Death of the Professor

‘They can’t get inside you,’ Uma had said. But they could get inside you. ‘What happens to you in this College is forever,’ the Dean had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could never recover. Something was take out from your breast: burnt out, cauterized away.

The Professor had seen her; he had even spoken to her. There was no danger in it. He knew as though instinctively that they now took almost no interest in his doings. He could have arranged to meet her a second time if either of them had wanted to. Actually it was by chance that they had met. It was in the Park, on a vile, biting day in March, when the earth was like iron and all the grass seemed dead and there was not a bud anywhere except a few crocuses which had pushed themselves up to be dismembered by the wind.

He put his arm round her waist.

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Burning down the house

Question: I attended your recent hutba where you laid down the principles of Tailorite “True islam”, and your dogma of the Prophet Muhammed’s immaculate pacifism: he shed no physical blood, yielded no physical punishment, etc.

No doubt you have a number of esoteric techniques to extract a Tailorite tafsir of peace and love from even the most difficult verses and narrations. And yet on the point of “harsh and cruel laws”, “exterior appearance of cruelty”, etc, I can’t help coming away with the impression that you’re deluding yourself. Esoterism can only get you so far, surely. There remain many aspects of the sharia that can’t be explained away so easily.

For example (one example amongst many I could give you), there are sound hadiths in which the Prophet says that those who don’t come to pray deserve to have their houses burnt down! This certainly appears to be a “harsh punishment”, if ever there was one, and I puzzle at how this threatening Prophet of his time and culture could possibly be reconciled with your immaculately peaceful image of Prophecy.

Response:

The Lord bless you and keep you on you, maintaining you on the sirat al mustaqeem by the cyclical radiance of the Loving Countenance, resonating through the shells of appearance, running outward, seeping inward, the core Truth of your lives and loves.

I certainly agree my efforts hare futile with respect to ever convincing mainstream Islam as practiced down south in the City. I’m preaching to the converted up here in Fuadfordshire — a comfortable, middle class Tailorite elite. Remember, my move to this northern village was forced upon me after I spent a number of years preaching to the wealthy and the poor of the City, efforts that were ineffective and lost to the majority. Even outwardly moderate and progressive Muslims eventually object at what I have to say, once they sit down, really listen and digest its implications.

I despair of the City and don’t for a moment believe that anything I say will convince anyone who hasn’t already had an experience of Allah (in which case they will not need to read what I have to say anyway).

Nevertheless, your hadith example is a good illustration of how I read the outwardly harsh and cruel stuff in Islamic and Judaic revelatory literature.

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Evolution

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”.

    Science & Islam

    The Islamic ummah is currently unique amongst the Abrahamic peoples in the depth of its deference to science and technology. (There might be a postcolonial reason for this or, perhaps, the deference has a more indigenous lineage, back to a rationalist subjectivity the Muslims themselves invented centuries before Europe took and ran with it so successfully. That’s not our concern today.)

    Running from the East to the West of the body of Islam, in homes, mosques and discussion circles, we find the “proof” of Islam’s veracity is often couched in reference to scientific theories. Popular authors such as Bucaille, Yahya, Deedat and Naik will often claim the Qu’ran’s eternal Truth by arguments that it “predicts” scientific facts that could not have been known at the time of the Prophet Muhammed. Bucaille, for example, claims the Qur’an predicts the movement of the solar system in orbit around the centre of the Milky Way. Yahya claims Einstein’s theory of relativity and the communication system of the honey bee were shown to Muhammed by Gabriel. Passages that might have been mysterious in the past are now clear in their prediction of scientific facts: and for this reason, we know that the Qur’an is Truth.

    We could contrast this with modern day Christians (from ecstatic American Pentecostals to more sedate Anglicans and Catholics) who tend to emphasize a personal, emotional, experiential, supernatural aspect of their faith (being touched in some way by the Holy Spirit/Jesus, miracles of saints, visions of Mary etc). And this difference is often utilized by Muslim apologists to illustrate a key division between the religions: Islam is scientific, Christianity is superstition. The fact that this argument works so well illustrates how respected the scientific perspective is within the Islamic ummah. (We see the same argument employed by the same group of Muslims against Sufis, with their claims to astral travel and so on.)

    There are deep problems with this perspective. Science and spirituality are “compatible”. As a Sufi, I could elaborate on the numerous spiritual problems (or stumbling blocks) that arise from the currently predominant Muslim position on science and religion. I’ve spoken about such things elsewhere within this blog. But, speaking as a Muslim and a scientist, I am concerned with an orthogonal issue: in deferring to these dubious authors and apologists, the Muslims believe themselves to be deferring to science, but are in fact utilizing pure pseudoscience. They are deferring to cranks. They are basing their “proof” of the Qur’an’s Truth upon pure inauthenticity: there is nothing more inauthentic than claiming to think scientifically when there is no science thought. Inauthenticity is the nature of hypocrisy. And basing the proof of your religion on hypocrisy can’t be good for anyone.

    A few points of criticism, regarding Bucaille and Yahya, but with applicability to the rest of the bunch also in mind.

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    Deschooling Islam/Islamic deschooling


    I wished to remain silent on the recent BBC Panorama programme investigating extremism in UK Islamic schools. Experiments have repeatedly shown that — foolish faqir that I am, Seal of Clowns, tattered topsy-turvy Tailor — I have nothing of value to give the ummah of Islam. And certainly anything I write about this issue will not help the community. I can see it is primarily a cultural/racial/class issue, not one that involves “my” Islam: and so the solutions that people are asking for must involve sociology rather than Sufism.

    All the same, I find it difficult to resist commenting on this case, if only because it affords me the opportunity to again argue for just how beautiful things would be if we all focused our attention on what is at stake here (our very souls) and “got” the point (Allah’s will). Panorama obviously missed the point (which is forgivable in a sense, as it was piece of mere sensationalism) but (perhaps less forgivably) the ummah of Islam appears to be failing the test too.

    Because there is a test going on here, at least in my scheme of things. So here are some crib notes for that GCSE at the End of Time.

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    Perennial ethics

    We have noted recently that enjoinment to the lesser jihad is a fact of life, that jihad forms regimes, fixation on a regime is problematic and the embrace of generative spectral investigation (opening up a regime, drawing lines of flight out from one regime to generate a new regime in Creativity) is the solution.

    But it appears that our traditional intuition of the Islam of eternal perfection — the completed religion — gets lost in such a ethics of relativity.

    This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. (Qur’an 5:3)

    Where is completion within the desire for spectral engagement?

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