Introduction

Concepts of God are mere simulacra. Such, in brief, was the teaching of the great Hispano-Arab mystical theologian Muhyi'l-Dln ibn 'Arabi (d. 1240). In his typically outspoken formulation, the conceptual God is just a ''created God''. He is, according to Ibn 'Arabi's expression ''the God created in dogmas'' (al-Haqq al-makhlUq fi'l-i'tiqadat).1 In the Islamic ethos, such a deity is ultimately a deception. ''All that you worship instead of God is nothing but names which you have invented, you and your forefathers, for which God has bestowed no warrant from on high!'' (Qur'an 12:40). In a ''civilisational event'' charged with numinosity, at the conquest of Mecca on Thursday 20 Ramadan 8 (11 January 630), the Prophet enters the Great Sanctuary on his camel Qaswa, fully armed. He first touches his staff to the Black Stone in the north-east corner of the Ka'ba, magnifying God. In a deafening crescendo, the cry Allahu akbar (God is most great) is taken up by the thousands of onlookers before the Prophet hushes them with a gesture. After making his tawaf, the seven ritual circuits of the Ka'ba, the Prophet next turns to face the surrounding idols of the pagan Arabs. There are 360 in all, standing for each degree in a vast circle of universal illusion. The Prophet rides slowly round, pointing his staff at each totem, and intones the verse of the Qur'an: ''The Real has now come and the false has vanished: for behold, the false is bound to vanish!'' (17:81). As he points, one idol after another lurches forward on its face.

Sufism drew its own radical consequences from this archetypal act of iconoclasm. It viewed not just stone but mental constructs with suspicion. It set aside man-made gods in favour of the living God, the palpable mystery encountered in the disciplines of the Sufi path through contemplation (mushahada = mystika theamata). To be sure, Sufism has a theology, but one unlike the science of the speculative theologians (mutakallimUn). It is a ''mystical theology'' which flows from the

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