Title

The Semantics and Semiotics of Fitnah

Subject Area

Arabic and Islamic Studies

Abstract

Fitnah usually means a test, for it refers to heating the silver or gold to purify the precious metal from other cheap metals that could have been mixed with it. Likewise, fitnah, especially in religious texts, indicates difficult tests that aim to purify the believer. Those difficult tests may include hardships, such as sickness and poverty, or easiness, such as wealth and offspring. Psychologically, fitnah refers to the two Freudian basic instincts of Eros and Thanatos, or sex and death. This is why fitnah frequently refers to both feminine seduction and Muslims’ intra wars. Here, fitnah indicates a perplexing, but essential, confusion of truth and falsehood. In addition, fitnah implies an anti reason attitude. Following truth becomes not merely a matter of good intention, strong will, or use of reason, but a tortuous path that has to be sought in faith in ghayb—the unseen reality, such as Heaven, angels and God Himself. The epistemological confusion of truth and falsehood, therefore, is rooted in an ontological confusion of the seen and unseen reality, or ẓāhir and ghayb. In this world, truth and falsehood are neither distinguished nor distinguishable. Fitnah is indeed normative. The rational value of accumulation is being continuously encountered with the irrational value of sacrifice. Semiotically, reality is not made of opposites; it is made of mere differences. The female is neither the same nor the opposite of the male. The female is only different; and this is the secret of the feminine seduction, or fitnah. Like ghayb, it always plays on the imaginative, cognitive or semiotic level, but never on the objective level. Hermeneutically, fitnah destabilizes the text, and renders meaning neither true nor false, but constantly incomplete and eternally changing. In both the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth texts, the greatest fitnah of all is an apocalyptic one. This apocalyptic fitnah comes with a closeness of ẓāhir and ghayb. Aspects of ghayb, such as prophecies turn into objective reality; and aspects of ẓāhir, such an inanimate objects speak up, displaying ghayb reality. The steadily increasing tension between ghayb and ẓāhir eventually ends by their identification into one reality. This is the end of fitnah, the end of interpretation—for meaning is finally complete, but it is also the end of this world.

Brief Bio Note

Mohamed A. Mohamed is an assistant professor of sociology and Islamic Studies at Northern Arizona University. He earned his PhD in Islamic Studies from Emory University in 2012 and a master in anthropology and sociology from the American University in Cairo in 2004.

Keywords

Fitnah, Islam, Seduction, Apocalypse, Interpretation, Semiotic, Quran

Location

Coastal Georgia Center

Presentation Year

2016

Start Date

4-7-2016 10:30 AM

End Date

4-7-2016 10:50 AM

Embargo

11-9-2015

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Apr 7th, 10:30 AM Apr 7th, 10:50 AM

The Semantics and Semiotics of Fitnah

Coastal Georgia Center

Fitnah usually means a test, for it refers to heating the silver or gold to purify the precious metal from other cheap metals that could have been mixed with it. Likewise, fitnah, especially in religious texts, indicates difficult tests that aim to purify the believer. Those difficult tests may include hardships, such as sickness and poverty, or easiness, such as wealth and offspring. Psychologically, fitnah refers to the two Freudian basic instincts of Eros and Thanatos, or sex and death. This is why fitnah frequently refers to both feminine seduction and Muslims’ intra wars. Here, fitnah indicates a perplexing, but essential, confusion of truth and falsehood. In addition, fitnah implies an anti reason attitude. Following truth becomes not merely a matter of good intention, strong will, or use of reason, but a tortuous path that has to be sought in faith in ghayb—the unseen reality, such as Heaven, angels and God Himself. The epistemological confusion of truth and falsehood, therefore, is rooted in an ontological confusion of the seen and unseen reality, or ẓāhir and ghayb. In this world, truth and falsehood are neither distinguished nor distinguishable. Fitnah is indeed normative. The rational value of accumulation is being continuously encountered with the irrational value of sacrifice. Semiotically, reality is not made of opposites; it is made of mere differences. The female is neither the same nor the opposite of the male. The female is only different; and this is the secret of the feminine seduction, or fitnah. Like ghayb, it always plays on the imaginative, cognitive or semiotic level, but never on the objective level. Hermeneutically, fitnah destabilizes the text, and renders meaning neither true nor false, but constantly incomplete and eternally changing. In both the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth texts, the greatest fitnah of all is an apocalyptic one. This apocalyptic fitnah comes with a closeness of ẓāhir and ghayb. Aspects of ghayb, such as prophecies turn into objective reality; and aspects of ẓāhir, such an inanimate objects speak up, displaying ghayb reality. The steadily increasing tension between ghayb and ẓāhir eventually ends by their identification into one reality. This is the end of fitnah, the end of interpretation—for meaning is finally complete, but it is also the end of this world.