“If my Beloved would raise the veils/you’d see only the pious at the tavern”: A Response to Basit Iqbal (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

It is interesting, though it says something in part about the abstract nature of Ecologies of Thought, that one could not really craft a bestiary of my book. I really am less concerned with the relationship of what ecology normally studies, and more interested in using ecology’s concepts to think thought. But that thought is always, I claim, creatural. I make this claim knowing that there is a whole host of literature that I should be engaging with and that this concept is not without its problems. But I prefer it to the simply human because of the ways it stretches theological engagement to its limits (to Francis and Attar, harbingers of a kind of apocalyptic) and because the ways it emphasizes a common set of capacities to finite entities (creatures are not the creator). Of course, in this way, I am following many of the thinkers of finitude like Heidegger (who I will pick up again in my response to Adam), but in reality I picked up this notion from, of all people, St. Thomas and felt it a more radical version was found in Francis and Ikhwan al-safa. But both the “Brethren of Purity” and Francis are only engaged with towards the end of the book and are not given the amount of space they should (perhaps that remains for me to write)Basit’s response touches on this relationship with Islam in the book and I wanted to spend my response reflecting on that relationship a little more. But as I do so, I want to emphasize, as his post also hints at, that I don’t see a “we” and an “I” when I reflect upon Islam, any more than I do when I reflect upon Christianity, secularism, or paganism (these terms, of course, being said in many ways). But I also am aware of a separation between my “I” and these three domains or forms of life.

So what might this separation mean? When I think about it, I sort of came to Islam by accident. Islam is obviously part of the ecosystem of thought that makes up our global world but may also be seen if we scaled to so-called “Western civilization”. Whether through the subterranean influence of Black African Muslims forced into slavery or scaled up to the heights of learned civilization where the influence upon Christian philosophy and science can be felt despite its repression. So it was an accident that I came to want to spend time there, but an accident that wasn’t totally unforeseeable since it is, so to speak, “in the air”. I’ve learned a great deal with Basit on these matters, mostly through our too infrequent conversations, but also from his recommendations for reading. However, at the time when I wrote the book my interaction with any sort of deep scholarship was rather limited. Islam arrived late in the day, disrupting any easy transition from Christian supremacy to a critical post-secularism, and it did so through events that are related to my work on Thomas as well. My study of Thomas was a year of reading a variety of important texts in that influenced Thomas (most important being Peter Lombard’s Sentences and the works of Pseudo-Dionysius), the various schools of Thomism (there must be around eleven major schools, which speaks to something fundamentally ridiculous about the way Thomas has been used), a great deal of time with the Summa contra Gentiles, a number of minor works that had to do with his thinking on nature, and nearly the entire Summa Theologica. This period was, intellectually, very dark for me as I can’t say that I enjoyed reading Thomas and Thomists so intensely to the exclusion of nearly everything else for a year (I was still working through Laruelle’s corpus at the time). But I took on the project because in my debates with other students at Nottingham and some of the faculty, it became apparent that while I knew their readings of Deleuze and Derrida were wrong (might even call them willfully so), I couldn’t really respond to their positive claims about Thomas and others.

It was during this year that the Nottingham Two were arrested on campus. I have told the story in private to many of the way the reaction to this injustice caused a my complete break down in my relationship with many faculty members at Nottingham. That story may eventually need to be told in public, but for now it suffices to say that after that event, which of course effected Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza far more than it did me, but after witnessing the utter lack of thought and unethical behavior of the Nottingham administration and the vast majority of the faculty, I could no longer trust their ethical judgment and their sprinkling of anti-Islamic bigotry throughout their work and in conversation set me on a path towards Islam. Unlike with Thomas and Thomism, however, I found myself enthralled. I am sure that at times I feel into a kind of orientalism, not unlike with my early dalliances with Eastern Orthodoxy. But I was also working against my own internalized Islamophobia and it created an interesting tension as I seeked to understand and learn about what beautiful forms of thinking I could find in this tradition and where critique was absolutely necessary and where it was but a cover for a form of racism and hegemony.

Basit says, “Though [the engagement with Islam is] limited and often filtered through Jambet, these citations (Sijistani, Tusi, Ikhwan al-safa) prove instructive.” I can only plead guilty to this. My own tendencies towards what is the “weirdest” in religious traditions led me to engage with minority traditions within Islam. Basit may want to problematize this somewhat from an Asadian perspective and I am aware from Steven M. Wasserstrom’s study of the Eranos School that there are serious problems with the way Shi’a Islam was presented as a kind of “Aryan” Islam, an Islam purified of the Arab and the Semite. Yet, I still think that there is something useful in the general dualistic theory of religion I use (building off of Laruelle, but also Nietzsche, Bergson, Deleuze, and Negri) in allowing for the fullness of a tradition to be expressed. It was in reading Sijistani on veiling and unveiling and Jambet’s study of the forms of liberty in Ismaili Islam that I was able to formulate clearly how I understood this theory of nature as “not hidden, but perverse”. In short, it was this limited and filtered engagement with Islam that ended up opening the entire structure of my own argument to me. I knew my critiques of environmental philosophy and eco-theology. I knew how I wanted ecology to mutate the practices of thinking and the ways in which Laruelle would help me to do that. But it was this moment of the Islamic tradition that finally gave me a free voice to speak these two things together. 

It feels somewhat improper to speak at length of the ecstatic experience I had of reading Jambet’s La Grande réssurrection d’Alamût, to speak of the way in which it made me want to pray or read any religious scripture in a number of years, to the way it made me feel free form the World for a moment. But it did open me up to an engagement with a whole banned or dangerous tradition (I would point out that Basit left Medhi Belhaj Kacem off the list) that I hope was more than narrative supplement. To speak in a way that opens up my project to all sorts of questions of the human-animal, of race, of how thought thinks, I see much of my philosophical theology as becoming-Muslim just as much as it is a becoming-Gnostic. To speak to the ways in which such a becoming is possible and may avoids being merely narrative supplement I will have to turn to the questions raised by Alex in his post. But it relates ultimately to my understanding of veiling and unveiling, how one can ethically (that is, freely) live in the midst of a perverse nature through the various forms of fabulation. Those who are truly pious, Sijistani and Attar suggest to us (to name a Ismaili and a Sunni Sufi), do not cover up the limits of thought, but burn up in the reflection of mirror.

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