A sister from Norway asked the Tailor: “You have stated here that you would continue with your Tailorite Sufic reading of the Sahih Bukhari even if it turned out that those hadeeth were fabricated by someone 50 years ago. And you’d insist on your uncompromisingly “spiritual/metaphoric” peace and love based understanding of Torah and Qur’an even if there was definitive historical evidence that these books were actually designed as tools to drum up political and martial support within some distant historical conflict. You have stated that Muhammed never shed physical human blood, that Abraham’s sacrifice of his son was a purely ceremonial case of fana, that “4 wives” does not mean physical wives, that the lashings for adultery and the beatings for wives are Qur’anic tropes meaning some kind of purification of the soul. And you have stated that it doesn’t matter what others think, what others have said in the past or present, you have said this “Truth” you have found within these texts is the stand alone light, transcending scholarship and history.
But what about the intentions of the speakers: what about Bukhari’s intent — or Abraham’s intent — or Muhammed’s intent?”
The Tailor thought for a moment and said: “These questions are put to me again and again, in different forms: because they are central questions to ask. Central, perhaps, to the very future of Islam, though that might not appear obvious. But sometimes the manner in which the question is asked is just as important as the answer. See here, a dialogue I had once with a brother from Turkey: if it does not answer your question, then at least it will show you the form — one of adab — by which the Answer may be negotiated!”
The Tailor proceeded to load up a transcript of a dialogue with this Turkish brother, held within Bookface, a well known meta-social networking site.
The Bookface dialogue.
The Turkish brother:
Do the intentions of the speaker – what was meant by the person who spoke the words of the hadith, the sense in which they were meant to be understood by the hearers – not matter in trying to discover the meaning of the words? Are the words as it were stand-alone, and the intentions irrelevant?
Pardon me if I appear as a ‘hostile critic’. I assure you, I am not at all hostile to your general point of view, as far I understand it. I would just like to see if your interpretation (taking this hadith as a test-case) holds up under a little critical (but friendly and basically sympathetic) scrutiny. You’re clearly a singular person; and I should like to make the same spiritual journey you have – but I should also like bring my mind along with me. Think of me as an errant disciple, humbling petitioning for light and clarification.
In answer to your question: yes, and no.
From one perspective, yes, the words are standalone with respect to any Truth we can find in them, because ultimately there is only One Speaker. Everything else is a kind of illusory intermediary, and to believe in a particular intermediary can sometimes distract us from this fact.
This is the meaning behind the verse:
You killed them not, but Allah killed them. And you (Muhammad ) threw not when you did throw but Allah threw, that He might test the believers by a fair trial from Him. Verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower. (8:17)
By which we understand, “Allah is the All Speaker” (same difference, because Allah’s Knowledge is Creation, whose seed is the Kalim, the Word).
When I first fell in love, I had this wonderful kind of experience: each song on the radio suddenly became about my love, pop songs that hitherto were banal commercialism became rich and deep, each TV program somehow reminded me of her, romantic pulpy films were transformed into Donne sonnets.
It felt like a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I could see love written everywhere, my love for her recited by every event, object, media encountered.
This phenomenon is not uncommon for people who fall in Love (it surprised me at the time partly because it so closely matched the standard cliche).
Now, this is the sense in which the intentions of pop song writers, the TV and film producers — they don’t matter and the words stand alone because God’s Love is the engine behind the mechanics of it all.