Head Smashing in the Deen of Allah

There are a number of references to the punishment of heads being smashed (repeatedly) and to the boiling of brains in the Prophetic narrations.

For example, narrations concerning the Miraj and Isra refer to the Prophet seeing angels smash people’s heads with rocks. These heads would return to the shape they had been, and then the angels would smash their heads again–and so on. Jibril told the Prophet, “These are the ones whose heads felt too heavy to perform prayer–the ones who used to sleep without praying.”

There is also the following, regarding brains:

Narrated An-Nu’man: I heard the Prophet saying, “The person who will have the least punishment from amongst the Hell Fire people on the Day of Resurrection, will be a man under whose arch of the feet a smoldering ember will be placed so that his brain will boil because of it.”(Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 76, Number 566)


I remember attending a hutba in South Ilford a few years’ ago where these descriptions were enumerated — with the Sheikh reminding us of how painful that would be, to have your brain leak out from your skull and then for it to be repeated — with the congregation being put under a palpable spell of collective fearfulness.

Now, just so people don’t mistake my intent, let me remind you that I respect traditional Islam’s responses to these stories. In particular, I remind my Western readers not to pre-judge the Muslims on their usage of these gruesome narrations: their purpose is to instill a particular mode of emotional comportment toward their Allah (fear and reverence), an embodied mode of feeling that entails a quite different form of subjectivity from, say, a 19th century pastor’s hellfire and brimstone sermon or a Medieval Christian conception, etc.

And we must be cautious in relating to the Islamic subjectivity of embodied piety — and, when tempted to criticise, must always ask ourselves — for what purpose do we wish to criticise? There’s always a political subtext to any critique, so what’s our politics? And if we can’t answer that sensibly, morally, then it is better to hold our tongue. So what follows is not Islam, has no colonial intent to affect or challenge Islam’s embodied practice: it is something completely separate without a political agenda other than to lay down what I believe.

The Tailorite Reading.

So now that’s out of the way (I ought to form a standard disclaimer), let me give you the Tailorite reading of head smashing.

The human being consists of a number of different aspects and has a meaning that runs across lives, forms of lives, forms of forms and formation itself. The relationship between one level and the next is one of events to forms of events.
At any point in time, the life that we have lived so far constitutes a (fractal) trace of events, a trace, form or set. This trace is called the “head”, while the life we have lived is known as the “neck”.

As we move through life, we encounter signs. When these signs are read (processed, rather than bypassed) light is unlocked into formative space (archetypes are encountered) and conduits of transmission are opened from neck to head. The head feeds from the neck-event, the neck provides nutrient of light extraction/processing, like a tree is sustained by its roots.

The Qur’an ordains necks being severed, because as nutrients are fully extracted from one lifetime, the head needs to pass onto another lifetime to continue its extraction/feeding process. Like a cosmic combine harvester: the head-neck-reading complex.

At the same time, the complex is not unidirectional between neck and head. The head itself provides revelatory dispersal, bidirectional sustenance and nutrients to the neck: like a mother feeds her children. When the neck reads shariah, in an awakened state, it stimulates the head with a call, that is then responded to, with milk of Wisdom which flows down to sustain our lives.

This bidirectionality of this flow is the meaning of Qur’an here:

When My servants ask about me, then I am near. I respond to the invocation of the caller when he calls me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me so that they will be rightly guided. (Qur’an 2:186)

And that’s what prayer is.

But we’re talking about this all from within the perspective of the individual soul, transmigratory though it is. So when we say “Wisdom”, it’s still indirect with respect to the wider matrix of forms of forms, and the core of formation itself. So here we need to speak of head smashing. Heads are smashed when this reciprocal circuit of head-neck-reading is in turn repeated, so that the soul does not merely transmigrate between bodies in one universe but, rather, entire universes are destroyed and recreated: transmigration of the self, not between lifecycles, but between world-cycles.

Reading is navigation through shariah, reading is reading shariah, and shariah is fire. The neck’s movement through fire is always by means of two feet: these constitute the diamond dialectic.

Reading of shariah provides the catalyst for a violent call upwards to the skull of the heaven: reading shariah is the fire against the arches of the feet. This awakens the subject who was previously asleep to prayer. The circuitry of the neck-head-reading complex is activated and the head is “smashed”, so that the brain (acquired/provided localities of immanent Wisdom), passed through all lifetimes in one moment and is both dispersed downward and its archetypes of archetypes are inscribed within the “higher head” of the Invisible Intellect.

The lower (visible) process of reciprocation is therefore mirrored in the upper (invisible) complex. Conceptually mirrored, from the perspective of the skull, not actually, from the hypothetical/fantastic perspective of the meta-skull. The skull is smashed and its nutrient (brain) is released from its form and piped upward to the meta-skull, which recognizes, maintains and corrects the meta-reading of your lifetimes, as they pass between bodies/ummahs, and as bodies pass between worlds, between entire cycles of the universe’s creation. The meta-skull in turn takes these refined calls and emits them upward into the secret of Your Being, Who in turns reciprocates downward through both circuits, a refined sustenance of the Single Tablet, downward into ordinal Qur’ans.

Both the Jesus of the visible order and the Jesus of the invisible order are therefore speaking when they say the following — appearing as he does between cities and villages:

And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”

And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, “Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, “I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, “I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’

The visible Jesus does not know them because he’s a different Jesus now, that universe was terminated and while he looks the same, he’s entirely different without any memory of what happened earlier (parallel universe Jesus). The invisible Jesus does not know them because they are the residue of illusion through which the roots extracted and retained the nutrients: they were lost during the process as it evolves from his meta-perspective.

We are talking about 2’s and 3’s here, lives, skulls and meta-skulls, in relation to Jesus. This is why the following appears to contradict the former, regarding gatherings and recognition. Depending on what part of the self we are talking about, and what point in the cycles and cyclical cycles we refer to, there is recognition or not, though actually the lines of kinship are not severed.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)


5 thoughts on “Head Smashing in the Deen of Allah

  1. In particular, I remind my Western readers not to pre-judge the Muslims on their usage of these gruesome narrations: their purpose is to instill a particular mode of emotional comportment toward their Allah (fear and reverence), an embodied mode of feeling that entails a quite different form of subjectivity from, say, a 19th century pastor’s hellfire and brimstone sermon or a Medieval Christian conception, etc.

    So the C19 pastor’s hellfire and brimstone sermon wasn’t intended ‘to deliver a particular mode of emotional comportment’ toward God? No matter how I look at this, I cannot see any difference.

    What there is, though, is an uneasy contradiction between trying to appreciate cultural differences (a virtue, in my opinion, but not an unconditional one) and rejecting limited and limiting modes of religious discourse. The compromise we often seem to make these days – at least in multicultural Britain – is to make allowances for the beliefs and practices of others, ‘respecting their differences’, whilst holding up the had of rejection to our native traditional practices. (Of course, some cultures – including some contemporary Islamic and Christian movements – do precisely the opposite).

    It would seem to be a more balanced approach, however, it we were able so simultaneously embrace and refuse all these beliefs (which, dare I say, was exactly the approach of Ibn al-‘Arabi). All beliefs are valid, in that they are modes of conceiving Reality. But all beliefs are invalid, in so much that they deny other modes of conceiving Reality.

    So, to ‘instill a particular mode of emotional comportment’ may be a justifiable objective. To tell a child that ‘if you go on the road, you may be killed’ is a kind of emotional terrorism. But if it achieves the safety of that child – and there is no other, better way of achieving this (perhaps because that child can’t be permanently supervised, or because there is a need for them to be safe now – so be it.

    I have no doubt that these Prophetic narrations were just that – terrifying admonitions to spiritual children, because there was neither the time or the opportunity to get them to understand these things in better ways. And this is the curse of all such narrations, that messages that were addressed to a particular person (or persons) at a particular time and concerning a particular context later become universalized, and are believed to apply to all people, at all times, under all circumstances.

    Interestingly, I’m not aware of a single Prophetic narration encouraging the compilation of Prophetic narrations! The Qur’an is the sole ‘universal’ message in Islam, and its universalism doesn’t include the (time and culture centred) interpretations that have been made of it.

    The trouble is, however, that once people start universalizing they stop using their common sense. (So we have the ludicrous situation, which I’ve described before, of 100% organic, provenance-certified Arabian miswaaks being grown, marketed and distributed to believers for outrageously inflated prices – so that they can supposedly please Allah by practising an obscure detail of the sunnah. Whereas it is perfectly clear, from even a slight knowledge of Muhammad’s character, that were he alive today it would be his practice to buy a cheap, unpretentious and functional plastic toothbrush from a pound shop, and not make a big deal out of it.)

    At some point, though, the child is going to grow into an adult who needs to use the road (and that, after all, is what it is there for), and the warnings of its ‘terrible dangers’ will have not only outlived their usefulness, but may have become a useless restraint.

    Fortunately, this is a situation that rarely arises in child development – nobody needs to ‘decondition’ adolescents from dire injunctions that were intended only to safeguard a certain stage of vulnerability. Unfortunately, however, it is a situation that seems to arise all the time in religions. And the more conservative the religious beliefs, the more willing the believer to hold to ‘childish’ admonitions.

    It’s not ‘pre-judging’ such religious beliefs to say that, instead of encouraging believers to grow into every greater spiritual maturity, they are infantilizing them.

    Fortunately, again, religion is not simply a cultural artefact (even if there are those, on both sides of the debate, who would insist it is). It is, instead, an acculturated version of a fundamental process of human spiritual growth and development. And it is right to judge it against that process, just as it is right to judge cultural ‘rites of passage’ against the social and biological processes they reflect. So, for instance, we can legitimately ask: “Is a bar mitzvah, al-khitan or confirmation still an appropriate way, in twenty-first century societies, of signalling a boy becoming a man?”

    So we don’t have to read these fierce Propetic narrations as ‘difficult tropes’. We could, instead, simply see them as teachings addressed to other people, in other circumstances, that simply don’t concern us.

    1. Peace James,

      I take your point: I suppose on this we might have to simply differ.

      I am not saying so much that other systems (e.g., the Islamic) can’t be criticised: I’m saying that if we want to criticise them, we ought to follow through with that criticism, at least spiritually, even “just” personally. I’m sure that is something you are doing in your work — and I know other excellent Sufi and Muslim friends have made the same kind of points. And are really following through — speaking to their own selves — or other Muslims and Sufis — in their language, communicating this, to influence, to make changes within the Deen. But this is something I cannot do with any degree of authenticity — because I’m not a Muslim or Sufi (and so at least have a familial relationship to Islamic scholarship, hence have a right to criticise “from the inside”) nor am I a right winger (criticising the tribal practices of another group in order to steal their oil/ensure steady supply of labour etc).

      All I am saying is that this is an entirely separate, completely “made up” tafsir that is uninformed by the scholarship — and hence ought to be read on its own. It really doesn’t matter at all to me if these fierce Prophetic narrations were made up with the same idea of scaring children (sounds perfectly plausible) — for me, the truth remains that skulls exist and that brains are passed upwards (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/tku/tku55.htm).

      I made a mistake in my earlier activity to develop a critique of literalist Islam — it’s the fatal flaw in the book because it was me pretending to be something I’m not — internal to the debate. I’m quite certain that with real Sufis actively speaking out against literalist interpretations — that there will be some internal discursive movement away from that. But I can’t be part of that (or I could be, if I studied to become a Sufi and Muslim, first, but currently I can’t honestly claim to be either).

      Someone said that the kind of thing I am talking about here has some kind of objective reality — a reality of mathematics — over the Islamic literalism (which is more like a set of necessarily relativized metaphors). While this description appeals to me, and I certainly think I am performing a mathematics here, I think to evaluate it over the alternatives is a very Sufi kind of optimism, one of values, of Islamic science in ascendence, of ibn Arabi travelling the ends of the Empire and experiencing his visions while living the Caliphatic la dolce vita.

      Whereas I’m all about broken values and the idea of failure, error and misprison as intrinsic to Prophecy. And because I’ve only got broken values — I can’t even defend that position!

  2. I made a mistake in my earlier activity to develop a critique of literalist Islam — it’s the fatal flaw in the book because it was me pretending to be something I’m not — internal to the debate.

    But this is exactly the difficulty of treating this debate as if it had an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’. I don’t buy this idea that there are groups of people whose ‘differentness’ turns us into outsiders – I’m with Terrence, when he declared “I am human, and nothing human is alien to me”.

    And, really, there are two bases for this view – both of them compelling, in my view. The first is that our common humanity overrides any attempts to create exclusion and alienation. That is, if you like, the ‘humanist’ bases. The other, even more inclusive basis (which could be described as the ‘metaphysical’ one) is the view that there is only One Reality, and thus that nothing can be outside of it. There is no ‘outside’.

    In addition, there is also a pragmatic argument here, which is that (history shows that) cultures flourish when they encourage engagement, and languish when they disengage in order to talk exclusively to themselves.

    I’m quite certain that with real Sufis actively speaking out against literalist interpretations — that there will be some internal discursive movement away from that. But I can’t be part of that (or I could be, if I studied to become a Sufi and Muslim, first, but currently I can’t honestly claim to be either).

    I was taught that one couldn’t claim to be a Muslim – submission is for, and from, the Divine. (And I was shocked when, twenty or so years ago, I heard young believers declaring themselves to be Muslims – as this were an identity badge they could simply choose for themselves).

    But, by the same token, we can’t really disavow our submission either. Only God knows, and what matters for us is the intention.

    One either loves, or one doesn’t. And in the face of this most private of love affairs, labels like “Muslim” or “Sufi” are just meaningless boasts. But if we take love as the fundamental reality, why would we want to talk about smashing heads?

  3. Peace James,

    Of course you are right here: speaking as you are within the language of Islam 🙂 Perhaps I wasn’t clear about what I mean by within and without — all I mean by an “inside” viewpoint is someone who speaks a common language to teach and discuss with its people. And all I mean by a “colonist” is someone who also speaks that language, but as a means to control its other speakers.

    Granted that there are humans, but there are different languages (and then there are common words and shared lineages, of course — but to get a point across you need to speak the same language with a degree of proficiency).

    Now, what you have said about love and rhetorically question about head smashing — I completely agree that this is the right response in an Islamic setting — I know the vast majority of progressive Muslims would agree with you — one non-Sufic sheikh described this to me as “sword and sorcery nonsense”. There is a lot of “inside” debate regarding the hadeeth and historical re-contextualization etc … that will inevitably lead not so much to a “Quran-only” view of the world, but to a more self-aware judicious application of hadith literature within a more progressive framework. (Again in the past I’ve been critical of that trend, but that was my mistake.)

    Not only that — your two points about human bases — would surely be “internal” to the Islamic debates about these things — because you are speaking within the same language game as the Muslims here. (Ditto for your very good point regarding the audacity of calling oneself a Muslim, and Islam-as-a-label, which is a valid point/move within that game, perhaps even a checkmate move.)

    But you see then, that’s why I am not speaking as a Muslim here: I’m not speaking enough of a common language to get my point across — which is a very specific technical point regarding the brain of the Macroprosopus and Microprosopus (the Greater Head/Face and the reflected Little Head/Face) in Lurianic Kabbalah (I’m tentatively sure the same concepts occur in Sufism, though haven’t got a confirmation yet from any scholars on whether the terms “brain” and “skull” are used — these hadiths are the closest things I could find, but are quite possibly just a gnostic longshot/abuse on my part). It’s said that the Greater Face has a brain (actually three of them) that is transmitted into the brain of the Little Face. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/tku/tku60.htm also helps.) And I am using (maybe abusing, it doesn’t matter to me) this hadith to make a point about the reciprocal, bidirectional nature of this, and to tie it in with the concept of gilgul/reincarnation.

    I’m sure from an Islamic perspective, the hadith ought to be rejected — or if not rejected, consigned knowingly to context and to earlier, simpler times, or if not even rejected, accepted by used only for emotional reaction that is momentary and passes as quickly as it came on — and a greater, (humanistic) form of Love take the place of fear (and surely it will be as Islam progresses) … but, speaking from a completely different language, I’m trying to test a theory about the relationship between the brain of the Godhead and the brain of God’s image.

    And it is that discussion which has the greater clarity for me, because it’s the language I am most comfortable with.

    We sent not an apostle except in the language of his people, in order to make clear to them. Now Allah leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is Exalted in power, full of Wisdom. (14:4)

  4. Coming back to the question of neck’s and heads – which was the main purpose of your piece (and where you provide as original and interesting a commentary as ever), I thought you might be interested in this. I found it on the web a while back, and it’s been lurking in my internet scrapbook ever since.

    “…Some time ago however I’ve read an explanation by Rodrigo de Zayas, which is by far the best explanation [of the meeting between Ibn al-‘Arabi and Ibn Rushd, and the strange conversation that ensued] I have come across. I have in mind first to give the account of their meeting as translated by Henri Corbin (with small changes) and in a later post give the commentary of Rodrigo de Zayas thereon.

    “And so, one fine day, I went to Cordoba, to the house of Abu’l Walid Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He had expressed the desire to meet me personally, because he had heard of the revelations that God had accorded me in the course of my spiritual retirement, and he had made no secret of his astonishment at what he had been told. For this reason my father, who was one of his intimate friends, sent me to his house one day, pretexting some sort of errand, in reality to enable Ibn Rushd to have a talk with me. At that time I was still a beardless youth. When I entered, the master arose from his place, received me with signal marks of friendship and consideration, and finally embraced me. Then he said: ‘Yes.’ And I in turn said: ‘Yes.’ His joy was great at noting that I had understood. But then taking cognizance of what had called forth his joy, I added: ‘No.’ Immediately Ibn Rushd winced, the colour went out of his cheeks, he seemed to doubt his own thoughts. He asked me this question: ‘What manner of solution have you found through divine illumination and inspiration? Is it identical with that which we obtain from speculative reflection?’ I replied: ‘Yes and no. Between the yes and the no, spirits take their flight from their matter, and the necks are separated from their bodies’. Ibn Rushd turned pale, I saw him tremble; he murmured the ritual phrase ‘There is no power save in God’ – for he had understood my allusion.”

    What is the meaning of the curious dialogue of the philosopher and the mystic? They understood each other without too many words or even in an almost telepathical way. The subject matter has to do with the question in the last verse of the 75th sura of the Qur’an dealing with the resurrection: ‘Has not He the power to give life to the dead?’

    Ibn Rushd had understood the allusion of Ibn al-Arabi. It so happened that the young mystic (who is also nicknamed the son of Plato) paraphrased from a work of Plato which would surely be familiar to Ibn Rushd: ‘But fearing in this way to soil the divine principle and in the measure wherein this soilure cannot be absolutely avoided, they (the living who are divine who produce the living who are mortal) separate the mortal principle from the immortal soul and place it in another part of the body. This has the effect that a sort of barrier between the head and the stomach has been created. They placed the neck in between the two in order to separate them’.

    The ‘necks are separated from their bodies’ (see the text of the meeting in the previous post) in order to free the divine essence from the living who are mortal. The meeting deals with the problem of the resurrection and the final destiny of the spirit. Is it not true that the resurrection only concerns the spirit and has nothing to do with the body, the material covering of the spirit?

    Ibn Rushd deals with it as a logician. Ibn al-Arabi deals with it by making use of a metaphor of Plato. In response to the question of the last verse of the sura dealing with the resurrection: ‘Has not He the power to give life to the dead?’ the answer would be ‘Yes’ for the spirit and ‘No’ for the corporal material, the prison for the soul in exile.

    To quote once again from their meeting: ‘spirits take their flight from their matter, and the necks are separated from their bodies’. The flight of the spirit, free from material constraints, implies a return to its first origin by separating (by means of the neck) the ‘Yes’ from the ‘No’. This implies the realization of unity for the spirit with God.

    The opinion of Ibn al-‘Arabi is thus one of origin and destination and is an exclusively spiritual opinion. The material integrity of the body, necessary for the corporal resurrection, has no SPIRITUAL importance.

    This is different from the theological opinions of Ibn Rushd, who is at least a nominal defender of the opinions of the Maliki school of law. The things revealed to the young mystic, took place without an intermediary like the angel in the case of the prophet or the active intellect as would be necessary according to Ibn Rushd. This caused the paleness with Ibn Rushd and made him tremble, he who was familiar with Maliki opinions and who hold the opinion of the central importance of speculative reflection in this case. The two disagreed, although they understood each other, about the destiny of the spirit.”

    The opinion of Rodrigo de Zayas (only partly represented in the above) is expressed in his ‘Ibn ‘Arabi ou le Maître d’amour’; Atlantica; Paris; 1998.

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