Artheism and Antecedence

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   Being, contra Parmenides and the Greco-Christian tradition, is not antecedence. The Judeo-Islamic being postdated existence. The Mutazilite[1] controversy brought about the intricacies of the issue. The Mutazilites maintained that God’s word was created, which is of course a timely process that places the being first, then creation, while mainstream Islam insisted that the word was as eternal as the being. Though both had their points, the orthodoxy silenced once for all the Mutazilites; yet, apart from being a politico-philosophical problem, the controversy shed light on the question of the attributes of God, hence the ‘being’. He is what he does and what he does is who he is. This is not about word play; God speaks, hence he is the speaker, and it follows that there is no god but the speaker this is very similar to Muslims declaring that there is no god but Allah, or Spinoza maintaining that god is but a negation[2] of other entities. Being follows.

The signifier postulated by Lacan as a starting point might have shed light on the issue, if it weren’t for the lack of emphasis on the manuscript or the nature of the signified. An answer was given, a very eloquent one, by Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini:  “We all are His names, or manifestations of His names, because we all are His signs, He is our originator, who has brought us into existence. The Divine Originator is in several ways different from a natural cause or agent. One of the points of difference is that anything that is brought into existence by the Divine Originator, or in other words, anything that emerges from the Divine source disappears in that very source.”[3] For in fact, the absence of the signified as postulated by Lacan does not mean in the Judeo-Islamic tradition an absence, but the very core of presence; Nonbeing is an “IS”, hence the Saussurien structure would not do any service to this tradition. Khomeini turns everything to signifiers, to the delight of Lacan and Derrida, but with a reference to the absent/present object, hence again the manuscript. It’s a major victory of Gorgias the sophist, who maintained “We can think of that which is not”, over Plato maintaining “Nonbeing is falsehood.” Muslims, who refer to Jews and Christians as people of the book and not as faithful or believers in God, share in reality a nonbeing. They insist that both the OT and NT were falsified, thus representing falsehood/nonbeing. Yet they find something in common with the people of the book, with the concept of the book, not its content.

The signified is both the sign and the signifier through a process of disappearance, which makes the text the apex of Sophism and the Judeo-Islamic tradition, and any attempt to erode it by attacking the author is fruitless. In fact Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, identified himself as the eraser[4] and went as far as to forbid taking notes of his sayings.[5] The tradition that refers to him is exactly the opposite of the nonbeing that he preached.

I’m not suggesting that Judeo-Muslims were conscious sophists, but that the core of their theology was and still is. The invention of the concepts of Author and manuscript could only be viable with a new conception of being.


[1] The Mutazilite ("separatist") is a school of early Muslim theology that originated in the 8th century in al-Basra, Iraq. This school held that reason alone is sufficient to understand the nature of God and existence, and guide man's actions to right or wrong results, and to perceive the difference between morality and immorality. They were in general approving of early Greek philosophy.

[2] ‘Via negativa’

[3] The italics are mine.

[4] Al Bukhari, Hadith number 3268

[5] Musnad Ahmed, Musnad al Ansar, Hadith number 20597

© Karim Chaibi 2005

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