Coming into this class with no prior exposure to Islam, I remember two of the first things that I learned in this class, one being that there are 99 names of god and secondly about the Shahada. Each of these 99 names for Allah represented a quality and attribute of god. The Shahada is the declaration of the oneness of god and the acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet. I feel that my experience with my blog post has been a journey, as I remained trying to wrap my head around god simultaneously being in everything, which is the impression I got at first from him having so many names and qualities, while at the same time just being “one.” I became particularly fascinated with the relationship between good and a human individual. What was this relationship like? To what extent was Allah to be feared? Exalted? Submitted to? These are all questions that I found myself wondering about quite a bit. Throughout the semester, I placed particularly close attention in readings and discussions, and attempted to explore this relationship of the individual and god as well the relationship between the individuals and the Islamic religion as a whole through my blog post and responses.
Many of my projects revolve around where and how an individual could go about finding god. It seemed to me that you could find him all around, but that at the same time these was some sort of journey associated with “experiencing” the divine. Many of the pieces that we saw in class illuminated that god could be found everywhere, in nature, in all that is good, in the light for example. I found this communication between the Muslim and god and the power dynamics throughout time and culture created by those who mediated this communication (such as Imams and rulers) is something that I highlight in my blog. Because I wanted to explore the relationship between the divine and the Muslim individual, I also considered how institutionalized religion changed the experience an individual had with the religion. However most of my efforts focus on the individual and god and the dynamics of this relationship.
I noticed that a big part of my experience learning about Islam and ways of expressing it through art in whatever context was to show love and respect for god. What then is the role of the individual in the world as a part of the religion? The Shahada for me appeared to clearly separate god from humans in some ways. I saw God was higher, much higher than humans. Since for many the goal is always to be more like the prophet Muhammad, the perfect human, to attain enlightenment and a relationship with god, then it must mean that as a Muslim you are the other when it comes to god, or the Muslim in other words is something different from god. I play with this idea in my blog post. I enjoyed through my own artwork, emphasizing this “journey” to experience the divine. Was this journey one to perfect the self? Well, I will return to this idea of the journey later in my introduction. Additionally, another theme that inspired many of my pieces is how Muslims communicate with god and with themselves within the religion. Some of my pieces highlight and discuss the importance of communicating with god. I wanted to explore how personal and natural this interaction and communication between the individual and god could be.
Throughout the course I also appreciated learning about different interpretations of Islam across time and cultures. I was fascinated by the adaptability of the religion in different environments. I enjoyed the cultural studies approach because I feel that it is crucial to take context into account when trying to learn and study Islam. Ultimately, what is going on during a specific time and place for a person and group determine a lot about how they interpret, practice and experience religion and spiritualism. It was beautiful to see how the same religion could manifest itself so differently in different context and I really hope that my blog pieces convey my wonder and respect for this quality of the religion. I thought a lot about how many rituals went into practicing the religion and how because of this quality, it might be important for Islam to incorporate itself seamlessly into someone’s life, culture and everyday customs. We can see another example of the seamlessness of the incorporation of religion into daily life and environment through the architecture of the mosques that used local materials and methods to blend in with the surroundings.
I gathered throughout the course that Islam really values the individual. It appears to go beyond asking of Muslims to only praise god and pray or in other words, to just go through the rituals. Through the many pieces I read in this course, I realized that Islam does not have to be in contrast or direct opposition with individual freedom. By individual values I mean things such as education, knowledge, activism, revolution, and social justice. It is refreshing to consider the idea that not only can both Islamic values and individual values coexist, but also they complement each other. The religion seems to value the individual instead of only focusing on his role as a devotee to Allah. Through my pieces I want to convey the sense that one way to think of the religion is as one in which the individual is empowered and has power to engage herself in all things good. For me, this was very important to convey in my blog because as someone learning about Islam for the first time, I came into the class with the idea that Islam and religion in general are oppressive and attempt to limit and “blindfold individuals.” On the contrary, I discovered that it could be viewed as allowing one to connect to him, nature, different dimensions, and new possibilities of truths. These things are all things greater than us.
In my projects I explore revolutionary Islamic art and movements expressed using Islamic values and how this sparked conversations within an individual. Many of my pieces explore the role of Islamic values and an individual’s relationship with Allah. I felt, toward the end of the class, that many aspects and interpretations of Islam encourage the individual to be not only an active member in his or her religious community, but in the larger context of the world as well, to stand up for others and treat others as equals and copies of themselves. Again personally this was something very different from what the ignorant me came into this class thinking: that religion wants individuals to be passive and submissive. I realize I could not have been more wrong and I hope I get this idea across in my artwork and responses.
Overall my projects combine all these themes to mainly focus on the individual and god as being one. I experimented with the idea of portraying the individual, not as having faith or devotion, but as actually being faith. I want to think of the individual not as being Muslim, but as being Islam itself, which is an idea that we talked about in class. Portraying the journey to experience god as an inner journey instead of an exterior journey was also a goal of my blog pieces. I played with the idea of nothing being secular because Islam could seamlessly become a part of your daily life, and thus everything was Islam and you, at the same time.
I experimented in many of my pieces using reflections. I wanted the individual to have conversations with himself through journal entries. Also, in some pieces I used mirrors to show Islamic values of individualism and to show a person seeing him or herself, and through that, seeing god at the same time. I really wanted to blur the lines in my artwork between what defines Islam, who was the divine and who was the individual because the way I first interpreted was not so clear cut. What I wanted to convey was that for a Muslim he is god and god is he. This has been a message that many of the Ghazals have expressed. For example, my favorite example is the reference to Jamshid’s cup in Ghazal 24 where one is looking for this special cup which the heart has the whole time. Similarly, many of my pieces show how individuals seek feelings of fulfillment and signs of the divine, when in reality; god is all around them and all with-in them.
Going back to Shahada and the 100 names of god, one way which I made sense of these 2 ideas in the blog when trying to reconcile the experience was that these qualities of god are what an individual should aspire to become by looking with in through a very personal and internal journey within themselves to finally experience the divine.
It was very important to me to use different materials and play with different time periods and adopt with different points of views and medias in my creative post. I wanted to play a lot with interpreting discussion from different points of views in order to appreciate the different dimensions of possible interpretations, another theme with-in the class. Finally, in my own pieces, I wanted to embody this quality and leave room for different interpretations of my own works.
This class have really given me the tools, inspiration and space to think out of the box and think critically about Islam This process has made me very curious about different aspects and interpretations of parts of the religion. I am by no means an expert on the religion so my statements and readings are very personal.