In Week 4, we learned about one of the fundamental aspects of Islam–devotion to the Prophet Muhammad. We discussed the various roles the Prophet occupies in the Muslim religious imaginary: divine messenger, religious authority, moral guide, unparalleled intercessor, and mystical paradigm. This piece, a paper collage I entitled, “The Best of All Creation,” references the Prophet’s role as an intercessor without equal between believers and God.
One of the stories I found the most interesting this semester was that of the 13th-century Egyptian poet and mystic, al-Busiri, who, as he was recovering from a stroke that left him paralyzed, wrote an ode popularly known as al-Burda or, “The Mantle.” The title is a reference to a story that one of the Prophet’s poetic rivals, Ka’b ibn Zuhair who repented of his hostility to Muhammad and wrote a poem asking for mercy. In response, the Prophet is said to have thrown his mantle or burda around Zuhair, thus creating a new symbol for the prophet’s forgiveness. Al-Busiri, in the 13th century, then had a dream where the Prophet was so pleased with the poem that he placed his burda around al-Busiri and the latter woke up healed. Since then, the later poem, whose actual title is “The Celestial Lights in Praise of the Best of Creation,” has become a staple of popular Muslim devotion.
In my collage, the mantle or Burda takes prominence with its striking use of different shades of green to denote the Prophet’s cloak. I took inspiration for the color from the Turkic manuscript illustrations of the Prophet’s isra and mi’raj. As in some portrayals, I covered the face of Muhammad in white and his whole head is framed in the fire of prophethood.