Michelle Ko's Creative Portfolio

Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literature


Fresh Sem Final Essay (click me)

Michelle Ko

Professor Ali Asani

Freshman Seminar: Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literature

December 12, 2014



Welcome to my art blog post! If I need to summarize my art blog post in one short quote, I would have to borrow Aristotle’s words in saying “the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” In all of my art blog posts, my goal was to take one key theme or concept that I personally derived from reading various Muslim voices in contemporary literature and to somehow translate that same message into one of my art pieces. After completing my artistic blog pieces, I realize that there are a bunch of common themes that tie my art pieces together and, moreover, the unique experiences that I have –growing up in a Taiwanese-American family, going to a feminist all-girl high school, and being an undergraduate on a premedical track–have all had significant influences on how I’ve responded to the texts through my art pieces! Moreover, reading these texts and being able to respond to them through art have allowed me to learn more about my own values and to explore my self-understanding more deeply! Some of the large themes that I cover in my blog posts include the importance of differing perspectives, the importance of recognizing complexities in every situation (to combat stereotypes and generalizations), and finally the theme of women.

An important theme I cover is the importance of recognizing the many different perspectives that come from everyone’s very different background and experience. For example, in my “Persepolis” piece with the pumpkin photographs, I wanted to highlight the importance of how having different perspectives (represented in the piece by the many different camera angles) can change one’s perception of the pumpkin. Similarly, people from different cultures and different religious backgrounds, for example, will respond differently to different situations they encounter. In my “Saint’s Lamp” piece, I have two magnifying glasses showing how different literary figures from different cultures represent and shape people’s view on the world. I have two other magnifying glasses showing how many basic science concepts came from Muslim roots although ironically science is often associated solely with the Western world. Here, I wanted to show the importance of the difference between the attitudes of Ismail Effendi’s initial perspective on how to treat Fatima’s blindness (influenced by his Western education) and his family’s perspective (influenced by their cultural heritage and religion). In my art piece, I wanted to show how there definitely exist different perspectives according to different cultures and different religions, but that science strangely is a source and common root for many different cultures. I think that I responded in this particular way to the text because science has always been a huge part of my life–after working their way up from the bottom of the social ladder, my grandfathers became an engineer and a doctor. Since then the large majority of my family roots have been in the medical field. More than that, I was very interested in science and math in high school (although I also equally loved the humanities courses because my school was a liberal arts high school) and did some biomedical research at a cancer research institute. My high school interest in science, and particularly my chemistry class, also influenced my “Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “My Son the Fanatic” pieces which took advantage of Le Chatelier’s principle, or the idea putting a lot of influences often influences people to want to shift to another influence, such as how American “patriotism” (which often was synonymous to persecution of Middle Eastern Americans and Muslim Americans) could have potentially and might have influenced Middle Eastern Americans and Muslim Americans to cling more tightly to their roots and heritage. Western influences, for example, encouraged Ali to draw more closely to Islam. The next pieces I worked on definitely reflected how my background influenced my reactions to the text. In my “Urdu Poems” piece, I used what I learned from Professor Asani’s “Urdu Poems” essay to analogize the many different types of poems (“na’ts”) written praising Muhammad to “love poems” in the West. I then tried my own hand at writing a “love poem” praising “love” and written in a specific modern, Western poetic form. In my “Beggar’s Strike” piece where I talked about homelessness and the Salvation Army, I used what I learned from “Beggar’s Strike” and this surprising discussion about almsgiving and having “beggar” be an occupation in order to better understand the complexity behind “almsgiving” within the American society.

The next theme I focused on was the idea of understanding the intense complexities in every situation in order to avoid generalizing or stereotyping. For example, in my “Complaint and Answer” piece, I took the “tree” and “garden” (an important symbol in Islam) that the poet talked about extensively and repurposed it in a charcoal-inspired (but really color pencil) piece to try to explain the complexities behind the Islamic religion–there is no one Islam. The way one person perceives Islam can be entirely different from the way another person perceives Islam. Islam can mean different things to different people. In my “The Suns of Independence” piece where I drew three different trees from three different areas and connected them with red lines to show their interconnectedness through Islam, I tried to emphasize the take home message from the text–which is that cultural differences can influence how Islam is interpreted in a specific region. I also tried to show how Islam is prevalent in many different countries, including ones that are less associated with Islam such as China. In my “Swallows of Kabul” piece, I tried to explain what happens when you lose the ability to perceive complexities and instead become brainwashed entirely by this concept of the “mob mentality.” My video, which combined some videography special effects and also some flipbook art, basically shows a stick figure being absorbed into this snowball of people. When people become part of a mob, they lose the ability to differentiate themselves with people and they lose the ability to see the complexities associated with individual perspectives and decisions.

Lastly, I actually talked a lot about the women issue that is prevalent not only in Muslim societies but also in the world in general. In my “We Sinful Women” piece (which included photography of women dancing), I wanted to emphasize the feelings of isolation women can have when they are called “sinful,” especially when ironically they are often the most pious, and also the sense of community and solidarity that currently exists for women in the Muslim and the global community. Another thing I wanted to emphasize with is the fact that the community of women that appear in the third photo show that this issue of sexism is not prevalent only in Muslim communities but in communities around the world today still. I also talked about the Burqa and the Bikini in the “Le Chatelier” pieces that I talked about earlier because I feel it is interesting to consider the fact that each side views the other as oppressed and therefore clings more tightly to their own cultural norms fervently and passionately. In my “Sultana’s Dream” piece, I wanted to have the same effect as “Sultana’s Dream” in making my reader realize that there is still room for improvement on the woman’s issue but that female empowerment also by no means implies male denigration. I think that I focused on the theme of women and gender in a lot of the texts we read this semester because I went to an all girl school for high school where talk of feminism and girl empowerment was something discussed in depth, whether in town meetings or in assemblies or even in history and English classes! Getting to focus on women’s history in history classes (which apparently is not prevalent in other coed environments) and getting to talk in depth about women in literature gave me a deep appreciation for the education I received in an all-girl environment and also opened my eyes to the unfortunate inequalities women face today. Being in a coed environment for college has definitely been a new and interesting experience, making me both positive for the future of women but also aware of the persisting gender stereotypes that pervade our culture–i.e. Boys telling me that I cannot do something because I am too “weak.”

In conclusion, I have been very luck to have been able to learn about so many different themes and so many different aspects of the Islamic culture by getting to read Islamic primary texts first hand–this class has been an incredibly personal, rewarding, and cathartic experience for me. I have had the opportunity to meet great people (such as Professor Ali Asani) and the rest of my freshman seminar group who has been an incredible joy to be in a seminar-style class with. I remember the very first day when I walked into class, excited for a smaller class size (which I was more used to) yet hesitant and nervous about jumping into this course with a bunch of strangers. Now, my freshman seminar peers are strangers no more and I feel that I’ve gained so incredibly much from this course. In addition to the theme of perspectives, complexities, and women that I talk about in my blog posts, something else I wanted to address actually pertains to a recurring theme that shows up multiple times in my art works–the idea of the connecting “red lines.” I mention in my “The Suns of Independence” piece that the “red lines” idea was originally inspired from the Chinese folk myth of the “red string of fate” that strings together destined lovers. Although I am not stringing together lovers in my piece, I wanted to hopefully bring in the idea of stringing in two seemingly unlike concepts together. For example, different cultures can be strung together by a religion like Islam. Homeless beggars and the Salvation Army can be strung together by commonalities. In a sense, I see the entirety of my art blog as a “red string of fate” in itself, connecting just the major themes and things I’ve learned from this class. In many ways, my art blog posts act as a way to string together my love for taking charge of my classes—yes, Professor Asani assigned us specific readings (which were all highly enjoyable and fascinating), but it is also true that as students Professor Asani gave us a great deal of power in choosing how we wanted to respond to the texts in our journal posts and in our artistic responses. Perhaps more importantly, my art blog acts as the “red string of fate” by connecting together what I’ve learned in class (yes) AND in essence connecting me to the class personally; My art blog is entirely a representation of my personal investment into the literary texts in front of me and a clear visual and artistic portrayal of how I’ve responded personally to the texts at hand. My blog post gives a clear sense of the major things I have and will take away from this class (among many other things).
To Professor Asani: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ve learned things about Islam and frankly about myself that I hadn’t known previously and it’s been an absolute pleasure. ‘Til next time! J


Beggar’s Strike

Fresh Sem Alms

I remember when reading “Beggar’s Strike,” I just remember being incredibly impressed by the prevalence of “almsgiving” in the Islamic culture. I remember learning in middle school that “almsgiving” was one of the five pillars of Islam. I think reading “Beggar’s Strike” and just learning more about Islam in general made me more aware of how important “almsgiving” and social justice was to the religion. At multiple times in the story, it is mentioned how some people quit/ exchange their jobs in order to become beggars which apparently generated a lot of income for them. For example, “Madiabel had two wives and eight children to feed and clothe, so one day he upped and left for the City and became a ‘battu-bearer’–without a battu –simply holding out his hand for alms. Business was much better and he was able regularly to send his family clothes and money for food” (10). To add to the example of the profit of the “beggar” occupation, a new character was introduced who had been in service as a maid-of-work, but had taken up begging as a career the day she gave birth to twins” (10).


I found the great treatment of beggars to be interesting because when I think about beggars, and more particularly the homeless, I know that especially in America there are so many negative connotations associated with them! I discussed the topic of “homelessness” when reading William Shakespeare’s King Lear in my senior year of high school because in the play King Lear goes from a powerful king to a homeless old man who has unwisely given away all his land and possessions to his children who kick him out. In class, we discussed the stigmas associated with homelessness, such as the negative stereotypes with homeless people being “lazy” or “drunk” or “drug addicts” when really most often homeless people are just plain old people falling under difficult times and circumstances. The idea of “homelessness” has recently popped up under my radar–recently there was a talk scheduled for December 9th in the Straus Common Room on Homelessness (although it has been rescheduled for the spring term). At first the idea of having “beggar” as an occupation and even how integral almsgiving is in the Islamic culture surprised me when I compare it to the Western culture I’m more familiar with, although now that I think about it it really shouldn’t. For one thing, if you really think about it, the Salvation Army and all other non-profit organizations that ask for donations are having the same job as “beggars” in a way that makes “begging” an occupation. Interestingly enough, people (in my opinion) seem to be more comfortable donating through a third party (i.e. the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc.) than donating directly to the people in need (i.e. homeless people on the streets). This is particularly evident to me as I see more homeless people as a resident of Cambridge (I grew up in a suburban town where there were not a lot of homeless people). I need to make a caveat here that I realize “beggars” and “homeless people” are not always synonymous although that is somewhat likely at least in American society.
One thing I wanted to incorporate in my art piece is to continue this thread of the “red line” that I originally brought up in my “Suns of Independence” artwork where I used the red line to connect all different cultures. Here, in my art piece, I wanted to more specifically connect the lines between two different concepts of “almsgiving” in the American society–one that is run through a third party non-profit organization such as the Salvation Army and one that is simply going through the person in need directly. As you can see through the two photos, the Salvation Army is greatly glorified (with the almost holy light shining on the Salvation Army volunteer worker) and the homeless person is not glorified and in some ways seen in a somewhat negative light. I used the red lines, this time having red lines all forming some sort of web and shooting form one common place in order to try to break down the negative stereotypes associated with homeless people. I tried to do this by drawing connections between the pristine, laminated, commercialized “Salvation Army” sign and the homeless man’s cardboard cutout sign. Moreover, I tried to draw connections between the “holy light” shining in the Salvation Army photo and the head of the homeless man to show that the homeless man is not any less needy than the people served by the Salvation Army. Finally, I connected the homeless man’s hand to the donation bucket in the Salvation Army photo to simply raise to question and call to attention the idea of donations and the stigmas surrounding homeless people in this modern day and age in the American society. I’m not entirely sure if I have a point/ suggestion for how to go about the negative stereotypes surrounding the homeless in America, but it just never occurred to me until recently that homeless people are synonymous to nonprofit organizations like the Salvation Army and, moreover, that “beggars for occupations” can be synonymous to organizations like the Salvation Army asking for donations. Therefore, “almsgiving” seems to be a big part of Western culture but usually as long as it is through some “legitimate seeming” organization. Donations, I believe, and “almsgiving” are important facets to Western culture but there are some hidden nuances about almsgiving in the Western culture that make it a very multifaceted and complex concept.

Sultana’s Dream

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When reading “Sultana’s Dream,” at first I was very aware of gender equality in Muslim societies and in Western societies, too. The story talks about a reverse situation where men are taking on the role of women in Muslim societies and I cannot help but think of a video where women’s roles in TV advertisements are replaced with men (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SrpARP_M0o). The video was ridiculous and it is fascinating to think about women’s and men’s roles in society. Moreover, “Sultana’s Dream” to me was a commentary not only on how wrong sexism is but also how equally wrong reverse sexism would be. In other words, female empowerment should not be equated to male denigration (this was also something that I watched Kelly Cutrone comment on recently on television on America’s Next Top Model over Thanksgiving break–not the best show but great for rare moments of wisdom like this).
I believe Sultana’s Dream makes an excellent commentary on feminism (or rather women’s rights if people are adverse to the western connotations sometimes associated with the word “feminism”) and women in Muslim societies and the world in general! I wanted to do a similar piece through my collage of words and pictures taken from “Seventeen Magazine.” Interestingly enough, I think when I was gathering data from “Seventeen Magazine,” in other words reading “Seventeen Magazine,” I noticed that today (in comparison to perhaps a decade ago) there are more direct statements calling for “girl power” and empowering girls to “rock the world.” However, I find that ironic with a lot of the material generated in the magazine–for example, one statement comments on how “girls can look good AND do good.” Well, I guess my response would be girls can do good and look good (yes in that order of importance) if they want to and if they don’t then that’s their choice and their decision. It is in THEIR power to decide what looking and doing good means to them. Additionally, despite the recent addition of messages of female empowerment, I found it ironic that the magazine still encourages women and young girls to show as much skin as possible–hence the “micro miniskirt,” “the backless tank,” and “the crop top” which all manage to somehow expose some part of a girl’s epidermis to the air outside–what happens when winter comes? Anyhow, I purposefully used the words and headers to replace the female model’s heads because I felt that for the majority of the magazine anyhow the focus wasn’t on the female model but on the clothes and on her body anyways. I wanted to make this point especially clear. Moreover, I found interesting statements that encouraged women to change their looks, saying “you change your style. Why not your eye color?” and other advertisements for changing hair color. Although I am a strong proponent of “you’re perfect the way you are and don’t need to change a single thing,” I guess if a girl WANTS to change the way she looks it is entirely in her decision. I do however think that these advertisements do add some sort of additional pressure and influence that may suggest changing one’s appearance is necessary or conducive to one’s life when it is simply just a matter of personal choice. Moreover, I wanted to talk about the way men are brought up in this magazine–first of all, there was one section where a bunch of men were just talking about how they are able to “flirt” with girls and lure girls into their “trap,” which to me sounds absolutely horrifying and scary. The men spoke about women nonspecifically, not caring about the girl or the woman herself but rather de-individualizing the woman and stating their strategies for getting women as if this were some sort of game or some sort of hunting expedition. This was a problem for me. Lastly, interestingly enough in the article all of the advertisements with male models and female models happened to have the female model looking directly at the camera and the male model looking at the female which may or may not have connotations about a weird female-male girl/boy power balance. Either way, I found this magazine to be incredibly enlightening about what seventeen year old teenage girls are reading and almost a little disappointing and disheartening. Just as “Sultana’s Dream” made me more aware of the gender inequality in Islamic societies and the world in general and of the dangers of having reverse sexism, I found “Seventeen Magazine” to have the same effect on me and I hoped to capture such messages in my collage.

In Praise of Muhammad: Urdu Poems

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When I read “In Praise of Muhammad: Urdu Poems” by Professor Ali Asani, I could not help but draw connections between Islamic culture and poems and Western culture and poems. In his essay, Professor Asani talks how poetry is a common way for Muslims to express their love and veneration for the prophet Muhammad. Moreover, in the Urdu language poems that specifically praise Muhammad are called “na’ts.” Professor Asani continues to describe the different types of “na’ts” that exist (i.e. the qasidah, the masnawi, the baramasa, etc.) and how many of the “na’ts” express an intense emotion of love for Muhammad and his mysticism.


Clearly, it seems that Muhammad is a popular topic for Islamic poetry. Similarly, I believe that in Western culture the generic and large theme of “love” is one of the most widely discussed and praised themes and concepts all the way from the time of the Ancient Greeks to poets today  http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-mos…)! Undoubtedly, our first nursery rhymes (Roses are red, violets are blue…), Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, Pablo Neruda, and mostly every poet/ writer out there has at one point touched upon the theme of “love.” In my work, I tried to contribute to large bank of “love” poems that exist out there today, similar to how Muslim poets contribute to the large bulk of “na’ts” out there in the world today. Just as there are different types of “na’ts” that exist (the quasidah, the masnawi, the baramasa, etc.), there are certainly many different types of poetry written about love — from rhyming couplets to haikus to limericks to free verse poems and so much more! I wanted to write a “love” poem using a less well-known structure of poetry and creative writing that I’ve heard be called “blackout” poems. Basically, I take a text or piece of writing that exists out there in the world and blackout words until I’m just left with words that will form my poem. I used William Shakespeare’s King Lear (Act 1 Scene 1 in which Cordelia is telling her father King Lear that she cannot and will not tell him how much she loves him, unlike her sisters who profuse their love to their father because they know that will land them favorably in his death will). The poem I came up with is as follows:


Poor love, richer than my tongue,


Dear love, What can you say to win?

Nothing, nothing


Unhappy love,

Go, mend, mar.

Good love,

Why love at all?

For the sacred radiance,

the mysteries

–this for ever.
Similar to how Urdu poets praise Muhammad in their poems, I wanted to try to praise the concept of “love” to the best of my ability. First, I personified loved through using the apostrophe of “poor love,” “dear love,” “unhappy love,” and “good love” to speak directly to “love” as if “love” were a person. Talking to this “love” I made sure that the adjectives describing “love” were either positive (“dear” and “good”) or at least not negative (“poor” and “unhappy” are adjectives that symbolize that “love” has been wronged, not that “love” has done anything wrong). This is where my poem diverges from similarities form “na’ts”–“Poor” and “unhappy” are adjectives that Urdu poets would most likely not use to describe Muhammad. At times it may seem that there are conflicting ideas in my poem–after all, I ask love to “remain” yet I also ask love to “go, mend, mar.” I think my poem is a comment on how “love” can be a healing and yet also destructive force at times. Moreover, there is “nothing” love can “say to win” because words of love are useless and meaningless in comparison to actions and intent–a common theme in King Lear, too. Finally, I think my poem comments on how love can have both very negative and very positive effects but in the end the reason why we “love at all” is because “love” possesses some type of “sacred radiance” and “mystery” and some irreplaceable human experiences that will “remain” with us throughout our lifetime. In other words, “love” is a feeling that will stay with us “forever.” In my opinion, this poem was my best way of trying to praise “love”–by addressing its flaws but still acknowledging its transformative, influential, and necessary influence in life.

The Swallows of Kabul

Click here for Video –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B70LfcSLcIw

In the “Swallows of Kabul” by Yasmina Khadra, or Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul, one of the things that most caught my attention was this idea about being swept up in a mob mentality. We see this occur in the story at the very beginning when Mohsen attends a public stoning of a woman and participates, throwing a stone that gravely injures the woman. When I first read this part of the story, I felt incredibly uneasy and incredibly unsettled, particularly because Mohsen himself tells his wife “It was as though I’d been taken up by a whirlwind… just because the crowd was shouting, I shouted with it, and just because it demanded blood, I called out for blood too. Since then I can’t stop looking at my hands, and I don’t recognize them anymore” (36-37). Moreover, This point was also heavily discussed in the NPR interview between Moulessehoul and an NPR in which, Moulessehoul comments “Mohsen is depicted as a fragile human being that can be easily be swayed by mob hysteria and can be transformed into a simple grain of sand in the wake of a terrible storm…”  (NPR). This idea of the power of the “mob mentality” is one that is too familiar in every sector of the world–In examples that are all too familiar, the Holocaust proves to be one of the major examples for the confusion of how so many people could let such horrible things occur. The tyranny of the majority and the ganging up against somebody are common themes that arise during prejudice and persecution. For example, even in the past century there had previously been several exclusionary acts against Asian Americans and the granting of citizenship to them.

In my art piece, I did a flip book animation with a stick figure man running and being struck by a “snowball” (thus representing the snowball effect) and added sound effects/ manipulated the timing using iMovie. I kept the stick figure and the snowball incredibly simple and plain so that they can represent any culture any geographical location and any situation. The concept behind this piece (and inspired by Mohsen being swept up by mob mentality in “The Swallows of Kabul”) is that it is incredibly difficult to get away from the snowball effect–it is incredibly easy to get swept up by the tyranny of the majority! We all need to be incredibly vigilant and aware of our surroundings and check ourselves to ask at all times–are we doing what we think is right and what we believe we need to do or are we simply goats following the herd?

Saint’s Lamp

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One of the things that stood out to me while I read “Saint’s Lamp” is the idea of looking at different things through different lenses and different perspectives, something I discussed in my blog post about Persepolis. For example, in “Saint’s Lamp” there seems to be largely two camps on how to treat Fatima’s blindness and eye condition–that of the village who believe in the power of the oil in the Saint’s lamp to heal Fatima’s eye and that of Ismail Effendi who has just come back from studying abroad in the Western civilization and who believes in Western medical treatments and the like. At first, I thought that I could split up the camps between “Western, scientific” and “Islamic, nonscientific” but I then realized upon discussing with Professor Asani that the story is much more complicated and much more interrelated than the simplified conclusion I jumped to. In fact, the fact of the fact is that the basis of western scientific tradition is largely based on Islamic science (from the medieval ages and from the historical past). In fact, for example, Arabic people were responsible for the names of many of the stars as they were excellent observes of astrology. Moreover, they contributed to science through the fields of optics and medicines and algebra (“al” usually is an Arabic root), and much much more! Often Arabic people practiced the Muslim faith. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to describe “Islam” as devoid of or against science. In fact, many Muslims were most likely the first observers and practicers of science. Then, how do we explain the phenomenon occurring in “Saint’s Lamp?” One thing I want to bring up is that the two divided camps here are not necessarily reflective of the values of “Islam” only or even specifically. Rather, the beliefs of the villagers in the power of the “Saint’s Lamp” is arguably a very regional thing. Science is not discouraged but rather science is seen as something that cannot replace religion and faith.


In my art piece made on the computer, I wanted to emphasize the fact that there are two different lenses often to view a particular thing or text or situation. The “western magnifying glass” uses contemporary authors and artists such as Tennessee Williams, Woolf, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare to understand the world around them. Similarly, the “Islamic magnifying glass” has Marjane Satrapi, Iqbal, Hanif Kureishi, and Yahya Haqqi as major influential figures in contemporary literature.


Obviously there is a degree of overlap between the two magnifying glasses. Muslim Americans obviously have a large degree of overlap between the two magnifying glasses. People in this freshman seminar now have more of an ability to see through some overlapping portion of this magnifying glass. Moreover, I believe if you truly overlap the two magnifying glass as seen in my second pencil sketch with various items, you get science! Science and math is a common denominator for both western civilization and Islamic civilizations. As part of historical backgrounds, Islam has had science and math as a huge part of their growing civilizations! In the drawing, I have included the red lines that was also in my “The Suns of Independence” post in order to have continuity in this idea that different civilizations and supposed “others” are actually interconnected, integrated, and incredibly similar. In the drawing, I’ve included different scientific and math concepts, primarily algebra as seen by the algebraic expressions, functions, and the coordinate plane representing the parabola. I’ve included free body diagrams to represent physics. I’ve also represented the sun and the stars to represent astrologies (bonus: the stars glow in the dark). I’ve also represented biology through the drawing of the DNA double helix and chemistry through the drawing of the test tube, the H20 molecule and the chemistry way of looking at DNA through drawing its structure.


My Son the Fanatic, The Burqa and the Bikini, Reluctant Fundamentalist

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My artistic piece combines the values and major ideas gained from reading Hanif Kureishi’s short story, “My Son the Fanatic,” and a major principal gained from studying basic chemistry, Le Chatelier’s Principle. Le Chatelier’s Principle, also called the Equilibrium Law, and named after Henry Louis Le Chatelier, basically talks about how a system and its chemical equilibrium is changed when you add a particular stress. For example, consider the following equation:


Na+ + Cl- ⇌ NaCl


Here, you have Na+ ions and Cl- ions combining to form NaCl in a system. If you add a lot of Na+ ions or if you add a lot of Cl- ions, the system responds by shifting to the right and creating a lot more NaCl ions. Similarly, if add a lot of NaCl molecules, the system responds by shifting to the left and creating a lot more Na+ and Cl- ions.


In a similar way, reading Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” reminded me so much of Le Chatelier but instead of having Na+, Cl-, and NaCl in the system, you replace these with concepts such as “Western civilization” (238), “Western education” (239), and “England” (239) and concepts such as “The Law of Islam” (238). In many ways, when reading the short story, I could not help but think about how Ali definitely follows this idea of Le Chatelier’s principle. By inducing more Western influences, induced through Ali’s mere location in a Western civilization, particularly Britain, and additionally through his father Parvez’s increasingly Western traits (such as his love for “crispy bacon smothered with mushrooms and mustard and sandwiched between slices of fried bread” (238) for breakfast, Ali definitely responds to such changes to the system by shifting to the Islamic side of the equation. I represent such a phenomenon through my artwork through four different pieces.


The first piece with the shaven man on the left (used to represent the West) and the bearded man on the left (used to represent Islam) is derived directly from the novel–Parvez mentions how Ali begins to grow a beard, which does not always but can indicate a person dedicated to the Islamic faith, as Wikipedia mentions the “Sunnah in Islam” encourages it. Surrounding Ali with unbearded men and particularly their actions that are considered immoral under the Islamic faith, Ali is driven more and more to Islam.


Similarly, I wanted to bring this same idea to the idea of the “bikini and the burqa” that we discussed in class awhile ago. For example, often people in the West look at the “burqa” or even the “veil” and think that these articles of clothing are symbols of repression and oppression of women, not realizing that often Muslim women are doing the same looking at the bikinis of Western women and feeling sorry for Western women who are marginalized and so brainwashed by the culture that they should need to feel pressure to display their bodies. There have been articles written about women wearing veils partially in response to the advent of Western influences in their home countries or simply when travelling in Western countries–the veil then has a secondary purpose of symbolizing resistance to the West. Similarly, women viewing the clothing standards of Muslim women feel the need to wear “bikinis” or more Western garments because they believe they have the “freedom” to. In an ironic juxtaposition the women of both sides view themselves as free and the other as repressed.


The artwork with the red, white (silver), and blue sequins alongside the green plush balls are meant to represent the Western civilization (by taking the flag colors of America and Britain for simplicity purposes) and the Islamic civilization (by using green as green is the traditional color of Islam). The artwork with the red, white, and blue feathers put alongside the red, green, and orange feathers are meant to represent once again the Western civilization and different countries with Islamic majorities (such as Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh which are the countries with the highest percentage of a Muslim population). I need to point out a couple of things. First, these art pieces were done partially inspired after watching “Reluctant Fundamentalist” in Lamont on Tuesday. Second, I need to point out that these two art pieces are very different because I know that “Islam” is not synonymous to “Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh” (which have people practicing other religions). However, I think it is interesting to note that especially around the time of 9/11, this separation between “countries” and the Islamic faith were blurred and largely ignored. Anyone who looked like they had a bit of Middle Eastern heritage in them (I believe that many people stereotype “Islam” as a religion of the Middle East) and especially anyone who bore a beard would be stopped in airports and checked. Another thing that I need to mention is how often I feel that people felt driven to one extreme or the other, especially around the time of 9/11. Although President Bush said specifically, “I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.” (Although of course questionably then declaring a “War on Terror” … but that’s another story). Despite Bush’s cry to the nation, many people still responded to the 9/11 attacks and by being in the same space with people from Middle Eastern countries or Muslims by shifting extremely to the left, espousing “patriotic” love and “nationalistic” fervor that they often equated as opposite to the Muslim religion or Middle Eastern/ African cultures. Similarly, the “nationalistic fervor” which often was synonymous to the persecution of Muslim Americans or Middle Eastern Americans around the time of 9/11 arguably could have influenced Muslim Americans/ Middle Eastern Americans to retreat further to their cultural heritage or faith.
Last note: there are a lot of generalizations and “extremes” that are used for the purpose of creating this simplistic representation–for example, I know that not all men with beards are Muslims. Moreover, I do not want to state that it is always true that the addition of significant influence of one side always results in “extreme” groups or anything of that nature. I also do not want to separate two camps between the Western and Eastern and Muslim civilizations. I simply created these representations to create diagrams to better understand two major stories–”My Son the Fanatic” and “Reluctant Fundamentalist” and to better understand women in both cultures.


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Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical novel, Persepolis, portrays a young girl’s journey of growing up in the midst of the modern Iranian struggle beginning from the Shah’s authoritarian regime to the rule of the Islamic Republic. Told from a young girl’s perspective, Marjane Satrapi, Marji for short, uses the simplicity of a black-and-white graphic novel to develop the deep complexities surrounding themes such as class differences, women’s rights, religion, westernization, traditional Iranian culture, education, and more. A major effect that the novel had on me was truly demonstrating to me the importance of perspective. Marji’s story, for example, is taught in incredibly naive yet poignant points that a child, not influenced yet by social convention or too many outside influences, would make. For example, Marji for a time portrays a great degree of susceptibility to the information taught in her school. However, after living through the Iranian struggle, Marji begins to express skepticism and a deep sense of curiosity and questioning for the information presented to her. This reminded me a lot about how people view “Islam,” a concept that has pervaded our classes since day 1. For example, often the Western’s general portrayal of the Islamic world is one that is monotonal, stereotypical, and devoid of the necessary complexities that accompany a religion so diverse and so widespread throughout the world. This artwork, too, features as a discussion about the idea of perspectives. It portrays different perspectives of the pumpkin and allows audiences and viewers to see the pumpkin from a profile view, a birds-eye view, and a close-up macro lens view. Each view reveals something different about the pumpkin. Moreover, with each picture, we see and focus on a different aspect of the pumpkin. The pumpkin can represent Islam, which can be viewed from different lenses, often based off of geographical/ cultural influences and more!


The Suns of Independence

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Ahmadou Kourouma’s The Suns of Independence provides a window into which viewers can peer into to better elucidate the relationship between religion and culture. In The Suns of Independence, culture and religion often intertwine, sometimes clashing. For example, at one point in the story, the narrator of the novel asks, “Are they [the Malinke] fetish-worshippers or Muslims?” (72). The narrator proceeds, answer his own question by pointing out the paradox that “A Muslim heeds the Koran, a fetish-worshipper follows the Koma; but in Togobala, everyone publicly proclaims himself a devout Muslim, but everyone privately fears the fetish” (72). The Suns of Independence really allowed me to see how different cultures can affect the interpretation of what Islam truly is and, more importantly, that many different cultures can house Islam within their societies. For example, an interesting point brought up during class discussion was the simple fact that Islam is a widespread, global culture. Although China, for instance, is usually considered to be a Buddhist/ Confucian/ Daoist/etc. country, Islam is actually also incredibly present in China. For example, the pegoda-like mosques, and the Han Kitab ( 漢克塔布), are manifestations of how culture can change the interpretation of a religion. My art piece primarily focuses on three cultures, each represented by a tree. The cherry blossom tree, a traditional Chinese art symbol, represents China, the tree in the center represents Africa, and the tree on the right, apparently a famous tree in Yemen, represents the Middle East. There are obviously many more countries that house Islam (the US being a major one) but I have not included them simply for aesthetic artistic purposes and a lack of space. I chose to work with trees because I understand the importance of the idea of the “garden” and of “nature” in Islamic works. The red line connecting all of the trees together represents Islam and its ability to connect different cultures together by uniting people under one faith. The red lines, or Islam, actually pierce through the different trees because Islam, too, pierces and intersects with each culture and interacts with each culture dynamically. I chose the color red because it represents the impactful and bold effect of Islam and the red line on these different cultures. Moreover, there is an old Chinese folklore about the idea of the red line or the “red string of fate” that supposedly binds lovers together. I know from previous readings about Islam (primarily the first readings from session one) (Esack, Farid. The Qur’an: A Short Introduction) that there is a great deal of love (almost bordering on romantic/ amorous) that goes into a Muslim’s attitude and feeling towards Islam

Complaint and Answer

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In Iqbal’s Complaint and Answer, the symbol of the “garden” is brought up multiple times, mainly to mirror the Islamic world, which is interesting because gardens in the Islamic world usually are symbols of “rest and reflection, and a reminder of paradise.” Therefore in Complaint and Answer, where the speakers speak about times of full bloom flowers versus times of a burning garden, you can evidently tell that the speaker believes either that Islam was at its height or at its low, degenerative form, all by just looking at how the garden is described. In my piece, I emphasize the complexity behind the symbol and the current state of this metaphoric “garden” by taking a basic image of a tree and overlaying them, having them intersect, and shading them in differently. My art piece is also a general response to the overarching theme that we’ve been able to learn from reading all of the texts and background readings and from lectures in class: there is no single Islam! In fact, there are many different versions of Islam that all depend upon who is interpreting it and where it is interpreted. My art piece tries to demonstrate this. In my piece, I take the general outline of the tree and overlay it and shade it in differently. Similarly, “Islam” can be seen as a general outline and backbone to follow, but when put into different contexts (geographical and situational), we see that Islam looks different. We begin to fill in this rough outline sketch of what exactly Islam is in a specific and particular context. The piece is done in black and white not to state that there are only black areas and there are white areas (although there are extremists). Rather, the piece is meant to emphasize the grey areas and to state that there is a complexity to the Islamic narrative that we need to consider when learning more about Islam. It is interesting because when you repurpose the outline of this tree shape, you can see that it creates new figures and new shapes. At many times, the tree is unidentifiable. Similarly, so many cultures have Islam and have repurposed it to fit and make sense within their own cultures (a lesson also vaguely deduced from reading The Suns of Independence. Islam is not simply one tree, (as seen with the tree outline) but the “Islam” name provides an outline for which other cultures and times can fill with to shape their definition of “Islam.” Islam, therefore, is the conglomeration of the mesh of trees represented by the whole of the art piece itself.

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