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  • Acts of Askēsis, Scenes of PoiēsisThe Dramatic Phenomenology of Another Violence in a Muslim Painter-Poet
  • Nauman Naqvi (bio)

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The Divinity is beautiful and loves beauty. Cultivate the ethos of the Divinity. Askēsis is my glory, and all askēsis is from me.

Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, Sahih al-Bukhari

>> Introduction: Presenting the Drama of the Gnostic Ontology of Violence in Islam

In current discourse on violence in Islam, the fundamental importance of the Prophetic distinction—a distinction iterated in a number of hadith, or speech-events of the Prophet Muhammad—between the greater, inner jihad, against the ego (al-jihad al-akbar), and the lesser, outward jihad, against oppression and animosity (al-jihad al-asghar), has often been cited. Even so, an originary measure of the significance of this exemplary distinction—abyssal in its simplicity, disclosing as it does the divinity proper to the divinely ordained imperative of jihad (such disclosure of divinity being the very task and telos of the Prophetic speech-event, its very eventfulness (hadatha)—has hardly been taken or heeded.

It has not, to begin with, been explored that both forms strikingly share the violent word, jihad: in Arabic, forceful effort or struggle. It is as if the reality and intensity of these two radically different forms of force are adequated a priori in the Prophetic speech-event—if anything, it is the former, the inner jihad, that has the greater reality, the more violent, imperative intensity. With their difference a matter of degree and quality, the two are at once intimately related and violently real, linguistically leaving us little space for the distinction between the metaphoric and the literal in this demanding economy, language, and ontology of violence.1

The line that has been drawn between the two forms of violence in the Prophetic speech-event is not ontological per se—it is the axis of the stage of their dramatic encounter, the battle line of their distinction. This axis, this vertical battle line of distinction, is the strait, but upwardly infinite, dramaturgical space wherein is enacted the gnostic ontology of violence in Islam. It is the axial line of force emanating from Islam’s extraordinary emphasis on the radical purification of one’s intention, one’s very intentionality (i.e., the purification not just of the springing ground of one’s comportment, but of the anterior ground where one receives and apprehends the real as such), in a quest for the demanding Divinity that would hurl the Islamic subject both inside and outside itself in its own endless search and infinite encounter. It is the battle line of distinction that races through the world stage of Islam’s arts, knowledges, and practices—the auratic line of force pulsating through the fields of its charismatic inheritance of generous visions, discourses, and gestures. Indeed, it is the piercing erotic arrow of divine love and mercy that is the subtle motus animi continuus of Islam’s graceful works of poiēsis.

For the violent task of askēsis assigned by the great imperative of inner jihad is closely related both to the imperative of beauty in Islam—where the effects of askēsis: virtue and virtuosity, are densely, passionately cathected and imbricated with the beautiful2 by [End Page 51] virtue of the latter’s manifestation of divinity—as well as to the imperative of knowledge, wherein theory and praxis are united in askēsis.3

Beauty and its creation—the act of poiēsis —are also, then, violently real, as are knowledge and its effects, since together they all have a kenotically violent askēsis as the condition and telos of their possibility, as the very ground(s) of their emergence and potentiality. Thus, the significance of the greater jihad is (again) to be read potentially, in the entire range of the arts, gestures, habits, and letters of Islam, its artifacts and bodies, where generous, kenotic, sacrificial logics are on display, not just in the lesser archive of jihad (in acts of greater jihad on far bygone battlefields), but in the epic world-panorama of the acts and scenes of askēsis and poiēsis that are...