Sufis' theory of ghorba (estrangement or exile) underlies here a reflection on exile in contemporary Arab cultures. Hence Ibn al-Arabi's speculations on ghorba in Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya shed a new light on Arjun Appadurai's notion of “ethnoscape.” The Sufi concept of ghorba paves the way for a modern Arab ethnoscape, where the Arab subject experiences transnational movement in the global space without associating this experience with the negative aspects of exile.

Ibn al-Arabi dismisses the negative effects of “geographic” displacement. According to his reasoning, an expatriate does not feel estranged anywhere he or she travels, since the world—and the divine—are in continuity with the human subject. The real exile is a psychological experience resulting from the disruption of monist unity and harmony between human and divine, man and the world.

This conception of exile challenges nationalist theories of estrangement based on the assumption that a sense of displacement is bound to physical movement out of the national territory. Ghorba is a state in which the subject is far from his or her ethical and spiritual plenitude (thanks to the Sufi mystical unity with the divine), not a geopolitical situation. This conception challenges the dogmatic distinction of House of Islam versus House of War in Arab Islamic Sunni tradition, where the displacement out of the former results in an experience of exile.

In modern terms, ghorba—as conceptualized by Sufis—provides a traditional basis helping the modern Arab subject cope with the experience of displacement, by shifting the paradigm of belonging from the realm of geopolitics to that of spirituality and ethics. Thus the construction of a modern postnational Arab subjectivity can be achieved thanks to the investment of the ethnoscape—a virtual space that transcends national boundaries but keeps active a network of affects and cultural references and products unifying an ethnically distinct subject. The Sufi sense of belonging to the whole world makes it politically and ethically acceptable to feel at home outside of one's homeland, without being stripped from one's ethnicity. It adds to this compromise a dimension of spiritual fulfillment, since the horizontal ethnoscape intersects with a vertical spiritual axis, constantly neutralizing nostalgia to the geographic paradise of origins.

You do not currently have access to this content.