The subTle Ties of allusion

Yet, as the Niche continues, if nothing exists other than God, the ''Light of the heavens and Earth'' (24:35), ''then the name 'light' for things other than the First Light [i.e. God] is sheer majaz''.47 Thus, ''the 'arifun ascend from ... majaz to ... haqlqa'', from the figural to the literal.48 For ''nothing possesses huwlya ('he-ness') other than He [huwa] except in a figural sense (bi'l-majaz)''. ''Huwlya'', the abstract form of the third-person pronoun huwa, is one of the terms used in falsafa to render ''existence''. In his work The Highest Aim (al-Maqsad al-Asna), Ghazala isolates ''huwa huwa'' and ''huwa ghayruhu'' as the basic form when one wants to say of something ''It is ...'' or ''It is not ...''

(lit. other than ... ).''49 But for the 'arif the third-person pronoun huwa no longer functions simply at the literal level. '' 'Huwa''', he explains in the Niche, ''is an expression ('ibara] for an allusion (ishara) to whatever [a thing] is, but there is no allusion to anything other than He [i.e. God]'', so that ''whenever you refer (asharta) to a thing, you in reality allude to Him, although ... you are unaware of it because of your ignorance of ultimate reality''. So much follows from the earlier statement that ''nothing possesses existence [he-ness, ''huwiya''] other than He (huwa) except in a figural sense (bi'l-majaz)''.

One might paraphrase the latter statement to say that whenever one says ''It is ...'', one indirectly speaks of God, although the sentence one formulates speaks of something else. After all, speakers can mean what they say, but can mean something more as well. In other words, khabari, declarative or reported meaning, is what is meant when one says ''huwa huwa'' to refer to a thing. Ishari or allusive meaning is what signifies indirectly. For example, whenever the 'arif refers to a thing using ''huwa'' he refers indirectly to God.

Earlier, we noted that Ghazali classified this type of indirect speech-act as a form of signification by implication (dalalat al-iltizam). Implications (lawazim) are known from linguistic, rational or ''situational contexts such as allusions (isharat) and symbols (rumuz)''. Signification by correspondence (dalalat al-mutabaqa) and inclusion (dalalat al-tadamun) is best suited for signifying individuals and their properties in the material world. But this latter world ''parallel[s] the world of malakut''. Furthermore, ''there is nothing in the former that is not a representation (mithal) for something in the latter'', and in fact one thing in the former is a mithaal for several things in the world of malakut, so that ''a single thing in malakut has many representations in the material world''. Yet the possible range of meaning (ma'ani) revealed to the saint extends beyond this world. This is why express meaning ('ibara) is also inadequate. Accordingly, Ghazali in the Niche tends to broaden his analysis of verbal signification to include the phenomenon of ishara. It forms in fact the basis of his theory of mystical meaning.

Ishaara literally means ''pointing'', since by pointing one can signify all at once things it would need many words to express ('abara) verbally (bi'l-lafz).5° In al-Mustasfa Ghazali describes ishara as ''what one grasps from an expression [that] comes not from the expression [itself]'', but the meaning ''to which the expression extends without expressly intending it, e.g., what one understands by the speaker's allusion and by a gesture he makes while he speaks to give some hint that the expression by itself does not signify''. However, ''something not intended and not built upon the expression from the standpoint of grammar may [nonetheless] coincide with it''.51 We see this when a person says, ''This hike is longer than I remember'', and means primarily but not exclusively, ''I need a rest.'' He communicates something in addition to, although clearly related to, the meaning the sentence conveys.

Hence, an ishara will maintain the 'ibhra (express meaning) but extend beyond it. For this reason, Ghazall can say, '' 'Huwa' ['He'] is an expression ('iblra) for an allusion (ishlra).'' And Abu Hayyln al-Tawhidi (d. 1023), in his Sufi work The Divine Allusions (al-Isharlt al-Illhiya), can exhort his readers ''to lay hold of the ishara buried within the 'ibira''. The ishara does not contradict the grammatical function of 'ibara (express meaning) or differ from it morphologically or syntactically. Rather, its grammatical, morphological and syntactic function is used to perform the act of ishara. For, as Tawhada asserts, ishara or allusive meaning ''is a concomitant feature of the composition of letters'' making up the sentences of the qur'anic text, except that ''the ishaara is beyond the rules governing names, verbs and circumstances''.52

summary and conclusion

In the Niche, Ghazala writes that ''nothing possesses existence (huwaya) other than He [i.e. God] except in a figural sense (bi'l-majaz)'' and ''the knowers of God [who] ascend from ... majaz to ... haqiqa''. But in the Mustasfa he claims: ''Every majaz [figural sense] has a haqiqa [i.e. a literal sense] but it is not necessary that every haqiqa has a majaz.'' Should we conclude that Ghazala has simply reversed himself, that non-literal and literal are symmetrically interdependent? And if for Ibn Taymiyya literal meaning is all the meaning there is, then Ghazaalai's Niche seems to take the opposite position: there are simply no literal truths to be told, at least not from the perspective of the saints.

How then does the Niche square with the idea that cognition of meaning in divine discourse is first and foremost a matter of literally understanding what the discourser said in the form of an assertion (khabar), rather than how it is said or its force? For faith (aman) is assent to the truth (tasdiq) of what the Prophet has reported to be the case. Meaning thus comes down to what is said or rather what is said to exist. This, at least, is the view put forth in Ghazali's Decisive Criterion (Faysal al-tafriqa), that the use of sentences expressing essential, sensible, imaginal, intelligible or analogical senses presupposes an existential or factual meaning. Thus, qur'anic utterances always presuppose a literal assertion of existence.53 And their variations of meaning result from mental operations performed upon this shared ontological content. However, here is the key to our mystery.

The possibility of performing such mental operations is what allows Ghazali to maintain the two apparently incompatible claims: that fig-ural meaning is asymmetrically dependent on literal meaning and that ultimately there are no literal truths to be told. The mental operations are the contents of specific speech-acts. One may then sum up Ghazali's epistemology of divine discourse in two moments. In the first, he gives a logical account of the possible meanings of the sentences of the Qur'an, explained as a function of the meanings of their verbal components conceived as essences behind its words and their mode of combination in inferential structures. Divine discourse will in this way be seen as possessing a literal content linked with truth.

In the second moment, that literal content is placed at the disposal of various non-direct speech-acts (isharat) to effect utterances of a non-literal significance and of a specific non-assertoric or rather illocutionary force. Isharat are speech-acts performed with qur'anic sentences that already have a literal meaning. Hence, the Sufi jihadist against French colonialism, 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri (1808-83) confessed, ''Whenever [God] wishes to communicate to me a command or give me good news, warn me, communicate a piece of knowledge, or give me advice I have sought touching on some matter, He informs me of what He wishes by means of an ishara through a noble verse of the Qur'an.''54

Using a qur'anic verse as an ishara therefore does not cancel out its zahir or surface meaning. From the perspective of the rational thinker, for instance, a verse may have only legal import. At the same time, to the saint, the significance of the same verse will be mystical and sym-bolic.55 Here the figural meaning and indeed, scriptural meaning in general become a matter of perspective. And if we have not in the phenomenon of ishara an exhaustive account of the tropes found in the Qur'an, Ghazali has at least outlined their structure from the standpoint of theological understanding.

What was important for him to stress was that ''cancelling out the zahir meaning'' was not something he advocated. That was ''the view of the Batiniya [i.e. the Isma'ala Shi'a]'' who have, as he asserts, ''one blind eye and look only at one of the two worlds and do not recognise the parallel between the two nor understand its significance''. But Ghazala equally condemned ''a cancellation of the secrets (asrar) ... which strips the zahir meaning of its content'', this being the path of literalists.56 Only ''those who bring the two together achieve perfection''. Therefore, he can still maintain that cognition of meaning in divine discourse is first and foremost a matter of literally understanding what the discourser says, rather than its specific force as manifested in acts of ishaara. For the literal significance is preserved in ishaara, to be sure. Indeed, that literal significance is what motivates illocutionary uptake.

With Ibn Taymiyya only the latter is important, insofar as it displays the intention of the divine discourser revealed in His habit of address ('adat al-mutakallim). For the ''signification of expressions is an intentional, volitional act signalling what the speaker means by them, [given that] expressions by themselves fail to signify''. In fact, ''the mere hearing of the expression without knowledge of the speaker and his habit signifies nothing'' unless one knows ''what is necessary for the speaker to signify by them''.57 In actuality, Ibn Taymiyya's focus is on the imperatival force of divine speech over its truth-stating power. For ''it may very easily turn out'', he reasons, ''that someone may say, 'I know very well that what you say is true; nevertheless, I will not follow you but fight against you.' ''58 Tasdiq is not tantamount to faith, as Ghazali believed. God speaks to Muslims in order for them to obey Him, not to know that what He said is true. Hermeneutics and not epistemology is the foundation of his approach.

Despite their differences, the picture of divine discourse in both Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyya portrays the Qur'an as a static container of meaning. This is the case, at least, with respect to the first moment of Ghazali's verbal epistemology. And it is true because at that moment both he and Ibn Taymiyya find in the Qur'an a repository of unambiguous knowledge in which each sentence has the possibility of clear and literal meaning. To Ghazali this is possible because his logic leads him to posit essences behind qur'anic words. They are the same essences God presumably thought as He spoke, the content of ''interior discourse''. They reach out and fix the meaning of words in the Qur'an wherever they are enunciated in every possible world of God's creation.

Ibn Taymiyya rejects this picture, as we have seen. Divine discourse contains itself within a hermeneutic circle: the best way of interpreting the Qur'an is by the Qur'an itself. There is no need to appeal to anything more than the meaning of qur'anic sentences and they reflect nothing deeper than the everyday use of the Arabic words that make them up. But the meaning of a word is determined by what people say and in what circumstances they say it. Therefore meaning cannot deviate from the world. That claim is true both for Ghazali and for Ibn Taymiyya as long as ''world'' means perceptible objects continuous in space and time.

But Ghazali holds that there are worlds of meaning beyond matter, such that Ibn Taymiyya's world is like that of a ring cast into the Sahara.

Hence, in the final analysis, the image of a static container of meaning fails really to capture the reality of divine discourse. For our earthly Qur'ans are mere reflections of the deeper reality of the Preserved Tablet situated in a world beyond. So our earthly Qur'an represents at best an arena where hearers and readers actually encounter the divine discourser, a point of ascent from which fresh meanings can constantly arise. In that arena, as described by the Hanbalite Sufi commentator on the Qur'an, Abu'l-'Abbas ibn 'Ata' (d. 919 or 920), in reality ''[God] makes an ishaara from Himself to Himself since no one has the right to make an ishara to Him except He Himself [... Thus,] whoever makes an ishara to Him, only makes an ishara to [God's] ishara to Himself.'' And ''whose ishaara is genuine owes its genuineness to divine glorification and protection'', and ''that person's ishaara is sound'' and ''coincides with the limits of [his own] rectitude'', but ''whose ishaara is pure pretence (da'wh) is invalid and far removed from ... reality''.59

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