week 2

“The Koran is regarded as containing divine power; thus, to possess the Koranic texts renders an individual powerful and protects him against misfortunes and malevolent forces. The highest form of the possession of the Koran is its commitment to memory, which amounts to its internalization in the head, the superior part of the body, whence it can be instantly reproduced by recitation. But the Koran can also be internalized in the body by being drunk. Although drinking the Koran is seen as being far less effective than memorizing it, it is superior to carrying it on the body through the use of amulets” (Osman El-Tom, 416).

This week the practice of drinking the Qur’an was particularly interesting to me. Though in reading and lecture it was described as a fairly commonplace practice, the reactions of people during class as well as discussions that took place outside of class were somewhat bemused. I think this is an interesting manifestation of the idea of different “communities of interpretation”; clearly, in the population of Muslim students at Harvard, drinking the Qur’an is not viewed as a traditional practice. It is more likely that it is particular to certain other communities, including the South Saharan Berti population discussed in this week’s reading.

For this project I decided to dramatize the practice of drinking the Qur’an by referencing Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In Alice, Alice comes upon a bottle labeled “DRINK ME” which causes her to shrink down to a size small enough to fit through the door to the Wonderland garden. This symbolizes her entrance to a new world.

Though in the reading and in lecture drinking the Qur’an is described as a curative practice, it is also a way, as Osman El-Tom describes, of “possessing” the text – perhaps literally “internalizing” it. Upon absorbing the Qur’an in this way, one could be considered metaphorically elevated to a higher realm of comprehension and spirituality. In this context, I thought it might be appropriate to referenceĀ Alice, because like Alice entering Wonderland, we as students are in the process of entering a realm of study unfamiliar to us. Even among the Muslim students of the class, practices like drinking the Qur’an are novel and perhaps shocking. The reference functions on two levels: superficially, both the “DRINK ME” bottle inĀ Alice and drinking the Qur’an involve ingesting a substance, but both also represent the metaphorical internalization of something foreign and new.

In this project I tried to make the bottle appear ornate and ceremonial. The “DRINK ME” label is embellished with ligatures based on Islamic arabesque, and the scroll inside is a page from the Qur’an.

Medium: sculpture (mason jar, paper, ribbon, string)