An Empty Castle, An Unlit Lamp

Iqbal’s “Complaint and Answer” consists of two parts: first, a complaint against God and second, God’s response. The complaint portion displays a clear frustration of Muslims with God. The individual speaking criticizes God for not providing those that fight for Islam with worldly riches. The individual claims that they took on great battles in the name of Allah. Iqbal writes, “It was we and we alone who marched, thy soldiers to the fight, now upon the land engaging, now embattled on the sea…we shouted, “God is One!” (8). However, the Muslims themselves feel abandoned by Allah. Rather, they feel that His love is given to those who are less worthy. Iqbal writes, “But the showers of Thy mercy other thirsting souls assuage, only on the hapless Muslims falls the lightning of Thy rage” (16).

In response to this proclamation, God states that these individuals were not truly worshiping God or gaining these lands in his name. Iqbal writes in “The Answer,” “Very heavy on your spirits weighs the charge of morning prayer; Liefer far would you be sleeping, than rise up to worship Me” (45).

It is this interaction, and this response from God, that inspired the ideas that went into my project. First, I chose to use the medium of clay because, though I am far from artistically talented, I thought it would be a great way for me to creatively think about “The Complaint and the Answer.” The colored clay is non-committal; it is easy to start over on a project using malleable clay and thus it allowed me to try out various different projects before committing to my current project.

When thinking about molding this clay in relation to Iqbal’s work, I thought about the words from God, specifically the passage stated above regarding the lack of true worshiping of God. Though the Muslims said that they were conquering lands in the name of Allah, their actions were, in reality, empty of love for God. Thus, I created the red exterior of a castle with the words “Allah Akbar” in Arabic on the side. The castle symbolizes the lands conquered by the Muslims in the name of God, hence the “Allah Akbar.” However, the inside of the castle is empty except for an unlit lamp. In Islamic literature and within the Qur’an, the lamp is a symbol of the light of Muhammad and God’s love. Because the lamp is not lit, it symbolically shows the lack of presence and focus on God. Thus, the complainer has only worldly desires, not desires fueled by God.

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Introduction to Diversity and Unity

The cultural studies approach to this class and this portfolio of artworks encourages individuals to delve into all aspects of Muslim society. This approach, we have studied rituals, recitations, mosques and various forms of artwork ranging from the work of the Ottoman Empire to the modern day expressions of poetry. The cultural studies approach provides an avenue for individuals of all cultures to relate to one another. This approach allows us to recognize that when individuals, cultures, religions feel a powerful draw towards something, they express it in various means that relate to the application of that draw in their personal life. As mentioned before, this can involve the artistic expression of an individual attempting to convey his deepest love of Allah for his audience and it can be as expansive as the various rituals the community practices to encourage unity, love and communal affection. As previously noted, the cultural studies approach creates this connection that all cultures have – all cultures, throughout the ages, have sought various modes of self or communal expression. In regards to Islam, the cultural studies approach allows the interpreter and student to recognize the diversity in practice of Islam.

Though our society tends to focus on how Islam is portrayed in the news and social media, the reality is that the faith is steeped in cultural traditions, rituals and individual expressions of the love of Allah. This portfolio focuses on the global expansion of Islam as it permeates all of the society of the globe. Over the past few months, my understanding and interpretation of Islam has changed dramatically. I realize now that it is nearly impossible to say that one has a “complete” understanding of the meaning of Islam for each expression of Islam is different. The modes of expression range from the stylistic appearance of the mosque to the way Islam is carried out in governmental law. It is the diversity of Islam that makes it so beautiful yet, as I found, there remain unifying factors throughout the global Muslim community.

The moment I realized the true beauty of the diversity within Islam was when we took time to listen to the various recitations and calls to prayer. Though Muslims throughout the world unite under the Qur’an and the dedication to daily prayer, their voices and their cultures create various different tones and rhythm. At the beginning of the semester, we watched a documentary on a competition of the recitation of the Qur’an in Cairo. During this documentary, we listened to various young men and women from around the world recite the Qur’an from memory. Though they were quoting from the same Qur’an, the manner in which they recited ranged depending on their cultural ties.

Though the outward expression of these verses differed, the sentiment behind their expression remained the same. Muslims throughout the world work tirelessly to memorize the Qur’an and recite it just as the Prophet did. When the Prophet first heard the words of the Qur’an, he had no way to write them down. Therefore, he was forced to practice strict memorization and recite the word of Allah for his followers. Throughout the generations, the Qur’an was maintained only by memorization. The art of memorization lead to the practicing of Tajweed which allowed Muslims to spread and teach the message of the Prophet. Many continue to follow in the tradition of the Prophet and memorize all 114 Surahs, which include 6236 verses and approximately 80,000 words. Those who memorize the Qur’an are considered “guardians” and are titled Hafiz for men and Hafiza for women. This universal desire to become the “guardian” of the Qur’an expands acrosse national borders and seas; however, diversity comes in the manner in which it is recited. This diversity comes both from individualistic expression and cultural background.

As mentioned, Islam, through the cultural studies lens, allows individuals to experience the vast diversity of Islam. Because of this lens, I recognize that, in my opinion, there is no “true” form or practice of Islam. The mystical practices of the Sufis, in my limited opinion, are equally as valid as those of the Shia or Sunni. All Muslims, throughout the world, worship in the manner that fits them best to fully exalt Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, their light and unifying factor. Though the practices and expressions are diverse, Muslims throughout the world are united under the Prophet Muhammad.

Muhammad, seen as the veins of the Muslim community and the light of the profane world, is adored and loved by all Muslims. As a Prophet, Muhammad created the Sunnah, or the way of life. Throughout the Qur’an and the Hadith, Muslims are guided on how to live their life in the manner most pleasing to Allah. This includes practicing the five pillars of Islam: Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj. As noted throughout my blog posts and throughout the course, the Prophet is seen as the “veins” of the Muslim community. He is the uniting factor among the Shia, the Sunni, the Sufis and the various other sects of Islam. Though more recently particular sects of Islam have been calling others infidels, it must be noted and affirmed that their faith came from the same source, the same recitation and the same Prophet.

Throughout my blog, I hope to capture the dichotomy between diversity and unity. In my opinion, diversity and unity act hand-in-hand rather than oppose one another. Though these two themes play out in various other religions and faiths around the globe, I think it is most dramatically shown within the context of Islam. As previously mentioned, Islam, a faith of peace and love, is misunderstood and mislabeled by those who use Islam as a means for fulfilling their selfish desires and destructive insecurities. In reality, this “type” of Islam portrayed by radicalism and fundamentalism is nothing like the Islam practiced by many Muslims throughout the world. My portfolio attempts to reconcile the differences between “diversity” and “unity.”

In regards to the rise of fundamentalism and radicalization in today’s society, many solely see Islam as the source of fundamentalism; however, all religious traditions, at various moments throughout history, have had their own radical followers. I am mentioning this fact to encourage the understanding that we are all susceptible to radicalization, no matter what faith we practice. As discussed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid and as revealed in my interpretation of the novel in artistic form, intelligent and competent individuals are susceptible to radicalization based on their mental and familial stability at the time. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Changez finds himself increasingly aggravated post 9/11 as his personal life with his love, Erica, diminishes. Throughout the novel, Changez’s love of Pakistan and its traditions grounds him so that as he feels that one area of his life becomes uprooted, he clings to what he knows and loves best, Pakistan.

Throughout the rest of my blog, I work to enhance the image of unity among diversity. In my interpretation of Professor Asani’s quote, the “love for the Prophet runs like blood in the veins of the Muslim community” (Asani 106), I recognize that Muhammad is the permeating and unifying force of the diversity of religious practice. In my first blog entry, I focused primarily on the unifying forces within the Muslim faith: the flame acting as the image of Muhammad as the light to the world, the Dome of the Rock, the Sunnah and the Burda. These four images all relate to the life and work of the Prophet Muhammad.

Next, my week-five blog post takes diversity into account as it shows that there is no “one face of Islam.” Continuing on with the unifying factor of the Prophet Muhammad, I chose different faces from around the world and used them to spell the Prophet’s name in Arabic script. This shows that Muslims around the world, though they may look different and practice different methods of worship, are all followers under Muhammad’s name.

During week six, I commented on the diversity of mosques. Though they all foster a welcoming location for Muslims to gather in a community and pray as they hear the call to prayer, their design reflects the cultural interpretation of Islam as they are built to fit the communities’ needs. This diversity within a location of worship allows individuals to find themselves and their culture in their own personal faith. Thus, their individual diversity displayed within the external appearance of the mosque leads to an internal unification and trust in Allah and the Prophet.

During week 12, the women who wrote Urdu poetry as means of seeking individual liberation inspired me to reflect on the oppression of women. Female oppression under Islam has acted as a unifying force for some women to rise against the men in society. Women like Malala fight against the odds and unite women around the world to rise up for the noble cause of the unification of men and women under Allah by means of gender equality.

Finally, in week 13, I noticed, as mentioned before, the role of fundamentalism within religion. As previously noted, all members of the community are susceptible to their own weaknesses. These individuals, fearing the loss of stability within their life, develop an irrational hold on what little grounds them. By adding this passage to my blog, I want to continue to emphasize that we must form a united front against fundamentalism by addressing the personal issues of rising fundamentalists. Muslim individuals become radicalized because they feel that their diversity divides them from the greater global community and must unite under the visible unifying front of radical Islam. As noted by former U.S. Special Representatives to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, we must create a counter-narrative to extremism by changing the way Islam is viewed in our world and thus changing the isolation Muslims feel throughout global communities.

In conclusion, I hope that readers of this blog will recognize the power diversity and unity when they work hand in hand. Bringing diverse backgrounds, interpretations and regional cultural richness under the lens of the cultural studies approach will allow the student and scholar to see the beauty of Islam rather than the minimalist approach given by today’s biased media.

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Global Solidarity

During week 13, we read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It was during this last week of classes that I truly recognized the importance of global solidarity. All individuals are susceptible to radicalization based on instability in their daily life. As shown by Changez, emotional life is not completely separate from religious or political life. When it fails, it can lead an individual to search for stability in any way possible. In the cases of radicalized youth, they have found feigned stability in the radical message of their group, faith, or political leader.

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In this last week, I was really eager to use paint is my medium. Though I wouldn’t call myself artistically gifted, I chose to find deeper meaning in what I was actually capable of creating. I spent the majority of my time with this piece using my hands. The title of the piece is “Global Solidarity.” My initial idea was to reflect that we could prevent fundamentalism and the radicalization of youth by creating stable networks and communities. Individuals should not feel segregated by their faith. Rather they should be supported and uplifted based on their diversity. When we see an individual struggling, it is the duty of the global community to lift up that individual and save them from slipping into radicalization.

 

On the painting itself, I used my fingers to write “Solidarity,” for this is the primary message of the work. Above the painting, the green and blue circle represents a modern look at the world. Rather than encouraging the separation of understanding by water, I linked all of the landmasses together to form an inner ring. This symbolizes the concept of universal understanding and the breaking down of physical barriers in our quest for global solidarity. On the far left of the painting, I wrote love in three different languages: Chinese, Arabic and English. This section represents the universal aspect of love while recognizing the presence and beauty of diversity. Finally, in the top right corner of the painting, I have placed three different colored hands. In order to make this section of the project, I had to paint my hand, wash it, and paint it again. This section symbolizes that in order to achieve true global solidarity, all individuals, no mater their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, must learn to “get their hands dirty” and fight for the human rights of their neighbor.

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Beyond the Qur’an

After taking this course, I have learned, and I hope others learn, that there is much more to Islam than what is explicitly stated in the Qur’an. As a Religion Concentrator, I have studied various religious theory stating that religion is created by the practitioners. Practitioners define the religion more than any religious text could. Though this opinion could be heavily contested, I believe it is applicable to Islam in the modern world.

In the beginning, Islam formed around the memorization of the Qur’an for teaching purposes; however, as time has passed, modes of worship of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad have become much more diverse. The cultural studies approach helped me look at the more expansive picture of Islam as we dived into the interpretation of rituals, Qur’an recitations and various forms of calligraphic work among many other forms of artwork.

I created the following two posters as source of media for encouraging others to further their study of Islam. In the first poster titled “Beyond the Quran!”, I note that the cultural studies approach shows us that we all worship differently, we all practice differently and that we are all inherently different human beings. Keeping this in mind, we should love, respect and support one another because of our differences rather than creating barriers between individuals based on their religious affiliations or practices.

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This second poster shows more explicitly the diversity of Islam. On the poster, I have two quotes from Rumi about the sea. In various works of mystic poetry, God is viewed as the limitless “sea” of love and power. In this poster, I show mosques from three different locations around the world. Though their physical appearance may be different, they are all united under the religious tradition of Islam and adoration of the Prophet Muhammad. Keeping with the nautical theme, the three locations, though they are all separated by various different oceans, are still swaddled in the sea of God’s love.

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**all images are taken from google; posters made on Canva

 

 

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Fearless Women

During week 12, we read various different poems, one of which spoke about the liberation of women in female Urdu poetry. In the introduction of the poems, Rukhsana Ahmad discusses how women are perceived in Urdu poetry. He states that some believe that poetry written by women is glorified not because it is a talented and beautiful work of art, but because it is a rarity. Ahmad works to disband those claims, focusing on the power of female poetry in connecting the language of the people with the composition of poetry and ghazals. The female poets that Ahamad focuses on depart from “literary tradition” and liberation through various different utilizations of colloquial language. This also adds an element of accessibility to the greater audience.

When thinking about the liberation of women in Pakistan, I cannot help but think of Malala and the bravery she shows in defense of women’s rights and access to education. For my project during this section, I decided to compose a collage of Malala Yousafzai. I chose four different pictures. First, I chose a picture of Malala holding a book. I thought this picture related to the brave work done by Urdu poets like Kishwar Naheed. I was particularly struck by Kishwar Naheed and came across the following poem not provided in the readings, though still translated by Rukhsana Ahmad: 

Talking To Myself

Punish me for I’ve written the significance of the dream
in my own blood written a book ridden with an obsession
Punish me for I have spent my life sanctifying the dream of the future
spent it enduring the tribulations of the night
Punish me for I have imparted knowledge and the skills of the sword to the murderer and demonstrated the power of the pen to the mind
Punish me for I have been the challenger of the crucifix of hatred
I’m the glow of torches which burn against the wind
Punish me for I have freed womanhood from the insanity of the deluded night
Punish me for if I live you might lose face
Punish for if my sons raise their hands you will meet your end
If only one sword unsheaths itself to speak you will meet your end
Punish me for I love the new life with every breath
Ishall live my life and shall doubly live beyond my life
Punish me for then the sentence of your punishment will end.

(poem taken from http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/talking-to-myself-8/)

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The other three pictures I also chose for specific reasons. On the top left, there is a picture of Malala standing in the shadows. I found this picture on an anti-Malala website called Sharia4Pakistan. Though they use this picture to criticize Malala, I found that the light shining on her face represented her words and her personality rising from the dark. In the bottom left corner, I placed a picture of Malala in the hospital after she was shot by the Taliban. After she was shot, Malala showed an incredible amount of bravery and continues to smile and overcome as shown in the picture in the bottom right. She remains an inspiration for women across the globe struggling for women’s rights.

 

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Mosques

During week six, we discussed the mosque, its importance and its diversity. Throughout the world, mosques have various different architectural themes and cultural importance but one thing rings true: mosques are a place for community and worship. The Mosque within a community is intended to be a safe place for individuals to not only connect with Allah, but to also connect with their community. As shown through the readings, class presentations and Islamic Art: Mirror of an Invisible World, mosques themselves differ greatly based on the community. I feel that entering a mosque is a unique experience for each individual. Depending on the community, one could hold more dear a mosque that represents personal history, yet stare in awe at ornate mosques like those created during the time of the Ottoman Empire.

When thinking about mosques, though I cannot help thinking of their diversity, I also remember their universal similarities. One particular similarity is the call to prayer. Each mosque is a welcoming place for individuals to show their devotion to Allah and complete one of their five pillars: Salah. When I first heard the call to prayer, I was completely entranced. Though every call is different depending on the voice, tone and rhythm of the caller, its beauty remains constant.

Recognizing that I am incapable in producing a call to prayer, for this weeks project I thought about my own family traditions. In my family and with my friends, we frequently produce short limericks about other individuals. Thus, I decided to write a limerick about mosques. Though they are usually nonsensical and humorous, I wrote this particular limerick with the utmost reverence and respect for the mosque and Islamic traditions. Just to be clear, I chose a limerick over a poem because it was a way for me to connect my own traditions to the study of other traditions.

In the first, second and fourth stanzas, I chose to write generally about the mosque and its various characteristics. However, especially after reading Sells article “Erasing Culture: Wahhabism, Buddhism, Balkan Mosques” I was shocked to read in detail about the “de-glorification” of various mosques by the Taliban. This article lead me to think of Swat Valley specifically. Last semester, I did a report on the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan, specifically Swat Valley. When doing research for this report, I discovered similar findings to Sells. The Taliban entered Swat Valley and not only “de-glorified” the mosques, but also destroyed ancient Buddhist relics. Because the North Western Frontier Provence in Pakistan once contained the “Old Sink Route,” it was a crossroads for individuals to bring a variety of religious beliefs and traditions. Thus, a area formally prided on diversity and coexistence, has been “de-glorified.” Though this is a harsh stanza of the limerick, I believe it is an important movement that must be recognized and hopefully counteracted.

The Mosque: 

“All mosques are exceedingly different,

Establishments all Muslims do frequent,

They stand firm and tall,

with their minarets – usually five in all,

You’ll find in them worship so reverent.”

“From Istanbul, Turkey to Senegal,

and New York City, not to name them all,

jewels, gold and clay,

facing Mecca, Muslims pray,

from the mosque all Muslims hear a call.”

“The Taliban stripped mosques of their glory,

and tore down Buddha statues in a hurry.

Swat Valley lost ground,

on coexistence it was once found,

though now it is in a state of flurry”

“The call to prayer is inspiring,

recitation leaves individuals crying,

Husayniyahs foster emotion,

Jamatkhana for devotion,

In the mosque, for Allah the heart is pining.”

 

 

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Faces of the World

In week five, we discussed the diversity of Islam. The key moment of divide was the separation of the Shia from the Sunni due to the Shia belief in Ali as the Prophet Muhammad’s successor. After this crucial split, Muslims have been fighting amongst themselves over who practices “true” Islam. However, each large sect, Sunni and Shia, have since been divided within themselves based on various views of non-Arab Muslims and acts of jurisprudence, to name a few. Though their beliefs have taken different tracks, all Muslims can unite under the belief and power of the Prophet Muhammad. The love of the Prophet crosses boarders, countries and seas to bring together Muslims from around the world.

Keeping this in mind, I chose to create a collage of pictures of the faces of individuals from all around the world. This symbolizes a fact I deem deeply important: a Muslims does not have a particular “look” or “type.” The Muslim community is diverse and widespread, which is a fact that needs to be recognized. As Professor Asani stated, the highest percentage of Muslims in the world do not reside in the Middle East as the media would lead us to believe. Rather, the largest population resides in India and Indonesia. In a study done by the Pew Research Center, reports show that 61.7% of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific, 19.8% live in the Middle East-North Africa, 15.5% live in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2.7% in Europe, .2% in North America and .1% in Latin America-Caribbean. Though .2% may seem like a small percentage for North America, the Pew Research Center reports that there are currently 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Thus, this .2% added up to roughly 3,480,000 Muslims, a very large number considering the population. If you would like to look in greater detail into the Pew Research Center Report, here is a link to their findings:

 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/201…

Looking at my collage, you will see many faces, some who are Muslim and some who are not. The purpose of my project is to emphasize that you cannot “judge a book by its cover.” In other words, you cannot place certain beliefs on a particular individual simply by how they look.

The faces of my collage, written in the arabic script for Muhammad, are over a map of the world. This symbolizes two things. First, as mentioned before, the Prophet Muhammad is the unifying factor for the various sects of Islam. Second, Islam is a global religion, it is no longer just a religion of a particular area.

 

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Veins of Muhammad

During Week Four, we discussed the praise and works of the Prophet Muhammad. The communal love and adoration for the Profit acts as a unifying factor of Muslims across the world. As described by Ali Asani, the “love for the Prophet runs like blood in the veins of the Muslim community” (Asani 106). In his work, Asani discusses four central themes surrounding the view of Muhammad: his role as a messenger, the importance of the sunnah, Muhammad as an intercessor and finally his relationship with Allah.

Keeping this image in mind, my drawing depicts these very same veins of Muhammad. The heart itself represents the Muslim community. Within the heart, there are four symbols that represent Asani’s four themes: the flame, the path, the shawl and the Dome of the Rock.

First, the flame represents the Prophet Muhammad’s role as a Prophet and as a light in the lives of Muslims across the world. Muslims believe that God sent Muhammad as a guide to shed light on their dark world.

This leads to the second image, the path. The path represents the sunnah. The sunnah consists of the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Because the Prophet Muhammad is considered perfect, members of the Muslim community use this path to dictate how they live out their daily lives and personal characteristics. The path is what Muslims follow to walk in the footsteps of Muhammad.

The third image is the image of a shawl. As described by Sufi poets, specifically in “The Burda,” Muhammad is looked to by some as an intercessor between humans and God. Thus, the shawl incorporates the image of Muhammad “wrapping” an individual to help them specifically in moments of grief or terror, or in “The Burda” Muhammad cures paralysis.

Finally, the fourth image in the heart represents the Dome of the Rock, the temple in Jerusalem to which Muhammad supposedly traveled during the night of the mi’raj. During this night, Muhammad ascended into heaven, met previous prophets, and discussed prayer with Allah. This night represents the Prophet Muhammad’s connection with Allah and his divine guidance.

All of these symbols within the heart are representations of the community’s love for Muhammad. The veins leading off the page and out of the heart represent the love of Muhammad spreading across communities. Finally, the heart itself is surrounded by flames. Professor Asani, in his book, quotes Rumi who asserts that Muhammad was purified by the divine love of Allah. Thus, the fire surrounding the heart of the Muslim community symbolizes their pure love and adoration of Muhammad. I specifically did not draw a picture of Muhammad in this piece because many Muslims fear the idolization of Muhammad.

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