Illuminate

لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ ٱلله

Illuminated: Evolution in my Understanding of Islam through the Arts (Intro Essay)

Illuminated: Evolution in my Understanding of Islam through the Arts

In a class I am taking at the school of design, the professor concluded with a statement regarding the future of urban planning and of humanity as it relates to the ever-evolving smart city platform by saying, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” While the conception of profound technology as having this unique quality of being able to interweave itself with humanity is very intriguing, I think that it has been preceded by many millennia in the form of religion — another large, amorphous entity which has successfully been able to weave itself into the fabric of everyday life until it is largely indistinguishable from it. It constructing this blog, in attending lecture, in participating in section, in casually absorbing the art and sound and literary spolia taken from various islamic traditions, islam — via “For the Love of God and His Prophet” — has ever-so-quietly integrated itself into the fabric of my everyday life.

I began my blog with the intention of sticking to a visual and spiritual sort of motif surrounding the concept of light and God as light (al-nur) in the islamic tradition. I was heavily borrowing ideas directly from previously existing artistic and literary canon, as that was what I — trained from an academic and critical background — knew how to do. However, this concept readily evolved — for the better, I believe — to a more creative, immersive, and self-driven one as I learned more about the various ways in which islam could be expressed and interpreted (and as I was gently prompted by Armaan and Professor Asani to rely more on my own sense of creativity rather than making creative reinterpretations of previously existing artistic forms). One of the key turning points for the evolution of this personal understanding of islam and the arts occurred when I attended the Conference of the Birds dance workshop, where our class learned how we could integrate the unseen — storylines, thoughts — with the seen — the movements of our physical bodies.

The Conference of the Birds dancers created storylines from where before there was nothing. These dancers naturally expressed emotions in accordance with these storylines and connected to each other seamlessly without a single word being uttered. Even more amazingly, perhaps, was the way in which first-time dance participants were able to demonstrate this same ability — connecting seamlessly to one another without words and creating storylines where before there were none. Being able to have this experience radically transformed my conception of islam in that it directly showed me how the physical and the spiritual should not be conceived of separately, as they share a single plane of existence. To expound upon this, I would like to further analyze the way in which the physical and the spiritual come to coexist within various practices of islam.

There is a strong presence of the physical aspect in islam, especially in the form of ritual and perhaps most readily apparent in the Five Pillars of Islam. Physicality pervades all of the Five Pillars of islam, the five acts most necessary to being considered a muslim, which are widely considered to be the meter by which one’s life as a muslim is measured: the shahada (or the declaration of faith wherein one states that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God), the salah (the ritual of cleansing oneself and praying five times a day by moving through various positions — standing, bowing, and prostrating), zakat (the act of alms-giving), sawm (fasting — most notably from sun up to sun down during the month of Ramadan, but also all forms of ritualistic fasting), and finally, the Hajj (an annual pilgrimage which muslims seeking higher spiritual enlightenment make to the holy city of Mecca, where they complete another series of rituals). It is worth mentioning that these Five Pillars do have some variation throughout various iterations of the islamic faith, however, it is my understanding that this physical component, regardless of tradition, is always present in worship in islam. While the coexistence of the physical with the spiritual is able to be seen in all forms of Islam in the practice of the Five Pillars, it is perhaps most apparent in Sufi Islamic traditions, which more readily seek the unification of the physical with the spiritual.

In Sufi Islam, muslims attempt to personally experience the divine love and knowledge of God. It my understanding that Sufis adhere even more readily than other muslim practitioners to the Five Pillars of Islam — practicing these rituals devoutly. Sufis, however, more than practicing these rituals, seek to cultivate their spiritual relationship with God through contemplation and international reflection, often with the assistance of a teacher and often culminating in the production of various art forms, like art, poetry, or music. The visible physical expression of the spiritual experience seems to occur more often in Sufism. One such visual that comes to mind is the video we watched in one of Professor Asani’s lectures of a Sufi ritual in an African mosque: In the video, everyone was dressed similarly — in green, with white turbans — and everyone was moving in a way that signified that they were all one figure, while reciting the shahada. While I have cited examples of the linkage between the spiritual and physical in islamic worship practices in varying traditions, I think that, given the importance of the the Quran itself to the islamic faith, that it is necessary to turn to the scripture itself.

There is a particular passage from the Quran that seems to me to be very important when considering the inextricably-linked spiritual and physical practices of islam. I quoted this passage once previously in my blog posts, but it is so significant to my evolved understanding of islam that I believe it warrants mentioning again:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” — [2:177]

This passage — to me, although I am not sure that I am qualified to perform any form of tafsir, or interpretation of God’s will — stresses that Islam cannot be considered to be something which is either exclusively physical or exclusively spiritual. Islam in its true form must be both physical and spiritual. It is my sincere hope that the viewer or reader of my blog posts will be able to glean this same understanding of Islam through their consumption of said posts.

Because of the evolution in thought that has accompanied my journey through this course, my blog posts are highly variant in content and form. The older posts are more limited to interpreting Islam in a binary way — a physical form is created and analyzed through a spiritual lens. However, I think that the newer posts are more successful in conveying the coexistence of physicality and spirituality that I have previously explained. To break down these posts a little more succinctly, the viewer of my blog will find:

  • A brief overview of my original intentions in creating and naming my blog, Illuminate. This post is helpful when read in conjunction with this essay in terms of understanding my personal transformation of thought from the beginning of this course to the end of this course.
  • The calligram project wherein I reproduced a small-scale infinity mirror to reflect the light of God in a niche into eternity, as is referenced in Surah 24:35, which, abridged states that “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.”
  • A study of the geometries used in mosque arabesque, a form of decorative pattern stemming from plant scroll imagery and incorporating various figurative geometries and colors, as well as my personal discovery that artisans of the past were exceptionally talented in their ability to maintain symmetry in their creations.
  • My visual interpretation of the Isra and Mir’aj, Muhammad’s “Night Journey,” the journey he took to the farthest mosque to give a sermon as well as his ascension to the heavens to speak with God, in chalk pastel.
  • An admittedly very ugly rendition of a green sun to represent the Shi’a belief of the hidden 12th imam in watercolor.
  • A sort of East-meets-West interpretation of a literary ghazal (without musical accompaniment or form) through the lens of unrequited or unfulfilled love inspired by characters in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”
  • What I call an “Islamic Tonal Experiment,” where I show my creation of a short song on the piano in the harmonic A minor scale (Arabian scale) to characterize the spiritual journey of the individual in islam, as well as to highlight the potential collective undertones of this individual journey within islam in a greater context.
  • My very fun interpretation of an “Acapella Hip Hop Adhan,” utilizing the Acapella App, which seeks to abstract the muslim call to prayer while adding elements popular in contemporary African American Islamic musical practice.
  • A visual demonstration of a world cloud, which takes key terms from the Surah passage I quoted earlier in this essay, Surah 2:177, and combines the power of word with the power of sunrise/sunset imagery within the geometric figure of a circle.

While my artistic merit in many of these blog posts is potentially somewhat lacking, I think that its downfalls showcase the way in which Islam is something which can be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone — regardless of their ability or station in life.

Overall, I found this blog posting process to be very enjoyable and important to my own understanding islam through the lens of the arts. It is subsequently my hope that all readers and viewers of this blog will be able to take away even a modicum of this same understanding — the inextricable link between the physical and spiritual in the practice of islam, especially as that practice relates to artistic practice.

I personally think that, in reflecting on my class experience and in potentially speaking to students out there who might be reading my essay and considering whether or not they should take this course, it is also important to note that, while my main takeaway from this course was strongly linked to Islam and the arts, that this class also touched on very important topics as they relate to history, geopolitics, and the study of gender dynamics. Specific instances that occur to me are the topic of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Wahhabi takeover on the Arabian peninsula, and the question of the Hijab as a marker either for or against women’s rights. These topics might better serve as potential areas of interest for those students who may not consider themselves oriented towards the arts but who have an avid curiosity in the the study of Islam and how it relates to the world at large.

In concluding my blog, I would also like to extend an extra note of gratitude to all those involved in this course this semester. Professor Asani, Armaan, the dance workshop leaders, and my fellow classmates all helped to cultivate a learning environment which I feel is wholly unique on this campus. It has been a privilege to be able to learn from and with you.

Thank you!

Illuminated Quranic World Cloud

For this project I wanted to utilize my favorite passage from the Quran, which Professor Asani frequently referenced in class:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” —  [2:177]

We talked in class about how the Quran was so special and held so sacred because of its words — It was a scripture so beautiful that all who encountered it were immediately taken by its divinity. We also talked in class about the ritual of prayer in Islam and the significance of direction, as well as the significance of the presence of God as being all encompassing and not always necessarily linked to these directional practices.

Considering these multilayered aspects of our conversations in class regarding Islam, I decided to create a “word cloud” utilizing the very verse which proclaimed the belief in God both in relation to and in dis-relation to spatiality. I utilized a color scheme which reminded me of the sunset and the sunrise because I felt that within the idea of the sun is a sense of directionality (East and West). I utilized the figure of a circle, or a ring, instead of the more traditional word-cloud “cloud” form in-keeping with a sense of undirectionality. The ultimate conclusion to be gleaned by observers of this piece is intended by the artist (myself) to relate to these two coexisting planes — that of the necessity of direction in prayer in the Islamic tradition as well as the necessity for a belief and practice of Allah/God which is in many ways more important than this ritualistic practice of direction in prayer.

Acapella Hip Hop Adhan

nbsp;https://mixcord.co/acapella/p/eDi9sUSvTk…

(Link required for viewing. Again, please ignore the silliness of my face and facial expressions, as well as the fact that my first thought for a username was aridizzle. Very embarrassing.)

For this project I wanted to pay homage to the Adhan, the muslim call to prayer, while also paying homage to contemporary Islam as it is expressed in hip hop in the African American Islamic community.

In doing this project I knew that I wanted to:

a) abstract the diction used in the Adhan, paying special attention to reoccurring assonance and consonance like that which is present in the phrase “La ilaha illa Allah”

b) maintain a spiritual sound which suggested a sort of connection to be gained between the worshiper and the worshipped

c) add an element of contemporaneous Islamic hip hop to make the beat more interesting and a bit more solid

I think I was fairly successful in terms of meeting these markers! For the first recording (top left), I used an “Ah” vowel and progressed through a musical phrase which to me sounded as if it might suggest spirituality. For the second (top right), I repeated “La” in steady (excepting a quick breath) eighthnotes. For the third (bottom left), I chose “illah” as the sound and added it on the up beat. For the last (bottom right), I added a sort of spontaneous and percussive beat-boxing beat.

This was my first time using the Acapella app, so I ran into a few problems regarding maintaining a consistent tempo among all of my recordings. I tried various standard methods of tempo-unification to make the four parts run cohesively (namely, using a metronome), but ultimately discovered that the best method to keep the four parts together was just by listening to the sound/tempo provided by the previously recorded section.

Ultimately, while the rhythms used in my Acapella Hip Hop Adhan don’t always meet up correctly, it does sound very cool, semi-spiritual, and vaguely-contemporaneous, all things which I will be counting as contributing to a positive outcome!

An Islamic Tonal Experiment

For this post, I was inspired by an accumulation of the various forms of sound art utilized throughout the Islamic tradition, as well as the documentary clip we watched in class about The Rock Star and the Mullahs. I knew that I wanted to construct a piece which emulated the essence of the sounds and rhythms of the Islamic tradition with which I had become familiar — a sort of freedom and lack of confinement to a particular structure in the treble clef and a sort of rigidity in the bass clef. I felt that this combination would showcase the spiritual dance which occurs between the individual’s relationship with Allah as they move freely and independently through life (the treble clef), while offering respite from the uncertainty of this freedom in terms of the solidity of the chords in the bass clef.

In terms of tone, I situated the piece within a harmonic A minor scale. The harmonic minor scale is a derivative/rearrangement of the typical minor scale and is known colloquially as the “Arabian scale” because of the prevalence of this scale in music of the Orient (to use a useful yet antiquated term for the region). Played through without artistic/musical rearrangement,  this scale reads: “A, B, C, D, E, F, G#, A.” I used intervals of thirds to progress the piece (A, C, E, respectively), kept to a traditional bi-octave chord in the bass clef, repeated a derivative of the harmonic A minor scale in the treble clef before “falling” down the scale, and concluded with a repetition of a solitary B note in multiple octaves.

For me, this arrangement of notes really demonstrates a spiritual journey. The way in which the scales fit together suggest a sort of continuous progression forward, which then falls backward into uncertainty, and then catches itself — with the final B — repeating itself in various octaves as if to repeat the name of God, either among various people or among oneself. This sort of repetition is representative to me of the way in which all muslims must come together in their ultimate submission to God.

Hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed creating! And please don’t mind the very serious face I am making while playing!

The Ghazal and The Sun Also Rises

Wasn’t it Pretty?

We watched the sun rise over the horizon like a painter’s palette — Wasn’t it pretty?

The purples dripped into golds and reds like royalty speaking — Wasn’t it pretty?

 

You touched my face like a child smooths the petals of a sunflower before picking it,

Just as soft as a bunny’s nose and just as gentle — Wasn’t it pretty?

 

When our thoughts mingled into one and you reached out your hand to me

In the center, there was drawn the two-lipped figure of a heart — Wasn’t it pretty?

 

We walked together like mountains forming on an otherwise quiet plane

Thinking it was tectonic forces which had brought us together — Wasn’t it pretty?

 

Maybe one day the sun will rise again over the horizon and my face will feel like a sunflower before it is picked

Maybe one day another will offer me a heart on a palm and will we become new mountains rising from an otherwise quiet plane

 

Wouldn’t that be pretty?

 

The last lines of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway have always struck me as being particularly poignant and provided the inspiration for the opening lines of as well as the repeating phrase of my ghazal:

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

For those unfamiliar with the Hemingway canon (Spoiler Alert!), this story follows the romantic tragedy of two main characters – Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley — across the exciting backdrop of 20th century France and Spain. The two might very well be the loves of each of their lives, but they spend the majority of their time scheming plots for one another’s romantic and career interests, until ultimately, they are each left alone — destined to live their lives apart. The Sun Also Rises is written from the point of view of Jake and so, at times, it demonizes Brett for her actions – namely not wanting to be tied down to a singular, impotent male figure for the entirety of her life.

My ghazal is written keeping the general idea of a shared but impossible love in mind, but I have left the both of the mentioned characters in the ghazal genderless — in keeping with Persian linguistic practices and to allow for ambiguity in who the characters might be. Unique to the poem, especially considering the way in which Hemingway demonizes Brett in favor of Jake, is the way in which sympathy is given to both characters. The speaking character remembers the unspeaking character fondly, and while there is clearly a longing for the love of the unspeaking character (which has been lost for some unnamed reason), they maintain hope that there might be another who will fill the vacancy that the absence of the love of the unspeaking character has left.

In terms of constructing the ghazal itself, the constants that I knew I wanted to keep throughout were: the use of vivid imagery with a tactile, emotional quality; a general theme of love that was alternately given and unrequited; and the repeating line which paid homage to another great work of art. Thankfully, I think that I have succeeded in keeping with these goals, although I did find the writing process to be more difficult than anticipated.

There are a few things I wish I could have incorporated into the piece and which I think might have contributed to making it better: I find that the English language is great for description and the inventive usage of words but it lacks the rhythmic and percussive nature of other languages which might have been traditionally used for a ghazal. Because of the musical-blending nature of the ghazal, I think it also might have been in keeping with authentic practices to have constructed a musical accompaniment for the poem, or even to have provided an audio component of the piece.

Regardless of any failings, I hope that you enjoyed reading the poem as much as I enjoyed writing it!

And if not, it is still very pretty for me to think that you have.

Watercolor and The Hidden 12th Imam

This project draws inspiration thematically from the story of the twelve imams in Twelver Shia Islam, wherein Muhammad is succeeded by Ali, then Hasan, then Husayn. Artistically, this project draws from two different sources:

This sun, which I found on tumblr and

the circular, water-colored based designs via the artist Roanna Wells, who recently exhibited at the Tate Modern in London with a group of impressionist artists.

The yellow sun from Tumblr reminds me of the idea of a divine inherited spark being passed through the descendants of Muhammad. I like the clean, minimal graphics of the piece as well as the cyclical nature of the rays emanating from the center.  The works by Roanna Wells feature a similar fixation on the idea of a circular figure, but play with a unique medium — watercolor — which is very special because of its diaphanous and versatile nature, as well as its recent re-acceptance to the contemporary art milieu. I love the way that she breaks down large figures into individual pixels, which again remind me of the individual nature of the 12 imams descending from Muhammad.

I took these ideas and created this:

While, clearly, I will not be exhibiting on Tumblr anytime soon (nevertheless the Tate Modern), I do still appreciate the way that this piece does help me communicate major themes relating to Twelver Shiism. I kept the cyclical motion and the sun motif of the first drawing and used the varying colors and medium of Roanna Wells’s pieces. I used a primarily green color scheme, because I was keeping in mind the color associated with Husayn and, by extension, with protagonists, in the performance of the Taziyeh. Each ray of the sun represents one of the imams, beginning with Ali, who has the longest ray since he is closest chronologically to the prophet Muhammad, and continuing throughout the 11th imam, Hasan ibn Ali. The 12th imam, because of his status as “hidden” and the story associated with his coming to earth and then disappearing into a cave, only to reappear at the day of judgement, has been quite literally placed inside of an occluded area to the bottom left of the image. The idea is that the 12th imam is a piece of the sun which dropped off (as I feel that the gradual diminuendo of the length of the rays gives the sun the illusion of motion), was hidden, but still burns brightly and will one day be found.

Isra and Miraj and Van Gough’s Starry Night

This post was inspired by Week 4, which discussed the Isra and the Miraj — the night journey the prophet Muhammad took in one night from the Kaaba to the area of the current Dome of the Rock — from Mecca to Jerusalem — and then up into heaven. We read a few versions of this story in class, which lays claim to the cultural studies approach we take to understanding the tradition, as different regions appear to have slight variations in how the story of the Isra and the Miraj is told.

While the story varies, I thought what was most interesting about it was shared by all of the renditions we read — the dreamlike quality necessitated by the experience being a night journey. The other crucial element of the story seems to me to be the act of journeying itself, an act that is linked to religious pilgrimages and which can also be read more metaphysically as being a progression of the spirit or soul to a higher, more enlightened realm.

This being so, and given, again, my predisposition towards art and architectural history, I wanted to capture these ideas by using popular artistic imagery provided by Vincent Van Gough’s Starry Night.

Vincent Van Gough’s “Starry Night” — taken from art.com

I wanted, in my image, to utilize the two architectural symbols associated with Mecca and Jerusalem, which are often popularized in imagery which depicts the Isra & Miraj — the Kaaba and the Dome of the Rock. Between the two, I wanted to add movement in the sky by way of imagined pools of light and air (in an attempt at a Van Gough homage) to signify the movement of Muhammad and the ethereal, otherworldly, dream-like-yet-real quality of his journey. I utilized chalk pastels in lieu of Van Gough’s oils to acquire the soft, dreamy mood I wanted to convey.

While I am happy with this image and its alternating sense of movement and stillness and do not regret the lack of the physical bodies of Muhammad, Gabriel, or Buraq (key characters in the story of the Isra, who I visually omitted for the sake of focusing on symbols associated with locations), were I to make an addendum, I would provide some form of movement upward, to coincide with the act of Muhammad’s ascension (Miraj). However, this was not possible given constraints in paper space and in ideation of how that might be able to occur without compromising the aesthetic vision of the piece.

A Study in Islamic Geometries and Mosque Arabesques

This post was inspired by the Week 6 discussion readings which engaged the idea of the significance of mosque decor and encouraged a friendly debate within section among the students, who were divided between defending positions held by S. H. Nasr, from their Islamic Art & Spirituality and Gülru Necipoğlu’s The Topkapı Scroll – Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture. My own post, in which I hope to explore 3 geometries and/or arabesque patterns in watercolor, is more inspired by Necipoğlu’s approach to the topic.

Early in her argument, Necipoğlu situates the discussion of Chapter II of her book by discussing the canon Western-imposed discourse surrounding the islamic geometries of arabesque patterns. This academic discourse largely served to “other” the artistic expressions of the orient and to attribute to it some separate and lesser quality than artistic religious expressions of the west: Oftentimes, the islamic tradition was “assigned a purely decorative function that differed fundamentally from the iconographic tradition of Western, representational art,” which alleged that the geometric arabesque design is devoid of meaning and facilitated its appropriation by modern European architects and industrial designers. (Necipoğlu 63).

Necipoğlu characterizes much of the literature written regarding islamic geometries as falling under the aforementioned “ahistorical discourse of Orientalism,” as well as aligning with prevailing 19th and 20th century European discourse which seeks to find universal design principles (Necipoğlu 71). Likewise, I stand with Necipoğlu’s point regarding this predominant mode of discourse; however, I do not feel that I have read enough literature or have seen enough images on this particular subject to make a solid explanation of or defense of islamic geometries — their origins, purposes, independent regional developments, or overarching themes — and do not want to risk falling into the Western academic canon myself.

Because of this, I decided to do what I know best as a result of a few of my classes on architecture — draw the geometries to get a better understanding of their visual juxtapositions in terms of shape and color. I attempted to draw, with watercolor pencils, this design:

  

taken from a mosque in Yazd, Iran. However, I found that the geometries were too complex for my limited color-pencil abilities. In drawing this, I made one poor attempt at capturing the whole of the image, which I then abandoned after noticing its complete lack of symmetry and inability to capture even a microcosm of the geometric essence at the heart of the design. In lieu of this I sought to focus singularly on the mid-section of the design and build outwards, in hopes of retaining more of a semblance of geometry.

While I do not have literature to back me up and while I recognize the potential scroll-like, plant-themed decorative origins of these arabesque geometries, I do think that there must be some connection between these images and the divine nature of God primarily because of the sheer difficulty and expertise it takes to craft a design like this by hand — especially without the assistance of modern graphic design software!

The Infinite Light of Allah: A Calligram

There are two Quranic verses that I have encountered that have really captured my imagination: Sura 24:35 and 2:115. Using the Sahih International translation, they are as follows,

24:35 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.

2:115 And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.

Considering these phrases, I knew that I wanted to make a calligraphic project that encompassed the ideas of God as Light and God as all-Encompassing and therefore, infinite. I am very interested in contemporary art and so am familiar with the works of the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, who is known for working with the concept of “infinity mirrors.” Infinity mirrors use two reflective surfaces to create the effect of images continuing on eternally. This effect is multiplied when a light source — typically LED for its brightness capabilities — is used between the reflective surfaces, because it makes the effect more apparent to the human eye. Knowing this, but having never tackled creating an infinity mirror myself, I set out to try to make my own infinity mirror to reflect the light of Allah.

Yayoi Kusama at Cleveland Museum of Art, taken from Cleveland.com

Instead of using the word “Allah” to designate God, I wanted to use the word used in Sura 24:35, “An-Nur” which we learned of in lecture as being one of the 99 names of Allah/God. My original intention was to have the lights incorporated into the calligraphic spelling of the name of Allah/An-Nur. However, I learned that LED lights are difficult to maneuver into any kind of rounded form and found that when I did so, I could not get the circuit to light up. This being the case, I settled on writing “An-Nur” in white, attaching it to the mirror on the back, and aligning the lights across the border so that they provided a frame to emphasize the name of God.

About the Title: Illuminate

il·lu·mi·nate
iˈlo͞oməˌnāt
verb
SGHLIA
  1. to light up.
    “a flash of lightning illuminated the house”
    decorate (a building or structure) with lights for a special occasion.
  2. to decorate (a page or initial letter in a manuscript) with gold, silver, or colored designs.
  3. to help to clarify or explain (a subject or matter).
    “a most illuminating discussion”

I felt that the title of this blog was fitting for a number of reasons — for its association with light and divinity, with decorated religious manuscripts, and with the idea of finding clarity through knowledge. I added the shahada — the Islamic declaration that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger — in Arabic, below the title as a way to encompass the idea of this testimony as the foremost marker of being a muslim, as well as a sort of homage to the calligraphic inscription which encircles the outside of some mosques, such as the Dome of the Rock. I find that it is interesting to consider the significance of a bound digital space dedicated to a study of Islamism, such as this blog which is hosted on a finite website domain, in relation to the significance of a bound physical space used for this same study, as in the case of a traditional mosque.

Through this website I hope to explore the major themes and minor intrigues captured by the teachings of professor Ali Asani and his course team for AI54: For the Love of God and His Prophet. I hope you enjoy!

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