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A prologue to the blog Reflections in Islam.
A prologue to the blog Reflections in Islam.
For my final blog post, I decided to create a short animation in response to the week 10 reading titled “European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States.” Nasr writes that there are over 50 Muslim states in the world today. As such, Islam has not only been a source of faith, he says, but also a source of identity with social and political relevance (549). For centuries, Islam had spread throughout the Eastern Hemisphere, primarily through the expansion of regional Islamic Empires, such as the Caliphate. After the rise of global European empires, the Muslim world, typically described as the collection of regions with majority Muslim populations, was divided into colonial territories. Muslim states began to emerge after World War II around existing territorial boundaries in Africa and Asia that would generally serve as the basis for state boundaries between Muslim states. In many places, Islamist movements played a significant role in the fight for independence from the colonial powers, which would have consequences for the future political regime.
The animation depicts some of the history of Islamic expansion from the Caliphate to independence. We can visualize and infer how the relevance of Islam has changed by looking at the difference between imperial rule and the nation state. It is also a quick way to visually access the information.
Persepolis is an autobiographical novel depicting Marjane Satrapi’s early life against the backdrop of the Islamic Revolution. As a coming of age novel, Persepolis deals with childhood issues as nationalistic, religious, and cultural forces mold Satrapi’s identity. Marji is ten years old at the beginning of the novel when it became obligatory for girls to wear veils at school after the Islamic Revolution. She writes: “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious, but as a family we were very modern and avant-garde” (6). Although Marji becomes comfortable with wearing the veil despite her obligation to do so, the meaning of the veil becomes a point of contention as it carries multiple meanings for the author. While Marji’s mother was an early public activist against the obligatory veil law, Marji becomes comfortable with wearing the veil, while rebelling against other forms of government restrictions on self-expression.
The introductory chapter highlights the mixed messages that children receive from the school and the home. As a Mexican immigrant, Marji’s experience reminded me of a cultural tension that I experienced early on in my schooling. I never experienced having to attach myself to a symbol that signaled my Mexicanness, but my dark complexion distinguished me from my American classmates and I was obliged to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school as a symbol of my Americanness. I created a snippet of my autobiographical novel, inspired by Persopolis, in the form of a comic. Like Persopolis, the form of the novel expresses the simplistic nature of the experience as a child would experience it and interpret it.
I attended school in the U.S. for all of my life, but I was an undocumented immigrant throughout grade school. All of the students were required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. I juxtapose this experience to a particular event that happened when I was in third grade. My birthday was coming up in the month of December and the teacher asked for my city of birth to post on her bulletin board. Previously, I had noticed that the teacher responded favorably to another student who said he was born in Chicago. To gain the same praise, I said that I was also born in Chicago, to which she responded favorably. Moments later, she said that my school record showed that I was born in Mexico. The meaning of nationality had never struck me so deeply until that day.
It seems an obvious thing to say, but you should not imagine that we Pakistanis are all potential terrorists, just as we should not imagine that you Americans are all undercover assassins.
I know you don’t want to do this. It is all too apparent; the eyes are the window to the soul. Am I mistaken when I think that perhaps my messaged has reached you and you have reconsidered what you came here to do? There are no mind games here, my friend. This is merely an extension of our conversation. I will not attempt to prevent you to end my life, nor will I prompt you to do so with a vengeful proclamation of spite. I wish for nothing more than for you to act of your own free will. I speak because I anticipate the dusk of my life, or perhaps the dawn of my waking.
You still have not made a choice? Has someone else come to insure your mission? Do not worry, my friend, there is nobody else to influence your will. There are no repercussions, other than those of the mind, if you decide to pull the trigger. Or am I mistaken? Surely, my family and my students will speculate about the event, “An outspoken professor critical of U.S. activities in Pakistan found dead near an alley. Two, or three bullets? An exit wound through the back of the skull. No witnesses.” Who could ever trace the bullet back to your gun magazine? The memory would host only a faceless figure, for which the person is unbound to place any number of masks. Maybe one of my students will place an American mask on the figure, a fellow kinsperson… our kinsperson. Uncertainty produces anger, and perceived certainty multiplies it two-fold.
You react when I say kinsperson. Do I offend you? Or do I surprise you? Do not be alarmed, my friend. I do not mean to say that the faceless figure is an American, but, rather, that it is another human being. Do not interpret my open-mindedness as a lecture for manipulation. I confessed to you that I do not wish to interfere in your decision. I hope that your reluctance has not been due to my disclosure.
Do you harbor a flicker of hope for peace in your heart? How heavy is the burden on your shoulders? To date, the loop has not been broken. We are but a macro-organism, its parts programmed for apoptosis. Deviations are but an anomaly, an error in executing the command. The moment is infinite.
I must warn you, my friend, that our time is near and you must think quickly.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid struck a chord in me. My family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when I was five. Like Changez, the main character of the novel, I too have dealt with identity crises at various times throughout my life. Although Changez is arguably more of a foreigner, having immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, than I am, the fact that I have been an undocumented immigrant for most of my life has made me feel apart from other Americans. In post-911 America, Changez is subject to the stigma held by many Americans towards Muslims and people descending from Islamic countries. Changez makes some attempts to feel and belong to the American culture, but he ultimately cannot do so, going so far as to say, “I felt at that moment much closer to the Filipino driver than to him,” in one of his interactions (71). These experiences ultimately lead him to sympathize more with his Pakistani background in opposition to U.S. foreign policy.
Undocumented immigrants like me have also felt alienated by the larger American culture. When I was in ten years old, I learned of the Mexican-American War that lead to the loss of Mexico’s northern territory to the U.S. Since then, I have remained suspicious of the U.S. government and have participated in the immigrant rights movement calling for the legalization of the undocumented immigrant population of the U.S. Realizing that this has caused antagonism from Americans toward undocumented immigrants, I think back to the abrupt ending of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I may never be subject to an assassination attempt, but I can put myself in Changez’s shoes and think about what would come of such an event. For this blog post, I reimagine the ending of the novel. I attempt to write in a similar style as Hamid in order to emphasize my own point of view. I think that what I am trying to get across and the question I’m asking is: when can we, as human beings, stop our own self-destruction based on differences that run only skin deep? In my ending, it is implied that the American has pulled out a gun. I don’t reveal whether the American eventually assassinates him because I think this symbolic action is an open-ended discussion to be decided by future generations to come. The major theme is free will.
This post draws from the ideas in Chapter 2 of Professor Asani’s Infidel of Love: Exploring Muslim Understandings of Islam. Asani references American attitudes toward Islam in both sympathetic and antagonistic terms to highlight the misunderstandings that have arisen among outsiders. Consequently, he takes on the task of defining Islamic values and ideals, which he identifies as “peace and compassion, social justice, selfless love of God, and jihad,” in order to illuminate some ideas on the compatibility between religion and nation.
Americans can arguably find it easy to identify with at least some of the values identified by Asani, particularly peace and compassion, and social justice, regardless of whether they identify as Christian (the dominant religion in America). Meanwhile, their response towards the ideals of selfless love of God and jihad may be slightly farther from the American point of view. Nevertheless, even jihad as a term of describing group or inner struggle is not very far from the secular American understanding, nor Christianity, which contains teachings on inner struggle. As such, my post is a drawing of a stereotypical “American” and Christian man talking to a Muslim woman. Their conversation is devoid of content, but the man is pointing his finger at the woman accusatorily. Meanwhile, the man is oblivious to a mirror next to him that depicts him as a Muslim woman. The drawing is meant to show that, while the Muslim woman may look and express herself differently, her values are not far from his values, thereby emphasizing their similarities.
The beloved Prophet Our blessed Messenger Greatest of Prophets
Who brought us the Word Showed us the way Elucidated the mysteries
Beneath the desert sun From the humble ground Within the shaded forest
To deliver us to the Almighty To Heaven Of the divine purpose,
Alhamdulillah! Praise be to Allah Allahu Akbar
In peace we may forever lie. Your Word is our command. I submit to thee.
The chosen one, Muhammad
Conduit of God,
Delivered from Mecca
His sacred plan
in His holy name
Professor Asani writes: “The story of Islam is not one story but many stories involving peoples of many different races, ethnicities, and cultures, professing conflicting interpretations. To acquire a correctly nuanced understanding of Islam and its role in Muslim societies, crucial questions one should ask include: Which Islam? Whose Islam? In which context?” Professor Asani’s contextual/cultural approach discussed during the first lecture recognizes the idea that Islam is not one monolithic, all-encompassing idea. By bringing every person and organization under the term Islam, there are almost necessarily inconsistencies that arise within the term. While some may call these “contradictions”, as different people who claim to be Muslims have opposing interpretations of the Quran and expressions for their beliefs, these differences are directed and/or rooted in the same belief system.
My poem seeks to explore the idea of the “varieties” of Islam. The poem is titled “Islam” and its verses are in praise of Muhammad, inspired by the Sindhi and Urdu poems of week 4. The structure consists of four stanzas, which can be seen as four different poems, set horizontally to emphasize their juxtaposition to one another. While each stanza uses different words, the themes and ideas are very similar. (For example, some words, such as “Muhammad” and “Prophet” are used in the same horizontally adjacent line.) Notably, the poem also evokes different settings, such as the forest and Mecca. The effect is that the reader can see that each stanza says essentially the same thing in a different way. While I don’t attempt to resolve the debate regarding the contradictions inherent in the Islamic faith, I do seek to emphasize the idea of unity in Islam without disregarding differences in interpretation and practice.
My first post is a short animated clip exploring the concept of Zakat. The inspiration for the animation came from Aminata Sow Fall’s novel The Beggars’ Strike, or, The Dregs of Society. The story is set in a Muslim community somewhere in Africa, where beggars are being driven away by the wealthier and more powerful members of the community. However, the same people that are driving away the beggars are required by their religion to give alms to beggars and the poor. When Ndiaye, the main antagonist towards the beggars, realizes he needs to give alms to the beggars so that he can receive God’s blessing, the beggars refuse to return to the city. And without beggars, the rest of the Muslim community is without people to give alms to. Hence they are unable to receive their prayers or religious obligation of Zakat.
In the clip, you can see a division between the healthy land filled with grass and the impoverished land with dry, cracked soil. When coins fall onto both the impoverished soil and the green land, only the coins on the cracked soil produce a crop of wheat! The movie finishes with a quote from the Quran that states that money is like a seed of grain and God will multiply the wheat depending on how it is sowed. I incorporate the main theme of The Beggar’s Strike with this quote of the Quran to develop an animated interpretation of Zakat,