Workshop « The Presence and Eschatological Role of the Prophet Muḥammad between Individual and Collective Experience » — EHESS (Paris), 02-03/05/2019
Ce workshop est organisé dans le cadre du programme de recherches ANR-DFG PROPHET « La présence du Prophète : Muhammad au miroir de sa communauté dans l’Islam moderne et contemporain ».
Il est associé au programme du séminaire de l’IISMM« Doctrines, représentations et appartenances religieuses : le Prophète de l’islam comme objet épistémologique transversal ».
Il aura lieu les 2 et 3 mai 2019 à l’EHESS
54 boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris
Contact : Dilek SARMIS
This workshop is organized within the framework of the Franco-German ANR-DFG PROPHET research program « The Presence of the Prophet: Muhammad in the Mirror of his Community in Early Modern and Modern Islam ». It approaches the individual and eschatological dimensions of Prophetic piety from perspectives informed by the history of mentalities and emotions and by religious anthropology and sociology. By this it is intended to bring out the historical emergence of the different ways of encounters with the Prophetic presence and to highlight the embodiment of the Prophetic model as part of the formation of the Muslim individual.
The rise of Prophetic piety among Muslim communities, anchored in forms of faith and doctrine which emerged already since the 12th century, gained momentum in the early modern period and has continued ever since. This piety was shaped in manifold ways by different historical and cultural settings and by conjunctures of religious hope and fear prevailing in Muslim societies. Expressed in competing rigorist and mercy-centred manifestations, it has contributed until today to the structuring of emotional life and moral consciousness among Muslim individuals. Widespread eschatological beliefs attribute a living presence to the Prophet Muhammad after his death, which allows for direct personal access and relations with him. The pious emulation of his model, as transmitted in the Prophetic Tradition (ḥadīth), gained increasing salience for the moral formation and emotional cultivation of the Muslim Self, both in its active and receptive qualities. Since late medieval times, we witness among many Muslim individuals and communities a growing desire for communication with the Prophet in dreams and visions, by securing personal access to relics and historic places connected with his life, by surrounding themselves with calligraphic representations of his names, and by constantly expressing the benediction upon him (al-ṣalāt ʿalā an-nabī) whenever his name is mentioned. Hope and prayer for his intercession (shafāʿa) at Judgement Day became a dominant, though often contested, theological issue. – The construction of a Prophetic presence in these individual as well as collective manifestations of piety and religious experience, and their eschatological dimensions still need to be clarified. This also holds for their comparison with more general trends of socio-cultural individualization, which are often assumed for the early modern and modern world in and beyond Europe.
The fourth workshop of our Franco-German ANR/DFG Project “The Presence of the Prophet: Muhammad in the Mirror of his Community in Early Modern and Modern Islam” approaches the individual and eschatological dimensions of Prophetic piety from perspectives informed by the history of mentalities and emotions and by religious anthropology and sociology. By this it is intended to bring out the historical emergence of the different ways of encounters with the Prophetic presence and to highlight the embodiment of the Prophetic model as part of the formation of the Muslim individual. The constant negotiation of this model between claimants of strict adherence to the letter of the Prophetic sunna and, on the other hand, the advocates of personal and mystical experience will be given special attention, as the formation of Muslim individuality has to be seen in the light of this historical tension that has gained in fervour in more recent times. The interface of the Prophetic model and the often-suggested growth of religious individualization in modern times still has to be worked out for the Islamic world. We have to ask, furthermore, how Muslims evoke the eschatological aura of the Prophet and his language through the transmission and emulation of Prophetic Traditions, by instilling fear and mercy (raḥma) in their proselytizing efforts (daʿwa), or by appealing to his role as an intercessor for them in their prayers.
The following four categories of Prophetic piety will serve as session topics for our workshop:
1) The Prophet and the construction of the Self: morals and emotions: Over centuries, the Prophetic model derived from the corpus of his transmitted tradition has played an increasing role in the moral upbringing and the formation of the self within Muslim communities. Muslims emulate his morals and his character (al-akhlāq wa-l-ādāb al-nabawīya), Sufis increasingly focused on the Prophetic Path (al-ṭarīqa al-muḥammadīya), and some even aspired to a mystical union with his person. Anthropologists have increasingly studied the various forms of Islamic religious discipline and ethical self-fashioning connected with the Prophet, and their convergence with, and differentiation from, modern concepts of personality. We will attempt to bring out the increasing cultivation of a strong emotional identification with his person in recent times, that contributed in no small way to the recent outrages against the tarnishing of his image within and outside the Islamic world.
2) Visions, dreams and encounters with the Prophet continue to have a special role in Islam as the only part left of prophecy (mubashshirāt), and as a crucial element of personal religious experience with far-reaching social functions, which secure his eschatological presence and even allow for union with him. Literary reports about such encounters abound throughout history, and they are still searched for, transmitted and discussed today in pious circles of both Sufi and Salafi orientation. The transmission of the Prophet’s sayings appears to convey a similar meta-historical immediacy of contact.
3) Materiality of the Prophetic presence: body, relics, places, symbols: Though always strongly suspected and often condemned as « polytheism » (shirk), Muslim attachment to the bodily traces and relics of the Prophet, to the holy places and their search for their blessing (baraka) survives until today in many parts of the Muslim world. Calligraphic presentations of his names and of his physical description (ḥilya) invite for a similar attachment in symbolic form. We will have to ask how all these elements mediate an affective presence of Muhammad for the believer.
4) Benedictions (taṣliya) of the Prophet, and prayers for his intercession (tawassul, istighātha) have gained increasing importance for Muslim piety since the later Middle Ages. The « Benediction of the Prophet » (ṣalāt ʿalā an-nabī) became at the same time an expression of love and a guarantor of hope for life in this world and the next, even serving in Sufism as a path for the realization of a union with him. The Prophet himself even came to be addressed by a special genre of « Letters to the Prophet ». The use and spread of such prayers in the different historical conjunctures of fear and hope, and their individual usages for consolation or decision-making will be taken up with interdisciplinary discussion.