Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Discerning Truth in Islam

However, a good argument for Muhammad's basic sincerity is that he himself was the first to doubt radically the divine nature of his visions, dismissing them as hallucinatory signs of madness or as cases of demonic possession. His first revelation occurred during his Ramadan retreat outside Mecca: he saw the archangel Gabriel, calling upon him to "Recite!" (Qara, whence Qar'an) Muhammad thought that he was going mad, and since he didn't want to spend the rest of his life as Mecca's village idiot, preferring death to disgrace, he decided to throw himself from a high rock. But then the vision repeated itself: he heard a voice from above saying: "O Muhammad! Thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel." But even this voice did not reassure him, so he slowly returned to his house and, in deep despair, asked Khadija, his first wife (as well as the first believer in him): "Wrap me in a blanket, wrap me in a blanket." She wrapped him up, and Muhammad told her what had happened to him: "My life is in danger." Khadija dutifully solaced him.

When, during the following visions of the archangel Gabriel, Muhammad's doubts persisted, Khadija asked him to notify her when his visitor returned, so that they could verify whether it really was Gabriel or an ordinary demon. So, the next time Muhammad said to Khadija: "This is Gabriel who has just come to me." Khadija replied: "Get up and sit by my left thigh." Muhammad did so, and she said: "Can you see him?" "Yes." "Then turn round and sit on my right thigh." He did so, and she said: "Can you see him?" When he said that he could, Khadija asked him to move and sit on her lap, and, after disclosing her form and casting aside her veil, asked again: "Can you see him?" And he replied: "No." She then comforted him: "Rejoice and be of good heart, he is an angel and not a Satan." (There is a further version of this story which, in the final test, Khadija not only revealed herself, but made Muhammad "come inside her shift" [penetrate her sexually], and thereupon Gabriel departed. The underlying assumption is that, an angel would politely withdraw from the scene). Only after Khadija had provided him with this proof of the genuineness of his meeting with Gabriel was Muhammad cured of his doubts and able to embark upon his career as God's spokesman.


And this brings us back to the function of the veil in Islam: What if the true scandal this veil endeavors to obsfucate is not the feminine body hidden beneath it, but the inexistence of the feminine? What if, consequently, the ultimate function of the veil is precisely to sustain the illusion that there is something, the substantial Thing, behind the veil? If, following Nietzsche's equation of truth and woman, we transpose the feminine veil into the veil which conceals the ultimate Truth, the true stakes of the Muslim veil become clearer. Woman is a threat because she stands for the "undecidability" of truth, for a succession of veils beneath which there is no ultimate hidden core; by veiling her, we create the illusion that there is, beneath the veil, the feminine Truth -- the horrible truth of the feminine as lie and deception, of course. Therein resides the concealed scandal of Islam: only a woman, the very embodiment of the indiscernibility of truth and lie, can guarantee Truth. For this reason, she has to remain veiled.
-Slavoj Zizek, "God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse"


  1. I've read some of this information about demon or angel before, but I've never heard any Muslim want to address the possibility that Muhammad was conversing with a demon (and, possibly, possessed).

    Interesting point about "the function" of the veil.

  2. I'd like to know where it's written in the Koran that Angels can't see you naked.