~ Archive for Intro ~



Adam Oh

AIU 54


The Islamic World

                The journey to understand Islam first starts with the idea of the Quran. In the Quran, we encounter several teachings that culminate into major themes that dictate the cultural, political, and religious norms of the Muslim countries. Some of these themes are included in but not limited to prayer, music, recitation, politics, etc. With this in mind we delve deeper into the meaning that is infused with the blog posts that I have created in order to highlight some of the central themes in Islamic culture. There are many themes in the Islamic culture which are integral parts in understanding the muslim culture and religion. In my blog, we can see that I touch on some of these major themes including the idea of nur Muhammad, Ayat, Islam vs. islam, Ghazul, conflict of identities, and the love of God depicted by the scene in “Conference of the Birds: Ayaz’s Sickness”.  These major themes come together to form a intricate web which delineate the tenets of Islam.

The first theme we come across which is presented in the first blog post is the idea of nur Muhammad or  “the light of Muhammad”. The concept of the nur Muhammad, which was a esoteric interpretation by the famous theologian Muqatil ibn Sulayman, outlines the idea that Muhammad has a primordial light that shines through him so that he has the power to guide humanity to the origin of this divine light to its true home. With this concept, theologians created a theory of light that each prophet is given a divine light which is passed down the generations, starting with a light that manifested in Adam which eventually gets purer and brighter as it goes down in the generations until the most pure and bright light resides in the last prophet who is Muhammad. The concept of this theme creates the idea that all the prophets were linked my some divine power and also gives it a sense of mysticism which is a very important concept in the Islamic world. However, by saying that Muhammad’s light is the most pure of all the prophet’s lights, it essentially says that Muhammad is the closest to God because the light originated from God as seen in the light verse from the Quran which says, ” God is the Light of the Heavens and Earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp”.  Another important concept arises from the theme of nur Muhammad’s primordial light and that is the concept of Hadith qudsi or “Divine Hadith” in which basically proves that Muhammad’s light was shaped in the form of God’s own light long before God created anything else. The concept of Hadith qudsi spurs from the some of the prophet’s ardent devotees who thought that the cosmic Muhammadean light was crucial in the cause of creation. The idea of nur Muhammad is an interesting concept that explains a lot of the thought behind the Quran as well as the ability for Islam to link Christianity and Judaism to it.

For the second  blog post, we explore the concept of islam vs Islam which relates to the concept of muslim vs Muslim. In the idea of Islam and Muslim, we see that Islam is a term that describes the specific  religion that arose in the early 8th century when ruling members of the Umayyad Dynasty attempted to legitimize their political authority in the aftermath of two traumatic wars to succeed the prophet. Before this period of time, there were no terms to describe the preachings of Muhammad  because he and his community did not understand terms like islam and muslim. However, through the definition the term “Islam” carries, “Muslim” is a term that describes a follower of the religion of “Islam” and a genuine believer of the shahadah which is a recitation of two phrases which proclaims an individual to be a part of the Islamic religion, in other words, Muslim. To shed even further light on the history of the capitalized Islam, we find that since the latter part of the nineteenth century Muslims have mostly come to think of their religion more in an institutionalized quantity in other words more on terms of “Islam” or al-Islam. As this sort of thought regarding al-Islam as a religious and sociopolitical ideology became increasingly popular,  concepts such as “imam” and “mu’min”, which were employed frequently in the earlier generations, lost power as it was less utilized in titles. On the other hand, we see that terms associated with the lowercase forms such as “islam” and “muslim” describe a idea of love that is best described as unconditional selfless love for God. This interpretation is pretty hardcore in that one must become god-centric so that one does not worship God out of selfish desires such as gaining access to paradise as phrased by Rabia. Another interpretation is brought upon by no other than Rumi who believed that the love of God is a force that emanates from Him, “permeating the universe” while the prophet represents the bearer of divine revelation who is envisioned as God’s Beloved, bringing the message of Love to people. Rumi believed that the love of God was a transformative force that brings upon change to the inner self by stripping down the barriers of egotism, transforming the person to become increasingly God-centric. This idea helps the person achieve the ultimate goal which is to achieve the state of complete identification with the  Beloved. While the term “islam” is defined as the idea of this complete identification of god, I believe that the term “muslim” describes the follower of this idea.

For my third blog post, I describe the idea of Ayah/Ayat which translates to “verse” or “sign”. These signs and verses can be found in the Quran and Hadith, and helps refer to various phenomena that describe a range of instances, ranging from the universe, its creation, how the days and nights come about, and various other things. The idea of Ayat can be interpreted in two main categories which are the exoteric and esoteric interpretations. Through these two versions of interpretations the Ayat can be interpreted so that it can be either taken allegorically or as it is said. A great example of an Ayat is the story of Muhammad’s divine journey known as “Miraj and Isra” where Muhammad wakes up one night to find the angel Gabriel at the foot of the bed, telling him that God had requested Muhammad. Upon hearing that God had requested him, Muhammad travels to the Jerusalem  on a mythical beast known as the Buraq then commences towards heaven by a golden ladder. Upon analysis of the story, scholars have divided the interpretation of the prophet’s journey into either the allegorical journey or the actual journey. The interpretations that say that the journey was allegorical, assert that the journey was a spiritual journey rather than an real journey to heaven to meet God. The reason the story of Miraj and Isra can be categorized into the genre of an Ayat is because it is a story of a phenomena that exists within the Hadith and Quran. The Ayat can also be used to give the interpretation that God exists everywhere. According to “Approaching the Quran” by Michael Sells, Sells describes that through “sound figure, gender dynamic, implicit metaphors in the Quran”, the experience can be amplified so that the person reading the Quran can feel the full emotions and the presence of God. These heightened emotional senses are described as omnipresence of God.

For the fourth blog post, we  discover the idea of Ghazul and poetry which is extremely important to Pakistan and other muslim nations because it not only is used to evoke strong emotions, but also has the power to legitimize authority in politics by nations commencing in battle with poets rather than in war.  Interestingly, the Ghazul has many components that distinguish it from a regular Western poem; thus, exposing it to the harsh criticisms of many Western Critics. A side note is that the theme of controversy is existent throughout many of Islam’s cultural traditions such as the idea of the decorations in the mosques. Whereas the Western critics ridicule it for being way too ornate and decorative than true art, Muslim critics argue that these designs were the consequence of calligraphic art which gives it a lot more symbolism and meaning than previously given.  Going back to the Ghazul, we see that it’s rhythm differs from Western poetry in that it follows a Aa, Ba, Ca, etc.  where the  lowercase “a” is known as a radif which is a repeated word throughout the whole poem. There are many structural themes that differ from the Western poetry, but a crucial difference is in the composition of the poem where the couplets of the poem are completely autonomous. Although each couplet’s ability to stand alone gives the whole poem an ambiguous feel due to the lack of ability for the couplets to fit with each other, the ambiguity is intentional as well in order to create a sense of mysticism which is a huge theme in Islam. On the other hand, in the “Green Sea of Heaven”, Gray argues that while the western critics have argued that the couplets have no unity whatsoever, there have been some Muslim interpretations that dictate that each of the standing couplets work in unison like a carpet or tapestry that repeats and interweaves in order to address an aspect of a central theme or several themes. A final aspect of the Ghazul is the idea of a stagnant poem in the eyes of the western critic because the poems seem to have no direction; however, according the Gray, the stagnant nature of the poem is intended in order to create an artwork in the moment through the powerful imagery  and complex textures that each couplet brings to the poem.

For my fifth blog post, we encounter the a sketch that attempts to embody the idea of clashing identities along with internalization of emotions. In Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, we find a young Pakistani man who albeit his current favorable position in life has trouble with his identity and emotions. Despite being a Princeton grad who hooked a job at an elite firm, Changez is very self conscientious of discrimination even where this discrimination doesn’t exist. While in my blog post I have tried to explain the internal conflict that Changez goes through, I believe that Changez’s identity crisis situation is entirely his own imagination spurred by his depression of never being able to achieve Erica’s love. Although my interpretation could be entirely wrong, I find that the book is surprisingly romance driven which  in turn indicates a strongly emotion driven situation. Therefore, I believe that the interpretation of this book could be taken in whole different turn. With regards to the importance of the central theme to the course, the idea of discrimination of Muslims is relatable in history where Muhammad was persecuted/discriminated in the beginning and he had to flee to a cave.  The discrimination also spurs from the 9/11 incident as illustrated in the book in the scene where Changez was in the Philippines and one of the locals gave him a dirty look. We see that with this odd reaction, Changez finds himself more connected to the Muslim society described by his emotions as he watched “America at her knees”.

For my last blog post, we come across the idea of divine love which is ultimately the single most important theme in all of Islam. Having been expressed through an allegory from the book “The Conference of the Birds”, Attar writes an allegory called “Ayaz’s sickness” in which the love of the king which symbolizes the love of God is all-encompassing and omnipresent regardless of the situation. In the story, Ayaz is afflicted with the “evil eye” which could symbolize something like sin. Even though Ayaz has the evil eye, the king rushes to the side of Ayaz before his messenger who in this case could symbolize an angel or even a prophet who delivers the message to Ayaz who symbolizes the people. The concept of the king arriving before the messenger symbolizes the extent of His love for his children/people.

As we look through the main tenets of Islam,  we find that many of these principles overlap.  The overlap creates a complex web of ideals that defines Islam, which is driven by the idea of love. The previous six themes that are showcased by the blog posts are definitely not the complete list of possible themes, but I believe that they represent the Islamic religion very well in general.

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