Introduction

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“For the Love of God and His Prophet: Religion, Literature, and Arts in Muslim Cultures” have proven to be quite a fascinating course. With discussions of the Qur’an and its message, artistic expressions found throughout contemporary and historical Muslim communities, and differences in practice and ideology in different Muslim cultures around the globe, this course has given an expansive and inclusive view of Islam and of those who identify as followers of that faith. In light of the diversity of perspectives and experiences I was exposed to in this course, I sought to create a portfolio representative of the diversity I have witnessed. Specifically, my blog posts are each reflective of two of this course’s major themes: the cultural studies approach and the contemporaneity of Islam. In the following paragraphs, I will explain the ways in which each of my blog posts intends to relate to those themes.

Post #1: Mosque Mosaic

My first blog post is a tiled mosaic, piecing together the images of 160 mosques found all around the globe. This was my premier foray into an expression of the cultural studies approach and of the contemporaneity of Islam. According to Professor Asani, the cultural studies approach to analyzing religion considers religion to be a phenomenon that is deeply embedded in all dimensions and contexts of the human experience. It understands that religious ideology and, particularly, religious practice are heavily influenced by the historical, political, social, economic, and artistic landscapes of the communit(ies) in which that religion is based. In my mosaic, I sought to demonstrate this by showing the scores of ways that mosques can be designed and highlighting the fact that there is no one way to design a mosque just as there is no one way to practice Islam. Relatedly, the 160 mosques of my mosaic span the temporal scope as well, with some mosques hundreds of years old and others built within recent decades. The teachings of Islam have been around for approximately 1500 years, but despite that, the religion still plays a large role in the contemporary global society. As times have changed, some Muslim communities have adapted and evolved as well, and my mosaic seeks to illustrate that some of that evolution has occurred architecturally.

Post #2: Light of Allah

In my second illustration, I sought to focus the contemporaneity of Islam more so than the cultural studies approach. Inspired by Qur’an verse 24:35, this illustration depicts the moment immediately after Allah created each of his 25 prophets using the embers from His divine light. To express Islam’s relevance and prevalence in contemporary society, I set this scene in a modern living room. Allah’s divine light and the 25 embers for his prophets are the only aspects of light in an otherwise dark, rectilinear, and very modern space. The goal behind this design was to suggest that Islam is very much a part of family life for many people today. I specifically chose a modern living room – as opposed to a non-residential space or a different residential space such as a kitchen – in order to emphasize two things: first, as mentioned previously, that Islam still plays a prominent role in the lives of many contemporary families (e.g., parents reciting the Qur’an with their children), and second, that Allah using his own light to create the prophets can be seen as an example of Allah forming his family.   Despite my primary focus on the contemporaneity of Islam, this illustration is not completely devoid of consideration of the cultural studies approach. Specifically, when considering the setting for my illustration, I wanted to use a setting that felt Western. A Western setting serves the purpose of demonstrating that Islam has a presence all over the world, and not just in the stereotypical locations of the Middle East and Africa.

Post #3: 99 Names

From the Manifest One to the Hidden One, the Creator of the Harmful to the Creator of Good, and the All-Merciful to the Humiliator, there are 99 names for Allah. Once I learned of the significance between Allah and the number 99, my first thought was of the song “99 Problems” by American rapper Jay-Z. As such, I decided to compose a poem utilizing only the names of Allah, in the same way that American musicians compose rap songs. “For the Love of God and His Prophet” exposed me to quite a few Muslim rappers, from Lupe Fiasco to Hamza Perez. This post’s unification of a contemporary musical/literary art form with the 99 names of Allah was yet another attempt at showcasing the cultural studies approach (i.e., demonstrating the compatibility between Western rap and a largely non-Western religion) and the contemporaneity of Islam (i.e. using an “ancient” religious message in a modern art form).

Post #4: #EmpoweringMuslimWomen

This video was inspired by a real-life conversation between Muslim women around the world. This year, Sabina Khan-Ibarra, creator of the website Muslimah Montage, requested that women “share stories about their triumphs, influences, and aspirations.” Many women heeded Khan-Ibarra’s call and shared their messages on Twitter with the identifying hashtag, #EmpoweringMuslimWomen. After I read a collection of these tweets, I was reminded about the diversity of Muslim experiences and Islamic ideology that people – and in this instance, women specifically – possess. And in light of our conversations in class, I created a video depicting this diversity in the context of the hijab.

I found our discussion of the hijab – whether or not it should be worn by women, what message the hijab conveyed, etc. – to be extremely powerful, largely because of its complexity. The articles and #EmpoweringMuslimWomen tweets I read revealed just as many voices in favor of the hijab as there were women opposed to it. The feelings of these women about the hijab were based on a number of factors: their nationalities, their ages, their religious ideologies; their socioeconomic and educational levels; etc. The cultural studies approach enabled me to realize that these factors do indeed pose a large impact on how the hijab was viewed. And in seeing so many diverse perspectives and so many women who presented arguments in favor of women donning the hijab today, I was again reminded of the anachronistic and contemporaneous nature of Islam.

To showcase these themes, my video is a slideshow of women from all over the world, some wearing hijabs (burqas, jilbabs, niqaabs, etc.) and others without hijabs. Each image is accompanied by a tweet from the #EmpoweringMuslimWomen conversation. Below are some of my favorites:

  • “Wearing hijab does not turn each of my daily activities (jogging, working) into acts of dissent/courage.”
  • “EmpoweredMuslimWomen don’t need you to define them. They define themselves.”
  • “We’ve to understand that empowerment may mean different things for different women.”

In short, this video is a celebration of people practicing Islam in the ways that they feel most comfortable. I find it totally empowering that these women – regardless of where in the world they come from or how old they are – are unafraid to express their opinions on what being a Muslim woman means to them.

Post #5: Call to Prayer in Tanzania

This semester, I had the great pleasure to visit Tanzania, an African country with a predominantly Muslim population. While there, I heard several calls to prayer. So, for my fifth post, I set one of those calls to prayer to a slideshow of some of the representative Islamic images I saw in Tanzania: a mosque in Dar Es Salaam, a mosque in Arusha, and a copy of the Qur’an. Both the cultural studies approach and the contemporaneity of Islam are addressed more subtly in this post than in others. The cultural studies theme is evidenced by the fact that this post is grounded very specifically in a Tanzanian context. Situated in central, eastern Africa and home to a diverse population that boasts African, English, Indian, and Arabic roots, Tanzania is a very unique country. Islam as practiced throughout Tanzania does not necessarily look the same as Islam as practiced in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, or even in other African countries, because the historical, cultural, and social characteristics of Tanzania make it unique. In speaking to the contemporaneity of Islam, this video is all about the present. This call to prayer and the accompanying photographs were al taken just a few weeks ago. This video highlights the fact that Islam is alive and well in Tanzania and it affects the everyday lives of the thousands and thousands of Muslims who live there.

Post #6: Brunei … A New Low

My final blog post is a commentary on an event that happened in early May: Brunei’s adoption of sharia law as the basis of its penal system. In Brunei, Islam is the official religion of the state, but that did not extend to sharia law until this recent political move. Personally, I believe the adoption of sharia law is regressive and ultimately a negative policy for Brunei. Consequently, my illustration showcases my opinion in an editorial context. I created a mock Time Magazine cover with a timeline of major political events in Brunei, from the inauguration of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III in 1950 to the adoption of sharia law in early May 2014. Each of the events on the timeline is arranged by its impact on the citizens of Brunei, with positively impactful events situated higher on the page and negatively impactful events situated lower on the page. I have placed Brunei’s adoption of sharia law as the lowest point on my Brunei timeline to emphasize the fact that a system of retributive, government-sanctioned torture will ultimately not benefit the Brunei government or its approximately 400,000 citizens. This post reflects the cultural studies approach because it emphasizes the ways in which the historical and political contexts of a nation directly affect the practice of Islam in that nation. This magazine cover highlights the contemporaneity of Islam because the timeline serves as a visual illustrator of the impact of Islam over time, and of its relevance in present-day political decisions.

Overall, I have found “For the Love of God and His Prophet” to be a deeply engaging course and I have learned a lot about the foundational tenets of Islam, many of the various Muslim identities present around the world, and how a cultural studies approach proves to be an effective way of analyzing and learning about any religious institution. I hope that my blog successfully portrays some of the amazing lessons that I have learned.

Brunei … A New Low (Week 13)

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Sharia Law Time Magazine Cover

I chose to base my Week 13 post on a real-life occurrence: the adoption of sharia law in Brunei’s penal system. Brunei is a southeast Asian country with Islam as its official, state religion. On May 1, 2014, it was announced that Brunei will use a system of sharia law in punishing its 400,000 citizens. Punishments will include flogging, dismemberment, and death by stoning.

My illustration is a mock cover page for Time Magazine, with the title, “Brunei … A New Low.” In my illustration, I have included a timeline of important political events in Brunei’s history, placing each event on an imaginary y-axis based on my idea of how positive or negative the event is overall. For example, in 1984, Brunei gained its independence from the imperialistic stronghold of England, an event which I consider to be very positive (both for Brunei and for the international community). Conversely, one of Brunei’s foremost public officials and a member of the royal family was found guilty of misusing state funds in 2000; since this is most certainly a negative event, it is lower on the y-axis. I consider Brunei’s adoption of sharia law to be one of its most negative events, and therefore, it is placed lowest on the y-axis.

This week’s blog post is simply a social commentary about how sharia law will be a major setback for Brunei. Although the United States’ penal system is flawed in its own respects, a system in which citizens can virtually be tortured should be outlawed by all nations of the world.

Call to Prayer in Tanzania (Week 7)

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This past Spring Break, I had the honor and privilege to travel to Tanzania.  Tanzania is a country in East Africa with a substantial Muslim population.  While there, I was able to experience Muslim culture firsthand, within a unique, national context.  From the sights of hijabs and mosques to the sounds of prayers and the calls to prayer, I experienced what it felt like to live in a Muslim community.  This video documents some of the sights and sounds that I was exposed to while in Tanzania.

#EmpoweringMuslimWomen (Week 10)

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I found our discussion of the hijab and its function in the lives of Muslim women to be fascinating.  The hijab can serve as an oppressive instrument to some women, while other women proudly wear the hijab and see it as a source of empowerment.   Because the hijab can mean different things to different women, it is important for women to make the determination for themselves as to what empowers them.  In researching the function of the hijab and sources of empowerment for Muslim women, I discovered statement after statement about the empowerment of Muslin women.  The statements were all on Twitter, labeled #EmpoweringMuslimWomen.

Sabina Khan-Ibarra, creator of the website Muslimah Montage, requested that women “share stories about their triumphs, influences, and aspirations.”  I read those tweets and compiled them in this video, pairing each tweet with an image of a Muslim woman.  Some women are wearing hijabs and others are not.  The purpose of this video collage is to demonstrate that Muslim women are dynamic and unique, and that each woman has the right (and perhaps the obligation) to empower herself however she feels comfortable, whether that is through the donning of a hijab or not.  It is to convey this message that I repeatedly include the line, “We’ve to understand the empowerment may mean different things for different women.”

The video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSJ7F31WXus&feature=youtu.be

99 Names (Week 2)

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There are 99 names used for God in the Qur’an.  I wanted to showcase all of those names by arranging them within a poem.  Each stanza concludes with the name “Allah,” because “Allah” is considered “the Greatest Name.”  The final line of the poem is a nod to Jay-Z’s song, “99 Problems,” because how could I not reference another work referencing a list of 99 things?

99 Names

The All-Compassionate, the All-Merciful, the Absolute Ruler,

the Pure One, the Source of Peace, the Inspirer of Faith,

the Guardian, the Victorious, the Compeller,

the Greatest, the Creator,

Allah.

The Maker of Order, the Shaper of Beauty, the Forgiving,

the Subduer, the Giver of All, the Sustainer,

the Opener, the Knower of All, the Constrictor,

the Reliever, the Abaser,

Allah.

The Exalter, the Bestower of Honors, the Humiliator,

the Hearer of All, the Seer of All, the Subtle One,

the Just, the Judge, the All-Aware,

the Forbearing, the Magnificent,

Allah.

The Forgiver and Hider of Faults,

the Rewarder of Thankfulness,

the Highest, the Greatest, the Preserver,

the Nourisher, the Accounter, the Mighty,

the Generous, the Watchful One,

Allah.

The Responder to Prayer, the All-Comprehending, the Perfectly Wise,

the Loving One, the Majestic One, the Forceful One,

the Witness, the Truth, the Trustee,

the Possessor of All Strength, the Resurrector,

Allah.

The Governor, the Appraiser,

the Praised One, the Ever-Living One, the Self-Existing One

the Giver of Life, the Taker of Life,

the Originator, the Restorer,

Allah.

The Finder, the Glorious, the One,

the Satisfier of All Needs, the All-Powerful, the Creator of All Power,

the All-Inclusive, the Indivisible,

the Expediter, the Delayer,

Allah.

The First, the Last,

the Manifest One, the Hidden One, the Supreme One,

the Protecting Friend, the Doer of Good, the Guide to Repentance,

the Avenger, the Forgiver, the Clement,

Allah.

The Owner of All, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty,

the Equitable One, the Gatherer, the Rich One,

the Enricher, the Preventer of Harm,

the Creator of the Harmful, the Creator of Good,

Allah.

The Light, the Guide, the Originator,

the Everlasting One, the Inheritor of All,

the Righteous Teacher,

the Patient One,

Allah.

I’ve got 99 problems, but finding a name for Allah ain’t one.

Light of Allah (Week 4)

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“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.”  [Qur’an 24:35]

“It is believed my many faithful followers of the Holy Prophet … that the Almighty created the seed of the prophets out of a handful of His light.  There is lay sparkling in His hand: God decided that He would send one of these sparks to earth from time to time, and with it He would reveal the Light of His Wisdom, or at least part of its unending brilliance.  The largest and brightest of these fiery sparks He picked out first and set it apart.  That would become the essence of Mohammad’s soul.  It would be incarnate last, though it was created first.”  [J. Knappert, Myths and Legends of the Swahili, 66]

The two above passages about the Light of Allah inspired my design.  In composing this image, I sought to depict the moment immediately following Allah’s creation of the 25 prophets.   And in a bit of a nod to the anachronism present in some ta’ziyeh performances, I chose a contemporary setting (an architecturally modern living room) for the scene.  The purpose of this setting is to illustrate the following: (1) I liken Allah’s creation of the prophets by taking embers from His divine light to his creating sons biologically, and the living room is symbolic of family, and (2) the legacy and importance of Allah and the prophets is still very much alive today and by selecting a contemporary setting, I can convey that message.

In addressing specific details of the image, I will draw your attention to a few things:

(1) Allah is represented by the intense light in the glass-enclosed, pearly, white lamp in the niche on the left side of the image, all in line with scripture.

(2) There are 25 small candles, each representing one of the 25 prophets.

(3) Muhammad is represented by the sole candle on the left side of the image.  Muhammad’s candle is slightly bigger than the others (signifying his importance), and he is placed high on a shelf because Allah chose to wait on sending him to Earth.

 

Mosque Mosaic (Week 6)

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After seeing so many different mosque designs during Week #6, I decided to toss my own design into the ring.  Specifically, I chose to create a tiled mosaic that I envision covering an interior wall of a modern mosque.

In the film “Islamic Art: Mirror of an Invisible World,” viewers were exposed to mosques that were colorful, detailed, and elaborate, and I sought to create the same thing.  Each of the interior tiles of my design is an image of one of the many mosques found around the globe.   I use 160 different images, each colorful and representative of the many different styles of mosques that men have created over the centuries.

The gold tiling in the center of the mosaic spells “Allah” in Arabic.  Additionally, there are 99 gold tiles used to spell “Allah” and this was done to acknowledge the fact that there are 99 different names for Him.

 

Calligraphic Design: Olympic Allah

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My project is a depiction of the name Allah as derived and extruded from the Olympic Rings.  The inspiration for my calligraphy project was based on our discussions of the plurality of Islam, from the diversity of views and practices of Muslims around the globe to the universality of appreciating and reciting the messages of the Qur’an.  As I considered the notion that Islam is a religion that champions the idea of there being only one God, but a God who is responsible for and accessible to everyone, I wanted to depict the Arabic name for God, Allah, in a fashion that linked the name to unity and inclusiveness.

While watching athletes from around the world duke it out on the ice and snow in recent weeks, it dawned on me that the Olympics are similarly representative of ideas of universality and inclusion.  The purpose of the Olympic Games is to foster a sense of community among the various peoples of the world, uniting us through athletics despite our differences in culture, language, and ideology.  After a little research, I learned that the symbol of the Olympic Games – the Olympic Rings –has a meaning relevant to that purpose of community: the shape of the ring represents “continuity and the human being” and the six colors of the symbol (blue, yellow, black, green, red, and white) “represent the colors of all the nations, with no exception” (at least in 1912 when the symbol was designed).[1]

Because the Olympic Rings and the name Allah both invoke ideas of diversity, universality, and inclusion, I decided to design an image that combined the two.  Specifically, I chose to show that Allah, and more broadly, Muslim culture, derives from (or, graphically, can be extruded from) the same principles of openness and community that define the Olympic Games.


[1] Barney, Robert Knight, “This Great Symbol,” Olympic Revue 301 (November 1992), 629.

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