Almost a third of the way through, my Ramadan has led to some surprising and new (for me) bonds with the earlier parts of the Qur’an. Alhumdulilah, the revelation truly operates at all (4!) levels of existence. My (very subjective) feeling right now is difficult to articulate, but could be put like this. To recite it anew is to breath out the beauty of her strange intra-dimensional trace, in resonance with waveforms that run across the infinitesmal and the magnitudes, spanning the universe’s cyclical unfolding, intersecting the readings of life as horizontal plateaus of stories, law and archetypes, demarcating my (personal) heart’s progress in Time, making cellular my sight, each cell an ayah within my (personal) body, in network of transmission, multiplying and switching in local and global modes of inheritance and genealogy. As my breath runs through these pages, acquiring inheritance from each verse, each archetype-complex recognized as a Truth I had maybe been taught before but forgot or else realigned today into new harvests, I am grateful and astonished at the barakah from above, ceaseless in re-reading. My breath continues on in recitation, my breath itself its own trace and meta-record within my heart of gratitude.
Or to put it in a less flowery manner, I’m learning more about how it all fits together to form this thing called the self. I understood in previous readings that the self is an identity that moves through the space of signs, reassembling and arranging them, constructing itself as a trace of signs, as a self-inscriptional autobiography of life that is life.
But during this reading I am appreciating, particularly in the verses concerning jihad, generational lineages and inheritance, that there is a “higher-order”, unseen aspect of the self that similarly moves through the space of sign-regimes, of metamodels, of languages themselves, reassembling and arranging these entire structures, manipulating forms and types rather than the individual inhabitants of forms and types. But this “higher-order” (ruhanic) aspect of the self is also analogous to the “lower order” aspect in that it also has a trace
associated with its journey. Instead of a record of individual arrangements of signs, the ruh’s trace is of composed sign-functionals, of composed models and model transformations. Its trace is as a self-inscriptional histography of the life of an
individual strain of the Divine breath that is our personal, wider journey.
Note 2: Surah Al Meada (The Table Spread)
O you who believe! fulfil (all) obligations. Lawful unto you (for food) are all four-footed animals, with the exceptions named: But animals of the chase are forbidden while ye are in the sacred precincts or in Ihram: for God does command according to His will and plan.
O ye who believe! Violate not the sanctity of the symbols of God, nor of the Sacred Month, nor of the animals brought for sacrifice, nor the garlands that mark out such animals, nor the people resorting to the Sacred House, seeking of the bounty and good pleasure of their Lord. But when ye are clear of the Sacred Precincts and of pilgrim garb, ye may hunt and let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancour: fear God. for God is strict in punishment. (5:1-2)
The first verses of this surah concern a number of themes that intertwine throughout what follows: hajj, Ihram, food, types of cattle and wild game and means of slaughter, the People of the Book and, in particular, possible exchanges of food and of intermarriage between people of the book and the believing subject.
Food is what lies upon the Table Spread of the Surah itself, what is given to the disciples of Jesus at the end of the Surah, according to their demand: food is a form of gnosis. And its consumption is regulated according to this surah with, as we shall see shortly, particular emphasis on what is permitted during the Hajj.
Note 3: People of scripture
The relationship between consumption of food and precedent people is thrown into relief early:
Today all good things have been made halal for you. And the food of those given the Book is also halal for you and your food is halal for them. So are free women from among the beleivers and free women of those given the Book before you, once you have given them their dowries in marriage, not in fornication or taking them as secret lovers. But as for anyone who rejects iman, his actions will come to nothing and in the Next World he will be among the losers. (5:5)
There are and wives are immanent plateaus of local language is combined together here. The food is the produce of the People of the Book: what halal (clean, pure) tafsir they extract from the scripture they carry. The wives of the People of the Book are the immanent plateaus of local language — their language games, their sign-regimes, their cosmologies. They can be married to the believer’s face/body.
There follow a number of verses in Al Meada that directly concern the relationship of the Jews and Christians to Islam. There are negative readings that can be made here — negative, at least, from an interfaith perspective!
The apparently confrontational tone (that people read into such verses) is important to understand: we are listening, after all, to the Voice of the infinitely merciful.
One example: regarding the Christian identification of Christ with God:
In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then has the least power against God, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every – one that is on the earth? For to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He creates what He pleases. For God hath power over all things. (5:17)
How should we take this verse, coming, as it does, from Love? Is it a kind of threat? Love does not threaten, though if we don’t understand it or have trust in it, then it can seem so. The verse is a statement of fact: that Allah precedes the womb and the original form of man (a word said “Be”) as well as the earth itself (the ultimate space of immanence). Allah, as Love, precedes this because it is generated by an impossibility of “differentiated Love” that arises from the overflow or surplus bounty of the Love itself. Love loves so much that the impossible difference emerges: this is the nature of the Power — not a threat but an absolute reality beyond everything, “even” the Christ. (It is not so much a negation of the importance of the womb, the Messiah nor their theomorphic embodiments in Mary and Jesus, rather the verse should be read with their key importance in mind.)
Note 4: Oaths and the killing of Game on Pilgrimage
From verse 87, the surah moves from an understanding of disbelief to verses concerning consumption:
You who have believe! do not make haram the good things Allah has made halal for you, and do not overstep the limits. Allah does not love people who overstep the limits. Eat of the things which God hath provided for you, lawful and good; but fear God, in Whom you believe. (5:87-88)
Then we move into laws concerning the accounting of deliberate oaths (that are not maintained):
Allah does not take you to task for your inadvertent oaths, but He will take you to task for oaths you make intentionally. The expiation in that case is to feed ten poor people with the average amount you feed your family, or clothe them, or free a slave. Anyone without the means to do so should fast three days. That is the expiation for breaking oaths when you have sworn them. Keep your oaths. In this way Allah makes His Signs clear to you, so that hopefully you will be thankful. (5:89)
Then there are verses concerning the nature of wine, gambling and divining arrows.
O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, stones, and (divination by) arrows are an abomination of Satan’s handwork: eschew such, that you may prosper. (5:90)
The relationship between consumption, oaths and wine/gambling might not be apparent at this point.
But the apparent disjointed nature continues on as the surah presents an ayat that resembles the previous 89 in compensation — but as expiation now for the killing of game during the pilgrimage:
O ye who believe! Kill not game while in the sacred precincts or in Ihram. If any of you doth so intentionally, the compensation is an offering, brought to the Ka’ba, of a domestic animal equivalent to the one he killed, as adjudged by two just men among you; or by way of atonement, the feeding of the indigent; or its equivalent in fasts: that he may taste of the penalty of his deed. God forgives what is past: for repetition God will exact from him the penalty. For God is Exalted, and Lord of Retribution. (5:95)
Why is it that 95 and 89 are similar in form, but for ostensibly very different activities? Why the verse concerning intoxication and gambling that separates them? And what is the significance of not killing game during Hajj?
It is because, first and foremost, the Hajj is a pilgrimage that reverses the Hirja, a “coming down”, from a space of Law (Medina of the North) to a space of Love (Mecca of the South). From the left to the right, from Logic/Differentiation to Love and from Fire to Water.
The ihram of Hajj is both a cloth, a garment and a state. The cloth is the state of being. The garment is consecration.
The aymana (oaths) are a legal bindings that tie us to the love: when we make an oath, we commit ourselves within a differentiated space of law, but with our sincerity being borrowed from our right hand of Love (remembering that aymana shares the same root as yamin, the right/south — Love — because to swear an oath is to perform it upon one’s right hand).
Now, regarding the relationship to game: oaths are game, caught on land (the west is the land): they are legal bindings whose borrowing of love, whose power derives from performance in the name of love, is “stored” or “recorded” in the western/earthly space of signs/perception/language (an immanent plateau). They are a “locking in” of love, into speech, into record.
Surely Allah will test you through something of the game: your hands (aydikum) and your spears (warimahukum) can reach it that Allah may make evident who fears him in the Unseen. And whoever transgressed after that then for him is a punishment (adhabun/hurt) painful. (5:94)
In our cosmology, we take the arm of extension to be of the highest realm of the secret self (lahut, the metametamodel), the hand from the realm of the ruh (jabarut, metamodels), weaponry to be from the realm of the qalb (malakut, models) and animals to be from the realm of the nafs (nasut, objects). Let us leave the explanation for this to some other time: but it should be noted that weaponry is appropriate to the realm of malakut because weaponry is a classifying functional mutator of objects, a regime of transformative acts across things in the nasut.
In a sense, the nafs — our normal conception of the ego, of what we normally think of as our selfhood when we move about the world of activity — is a composite of a set of oaths. Our ego is constituted exactly by oaths. Our ego is constituted by a herd of wild game, game of the land. The ego is a subjectivity constructed by means of oath-making, a subjectivity that is bound by a local language (terminology of oaths) but imbued with borrowed love. The game animals are close to our hands and spears, the hands being an extension, solidification of our selfhood into spirit, the spears being the solidification of our selfhood into qalb (because such weaponry is a means of transforming hearts). This equipment is close to the game that abides at the level of the nafs — not the selfhood as such, but the performative utterances that make up oaths, the forms of speech that make up oaths.
Now, this wild game is reachable by our upper selfhood, our hand and our spears, to manipulate and to kill. And that is indeed what our upper witnesses do to these nafsic components on a regular basis that is (when performed Islamically) corrective to our soul. The hand and the weaponry of jabarut and the malakut are used to specifically “de-centre” the assumptions implicit in our ego’s constitution, to kill the wild game that roam our subjectivity, to unlock the love that is bound by the oaths of our nafs’ constitution. To recall oaths made on borrowed oaths: to recall the illumination present in the life-as-signification that we call daily experience. The decentering is done by means of the potentially intoxicating model-language displacement of the hand of jabarut (remember this is the realm of wine) and the incorporeal transformations of models by the weapons of malakut (these transformations being models and forms themselves and therefore calibration and divination, potentially tawhidic but also, like all models, potentially idolatrous).
But we are commanded not to transgress. Transgression is a state of arbitrary, careless treatment of the wild game of performative oaths, of ego-constitution. We can blow our minds for fun, so to speak: this is intoxication, exactly the forbidden danger of the ruhanic plane, or we can abuse the regulation of the performatives/oaths to create fascist forms of power at the qalbic plane (turning hearts into stone, as the Qur’an often refers to this danger). That is transgression, because it does not respect the wild game’s borrowed love: the consumption of oaths by the hand and spear is ONLY for the purpose of unlocking the baraka of the Love and Light stored within them.
In this sense, the “hand” and the “spear” (coming from the realms of wine/milk) cross the boundary of the unseen, they are aspects of ourselves that are unseen — and so the transgression (the drunkedness or power abuse of the gambler) are transgressions in the unseen, while those who do not transgress have a unseen selfhood that “fears him” — the laws concern the upper parts of our self rather than our lower nafsic station — these are metalaws governing how our upper aspects are to behave in the unseen in avoidance of intoxication and gambling/divination.
Now, when on Hajj and in the purified garment of Ihram, we are moving toward the Sacred House (the house that contains the sirr, the innermost depths of our being, that ultimate selfhood that is closest to Allah, the true corporeality of our Adamic conduit). We are on a movement that (momentarily) ascends from the “borrowed” space of oaths (the borrowed, constituted subjectivity of daily life) and moves to an encounter with the secret that lies at the centre of our journey. Abraham’s Cube of Love, of six side with a seventh secret within: the Cube of Our Final Ascent, the Cube of Submission, the Cube of Korban, the Cube as a conduit to the body’s full submission in upper marriage to the first immanent plateau, a secret, “universal” Asalic language, the honey metametamodel, the language of the bees.
When we move toward that marriage, to that pilgrimage about that house, we have moved further up than any corrective relationship to the nafs, to any paradigm of unlocking light by the collection of oaths/killing of wild beast: these aspects are no longer “visible” at this highest aspect of the unseen — they are unseen from the perspective of the unseen, and so are not permitted (by virtue of being not seen). The metametamodel of Love/Submission within the heights of our selfhood does not “speak” of the oaths, but rather of the general properties of oaths, the archetypes inherent in the oaths, archetypes that are a released light rising up to become part of that undifferentiated language, of that undifferentiated final conduit to the Adamic space of the Names. This state of the individual conduit through the metametamodel/lahut of the secret self is undifferentiated Love and, consequently, does not accept perturbations or borrowed Love in oaths/ordinary communication — it is a state whose language is pure Love, pure Names.
(I also note briefly that the “hurt” here of the verse also recalls that the adha is the same hurt as is felt in the period — and that these transgressions are, after all, subject to the cycles of pilgrimage and ordinary status.)
It is then clarified that this verse concerns only land game, not water game:
Lawful to you is the pursuit of water-game and its use for food, for the benefit of yourselves and those who travel; but forbidden is the pursuit of land game; as long as you are in the sacred precincts or in the Ihram (garment). And fear God, to Whom you shall be gathered back. (5:96)
The Hajj is from the Northern space of judgement (the immanent planes of language, of a earth) into a Southern space of Love (of water). Land game are the oaths, while the fish of the waters are different: they are not forbidden during Hajj because it is food of Love alone that is consumed — admittedly a concentration or crystallization of that Love — an ornament/adornment or nourishment — but are entities within and of love — but not the wild animals of the land that are without love in the space of judgement entirely, so that water of love is within them as animal vessels, on borrowed promises.
(We omit a discussion of the penalty for hunting game during the Hajj. But we note that the 2 men who witness the domestic sacrifice parallel the 2 men who are taken as witnesses for the dying man later in the surah. Domesticated cattle are “tamed” and “corrected” versions of their wild counterparts, oaths that do not need collection.)
The Hajj is cyclical and geographical, but not necessarily the pilgrimage that involves purchasing of tickets and hotel accommodation as commonly understood. There are micro-Hajj’s of the soul that can repeat with great or lesser frequency during the course of our life.
All the preceding verses in fact anticipate this micro-Hajj, preparing us with a purified garment of Ihram (a garment of oaths and my interpretation that absolves itself by virtue of the feeding of 10) which is encountered directly, corporeally, secretly … in the line:
Know ye that God is strict in punishment and that God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (5:98)
This line is itself a movement from punishment to mercy: from a fire to a water. The physical verse itself is the micro-Hajj. It is anticipated within each of the other verses and comes about, becomes apparent to us as pilgrims, via the Ihram of our understanding and adherence to the previous injunctions. We get all the way up to the secret self according to a self-referential Ihram weaving that runs its course through all the levels (as the Qur’an does!)
Surah 5: Displeasure at the truth
Oh believers, do not ask about things which, were they disclosed to you, would displease you and which, should you ask about while the Qur’an is being revealed, will be disclosed to you. Allah has forgiven you for it, and Allah is All Forgiving, Clement. (101: 5)
Jesus tells his disciples in a number of Gnostic sources (including the Gospel of Judas) that they would kill him if he disclosed the full truth. There are aspects of the unseen that are not pleasing to us: not in the sense that anything might offend, but in the sense of the utter strangeness of the beauty to be found there. But we can locate it as we engage with Qur’an, with the revelation (because it is still being revealed as read it), and we can find that strange beauty. To look on it is somewhat audacious and lacking in haya: nevertheless, we are forgiven for this lack. The Truth casts her eyes downward but forgives us for gazing longer than we should, momentarily.