Theses Doctoral

Contesting the Empty Time of Modernity: Sufi Temporalities in Postcolonial Arab Thought and Literature

Ben Hammed, Mohamed Wajdi

This dissertation engages a cultural discussion on time concepts that took place between Arab thinkers and creative writers in the aftermath of the June War of 1967 against Israel and the onset of a period of Arab cultural self-critique. It focuses on a set of intellectual projects and examines their propositions on Islamic notions of time and their place in the modernity of Arab thought. Intellectuals such as the Syrian poet Adonis (b. 1930), the Moroccan philosopher Mohammed ʿAbed al-Jabri (1935-2000), and the Lebanese psychologist Mustapha Hijazi (b. 1937) critiqued the alleged Arab “event-based” and “discontinuous” perception of time which lacks the notion of the temporal as a homogenous impersonal medium.

Focusing on the example of Sufism, they argued that time in the Islamic worldview is a heterogenous mix of sacred and profane events in an ontology deprived of change. My dissertation debates these findings in two ways. I first draw on the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of “duration” to problematize these thinkers’ discursive ideal of homogenous time which imposes on the heterogeneity of lived temporality the attributes of space and, as such, produces a mechanistic vision of the world. I then focus on the discourse of Ibn ʿArabi (d. 637/1240) and Mulla Sudra (d. 1049/1640) to demonstrate that Sufism advances a view of time as a flux of change internal to the life of the soul and leading to moral self-perfection.

Finally, my dissertation focuses on alternative Arabic engagements with Sufi writings on time through the works of the Moroccan ethicist ʿAbdurrahman Taha (b.1944), the Iraqi Marxist Hadi al-ʿAlawi (1933-1998), and the Egyptian novelist Gamal al-Ghitani (1945-2015). I argue that these thinkers and writers draw on the heterogeneity of time in Sufism to critique the semantic neutrality and abstraction of modern time which depends on capitalism as a life form.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Hallaq, Wael
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 30, 2022