile. 2) The verses concerning polygamy are abrogated by default: it is impossible for a man to love four women equally and fairly (particularly bad news if you believe the four women are four valleys of a cosmic waveform that derives from the breath of God). This is understood whenever we hear defenses of polygamy — or apologies — or clarifications — and not only of polygamy, but also Muslim marriage in general: very rarely, love is mentioned at all. This is because Colonial forces have contrived to distract the conversation from love to power (specifically, their own, over us).

These acts of colonialism are enacted through, amongst other forms of violence, contemporary successors of that Russian movie (such as the World News).

So my ironic call to arms is first and foremost a call to highlight particular, “difficult” or previously glossed over verses — to hightlight them in a garment that unlocks our capacity to love more, to love better (4 women). A kind of psychic Sufi spam email offer, effectively.

But not highlighting these verses is also fine. Even to the extent of a literalisation of a different tradition, such as a single wife for 5 husbands, which would get my thumbs up too. Provided the 4-level love capacity is cultivated: as it will be for anyone who has fully overcome their colonial oppressors.

The wild theorist: There is much indeed I found myself nodding in agreement to, especially on how coloniality mediates our reponse to the polygamy verses, but — one intemperate “wait a minute!”– when did love become entangled with marriage in the social institutional sense that monogamy/polygamy regulates?

The Tailor: They are entangled for me, beginning with Qur’an and the turning towards us with Mercy (Love) — and the numerous narrations insisting on the relationship between sexuality/physical love and marriage (after all these things — this love making — is not permitted outside of marriage and slave girls).

It is lawful for you to go in unto your wives during the night preceding the (day’s) fast: they are as a garment for you, and you are as a garment for them. God is aware that you would have deprived yourselves of this right, and so He has turned unto you in His mercy and removed this hardship from you. Now, then, you may lie with them skin to skin, and avail yourselves to that which God has ordained for you.(Qur’an 2:187)

Anas bin Malik said, “The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” I asked Anas, “Had the Prophet the strength for it?” Anas replied, “We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 5, Number 268)

I should have clarified: whenever I mean “love” I mean, of course, making it — “it” in the face-to-face, skin-to-skin, intimate, physical, Real sense (though that itself is only comprehended Symbolically).

See, the colonial mindset has cut us off — orphaned us (!) — from the fun stuff, in other words — like having visions and making love (both the same thing) without being all uptight and apologetic about it.

The wild theorist: Not lawful outside marriage yes, but quick quible: mut’a?

It’s still marriage. I’ve practiced it myself under the stresses of necessity, for a contract of two cloaks.

Ibn Shihab said. Khalid b. Muhajir b. Saifullah informed me: While I was sitting in the company of a person, a person came to him and he asked for a religious verdict about Mut’a and he permitted him to do it. Ibn Abu ‘Amrah al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with him) said to him: Be gentle. It was permitted in- the early days of Islam, (for one) who was driven to it under the stress of necessity just as (the eating of) carrion and the blood and flesh of swine and then Allah intensified His religion and prohibited it (altogether).

Ibn Shihab reported: Rabi’ b. Sabra told me that his father (Sabra) said: I contracted temporary marriage with a woman of Banu ‘Amir for two cloaks during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) who then later forbade us to do Mut’a.
(Sahih Muslim Book 008, Number 3261)

Its prohibition runs according to parallel universes: in one, Umar forbade its practice outright. That has a significance. And, in a parallel universe, Prophecy stresses its undesirability and, eventually, forbids it. And Shia scholars, operating from their outward position at the gates of a fantasy of Fadak, sometimes endorse its continued validity. I think all views are simultaneously correct.

It is peculiar that temporary marriages fade away near the end of Prophecy, rather than, as one might suppose (if one takes my understanding of what a marriage is), becoming more temporary, as the idea caliphate of paper disbands, becomes fragmented and corrupted by materialist fixation, secular subjectivity and bodily infidelity to God.

Why? Because the further we move away from prophecy (being a light apparent in all signs), the less able we are to sustain temporary, ad hoc moments of loving transmission, and the greater the intensity of love at those points upon our body. Recall that our body is without organs, without an interior, it is a reality of pure surface, sublimated into differentiation. At first, that surface of differentiation is like a geographical terrain, in which continents, mountain ranges, canyons, seas, desserts, rich fields of green can be formed by the surface’s evolution — as demarcated geologically free analog continuities. Everything running into one another, in differentiation, yes, but in continuity of differentiation. Like Leibniz’s calculus. In such a natural geology, Central Asian nomads can set up encampments wherever and whenever they please, in free love.

However, the moment the State (communist, fascist, capitalist, Islamist) begins to enforce itself, a new kind of intensity is required upon this surface. Crystallization — intensity — a radicalization — of meaning. Not, we stress, an individual Kantian secular subjectivity. That, of course, is one of the weapons that have resulted in our Islamic radicalisation. The intensity is still bodily, still geologically concentrated, but now becomes enshrined, like the points of prayer established by Abraham as he journeyed (his journey being the archetypal movement of this intensification, formed, as it is, with an ummah until his self, an ummahself).

Points upon the surface become more permanent (not temporary) autonomous territories, like fortresses, houses, guarding the Nur located therein against the forces of colonizing subjectivity. Conversely, though, this radicalization of the body entails greater the darkness and absence of love outside these fortresses. Unwilling people.

In other words, with the gates of prophecy closed, with the age of miracles over — dictated by the Big Brother eye of the unloving colonizer — the denier so uptight, so straight standing there in his suit and tie — brainwashed an ummah into the denial the body upon which this drama is played out … we find it dangerous to set up temporary encampments of free love, because the armies of darkness are always ready to pounce and destroy — we need to retreat into fortresses of marriage. We find it difficult to establish free love contracts temporarily just to anyone on the street. This was anticipated by Prophecy in the second parallel universe mentioned above, where the Messenger of Allah forbids the use of mut’a nearer the end of his reign.

This is what makes the Temporary Autonomous Zone a particularly Persian anomaly. Nevertheless, a T.A.Z. is possible for fractal nano-seconds, because a micro version of the Prophetic caliphate does reemerge momentarily in actual geographic locations, in the form of the Land of Fadak I spoke about on this blog a while back. Fadak is a micro dimension, curled up within our normally perceived 4. Much like Superman’s lost city of Kandor.

Depending on where you are in relation to the “closing off” of the doors of Prophecy, to the age of miracles and the subsequent, Prophetically anticipated intensification/crystallization of God’s Deen (that is, a movement from the original perfect paper-prophetic caliphate into soul-survival by intensification/fortification in reaction to attempted colonization) … Mut’a marriages are available for your enjoyment and comfort — or forbidden with your back to the wall in supplication for salvation, the Babylonian storm troopers roaming the nearby plains.

If you think I am being metaphoric, I am not: I believe what I said should run through every single language game, every regime of signs. It naturally problematizes itself because it is, in fact, uttered from within a secure, autonomous fortress, post-Prophecy.

What is it, precisely, that I am proposing as the paradigm for Islamic sexuality and free love? What works now, given the fact that the colonizer is very close by. How to negotiate between the three parallel universes of Umar’s forbidding, Prophecy’s anticipation and the Shia’s gate?

How should the Tailor speak to the masses in Love?

I am proposing a new kind of Islamic flirtation that runs across all levels of existence, criticism, science, poetry, art, social organization. Islamic flirtation as the basis for the New Muslim Council of Britain.

Islamic flirtation is a waveform oscillating between practice/non-practice of mut’a, between temporary autonomy of micro/molar Fadaks appearing and disappearing and the security of our macro autonomous fortresses, guarding the molecules of the Sufi sirr for such a future time when the Mahdi appears.

This waveform is one of family resemblance: the principle of resemblance-as-resonance: matrilineal in silence and patrilineal in (bodily) recitation/vocalization. The Sumatran feminine lodges pointing to the local hill, a geological stabilizer that permits the formation of sign regimes according to deferral of spirit-hops, patterns of Deen (intensified) and masculine mosque a theatre of recitation, transgendered then according to momentary, temporary appearances of Fadak, into a worshipping space of feminine Qur’anic engagement. The rapid alternation between the lodges and the mosque becoming a wavelength, a resonance of this dialogue you are reading … A resonance with the Countenance. A Muslim life, a Muhammedean life.

In other words, the righteous equation

X = B'(X)

(where B’ is Becoming human in transcendence of the yolk of colonial oppression, X is a variable ranging over all signs, including itself and the sign of becoming B’).

Becoming: anticipating colonization and postcolonization. Islamic flirtation as a waveform, alternating between the second order sublimated fortress of Deen's intensity prescribed by oppression -- and multiple micro Fadaks.

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3 thoughts on “Borscht westerns, polygamy, matriarchy in Sumatra, temporary marriages … and Islamic flirtation: the Tailor and postcolonialism

  1. Ah, those troublesome Islanders with their creative bidah…

    But don’t forget who the Badi’ is. Even the son of Taymiyyah himself didn’t question the Bidah of the One who describes himself as Badi’ as samawati wa’l ard. And so the (pseudo-)’salafi’ obsession with innovation bases itself on a conceptual separation of Divine bidah from human bidah. For those of us who subscribe to the wahdat al wujud, however, this is nonsense – who on earth is this human badi’ who is other than the Divine Badi’? And how can this otherness be?

    Which leads on to

    I’m not saying that “we” can do whatever we want with the Shariah — because the Shariah governs our spiritual evolution irrespectively, whether we want it to or not.

    Good to see that you put “we” in quotes here… because who else can innovate except Him?

    The only difference between the Prophets who bring a new message, and the “innovators” who supposedly tinker with the fundamentals of religion, is that the Prophets know that there can be no innovation except by Him, while the innovator attributes the innovation to himself (or herself). And it is that appropriation of a Divine prerogative is their ‘sin’ here, not the innovation (which they are incapable of ‘producing’ from themselves in any case).

    So the point about bidah is that, for as long as we imagine that it is “we” who are doing whatever we want with the Shariah, “we” are in error, because we have set ourselves up as gods beside him in our imagined act of innovation (which is shirk). But if we know that there is truly “No transformation and no potentiality except in God” – la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah – then any act of innovation that comes through us is His innovation. And it is valid, at least for us in whom it has been revealed.

    1. Peace James,

      Well of course I am playing with the idea of conceptual bidah (in the pseudo salafi sense).

      I think I already know what you would say to the postcolonial theorist if he asked you, regarding the patrilineal/matrilineal resolution within West Sumatran Islam.

      But maybe I could ask you about the sort of cultural point being made here: granted, all innovation is Divine, what would the difference be between prolonged “cultural” bidah (of the kind that occurs when a religious practice gradually, naturally, organically — or as I say here, geologically — takes root in a receptive culture) and a more abrupt “by the sword” (colonial) form of such a bidah (often driven by an individual or individual mindset of the sort you define, that attributes innovation to himelf). The latter might occur in a variety of contexts, including someone coming up to the West Sumatrans of the former case and saying “you can’t do that as Muslims, you are violating Shariah”.

      Is it simply that there is no individual in the former case that we immediately say, from a Sufi perspective: Divine bidah. But there is no individual here to be self-aware of this fact. The West Sumatran women don’t reflect on it: it simply “is” Islam for them, in a literal, material sense, so to speak.

      Any thoughts?

      I am trying here to argue, somewhat playfully, for the nonsense of that — not through my usual trick of assuming the “higher ground” and immediately proclaiming what shariah is — but, rather, speaking from the donkey’s mouth, so to speak. Why would I want to do that? As an exercise, partly. But also I am interested in what happens when we work with the assumption that the Demiurge/colonial oppressor/commanding self has pretty much shattered the ummah that I am dealing with — literally, where Prophecy’s current, active light is “out” (actually denied) — and where my “higher ground” view necessarily becomes intensified within a “fortress”. Not intensified within a Kantian subjectivity (that privileges the individual over the group) — it is argued in postcolonial theory that Kant is the root of colonization/secularity — this is avoided anyhow because of the more accurate Sufi comprehension of what subjectivity is. But, nevertheless, a fortress of intensification (as that hadith on muta works) in relation to an “outside”.

      It’s mainly me accepting the situation of how Sufis have evolved to relate to Islam, in fact. I’m sure with your experience you have come to the conclusion: I am rethinking these steps because … well, they are a Divine bidah, and hence quite pleasurable (though in a bittersweet way)! 😀

      The line of thought is further complicated and playful because I was simultaneously thinking about how “a” Sufi engages with the “group”, when the “group” is ultimately fragments from the same soul, with this soul being susceptible to the usual mystical maps and “active” taxonomies.

  2. Musa, as always you raise fascinating and deep questions – questions which go far beyond my capacity to offer any insight.

    One thing that strikes me here, however, is that it does depend upon what we consider a “culture” to be. In identity politics, a culture is often asserted as something pristine, something that is contaminated by the influence of other cultures. However, I understand that anthropologists refer to this view of culture as ‘essentialism’, and that it is considered dubious in that discipline.

    I don’t know much about Anthropology (or anything else, for that matter!), but it does seem to me that a culture is a process of continual exchange with others. Sometimes this process is slow, as when a society is relatively isolated from others, or asserts a strong enough sense of its cultural values to resist external influences. Sometimes, though, this process is fast – for instance, in places where many people from different cultures come together. But whatever the pace, cultures change and develop.

    Consequently, even the ‘fundamentalist’ – the believer who tries to go back to the forms of belief and practice of the founders of a religion – can never really reinstate things as they were. Too much has happened in the meantime to frame even the way in which we look at earlier eras: the seventh century C.E. Hijaz can only now be seen through twenty-first century eyes. And whilst we may be able to discern biases in the way that other societies, in other eras, have interpreted the past, our own cultural biases will always be invisible to us (I believe it was the great C17 Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico who first pointed this out).

    This aspect of the ‘invisible bias’ must then also affect our consideration of what constitutes Divine versus human bid’ah. If we are not conscious of the distortions we introduce into our interpretations or practice, we can’t really be held to account for them. (I’m not expert on fiqh, but I don’t believe a case can be made against someone for ‘innovation’ if it can be shown that that person acted in good faith, and was unaware of the distortions he or she introduced).

    In a psychological, rather than a legal, sense, the unconscious forces that work through us – those that we are unaware of, and that were never consciously intended – can be seen as ‘Divine’ (because in these circumstances we are the instruments of forces that go beyond our individual wills, and all such forces must be under the ultimate power of Divinity). Of course, one could also argue that they could be ‘Satanic’ – but to show them as such, it would be necessary to argue that they had, at some level, been willed in a deliberate act of disobedience to the Divinity (and that such forces of evil are not ultimately under the Divine Will – a position that is untenable from the perspective of wahdat al wujud).

    Consequently this question would seem to depend, critically, on the degree and kind of consciousness involved. To be able to commit “bid’ah”, we would have to be aware of what we intend, and to believe that we have a conscious will that is distinct, and independent, from the Divine Will. This would narrow the ‘offence’ of innovation to a narrow group of people. On the one hand, those who were unaware of the changes they were making would be absolved (and I suspect this includes the Summatran women). And, on the other, those whose consciousness had developed sufficiently to realise that their own wills could be nothing other than the Divine Will (i.e. the Sufis) would also have to be absolved from bid’ah.

    So what kind of person deliberately and consciously introduces a new form of practice, refusing to recognise their intention as no other than the Divine Will? Ooops, the ‘salafis’ who are attacking the West Summatran’s.

    But then there shouldn’t be any surprise that those who are most exercised by a particular ‘sin’ turn out to be the ones most culpable in committing it.

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