Author :Nadir Aqueel Ansari
(Found and copied from Harf-e-Neem Guftah , a Facebook page dedicated to writing critique on Modernist strand of Islam with special focus on Ghamidiyat)

The pioneers and enunciators of survivalist Islam deserve the gratitude of
the western educated class in post colonial Muslim lands. This highly rationalized
Islam, nurtured by the finest scholarship, made its appearance in India and other
colonies, spearheaded by bright minds working in earnest. However, their views
on anything that resonates with what was in the air at the time of their genesis
should be carefully read, to see whether it is the person who speaks or the social
and intellectual structures of his time. Like other great concerns of Islamic
sciences, in linguistics too, it is in this hegemony of the epistemes of late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that one may hope to find the reason
why survivalist Islam, playing with classical rhetoric, stained by melancholic
rationalism of post-enlightenment frustration, plagued by post-colonial chaos of
identity, disheartened and haunted by the recession of the sacred in the face of
mounting industrial psyche, and disarmed by the rise of late capitalism, could
achieve what has become its hallmark – minimalism, as the limits of the faith
recede in the face of a fear of the indefinite, stepping back to certitudes, which in
the ultimate analysis are few if any. Stipulating one of the premises of this project
Ghamidi writes about the language of the Holy Qur’an:
” The signification of its words to its meaning is perfectly definite.
Whatever the Qur’an intends to say, it says with consummate certitude,
and does not remain deficient in expressing its intention on any matter at
all. Its meaning is only the one that its words accept( Recognize, admit and allow)
, the meaning is neither different from the words nor at variance with them. Its words are the only gateway to access its world of meanings. Its words express their meaning with perfect certitude, and there does not remain any room for
any doubt at all.”(Mīzān (Lahore: Al Mawrid, 2008,25 The passage has been translated from the
Urdu original. In case of any discrepancy, the Urdu text will prevail.)

2. This principle of interpretation is totalitarian despite being inadequate –
in accordance with the classical rhetoric wisdom; for the purpose of this
principle, the Holy Qur’an is taken as the privileged text – against the grain of
classical rhetoric wisdom.

3.     The site of language has been chosen by Ghamidi in consideration of, and
in deference to, his core hermeneutics, having inter-textual links with the other
hermeneutical principles, wherein the genre and homoglossia of the Holy Qur’an
are determined with the same teleological certitude, and stated in a similar
dogmatic idiom.

4.   In the cited passage, the argument is neither forthcoming, nor as
conspicuous as the emphatics (which therefore serve a compensatory function):
Perfectly definite
Consummate certitude
Any matter
At all
Only the one
Neither different nor at variance
The only gateway
Perfect certitude
Any room
Any doubt and
At all

5.      We have, on average, more than two fixating emphatics for each sentence.
The preponderance of emphatic words is not redundant and here lies the strength
of Ghamidi’s style. It reinforces the centrality of the principle and the tyrannical
rule of literalism, which apparently follows, through making common sense
claims. On the other hand, with the emphasis, the argument, instead of being
drawn from linguistics, becomes dogma – more so than the fashion in which
selective self-criticism is gleaned from Imām Fakhruddīn Rāzī (a scholastic) and
successfully decimated (again scholastically), with the assistance of Shāh Ismāʿīl
Shahīd’s (scholastic) text. In the flow of insistence, Ghamidi confounds the
principles; he looses the distinction between doctrine and methodology; on this
bedrock of ancient linguistics, he goes on to discover a new Dīn. How could the
Muslim scholastics’ of the medieval times, brilliant as they were, avoid the same
pitfalls that Ghamidi is not worried about? I do not know. Probably the answer to
this question should be traced in their religiosity and in their uncompromising
belief – which goes beyond, and is held in spite of, their adherence to a post-Aristotelian rhetoric – that the text of the Qur’an is Divine, and cannot be
understood on the analogy of man-made texts.

6.     The rationale of Ghamidi’s insistence is perhaps rooted in a faint
realization that language and its signification are not, any more, slaves to the
rules (or canons) instituted by the classical rhetoricians, whose pinnacle
Ghamidi’s school identifies with Farāhī, a pious scholar of early twentieth
century. While hastening to bind the one-dimensional view of language to the
sacred, the argumentation (or insistence), on the certitude of significance,
unwittingly fails to avoid the profane ends of such a project. I will try to explain it
in plain language.

7.      This approach is not only guilty of considering Language a substance; it
also misses the gap between expression and perception. This gap is obtained
empirically, and rejected here pragmatically. Here lies the second strength of
Ghamidi’s claim – pragmatics. The gap has not been missed due to any blind spot
in the hermeneutics; the gap is the blind spot. And, to be fair to the cited text and
its context, the author haunted by the tensions between sectarian pluralism of
late medieval Muslim society and the eclipsed rationalism of enlightenment,
aggravated by the chaos of religious identity, and the glamour of natural sciences,
can never really perceive it or bridge it, or even want to achieve this. The author,
therefore, in all fairness, cannot be charged with sacrificing the richness of
meaning for the ritualistic certitude. With the postulated principle, apparently
drawn from the classical view, which he tries to grasp, but never fully specifies,
interpretation can never really begin, nor ever succeed in scrambling out of
words, lines and context, because it is caught up in a hermeneutic circle,
gravitating around the semiotic circle, the reader getting mirror images of his
intentions, sanctioning casual reading based on common sense, mistaken for the
definite truth in the text.

8.    The relationship between word and its meaning is not definite. The
reasons are a legion. Signifiers have only an arbitrary relationship to their
signifieds. Word is not signIn the sense it is most often used in the English language, or as defined in the ordinary English dictionaries, where it often stands for ‘signifier’ alone. The confusion arises out of the ordinary sense in which the word sign’ is used. Please note this sentence. The ambiguity has its origin in our use of language itself – in calling the ‘sign’ a ‘word’ or a ‘word’ a ‘sign’, because a ‘sign’ is doubtlessly a word in one sense (literal) and doubtlessly not a word in the other sense (formal). While any ordinary person would call ‘sign’ a ‘word’, a linguist would make some clarifications before doing that.)
, as many initiates in the study of languages too often
believe, but a flickering rendezvous of the signifier and the signified, between
which the relationship is arbitrary. Meaning is not carried in the containers of
words as a classical linguist would like to posit. Meaningfulness is a process
caused by the infinitely large network of differences among the arbitrary linkages
of signifiers and signifieds, and the subject’s ambivalence therein, like electric
current, which does not reside in one terminal, but is caused by the (potential)
difference existing in an electric network of terminals. Meaning, assumed in
Ghamidi’s theoretical framework as perfect or certain (if such a thing exists), is
just one arbitrary point of respite, on the way to a tiring and unlimited semiosis
caused by the difference (or differance), which in most of the cases is chosen by
the listener or reader arbitrarily, and sometimes voluntarily, only in the
eventuality where the listener or the reader has a Hobson’s choice and
voluntarily chooses to disrupt the semiotic process, forced by the gathering
fatigue. This point of respite too is a deception, because it is in fact a point of
suspension. The signifier is also self referential and therefore becomes a signified
for itself. The source of dispersion of signified is not anything outside the
language, but inside it. Words, signs or signifiers all float in a sea of differences,
leaving no room for certitude in terms of their signifieds. The signified is known
only with this much ‘certainty’.

9.     What should fling Ghamidi into more anxiety, however, is the third side of
the coin. If we move ahead to the nature of the access a reader has (or does not
have) to referents, and visualize their triangular relationship with the two faces of
the Sign, we get a third mirror-like face, further enriching, and for the classical
rhetorician further mystifying, the meaning. Then the social and psychological
functioning of the language is finally grasped. The Utopian definite meaning
ceases to exist. In the backdrop of cacophony of linguistic schools of the past, the
demystification of language is complete. The text is relieved of the tyranny of
structure and the suffocation of context. Interpretation of the text begins. This
anxiety Ghamidi successfully avoids, and one must confess, helps his Urdu
readers avoid it too. This is the third strength of Ghamidi’s style – oversimplification.

10.    After this, there is another condition when the words become myths and
become syn-chronic realities in some other sense. But to keep this argument brief,
let us stop here. Thus for the reader of a text, like the Holy Qur’an, the
relationship of words and meanings is a problematic of the linguistic turn and
invoking it in reading religious texts, as a principle of hermeneutics, is fraught
with difficulties. Therefore, far from concluding the interpretation of the text on the prop of the principle Ghamidi posits, it has been shown that he cannot even
begin it. Most of the conclusions in his work that sound inconsistent to all
readers, paradoxical to the critical readers, and irreligious to conservative
readers, are born – or prematurely born – of this linguistic inadequacy, itself the
child of a fright of aporias. Instead of trying to escape the nightmare of certitude,
he continues to avoid the glare of meaning which, I agree with his implied
apprehension, has the potential to daze and dazzle a brilliant medieval linguist.
Since the postulated principle is not rooted in a valid and coherently true
scientific discourse, the ends of such a project are sunken in the sheepishness of
intellectual eclecticism.

11.   Where does this lead to? The consequences of a totalitarian error are also
totalitarian, just like the proleptic fate of Survivalist Islam.