Home » All My Posts » Tradition (2) – Conversation Incarnate

Tradition (2) – Conversation Incarnate

The dualities that I arbitrarily highlighted in my last post are significant to hold us here for a moment to identify a station where we presently find ourselves placed. Interestingly in this process of self-specualtion, each one of us may find himself attached to a particular side of divide. However a myriad of individual variances usually based upon noetic inclinations would be readily observable. (Of course for the sake of this exercise, I disregard those who take the understanding of the world around them for granted. Not that they are less important but they follow the lead of others’ intellects to station themselves on a particular side of the divide. At some level all of us do follow leads but that was just a funny subjective distraction). A valid illustration of this fact is that a person living in a modern society may derive intuitively from traditional epistemology rather then a purely rational argument in line with skepticism, empiricism or logical positivism.

Having this as a backdrop that all of us do belong to this network of dichotomies and perfectly placed there, it takes much to sift, sieve and bring out the true character of tradition and its relationship with our lives. Our notions about selves are subjugated by the illations dictated by time. Georgia Warnke, for instance, while explaining Gadamer’s position in Gadamer: Hermeneutics, Tradition and Reason accurately puts forth that human understanding of self is conditioned by the time. Rather then attaching various predicates with itself, it flows in a temporal continuum. Which effectively means that past, present and future are engrafted in such a way that each one of these conditions the other and adds variables to its course. In case of present and future its obvious, however what is the course of past and how it can be logically variant in a temporal structure which is essentially serial?

The answer is that our understanding of the past is shaped up according to the present which is formed in front of and by us. In more concrete terms, events in time do happen according to a serial flow but our understanding of these events does not follow the same course. This understanding of past gives a new meaning to our present or act as a justification for an already held close-to-heart meaning. We take this newly found or subconciously ratified meaning and carry on constructing our future. This in its very nature is a perpetual enterprise and each one of us undertakes it all the time. How I go about living my life is a complete narration of my self representing how I have attempted to build upon the plots and storlylines of the past thereby supplying me with strong cornerstones of present on which I keep on building my future. That is strictly a personal relationship with the continuum in which I was ‘thrown’.

Tradition in the light of above is not merely a point in history which has exhausted its potential. It is not an event or set of events happened in a confined slot. It is rather a phenomena in history which makes our past alive to interact with our present in order to make our existence meaningful while directing the course of our future. In a specific culture or society individuals do help each other by way of spontaneous manifestations of this phenomena to contribute in developing and preserving a collective tradition. In that sense tradition may be understood as our perceptual conversation with phenomena of past [1]. This conversation is essentially a critical enterprise where questions like how? why? and what? are apt to be asked. Where there is an acknowledgement that our exchange is not with a person (figurative) long dead but an enriched and lively being full of potential to impart us with understanding.

We carry out this conversation with all the tools usually emloyed to indulge in a critical enquiry, for instance textual, lingual and logical. However the aim of this enquiry with our past is not only to ingest the validity, soundness and rational coherence of the proposition but to touch the depths and dig out the actual force with which the claim was actually put in a different historical context. However our choice to make this a mechanical relationship, thereby bringing out the claims one after the other without the context in which these were made, would be construed as abandoning the conversation in the middle. As a result we would loose meanings of our present which in turn will give us a wrong impression of our past and would complicate our relationship with history, a topic on which I am going to have my next shot.
1. I first read about conversational character of tradition quite a while ago in a research paper on Islamic Education by Dr. Yadullah Kazmi published in Islamic Studies.


5 thoughts on “Tradition (2) – Conversation Incarnate

  1. Pingback: Persiflage « Non Skeptical Essays

  2. BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum. Thought I might drop a comment or two, its been a while since I responded to one of your posts. This is a good one… you poke at a few items which should be expanded and perhaps simplified at it is an item all Muslims should consider,

    “Tradition in the light of above is not merely a point in history which has exhausted its potential. It is not an event or set of events happened in a confined slot. It is rather a phenomena in history which makes our past alive to interact with our present in order to make our existence meaningful while directing the course of our future.”

    Take the sunnat of the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) for example. There are elements of his sunnat that have been forgotten entirely, there are also elements of his sunnat that are no longer fashionable and there are elements of his sunnat which the majority adhere to, as if it were a fard. Why is this, what makes one tradition more popular than another. And if these traditions, the application of them, is in fact a historical phenomena engaged by the highest station, both inwardly and outwardly, of our collective historical identity… why then would these categories develop overtime.

    In other words, why would some of the Prophet’s traditions be maintained and others disappear? It seems the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) foresaw this event which led to him saying,

    “Whoever gives life to one of my Sunnas which was eliminated after my time will receive the reward of all those who practice it without their reward being diminished…” [1]

    “Whoever gives life to one of my Sunnas, he loves me: and whoever loves me is with me.” [2]

    “The keeper of my Sunna at the time my Community has lapsed into corruption will receive the reward of a martyr.” [3]

    That being said, these hadith seem to resonate to your theory in that there will be reward for those whom keep our past alive by continuing the interaction of our Prophet’s traditions with our present in order to make our existence meaningful and as you mentioned directing the course of our future.

    The disturbing part of this is considering what the outcome of that future will be for those whom leave behind that past and rely completely on the present or recent past to direct the course of their future.


    [1]As mentioned in Tirmidhi’s, Book of knowledge; al-Baghawi, Sharh al-sunna 1:233.
    [2]Tirmidhi, Book of knowledge.
    [3]al-Mundhiri, al-Targhib 1:87; al-Hakim

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