Syzygy

Memorial Hall eclipsing the sun

Memorial Hall eclipsing the sun

I took this photograph in early March 2012 when I was standing at the shuttle stop, and realized that the sun was being perfectly eclipsed by the tower of Memorial Hall.  It stood out to me as both a striking image and also reminded me of many of the concepts we have touched upon as a part of this course.

Because of both the religious connotations of the memorial and the building’s cathedral-esque appearance, I immediately thought of the syzygy that had formed between me, the individual, the establishment, and the blinding light that represents God.  The Qur’an itself refers to God as a light, and some of our other readings indicated how the presence of God can be overwhelming, like the light when staring directly into the sun.  The main reading it drew to mind was Daftary’s introduction of the concept of communities of interpretation, and specifically how they take a place between the individual and God in that they are the lens through which the individual sees God and the practice of Islam.

While some have interpreted the idea of a lens as a translucent or opaque construction, I deliberately have used the steeple as an opaque representation of the institution interfering with the connection between the individual and God.  This represents several different aspects of material from Daftary and from the course.

The first aspect represented is the disagreement between different communities of interpretation.  Many of the different groups disagree with each other, and argue that some groups are not “true” Muslims and other things.  For instance, Wahhabis would see the Alevis or Ahmadis as unable to see God.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, many other communities would argue that the Wahhabis are unable to see God, as implied by the eclipse in my photograph.

The other aspect represented is that of the different communities interfering with each other’s spiritual practices.  This stood out to me especially during our lecture about Bosnia, when the Saudi-funded rebuilding of mosques resulted in all the traditional Bosnian ornamentation being removed.  To the Bosnians, this was to some degree an eclipse of their traditional version of Islam, and was seen by some as an interference in their communion with God.

In producing this photograph I chose to process the photograph to emphasize the difference between positive and negative space in the photograph.  In the raw photo, the face of Memorial Hall was dimly lit, and details could be made out.  I felt that the concept of an eclipse would be more strongly emphasized if I made the entire foreground black instead of allowing details beyond the outline.  I chose to process it into sepia because it provided warmer colours and also created a second dark ring around the sun, emphasizing God’s position as a source of light and life.  While not visible after the processing into sepia, in the original processing of the photograph there was also blemish in the lower left corner from a reflective window that created an imperfection in the solid blackness of the image, an imperfection to remind that to many Muslims, nothing man-made can be perfect.

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