The Hijab as a Metaphor for Otherness and the Creation of an Ineffable “Third Space”
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Why have debates around the Muslim hijab become increasingly acrimonious? Islamophobia has led to the rise of far-right groups, with calls in Europe and the US for banning headscarves and minarets on mosques. In India, sectarian violence continues unabated since 1947, with hate speech becoming progressively overt. The first half of this paper examines why the Muslim hijab has become the lone metaphor for debates about identity formation, to the exclusion of veiling prevalent in other religious and cultural contexts. How would Muslim migrant writers find these debates helpful for their situation in their countries, whether original or adoptive? How can marginalized writers resist discrimination and exclusion from mainstream life? The second half of this paper focuses on the belief in the transformative power of Sufism that the Turkish-German writer Zafer Şenocak shares with the mystics Yunus Emre and Jalaluddin Rumi, and the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. For Şenocak, Sufism allows a religiosity that is not only compatible with, but also perceivable in sensuous experience. Sufism thus serves as a “third space,” a term defined by the renowned culture critic Homi Bhabha as an ambiguous, ineffable area that develops when two or more individuals/cultures interact.
KeywordsHijab Sufism Third space Ineffable Otherness
The disputed mosque [Babri Masjid] was
razed to the ground with a barbaric savagery
reminiscent of the crude traditions of settling
scores in medieval history. The demolition of
the Masjid has delivered a lethal blow to the
image of a secular and democratic India.
The Hindu , December 7, 1992
A screaming mob of thousands of Hindu
militants stormed a 16th-century mosque
here today and demolished it with sledge-
hammers and their bare hands, plunging
India into a political and religious crisis.
The destruction of the mosque, which has
been a focus of tensions between Hindus
and Muslims for several years, raised the danger
of a renewal of the conflicts between the
groups that have claimed tens of thousands
of lives in the last four decades.
The New York Times , December 6, 1992
Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh and
native of India, was fatally shot outside his gas
station by Frank Silva Roque, who mistakenly
believed Sodhi was Muslim. […] Waqar Hasan,
a 46-year-old Pakistani immigrant, was shot to
death in his convenience store. Mark Stroman,
who allegedly said he was angry with people of
Middle Eastern descent after the 9/11 terrorist
attacks, was charged with Hasan’s murder.
Stroman was also charged with the Oct. 4 murder
of Vasudev Patel, a 49-year-old native of India,
at a gas station convenience store in Mesquite,
Southern Poverty Law Center,
Mesa, Arizona, Sept. 15, 2001
“… a lethal blow to the image of a secular and democratic India,” is a powerful statement indeed and a lethal blow to the image of a secular and democratic USA. Soon after the Babri Masjid massacres, and compounded by 9/11, so many questions began surfacing, insistent questions, many of them leading back to my own childhood.
A Child’s Induction into Islamophobia
My earliest memories of the Muslim “other” are anchored in the school I attended: Loreto House, a Roman Catholic school. The school was also considered to be better than the so-called indigenous ones in the Indian city of Kolkata. “You will learn to speak English there,” my parents told me expectantly. Suspending their religious beliefs, both Hindu and Muslim families sent their daughters to this school. I vividly remember how my burqa-covered Muslim classmates hurried through the school gates. As soon as our school watchman closed the gates behind them, they cast off their burqas, revealing our school uniform. Veiled Catholic nuns—our teachers—greeted us and led us to the assembly hall. I remember my friend Fatima enquiring: “Why don’t they take off their burqas?” On festival days and within the confines of the school compound, my Muslim schoolmates displayed the most exquisitely tailored ghaagras! I recollect telling my mother, a woman steeped in south-Indian Brahmin tradition, that I wanted to be reborn a Muslim—then, I could wear all those lovely clothes!
My other contact with Islam was our Muslim tailor or darzi. The adults in my family treated him and his son like outcasts. The father and son were allowed to enter the verandah of our home. There was this widespread belief that Muslim men regularly kidnapped and raped Hindu girls. Accordingly, when our darzi took the measurements of the females in the family, my grandmother was always there to ensure that “those Turakas” did not molest us! The word for ‘Muslim’ in Telugu is “Turaka.” When the darzi brought Id offerings (usually biryani, sabzi, and sweets) in a tiffin carrier, my mother politely took the food from them. But, then, grandmother invariably asked the sweeper to throw the food away! “These turakaallu!” (these Muslims), she would scold.
In the 1950s, memories of the Hindu-Muslim riots were still very present in our circle of relatives and friends. Religious and sectarian intolerance manifested itself through remarks about the way “they” dressed, the “garish colors” they wore (bright green was the color most ridiculed—it was called “turaka patsa” = Muslim green). I also remember my grandmother talking disparagingly about those “purdah females.”
Islamophobia in the Twenty-first Century
Islamophobia shows no signs of waning in the present century. On the contrary, there is every indication that the hatred and violence that this phobia foments is on the rise the world over. I asked myself the following question: “What recourse do we as scholars and researchers have to raise awareness about the destructive nature of such hatred, such violence?” Comparativism had been a tool that I had systematically used in four decades of research and publishing. I knew from past experience that a cross-cultural methodology would allow new ways of perceiving and organizing the world. Additionally, I used “womanism” as a frame of reference to understand what veiled women aimed for: the conception that both femininity and culture are equally important to the woman’s existence. It was from within these in my opinion not contradictory methodological frameworks that I renewed my search for a raison d’être behind the resurgence of Islamophobia, when September 11, 2001, heralded my next visceral encounter with an overt Islamophobia.
The inability of most people in public spaces to differentiate between a Muslim and other non-Christians led to my great-nephews carrying their passports at all times, even though they were US citizens, one of them born in this country. They could easily be profiled and crucified as the Islamic “other.” On a cold spring morning in Middlebury, Vermont, I hurriedly finished my daily walk and dashed into the nearby supermarket to get fresh hot rolls. As I headed for the baked goods aisle, a little boy pulled a lollipop out of his mouth, looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back. The clerk at the checkout counter greeted me with a welcoming beam, and sportingly laughed at my lame joke. I came out feeling connected with the world. That same evening, I returned to the supermarket to pick up some groceries. As I threaded my way through the aisles, the usual chatter died down; I felt the many stares, some of them blatantly hostile. A little girl looked up at me, stabbed a chubby finger at her forehead, pointed at mine, and grinned. I grinned back, peeled the red dot off my forehead, and placed it on hers. The clerk at the checkout counter kept his head down. I cracked another silly joke and observed the clerk’s face cautiously relax into a reluctant grin. I came out saddened, not overly surprised at the way the planet had suddenly been sucked into a black hole (Murti 2013).
Three months after 9/11, I traveled to India to visit my brother, hoping to obtain some rational explanation for this ubiquitous hatred and fear. Family friends were visiting my brother when I arrived at his home. The conversation suddenly turned to Muslims. The woman began ranting and raving about “those Turakaallu,” about how they were being given “special privileges” by the Central Government, and how they were ruining “our Hindu sanskriti” (= culture). How had I erased all memory of caste- and race-based intolerance in India? It had been alive and well for decades. Bookended by two Muslim countries, India’s majority Hindu population had very little tolerance for the Islamic “other.” The man talked about the “ugly black burqas” that Muslim women wore, which according to him was an affront to Hindu womanhood! The wife nodded approvingly. I asked them about the veil that was common in north India, worn by married Hindu, Jain, and Sikh women. They thought for a moment; then, the man muttered: “those north-Indians! Such barbarians! So uncouth!” revealing yet another layer of prejudice! My brother later confessed that this kind of hate speech was becoming the rule rather than the exception.
As I flew back to the USA, I still shook with rage at the hate speech that the couple had spewed. Here were two educated people—he a chartered accountant, she a teacher at a local college—showing such rabid bigotry. Their remarks about the Muslim burqa resonated. Clothes, clothing, are a visual reminder of what the Muslim represented. 9/11 had given birth to a particularly virulent form of Islamophobia. It was fueling the politics of fear. And the hijab had become a powerful metaphor for fueling this fear.
To Veil or Not to Veil, and the Creation of an Ineffable “Third Space”
Ineffable: incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible (ineffable joy)
Ineffable: not to be spoken because of its sacredness; unutterable: the ineffable name of the deity
Colleagues offered me a third possible definition: “An invitation to creative activity.” These words resonated and reminded me of Mircea Eliade and his notion of sacrality as expressed through and incorporated in various symbolisms of the natural world. Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane” had been criticized for a lack of methodological foundation. However, I found his efforts to find cross-cultural affinities in myth to be immeasurably useful in my own work. As Wendy Doniger observes, “Eliade argued boldly for universals where he might more safely have argued for widely prevalent patterns.” (Doniger 1972).
Eliade’s conviction that religious elements survive in new, “camouflaged” forms in secular culture provided yet another dimension to the concept of the ineffable (Ellwood 1999:118). My mind’s eye saw men and women who believe in the sacredness of the ineffable, but who have been rendered voiceless, silenced because of their beliefs. The ever-intensifying Islamophobia in today’s world has led to the silencing of minority populations: migrants, refugees, asylum seekers. It was time for me to talk about this intolerance, this hatred with my students.
I wanted to expand my own limited knowledge of Islam in South Asia. Consequently, I applied to my college for permission to teach a course entitled “To veil or not to veil.” However, my home base being the Department of German Studies, I had to create a compelling argument for studying Islam in a region that was not part of traditional German studies. And suddenly, there it was, the word that belonged to my childhood, a word that I had almost forgotten: “Turaka” = the derogatory, Telugu word for Muslims. I asked myself what the etymology of the word was. An older cousin explained that Turaka was the Telugu localization for the Sanskrit word “Turushka” which referred to people from the Middle East. The Turushka were the people of Turkistan. In Sanskrit and Persian sources, they are known as the Indo-Scythians or Turks, who, under Kanishka and other kings of the people, held northern India.
Turaka, Turkey—here was the connection that I could pursue. My familiarity with Turkish-German writings had shown me how some of these writers had been searching for a “third space” outside the polarity of “we” and “other.” It seemed logical to believe that there were similar attempts by South Asians, both in their home countries and in the diaspora, to escape the box within which the war of identity politics was consistently waged.
Interviews with Turkish and German Muslims
In the wake of World War II and within the context of rebuilding a destroyed German infrastructure, guest workers poured into Germany predominantly from Italy and Greece, the former Yugoslavia and Turkey. Turks entered Germany in 1961, the year the Berlin Wall went up. And in 2005, they already formed the largest minority group. In fact, a fourth generation of Turks was already appearing. Today, there are some four million Germans of Turkish origin.
I received a generous grant from my college to travel to Turkey and Germany in order to prepare for the course. My central question focused on the hijab and why it had been singled out as a metaphor for debates about identity formation, to the exclusion of veiling prevalent in other religious and cultural contexts. I spent three months in Turkey and three months in Germany. Interviews I held with covered and uncovered women in both countries showed me how the hijab in its various forms had been instrumentalized to delineate European modernity. In addition, it allowed decisions to be made about the woman’s body, as the abortion debate in the USA continues to show. Worryingly, my identity as an Indian woman gave me easier access to more conservative Turkish families. Indian cinema was very popular in Turkey, and there was a perception of shared moral values. Given the patriarchal leanings in the country, I established my own “authentic” credentials of a traditional Indian mother, inventing four sons and a magnanimous husband on whose behalf I was visiting these families. If I wished to talk to the women in a family, I needed the approval of the patriarch. I had formulated a few very general questions for each interview. I changed the questions depending on variables like the respondent’s educational background, the men and other figures of authority present during the interview, and—most importantly—the confidence and trust the respondent placed in me as the interviewer. My analyses of the interviews were informed by the many theoretical insights afforded by an increasingly visible number of contemporary feminist theorists and gender scholars.1
My conversations with the women in these families revealed the primary motivating reason for many Turkish immigrant families to leave Germany and return to Turkey, rejecting Germany’s offer of citizenship. A gradual, perhaps predictable change had taken place in the terms used to describe the Turkish immigrants: the initial label “guest worker” had gradually changed to “Muslim.” And a facile equation of “Muslim” with “terrorist” was enabled. The hijab became a convenient visible tool for creating this demonic Islamic “other,” an “other” that included a perceived oppression of women.
Article 4 of Germany’s constitutional law or Grundgesetz says the following about religious freedom (print version last amended on 23 December 2015) (Basic Law n.d.):
Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable.
The undisturbed practice of religion shall be guaranteed.
No person shall be compelled against his conscience to render military service involving the use of arms. Details shall be regulated by a federal law.”
But how this principle applies in the workplace is being contested over and over again. The wording of the article means that workplaces are prohibited from discriminating against someone on the basis of religion, and cannot generally ban someone from wearing a headscarf out of religious reasons. Still, courts have interpreted this differently in various rulings, some allowing certain limitations.
The label “Muslim” in its new equation with terrorism is increasingly being used to exclude migrants and non-ethnic Germans from German society. As Joseph Twist points out, this process began after 2000 when Germany’s citizenship laws changed from jus sanguinis, i.e., citizenship through parents or ancestors, to incorporate an element of jus soli, i.e., birthright citizenship (Twist 2015). Thus, minority subjects could no longer be “othered” by their passports alone. But it intensified shortly afterwards due to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The seamless transition from the label guest worker to Muslim has also sparked a fierce debate about the record number of refugees who have been arriving in Germany over the last two years, most from Muslim-majority countries. For example, after forming the seventh largest immigrant population in the United States of America (USA), Pakistanis are no longer eligible for the diversity visa, a special immigration lottery that allowed families from countries with low rates of immigration into the USA to qualify for the move.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is seeing its popularity soar amid the influx, with calls for banning headscarves and minarets on mosques. In October 2017, it became the third largest party in Germany, claiming 94 seats in the Bundestag. Alice Weidel, serving as leader of the party, told the newspaper Tagesspiegel in 2017 that not only should full-body veils like the burqa be banned, but also should the headscarf—or hijab—be prohibited from “public spaces, and on the streets.”
In “New Thinking in Islam: The Jihad for Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Rights,” Katajun Amirpur (2015), a German-Iranian professor of Islamic Studies at Hamburg University, argues that the West’s impression of Islam as a backward-looking faith, resistant to post-Enlightenment thinking, is misleading and damaging. Amirpur reveals a powerful yet lesser-known tradition of inquiry and dissent within Islam, one that she states is committed to democracy and human rights. By examining these and many other similar figures’ ideas, she attempts to reveal the many ways she and others reject fundamentalist assertions, and instead call for a diversity of opinion, greater freedom, and equality of the sexes.
“Iran (Islam) and Europe. This dominant view has ignored the veil's other cultural effect, namely, its work as a marker of homosocial homoerotic affectionate bonds among both women and men.”
The hijab has proven to be easy prey to the delineation and consolidation of Eurocentric modernity, functioning as the backdrop of backwardness against which the enlightened nature of modernity can be further accentuated. In disengaging the hijab from other locations of cultural contest, its value has been reduced to the one-dimensionality of cultural difference. I concur with Najmabadi’s remark that dressing up for modernity has been fashioned through undressing women (Najmabadi 2005:133). Simplistically constructed dichotomies between the West and Islam allow for only two positions: veiling and Muslim (regressive and terrorist) or unveiling and Judeo-Christian (progressive). This type of polarization disregards the possibility of “third positions or spaces” where the so-called regressive culture wishes to define its modernity outside of a Judeo-Christian-gendered frame of reference.
When the Judeo-Christian West questions the modernization attempts and experiences of Muslim countries, it forces the latter into a posture of defiance and defense. Najmabadi talks about how dress provides a visual marker of difference between USA-Europe and the Muslim world. Men’s public appearance also becomes important in identifying them as belonging to the modern, or invoking a sacred tradition that simplistically erases European colonialist history. In India, for example, the business community is strongly dictated by a Euro- and US-centric capitalism and has adopted Western clothing, whereas Indian politicians across the spectrum have turned to ethnic clothing that mostly frames a ubiquitous jingoism. And in the name of both globalism and nationalism, clothing the Indian woman’s body has become increasingly sexualized.
This newly conceived woman, with a veiled language, a disciplined body,
and scientific sensibilities, could claim a place in the public space; she
could be imagined as a citizen.3
Interviewer: What were your experiences in Germany?
Interviewee: I was very happy there. I could wear exactly what I wanted. [Points to her legs] You could see way up there! My skirts were so short!
Interviewer: Why did you return to Turkey?
Interviewee: Ask my father! (She disappears into the kitchen)
Interviewee’s father: Girls have to get married. I didn’t want her to get corrupted! She is a good girl. Look at my son! He stayed in Germany and had schooling in Mannheim. Now he is getting married. I worked until 1988 in Germany. They laid me off due to my ill health. I still have a work- and stay-permit for Germany – go back and forth.
Interviewer: [to Interviewee’s husband] Were you also in Germany?
Interviewee’s husband: Yes, but since 1990 work conditions are very bad in Germany – lots of unemployment. So I came back.
Interviewee’s father: I changed career from mechanic to linoleum and tile layer in a mosque. I also did some translation work
Interviewee: [returns with tea and snacks] Please eat and drink our tea! This is a happy day!
[My interpreter and I leave after about fifteen minutes. At the front door, I ask Interviewee: Have your expectations of a return been met? You wear a çarşaf now when you go out. Isn’t the headscarf enough?
Interviewee: It is my will. Now I’m working for Allah. It is now my idea, my belief. Come again! I welcome all religions. Everyone is free to choose … Allah is great that way.
Interviewee’s stepmother: Why are you asking all these questions?
My interpreter: She is interested in the position of women.
Interviewee: We are strong women! I dress and live as I wish.
In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. (33)
The veil is not just a concrete thing, a piece of cloth. It is indeed the attempt to reduce the attractions of any woman to the lowest possible degree in her behavior, conversation, and in ways of sitting and standing. [... ] It is necessary to veil so as not to become the object of men's gaze. […] Beauty must be kept hidden in order not to cause disorder and intrigue. (93)
I asked myself then, and continue to do so now: “Are male-dominated societies prescribing both modes of dressing? And in both cases, why is the female held responsible for the moral integrity of the male?” I particularly liked my interviewee’s statement about being empowered by Allah, a higher power that places her beyond the reach of profanely imposed norms.
Zafer Şenocak’s “Ineffable Third Space”
The Muslim hijab brings into focus the situation of Muslim minorities the world over. It is not just this White House that is obsessed with devising inhumane methods to keep Muslims and others out. Walls are appearing the world over—walls of immigration, of racism, of misogyny, of xenophobia, of religious intolerance. Immigrants are being re-imagined as the “other.”
How would Muslim migrant writers find any of these debates helpful for their situation in their adoptive countries? And how can migrant writers resist discrimination and exclusion from mainstream life? My attention to the work of a Turkish-German migrant writer—Zafer Şenocak—may offer some insight into some of the strategies these migrant writers use to cope with the kind of jingoism that has led to the forming of Germany’s Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) or the popularity of France’s Marine Le Pen, who continues to advocate the rejection of immigrants, rejection of the European Union, closed borders, ultra-nationalism, and economic protectionism. Şenocak’s strategy is to discover a “third space” (Şenocak 1997).
challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People.
According to Bhabha, such a third space initiates new signs of identity and innovative sites of collaboration and contestation. Bhabha explains that the hybrid identity is positioned within this third space, as “lubricant” in the conjunction of cultures.
Şenocak finds his “third space” in Sufism (Şenocak 2001). One of the deep teachings of Sufism is, as I understand it, about mirrors. Everything you see “out there” reflects your inner state. I believe that is the reason why marginalized migrant writers such as Zafer Şenocak have chosen mirrors, the Aina-Khana (the palace of mirrors) of Sufism. The migrant writer’s account of the history of mainstream culture is mirrored, albeit fractured, and leads to self-reflection. The narrator does process the emotional impact of history, inexorably as a fractured gaze.
Meine Texte stehen auf drei Beinen: Erinnern
Bekanntlich ist das Stehen auf drei Beinen nicht immer eine stabile
Für mich aber ist mehr das Verrücken und Fortschreiten von Bedeutung
als das Stehen.
Das Fortschreiten auf drei Beinen ist eine Bewegungsform zwischen
Gehen und Sich im Kreis Drehen, Tanzen und Stolpern.
Oft genug sieht es lustig aus.
Auf das Gleichgewicht achten und dennoch manchmal auch den Sturz
wagen, das ist Erfinden, Erinnern und Spielen. (ZE 93)
(My texts stand on three legs:
It is well known that standing on three legs is not always a stable matter.
But for me displacement and progressive motion are more significant
Progressive motion on three legs is a form of movement between walking
and going around in circles, dancing and stumbling.
Often enough it appears comic.
Pay heed to one's balance and yet at times
risk the fall, that is invention, remembrance and play.) 4
If one wishes to understand my texts one ought to probably read [the
Qur'an] or at least familiarize oneself a little with the life story of
Mohammed, or with the historical traditions, with Anatolian mysticism. I
do this […] because it is my history. After all I can only write about my
own history. (Cheesman and Yeşilada 2003:76)
I suggest that Şenocak sees in Sufism not a mere tolerant response to contemporary Islamic fundamentalism or the intolerance of the Judeo-Christian world. Sufi mystics seem to provide him a link to a more ambiguous and diverse Islamic past from which he can draw inspiration. At a time when Islam is more often than not held to be synonymous with terrorism and brutality, Şenocak appears to believe that Sufism offers an ambiguity, rather than closing down religious meaning as institutionalized religions tend to do. Sufism thus possibly contributes towards a deconstruction and re-evaluation of Islam. My own reading of Şenocak convinces me that he is exploring a religiosity that is not only compatible with, but also perceivable in sensuous experience. Perhaps the transformative power is in the ineffability of the ritual—here the dance.
In Şenocak’s work, the erotic and the ascetic wed one another in capricious gestures. His poem about his texts standing on three legs— remembering, inventing, playing—provides what B. Venkat Mani calls “identitarian discomfiture” (Venkat Mani 2007).
Twenty years ago, I was working on a translation of the lyrical works of Yunus Emre, a thirteenth century Anatolian mystic. […] Yunus Emre’s view of the other is very different from the view one finds in religiously motivated texts by Muslim scholars. The borders between belief and non-belief and between the religions was porous, the perception of others was not clouded by the personal rhetoric; much more it was an alienated view of his own person. […] Yunus Emre anchored me in another time and world. It was as if someone from my childhood was guiding me through the translation, a childhood in which Islamic culture, as lived and conceived, played a huge role.
My father introduced me to mystical texts. He occupied the realm of faith in my world. A man who spent his entire life waging battle against modernity with his faith, and yet completely different from the zealots who regard only their world as valid.
Yunus Emre was from a poor background and spent most of his time in deep contemplation. But at the same time, he was very concerned about the state of the society, everyone’s sorrow was Yunus Emre’s own sorrow.
Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge:
Knowledge means to know yourself, heart and soul.
If you have failed to understand yourself,
Then all of your reading has missed its call. (Yunus n.d.)
My father was a passionate fan of Hafiz. He used to recite the couplets of Hafiz and explain it to me. The image of Iran was drawn through these verses on the canvas of my mind. Sitting at the tomb of Hafiz suddenly I realized a flash of light releasing from the gleeful eyes of the poet of Shiraz and having travelled through many ages reflected upon my heart. It seems as if we both were co-drinkers in the same tavern savoring many cups of the wine of Gnosticism. (Tagore 2003)
The Turkish poet Zafer Şenocak migrated in the year 1970 at age eight with his parents from Turkey to Germany at a time when the latter had barely recovered from a tremendous social and economic upheaval. The impact of World War II had been as violent and disruptive as that wrought in the thirteenth century by the Crusades and the Mongols. However, a new kind of upheaval began in the 1970s when the immigrant labor mainly from Turkey, Italy, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia that had helped rebuild Germany were perceived to have run out of their usefulness. And when these immigrants not only saw no reason to leave, but were joined by their families, immigration became a touchstone of German political debates. These debates around national identity and citizenship have intensified after the 1989 reunification of the two Germanys. It is against this backdrop that Şenocak’s turn to Sufism can be comprehended. Sufism gave Şenocak a “right to argue and intervene equally and effectively in cultures of origin and residence in the contemporary contexts of transnational connections.”
The mystics appeal in the background. Kabbala and Tasawwuf, the
neighborhood of a region, yesterday's voice of diverging languages.
Something remains in one's ear. A residual hearing. (Şenocak 2001:96)
Sufi whirling is a form of Samâ or physically active meditation. The immediate goal of Samâ is to reach wajd, which is a trance-like state of ecstasy. Ultimately, the dervishes hope to achieve the unveiling of mysteries and gain spiritual knowledge through wajd by relinquishing one’s ego, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, a movement that has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the solar system orbiting the sun. Şenocak’s triadic “remembering/inventing/playing” finds its equivalent in the integration of reason, form making, and imagining as a total esthetic in Sufism.
Şenocak’s writerly behavior creates a playful symbiosis of the erotic and the ascetic that goes to the core of my understanding of Sufi beliefs.
Perhaps it is the ability to leave a place, especially a metropolis, that is the actual pre-condition for feeling at home there. Whoever wants to experience the homeland as uniqueness becomes homeless in the metropolises. In Islamic mysticism the human being is described as a guest in the world. The human being suffers at being expelled from paradise. Just an exile.
My writing myth had been born. It emerged at the point of rupture between reason and mysticism, at the central railway station of Eros, where going and coming is the elixir of life for all those who have long ceased to wait for the arrival of angels. (Şenocak 2001:100f.)
If you could get rid of yourself
Just for once
The secret of secrets
Would open to you … (Jalaluddin Rumi, 1207–1273)
Step out of yourself, the universe will respond within.
These swelling waves will break into a dance within
And the soul will be moved. … (Rabindranath Tagore, 1861–1941) (Samantaray 2013)
I climbed up a tree
Became its trunk.
Birds flew over me
On their wings my leaves… (Zafer Şenocak, 1961-)6
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing,
there is a field; I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about. 7
Some Tentative Thoughts About Healing
"Deliberative dialogue differs from other forms of public discourse — such as debate, negotiation, brainstorming, consensus-building — because the objective is not so much to talk together as to think together, not so much to reach a conclusion as to discover where a conclusion might lie. Thinking together involves listening deeply to other points of view, exploring new ideas and perspectives, searching for points of agreement, and bringing unexamined assumptions into the open. [...] a question cannot be solved, but it can be experienced and, out of that experience, a common understanding can emerge that opens an acceptable path to action." – ( London 2005 )
This pedagogy has helped me as an educator to foster greater awareness of the myriad ways in which ungrievable8 groups can choose empowerment from behind “veils” of silence. My students were willing and able to question and transcend the binary categories of traditional/modern, Islam/West, reactionary/progressive, and ignorant/educated that continue to inform our discourse in the West.
My own hope is that those third ineffable spaces that those distant Sufi poets inspired, spaces that writers like Şenocak and Tagore have attempted to occupy, will be available to many more for healing this fractured world of ours (Tagore n.d.).
All translations from German into English are the author’s, unless otherwise indicated.
Şenocak, Zafer. Zungenentfernung. Aus der Quarantänestation. Munich: Babel-Verlag Bülent Tulay, 2001, 39.
(Ich stieg auf einen Baum,
wurde zu seinem Stamm.
Vögel überflogen mich.
An ihren Flügeln meine Blätter.)
Judith Butler (2009) explains her use of the emotive adjectives ‘grievable’ and ‘ungrievable’ as follows: “To say that a life is precarious requires not only that a life be apprehended as a life, but also that precariousness be an aspect of what is apprehended in what is living.” (Butler:13)
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