Islam: A Revolt Against the Meta-Order

فَفِرُّوٓا۟ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ

“…Flee, therefore, to Allah…”

Tawhīd entails the affirmation of the absolute oneness and uniqueness of God, the absolute, necessary creator whose act of perpetual creation generates and sustains all that is in the world, all of which is contingent and subordinate to His command. In this most basic theistic paradigm is a powerful liberatory force against all oppressive worldly orders. This is because the hallmark of any oppressive order is the arrogation of superiority and ultimate sovereignty to itself, an arrogation that is vehemently denied by twin testimonies of tawhīd. This short reflection will articulate this argument, leaning on the work of Enrique Dussel and Taha ʿAbd al-Rahman, through a theorization of the created world as the meta-order that grounds modern oppressive orders, and a distinction between the world-as-dunyā and the world-as-ʿālam.

Islam is not only a revolt against oppressive orders. It is a revolt against the meta-order, al-dunyā. The difference between an order and a meta-order is that the latter serves as the grounds and draws the limits that define the origins, legitimacy, and boundaries of the former. Islam grounds its critique of oppressive or tughyānī orders through a critique of the meta-order. This critique can be characterized as an act of metaphysical disobedience against both the world at large and the oppressive orders it legitimizes. By metaphysical disobedience, I mean a mode of consciousness that is critical of the internal images we hold of man, God, and the cosmos, or of the worldviews we take for granted. For Islam, this form of critical consciousness is an attitude of rejection towards the world and its self-proclaimed sovereigns. It is an act of metaphysical disobedience implied in the negative (la ilāha) dimension of the shahāda.

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

“…The present world is only an illusory pleasure…”1

To understand the foundational relationship between the dunyā and oppressive orders, it is imperative to appreciate: (1) the nature of an oppressive order; and (2) the nature of the dunyā as a legitimating order of those oppressive orders. The foundational act of any modern oppressive order is self-enclosure: its projection of itself as closed and absolute. In other words, its origins and legitimacy have no recourse to exteriority. Exteriority, simply put, refers to that which lays beyond a hegemonic order, such as God, who is uniquely transcendent and as such is absolutely exterior to any temporal (worldly) formation.

The oppressive order, in totalizing itself, is closed off to exteriority because exteriority threatens to breach its hegemony and call into question its legitimacy. For example, the Capitalist order derives its origins and legitimacy from a sealed-off “free-market”, which is supposedly entirely self-referential and governed by an “invisible hand”. Similarly, the modern Secular order (in both liberal and socialist manifestations) upholds a metaphysical commitment to the sovereignty of the world in that it forges an image of the world that is a sealed-off totality with no relationship to the divine. Both these orders appear closed. Their origin and legitimacy appear absolute, as though created ex nihilo, from nothing, or as having always existed. Enrique Dussel refers to this as fetishization, the process wherein that which is contingent and relative is made to appear as though it is necessary and absolute.2

The relationship between oppressive orders and the dunyā becomes more apparent when we examine the Qurʾān’s descriptions of the dunyā. The world, as dunyā, is a space of diversion because it may appear to be closed, stripped of any relation to the divine, depending on the consciousness of the observing person and their existential orientation. Dunyā is the world that is estranged from God. It is a space of alienation (bʿud) and estrangement (ghurba). The Qurʾān declares it an illusory pleasure, as in verse noted above. It is a space of concealment and distortion. It stands as a veil between the real and the unreal. As a falsely conceived closed world, it legitimates hegemonic claims to power, for the dunyā knows no reality beyond itself. As such, an order that is grounded in the dunyā is groundless.

The Qurʾān encapsulates this groundlessness with the term bāṭil, which denotes a lack, or what is ephemeral in its duration in contradistinction to the stability and solidity of haqq, or truth. Bāṭil is characterized by hawā, which connotates falling or sinking as into an abyss (hāwiya). The dunyā, as the Qurʾān describes, is the ever-ephemeral world of illusions beset by desire (hawā). It is groundless because it lacks permanent grounds, i.e., exteriority, referring only to itself.

Firʿawn, the archetypal model of oppression in the Qurʾān, exclaimed, “O my people! Am I not sovereign over Egypt as well as all these streams flowing at my feet? Can you not see?”3 That is, do you not see my power and superiority such that you ought to submit to me? The oppressive order transforms worldly differences (ethnicity, wealth, power) into absolute hierarchies that render those differences the point of differentiation between superior and inferior. In other words, it transforms the contingent and subjective into the nominally absolute and objective—“And he had (all kinds of) produce. So he said to his companion, in conversation, ‘I am more than you in wealth, and mightier in man-power.’”4

The Qurʾānic critique of the dunyā is three-fold.

First, the Qurʾān resituates the dunyā by subsuming it into the world-as-ʿālam. The dunyā is a closed world, whereas the ʿālam (literally, a sign) is an open world that signifies that which is beyond itself, the grandeur of God. This is not to say that there are two worlds. There is one world but two existential orientations towards that world. The Moroccan philosopher Taha ʿAbd ar-Rahman expresses this in the distinction between man as a vertical being and man as a horizontal being.5 As an ontological mode-of-being, for ʿAbd ar-Rahman, there are two modes of being-in-the-world: al-inwijād, wherein man dwells in one world, the seen world divorced from the unseen, and al-tawājud, wherein man dwells in two words, the seen and the unseen.6 These two orientations to the world—being-in-the-dunyā and being-in-the-ʿālamcorrespond to two modes of being: alienation and authenticity.

Moreover, the Qurʾān resituates the dunyā by placing it within a divine order, the governing principle of which is a state of equilibria: the primordial state of the world in which everything is in its proper place. The Qurʾān describes this order as ‘mīzān,’ a balanced order, and elsewhere states that those who have no resource to revelation are bound to transgress.7 The self and the world that is excised from the mīzān is an alienated self and world.

أَلَا لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَالْأَمْرُ

The creation and the command belong to Him alone8

Second, there are two events that the Qurʾān reveals which constitute the reality of the world. The first is the divine act of creation. The second is the perpetual annihilation of the world. In affirming the createdness of the world, we affirm the absolute exteriority of God in relation to the world and time. There is no ‘secular’ space, nor can the world be sovereign, because the sovereign, the Creator-Absolute, is beyond temporal formation and history in and of itself. The act of creation is not singular but perpetual. As such, the world is not closed upon itself but is an open space as an instrument of God’s creative activity through perpetual creation. Moreover, the world is governed by divine laws (sunan) and as such, the movement of history is irreducible to any set of immanent laws.

إِذَا وَقَعَتِ ٱلْوَاقِعَةُ

When the Inevitable Event takes place9

Third, the second event is the perpetual annihilation of the world or what the Qurʾān refers to as al-wāqiʿa. The occurrence of this event is not the product of an autonomous history or immutable linear progression. It is linked to the supra-temporal, the enactment by God: “And to Allah belongs the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth. And the command of the Hour is not but as a glance of the eye or even nearer. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.”10 Abdoldjavad Falaturi explains: “The arrival of the hour of Judgement is connected to the supra-temporal, divine knowledge and is understood as something which can be perceived in the present…According to Muhammad’s notion of the hour of Judgement, it is the autonomous action of God himself which is to the fore.”11 The final annihilation, the wāqiʿa, is a promised event (ajal musamma) that renders the very fabric of historical time contingent on an impending rupture. The enactment of the Hour is the ultimate irruption of the Absolute into the temporal world. It is the ultimate [divine] act, after creation, from absolute exteriority.

These three truths remind us that God, having created the world ex nihilo, occupies a position of absolute exteriority to any hegemonic order and to the meta-order, al-dunyā. It is an affirmation, as Enrique Dussel notes, that neither “the cosmos, nor the world, nor any system is divine.”12 It is a reminder that the Absolute, whose will irrupts into the world, is anterior to any temporal formation and any historical order. It also establishes the temporal priority of God in that the perpetual processes of khalq and fanāʾ require divine intervention into the world.

The metaphysical theory of creation is the theoretical support of liberative revolution; it is the most thorough-going deposition that no system is eternal, because everything, even the sun and the earth, is contingent (it could be nonexistent) and possible, nonnecessary (at a given time it was not).13

These three notions amount to a radically new existential orientation grounded in a new attitude toward the world: “if everything is created, nothing is divine. The theory of creation is the atheization of the cosmos and of the world.”14

Man is a being-in-the-world, but this being-in-the-world can take up two existential states: being-in-the-dunyā or being-in-the-ʿālam. In recognizing the ultimate situation as being the creation and imminent end of the world and all other historical orders, consciousness is confronted with what Paulo Freire called “limit-situations,” wherein the “human mind confronts the restrictions and pathological narrowness of its existing forms and allows itself to abandon the securities of its limitedness and so to enter [a] new realm of self-consciousness.” This self-consciousness cultivates an attitude of atheization towards the world and its self-proclaimed sovereigns.15 This attitude, as I have already alluded to earlier, is grounded in the act of metaphysical disobedience against the metaphysical horizons of the oppressive order, that is, the dunyā.

Every oppressive order fetishizes itself. However, the secular order is distinct in that it developed a philosophy to legitimize its own fetishization and an ideological state apparatus that enforces that philosophy. The core ideological commitment of the secular order is its affirmation of the sovereignty, not of God, but of the world. As such, the world becomes a space of pure power, representing the entirety of all possibilities, the frontier between what is real and unreal, the legitimate from the illegitimate. As a sealed-off totality, the world is not the world-as-ʿālam, always already pointing beyond itself, but rather the world-as-dunyā, pointing back towards itself and sucking one into the abyss. The secular order has enveloped the world into a state of crisis: an alienation of man from the cosmos, the ʿālam. In an age beset by a secular order, the Qurʾān serves as a launching pad for a more just world, a return to the world-as-ʿālam, and an escape from humanity’s collective state of alienation.

فَفِرُّوٓا۟ إِلَى ٱللَّه

“…Flee, therefore, to Allah…”

 

Suggested citation:

Ali Harfouch, “Islam: A Revolt Against the Meta-Order,” Ummatics, April 1, 2024, https://ummatics.org/islamic-norms/islam-a-revolt-against-the-meta-order.

 

Notes

  1. Qurʾan, Āl-Imrān: 185.
  2. Enrique Dussel, “Thesis 5. The Fetishization of Power: Power as Domination,” In Twenty Theses on Politics (New York: Duke University Press, 2008), 30-35.
  3. Qurʾān, al-Zukhruf: 51.
  4. Qurʾān, al-Kahf: 34.
  5. Taha ‘Abd ar-Rahman, Rūḥ al-Dīn: Min Ḍīq al-ʿAlmāniyya ilā Siʿat al-I’timāniyya, 2012, 14.
  6. Taha ‘Abd ar-Rahman, Rūḥ al-Dīn, 36
  7. Qurʾān, al-Rahmān: 7-8 and al-‘Alaq: 6-7.
  8. Qurʾān, al-‘Arāf: 54.
  9. Qurʾān, al-Wāqiʿa: 1.
  10. Qurʾān, al-Nahl: 77.
  11. Abdoldjavad Falaturi, “Experience of Time and History in Islam,” in We Believe in One God: The Experience of God in Christianity and Islam, ed. Annemarie Schimmel and Abdoldjavad Falaturi (London: Burns & Oates, 1979), 68.
  12. Enrique Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1985), 100.
  13. Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation, 100.
  14. Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation, 100.
  15. Antonia Darder, The Student Guide to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 38.

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