The Muslim world is experiencing a resurgent and global consciousness. The emergent consciousness has taken on the form of a Muslimness that is enlivened by a sense of global solidarity between the global Muslim north and the global Muslim south. There is an increasing sense that Muslims belong to an umma. But what is an umma? The word ‘umma’ does not refer merely to a sense of solidarity between individuals. It implies direction. The umma, as a derivative from Amm, means “that body which follows,” whereas the one followed is called Imam. For Muslims, the Imam is ultimately the Qur’an. An umma has a center that provides it with orientation and is the source of its consciousness. Paul Tillich observes: “The more an organism’s different elements are united around an acting centre, the more developed is that organism and the more power of being it has.” (Han 2020, 49)
What is the relationship between center and power? This question can be posed differently: What is power if not the capacity for critical intervention? As Byung-Chul Han points out, “Going-beyond-itself is the fundamental trait of power. But in doing so, the subject of power does not leave itself behind, nor does it lose itself. Going-beyond-itself is power’s form of movement, while at the same time it is a ‘going-together-with-itself’” (Han 2020, 42). In other words, critical intervention is the power to act as a subject rather than an object. To act as a subject one requires an orienting center that grounds an umma’s consciousness and experience of the world.
To ground the emergent consciousness in the Qur’an as center is to provide this sense of global solidarity with direction, and accordingly, the capacity for critical intervention. This critical consciousness allows the Islamic movement, “To explain to the masses their own action” […] “consciously activating the subsequent development of their experiences.” (Freire 2018, 53) In the following essay, we will put forth four theses on the Qur’an with the aim of explaining the ways in which the Qur’an demands a critical intervention into reality. This is, first and foremost, through the cultivation of a Qur’anic critical consciousness that demands a re-interpretation of the world. Sayyid Qutb writes “The Qur’an takes the form of a direct confrontation with the determination to rend the curtains which had fallen on the hearts and minds of people and to break into the pieces all the walls which were standing between man and truth” (Isaacson 2013, 47). This critical intervention, we will argue in the conclusion, takes on the form of metaphysical disobedience against the prevailing order, its regimes of knowledge, and its secular metaphysical horizons.
Thesis One: The Qur’an is an ahistorical event in that it is tanzil, revealed from above to below, and as such it challenges historical orders.
What is an event? The event, as Alain Badiou writes, “is the name under which truths are inaugurated within being.” It is a truth “solely constituted by rupturing within the order that supports it, never as an effect of that order.” (Isaacson 2013, 4). The event is irruptive in that it breaks into an order from an exteriority (the state or quality of being exterior, outside). The Quran, revealed from a position of absolute exteriority to any regime of knowledge, is an event. It is, as Qutb writes, “the initial impetus of movement” which comes from “outside the earth and outside the human sphere (Isaacson 2013, 48). The Qur’an as an event serves as an eruption unfolding in history while maintaining its divine ahistoricity. It is self-described as a revelation from sent down God wherein Muhammad is a mere conduit.
In emphasizing the Qur’an’s evental origins, we are not yet concerned with its content (to be explored below) as much as its being revealed as an extension of God’s will into the world. In other words, we are speaking not of events in the Qur’an but the event of the Qur’an. In this sense, the Qur’an is a miracle in that it defies both natural law as well as challenging temporal or historical laws. The Qur’an evades historical thematization, rendering it sui generis.
There are two characteristics of the Qur’an which make it miraculous and through which it challenges historical orders. The first, is that it was revealed from exteriority, that is, from outside any regime of knowledge. Exteriority, for reasons we will see below, is the “affirmative and definitive precondition for liberation” (Dussel 1990, 99). The second, is that it is revealed, or as the Qur’an describes it tanzil which literally means to reveal from above to below. Thus it establishes a hierarchy of knowledge through epistemic differentiation between regimes of knowledge belonging to historical orders and the ahistorical regime of knowledge that is the Qur’an.
Thesis Two: The Qur’an inaugurates a new consciousness and orientation towards God through a philosophy of creation.
Revealed by who? The Qur’an inaugurates a new consciousness based on a re-interpretation of God and man-God relations through the declaration la ilaha ila Allah. Throughout the Qur’an, there is a distinction between two modes of being: Allah as ‘Ahad, or the Creator-Absolute, and ‘Alam, or the Created-Relative. ‘Alam which is “the name of all beings other than Allah because it is a sign for his existence of the Maker [Allah]” (Davutoglu 60). That is to say, all relations are fundamentally determined by two categories of differentiation: God and non-God. On the meaning of Ahad, Qutb writes:
The Arabic term Ahad used here to refer to the unity of Allah is much more precise than the term… Wahid which means ‘one’. Ahad has the added connotations of absolute and continuous unity and the absence of equals. The unity of Allah is such there is no reality and no true and permanent existence except His … Once this belief has become clear and that explanation has established itself in the human mind, the heart is purified of all falsities and impurities and it is released from all ties except those of the one and unique Being who alone possesses the reality of being and who is the only effective power in the world.
This distinction between Ahad and Wahid, and the ontological differentiation between Allah and ‘alam is tawhid. The ‘alam is the ontological space characterized by multiplicity and contingency whereas the ontological space of Allah is characterized by oneness, unicity and transcendence. The fundamental characteristic differentiating these two ontological planes is Allah’s Creatorship. To affirm tawḥīd is, fundamentally, to affirm the non-contingency of Allah and concomitantly the contingency of man. To affirm tawḥīd is not only to make an ontological claim about Allah but also about the human-condition in all of its various manifestations. Enrique Dussel recognizes the liberatory potential of the theory of creation, considering it “the most thorough-going deposition that no system is eternal, because everything, even the sun and the earth is contingent (it could be nonexistent) and possible, nonnecessary (at a given time it was not) . . . Contingency gnaws at the claim of divinity made by an oppressing state because God — the creator from ex nihilo — is outside any system or formation” (Dussel 1990, 100).
Thesis Three: The Qur’an inaugurates a new consciousness and orientation towards the ‘alam as being characterized by an unfolding annihilation.
What is the nature of the ‘alam? For Kierkegaard, a miracle makes one aware, in a tension to choose between offense and faith. The Qur’an — as an irruptive event — generates awareness of two foundational events: the creation of the world and the end of the world. These two events, in turn, define the nature of the ‘alam. The Qur’an narrates not “the event of the world but the event of the world.” (Saitya 2020, 2). It reveals that it is God who created the world and historical time and, thus, possesses and dispenses historical time. The secular “empty” time is rejected by our knowledge of a Creator who possesses in His hand the immanent waqiah, the happening or the end of history. Abdoljavid Falaturi explains:
“The arrival of the hour of Judgement is connected to the supra-temporal, divine knowledge and is understood as something which can be perceived in the present. It is not something that occurs in the future, only after a specific period of time. According to Muhammad’s notion of the hour of Judgement, it is the autonomous action of God himself which is to the fore.” (Falaturi 1979, 68)
As such, the world is not sovereign nor is it a closed space as secular metaphysics demands. There is no secular time that runs its own course independently of God. The Qur’an describes the world through the concept of fana’, which literally means, annihilation. Fana’ does not refer solely to a singular event (e.g., death or the end of the world preceding the Day of Judgement) but also an unfolding reality, that is, the ongoing and perennial annihilation of the world. In other words, fana’ is a condition, or state of being (e.g., in the same sense that sickness is a condition) that is characteristic of all that is not God. All historical systems belong to an ephemeral and transient world-order and consequently are themselves ephemeral and transient. This, in turn, signifies the utter destitution of the world: the system of all systems.
Thesis Four: The Qur’an inaugurates a new consciousness and orientation towards the political by affirming its own sovereignty.
Whose sovereignty? The political space is the field most vulnerable to transgression. It is through the political space that ‘will’ of a subject (e.g., the monarch or corporation) becomes a lived reality mediated through power-structures (e.g., capital or institutions). As such, there can be no critical consciousness without a critical attitude towards the political space. There are two points from which we can discern a critical attitude from the Qur’an.
First, as we have already seen in thesis one, the will of God is revealed into the political space through the Qur’an. The Qur’an reveals a Shari’ah, or divine legislation which defines how the will of God is to be embodied in the political space without leaving such a question to the whims of man. For this reason, the Qur’an asserts its own epistemic and political authority and sovereignty vis-à-vis the world: “This theme of divine sovereignty is a foundational one, and concurrent with the Qur’an itself. In effect, and as will become evident in due course, it is the Qur’an” (Hallaq 2012, 7). This, Sayyid Qutb argues, is “a challenge to all systems that assign sovereignty to the human being in any shape or form [and] a revolt against any human situation where sovereignty or indeed Godhead is given to human beings” (Stoica 249).
Second, the Qur’an enjoins the implementation of the Shari’ on the community, with the imperatives, commands and directives (amr) appearing in plural form (jam’). This, in turn, cultivated a collective consciousness of responsibility and obligation towards the shari’. Similarly, interpretation of the Shari’ah is not left to a sovereign state nor an institutional ecclesiastical class but belongs to the umma, the egalitarian community. The state’s executive intervention into society was, as Sherman B. Jackson points out, was the exception rather than the rule. The sovereignty of God and the manifest nature of the Qur’an “inexorably excludes every human mediatorship” and is found in “the general priesthood of believers” (Stoica 251). The political space is community-centric, assigning to the egalitarian believers the task of realizing the will of God on earth through enjoining the good, forbidding the evil, through the Shari’ah. The sovereignty of God establishes a dynamic communal movement that is egalitarian and transparent.
Towards Metaphysical Disobedience: Islam as a Movement
To recall Tillich’s observation, “The more an organism’s different elements are united around an acting centre, the more developed is that organism and the more power of being it has.” (Han 2020, 49). For the Muslim subject, that centre is the Qur’an. The Qur’an’s exteriority and its differentiation from other regimes of knowledge provides the Muslim subject with an alternative centre from which a new consciousness emerges and provide the burgeoning global solidarity with the much-needed direction.
What is the nature and depth of this consciousness? The consciousness that emerges from the Qur’an-as-centre is quintessentially a metaphysical consciousness. The political sense of solidarity is given a new and metaphysical orientation, direction. However, we may ask: Metaphysics, in what sense? Enrique Dussel defines metaphysics, or, metaphysical consciousness as “knowing how to ponder the system and world from “the exteriority of the Other” (Dussel 1990, 48). The exteriority of the Other, for the Muslim subject, is the transcendence of God and His revealed Qur’an. Metaphysics becomes knowing how to ponder the system and the world through the Qur’an.
What sort of critical intervention does this metaphysical consciousness demand? It demands metaphysical disobedience. It is metaphysical because the tawḥīdic consciousness emerging from the Qur’an challenges the prevailing metaphysical horizons inscribed and maintained by a hegemonic order through a radical reinterpretation of God, the world and man: Tawḥīd. It is metaphysical disobedience because, as Dussel notes, “Metaphysics takes a risk not only in its fidelity to its vocation (liberation) but also in the pulsion that mobilizes, transforms, and subverts reality itself” (Dussel 1990, 49).
Ali Harfouch has a Masters in Political Studies from the American University of Beirut. He researches and writes on Islamic political theology and modern political theory.
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Last modified: April 14, 2022