Peace Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.
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.