The Korban (A very Tailorite Eid)

Eid ul Adha — the Festival of Sacrifice — is one of two important religious festivals in the Muslim calendar (the other being Eid ul Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan). It occurs after the conclusion of the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca), but its function is to specifically recall the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, in submission to a command he received from Allah.

The story of Ibrahim and his son is related in the Qur’an.

And he (Ibrahim) said “Indeed I am going to my Lord. He will guide me. My Lord, grant me of the righteous.” So We gave him glad tidings of a boy forbearing. Then when the he attained (balagha) the effort/striving/working with him, he said “Oh my son, I have seen in the dream that I am sacrificing you, so look what you see.” He said, “Oh my father, do what you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, amongst the patient.” Then when both of them had submitted (S-L-M, root with connotations of both peace and submission) and he put down him down upon his forehead, and We called out to him that “Oh Ibrahim, certainly you have fulfilled the vision. Indeed, We thus reward the good. Indeed this was sure the clear trial.” We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. And we left for him among the later generations. (37:99-107)

While all Prophets deliver the same warning, each Prophet has a particular prophetic function, what the Quran refers to as their “favours/preferences/degrees”:

These, the Messengers. We preferred (favoured) some of them over others. Allah spoke among them and He raised some of them in degrees. (2:253)

All prophets, and their respective “favours”, relate to each other according to lineages of transmission, (non-linear) lineages defined according to their functional composition. Each prophet is bound to each other prophet according to a skeletal nexus of favours/functional relationships/co-predication/composition, in continual technicolour fluctuating relay. This nexus of relay, taken as an entire network in action, constitutes the primordial Body of Man. Depending on one’s perspective, it is also known as the Tree of Life, the Miraj or the Sa’ee. (Muhammed and Christ have a special, distinguished relationship with entirety of this nexus as we shall shortly intimate.)

Ibrahim’s nature is love/submission: the best form of human love is his Prophetic function. Love as tawhid: absolute adoration/submission/affirmation of the Unity of Love. This form of human love is sometimes called Islam.

Because we know that Allah is Love, the purest, unadulterated, most direct form of submission to Love is also nothing but the purest, unadulterated, most direct form of love (as a relationship). Ibrahim’s function is the relational archetype of this form of submission — he is the archetype of the true Muslim — he is the archetypical submitter, the archetype of the lover. (This is why Muslims commonly pray for the replicated conference of the blessings given Ibrahim and his family and followers into Muhammed and his family and followers: they are praying for effective, completed application of the Ibrahimic function within the Prophetic nexus.)

He enters into this relational archetype at the moment he breaks the taghut of his ancestors: for taghut are normally understood as various forms of idolatry (spiritual, political, material), but their essential sin is that they adulterate the nature of love, so that the subject’s love, the subject’s Islamic nature, is deferred, differentiated, temporarily redirected or (at worst, often as a consequence) blocked from loving the Love. Of course this archetype is then repeated and perfected in the form of Muhammed, with his conquest of Ibrahim’s house, the Kaba, in Mecca and the destruction of the taghut therein.

This is the undifferentiated Love we find in the Meccan surahs: in a way, Ibrahim nature is the Meccan surahs. He is tawhid of Ikhlas, surah 112 of the Qur’an.

Say: He is God, the One and Only,
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute.
He does not beget, nor is He begotten,
And there is none comparable to Him.

When we fully grasp this nature of tawhid, we are lovers after the Ibrahimic function. It is the centre of the nexus (or the top of the Miraj) because the station of unadulterated love is the ultimate Truth of our existence, existence as the unbounded pleasure of Tawhid’s circularity: there is nothing in between us and Love, and life is nothing more than the relation of love, formed from Love’s Loving, with the sole purpose to love Love.

For this reason we find Ibrahim occasionally behaving in ways that appear harsh or heartless, particularly to his family members: for example, the abandoning of his wife Hajar and their son to their own devices in the desert, the superficially scandalous “loan” of his other wife Sara to both Pharoah and then Abimelech, the willingness to sacrifice his son. These certainly would be harsh actions if the stories concerned ordinary man living an ordinary life. But Ibrahim’s nature is unadulterated, undifferentiated Love. Meccan Love. So any act he makes is, in fact, innocuous, innocent and loving. His treatment of his wives and son is nothing but compassionate.

Now this Eid, I’d like to remove an image from your heads, because imagery often leads to taghut. Depictions of prophets in particular are dangerous in this respect. I’d like to break down an image of an old bearded man, heartlessly dedicated to a harsh God. A Freudian, Oedipal God, harsh enough to test the man’s faith in such a cruel fashion, demanding his child’s human sacrifice. Consider the picture above, for example, from Rembrandt. Or even worse, the drama of the following Caravaggio:

This is a common image within Christian depictions of Ibrahim and Issac (where the sacrifice has a particular pre-emptory resonance with the crucifixion) but also equally common for the average religious Muslim. It has a number of consequent religious questions associated with it. God knows everything: he knows his slave is loyal. Why test him with such a choice? Surely this is a nightmarish world for Ibrahim if the God he loves and trusts absolutely now demands human sacrifice after the fashion of the pagan gods of that region. Why propose that nightmare to Ibrahim and his son — even as a test? And what is the value of such a faith if it is so blind as to accept a God that demands the sacrifice of our children?

I say to you that this image is taghut. It is a kind of blasphemy because it acts as a fixation that impedes us from getting the meaning of the story, the meaning of the sacrifice.

It defers, differentiates, temporarily redirects or (at worst, often as a consequence) blocks our ability to read the Love that is shining through at us in these words. The image impedes us from reading it correctly: from the possibility of our becoming Ibrahimic. This form of taghut delays our becoming Muslims.

All images we might draw of these verses lead to taghut. Any image has the potential to impede us from grasping what is meant by “sacrifice”, “submission”, “a clear test”, “Ibrahmin” and his “son” are for us. All images drawn of these verses will prevent us from reading it correctly.

But this is a problem: any attempt to explain what these aspects of the verses mean will be doomed to failure, will lead to potential taghut.

For example, imagine I were to say that the sacrifice is a Sufi metaphor for our abandonment of all attachment (even to children and family and wordly loves) and our entry into a state of fana (oblivion into the unity of God), while the “ransom” and release at the end is a kind of baqa (a re-entry into the word of difference and the material, but with a consequent full God consciousness). Such an explanation will still lead to taghut: potentially equally destructive taghut. The most destructive taghut often involve a breakdown in love, a cessation rather than a deferral. Amongst a number of destructive possibilities, we could conceive of a Sufi-styled nut, employing this interpretation as justification to abandon his duties to his family, to shut down his local forms of love and to make utter detachment, absolute “oblivion” his idol.

Let’s try, instead, using a tantric technique. Rather than removing the veil of imagery, let’s exchange it for another image of the sacrifice, another veil over the naked signs to be read. The image I am about to describe is ontologically equivalent to the previous two I have given in its fallibility. But I will attempt to make it preferrable by incorporating an automatic self-destruct (or rather, self-sacrifice) mechanism into it: that’s what I mean by trantric terrorism.

Here goes.

The meaning of the sacrifice is apparent when we realise that Ibrahim’s boy has “attained” years, and is now 37 years old at the time of sacrifice. He is not a little child by any means, he is married and has children of his own probably: he is a willing adult. He has “attained” an age when he can “work” with his father. What does this mean? His father is in the business of prophesying/preaching: by “prophet”, we mean he is a kind of nomadic spiritual minister, the leader of a new ecstatic itinerant religion of Love and Peace. He has spent much of his life travelling between cities, establishing this new religion in the Middle East, constructing houses of worship (shrines or churches) wherever he goes. The Kaba is one of these shrines, but he built many others. This business of prophecy is his “work”.

Ismail has reached the age of working/walking with his father in the sense that he is spiritually developed enough. So Ismail, a middle aged man, has now reached a spiritual station where he is able to walk with his father in the work of worship and dissemination, of reflecting God’s love. This is what it means to say he has “attained” the effort/striving/working/walking with his father.

The sacrifice is not a physical sacrifice: it is a code word for ordination into the highest level of Ibrahim’s ministry, of becoming Ibrahim’s prime spiritual representative in these (to be) Arab lands. The sacrifice is his “ordination” as a prophet, so to speak. “Son” means less a biological son, but more a successor prophet. And hence we have an explanation for why Torah says Issac was sacrificed while the hadeeth claim it was his elder son Ismail. Both men were “sacrificed”, because Ibrahim’s religion spread far enough to warrant the initiation of both sons as prophets in ministry for his church, with jurisdiction over different lands and peoples.

Ibrahim’s church is one of ecstatic tawhid: his message, carried by his two initiated successors, is one of Love and nothing but Love. When Ibrahim receives the command to sacrifice, he is filled with joy because the ordination — the sacrifice — of his son means that Ismail will also be filled with nothing but submission, with nothing but Love. What greater gift to bestow? The only gift that is itself not potential taghut is the gift of Ibrahamic ordination, of being like Ibrahim.

But the ordination rite is difficult, fearful and can rightly be called a test, for both father and son. It requires Ismail to “look” what he can “see”. He tells Ismail to look/glance into another realm, the same visionary space of dreams that Ibrahim occupies. This space is where the Angel Jibreel abides: it is the space in which signs are confronted in the raw, so to speak, in Divine metonymy (signs in free relationship to one another, the speech of God, the signs of Love, the Cosmos itself, viewed and read as a prophet sees and reads, rather than interpreted according imposed conceptual frameworks). It is a space that we have little control over, that we enter and move through involuntarily, falsity and truth intermingling. But it is a space of vision and revelation that the prophets have 45/46ths comprehension over us.

Ibrahim has encountered the sign of his son’s “sacrifice” in this space — and as the Prophet of Love, he grasps its meaning in such a way that the Love he adores shines through this sign immediately, unadulerated, undifferentiated. And his request of his son is to look into the same space and encounter the same sign in the same direct, unadulerated, loving relationship: as a sign of Love. Ismail “looks” at what he can “see”: he now considers the sign of his own sacrifice/ordination. What does it mean, really? Entry into his father’s Prophetic function of Love? But what is a function? What does entry into that function mean?

Time suddenly slows down and the process of Ismail’s looking/considering/seeing/reading passes through three phases, plus 7.

First, he accepts the direction of the sign of sacrifice: he accepts that it has an outward direction from the source of Love to himself and his father, that it has an origin, that it is a “command” of Love.

Second, with his father, he commits himself to submit to this command, to love this sign as a command of Love, to love this directed form of Love Loving.

And in third phase, he finds his (unseen) Body — not some fictional biological body but his True Body, the Body of prophetic nexus, his Body as the Tree of Life, his body as universe — now in cosmic salat, the “forehead” of his body now resting against the prayer mat, held by his father’s hand. At this point, his “sacrifice” is finally comprehended, seen, considered clearly. To be sacrificed is to perceive clearly, to pass the clear test. Here Ismail looks at what he can see: and becomes Prophecy. He enters the Ibrahimic function, is predicated upon by his father’s archetype, is completed in his ascent and becomes Muslim.

The 7th phase of the son’s reading clearly involves the successive verse: the meaning of the “clear test” and the fearful and terrifying aspect of its Loving nature. Not terrible in the mundane sense of terrible, of a nightmarish threat of a God that demands human sacrifice, never the Oedipal terror of a Freudian Father Figure. From the beginning the test is ordination, as we have said, the sharing of tawhid at its highest level of ascent, the sharing of Islam from father to son. And it is the experience of seeing/reading/comprehending/becoming that is the passing of the test. The test itself is the offer of bounty, a joy, a love from father to son by the command of Love, while the passing of the test is to become Muslim.

But the test and its successful completion is terrible. It is terrible in the awesomeness of in its clarity. The Qur’an tells us it is a clear test. It is Ismail’s experience of looking clearly that is, for both father and son, fearful in its awesome Truth. Why?

Because in undergoing it, Ismail realises that everything I just wrote about Ismail and Ibrahim is an illusion.

37 year old Ismail (3 phases + a fourth phase of 7), in seeing things clearly, reflects back on his nature. He realises that the sacrifice is not an ordination, not an ordination in the religious sense of the word. Ibrahim is not running a Church. Or at least, not a Church in the religious sense of the word: his “Church” is the body of belief itself, the Real Body, your Real Body. This Church is Ismail’s Body — the Real Body, your Real Body in upward growth, becoming, unfolding in Time. Your Body, becoming Muhammed. This Body has developed “legs” to work/walk: it has mastered the diamond dialectic (the Harunic/Musaic principles) of the priesthood (slavery) and of vision (messaging).

Prior to the commencement of the sacrifice, this Body had passed from being born of Ibrahim into a differentiated (Medinan) state of relationship to God, of the negotiation God’s Sakina through its immanence of in logic, experience of its immanence according to dual poles of slavery and messaging, of reception and transmission in relation to the Love. That is, it exists in a Northern, Medinan, differentiated, state of knowing God’s Love through continual dialectic, loving to be known through experience of differential nature of Shariah, of Deen, of Laws of difference. Of Doctrines. The body of Ismail attained this differentiated state, this caliphate of Shariah, by waging jihads of interpretation, by gathering harvests of interpretation and judgement from the signs of Allah: looking at, for example, the contrast between the the interpretations of the verse of sacrifice you are currently reading and the previous interpretations according to fluctuating moments of opposition/affirmation, permitting the “triangulation” of the Light of Love in their target signs. Love is known not through direct unadulterated Islam but through dynamic Shariah: through discursive negotiation and re-negotiation of difference and judgement. It is a lower state, but a necessary state. It is a tantric state, one we employ right now, self-referentially, with our story. It is the attainment of of walking/working with the father.

But now is the time for that Body to re-enter the Meccan state of undifferentiated Love from which it was born (being the son of Ibrahim, after all, the son of Mecca).

“My” Ismail realises he is not a man about to become a minister prophet in that Church. He realises that was just a fable. Rather, in undergoing this comprehension, in “looking” at what he can “see”, “my” Ismail here realises “he” is a character in a rather unorthodox (Medinan) interpretation of a particular verse of the Qur’an. He realises everything I just wrote is a Middle Eastern historical fantasy, without any basis in fact whatsoever.

“My” Ismail realises he is, in fact, a stand in character for the Real “you”, the you reading this blog entry right now, the one who directed your browser to The Good Garment to see what the Tailor has to say about the Korban. Ismail realises in his clear vision that his body is your Body. He realises that he is you, your forehead down on the prayer mat, held by Ibrahim. That’s you, being him, or him, being you. And that is the clear test, the test of clarity, the test of seeing things as they are.

And that test, that ordination, that sacrifice, that korban, that ascent is terrible: it is a Body terror of absolute corporeal re-unification, an ummah of submission in unison, finally. Terrible because there are a lot of “you” out there to take on, because that’s a lot of Church to be, because that’s a whole lot of people poised to “re-enter” the Mecca of undifferentiated Ibrahimic Islam/Love.

If you could grok how big a deal that korban is, then you’d be inside the verse, and you would become Muslim. For the sacrifice to be complete, you (reading this blog entry) would realise that you are a stand-in for the son of Ibrahim, and the clarity of his sight would become bidirectional: you would be sacrificed.
All humanity would become Muslim in an instant, because I’d be you and you’d be me and we’d be all together. That Body would become whole, in love with Love. Christ would return early, so to speak. This would mean a lot of journeys would cease to be, prematurely. No more generations, no more illusion of individual journey, no more illusion of the story I have been writing regarding the sacrifice.

But the sacrifice is not completed. Why? Because Allah’s mercy extends infinitely, even to the essential illusion of those journeys, because prolonging Christ’s return means the possibility of Muhammedean becoming. God grants the children of Adam a reprieve from immediate Islam and instead, in Love over Love, allows us to be generations, becoming Muslim individually. There is no compulsion in the religion.

The full sacrifice itself is stalled, rendered premature by the entry of the ransom (the scapegoat) of the “great sacrifice”. This is a delay to unification of the “Church”: in the place of a Body unified in an instant, we have becoming Islamic. We, as we stand today, are a cosmic ransom: our lives, our process of generation. The nature of generation that is in essense the transmission from Ibrahim and son becomes a template for continual, later (A-K-R) cycles of of generation, through which Ibrahimic love and Ismailic sight/sacrifice bifurcates and runs. The ongoing process of generation of Truth, generations as journeys to Truth — this is the “great sacrifice”. We are the scapegoat.

We are permitted to continue our journeys. We are permitted generations over which the Ibrahimic-Ismailic nexus runs its four phases in cycles, from Mecca to Medina back to Mecca, the cycles gradually harvesting the Truth of Love via continual growth/interpretation/differentiation followed by momentary Ibrahimic entrances/sacrifices/ordination/harvests. The grain is then brought back to the Medina and the process continues on. This process is sometimes known as following the sunnah of Muhammed.

The (factually, historically false) story I related is part of that cycle, or a fractal micro-cycle within a larger cycle, a micro-generation of three phases, over which its fourth phase (of 7) is intended to constitute a micro-harvest, a micro-ordination into the Church of Love. As such, its ultimate ontological status is the same as all good Sufi stories: to form part of the ransom process, part of the great sacrifice.


25 thoughts on “The Korban (A very Tailorite Eid)

  1. Musa, your arguments are – as always – intriguing, ingenious and surprising. But I have to say, in this case – and for this reader – ultimately unconvincing.

    To a contemporary sensibility, Ibrahim/Abraham’s behaviour does indeed sometimes ‘appear harsh or heartless’. The examples that you mention – the abandonment of Hagar and Ishmael, the ‘lending’ of Sarah, the intention to sacrifice Isaac (the prevailing Muslim view that it was Isma’il is merely speculative) – paint, if taken literally, the picture of someone with sociopathic/schizotypal tendencies.

    And perhaps these kinds of stories represent a ‘consume by’ date built-in to the nature of revelation? When humanity can no longer recognise, or make allowances for, the actions of scriptural figures, perhaps it’s just time to move on?

    But what does ‘moving on’ mean?

    Interestingly, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (and I’ll stick with Isaac, since Ibn al-‘Arabi treats of this story in the chapter of the fusus relating to Ishaaq, which confirms my Sunday School indoctrination) seems to point to exactly this.

    The ‘command’ to sacrifice the son comes through a dream, which Ibrahim/Abraham takes literally. But – as the Shaikh al-Akbar points out – had he been able to interpret the dream, he would have understood (without needing to be told) that this action could have been substituted by the sacrifice of the ram. This would seem to support the Jungian perception that symbolic acts can have equal value to literal ones – and that Unconscious impulses can be as satisfied by the symbolic as the literal.

    The problem is that ‘fundamental’ forms of religion will not allow the existence of a symbolic realm – of the alam-i mithal – but instead insist that scripture be taken entirely literally. This is why its wrath can never be satisfied symbolically, but must be acted out on other people. And why the ‘fundamentalist’ has to recreate himself/herself as a caricature of scriptural figures – sprouting a preposterous beard, chewing a miswaak and debating the legitimacy of the tasbih.

    But perhaps ‘fundamentalism’ is only possible when revelation is entirely withdrawn back into the symbolic realm? When scripture can only be interpreted metaphorically, and its demands only met symbolically, because it makes no other kind of sense?

    Does the killing of the ram point us towards the only kind of relationship an evolving consciousness of humanity can accept, one of badaliyya (substitution), where the apparently unequivocal demands of ‘old time religion’ are met through creative adaptation, through symbolic literacy?

  2. Peace James,

    Over the past year or so, it is on these kinds of points that we appear to differ. That is, on the questions relating to whether we ought to “move on”, which direction the pendulum swings. I seem to recall you observed once that Allah is too loaded a word, and suggested 21st century seekers go for “Hu” as a better option 🙂 But I say appear to differ, because I’m not so sure we do in actuality.

    Certainly one of the points I am making in my reading of the korban is that the “great sacrifice” (the scapegoat) put in place, substituted for the son’s korban, is precisely the “generations” left for him. By generations I read (Muhammedean) becoming, transformation, individuation. “Moving on”, in the deepest sense of carrying whatever we’ve harvested and ploughing the fields again, perhaps with different crops, but equivalent sustenance and bounty. If the son had been completely sacrificed, there would be no “moving on” — there’d be no transmission/carrying/moving/growth of Truth (all the same thing to me) — there would be immediate comprehension, so immediate and complete that it would deny movement and would make everything whole, prematurely.

    But here I am a bit puzzled with your reading of Ibrahim, via the great sheikh. Are you (was he) suggesting that Ibrahim didn’t have full control or mastery over the space of dreams? And are you (or he) suggesting that Ibrahim perceived reality as consisting of literal “things”, signs and metaphors? That Ibrahim messed up by confusing a dream’s image with something literal to be enacted?

    Of course your reading has the same ontological status as mine and might well serve an identical purpose. Prophets certainly mess up (something Muslims often don’t take to well, but that both Talmudists and Bukhari clearly had a lot of fun with) — but “your” Ibrahim seems rather clumsy in his mistiming compared to mine. I like “my” Ibrahim to be a master of dreams, because I believe Prophecy is mastery of dreams — I think he gained full mastery of dreams when he circumcised himself and went from “Abram” to “Abraham”, following the Torah now. And, specifically, I think he occupied the Imaginal space continuously: that was his mastery, the mastery of Prophecy. That is, he did not confuse his son with a “literal” meaning, nor the goat with a “metaphor”, because his Prophecy “transcended” the metaphoric/literal dialectic. And instead, he only saw signs: son’s korban, goat’s great sacrifice — both signs in succession , not one as a metaphor for the other.

    And so in my reading, Ibrahim is already “moving on”: he never got fixated on the image of his son in korban, he does not confuse it with a literal reading. Instead he encountered it in the same way he encounters the goat (or anything else in his life): one sign of Love after another sign of Love. Ibrahim is also “us” in movement, rather than our movement being a correction to Ibrahim’s misunderstanding.

    Movement’s basis is metonymy (in the Lacanian sense): signs substituted for signs in stream of consciousness chains. I would say the opposite of movement is metaphor (again in the Lacanian sense): signs held up as the “meaning behind” another sign (signs imagined to be that which is signified by a signifier, when in fact it is really just signs all the way down, all is Text in metonymy). So again, with this in mind, I am comfortable with the conclusion of your reading that the goat is a kind of “moving on”: not a symbol or metaphor for “moving on” — but, rather, the goat is moving on itself.

    The point regarding metonymy of the goat is made using your Ibrahim — which is why I think we might well be in accord. He’s in a world whose basis is harshness, killing his son and then is suddenly transported, “moved on”, into a new world by the metonymic act of perceiving a goat where there was a son. Almost like from Old to New testament worlds, in some readings.

    But I prefer to make the same point but with “my” Ibrahim. He is not in a world whose basis is harshness, he is in a space of loving submission, a space of Love and Peace, so everything just “glides off” him and he knows it (hence his boldly comical persona in Torah, the humorous riddles he employs to pull the wool over the eyes of Kings and Pharoahs). He knows “killing his son” is not to be read literally — but he equally doesn’t take it as a metaphor — because he does not conceive of things in terms of the literal or the metaphoric — he’s beyond all that — he only reads love in the Text of his life. He walks in a dreamworld but has complete mastery over its Truth. It’s like when he says to his son “I saw it in a dream” — he’s still in the dream and is asking his son to “look” into his dreamworld and join him there by “seeing”. So he is hardly surprised when a goat appears on the scene: this is just a typical day in the life of Ibrahim, the kind of metonymic exchange (infinitely full of Love in its movement) that happens continuously to Prophets.

    But either way it is all about “moving on”/metonymy of dreams as the key: whichever Ibrahim we choose, it is like how babies suddenly turn into pigs in Alice in Wonderland, with Ibrahim as Alice and 37 year old men as babies 🙂

  3. I guess I ought to add two further points : 1) the choice of the populist Ismail over Issac is deliberate, for decidedly unpopular reasons – it is a self conscious play, let’s say, with respect to the way we relate to Prophetic imagery (the hadiths claiming Ismail are a bit peculiar). 2) Ibrahim’s loving nature does become adulterated in a sense, if not adulterated then delayed or multiplied by the great ransom of our lives, through “generations”, through the journeys in movement, journeys all within Law. But in this sense he is like the Quran itself as I read it: a sothern Mecca of love crowned by a Medina of laws of unfolding back in Hajj to love.

  4. “…the choice of the populist Ismail over Issac is deliberate…” “The meaning of the sacrifice is apparent when we realise that Ibrahim’s boy has “attained” years, and is now 37 years old at the time of sacrifice.”

    I hear you, Musa. But this bit doesn’t quite work, as we are told that Abraham/Ibrahim abandoned Hagar and Ishmael when the latter was only thirteen, or so. 😉

  5. Au contraire, James! It works, as a fantasy, just as well as, for example, that of ibn Kathir … In the Bukhari hadeeth, we know that Ibrahim pops from time to time, like the curious case of Ismail’s self-destructive first wife:
    (More apparent harshness from the Prophet of SLM, I’m afraid!)

    Continuing my play on the brotherly substitution (a precursor switch, in dreamlike metonymy, to the goat!), we could conceivably assume, within a straight literalist perspective, the sacrifice takes place after the first wife’s meeting, the second marriage, and the re-construction of the House.

    Of course, within the orthodox Jewish tradition, it is Issac who is 37 years old when he is bound — and his future wife Rebecca (significantly) is born at the same time — she is 3 years old when they finally tie the knot. So much for the Aisha problem 🙂

    But again, within my fantasy, they can both be bound, provided they are bound at the same age of “attainment”.

    I am not, of course, about to defend the indefensible — like Ismail’s first wife, this fantasy is an outer gate that ought to be shifted inward 🙂

  6. Doesn’t get any better… Dad turns up, after years of not hearing from him, and tells him to get rid of his wife… Next visit, he says “son, come with me into the desert… oh, and bring one of your best knives…”

    As a model of how to behave ‘in the word’, yes, it’s indefensible. But are we wrong to be repelled by it in this sense? No, because we’re being true to a value system that is genuinely more humane.

    Maybe the Prophet’s listeners could appreciate this story (of the wives) as an illustration of the niceties of submission without being unduly troubled by the plight of the first wife, or of the – somewhat bizarre – family dynamic between Abraham and Ishmael. Well, the Prophet’s listeners were still new to the concept of not murdering their infant daughters, so they probably didn’t have many qualms about a callous divorce. Today, however, these aspects of the story hijack the show.

    As fairy tales’ – alongside Rapunzel, or witches that put children into ovens – these stories seem less controversial. Adopting the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ that the genre demands, we can go along with a father who is told in a dream to sacrifice his son. If my neighbour told me that God had ordered him to do something like this, I’d be straight on the phone to Social Services (likewise if he told me he intended to consummate his marriage to a seven year old bride). But if it is a character in a fairy tale, where we all know different rules apply, then we can go along with it and see where it goes.

    And I can’t help wondering if this isn’t what Ibn al-‘Arabi is trying to tell us in the chapter of Ibrahim. That Ibrahim was right in acting on his dream, but wrong in interpreting it literally. He couldn’t come out and say in the fusus that this is the attitude we should adopt towards scripture, but he certainly hints at it in various places (notably, his notorious assertion that for the ‘inhabitants of the fire’ the fire becomes cool, and assumes the nature of firdaus).

    What if we see Ibrahim, Ishaaq and Isma’il not as people, but as personifications of archetypal forces, as illustrations of how an inner world works? Is anything really lost by letting go of their historicity? But then we can’t really have a reading of them that endows them with human dilemmas and characteristics. We can’t have, for instance, a 37 year old Isma’il who “realises he is not a man about to become a minister prophet in that Church”, because this is too tangible, too human an Ismai’il to live inside a fairy tale. This is an Isma’il from a soap opera – from a Brazilian Photo Novella – larger than life, with over-exaggerated outlines, but still in some kind of relationship with ‘everyday life’ as we know it. Instead we would need an Isma’il depicted like a Persian miniature – without perspective, without shadows, surrounded by an ornamented frame that declares ‘there was a time, there was not a time…”

  7. Peace James,

    Actually, by defending the indefensible — I meant my version of the story, rather than the “nasty” version 🙂 Because I tried to build in an awareness of its soap opera nature — its textuality — in the insight of my Ismail when he “looks”: in my text, the grasps his textuality, and then grasps the reader’s textuality. “My” Ismail as a character grasps the fact that he is standing within a soap opera, indefensibly constructed by “me” (the interpreter who imagined him).

    There are also a wide number of Rabbinical commentaries that are in accord with your reading of ibn Arabi: Ibrahim’s mistake is to interpret literally. I’d imagine most regular readers of this blog would agree unconditionally with that principle — and the principle that these prophets, sons and wives are archetypal forces. But so would ibn Arabi and those Rabbis, so I am now intrigued to revisit those commentaries … what does it mean for an archetypical forcefield to make a mistake regarding his “son’s” archetypical force? That is, what is the archetype, what is the forcefield of “mistake” here?

    Perhaps the principle is something similar to my attempt: holy archetypes, icons, suddenly breaking the fourth wall and referencing “us”, in our state f literal perception?

    Anyway, I have been experimenting with two ways of speaking about this. One would be to speak about it the language of archetypes: for instance, the archetype of Abraham’s love, crowned by the archetype of Issac’s judgement (first sacrifice), and the covariant crowning of Issac’s judgement crowned by love (the great sacrifice of the goat). Love within judgement within love: a movement from Love (Mecca/the south) into differentiation (Medina/Law/the north) and from that back into Love again. Restoring cosmic balance to the body.

    The Qur’an it perhaps most amenable to this kind of reading, over Torah and Hadeeth literature, as it doesn’t really give much of a narrative. It’s abstract, beyond fairy tales even, there’s so little detail that speaking of it in terms of archetypes etc is easier.

    But here I am experimenting with retelling the “fairy story” in a completely different way. As a pastiche of “literal” speculative prophetic biography. Exactly like a Photo Novella — with a relationship to everyday life — but its exaggerated outlines ought to hint at its textuality and, in turn, hints at our textuality in general. It’s the same reason the Dadaists and Surrealists were keen on the kitsch (waxworks over classical figures, etc) as well as the patently “archetypical” (African carvings over classical figures). I’m therefore as equally keen on the Grimms’ fairy tales as I am on Disney retelling.

    I understand your point about the harshness potentially distracting us from “entering” into the circuitry of the mythic. I’m not quite sure what to do about that for the world in general: Idris Shah’s stories might be a good option, for example.

    Either way we tell it (assuming there is revelation within of course), the story needs to put “us” in there somewhere and needs to make us sensitive to the archetypes of our journey, and to help us in our ascent. The story somehow ought to bring us to the age of 37: 3 for an ascent through the first three aeons (mulk, malakut, jabarut — equivalently water, milk and wine) and 7 for an additional circuit through the miraj of nasut (equivaletly, honey or the realm of emanation). A more modern way of putting this is — an evolution of consciousness — through viewing the world as 1) literal, ordinary life 2) viewing how we view (perceiving archetypes) 3) viewing how we viewed viewing (living the archetypes, so to speak) — and then into an additional circuit of a Mi’raj through nasut/Reality into Ibrahimic tawhid with Love. I guess in some ways all retellings are going to be a play between the first two levels to progress us into the next two (because they are “seen” aspects of consciousness, whereas what follows after is unseen or real).

  8. You have led me to an entirely new understanding. I see now it is a story of the next generation’s awakening. It is how Love triumphs over fear. The “clear test” was merely to bring clarity. An awakened enlightened person would not fear death, but trust the afterlife. Could it be the ram is also us? Could it be that our tests are as true as Abraham’s, pbuh, tests, but the Prophet of Love tells the story through the sacrifice of his son to Love. He was never killing his son; he was giving him the vision of a prophet. Like you said, both his sons needed this vision to carry on for their father. They needed to know they must sacrifice ego, materialism and greed for the sake of humanity. The regular Joes and Janes can’t completely sacrifice as Ibrahim and his two sons, peace be upon them all. It is a test they will fail, but Divine Love never pushes us beyond our limits.

    Would you and I be willing to be sacrificed for the future of humankind? I have the feeling I would refuse and then I’d flee in fear. For me, it is enough to forget my fears for a day. Yet every time I trust, I sacrifice fear.

    There’s my 2 cents. 🙂

  9. “He was never killing his son; he was giving him the vision of a prophet … for the sake of humanity.”

    Oh absolutely, dear heart, absolutely 🙂 Eid Mubarak to all, something worth celebrating!

  10. A few years ago, there was all that talk – Blair, I seem to remember, made much of it – about Christianity, Islam and Judaism all being ‘Abrahamic Religions’.

    Re-examining the story of Abraham/Ibrahim in the light of this post, I can’t help wondering if he isn’t the cause, rather than the solution, of the conflict between faiths. After all, here is someone who abandoned one of his sons, and tried to sacrifice the other. (Which is kind of interesting, if one relates that to Islam and Judaism, and the ongoing struggles of Muslims against Jews). And the third religion, Christianity, seems to be so disappointed in the failure of Abraham’s sacrifice that it bases itself on the sacrifice of its prophet, done right.

    Where exactly does the love come into this story? I struggle to see a single loving act in the records we have of the Patriarch’s life. There’s sacrifice, yes – but it involves someone else’s life. There’s trust and obedience in God’s command – Hagar’s and Ishmaels, left in the desert in the burning heat (but Abraham gets the credit for it). There’s generosity, too – with his wife’s virtue. Admittedly, he does plead with God for Sodom and Gomorrah to be saved, but this is decidedly ineffectual. And, in the process, his nephew’s wife gets fried (he seems to have a singularly baleful effect on the women in his, and his family’s, lives). As for fathering… let’s not even go there.

    So why exactly do we celebrate this man? And how exactly do you get to ‘the best form of human love is his Prophetic function’?

    1. I would certainly grant you that many popular “literal” readings will lead to something not worth celebrating. But that would be true of many other Prophets, up to the last one.

      Your last question is a good one … for example, Umar doesn’t behave very well either, from a “literal” perspective but I certainly don’t attempt to “re-read” him as an archetype of love, rather of an archetype of the Commanding Self that is held in check/balance/at bay. If you knew the full gory details of my reading of Umar, you might well ask why I don’t assume a “negative” archetype to Abraham.

      Anyway, wait until you see my Hajar piece I will post shortly … I imagine you might find it fun 🙂

  11. “…but I certainly don’t attempt to “re-read” him as an archetype of love, rather of an archetype of the Commanding Self that is held in check/balance/at bay.”

    That’s very interesting – I hadn’t seen him that way, but it makes a great deal of sense. As you know, I’m not a fan of ‘Umar either.

  12. this is a repost. defininitely belongs much more here then on facebook..

    i suppose Ibrahim being called to sacrifice his son amounts for a call to cease the Tradition’s self-reproduction (especially from the Jewish point of view, i suppose). in other words, a call to enter the realm of symbolic dea…th, which is much more terrifying then biological death, since it means a total erasure from human relations and collective memory. overcoming of this negativity through its negation (the affirmation of Gods call for traditions self-annihilation as Gods love) is what constitutes Ibrahim and Ismail as Subjects.

    Here i am not sure actually if the substitution of the man with the animal sacrifice constitutes a metonymic function (everything is text), at least in lacanian understanding (although surely not in Deleuzean one), cause, for lacan, metonymy is the figure of Desire- a form of infinite displacement of signifiers and the pursuit of phantasms (object petite a). perhaps an Operation of n+1, weather a metaphor is like a square root or something like this (paradigmatic function) that creates “meaning” (symptoms).

    So, can the substitution of the human flesh by the animal flesh suggest a form of “humanisation” of the drive to access the Real thing i.e. _joussaince_ and an entry into a _certain_ symbolic order where enjoyment and desire is mediated by God in particular ways?

    One of the problem with the world today, i suppose, is that the relationship between humans, things and animals is mediated by the functions of capital accumulation (Money-Commodity-Money’, or Money-Money’ etc.) and not through the relationship with the infinite Otherness where animal sacrifice means a medium of symbolic relationship with the divine and a technology of the self and not simply a means of consumption.

    Anyways, happy, belated Eid (

  13. One of the problem with the world today, i suppose, is that the relationship between humans, things and animals is mediated by the functions of capital accumulation (Money-Commodity-Money’, or Money-Money’ etc.) and not through the relationship with the infinite Otherness…

    This might seem a pedantic point, but I sense it is an important one in the context of this conversation.

    It’s not possible to have ‘infinite Otherness’ – because if it is infinite, there can’t be anything outside of it (otherwise it would be finite), and therefore there can’t be anything for which it is ‘other’.

    The Sufi contention is that there can be nothing other than The Single, Unique, Absolute Existence, and thus – by implication – there can be no real Otherness. Just the appearance of otherness when one relative existent is compared with another relative existent.

    Thus, ‘the functions of capital accumulation’ cannot stand outside of the Absolute Existence, but must instead be seen as one of its modes. This is something that Heidegger seemed to intuit, in his The Question Concerning Technology where, having pointed out the dangers associated with ‘enframing’ (Gestell) – which category includes these functions of capital accumulation – he quotes Hölderlin’s line “But where danger is, grows the saving power also”.

    From the point of view of al wahdat al wujud (and what other point of view is there?) the mode of Gestell, and the “standing reserve” (Bestand) to which it reduces our relationship with the natural world (and with our own nature), is the modality of the Divine Name Al Jabbar, The Compeller. And it is surely no coincidence that the science of al jabr, which we Westerners call ‘Algebra’ – and which is the calculus of abstract relations – underpins the whole history and development of ‘Modernity’ (which can be seen as the coming to be of enframing as the dominant way of relating to the world).

    Every era, so the Sufis say, is under the power of one or more Divine Names. Thus a true postmodernism – and not this bastard child of Modernity (which surely needs to be sacrificed at Ibrahim’ s altar, if we as a species are in any real sense to ‘move on’) – needs must come to be as a new way of seeing (vernunft) through the modality of the revelation of a different Divine Name (‘He’ being every day in a New Affair [55:29]), and not as a critique of or a reaction to the modality of an existing, encompassing way of seeing.

    My suspicion is that this ‘new’ modality is precisely the perspective of Oneness, which is the ‘way of seeing’ demanded by the Name Al Ahad.

    1. To be honest, I am now unsure if they are the same person … unless we mean this in the more general sense that ALL books (from the Yellow Pages to Pride and Prejudice to Tintin’s Adventures) are ultimately authored by God.

  14. Yes, except that this isn’t necessarily a general sense – Tintin’s Adventures and Pride and Prejudice highlight how specific and individual are Divine manifestations, each as unique and perfect-in-itself as a snowflake. The *difference* between the Qur’an, or the words of Christ, and Tintin’s Adventures is that they came from a consciousness that only God is the Kalim, whilst Hergé and Jane Austen believed themselves to be the authors.

    1. And so would we say the same of other books written in this mode/with this belief – such as, say, the Book of Mormon? What of skepticism/materialist readings – that Joseph Smith had passing acquaintance with Biblical and Kabbalic sources – and effectively produced it himself?

      1. If we really understand that there can only be One author, then the Book of Mormon is undoubtedly a book of Divine (Self-) Revelation. For even if Joseph Smith were a charlatan – knowingly passing off his own work as that of God – he would have been the dupe, because he wouldn’t have realised that, in actuality, it was the Divine passing Himself off as Joseph Smith…

        And this is the problem with skeptical/materialist readings – that they hold that, for instance, the Qur’an must have been the product of the man Muhammad, and thus don’t understand that they are, themselves, the product of that same Being that they claim to deny. God is, after all, al mudhill, the misleader.

        1. So what you say may indeed be the key to finding some solace in the skeptical position on Quran as well: if Muhammed the man fabricated/plagiarised the story of Abraham to illustrate the virtue of obedience to shariah over love/attachment (even to your own family) … then we may still extract my emergence-of-Logos-balance-of-left-and-right reading from this, because we can’t simply dismiss the story itself as humanly authored, because like all stories (from Tintin to the Book of Mormon) it ultimately has a divine origin and meaning.

          But even Mein Kampf must also have a divine origin and meaning, then — obscured and filtered — misleading us — through the hatred and egotism of its human author’s infernal will.

          I suspect I’m still fine with this approach … but with the exception that I don’t think God ENJOYS being Al Mudhill … maybe that’s the point of the story for me — he is sending his only Son in lieu of Issac, crucifying himself within the prison-name of Al Mudhill (and the prison-lie of the darkness within the story of the sacrifice). And God’s weeping alongside this … Theophany within the Names of God = His own Crucifixion for the “sin” of the universe. Metaphoric substitution in the place of the (human) father’s only son, so that Abrahamic lineage might continue …

          What this (and your comments above, James) means for the status of this blog piece is debatable … apart from my aesthetic assessment that the piece is simply NOT dark enough, fails to tackle the darkness … in its re-imagining of the sacrifice as a purely higher-level, symbolic balancing of Issac-as-Logic with Abraham-as-Love — and a material fantasy of this balancing corresponding to an historical initiation rite between the “father” Bishop and “son” Bishop.

          I suppose I still believe that the symbolic re-balancing act (Logic crowns Love and Love crowns Logic) of the sacrifice is fundamental and Real — but that it is broken and crucified by the darkness that I must admit IS present within this story …

          1. In the sense that you mean: ” I don’t think God ENJOYS being Al Mudhill” I would add that I don’t think God enjoys being any of the Names. In this world of manifestation, the Names jostle and compete with each other (The best Divine indication we have is the hadith qudsi that holds that “My Mercy precedes My Wrath”). And books give us an excellent example of the contention of Names: there are millions of books, some broad and general, others minutely specific, some setting out theses, others refuting them. Each is (unconsciously) authored under the influence of one or more Names. And each contains as much wisdom as the reader brings to them.

            If we take Mein Kampf as an example, here is a revelation of one of the dimensions of the human being: it tells us almost everything we could want to know of what it means to dwell in the ‘place’ of the author. He may have had his own purposes in writing, but what comes through is much greater than those purposes. It is nothing short of how politics comes into being in the radical exclusion of the ‘other’. And every book is something of this kind.

            But just as there is a difference between the ‘completed human being’, who has become – consciously – the place of manifestation of all the Names, and the ‘ordinary’ human being who is – unconsciously – the vehicle for a particular Name, so there is a difference between the ‘completed book’ and the ‘ordinary book’. The Qur’an is – like the Zohar – an example of the former. And it, very literally and explicitly, is the place where all the Names came consciously into being, in the form of a text.

            1. But James, how do we know what you say about Quran to be the truth and not, for example, an orientalist projection onto a book of Asian social reengineering (and only unconsciously a balancing of the names)? Is this a matter of faith? Experience? Proof? Trust?

            2. I’ve been thinking about how to answer this question, and the best way I can do it is rather roundabout, by means of an analogy.

              Imagine, if you will, the making of a carpet. The woof, the strings upon which the whole depends, is the singleness and unity of existence. In the carpet itself, the woof is nowhere visible, but without it there could be no carpet: it is the very structure of the whole. Then there are the individual knots, in an endless variety of colours. These are the ‘impressions’ of life: the events that happen to us, the things that are said to us, and that we absorb through reading, the thoughts and reactions we have, and so forth. Each is called out by the Ustad, and knotted on a pair of weft strings by the weaver. And then there is the weft, which is threaded through the woof before being beaten down upon each row of knots, to give the carpet its structure. This is the ‘Way’, at-tariqah, in the broadest and most inclusive sense of a body of teaching, practices, literature, attitudes and other elements that together constitute a guided life.

              To start with, the pattern is not clear – it seems just a random mass of coloured threads. But as the carpet takes shape, we can discern the outlines of the various shapes that make up its design, see the repetitions and differences, and begin to discern its wholeness. Then, when each new thread is laid down, or each line of weft hammered into place, we are able to sense a progress towards completion. Each new impact ‘belongs’: each makes the whole clearer. However, this assumes we are looking more and more towards the whole – and are not caught up at the ‘atomic’ level of the individual knot, each of which then simply appears to us as ‘one damned thing after another’.

              Thus, what gives the Qur’an its sense of truth is the unfolding of the experiences of life, in concert with the impact of the Sufi tradition, which reveals ever deeper and more coherent levels of understanding – patterns within patterns, built on the woof of tawhid.

              Yet one of the implications of this is that, as it becomes ‘truer’, it also becomes less literal. In itself, it is a design called out by something ineffable: if we call this ‘Allah’, or ‘Jibra’il’, or ‘the Reality of Muhammad’, it is irrelevant: our understanding of it grows only in proportion to our understanding of the ‘carpet’ – which is our own life, as well as the context into which our life is woven, but also not *our* life at all, but the execution of the Ustad’s design.

              As in Physics, the truth of the design is its beauty. The Qur’an was always held to be self-evidently not authored by the man Muhammad because its intricately layered prosody was considered to be so far beyond what any human being could devise that it could only be Divine in origin. But this is really just a metaphor: the Qur’an is not marks of ink on paper, nor even the utterances recited in sonorous tones, but what grows in us, as understanding. No self-directed life could produce something of such supra-human beauty and complexity. But the only way we can know that this is the truth, is to live it.

            3. I think this is a great response, and certainly resonates with my experiences of the Qur’an in the past.

              But I’m currently questioning the relationship between the CARPET and the FLOOR — or, rather, the vine and the tree.

              We are talking still about a relationship to a text here. The understanding/life that unfolds according to Love’s communication — surely that unfolding can operate around any textual/social/human structure, like the vine in my backyard garden grows around our pear tree.

              The vine/life/understanding is Divinity unfolding/Love loving to be loved …

              What makes the tree special, apart from the fact that it is a structure over which the vine is shaped. There’s a forest full of trees/books/structures. Is the Islamic tree something eternal, or something that will soon/has already withered and died?

              I think you yourself suggested on this blog a few years’ back, maybe it’s time to change the terminology and language (I seem to recall you pushing for “Hu” instead of “Allah”, for example). Which would perhaps involve keeping the Qur’an-as-vine/carpet/life, but discarding the Qur’an-as-tree/floor/book.

              No? Or does it come back to a matter of faith, that this tree is universal, eternal, worthy of its situation within the garden?

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