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The Strength of Silence

(medium: photography/photo editing, response: week 3)

In al-Ghazali’s External Rules for Qur’anic Recitation, the idea of silent recitation as a devotional practice on the personal level was particularly powerful. The potential for a strong interaction with God in a silent reading stood out to me as unexpected. I was ready to find the celebration of aurality that is such a prominent piece of devotional practice, as Rasmussen points out about traditions in Indonesia (and as we hear from the accompaniment to Sells’ book). Yet I hadn’t given much thought to the importance of the pure venture of reading itself.

Since the Qur’an was an oral/aural text before codification, it is a significant shift to move into the act of reading itself and alone. Reading can be independent of other ways of experiencing the Qur’an – certainly independent of the concept of recitation. It appears to me to be a very different, innovative-to-the-point-of-sometimes-radical (in an identity-moved, interaction-based, deeply personal) way of interacting with the concepts of the text itself.

This photo and quote composition shows the silent space of a woman reading. The implication is of more room for the liberated understanding of the Qur’an. The Qur’an becomes accessible in individual reading, as a text that can be read by anybody when there are no rules of recitation to draw harsh lines around the interaction. While the aural tradition that we have studied is beautiful and rich in so many ways, there is also value in the open book, open heart of a silent interaction/reading. The passage from al-Ghazali that struck me deeply was important enough to extract and place in here as a quote, to get the most pertinent idea across.

The interacting text and photo are intended to raise questions for the viewer: In contrast to the Sama polemic and the fervent debate over the place of music or instrumentation, what is the value of an absence of noise? What does that leave space for, between the individual and the Qur’an, especially for women, who may be disallowed from public recitation? In understanding the self in the context of the Qur’an’s powerful ideas and injunctions, what is the value of silence?

~ by kirin on .

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