Portfolio Prologue

I found the pedagogical emphasis on a cultural studies approach to religion to be the most fascinating part of this course. Because of our thorough introduction to the theory behind the approach, I feel equipped to bring this perspective to future coursework and to future research in areas outside of religious studies. I think that, already, my exposure to this a cultural studies approach has shifted the way I perceive the world even in situations that are informal and entirely non-academic. I find myself more likely to analyze carefully my views on both specific and abstract topics, and more likely to attempt to identify which experiences of mine have contributed most to the development of my views on each topic.

I have enjoyed conceptualizing the cultural studies approach as a process similar to building a mathematical model to represent some system. I will first explain the principles of a mathematical model in order to convey how I found this analogy helpful when synthesizing the material of the class and when designing my creative responses for this portfolio. Building a mathematical model means attempting to recreate an approximation of a qualitative phenomenon in mathematical terms. For example, if we wanted to calculate the volume of the earth, it would be sufficient in some contexts to model the earth as a sphere and use the formula for volume of a sphere. But the earth is irregularly shaped, so this formula is not completely accurate. If we wanted to be more precise, we could model the earth as an ellipsoid (which is a sphere that is stretched along one axis). We could do this by starting with our first model, where we assumed the earth is a sphere, and then adding in a corrective term to that would calculate the volume of an ellipsoid earth. But the earth is not really an ellipsoid, either; it bulges around the equator. So to be even more accurate, we could add another corrective term to the model so that we would end up calculating the volume of a bulging ellipsoid. Let’s say that we then learned that the measurement we are given for the radius of the earth is systematically faulty. We could add to our model of the volume of the earth a term that would correct for systematic mistakes in calculation of the radius. This corrective term, too, would make our final calculation of volume even more precise. Clearly, if we learned more about the shape of the earth or about the limitations of assumptions we have made, we could continue to add corrective terms to our model in order for us to ultimately attain a better calculation of the volume of the earth. However, in order for us to add a new term to the model, we need to learn something new about the system or take a new perspective on the system.

I like to think about a monolithic view of religion as a mathematical model with only one term. In some cases it is fitting to model the earth as a sphere when calculating its volume because it is accurate enough for what we need. Similarly, in some contexts, it is not strictly necessary to conceptualize a religion beyond one or two fundamental aspects.  A person can theoretically create a model of Islam that is alarmingly simple, like “Islam = headscarves” or “Islam = scary religion with headscarves.” And perhaps in some environments (i.e. Islamophobic environments), a person with this idea—who we will call the modeler—might never receive any information contradicting their model. If a modeler is never exposed to a person who identifies as a Muslim, or even a person who has a different perspective of Islam, then that modeler will never be forced to—and might never be given the opportunity to—acquire the information necessary to add more terms to their metaphorical model of Islam.

Even when it isn’t strictly necessary, adding more terms to a mathematical model will create a model that is both more accurate and more robust (i.e. it will remain accurate under varied conditions). Each new term corrects the previous ones. I see adherence to the cultural studies approach as an attempt to learn as much as possible to recreate a certain context or situation; in other words, an attempt to add as many terms to the model of a religion as possible in order to create a better representation of the religion. In this way, I have journeyed through this class with the perspective that every new viewpoint I am exposed to, every experience that I take the time to analyze and unpack, every lecture, every reading, and every discussion I participate in allows me to create a new term in the model. In one of our first lectures, Professor Asani introduced the cultural studies approach as “consider[ing] religion as a phenomenon that is deeply embedded in all dimensions and contexts of human experience.” Scholars who align themselves with this approach not only acknowledge but pursue actively the manifestations of religion in virtually every imaginable cross-section of context: political, historical, economic, social, artistic, etc. Each context provides the opportunity for essentially infinite different new perspectives; in this analogy, each new perspective becomes a new term in the model.

As in any mathematical model, an additional term—even if it is optimistically called a corrective term—is only truly corrective if it is accurate. When modeling something as intensely complicated as an entire religion there is absolutely no way to investigate to what extent the model is correct. We cannot run a computer simulation to confirm that our model produces results that mimic the system in question. We cannot formally identify which parts of the model are more or less accurate than others. We cannot realistically determine which parts of the model should be weighted to contribute to the final result more or less than others. This means that within our quest to learn as much as possible, we must also remember to be critical of the new information we acquire. Further, since introducing a bias to our search for context effectively contradicts our initial purpose, we must be intensely critical and analytical of every new piece of information that is introduced in our studies.

Another analogy for the cultural studies approach is that of a telescope. Each new piece of information or perspective acts as a new lens for a telescope through which to view some religion. Stacking every lens would lead to a perfect image, but it is, of course, impossible to attain and correctly focus every lens. Further, some lenses might be warped or might fit a different model. And each lens must be cleaned before it is used, just like each new perspective must be critically analyzed before it can be used as background information.

I created each of my art projects keeping in mind my analogy of a mathematical model or a multi-lensed telescope. The major theme I have hoped to convey is a sense of many pieces each contributing to comprise a larger whole—even if that larger whole may be too complicated or too hidden to ever be seen alone.

Understanding the multi-faceted concept of Islam means understanding that it looks very different in different contexts. It looks different even in the minds of different people in the same context. But studying Islam, even under a cultural studies approach, does not mean studying every point in time and space; some things are relevant to the study of Islam and some things are not. This means that there are some fundamental similarities that bind together the contexts that scholars include in their study of Islam.  This means that the similarities in manifestation or perception of Islam are just as important to identify and analyze as are the differences. I think that my week 2 response (“View from the Madrasa”) and my week 11 response (“Complaint, Answered”) best represent the idea of loose unification of Islam. In the week 2 response, I depicted the view outside the madrasa in order to highlight that a lot of the sentiments within different madrasas likely have similarities. In my week 11 response, I depicted planets conferencing on earth about the earth’s Muslims; this shows that from their view, there is some broad unification between all Muslims that allows them to categorize the population. I think this view can be extremely dangerous and problematic if weighted too heavily in one’s model of Islam, but I do think it is a very valuable view. In order to study Islam, one must determine what is and is not Islam. This course has not begun to approach the many ways to answer that question, but I think that acknowledging the existence of that question allows us to better understand the importance of seeking out the differences between Islam in every different cross-section. 

The idea of a model, or a collage, is present throughout the portfolio: each response revolves around many pieces coming together to make a whole. Week 2 (“View from the Madrasa”) shows several views representing one idea of the madrasa; Week 3 (“Qur’anic Reciter”) shows several different aspects of an identity creating either/both the image of an established reciter and/or of a mainstream pop star; Week 6 (“Mosque Diversity”) shows the incredibly large variation in what is considered Islamic architecture but allows these varied structures to piece together to become one aesthetically unified collage; Week 10 (“A Conference in Cambridge”) shows three different aspects of Harvard campus life that could be all-consuming, but in truth each of these exists to some extent in each student at Harvard; Week 11 (“Complaint, Answered”) shows that if one adopts an outsider’s perspective, each different manifestation of Islam comes together to form one loose concept of Islam; Week 13 (“Identities”) shows that each experience someone has contributes in some part, however small, to their identity, which in turn contributes to the way a person will respond to an outside stimulus. 

I also liked the idea that the metaphorical mathematical model of Islam is non-predictive; in other words, given some information about a specific spatial and temporal cross-section of the Islamic world, one may or may not be able to predict the other coordinates of the cross-section. For example, in Week 2 (“View from the Madrasa”) if someone is given information about the madrasa, one may or may not be able to accurately choose the madrasa. Or, in Week 10 (“A Conference in Cambridge”), someone given information about a person’s faults could not necessarily predict the time and place and culture that person belonged to; the faults of the Cambridge birds in the Harvard context were the same in all but the specifics as the faults of the birds in the epic poem the Conference of the Birds. This is abundantly clear when learning about the many different formal schools of interpretation of the Qur’an, not to mention the infinitely different perspectives within each school.

The major themes I wished to explore through my creative responses all related to large concepts being comprised of smaller ones. I wished to emphasize context, identity, and recreation of motivation for action. I used natural images whenever possible to highlight the connection between faith and the natural world. I used visual art for the entire portfolio because I felt it best allowed me to express my thoughts, and because I particularly benefitted from being able to look at responses from different weeks in the same physics space, right next to each other on the table. I enjoyed very much the opportunity to explore the course’s themes in many different media.

Week 13: Identities

IMG_4120

Medium: watercolor

In the Reluctant Fundamentalist, the main character, Changez, describes a series of events from his adolescence and young adulthood. When I first read the story, I focused primarily on the evolution of his conceptualization of religious and national identity. Later, I began to think more about how his interpersonal, academic, and professional experiences affected his mindset and personality, which in turn affected his response to political and religious experiences. I find this concept fascinating. The question I found most interesting for my response paper was: “What role does the love story between Changez and Erica play in the plot? How does it shape Changez’s identity?” After thinking more carefully about the role that Erica played in Changez’s life, I became more interested in how his relationship with Erica actually ended up shaping his identity. As the course progressed, we began to focus more on themes of the politicization of Islam. I think the most interesting part of religious politicization is its impact on the identities of the various people affected, and I found this story so engaging because it dealt with exactly that issue.

For my creative response this week, I chose to paint a collection of things that affected Changez’s identity. Some are quite straightforward: at various times he identifies as a Pakistani (flag of Pakistan), as a Muslim (Allah), as a Princeton student (Princeton shield), as an analyst at Underwood Samson & Company (company logo), or as a New Yorker (big apple). But some are less concrete or seemingly much smaller: he identifies as someone who has been in love (heart), someone who has had his heart broken (broken heart), someone who has been rejected from the United States (in and out arrows), someone who has loved someone with mental illness (medical symbol), and a Muslim who drinks although it is illegally in Pakistan (wine bottle). Focusing in on the widely varied experiences that contribute to Changez’s identity helped me better understand the rich and complex nature of every person’s identity. Ultimately, Changez is a character in a story, and a relatively short story at that; the identity of a real person is even more fascinatingly intricate and multi-layered. Being a Muslim and being from a middle eastern country each are only part of Changez’s identity. This exercise also demonstrates how feelings of alienation due to discrimination can become a large part of someone’s identity as well.

Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist 

Week 11: Complaint, Answered

IMG_4118

Medium: watercolor

Muhammad Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawad e Shikwa together comprise a fascinating commentary on the themes of declining Islamic power and the variations in Muslim identity. In Shikwa, or “Complaint,” Iqbal writes as a group of Muslims explaining their own religious virtues, lamenting the fall of the Islamic empire, and requesting that God remedy their problems. I found particularly amusing the rather strong language that was used in the Shikwa. Two of my favorite couplets are below:

Now no more for us Thy favors Thy old benevolence
How and wherefore is Thy pristine kindliness departed hence? (18)

All we have is jeers from strangers, public shame, and poverty—
Is disgrace our recompense for laying down our lives for Thee? (19)

The melodramatic language of the Shikwa has an especially satisfying foil in one of the opening scenes of the Jawad e Shikwa, or “Response to the The Complaint.” After an introductory stanza, Iqbal includes a brief conversation between planets wondering aloud how the humans on earth had mustered the gall to sincerely voice complaints to the heavens:

Listening, the ancient Sphere said, “Someone seems to be about;”
Cried the planets, “There is someone, in the upper ether pure;”
“Not so lofty,” called the Moon. “Down on the earth there, not a doubt;”
“No,” the Milky Way retorted. “He is hiding here, for sure.”
Guardian Rizwan, he if any, my complaint distinctly heard;
“He is man, just newly driven out of Eden,” he averred. (38)

All the angels in amazement shouted, “Why, whose voice is it?”
Dwellers in the firmament were baffled by the mystery.
“Shall a mortal man aspire in our high firmament to sit?
Can that little speck of dust take wings, and soar so loftily?
They have clean forgot their manners, those inhabitants of earth;
What effrontery, what rudeness for such things of lowly birth!”

I found this image to be an entertainingly snide response; it was quite effective in communicating the author’s frustration with the tone of the Shikwa, and likely also with the tone of complaints Iqbal had heard in his own life. Dramatically demonstrating the beautiful insignificance of human life by describing planets unable to even confidently discern humans living on earth is quite bold. This boldness inspired me to focus on this image for this week’s blog post. I interpreted the “ancient Sphere” to be the sun. I drew just two planets in order to leave room for the majority of the painting to represent the empty space, in order to highlight the distance. I think part of the appeal of the image that the poem conjured was how unrealistic it was to imagine a conference of space items of drastically different locations and sizes. In order to carry this into the painting, I tried to arrange the four space items in a position that would be reminiscent of a meeting and tried to paint the space objects in a way that would highlight the absurdity of their placement and sizing.

Although this image was interesting and well-placed within Shikwa and Jawad e Shikwa, I found it worthy of further thought because it highlights how views on religion and faith can vary so fundamentally. The politicization of different aspects of Islamic life (i.e. headscarves, apparel, calls to prayer, etc.) arises from discrepancy in views about religious practice. Here we see a great example of why these issues are so incredibly complicated and multilayered: If the relationship between God and humans can vary so drastically (the Shikwa alludes to a very close-watching God that is in major contrast to the image from the Jawad e Shikwa that I depicted in my painting), then naturally ideas about how to best serve or show allegiance to God will vary drastically.

Muhammad Iqbal, Complaint and Answer

Week 10: A Conference in Cambridge


IMG_4114Medium: colored pencil

The epic poem the Conference of the Birds details the journey of several birds in their search to find and select a king. Before the journey begins, the hoopoe bird must first convince the other birds to participate, as they are initially hesitant to believe they need a king. For my creative response this week, I chose to translate this scene to a Harvard context: if Harvard students were approached to join a search for the Simorgh, what would they say? I chose three aspects of life at Harvard that students might easily find themselves obsessed with, and I created three imaginary birds who have taken one of these parts of Harvard life too far. A hypothetical bird who is obsessed with one very specific part of campus life would be uninterested in the search for Simorgh. I ascribed these obsessions to three birds common to this area.

IMG_4115
In the Conference of the Birds, the nightingale tells the hoopoe that he is “completely drowned in the ocean of love” and does not have time to look for Simorgh. This reminded me of the feeling of being “completely drowned” in responsibilities for their extracurricular activities, so I imagined a student who prioritizes clubs over all else. This bird would find it difficult to spare a single minute outside of meetings, performances, and activities to go to class—much less to look for Simorgh. I chose the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) as the Cambridge analog of the nightingale because it is highly gregarious, just like students who are very involved in extracurriculars. Starlings are known for the beautiful flight patterns of large and incredibly tightly packed flocks, which reminded me of the close-knit and idiosyncratic social aspects of many extracurriculars at Harvard.

IMG_4117The partridge in the story has determined that jewels are the only permanent wealth and so wants only to acquire and protect his different gemstones. This reminded me of the feeling of being obsessed with one’s letter grades. There can be something tempting about protecting the sanctity of a very good transcript, so I imagined a bird who has taken conscientiousness to an unhealthy level. This bird would not take a certain class that they are interested in because it is reputedly difficult or would take a class they are not invested in simply because it is purportedly graded easily. This bird would be so paralyzed with obsession over GPA that they would not agree to leave campus to look for Simorgh. For the Cambridge analog of the partridge, I chose the American robin (Turdus migratorius), because it is friendly in the summer but remarkably anti-social in the winter.

IMG_4116
In the Conference of the Birds, the homa thinks his relationship to the royalty of Persia makes him too important to look for Simorgh. The social scene at Harvard can be trick to navigate; I imagined a bird who has found a place for himself within the social scene that is he is so satisfied with that he does not think he should be required to look for Simorgh with the others. For the Cambridge analog of the homa, I chose the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), because it is strikingly beautiful and very territorial.

Attar, Conference of the Birds, trans. A. Darbandi and D. Davies

Ghazal: Every Day

Every Day

If you counted the inches love grew every day
You would see that it is very few every day
Elongated thoughts bloom like do a tree’s flowers
Each a piece of your portrait anew every day
Some memories burn like spring frost on a sapling
To grow, there’s a doubt to subdue every day
Love brings us highs and lows like the tides bring the ocean
Without these I might feel askew every day
Each untouchable angle of you shines so brightly
A rare sky with each novel view every day
I’d like to refuse that, like the Horizon,
You are futile to pursue every day
Hope capriciously wilts with a glance or some laughter
Do wintered birds bother to coo every day?
Time challenges trust that your actions were ever
Mine to gently misconstrue every day
It’s unclear to Mosaic if to thwart or hasten
A time when I won’t think of you every day

Week 6: Mosque Diversity

Medium: ink

In their book The Mosque, Frishmann and Khan emphasize the great diversity of Islamic architecture used to create mosques. Although architecture changes over time, the most dramatic differences in mosque architecture are seen in different geographic regions. I have really enjoyed our brief introduction to Islamic architecture.

For my creative response this week, I wanted to draw some of the beautiful architecture thatwe have seen in the slideshows in lecture as well as some other famous structures of Islamic architecture. I used line drawings in plain black in so that the variations in color, size, and background of these different structures is not the focus of the piece. I wanted to draw attention to the diversity of themes in the different structures while unifying them in some way. I chose to keep each picture separate—as opposed to overlapping, collage style—so as not to conceal parts of the some of the structures that I drew. In order to provide contrast between the background of each line drawing and the background of the piece, I drew each structure on lined school paper. I chose this because a mosque is, among many other things, a place of learning. I in part borrowed the sentiment from another Abrahamic religion: I thought of the word shul, which literally means “school” in Yiddish but is used for a Jewish synagogue, because a synagogue is a place of learning. Though some of the structures I drew were simply arches or towers from lecture slideshows, I also depicted renditions of some famous structures. The second row represents (from left to right): the Stockholm Mosque in Sweden, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Mosque of Xi’an in China, and the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali. The two large mosques in the bottom row represent the Faisal Mosque in Pakistan (left) and the not-yet-completed Cologne Central Mosque in Germany.

M Frishmann and H. Khan, The Mosque

Calligraphy Project: God as Refuge

IMG_3873

Medium: colored marker

I based my project off an excerpt of a poem entitled “The Refuge in Allah” from the collection of Turkish poetry that was assigned for this week’s discussion reading (pg. 39). I knew I wanted to base my calligraphy on the beautiful Turkish mosaics that we saw in class as part of the Islamic art lecture. I think an artistic outlet can be a refuge; I looked forward to several hours of working on my own carefully detailed geometric design as a welcome retreat from ordinary coursework. Though I originally planned to work the word Allah into the actual floral design, I found it looked very clunky, so I chose to incorporate smaller text as accents to the mosaic. I planned to use calming colors to represent the refuge of a calm perspective—something the poem suggests Allah brings. I chose a five-point symmetry for the mosaic to represent the five daily prayers of Islam, since prayer is an intuitive form of refuge.

As I worked on the project, I began to realize how entirely context-dependent the idea of refuge is, so I decided to introduce some key concepts from the poem into my design. The poem begins by describing Allah as a friend, so I chose to start the mosaic with interlocking five-point stars. Of the concepts I wanted to highlight from the poem, the idea of Allah as a refuge via friendship was the most interesting to me, because I find friendship as a refuge in my own life. I wanted to feature this concept, so I enlisted the help of a friend who knows Arabic to write the word “friend” in the center of the mosaic. The word “journey” caught my eye because in the past few years I have learned that being able to seek and create refuge is certainly a journey. I also liked it because I think one of the most captivating features of mosaic art is being able to trace the paths of thick lines across a large mosaic. This small piece does not give this feature, so I chose to highlight the idea of a journey by writing the word in Arabic around some of the thick lines that a view of this mosaic can follow. I also wrote out “sorrow” both because Allah is refuge in sorrow and because sometimes sorrow is refuge in itself. I wrote this word in a cell-like feature of the design to highlight how sorrow can block someone off from the world. I also wrote the word “light” in the yellow ovals I intended to be reminiscent of suns, and the word “faithful” in the outermost lines.

Week 3: Qur’anic Reciter

Medium: paper

This week, my artwork is a response to Kristina Nelson’s piece, “Reciter and Listener: Some factors shaping the Mujawwad style of Qur’anic reading.” Nelson describes several aspects of this style of Qur’anic reading and briefly discusses the influences that developed the style. At the end of the article, she focuses on a major criticism of some Qur’anic recitation: that it is too musical. We spoke considerably in both lecture and section about the limitations of viewing non-western art—particularly Islamic art, and particularly Qur’anic recitation—only within the likely familiar categories and constraints we use to evaluate western art. Nelson touches on this concept, but goes further to address criticisms that Qur’anic reciters are performers with celebrity similar in magnitude and quality to that of popular musical artists. She describes aspects of the lifestyle of an acclaimed Qur’anic reciter that yield these criticisms (e.g. appearing in magazines or being interviewed on talk shows), but she does not discuss them extensively, saying only that they “…blur the line between reciter and singer in terms of the reciter’s professional identity and the listeners’ expectations.” (46) Ultimately, she writes that the “personal attitude of the reciter towards these shaping forces [determines] the extent of musicality in his personal style.” (46)

I would like to suggest the possibility that critics are attempting to conflate the fame of two very different artists in a way that does not quite work. Just as thoughtless categorization of Qur’anic recitation as vocal performance in the western sense is neglecting to understand the nuances of music in a different context, I think that categorization of a professional Qur’anic reciter as a vocal performer is equally neglectful. The nuances of the two things Nelson mentions, “reciters’ professional identity” and “listeners’ expectations” are exactly what might separate the two types of fame. I don’t know that every reader of every magazine article about a Qur’anic reciter or every viewer of every interview with a Qur’anic reciter differentiates their interest in those publications from stories about actors or musicians. However, I do think that attempts to suppress musicality of recitation in effort to avoid celebrity for Qur’anic reciters may be, in some part, derived from an incomplete understanding of how people perceive notable reciters and how they experience recitation.

In my artwork, I decided to explore similarities between a Qur’anic reciter and a western pop star. The focus of the piece is the word hafiz, someone who has memorized the entire Qur’an, which I chose to appear in a print of stars that I created. The stars are meant to represent the fame of a western star or starlet. I drafted a list of similarities between the two personas and chose images to represent these concepts, which I used for the border. The list is as follows, with the image I chose to represent the concept in parentheses following the similarity: performance is better live (concert venue), person uses a microphone (microphone), famous (stars), person is adored (hearts), person has fans (cheerleaders), person uses pauses for dramatic effect (pause and play buttons), person is talked about (newspapers and magazines), person’s work is on the radio (radio), person is interviewed in the media (television), person must audition (director’s chair), person must adhere to a strict practice regimen and performance schedule (sunrise), person is an artist (canvas).

K. Nelson, Reciter and ListenerEthnomusicology (1982)

Week 2: View from the Madrasa

Medium: watercolor

In the first chapter of Ziauddin Sardar’s book Reading the Qur’an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam, Sardar includes a line that especially resonated with me. The chapter, entitled “The Qur’an and Me” is centered on the author’s personal background with the Qur’an and with Islamic faith in a more broad sense. He includes a description of his introduction to formal religious education: “Children begin their reading at the end. So I started with the 30th Sipara. It contains short chapters, or suras, some just a few verses long, all rather easy to commit to memory. When I had memorized most of the chapters in this Sipara, and it was time to tackle the longer suras, my mother decided to send me to the madrasa, or religious school, at the local mosque. It is vaguely equivalent to going to Sunday School, but with rather more emphasis on the school since the curriculum is set and the same everywhere: learning to read the Qur’an. Most mosques have a madrasa attached to them; and I suppose my madrasa was like a madrasa in any mosque, anywhere in the world.” (4)

This paragraph, particularly the last clause of the last sentence, stuck out to me and has remained a sentiment I think about when synthesizing the material from lecture and discussion readings. We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of differentiating Islamic art, traditions, and faith from one time period, region, or community from those from different contexts. And it is true, of course, that Islam can and does look very different in different contexts. Though many students of the Qur’an “begin their reading at the end” with the 30th Sipara, I am sure that some do not; it is also unlikely that every student studies in a madrasa similar to the one that Sardar describes in the chapter. However, regardless of the specific motive for attending madrasa, students in the class learn to read the same texts in potentially comparable settings. This paragraph reminded me of the strength of likely similarities in the experiences of many people who identify as Muslims, and of many young students learning to read the Qur’an.

For my creative response this week, I chose to explore the universality of the madrasa setting by highlighting the major difference between many madrasas: the world outside the classroom window. I imagined the view that a student might have outside the window in three different settings: one from the madrasa of the urban mosque on a busy street that I pass by frequently when driving at home (center); one from the madrasa of a mosque in rural Anatolia, Turkey that is described in a novel I read (right); and one in a suburban area, like the neighborhood where I live (left). I chose to use watercolor as the medium for this project because I was inspired by Sardar’s methodical support of viewing the Qur’an as a multi-layered text that can help readers see truth. Watercolor is a somewhat unforgiving medium that can require many layers of work to create rich color and that requires flexibility when mistakes are made. I think this multi-layered approach and flexibility are similar to how Sardar advises one should view the Qur’an.

Z. Sardar,  Reading the Qur’an