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Taqwa and the Temporalities of Citational Practice in a Popular Saying of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
A single word can carry historical significance while also forming the ground of debate about the present and future. In this presentation, I ask after the means by which an important Islamic concept, taqwā (often translated as piety, or fear or consciousness of God), invokes texts in the past while simultaneously pointing towards particular ethical, embodied presents and futures. I examine taqwā in a classical Islamic saying routinely cited in spaces of preaching in contemporary Egypt and that is attributed to ʿAli ibn Abi Ṭālib, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, the first Shiʿa imam and the fourth Sunni caliph. I argue that through this saying the concept of taqwā, by directing and shaping forms of ethical corporeality, activates a connection between individual interiority and external action established in the earliest days of Islam. Historiographically, the saying is of dubious origin, adding a layer of complexity to the connection that I explore in the paper. Through attention to instances of the saying attributed to ʿAli across time, taqwā emerges as involving the mutually reinforcing cultivation of an inner state that leads to action in the world both reflective of that state and further refining it. Such an understanding is taken up in contemporary Egyptian spaces of Islamic preaching through the deployment of the saying as a tool to combat contemporary societal woes. Yet, in a contemporary context the particular arrangement of interiority and exteriority takes on new, corporeal, dimensions. This argument draws on citations of the saying appearing in written and oral preaching at al-Azhar in Egypt from 2021-2023 as well as in interviews with Azhar-affiliated Egyptians in 2022-2023. Further, it involves analysis of the medieval and modern texts in which the saying appears, specifically in its earliest known appearance in the work of the somewhat obscure 14th century Sufi Muhammad Ibn Yūsūf al-Ṣāliḥī al-Ṣhāmī and in its explosion in written sources in the mid-20th century. Finally, I consult those sources in which the saying does not appear but which form the backdrop of contemporary assumptions about the saying. Collectively, this analysis lends insight into the interface of inherited historical understandings of concepts and how they are (re)deployed today for contemporary aims.
Religious Studies/Theology
Geographic Area
Islamic World
Sub Area