Title

Linguistic and Sociological Dimensions of the Illusive Concept of Jamʿ

Subject Area

Arabic and Islamic Studies

Abstract

The Linguistic and Sociological Dimensions of the Illusive Concept of Jamʿ

Unlike ijmāʿ, which means consensus, jamʿ refers to mere collection, gathering or grouping. In other words, if ijmāʿ is grounded in reason, indicates a choice between two opposites, and represents a reified construction, jamʿ, on the contrary, avoids reason, (con) fuses opposites, and survives on ambiguity. Jamʿ neither dialectically integrates opposites, nor post-modernly juxtaposes them as collage. The secret of jamʿ is an epistemology of truth that is never complete, and always mixed with falsehood. This epistemology is rooted in Islamic theology, where the Truth is neither incarnated, nor hidden in the world, and protruding through the history of a chosen people. It is rooted in an understanding of divinity that is both present and absent, in meaning that always exceeds the capacity of language. It is this excess of unknown—not non-existing, meaning, this divinity that is both separate from its creatures, and reflected in their images, and this radical monotheistic truth that secretly unites all those differences among appearances, which explains the dynamics, and spirit of jamʿ. Interestingly, sexual intercourse in Arabic is jimāʿ, where the male and the female are united without loss of either identity.

Legally, ijmāʿ is a controversial principle of legislation that remained mostly theoretical, rather than a practical method that would be frequently used. Jamʿ, on the contrary, disappeared as a legitimate rational principle, but has always been an active strategy in the deduction of the law, and its application. Once faced with contradictory texts, jurists have always preferred a strategy of seeking a common ground among all these texts, over one that investigates which piece of those texts is most credible, ruling out the others as invalid. Jurists embraced the same strategy with earlier scholars’ rulings. Differences here are neither denied, nor celebrated. Differences are taken as normative, where truth and clear choices are simply avoided by finding a pragmatic common ground.

The ambiguity of meaning, in which jamʿ is rooted is reflected in a staunch position of medieval Muslim linguistics that the single word does not have any meaning. Meanings are created only when we collect a number of those words and assemble them in a sentence or a phrase—that is jamʿ. In addition, Muslim scholars rooted the miracle of the Qurʾān, not in its meanings, or its grammar, but in its syntax.

In addition to elaborating on these aspects of the concept of jamʿ, and bringing in several examples, I will also explore the concept of jamʿ in Sufism. Here, it always comes in dual with its opposite: farq. Since God is one, but his creatures are numerous, jamʿ means witnessing only God. The swinging from farq, where one witnesses the numerous creatures, to jamʿ, where one witnesses only God, is reversed, as one witnesses God in all those numerous creatures—a stage that is called jamʿ al-jamʿ.

Brief Bio Note

Mohamed A. Mohamed is an assistant professor of Sociology of Religion and Islamic Studies at Northern Arizona University. Mohamed received his Ph.D. from Emory University. In his research, Mohamed focuses on discourse analysis, and socio-linguistics.

Location

Room 212

Presentation Year

2017

Start Date

3-23-2017 2:15 PM

Embargo

11-4-2016

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Mar 23rd, 2:15 PM

Linguistic and Sociological Dimensions of the Illusive Concept of Jamʿ

Room 212

The Linguistic and Sociological Dimensions of the Illusive Concept of Jamʿ

Unlike ijmāʿ, which means consensus, jamʿ refers to mere collection, gathering or grouping. In other words, if ijmāʿ is grounded in reason, indicates a choice between two opposites, and represents a reified construction, jamʿ, on the contrary, avoids reason, (con) fuses opposites, and survives on ambiguity. Jamʿ neither dialectically integrates opposites, nor post-modernly juxtaposes them as collage. The secret of jamʿ is an epistemology of truth that is never complete, and always mixed with falsehood. This epistemology is rooted in Islamic theology, where the Truth is neither incarnated, nor hidden in the world, and protruding through the history of a chosen people. It is rooted in an understanding of divinity that is both present and absent, in meaning that always exceeds the capacity of language. It is this excess of unknown—not non-existing, meaning, this divinity that is both separate from its creatures, and reflected in their images, and this radical monotheistic truth that secretly unites all those differences among appearances, which explains the dynamics, and spirit of jamʿ. Interestingly, sexual intercourse in Arabic is jimāʿ, where the male and the female are united without loss of either identity.

Legally, ijmāʿ is a controversial principle of legislation that remained mostly theoretical, rather than a practical method that would be frequently used. Jamʿ, on the contrary, disappeared as a legitimate rational principle, but has always been an active strategy in the deduction of the law, and its application. Once faced with contradictory texts, jurists have always preferred a strategy of seeking a common ground among all these texts, over one that investigates which piece of those texts is most credible, ruling out the others as invalid. Jurists embraced the same strategy with earlier scholars’ rulings. Differences here are neither denied, nor celebrated. Differences are taken as normative, where truth and clear choices are simply avoided by finding a pragmatic common ground.

The ambiguity of meaning, in which jamʿ is rooted is reflected in a staunch position of medieval Muslim linguistics that the single word does not have any meaning. Meanings are created only when we collect a number of those words and assemble them in a sentence or a phrase—that is jamʿ. In addition, Muslim scholars rooted the miracle of the Qurʾān, not in its meanings, or its grammar, but in its syntax.

In addition to elaborating on these aspects of the concept of jamʿ, and bringing in several examples, I will also explore the concept of jamʿ in Sufism. Here, it always comes in dual with its opposite: farq. Since God is one, but his creatures are numerous, jamʿ means witnessing only God. The swinging from farq, where one witnesses the numerous creatures, to jamʿ, where one witnesses only God, is reversed, as one witnesses God in all those numerous creatures—a stage that is called jamʿ al-jamʿ.