Lamps on the Road to Faith

 

“My desire is to visit your tomb—fulfill it if you desire:

For me it is most difficult [to accomplish], for you most easy.

None can go astray while following you,

Because those footsteps are the lamps on the road to faith.”

– Khalil, Armaghan-I na’t

 

This section of a na’t from In Praise of Muhammad: Sindhi and Urdu Poems inspired me to make a collage. The collage uses a black background to incorporate the light mysticism referenced in the last line, the black representing the human tendency to be forgetful of God, contrasted against the white of the road created by Muhammad’s footsteps and of the mosque in the center. The white road represents the divine path of Islam (specifically the Sirat al-Mustaqim, or Straight Path) that is meant to provide guidance in an otherwise chaotic world. The footsteps themselves were cut out from a picture of a sunrise to reflect how the life and sunnah of the prophet, as recounted in the hadith, serve to illuminate the Sirat al-Mustaqim for many Muslims.

Because the na’t addresses Muhammad and specifically mentions the desire to visit his tomb, I put the Mosque of the Prophet (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, where his tomb is located) at the end of the path. Many Muslims from around the world go on pilgrimages to the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina to express their devotion to him, and since this na’t is part of a long tradition of Prophet-veneration, it seemed fitting that visiting Al-Masjid al-Nabawi would be on the road of faith. It is important to note that not all Muslim sects believe in such prophet-veneration. Wahhabi Muslims (who often go by Muwahhidun, meaning “monotheists”) oppose the veneration of any figure besides God himself, and thus do not practice traditions centered around Muhammad or follow guidance from the Hadith, and some have exerted their political influence in Saudi Arabia to restrict other Muslims from visiting shrines of important figures from Islamic history that serve as shrines for Muslims of other sects of Islam.

However, while Wahhabi Muslims would not see the Mosque of the Prophet as an appropriate symbol for the Sirat al-Mustaqim, prophet veneration is a very common theme in most other sects of Islam around the world, and since this poem is part of that tradition, I decided to put Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in there anyways. Additionally, since many such Muslims think of Muhammad as the prefect human, the mosque also represents the Prophet’s sunnah and how following his example to become an ideal Muslim is the ultimate goal for many on the path of faith.

The cracks between the black sections are random and break up the darkness to give it a chaotic appearance in comparison to the solid white path that creates a sense of order. However, the mosque itself is also made up of different fragments and shades, and the footsteps vary in color as well. This reflects how, despite its homogeneous depiction in Western media, the term Islam encompasses a collection of culturally unique and contrasting traditions and beliefs from around the world.

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