Art Portfolio Item 3


Nasr’s Islamic Art and Spirituality creates a broad definition for what is considered Islamic art. Unlike Necipoglu who believes in the importance of historical and cultural contexts, Nasr argues that intentionality is key for considering an item to be an Islamic art form. He believes that art is a reflection of faith and that artistic inspiration can come from many directions. The many different pieces considered Islamic art illustrate the oneness of God. 

For my piece, I chose to create a 3-D object and used a simple geometric pattern. The work does not contain any overt Islamic symbols or text. The object is void of any references to religion other than the traditional design. By creating a simple plain item, this artwork aims to take a strong stance with Nasr’s interpretation of Islamic art. A meaningless stream of white Polylactic acid can be deposited on a glass plate with nothing else representing a connection to Islam, but the intention behind the object creates a strong religious attachment. My conception of the object as a manifestation of my religiosity turns the raw materials into an Islamic symbol. 

The aim of this project is similar to the Rubab presented in class. The instrument is created out of intestines and wood; however, the process of creation are critical in integrating a deep Islamic component. The Rubab becomes heavily associated with Islamic tradition. Even though the elements are no different than those used to make many secular instruments, the religious conception attached turns the final product into an entirely different creation. 

This piece also aims to draw attention to the possibilities that come with modern Islamic art. New generations are regularly given access to novel methods of representing their religious beliefs. Rubab players drew on a long historical tradition; Amirah Sackett made use of break-dancing as a method of speaking to her younger audience members. My 3-D design stakes a claim for a new method that contemporary Muslims can use to express their religious beliefs.


 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Art and Spirituality

 Gülru Necipoğlu, The Topkapı Scroll: Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture: Topkapı Palace Museum Library MS H. 1956 (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1995)

  Asani, Ali. Gened 1087, 17 Oct. 2019, Harvard College. 

Art Portfolio Item 2


Perry’s description of Karbala paints a grim picture. Husayn is faced by Yazid’s powerful army and is significantly outnumbered. He recognizes his imminent death and prepares himself for martyrdom. The conversations he has before he went into battle show that he is aware of what is to come. Nonetheless, he carries himself with pride going into the encounter. For Husayn, the conflict is not about emerging victorious – he is determined to die fighting in protection of his beliefs. This carries deep social justice implications within the Shi’i Islamic tradition. The martyrdom of Husayn presents difficulty and struggle as an essential part of Islam. The Shi’a lost the battle against Zayd I and thus understand Islam through mourning, loss, and most of all, perseverance. 


I chose ink on paper as my artistic medium because I wanted to emphasize a deep, historical tradition. A more modern vehicle such as film would break away from the message that this piece intends to convey. Calligraphy is a long-lasting part of Islam that was a part of many early Muslims’ experiences outside the oral tradition. Using calligraphy, I hope to show how the story of Husayn is also historical and part of the early, foundational experiences Shi’i Muslims have with Islam. I intentionally chose black because of its connotations as a color of mourning. The color is not inspiring or motivating. Just as Husayn was fully aware of the dismal situation he was entering, social justice efforts are not exclusively about a positive final outcome. Minority activist voices originate from principle – a personal commitment to convey and defend important political stances. 


Finally, the words spell out لا تخاف انا الله معنا, translated as “Do not fear for God is with us.” Muhammad (PBUH) said these words to Abu Bakr when they were hiding in the cave as members of Quraysh chased them. The Prophet’s (PBUH) faith in God can be reflected in the Shi’i interpretation that despite the difficulties they encounter, their efforts will be rewarded by God.


 Sir Lewis Pelly, “Martyrdom of Husayn,” The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husein: Collected from Oral Tradition, vol. 2 (London: W.H. Allen and Co., 1879)

 Asani, Ali. “Postprophetic Authority 1 Shii Imams 1/3 Oct” Gened 1087, 3 Oct. 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

 I would like to thank my colleague Abdullah Bannan for his assistance in showing me how to prepare this calligraphic design.

Art Portfolio Item 1


Amirah Sackett’s presentation emphasized the importance of geometry in Islam. She discussed its role in Islamic art and the development of a tradition of mathematics. This work builds upon the Islamic attitude towards science and discovery. The pursuit of scientific knowledge is seen as a path that brings Muslims closer to God. It is clear how this is true for the natural sciences. A deeper understanding of the world’s biological, chemical, and physical behaviors create a deeper appreciation for the beauty of creation. In this item, I wanted to extend religious appreciation for non-natural sciences. To convey this message, I focused on computer science as another method of academic scholarship. 

This project writes out the words بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم (Bismillah Alrahman Alraheem) “In the name of God, the Merciful, Compassionate.” I relied on the abjad system to use text boxes as my medium. The abjad system assigns a numerical value to every letter in the Arabic alphabet. I converted each letter in the words بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم to its numerical representation. For example, ب was turned into the number 2, and س was turned into the number 60. Then, each number was converted into its binary value. Since the largest number (200 [ر]) requires eight figures, each letter was represented in binary using eight figures to maintain consistency. 2 became 00000010 and 60 became 00001111. 

Computer science creates an indirect method for building a closer relationship with religion. The development of data science and computerized methods have made it possible for Muslims to produce significant positive impact. The ability to collect and process data improves our ability to explore our world. Computer science allows for new fields of scientific development including cosmic and microscopic systems. Without the development of computerized systems, we would be limited in our ability to have deep insight into the world around us to greater appreciate God. 

Admittedly, it is possible to use computer science for projects with a primarily secular purpose. The religious implications of scientific inquiry is contingent on the individual introducing a spiritual angle. For that purpose, I have chosen to highlight the importance of intention. Bismillah Alrahman Alraheem translates to “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassion,” the focus is placed on creating a religious purpose for one’s actions. The individual’s ego is reduced and a higher Islamic motivation is made central. 


 Sackett, Amirah. Gened 1087, 15 Oct. 2019, Harvard College. 

 Asani, Ali. “Calligraphy II” Gened 1087, 17 Sep. 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation.

Log in