The Friends’ assessment of the Egyptian situation

A missive in solidarity with Friends of Design everywhere. The Matronita Minor says: “Burn it/relearn it/the sign’s inside and outside”. A Hathoric viruspsalm for depiction’s demise. The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill. But remember: silence abounds within speech!

Intellectual Sufism?

Forget the nowhere man: it's the blue meanies you ought to be concerned about.
Question: Your analyses are often muddied beyond repair with intellectual references to psychoanalysts and philosophers like Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault and the like. But Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault were not Sufis. This so called “Tailor’s Doctrine” of pseudo-Sufism is mere speculative application of the relativist values of a temporary, but currently fashionable, academic paradigm. I come from a long line of traditional Sufis — my father is a Sheikh in a major Sufi order — and I know he would say that your intellectual analyses are blinding you from progression.

You need to abandon all these complicated words and instead feel and experience the Haq! And the only way you can achieve this is through discipleship to a true teacher, such as my father. You might be doing some real danger by continuing with this blog — because a casual reader might assume you to be a genuine Sufi teacher — and you would then be, at best, spreading confusion about what Sufism is and, at worst, leading people away from their heart of feeling and into cold fashions and intellectual words.

My father has said: “To really get an understanding of the chaos around you perhaps you need to untangle yourself from the web of intellectualism which has succeeded in masking itself as your hands.” In exchange you will no doubt lose a lot of your analytic impressiveness, but you will then gain intellectual and spiritual independence and, who knows, perhaps that will be the start of true Sufism for you.

The Tailor: Two points, about me and about you.

First point, about me.

You are, of course, correct to an extent. I am obfuscating my Truth with contemporary academic references. But obfuscation is hijab, and hijab is commanded.

My academic references are poetic gestures, first and foremost, ironic, cross dressing acts of high drama. Of course, you must be into musical theatre if you are to get anything from going to a West End show — you must understand the shorthand and the conceits. So your statement is not so much factually incorrect as a cultural misunderstanding. I am, in fact, adopting a poetic conceit that parallels (though inverts) that of Ahmed Bukhatir within this nasheed:

He is posing as a woman, singing the praises of the hijab — “This is my hijab, I never will remove”. But clearly he isn’t a woman: he is instead employing a dramatic position (particularly important in a context where the permissibility of public female nasheed singers is still contentious) to make a point about women and hijabs. If you have a western or non-Islamist background, such a position might seem very funny (in the same way that seeing a man playing a woman in Shakespeare’s time might be peculiar for us) or perhaps even offensive (because you might view it as suggestive of a regressive view of the world, where a man speaks on behalf of women literally, as a woman).

Now, within this blog, I also pose as a masculine academic, apparently brandishing my massive Lacanian phallus around the lecture theatre. And my blog, as the previous statement demonstrates, is probably offensive at a number of levels, if you read it from your Sufist, non-Lacanian background: you might be amused at (a perceived self-indulgent, egoistic) overuse of circular references to myself making statements about myself but also perhaps offended at — or at least object to — my citing “Lacan” and his external, non-indigenous, non-Sufic, academic concept of the “phallus” in what ought to be a “pure” Sufist discussion.

But if you inspect my words carefully, from within my habitus, my practice, my culture of culturality (and again, there is no compulsion here): you will see that just as Ahmed is a man pretending to be a woman speaking about hijab, I am a hijab pretending to be a Man speaking/becoming Woman. “This is my hijab, I never will remove.”

Now, in behaving according to such a fashion, up to and including the previous paragraph’s culturally coded self-recognition of this state of affairs, I am following the sunnah of Prophecy to the letter. I am being Prophetic.

My second point concerns you, specifically.

Sufi teachers have, particularly in the 20th century, used the term “intellect” and “intellectual” in an apparently negative sense, as something undesirable to progress. But negativity and positivity, desirability and undesirability are not the point being made, they are not the sense of such statements. The actual sense in which these terms are used is often (initially) lost on the student. The teacher is not talking about some irritating experience you might have had having to study some boring theorist at university. Or some bookish Nowhere Man figure. Or some emotional distinction between the ecstatic whirling dervish, not using words, contrasted with a dry academic reading Chittick translations of ibn Arabi at conferences.

The “intellectual approach” spoken about here is much deeper (more personal) than those cultural problems and refers, in fact, to the your very act of listening to the teacher.

Let me explain.

I would like to warn you that is can be dangerous to fixate upon the notion of the “intellect”/”intellectual approach” as strawmen that need to be overcome and “ascend” along some imaginary “true” Sufi path.

The danger is that you will begin to hallucinate a value system of ranks and stations. You will imagine the demon of “intellectualism” everywhere — projecting it onto others — as a means to a blanket generalisation — without listening carefully to what they have to say as individuals. And the danger of that, from a Sufi perspective, is that a particular identity will emerge from the crutches of these terms, an identity defined in need of these enemy terms as crutches, a prideful, imaginary self that defines itself as (somehow) in touch with a heart of emotion, released from slavery to the intellect. A self/ego that can offer others advice/da’wah about how they should follow your sunnah.

But just as there is no real, universal fundamentalism — there is also no real, universal intellectual approach. There are only individual voices — which are intelligible, unintelligible, offensive, truthful sounding or funny. Comprehending this — and treating everyone with this knowledge — is the meaning of the saying that “Muhammed’s nature was shyness”. Of course, I fail in this regularly myself — but right now I am being serious, loving and shy towards you at the same time.

If you were to abandon your attachment to the notion of some “intellectual way” as your enemy, you’ll find it was just a temporary phantom invented to define “you” as a seeker … and your search will become unblocked and will continue. It will not ascend vertically, but it will continue to unfold. This will involve some loss of pride in your current station, as well as a loss of something that you have become attached to as yourself , but the reward is Infinite Pleasure! In particular, you will find qalb accessible, the heart beating with a Love that overflows always in surplus across any hijab you touch, so that the Body becomes Known through its adornment.


You wanted to tell them
about the way God goes through
dust despised, then whetted,
cells channeled, and up, tunneling Life out of root, sap,
sedimented in bark, in sense.

You wanted to tell those stony faces
of your vision of God’s hand,
extended out of Knowledge into nature,
and how you felt it, inspecting with child’s eye
the march of the ants under backyard microscope.

You wanted to tell them of your joy,
(and for that they wished you bad)
at the Beauty Unfolding, atoms speaking
such Order out of this Chaos,
that His Message might be encoded by
this teaming process.

You wanted to tell them that the Earth remembers,
that Time is God
and that our strange evolution might sound the dance
by God’s cosmic drum.
And for that they hated you.

Short cuts and grades

Question: I have been warned of frauds who purport to be Sufis but, in fact, present confusion at best and, at worst, lead us away from the Deen of Islam by purporting to present “short cuts” to the teaching. This be done by superficially mixing together ideas from different mystical traditions (for example, Islamic, Hindu, Native American Indian) to present a “Universalist” Sufism. Or it might even be done by presenting lines from a true Sufi Sheikh (such as Sheikh ibn al Arabi), but out of context and at a time when the student is not ready or prepared to grasp the ideas.

I have been advised to join a “proper”, Islamic Sufi school, that emphasizes, first and foremost, complete embodiment of exoteric aspects of the religion and provides, perhaps over years, a course of exercises, each building upon the other (and upon the foundation of the Shariah and Sunnah), eventually reaching the stage where the pupil can dive to the depths of the esoteric — to read ibn Arabi, for example. The “readiness” of the pupil here is determined by the teacher — not by the student’s whims. The idea here is that someone who isn’t prepared to process these ideas might do themselves serious harm.

The Tailor: There are, of course, parallels in other traditions — for example, particular Hasidic schools also prefer to keep schtum about detailed Kabbalah until the exoteric aspects of the law are grasped in detail.

You might be surprised to hear that I’ve come around to this perspective — but with a perverse qualification.

That is to say

  • Anyone who sees the process of reading Qur’an/Revelation as a kind of grade ranking schema (primary school certificate, junior high certificate, senior, BSc, PhD etc) is, in fact, still in primary school.
  • It’s not a question of being able to walk before running. It’s a question of adapting to fly (from here to Jerusalem) before you even know the meaning of what “legs” are.
  • There is a graduation System. But it is not composed of what we commonly think of as “grades” or “stations”: because these terms are taken within a misconceived, rather capitalist sense of “valuation”. The grades of the System are not concrete, fixed certificates of graduation for the seeker-as-student. Rather, the True grades and stations of our System are functors, mappings, transformative movements of change between categories of perception. And grasping this point is what is necessary to graduate from primary school into secondary school. Within our System, there are no values — values are illusion — there are only movements that produce valuation as a side-effect. To take a concrete example, we have shown before that the 7 levels of the nafs characterise movements of change, functions over relational functions.
  • Over the past few years, peddling my wares in the City of profits and losses, I have observed that if people aren’t “ready” for the Solution (any Solution!) — if they are still in primary school — they will either disagree violently without considering component sign of the Solution offered or else emotionally attach themselves to a fetishized, capitalist reading of the Solution as a valuative ranking system. They will either disagree or agree — ascribing value — rather than Reading, obeying the command to iqra, failing to enact the Ritual/Eucharist of Reading (true Ritual is, after all, another name for transformative process here, one that turns water into wine).

    And that previous paragraph could itself so easily be taken the wrong way, and be interpreted as a valuative categorization of an undesirable mentality. The previous paragraph, taken in such a way, might be reacted to as again in agreement or disagreement. But it is not meant to be agreed with or disagreed with! I’m talking to you about “primary school”, “people”, “City”, “agreement” and “disagreement” — but these terms themselves are not fixed valuative signs — they are luminous trajectories, instantaneous enactments of transformation (whose velocities admittedly are a valuative side-effect). When these signs are configured and Read in the right way, they together constitute the means — the System — to graduate from the “primary” to “secondary”.

    A Christmas Nasheed: Saba Mahmood, Progressive Islam, Postcolonial Subjectivities and Hajar

    Sheikh Yufist, Imam of the Dangerousnutter-on-Sea mosque, penning his Christmas hutba.

    It was the jummah before Christmas, and Sheikh Yufist (the Imam of the Dangerousnutter-on-Sea masjid) was delivering the guest hutba at Visible College.

    The Professor was in attendance, breaking a several month long abstinence. An abstinence begun in the somewhat acrimonious aftermath of his previous Islamist fiasco, but which had gradually calmed into a blissful and noiseless state of permanently temporary ambiguity between his own Faddakian Autonomous Zone and the Walled and Wailing City. There was, however, a good reason to be in attendance: he was hosting a distinguished research visitor from the Far East who, with the refined and balanced character of his people, managed to maintain the group prayer as a rule. He had not intended to bring this friend to the College jummah, as the hutbas were generally of a low quality. Given the choice, he would have preferred the Urdu speaking masjid because, not knowing any Urdu, there was a no chance of comprehension and irritation. Unfortunately there was no time to go elsewhere.

    Oh well, he resigned himself: this jummah might always present an opportunity for a reactive observation or two. Sometimes the worse the hutba the better in that respect. That’s how it worked out last year: a terrible hutba led to his solving the problem of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Who knows, this jummah might even provide the elusive conclusion to pages of his ongoing roman à clef, now long overdue for completion.

    And as expected, the hutba was indeed weak, if not exactly bad. The sheikh railed against the dangers of the West, in typical fashion but, this time, with a seasonal twist. “You are students at this College, in this English country, and people here — maybe other students, maybe your lecturers — expect you at this time to conform to their ways. But their ways are those of jahiliya, ignorance. And you as Muslims, you have made a solemn pact with Allah subhanahu wa-ta’ala, not to return to that: if you return, you commit a serious sin and you risk the hellfire. So if someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ to you, do not reply back, oh my brothers. Tell them proudly you are a Muslim and that to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Isa (upon whom be peace) is shirk: we do not celebrate the birth days of any prophets! We submit to the one Allah alone, not to the grave Christian error of a God-in-a-man! Do not reply back ‘Merry Christmas’, even though you feel the social pressure of lecturers and students — that pressure is nothing more than shaytan’s whisper! And beware, oh my brothers, shaytan is closer to you than you think. There are those, they are even here, in this jummah, maybe even sitting beside you — who call themselves Muslims but they are munaqfiq, hypocrites: they will tell you it’s just a conventional greeting, this ‘Merry Christmas’, they who will argue for so called progressive Islam, secular Islam. But that is just their way of saying compromise with our enemies!”

    And so on.

    After the hutba the Professor met the Wild Haired Postcolonial Theorist, the Builder and the Geographer at a local cafe.

    “I think that bit about munafiq was directed against me,” said the Builder. “You know he’s been banging on against Christmas for three weeks solid now. The College was got concerned so they called me in to mediate between the Rector and the students who invited him, but that seems to have only added fuel to the fire. There’s a real lost opportunity here: they could be speaking about Mariam, the fact that she’s mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in the Gospels. Instead they’re wasting their time on this stuff: of course there never was any danger we’ll all start celebrating Christmas, it’s insulting to the audience to even suggest this might be a temptation.”

    “Oh, nuts to the colonial forces of Visible College! If you are serious about a true awakening of the student body, you ought to stop talking to the authorities and start giving hutbas yourself,” said the Geographer to the academics (the Professor, the Builder and the Wild Haired Postcolonial Theorist all worked in various departments within the College). “Work with the Muslim student association, not bemoan their poverty after prayer. Form an Tawhesive assemblage of students and academics. Just think of how powerful a force that would become for good. They respect you already as teachers, right? They’ll respect you if you sat down and explained it all to them, your reading, gave them the zakat of your marifat. What if the Professor and the Builder were to give a double hutba, say, about nature of your trip along the A12, what you saw, what you became at the end of that road. Of course you’ll have to step down from the high tower a bit — that’ll do you good too. Just say it clearly, without the difficult academic language. Bring them along for the ride, next time you head out that way, why don’t you?

    “It would be funny too,” he mused, laughing, “improbably so: all those East End rudeboys and you camp academic types working to free the ummah from its enslaved mindset.”

    Tovarisch, if I related 1/46th of what I came up with in my last Ramadan Reading, loudly and clearly without the academic language, the people would kill me,” replied the Professor. “Plus, I’ve got this massive Christmas tree at home, so there’s my credibility blown.”

    “We’ve got a little one too actually,” chuckled the Wild Haired Theorist. “I didn’t realise kuffardom was a size competition.”

    We leave the men at their cafe and move forward a few hours, to the Ilford maisonette of Sheikh Yufist. Having stayed up a third of the night in recitation, making his Witr prayer and miswaking his teeth and putting on his thermal underpants, the sheikh was settling down to bed.

    But what’s this? A scratching at the window. Outside, a storm is raging, and the rain weighs down heavily. The window was accidentally left half open, and the winds bellow the curtains out, like three sails (lightning flash) like three giants walking toward him (flash) like three angels, now towering over him, cowering in his nightgown.

    “W-Who are you? What manner of jinn are you?” he whimpers.

    “We are the triple spirit, thrice named, of Christmas past, present and future,” the being replies.

    Continue reading “A Christmas Nasheed: Saba Mahmood, Progressive Islam, Postcolonial Subjectivities and Hajar”