The Metaphysics of Palestine

And limitless joy upon our Lord Muhammad! the Truthful! the Trusted

“The Ummah has become an enemy unto itself, fractured into opposing non-Ummahs.”

“The Palestinian has a cosmic reality that no other has.”

“I thought to myself how the Prophet was the first to speak Arabic in Jerusalem. Alone!”

Taha Abderrahmane, the mythically prolific Mujaddid of Morocco, was only 23 when he legged into a cafe in Morocco, in 1967, and the sound of Gamal Abdel Nasser floated on the airwaves, announcing, mourning, the loss of Jerusalem, the Sinai, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, from Beit Hanina to Jericho, to triumphant Israeli forces. Taha was training to become an Arabic poet at that moment, and lamented that the bitterness of that defeat still lingered in his mind, fifty years later:

“I still remember with unrivaled bitterness the tragedy of 1967. What is it about the Israeli intellect that was able to dominate the Islamic intellect, despite her grand history and religious values?” So thought Taha one night in 1967, as he was setting himself to sleep, in Morocco, crushed, wept.

What followed was a breathtaking career and an oeuvre that spans almost every single of Islamic and Western intellectual domain, locating the provenance of the Greek mind and her transposition into the Islamic intellectual landscape, in Kufa and Baghdad, then to Spain and Persia, and finally to Delhi and Hyderabad and Istanbul. A lecture was organized for him in the 2000’s, where he offered the summation of his intellectual career, a summa, in a philosophical framing of Palestine, and her environs, and Israeli colonialism that has sought to upend Palestinian stewardship of the earth

In many fashions, we may argue that although Taha Abderrahmane focused on critiquing Arab liberalism, socialism, and Islamism that shrouded the modern Muslim intellectual, who was unable to think clearly, subsumed under the flags of Marxist, Hegelian, and Straussian paradigms of constitutive knowledge, he suggests that Muslim crises are connected epistemically—political and intellectual and religious. The loss of Jaffa is intimately bound up with the forfeiture of the Ummah to be independent and unshackle herself from secular modes of thought—our political and intellectual defeats and victories are an expression of a singular irādah, or expression of Divine will. Colonialism of Muslim thought is colonialism of Muslim earth. Irādah does not distinguish between the intellectual and artistic and the religious and the political—the Ummah is one entity, and so are her fields of knowledge. The angels descend with a singular will from the ‘Arsh, unfragmented, as Allah says in the Quran: Al-Mudabbirāt ‘amr. We may evoke the hadith of the exalted Prophet—“All Muslims are like a single anatomy,”1 that is, the loss of the mind to fiercely think above the fog of Western modernity translates in the politically handcuffed status of the global Muslim polity. It is in this canvas that Taha labored to proffer a philosophical grounding of the Palestinian question, deepening the needle to locate the origins of both the pain and shifā, and our collective taqdīr and qadar.

في القدس
أعني داخل السور القديم

                 In Jerusalem, I mean
                 the old city walls

Taha begins his lecture by declaring that political analysts, historians, anthropologists, and sociologists—even if they are pro-Palestine—have engaged in secular violence to Palestine by erasing the ghayb in their analysis of Palestinian history. The world of the unseen—or the ghayb in Quranic idiom—is a critical feature of discussing the land, and by assigning Palestine into secular time, outside of her ghaybi, cosmic, dimension is to conscript Palestine into a Western philosophical framing. The Iraqi Mufassir, Shihāb al-Dīn, of the famed Ālúsī family, and the Samarqandi Ḥanafī jurist, Abú Ḥafs ‘Umar al-Nasafī, in his al-Taysīr, note that the ghayb element is a core hermeneutic in the Quranic verse: Glory to the one who made his slave journey in the night towards the land we have sanctified to show him some of our Signs.2 The witnessing, the above two Hanafi scholars maintain, is a lens into the journey of the ghayb that the Prophet experiences within and from Palestine. The ghayb cannot be hewn off from Palestine—the Quran has made them constitutive of each other, as both concepts implicate the other.

Following this, Taha argues that Palestinains are trustees (مؤتمنين) of the earth, the history, the memoriality, and the barakah of Palestine. Any alignment or solidarity with Palestine must acknowledge the barakah of the earth, and thus, violence committed to Palestinians is a two-fold violence: one to their ‘secular’ nature, and one to their metaphysical nature. Palestinians, per Taha, are appointed to safeguard spiritual and material life in Palestine, the closest portal to Barzakh, as signaled in the chapter of Isrā and the report in Bukhari, where the exalted Prophet ascended from Jerusalem into the higher realms. Taha engages in microhistory and macrohistory, at once: surveying the on-ground reality and philosophizing, and translating meta-ethics into the political reality.

For Taha, drawing and synthesizing from the thought of the Syrian polymath, Ibn Taymiyyah, in his Ta’ārud bayn al-Naql wal-’Aql, the fiṯrah is the fount and narthex of Palestinian existence—it contains a repository of memory and spiritual values that ground the Palestinian into the ghaybį enclosure around Palestine, and to the moment that the Prophet journeyed to Jerusalem, and which Israeli colonialism seeks to vanquish, by coercing the Palestinian to “see what is true as false and what is false as true,” in an Arabic neologism he calls al-ḥulūl, or spiritual occupation, capsizing Palestinian fiṯrah. Israeli colonialism is not simply a conquest of land, but a conquest of the constitutive core of the Palestinian body, of which the highest reality is fiṯrah. By launching an assault upon their fiṯrah, Israel seeks to ensure the everlasting-ness of their colonial project. For colonialism is concluded only when the conquest of a human’s fiṯrah takes place.

Palestinian oral and exilic history has taught us that, after the Nakba, those Palestinians exiled from cities like Jaffa and Safad and Nazareth, in interviews that took place decades later, still carried the keys to their homes, a wrought-iron artifact that connected them to the memory of the Palestine. But Taha deepens that recollection: the key to their exilic home signifies not only their dispossession from property but indeed their insistence to remember the fount of values that animated their life before 1948, their lives as trustees of the sacrality of earth which the Quran cites thrice—once in relation to Sayyidunā Musa, once in narrating the Night-Journey, and once concerning Prophet Lut. Mahmoud Darwish, the poet from north-central Palestine, alluded to this very fact when he wrote his poem, In Jerusalem:

I journey from time to era 

                No memory to set me straight

                                             I don’t walk

                                  I fly, I become other than myself in Tajalli

If Palestinians are the cosmic trustees of the land, then Zionist ravaging of the land is violence of the highest order, where it attempts to undercut the divine entrustment of the land. Taha, diving into his vast knowledge of Arabic roots and grammar, makes a distinction between Tadbīr and Tamlīk. Tadbīr, hailing from the triliteral root da-ba-ra, on the second transitive scale, can be understood as management, supervision, and overseeing, whereas Tamlīk signals untrammeled ownership, from ma-la-ka. Tamlīk is the epistemic frame by which Zionists control the land—they see themselves as the owners of the land, and as a result, interact with the land and people as if they are the ontological creators, providers, and originators of the earth, as if they are God. Tadbīr, or management, symbolized by the Palestinian rule of the land for two-thousand years, is an understanding that God is the singular owner of the land, and He possesses true milkiyyah—humans can only manage divine will vis-a-vis the earth and the sacrality, they may never feign ownership of the land. The keys of Jaffa exiles do not signify nostalgia of ownership of the land, but as nostalgia as appointees over the sanctity of Palestine. A loss of that entrustment is a victimization of the fiṯrah and the spiritual memory that animates Palestinian longing for their homes. And, as a result, Israeli violence becomes ṯugyān al-Mālikiyyah.

So, too, do the Palestinains face a conquest of their time—past, present, and future, which happens in three tiers of fasād, or sweeping corruption. By seeking to perish the intimate link of Palestinians with their values, Zionist violence is a case of flattening Palestinian relationships with their past; by imposing iron-clad strictures on Palestinians to contest their frigid reality is fasād of the Palestinian linkage with their present—that all justified resistance to Israel is terrorism and moral failures on the part of Palestinians. And their temporal victimhood is not limited to past or present, but also waylays their relationship with the future: by seeking to strip away any hope for the coming eras—that they might ever return as heirs to the land of their ancestors—is a massacre of their relationship to the future. That is, Zionism, by jutting or prolonging the ‘peace process’, and laboring to consecrate their right to all land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, is to plunder the Palestinians of their relationship to the future. And as the ḥadīth, in Abū Dāwúd, reports: the sacred Prophet said to not curse time, for God Himself is time.3

We can not limit Zionist violence to temporality but must trace it to spatiality and geography: by forbidding Palestinians from praying in Masjid al-Aqsā’, or Masjid al-Baḥr, in Jaffa, or even accessing their historical Awqāf, legal endowments, Zionism hopes to shear off the millennium-long metaphysical relationship of Palestinian desire to kneel before God in their ancestrally-constructed Masājid—and the angels who populate those very spaces of spiritual yearning for God. Taha brilliantly sums the acuteness of this: “Palestinian relationship to time is only decreased with the loss of their relationship with geography.”

The Zionist ambition to ravage Palestinian fiṯrah is anchored in the banishment of the Palestinian soul—here Taha does not define whether he takes Ghazālī or Ibn Taymiyyah’s or Ibn ‘Arabī’s notion of the soul—but we may say that, in Sunni theology, the Ruh precedes the creation of the body, and the Ruh symbolizes the saecula saeculorum (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων)—or pre-eternity and the post-eternity, where, as Shah Waliullah radically elaborated in al-Tafhimat al-Ilahiyya, the soul issues forth from the highest realm, in lā makān, non space, then the Lāhūt, to the Jabarūt, to the Malakūt, where it assumes the colors and the fragrances of each realm (rang-u bū), before becoming ensouled into Adamic flesh. Consequently, the sloughing off of Palestinians with their vertical relationship with Malakut and Jabarut represents the highest tier of violence, and which Palestinians have suffered ceaselessly since 1948. 

The normalization of Arab countries with Israel is not lost on Taha in his tafalsuf, or philosophizing. The word employed by Arab journalists is Taṭbī’, from the word ṭab’ and ṭab’ī’ah, to mean either nature or stamps or printing. Language is a colossal feature of Taha’s project, as indicated by his dissertation at Sorbonne, entitled Langage et philosophie:essai sur les structures linguistiques de l’ontologie.4 The second scale of irregular verbs in Arabic can either suggest a positive transitive or a negative transitive. Tamrīḍ—from maraḍ—can either mean to make someone sick, or to remove sickness (izalāh al-maraḍ). Here, too, Taha applies the same negative meaning to Tatbī’, or the stripping away of the fiṯrah. Normalization is not exclusively a political statement by neighboring Arab states, but also a denuding of their own fiṯrah by acquiescing to Israeli political deals, and, subsequently, the fiṯrah of Palestinians, by neglecting their relationships with the ghayb. Here, Taha doesn’t just limit fiṯrah to the values of spiritual memory, but also to the purpose of fiṯrah, ḥikmah is their ultimate goal, or their ghāyah. So Israeli violence and Arab normalization then becomes twofold: the violence perpetrated on the ṭab’ī’ah, or the metaphysical nature of Palestinians, and Israeli foreclosing their pursuit of wisdom, or rather their safekeeping of wisdom from the ghayb.

When various Arab cities were invaded in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—Algiers, Tunis, Alexandria, Acre, Casablanca—the guards of those various forts, qil’ahs, were called Murabiṯún, or garrison guards—the word also appears in Muslim (fa-dhālikumu al-ribat). Taha deploys it to mean a sort of spiritual garrison—where Palestinians are the keepers of the Amanah, or the divine trust offered by God. The sanctified garrisoning intended by Taha seeks to locate the metaphysical values bequeathed by the prophets in Palestine, and especially, of the final Prophet (upon his soul a thousand salam!). The political occupation is but a single consequence of the occupation of Palestinian sacrality, and of Jerusalem. He unravels the cosmological implications of the Prophetic Isrā’ and Mi’rāj by first arguing that the Prophet pausing in Jerusalem to pray is rife with metaphysical import—the fortitude of the Buraq, the spiritual mount, where the animal would move, thunder-like, to wherever the Prophet’s eyes fell (bi-núr ‘aynihi), reinforced by the archangel Jibrā’īl, and reigned by Mīkā’īl, symbolizes the spiritual garrisoning of Palestine. Moreover, that the holy Prophet ascended from Jerusalem to receive the mandate of the five prayers illustrates naught but the proximity to God, from Jerusalem, and the loftiness of sujūd, the epitome of prayer.

Taha employs this prophetic episode to demonstrate that the Murābaṭah, or the garrisoning, of Palestine, is intimately connected to prostration. Taha is not delegitimizing Palestinian struggle—far from it—and which stretches to the 1920’s, but rather arguing that all garrison efforts must be twinned with these foundational elements, constituting a critical part of their genesis as the guardians of Palestine. Following this, Taha says, because the Prophet then witnessed the ghayb, in much of her beauty, and the Malakūt, and direct conversations with God, the garrison must be anchored in witnessing the world, not in its materiality, but as Shuhada, as witnesses to the inner reality of the Divine Will, where they may align their own will, elevating the garrison to unseen heights. The struggle for Palestine is then not a material struggle, but one of prime metaphysical import, whereby the role as the trustees over the earth of Palestine, and the values that animate her, are resurrected and aspired for. The Muqāwamah of Palestine is, ultimately, Taha declares, a Muqāwamah of the Ruh, as the Ruh is limitless and tireless. “Where the body only deals with the Dhāhir, and may tire, the Ruh never tires and resists eternally.” With the ascent of values and the vision for the sacredness (Qadāsah), the Zionist desecration of the metaphysical roots of Palestine may be reversed, and the roots returned to her fiṯrah. Again, Taha is arguing that the Muqāwamah for the reclamation of occupied land must first be framed in fiṯrah, understanding the cosmic and philosophical violence unleashed upon the cold earth of Palestine, and that by marrying the Muqāwamah to spiritual values will only laden it with more force, fortitude, and as an unmatched garrison, as Divine will over-rules all other wills. The goal, Taha declares without catching a breath, is not to replicate Israeli defilement of the land by mirroring secular ideas that have birthed Zionism and which led to the shearing off of Palestine from her sacrality, but to reinforce Palestine with the values that her guardians have infused in her since the beginning of Quranic time. The Zionist contestation of God’s ownership of the land must be challenged with the sacred idea that the land is not owned but entrusted by God. And yarithuha li-man yashā’.

The interlinearity between Palestine and Palestinians is marked by the Quranic mīthāq, or covenant, consented to in azal, or pre-eternity, where God’s ownership over all materia is acknowledged, whereas Zionist rule is colored by the violation of the this very mīthāq, and, as Taha says, it should not be lost on anyone that the deeper secret for why Israel forbids so many Palestinians from praying, that is, returning to that pre-eternal covenant with God, or imprisoning them, is ontologically bound up with their desire to see Palestinians violate that same covenant. The Palestinians have much more in their favor—the gift of the fiṯrah, of shuhúd, of entrustment, of sacrality, and most importantly, as inheritors of the Prophet (‘alayhis salam), who is the central garrison-keeper of Palestine in this world, and in the ghayb. The metaphysical demand is then to return Palestine from tamlīk to tadbīr, of which Palestinians have exemplified and embodied for more than a thousand years, and more.

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  1. Sahih Muslim 2586d[]
  2. Qur’an 17:1[]
  3. Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4549[]
Mulla Saaleh Baseer

Mullā Saaleh Baseer completed his Dars-i Niẓāmī in South Africa, and earned his bachelor’s in History from Columbia University. He earned a master’s at the University of Chicago in Mughal political-legal history while completing his iftā at Darul Qasim College. He is currently a PhD student at Harvard University in the Department of History.

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