Introductory Essay

May 7th, 2014

I arrived to the United States from Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam as some call it, but the knowledge I had learned throughout my school years was primarily textual and ritual oriented. Jurisprudence took a specific voice, the narrations of the Prophet and the stories about his life are selected with care to stress on a specific discourse, and it was the one and only Truth, Islam, in this case, with its capital ‘I’. Two semesters had passed since my enrollment as a student at Harvard Divinity School and I have noticed that the teachings that contributed to my understanding of Islam while growing up in Saudi were similar to the ones among Muslims in America, where an exclusivist manifestation is being embraced. Globally, what is presented from or about Islam is often the slice of the cake, but that slice never filled me, thus, I often desired the crumbs because of my belief that the true experience of pleasure lies in these last pieces, but who would want the crumbs, one would ask?

I wanted the crumbs because they had no specific shape, they tell you something about the cake, but not everything about it. The only apparent assertion that can be made then is that there is or was a cake, but each would give their own view on it, their own experience tasting it, and their own interpretation of what kind of cake it was. This does not mean that we had missed on the cake, although it could be true that we came centuries after Islam was being revealed, where the cake was being baked. With time, people have taken their shares, and what are left could be some crumbs. Nonetheless, this course and my conversations with people around me have taught me to cherish these crumbs so we can together, enjoy the making of the different flavors of cake that will be produced on the basis of diverse assumptions and efforts about the nature of the original cake. In that, we would be cherishing the experience by allowing for our imagination to be an agent.

It was right after I had spent a semester at the Harvard Divinity School, where I had taken classes on Islamic studies, done research on the role of politics in Islam and on Muslims, and in that, I participated in describing and engaging with the outcomes of a political Islam or a politically defined Islam. But it only happened when I saw Islam being islamic, and although I saw it with a small ‘i’, it was broader, deeper, and richer. The course joined the different cakes that were baked by different individuals, cultures, and communities of interpretations, and students had the opportunity to taste from each other’s cakes, but also to share their own. Here, the crumbs are the different faces of Islam, or in other words, the different parts of the elephant, and the cake is the elephant, and while some could refer to the elephant as God, others could refer to it as Islam. We tend to experience things differently depending on our experiences and contexts, which is a benefit of being human, yet often discredited.

Flavors

Flavors

For the Love of God and His Prophet: Religion, Literature, and the Arts in Muslim Cultures is a pure manifestation of the possibilities for an eclectic experience, a platform for imagination, agency, and for interpretations and embodiments. The course brought forward the artistic and literary aspects of Muslim communities’ devotional and spiritual life, presented through the assortment of mediums that went beyond a text or a single narrative. A significant aspect that this course was its ability to pass over the relationship between religion and culture, and in that it went beyond the notion that Islam is Arab, Shi’i, Sunni, Western, African, or specific to a group of people over others, but instead showed how experiencing Islam is a global experience, not restricted to Muslims, but to humanity. Moreover, it showed how situated knowledges are an important aspect of understanding religion and culture, and thus the question, what comes first, Islam or culture?

There are different mediums for understanding religion and culture, and the one that this course followed was the experiential learning that went according to the Cultural Studies Approach in the sense that tackles its topic through a multi and inter-disciplinary tactic in looking at the interplay between political, economic, and cultural perspectives. In understanding religion and culture through this perspective, we can overcome the dangers of illiteracy that include, but are not restricted to, losing the effectiveness of democracy because of the ignorance about neighboring religions, harming the potentials that diversity could foster, while reinforcing existing stereotypes and assumptions instead.

My experience with the Cultural Studies Approach was one of agency, through which I was able to go beyond the constraints of what I know, who I am, who I know, and where I am expected to go, to a point that was only possible in my imagination, fostered by the course’s experiential learning. This in precise took me to looking at the two forms of Islam; one explained as the name of the religion through which its people are called Muslims, and the other is explained as an act of submission, through which those who submit are the Muslims. The difference may be minor ones, but it certainly has a significant affect socially, psychologically, and politically, and that is precisely why the dominant religious discourse took the shape of the former, a more exoteric relationship with the text, and thus, with Islam as a whole.

Islam according to the former, simply a name of a religion, can follow certain fundamentals although shifting slightly between sects and communities of interpretation, and several would argue that through this perspective, a clear-cut Islamic practice would be preserved and saved from outside influences, in contrast to having an understanding of Islam that is fluid and open for others to experience. Some of these fundamentals can be found in the following notions:

  1. A person becomes a Muslim when she or he recites the shahada
  2. Monotheism: There is no god but Allah
  3. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
  4. To Shi’i Muslims: And Ali is the master of believers who is from God

These fundamentals would include Sunni Muslims’ set of five Islamic pillars, another set of pillars that Shi’i Isma’ili Muslims have constructed, and the Shi’i Twelver Muslims who identify with yet a different form of fundamentals that they don’t refer to as pillars. These variations are important to Muslims, but they still follow an exclusivist form of Islam; one that becomes the religion of Muslims only.

However, according to several narrations of the Qur’an, Islam is one of the only religions that spoke and continue to speak to humanity, an approach that goes beyond Muslims as followers of the religion. In light of that, God says: “Say: we believe in God and what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one and another among them and to…(God) do we submit (literally, we are submitters “muslims”)” (Qur’an 3:84). In this regard, we see the words of Johns in describing an attribute of the Qu’ran in going beyond the restrictive text orientation into an experience with the sound, a relationship with the tone, and a hearing in the mind, of significant importance, in which he says: “An appreciation of the character of dialogue and direct speech in the Qur’an, then, needs to go beyond an understanding of the words as they appear on the printed page. The challenge is to hear them in the mind’s ear, to listen to the various ways in which they could have been uttered. Above all else, it is necessary to listen”(Johns, 41 – 42).

The various ways that Johns points to here include the assortment of ways through which experiential learning could be practiced. This certainly follows the nature of the Qur’an because it, too, opens the floor for a deeper engagement and a room for pondering and imagination to take place. This miraculous attribute of the Qur’anic text teaches us how we can approach Islam too, and in speaking about that, Johns describes the text in these following words: “The Qur’an, it must be remembered, is a mosaic of diverse styles, parts of it being revealed to Muhammad publicly, others privately, and its language moves from a matter-of-fact to an elevated style, from relaxed to intense communication, often within a group of verses”(Johns, 39).

To avoid this exclusivist understanding, we learned that there could be foundations to Islam, but ones that don’t lock people into a single correct form. Henceforth, the following foundations are put forward:

  • Monotheism – tawhid
  • God’s transcendence; beyond comprehension; the 99 beautiful names/attributes of God (asma ul-husna)
  • God’s immanence
  • Creative Orderliness; manifestation through nature
  • God communicates with creation; revelation
  • Prophets as messengers (nabi/rasul)
  • Prophets as role models
  • Humans as the noblest of God’s creatures
  • Humankind forgetful and ungrateful (remembrance and gratitude as signs of faith)
  • Humankind egocentric, greedy; ignore the needs of the sick, poor, the traveller and the orphan. The quest for Social Justice a major theme in the Quran.

In doing so, we are both preserving the religion of Islam and at the same time opening the room for individual presence, and we see this in the experiences of figures that have been regarded as controversial due to the lack of such open space in the public sphere, such as Nawal Al-Sa’adawi in her views on the veil, Amina Wadud in regards to women reclaiming the Qur’an, Salman Ahmad and his devotion to music, and several others who continue to unfold their imagination and surface new perspectives and issues to engage with. This exclusivist understanding is not revolved around individual presence, but reaches the interpretations and the relationship between people and the text, such as the conflict between those who believe that the Mi’raj was a material and literal experience that the Prophet (pbuh) had embarked on, and those who follow the narration of Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, as she states that the Prophet was in his bed during that night, thus, suggesting that the experience was of a dream and a spiritual nature instead.

In the light of this, several questions could be addressed and some of which could be in asking about the changing structures of the role of traditional authority, the interplay between the text and the reciter as agent, and finally and most importantly, the role of poets and artists in surfacing an inclusive experience of Islam. We have seen the various manifestations of Islamic religious traditions and Muslim communities, but I have precisely taken the advantage of having this platform to creatively express myself by concentrating on the concept of Islam in its two forms, the exclusivist with its capital ‘I’ and the inclusive with its small ‘i’, and through this theme as a source of inspiration, I engaged with Islam and the way it is manifested in various cultures and traditions, through the usage of a variety of mediums that assisted me in this process, which can be found in the following headings:

  1. Ink on hand:I have chosen to use ink on a hand rather than on paper, a medium that becomes temporary when applied to skin, to write the word kalmia, word, however, as we have come to see, one word may carry several meanings, one word may have a meaning that is zaher and another that is batten. Moreover, in this design, the word kalima could also be read as kalimat, words, which signals the perspectives and the lenses used in reading the word.
  2. Written Poem: An inclusive islam is an experience that can be found within and not outside of oneself, for the Qur’an addresses humanity and in that we can see the the light is mutual in a human experience and not to a group over another. In pointing to islam with a small ‘i’ and not a capital one, I aim to eliminate a superior ownership to truth and allow for a wider platform where it can be relative and subjective and still be worthwhile and true.
  3. Ink on paper: The fusion between the sound and the structure of mosques in some countries during the five prayers of the day is a profound experience, through which one will hear an echo of all the different voices stemming from the mosques in a neighborhood and in the surrounding areas. However, although these mosques speak the same language and recite verses from a single book, one should not forget that each mosque represents an ideology, an understanding, and a leading message that it advocates. Thinking of it, I thought the differences in minaret structures, lengths, and shapes can resemble this multitude of voices.
  4. Oil on Canvas: Women could be used as symbols for a ‘godly community’ or for a liberal free country. Women themselves have reacted and engaged in these battles; between Nawal Al-Sa’dawi’s negation of the veil, and Zainab Al-Ghazali’s notion of the veil as a token of her resistance to Western ideologies. this painting as a symbol of how it looks when we are all alike, and despite using the color white with a soft pastel tone, it still has an impact on the lack of diversity. However, regardless of the former being an argument to some, in the similarity is a form of unity. My question is, how can we balance this formation of unity while still maintaining our selfhood?
  5. E-book Photo Edit: Al-Ghazali states that although he is an advocate of esoteric and metaphorical interpretations, “metaphorical interpretation is necessary to overcome the contradiction between reason and text, while the mastery of exoteric interpretation comes before esoteric interpretation. ” he still sets requirements for who can engage in metaphorical and esoteric interpretations with the Qur’an.
  6. Face-Paint and Photo Edit: This photo manipulation and face-painting art piece is about the potentials of looking within oneself before looking outwards. There is a truth in and of itself in that matter, which is the surrender to the barriers that could be found but the willingness to recognize them and work on overcoming them to nurture the fruits. Face painting is a form of portrayal, through which the face becomes a symbol of the self, of the unfolding of interiority.

 

—————

References:

Abdelkebir Khatibi, and Mohammed Sijelmassi, The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995).

Johns, A. H. “The Qur’anic Presentation of the Joseph Story: Naturalistic or Formulaic Language,” Approaches to the Qur’an (G. R. Hawting & A.-K. A. Shareef, Eds.). London and New York: Routledge, 1993. pp. 37-70.

William A. Graham & Navid Kermani, “Recitation and Aesthetic Reception,” in: The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an (Ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe). Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. 115-141.

 

To Find It Within

May 7th, 2014

We have discussed how people tend to look outwards to find God and to find God’s ayat, and we have furthermore seen how several of those who proposed other ways to finding God have been made controversial figures. However, appreciating cultural and traditional differences can help us understand forms of embodiment and forms in which people have found God.

Some of these forms could be found in Al-Hallaj’s passages on being God, through which we read the following:

I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I,
We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
If you see me, you see Him,
And if you see Him, you see us both.
We also see how Rumi had found God within himself when he was busy searching for God outside. But in that, Rumi advocates for a relationship of Love, through which he declares: “There is no god but Love.” (la ilahailla’l-ishq). Furthermore, in this love relationship, Rumi’s suggestion is for the humans to purify themselves to be able to reach this state of mind, he says: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Hence, when a person is purified from the barriers that lie within, he or she is able to find God. 

Poets and artists are able to find this because of a state of transparency, a surrendering (like a true Muslim), a fragility, but at the same time a strength to recognize these barriers and overcome them. In light of this, I had used face-paint to paint branches of a tree on my face, which would resemble both, the branches (barriers) and the fruit that lies behind this recognition. But what is more, is that this state of mind will allow one to find a space to grow, evolve, surrender, and hold on to a truth through the roots of love deeply rooted in the land of love, where a garden would be created.

Rumi on Looking Inside

Rumi on Looking Inside

This poetic and metaphorical analogy is one that stems from a belief that when you find your garden within yourself, you will be able to recognize the garden outside of you.

Branches, Fruits, and Extended Roots.

Branches, Fruits, and Extended Roots.

The cultural studies approach suggests an interdisciplinary and a multidisciplinary lens to studying the subject of Islam through experiences and narratives of individuals and cultures are taken into account. However, although this approach could help us overcome religious illiteracy and broaden our horizon of the term Islam to one that is inclusive in nature, there are several issues that may emerge while doing so, and some of this could be found in the debate on authority. With these changes in perspective, who would have the authority to interpret and guide the Muslim narrative, moreover, who would be eligible to do so. Several schools of thought are dominated by an exoteric understanding of the Qur’anic text, while other encourage the esoteric interpretations.

The Prophet Mohammad had emphasized reading the text while focusing on the quality rather than the quantity, as it is recorded in this narration: “One who has read the [entire] Quran in less than three days has not understood it.” Said the Prophet Mohammed. In focusing on the quality, he refers to engaging with the text on a metaphorical level too that would allow the reciter or reader to ponder and think deeper about a text. However, in doing so, one should also be cautious.

We have seen how difference punctuations in a text can change the entire meaning, and thus influencing the way people relate to it and share it. For example, one could say: “Woman, without her man, is nothing,” a presentation of women being inferior without the support or the guardianship of a man, while the meaning changes completely when one says: “Woman, without her, man is  nothing” in which the opposite is somehow stated, declaring the nothingness of man, without the women.

Al-Ghazali states that although he is an advocate of esoteric and metaphorical interpretations, “metaphorical interpretation is necessary to overcome the contradiction between reason and text, while the mastery of exoteric interpretation comes before esoteric interpretation. ” and he proceeds by making recommendations for metaphorical interpretations:

  1. You shouldn’t expect or aspire to know everything. Somethings God made hidden.
  2. Never deny your reason.
  3. Don’t specify an interpretation when the possibilities are in conflict for ‘Zann/doubt’ is dangerous.
  4. You don’t know the intention of God until it is stated. Refraining from interpretation is then safer.

In this entry, I have played with a text to try to read between its lines, and in that I have intentionally presented an entirely different reading of Kristina Nelson’s original writings on “Reciter and Listener: Some Factors Shaping the Mujawwad Style of Qur’anic Recitation.” This is only an artistic presentation that has the exaggeration intended, to illustrate how meaning could shift drastically when attempting to read between the lines without adequate preparation or knowledge in the field.

Actual Text

Actual Text

Reading-between-the-lines (Esoteric Reading) gone-wrong.

Reading-between-the-lines (Esoteric Reading) gone-wrong.

Invisible and Visible

May 3rd, 2014

Fatima_HDS_Gallery

Selves – Oil on Canvas

The work of Nira Yuval-Davis in Gender and Nation gives a groundbreaking exploration of the interplay between gender and national projects, reproduction, and operations. In exploring the complex interactions between feminism and nationalism, Davis invites the reader to see how women, and not merely the intellectuals and the officials, contribute to the biological, cultural, and symbolic reproduction of nations.

Women could be used as symbols for a ‘godly community’ or for a liberal free country. Women themselves have reacted and engaged in these battles; between Nawal Al-Sa’dawi’s negation of the veil, and Zainab Al-Ghazali’s notion of the veil as a token of her resistance to Western ideologies. The obsession with the women’s body, voice, purity, and sexuality is the same tool used to produce different statements about a nation; also used by secular national projects. For instance, a secular nation seeking modernity tends to turn women into symbols that manifest such aspiration, viewing women as an integral part to its establishment, as important pillars, and a core element to its openness and freedom statements. The question therefore is reduced to covering the women or revealing them or to letting the women speak or silencing them. Consequently, in either case, “women are turned into symbols, representing anything but themselves.”

This narrative has taken us away from foundational texts, where God says: “Whosoever performs good deeds, whether male or female, and is a believer, We shall surely make them live a good life and We will certainly reward them for the best of what they did.” (Qur’an 16:97) Henceforth, likeness is not the basis for this union, but instead, this union could flourish and develop when it is eclectic, diverse, receptive, and empathetic.

I painted this painting as a symbol of how it looks when we are all alike, and despite using the color white with a soft pastel tone, it still has an impact on the lack of diversity, and thus, the invisibility that it brings. However, regardless of the former being an argument to some, in the similarity is a form of unity. My question is, how can we balance this formation of unity while still maintaining our selfhood?!

In The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy, the relationship between Arabs and calligraphy is conveyed in the following statement, “art is the geometry of the soul expressed through the body – a metaphor that can be taken literally and concretely with the literal design of its inspiring spirit. This metaphor refers back to an established language as, so to speak, its reflection, its language of love” (Khatibi and Sijelmassi, 1995). Hence, to express not only the language of love that is a necessity in calligraphy in this context, but more profoundly to have that language elaborate a relationship of love between the Creator and His creation, I thus, cannot think of a concrete object to express that, other than the heart and its beats that are illustrated through the red hue and brush-strokes demonstrated in the video. Moreover, my choice to begin with a heart is based on God’s words, through which He describes Himself as being closer to His creations than their jugular veins: “And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein” (Qur’an, 50:16). Furthermore, among the 132 times that the Quran mentions the word heart, excluding the times it mentions Alfouad, it describes it as the center of rationale and intentions, and it describes it as one’s soul, but it also states that with this love bond, the heart shall rest: “Verily in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest” (Qur’an, 13:28).

While I could have used blood vessels to branch out, I chose to have a plant with roots branching out from the heart, symbolizing growth and connectivity. Moreover, the recitation of the Quran in the background and the slow-motion video recording portray the longing and the reaching out to God. However, although the word Allah is drawn at very end, it is still the most apparent, situating it at the center with the branches folding their arms around it, in complete longing, in complete surrender and submission.

Allah Calligraphy

A Case of a Space

March 23rd, 2014

We’ve spoken about the mosque extensively in one or two lectures, through which we discussed its structural and architectural evolution that varied with time and place. Hence, I thought it was necessary to post a blog entry about experiencing the space and not just viewing it as a mosque. I have visited and viewed several mosques in several different countries, from the U.S., India, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and London. Some countries preserved a specific form and style, others have been inspired by more dominant Islamic cultural forms, while the rest had varied architecturally from one mosque to another. Although it is of significance to speak about this aspect, it is nevertheless important to shed light on the evolution of this space as a platform for social engagement, public expression, and in some occasions of political reform. Mosques throughout history have been open spaces where issues such as, yet not restricted to, exchanging trades, breaking class identifications, holding campaigns against an unjust ruler, and introducing marginalized voices into society.

In the following ink-drawing, I intended to exemplify experiencing the fusion between the sound and the structure of mosques in some Arab countries that I have visited. During the five prayers of the day, one will hear an echo of all the different voices stemming from the mosques in a neighborhood and in the surrounding areas; an experience so profound that I wonder how some people are advocating for unifying them into a single voice. Although these mosques speak the same language and recite verses from a single book, one should not forget that each mosque represents an ideology, an understanding, and a leading message that it advocates. Thinking of it, I thought the differences in minarets’ structure, length, and shape can resemble this multitude of voices, hence, my choice to do this:

Minarets are symbols of our similarities and differences – Watercolor and Ink on paper

Mosques can speak volumes about a culture, or at least about the community of attendees that are regular visitors to a mosque in their neighborhood. For example, some of the things one can take from simple observations would be how organized the people are by simply looking at the shoes and how assorted they are on the floor or on the shelves, by seeing whether or not they are of known fashion brands, by looking at the amount of water wasted during abolition, by the social vibes that fill the hall, and by seeing where women are located. Moreover and most importantly, by the Friday prayer khutba (speech) contents. In this entry, after having briefly portrayed the voices through the minarets, I will talk about experiencing this space at Harvard, which touches on the mosque being a space for cultural exchange, empowerment, and a way to understand a community of Muslims.

The following post and photo may not be an art piece, but it is certainly a catalyst for a cultural studies approach happening not so far away from the classroom.

  • “Today was the first time I ever actively contribute to a Juma’a (Friday) Prayer, an experience in the Islamic tradition that was gradually taken away from female Muslims, both in attendance and in voice. My friend, the khateeb/imam (Preacher/Prayer Leader), agreed to voice out my ideas and thoughts that I had written down for him. His voice merged with my ideas on the issue of “going beyond tolerance through a sincere engagement with the word “لتعارفوا” from the verb form “لتفاعلوا” “to know one another,” which is based on an active two-sided participation, to hybridise with the “other” rather than to simply “tolerate the other.”

A Case of a Space – Panoramic Photo

The Common Light

March 20th, 2014

This poem is a manifestation of the possibility of a common light, which could be attained when truth is perceived and understood with a small “t” and not a capital one “T”. In describing the truth, I intend to describe islam, and in that, I am pointing to islam with a small i and not a capital one. This understanding eliminates a superior ownership to truth and allows for a wider platform where it can be relative and subjective and still be worthwhile and true. In the light of that, we can see how throughout our course we have engaged in several moments with islam as an inclusive way of life rather than a dominating inclusive religion. I believe this can be attained particularly by removing the materialistic incentives that have been highly associated with Islam and other religions, such as the concept of heaven and hell, a shrine, the 72 virgins, the rivers of wine…etc. And as it is mentioned in narrations: “One day Rabia was seen running with fire in one hand and water in the other. They asked her why she was doing this and where she was going. She replied, “I am running to light a fire in Heaven and to pour water on the flames of Hell, so that both veils to the Face disappear forever.”

An inclusive islam is an experience that can be found within and not outside of oneself, for it is a human experience and we are all humans, daughters and sons of time, living in the moment, and forming our own interpretations and narratives, his story, her story, and mine.

This poem can be understood as an extension to the cultural studies approach, which emphasizes Donna Haraway’s Situated Knowledges, a concept I also argue for in a sense that our experiences should be credited and found truthful even when they don’t comply with the majority. In an attempt to symbolize this, I begin by stating that the human heart, which encompass the experiences, stories, and understandings are larger than the earths and skies. However, in my conclusion, I signal the human call, that is found in a light, and this light is mutual, and to those who walk in the darkness of the tunnel, it could seem impossible, but to those who look inwards in that darkness, it will shine bright.

—–

If the earths and skies did not fit God

The human heart has always had

In every breath, I am a “daughter of time”

Of God’s glory

And of the human story

Of his story, her story, and mine

—–

In life

A quest for love

Don’t you worry

A language delivered to you in the womb

Not at all tough

One, which requires no words

A state of mind, an open heart

A blossom in the hand

—–

Let there be no halal or haram

Neither hell nor heavens

Look inside, for these elements are within

Not outside of you

In every depth

Through every human

You’ll find a clue

—–

Only when we burn heaven and turn off the fire in hell

Will we be able to do good deeds without awaited benefits

For what is better than to love for the loved

To give, for the needy

To rescue, for the drowned

And to be a messenger of God on the ground

To let go of the virgins

To dry your body from the pools of wine

To believe in God

Without a spell, a verse, or a shrine

—–

Nothing and all, a human call

Let the body stir along a single drumming pattern

With the lights of this temple

The candles in your church

And the lanterns in my mosque

A source of light

The end of the tunnel lies out of sight

So look inwards and it will shine bright

One Word for Words

February 25th, 2014

Calligraphy as explained by Abdelkebir Khatibi and Mohammed Sijelmassi in The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy is seen as a “reading and a writing in the second degree… The actual meaning of the statement here becomes secondary, so that the imagined reader is like a dreamer awakened, whose vision is woven within a context of art.” In my artwork in this blog entry, I am inspired particularly by the calligraphy work of Mohammed Salem Bajunaid, a Saudi calligrapher who in response to those who praise his work says: “I never believe I have achieved anything. It is all Allah’s work.”

Bajunaid uses verses from the Quran as basis for his illustrations, through which he uses a visual manifestation shaping the verses to portray a hidden or a metaphorical meaning. For example, in the following work, he write the verse: “We raise in degrees whom We will, but over every possessor of knowledge is one [more] knowing” “وفوق كل ذي علم عليم” (Yousuf:76). Bajunaid here begins with the word fawq “over” as the basis for his design, through which he concludes with Aleem “one knowing” at the peek of the structure, to portray the Holy God as being Most Knowledgable.

Work of Salim Bajnaid

Based on the connection between the form and content, I have chosen to use the ink on a hand rather than on paper, a medium that becomes temporary when applied to skin, to write the word kalima “word,” however, as we have come to see, one word may carry several things, one word may have a meaning that is thaher and another that is batten, yet alone that in the design I chose, this kalima “word” could also be read as kalimat “words.” In addition, I have portrayed the diversity of metaphorical and literal meanings that could be understood from a single word through the arrows that are used as punctuations.

I find the following narration suitable for this artwork, thus, by it, I conclude.  Ali said: “If I wished I could load seventy camels with the exegesis of the Opening Surah (al-Fatiha) of the Koran.” What is the meaning of this, when the exoteric interpretation [of this surah] is extremely short? Abu al-Darada said, “A man does not truly understand until he attributes [different] perspectives (wujuh) to the Koran.” A certain scholar said, “For every [Koranic] verse there are sixty thousand understandings (fahm), and what remains to be understood is even more.” Others have said, “The Koran contains seventy-seven thousand two hundred sciences (ilm), for every word [in it] is a science, and then that [number] can be quadrupled, since every word has an outward aspect, an inward aspect, an end and a beginning.” (Classical Persian Sufism, from its Origins to Rumi, 239).

Word: Definite or Indefinite – Ink on Skin

Hello world!

February 7th, 2014

Welcome to Weblogs at Harvard Law School. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!