Philosophical Hermeneutics and The Islamicate

Peace Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

PHiIC - 3

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University (UK), presented a paper in the session on ‘Critical and Political Issues’ at Philosophical Hermeneutics in the Islamicate Context, an International Conference held at Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium May 9–11 2018.

Here is the title and abstract:

Philosophical Hermeneutics and the Islamicate: Transversals and Reversals


Building on earlier work exploring transversals and reversals in the context of engaging the matter of Heidegger and the Islamicate (Ali Forthcoming), in this essay I present two arguments with a view to problematizing the idea of philosophical hermeneutics in the Islamicate context and attempting to motivate its replacement with consideration of philosophical hermeneutics and the Islamicate.

In the first argument, a transversal, I explore an engagement with the thinking of a central figure in the Western tradition of philosophical hermeneutics, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), effected by a contemporary Muslim thinker living in ‘the West’, Salman Sayyid, pointing to the various strands of pragmatist, Wittgensteinian and Rortyian interpretation of Heidegger that inform his diasporic mobilisation of a discourse-theoretical, post-‘left Heideggerian’ position in pursuit of the project of Critical Muslim Studies. Sayyid’s oeuvre is highly apposite vis-à-vis the matter of ‘philosophical hermeneutics in the Islamicate context’ insofar as it unsettles the idea that Islamicate space is coterminous with geography by pointing to postmodern/postcolonial Islamicate engagement with the Heideggerian corpus within Europe, thereby disrupting the tendency to trans-historically conceive the Islamicate as necessarily situated beyond European/‘Western’ borders. Following a brief overview of “the Sayyidian corpus”, examples of Sayyid’s mobilization of Heideggerian ideas are presented and then subjected to critique with a view to offering suggestions as to how certain perceived problems with Sayyid’s project might be overcome. Notwithstanding such ostensible shortcomings, insofar as Sayyid’s oeuvre is concerned with decentering Eurocentric universalism through a commitment to a post-positivist, post-Orientalist and decolonial perspective, I suggest that its basic orientation is both sound and productive, and seek to mobilize it in arguing that the question concerning ‘philosophical hermeneutics in the Islamicate context’ is tacitly Orientalist and Eurocentrically-universalist, and that it thereby warrants contestation through decentering.

This leads to my second argument, a reversal, which seeks to interrogate the distinction between philosophical hermeneutics and Islamicate thought. Consistent with the understanding that genealogies are fluid, hybrid and cross-civilizational, I do not seek to argue for a ‘reversal’ in the sense that philosophical hermeneutics can be reductively traced to and/or grounded in Islamicate thought; rather, that the distinction between philosophical hermeneutics and Islamicate thought arguably turns on a certain essentialist, Eurocentrically-universalist and Orientalist conception of the location (geographical, historical, cultural etc.) of ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’. In this connection, I draw upon the work of Asad, Cavanaugh and others which interrogates the genealogies of religion and secularism with a view to problematizing how the engagement of Islamicate thought and philosophical hermeneutics is framed; in this sense, my argument for reversal should be seen as an attempt to further contest the tacit knowledge/power asymmetry associated with use of the prepositional ‘in’ as contrasted with the conjunctive ‘and’ to which attention was drawn in an earlier work (Ali Forthcoming). On this basis, I suggest that rather than consider how a tacitly Eurocentrically-universal philosophical hermeneutics might inform engagement with the Islamicate tradition, it is decolonially more productive to think about how a non-Eurocentrically-universal Islamicate philosophical hermeneutics might self-reflexively engage the Islamicate legacy and other-reflexively engage the contents of the ‘Western’ tradition. In this connection, I point to some pre-modern/pre-colonial and postmodern/postcolonial thinkers within the Islamicate context who operate with what can only sensibly be described as a universal philosophical hermeneutics, albeit an ‘other’ universality.


Ali, S.M. (Forthcoming) Heidegger and the Islamicate: Transversals and Reversals. In Heidegger in the Islamicate World. Edited by Kata Moser and Urs Goesken. Washington: Rowman & Littlefield.



Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #70

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

Heidegger thought that history eventuated as a poem of the world. He believed that he could recognize the trace or the origination of this poem in errancy. He thought that he had found the source of the poem. (p.81)

[Yet consider] what the philosophical fetishism of the poem ultimately produced … namely the failure of thinking in respect to its engagement with National Socialism. (p.80)

Extracts taken from Trawny, P. (2015) Freedom to Fail: Heidegger’s Anarchy. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Now consider the following signs/indicators (ayaat) from Surah (chapter, enclosure) 26 of The Qur’an [=Final Testimony of God/Allah to humanity]:

221. Shall I inform you upon whom the devils descend?

222. They descend upon every sinful liar.

223. They give ear, and most of them are liars.

224. And as for the poets—the deviators follow them.

225. Do you not see how they ramble in every style?

226. And how they say what they do not do?

227. Except for those who believe, and do good deeds, and remember God frequently, and defend themselves after they are wronged. As for those who do wrong, they will know by what overturning they will be overturned.


‘White Crisis’ and/as ‘Existential Threat’, or The Entangled Apocalypticism of Artificial Intelligence

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali at the CenSAMM AI and Apocalypse Symposium 2018

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali, Lecturer in the School of Computing and Communications at The Open University (UK), delivered the following paper at the Conference on Artificial Intelligence and The Apocalypse organised by CenSAMM (Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements), a new initiative of the Panacea Charitable Trust in Bedford, UK, which took place 5-6 April 2018:

‘White Crisis’ and/as ‘Existential Threat’, or The Entangled Apocalypticism of Artificial Intelligence

Interested viewers can watch the presentation which is available on YouTube:

Complete recordings of the two days proceedings (talks, panel discussions etc.) are available here.


Islamic Decisionism (?)

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

According to Norman O. Brown (1983), the Islamic worldview is non-linear and mythic (ahistorical, archetypal) rather than historical:

The Koran is not like the Bible, historical; running from Genesis to Apocalypse. The Koran is altogether apocalyptic. The Koran backs off from that linear organization of time, revelation, and history which became the backbone of orthodox Christianity, and remains the backbone of the Western culture after the death of God. Islam is wholly apocalyptic or eschatological, and its eschatology is not teleology. The moment of decision, the Hour of Judgment, is not reached at the end of a line; nor by a predestined cycle of cosmic recurrence; eschatology can break out at any moment [emphasis added]. (p.166)

Extract taken from Brown, N.O. (1983) The Apocalypse of Islam. Social Text 8: 155-171.

On his view, Islam’s history is:

a series of decisions; it doesn’t see its own story, or world history, as inevitable in its chapters and its conclusion, certainly triumphal in the establishment of a world civilization … For Islam there is never a certainty of triumph at any particular moment in history, and no singular apocalypse, only a series of decisive (requiring decision) apocalyptic moments, moments that will recur throughout a history that has no set end-point. These moments must (through the action, the cooperation with God’s call by the believer’s response) break through the crust of the familiar way of doing business (whether globalized or traditional), and lead one to an action that will necessarily be historical and personal (towards purification) because the drive of God’s will is always towards unity, both within and without. But then, however the decision is made, darkness may later descend again [emphasis added]. (p.xxv)

Extract taken from Brown, N.O. (2009) The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition. Berkeley, CA: New Pacific Press.

In the near future, I hope to put the above ideas into ‘conversation’ with the occasionalist metaphysics of Shaykh Mohiyuddin ibn ‘Arabi and the political (theological) thought of German legal scholar Carl Schmitt with a view to exploring the contours of a possible ‘Islamic decisionism‘, God-willing (insha’Allah).


Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #66

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

God can only be found in the absence of things upon which we depend.

Extract taken from Ibn al-‘Arabī, Fuṭuḥāt Al-Makkiya (The Makkan Openings) I, page 193.

In this connection, see also Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #40.


Islamic Counter-Racist Thought Food #62

Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.

Consider this:

The habit of thought which defines the world, or society, as a totalizing system … tends to lead almost inevitably to a view of revolutions as cataclysmic ruptures. Since, after all, how else could one totalizing system be replaced by a completely different one than by a cataclysmic rupture? Human history thus becomes a series of revolutions: the Neolithic revolution, the Industrial revolution, the Information revolution, etc. [emphases added].

SOURCE: Graeber, David (2004) Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press, pp. 43-44.

I should like to suggest that the above extract is usefully put into conversation with the following extract from an important work by the Tiqqun collective which mounts a devastating case against the totalizing systemic logic of cybernetics, regardless of whether the latter manifests socially, politically and economically as late neoliberal capitalism or any of the allegedly ‘resistant’ forms of ‘Leftist’ political-economic formation, viz.

What the socialists all have in common, and have for two centuries,
which they share with those among them who have declared themselves to
be communists, is that they fight against only one of the effects of
capitalism alone: in all its forms, socialism fights against separation, by
recreating the social bonds between subjects, between subjects and objects,
without fighting against the totalization that makes it possible for the social
to be assimilated into a body, and the individual into a closed totality, a
subject-body. But there is also another common terrain, a mystical one, on
the basis of which the transfer of the categories of thought within socialism
and cybernetics have been able to form an alliance: that of a shameful
humanism, an uncontrolled faith in the genius of humanity. Just as it is
ridiculous to see a “collective soul” in the construction of a beehive by the
erratic behavior of bees, as the writer Maeterlinck did at the beginning of
the century from a Catholic perspective, in the same way the maintenance
of capitalism is in no way dependent upon the existence of a collective
consciousness in the “masses” lodged within the heart of production. Under
cover of the axiom of class struggle, the historical socialist utopia, the
utopia of the community, was definitively a utopia of One promulgated by
the Head on a body that couldn’t be one. All socialism today – whether it
more or less explicitly categorizes itself as democracy-, production-, or social
contract-focused – takes sides with cybernetics. Non-citizen politics must
come to terms with itself as anti-social as much as anti-state; it must refuse
to contribute to the resolution of the “social question,” refuse the
formatting of the world as a series of problems, and reject the democratic
perspective structured by the acceptance of all of society‘s requests. As for
cybernetics, it is today no more than the last possible socialism [emphases added].

SOURCE: Tiqqun. The Cybernetic Hypothesis.

Islam is neither totalizing system nor humanism.

Islam is the existential power-transaction between the human and God/Allah.