Throughout this semester, I participated in a unique introduction to Islam course. We learned about Islam by touching on its many themes as found through artistic forms. All types of art – such as literature, music, movies, architecture, calligraphy, dance, and more – came alive with spiritual significance when understood within the framework of Islam. Ultimately, our acquired knowledge combined to resemble a patchwork quilt of conceptions about Islam, beginning with the founding concepts and ending with contemporary manifestations. Therefore, the most appropriate expression of my personal experience in the course presents itself in my portfolio, my own quilt of religious themes as expressed in various art forms. Through six works of art, it is impossible to capture the utmost image of Islam. However, through my six pieces, I hope to introduce the viewer to both some main concepts within Islam as well as an expressive scope of the understanding acquired through this class.
I found the ghazals of Háfiz to be particularly inspiring, and I immediately knew I wanted to do a creative interpretation of one of them. Through our discussions in section and that week’s readings, I was struck by the multiple layers of meaning in the ghazal verses, and I thought it would be especially challenging to attempt to interpret a ghazal visually. I therefore settled on doing a movie interpretation of one of Háfiz’s ghazals.
After reading a number of the ones in The Green Sea of Heaven, I picked Ghazal 19, because I found the imagery and the words to be uniquely inspiring. By juxtaposing images with verses, I had hoped to highlight the insufficiency of one image to capture the meanings of the ghazal. For me, when reading the ghazals of Háfiz, what I found to be truly enlightening was reading each ghazal once and picturing the literal images in my mind, and then reading it again and focusing on the specific words and the depth of their meaning. With particular verses where Gray had included notes in the back of The Green Sea of Heaven, I selected images that I thought hinted at the greater depth of meaning. For example, in the third bayt, when Háfiz says “your eyelash must pierce pearl and ruby,” Gray notes that the pearls and rubies are the tears and heart-blood that flow from the eyes of the lover. Therefore, I found an image that had a red tear to allude to this deeper meaning. Also, in the fifth bayt, the rosegarden of Iram alludes to King Shaddad’s legendary garden built to duplicate Paradise, which was then later destroyed by a storm and this was interpreted as repercussions for hubris. I used an image of a flooded rose garden to probe the viewer either recognize the allusion if they were familiar with it, or to wonder about the significance of Iram’s flooded garden. I ran into the problem that I couldn’t do this for all of the verses and their deeper significance. However, I hope that the juxtaposition makes the viewer question the verses and their interpretations. My movie hopefully will inspire viewers to realize the multiple layers of analysis that ghazals require.
You can watch my movie here. Enjoy!
Hussein’s ritual drama.
His sorrow and thirst,
His son, violently taken.
What can Hussein do?
Through grief, he transcends.
His sacrifice is his power.
In God, salvation.
Sister no longer,
My grief must be laid aside.
For us, with Hussein.
Forever the Karbala.
Forever our tears.
The lectures and poetry on the Prophet Muhammad inspired me to watercolor a rose. The rose serves as a popular symbolic reference to the Prophet Muhammad, as legend has it that the rose’s fragrance comes from the Prophet’s sweat. We saw this imagery in both the multimedia resources, such as the video of the rendition of the Burda, and in the poetry of the Prophet. A Sindhi poem by Abd ur-Ra uh Bhatti talks about the Prophet being surrounded by roses on his wedding night. Also, an Urdu poem entitled “Qamar” states, “Even the roses do not possess such a fragrance,/As there is in your sweat, kind sir!” Furthermore, some of the Urdu poets use images connected Muhammad to flowering blossoms, or call him “The rose of God’s garden.” The poetry we encountered in Professor Asani’s article frequently used floral imagery and furthermore repeatedly utilized the rose as a symbol for the Prophet Muhammad.
Because of all of these inspirations, I chose to watercolor a rose as a symbol of the Prophet Muhammad. I further indicated that the rose was in reference to the Prophet by having the salawat visible in the rose. On one petal, the salawat, or prayer for the prophet, is written in Arabic. Its English translation – “Peace be upon him” – can be found on another petal. This rose shows one of the many creative ways Muslims have conceived of the Prophet Muhammad.