Introductory Essay

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Peace and welcomings, everyone! My name is Nesreen Shukr, and I am a Lebanese-American Muslim student at Harvard studying biological sciences with the intent to attend medical school after graduation. After taking Professor Asani’s wonderful course this semester, Multisensory Religion: Rethinking Islam Through the Arts, I am intrigued by the culture and aesthetics of various Muslim groups throughout the Islamic world and would like to share with you several interesting concepts that have given me a better understanding of Islam as a multisensory practice. In an attempt to capture some of these concepts, I have created six original pieces of art that I hope will enlighten your endeavors to learn about Islam in a holistic context. Enjoy!

 

Part I: Thematic Takeaways from Multisensory Religion: Rethinking Islam Through the Arts

Islam is Not Contained in a Vacuum

Studying in the predominantly Western, secular context of the United States typically makes us believe that religion is compartmentalized from all other aspects of society; however, Professor Asani effectively disproved this assumption early on in his course. In fact, our elaborate in-class examination of the vast diversity of Muslim practices throughout the Islamic world would have been fairly meaningless had Professor Asani not taken the time to address one important introductory concept: Islam (and religion in general, for the matter) is never contained within a vacuum. Contrarily, Islam is deeply embedded in a multitude of societal elements within Muslim regionsmost notably culture and politics. To a certain degree, Muslim culture around the world, from Chinese-style calligraphy to Sufi music and dance, is a combination of ethnic traditions and religious identity. These unique cultures contribute to the great diversity of the Islamic world and its practices. Hence, Islam cannot be contained in a vacuum because of its various interactions with other societal factors. This idea leads us to one other very important takeaway: Islam is not one thing. In other words, Islam is not exclusive to any race (e.g. Arab) or form of interpretation (e.g. Sunnism). As a result of its diverse interpretations and practices throughout the Muslim world, it is difficult to designate one form of Islam as the “rightful Islam” in a Western academic context. Depending on their culture, tradition, and values, different Muslims express their relationship with Islam in vastly different methods; for example, some Muslim groups in Tajikistan value music, such as the playing of the traditional Rabob instrument, as a reflection of their spirituality, while other groups in Iraq perceive it as a reflection of their worldly desires that hinders spirituality. Understanding this key concept that Muslim diversity results in multiple versions of Islam allows us to embrace the various types of Islam for our academic purposes rather than ridiculing one among others. While keeping this in mind, we are able to gain a better appreciation for the diversity in multisensory practices of Islam and a better understanding of the extent to which they reflect Muslim spirituality. 

 

Islam is an Aesthetic Experience

As a result of its various multisensory practices, Islam values experiences by accentuating the human being’s perception of sound, sight, and feeling. These senses are most effectively embodied by the reading, writing, and understanding of the Holy Qurana Divine text that is collectively valued throughout the Islamic world. 

When the Quran was initially revealed by Allah to the Prophet Muhammad through archangel Jibrail in 609 C.E., it was released verbally rather than textually. This was important for several reasons. For one thing, the verbal message of the Quran allowed it to be released in fragments rather than all at once in a textualized manner; given that human beings are not granted the ability to “bear all the truth at once,” this increased the value of each individual Quranic revelation and allowed believers to embrace Islam at a pace that tailored to their cognitive and spiritual capacity (Sells 3). The verbal revelation of the Quran also effectively demonstrated the credibility of the Prophet as the worldly representative of Allah’s message; in fact, he came to be known by his followers as the “Walking Quran.” However, the most important effect of the verbal revelation of the Quran was its emphasis on the sense of sound. The sound of the Quranic recitation attracted several people towards Islam due to its remarkable beauty and accessibility, as it did not require literacy to connect with the Divine message. Therefore, the spread of the Quran through sound reflected the inclusivity within Islam and fostered its diverse population of followers.  

After years of verbal revelation, the Quran became textualized, which allowed it to be experienced through an additional sense: sight. As Muslims throughout the Islamic world began textualizing the Quran, they sought to reflect the beauty of the Quranic message by producing it in calligraphy. This specific style of Quranic calligraphy varies among different Muslim regions as a result of their culture and language. In Arabic-speaking North Africa, for example, Quranic calligraphy is typically in maghribi script, which is notable for its thick and well-defined Arabic writing. Contrarily, in Persian-speaking Iran, Quranic calligraphy is commonly crafted in nasta’liq script, which is more complex and graceful than maghribi Arabic writing (Calligraphy Lecture PowerPoint). In addition to the calligraphic design of the text, Quranic book covers are typically designed with intricate patterns and shapes resembling the geometric designs in Islamic mosque architecture. These patterns not only please the eye for their extraordinary precision and aestheticism, but they also please the soul for their beautifying representation of the textualized Quran. 

While the auditory and visual artistic expressions of the Quran correspond to the perception of sound and sight in Islam, the understanding of the Quran enables one last sense: feeling. Indeed, the Quran is revered by all Muslims for its remarkable intricacy. As Professor Asani notes, decoding the Quran is like unveiling a wedding dress with thousands of layers. Containing 114 chapters of varying length, the Quran covers a broad range of themes, including prophetic stories, “vivid eschatology” known as the Day of Judgment, tawhid, “kindness to orphans, and social justice” (Quran Lecture PowerPoint). These topics are purposely presented in a complex, non-linear format, which attracts readers and encourages them to continuously seek a deeper meaning within the text, which will ultimately allow them to feel a greater sense of spirituality. Unlike a worldly sensation, the feeling that people get when listening to and understanding the Quran transcends physical senses and unlocks a sense of profound spiritual awareness; as Persian poet, Saa’di, proclaims, “Every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the sacred scripture once the soul has learnt to read” (Fundamental Concepts Lecture PowerPoint). This metaphorical feeling is what ultimately attracts Muslims to the Quran and demonstrates the significance of enhancing the scripture through sound and visual art. 

Part II: Resonating Themes in My Daily Life

As a result of being raised in Dearborn, Michigan, a city known for its large Arab American Muslim community, I have admittedly associated being Muslim with being Arab, as these were the only types of Muslims I interacted with back home. Given that Islam is embedded within culture, as a Lebanese American Muslim, I mostly identified with my fellow Lebanese Muslim family and friends, who spoke similar Arabic, went to the same Lebanese-majority mosques, shared the same values, and wore similar hijab styles. As a result, I have developed a relatively narrow lens of the diversity of Muslims throughout the Islamic world due to my limited interactions with non-Lebanese Muslims, especially those who are not Arab. In an effort to broaden my perspective, I took this course because I was interested in learning about the racial, ethnic, and sectarian diversity within the Islamic world through one often overlooked lens: aestheticism. In the beginning of this course, Professor Asani emphasized the power of aestheticism for its ability to “humanize” a group of people by allowing us to focus on our similarities (e.g. for art and beauty) rather than our differences. For example, our class examinations of Sufi Muslims in Turkey, Pakistan, and West Africa performing choreographed motions and repetitive chants introduced me to the unique, aesthetic practice of Sufi dhikr. Although these specific performances were new to me, the concept of dhikr resonates in my Lebanese community’s value for Arabic supplications and prayer beads (which we use to keep track of the number of phrases we say in praise of Allah). As a result of this similarity, I became intrigued by other forms of Sufi aestheticism, including poetic expression. Throughout this semester, we sampled several renowned Sufi poetic pieces, including my personal favorite, The Conference of the Birds, by Attar, which embeds several mystical stories within its main focus of depicting the journey that a flock of birds take towards finding the Simurgh, (metaphorical symbol of the Divine), who was ultimately within each of the birds all along. The Conference of the Birds is essentially an allegory of the Sufi mystical bid to experience the Divine in a worldly context, and as hinted by the plot twist of the epic, the Divine is often closer to us than we think! Another fascinating poetic piece we examined was the Mathnawi, an extended poem by Rumi that focuses on teaching Sufis how to develop a deep, genuine love for God in order to increase spirituality. One of our many guest speakers throughout the semester demonstrated the value of the Mathnawi epic in the context of Azerbaijani culture and its dependence on repetitive musical notes from the tar instrument to enhance the spiritual significance of the poem. By exploring the vast practices of Sufi spirituality in non-Arab contexts, I was able to highlight one particular characteristic that unites all Muslims, regardless of race, ethnicity, sectarianism, and culture: our deep love for Allah and continuous efforts to develop a closer connection towards Him. 

 

Part III: What You Should Gain From My Blog

Islam is Religiosity and Spirituality 

Often times, we tend to distinguish the term, spirituality, from religiosity in order to credit religious doctrine and scripture as the only legitimate aspects that define a religion. However, it is important to keep in mind that although religious doctrine, such as the Quran and Hadith, is incredibly important factor of Islam, spirituality plays an imperative role in shaping the religion as well. Without spirituality in Islam, religious practices such as prayer and Quranic recitation become robotic motions that lack an existential meaning. The role of spirituality in Islam is essentially to keep Muslims engaged in the religion. Hence, throughout the Islamic world, Muslims practice various types of spirituality, most often in the form of dhikr and textual and recitational literature. In an effort to demonstrate some of these projects, I have sampled a blend of religious and spiritual Islamic forms of aestheticism in my creative projects. In Project 1, I have included my personal interpretation of the Prophet Muhammad’s first Quranic revelation through the perspective of archangel Jibrail in the form of a journal entry. This project allowed me to creatively engage with my Islamic beliefs by developing my own spiritual meaning on an important event in Islamic history. For Project 2, I recited a ghazal—a famous type of Sufi poetry—titled, “Tonight,” by Agha Shahid Ali, which unconventionally introduces Sufi spirituality to Western culture as a result of its English form. In Project 4, I focused on capturing the significance of prayer as a religious practice and form of spiritual dhikr through a series of photographs showcasing the stages of prayer. Lastly, for project 5, I recited a religious and spiritually-significant Quranic verse, Ayat al Kursi, in its traditional styles of recitation (murattal and mujawwad) along with its English translation. In these projects (which are described in more detail below), I hope you understand just how important spirituality is along with religiosity in shaping Islamic piety.

 

Islam Promotes Social Justice

Throughout this semester, we examined one of the most tragic events in Islamic history: the “Karbala” Massacre of the Prophet Muhammad’s family, ahl alBayt—most notably Imam Husayn, the grandchild of the Prophet. The Massacre was initiated by the 30,000-membered army of corrupt ruler, Yazid, in response to Imam Husayn’s refusal to bow down to his oppressive reign. As the flag bearer of piety and righteousness, Imam Husayn defended the message of Islam along with his 72 soldiers on the day of Ashura, when they were brutally martyred. The Karbala massacre is widely commemorated by Muslims (mainly Shia) throughout the world as they remember Imam Husayn’s timeless emphasis on fighting for social justice no matter the cost. I address this massacre in an aesthetic format in Creative Project #3, where I am giving a live speech depicting the tragic aftermath of the event at a Ashura program in Dearborn. In this video, you will see me recite a passage from the nightly Tears For Karbala series in Dearborn, which serves to preserve the message and history of the Massacre. Through this project, I hope to dispel the contemporary media’s depiction of Islam as a religion of oppression and provide evidence to what Muslims actually stand for—social justice. 

 

Islam is Beautifully Diverse

After taking this course this semester, I now realize the importance of examining Islam through aestheticism. As a Muslim who previously overlooked the artistic elements within Islam, I now have a greater appreciation for its beauty, which is largely due to the various types of Muslims who have contributed to its multisensory aesthetics. I believe that showcasing Islamic diversity through aesthetic practices is necessary in order to steer away from contemporary media’s “single story” of Islam that portrays it as a violent religion. I hope that my blog posts, particularly Creative Project #6, where I demonstrate the diversity of hijab styles worn throughout the Muslim world, will offer you a holistic introduction to Islamic aestheticism, which will ultimately inform you about the diversity of Muslim spiritual practices. 

 

Thank you for visiting my page and please be sure to look into the captions of each post for more information about it!

 

Sources: 

Asani, Ali. “Calligraphy” Gened 1087, 12 Sept. 2019, Harvard College.

Asani, Ali. “Fundamental Concepts” Gened 1087, 5 Sept. 2019, Harvard College.

Asani, Ali. “Quran as Recited Word” Gened 1087, 10 Sept. 2019, Harvard College.

Asani, Ali. “The Mathnawi/Masnawi” Gened 1087, 5 Nov. 2019, Harvard College.

 

Creative Project 6 – Hijab As a Form of Expression, Not Oppression (Week 10)

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Our class discussions involving women’s roles in Islam have drawn substantial attention towards the subject of the hijab. Our discussions about the hijab have mostly been in reference to nations that require women to wear the hijab, such as Saudi Arabia, and literary pieces that associate the hijab with oppression, such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (Reform and Revival Movements Iran Lecture Powerpoint). However, by predominantly casting the hijab in a negative light, our discussions have undermined the tens of thousands of Muslim hijabi women that wear the hijab by choice⁠—and love it. For this project, my goal was to shed light on some of these women, whose perspectives are valuable in the sense that they provide a more holistic view of the hijab in the Muslim World.

Like other flag-bearers of their religion, such as Jewish men who wear the kippot and Roman Catholic nuns who wear the habit, Muslim women who wear the hijab are visual representatives of Islam; this is empowering in the sense that it reaffirms Islam’s reverence for women and one of their many roles in the religion.

Depending on the culture of the region, the hijab generally takes on many different styles, colors, and designs throughout the Muslim world. However, it is very much a personalized accessory; many Muslim women have adopted certain styles of the hijab they feel most authentically themselves in, while others opt for a range of styles that can be worn interchangeably. Although the hijab is essentially a religious garment, culture and identity contribute to its fashionable qualities and ultimately make it a part of Islam’s aesthetic characteristics.

In order to showcase the diversity of hijab styles worn throughout the Muslim world, my hijabi friends and I have provided short video tutorials for how we tie in aestheticism with our hijabs. In this way, I hope to share with you the message of the hijab that often gets overlooked; rather than being a form of oppression, the hijab is a form of expression.

Creative Project 5 – Recitation and Analysis of an English Ghazal (Week 9)

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Referred to as the “Love lyric,” the ghazal is undoubtedly one of the most aesthetically pleasing and spiritually enriching forms of poetic practice in the Islamic world. This style of poetry is distinguished by its several independent couplets and is known to be quite ambiguous, which encourages people to have unique interpretations that ultimately help them connect with the Divine. Throughout our discussions in lecture and examination of ghazals by renowned poets, Rumi and Faruqi, we learned that ghazals often incorporate symbols that “violate social norms and religious conventions” (Qawwali and Ghazal Lecture Powerpoint). For example, a popular motif in ghazal poetry is wine, which symbolizes the intoxicating love of the poet for the intended reader, otherwise known as the Beloved. When the Beloved directly represents the Divine, the love portrayed in the ghazal is called “ishq haqiqi” (true love for the Divine). When the Beloved represents a worldly figure, the love is called “ishq majazi” (metaphorical love); given that God is the Creator of all worldly matters, this type of love ultimately leads to ishq haqiqi.

Although ghazal poetry is most commonly prevalent in Sufi regions of Persia and South Asia, it has been introduced to Western culture by several poets, including Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American Muslim poet who excelled in English ghazals. For this project, I chose to recite one of Agha Shahid Ali’s famous ghazals titled, “Tonight.” This piece is particularly fascinating for its use of both traditional and reformational characteristics of the ghazal. The traditional aspects of this ghazal include its notoriously ambiguous couplets and use of a qafia (in this case, the  repetition of “tonight”). The erotic longing for love and sense of hopelessness shown in Ali’s “Tonight” can be interpreted in a worldly or spiritual context; in the former sense, Ali depicts a lost worldly connection (such as with a lover) while in the latter sense, Ali depicts a lost spiritual connection (such as with the Divine). In either case, “Tonight” is deeply symbolic and provides readers with a lens into both Islamic and Western religious conceptions.

I chose to recite this ghazal for its unconventional use of English. While some believe that English ghazal poetry reduces its authenticity as a result of “westernization,” English ghazals like “Tonight” bridge the Islamic world with the Western world and offer it an invaluable lens into the culture of Islamic poetry. In this way,“Tonight” enhances the value of ghazal poetry, as it makes it accessible to a Western audience who can subsequently develop a greater connection with the Islamic world on the basis of aestheticism.

Creative Project 4 – The Importance of the Nafs and the Dhikr of Prayer (Week 8)

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Throughout our discussions of Islamic spirituality and mysticism, we have focused on one particularly significant metaphorical barrier that threatens to hinder the connection with the Divine: the self ego. Commonly referred to as the nafs in Arabic, the barrier of the self ego is especially important to the spiritual practices within Sufi and Shia Islam. According to these belief systems’ traditions, there are three levels of the self ego: the commanding self (nafs ammara), the blaming self (nafs lawwama), and the soul at peace (nafs mutma’inna) (Marabout in West Africa⁠—Ahmadu Bamba Lecture Powerpoint). In the first and lowest stage, nafs ammara, souls are prompted to commit evil and ultimately stray away from God. In the second stage, nafs lawwama, the soul is inspired by the goodness of the heart and awakens the

conscience, or aql, which subsequently blames the soul for adhering to their ego. As a result, the soul begins to repent. In the third and highest stage, nafs mutma’inna, the soul has achieved its ideal ego of grounded faith and tranquility. In the context of Sufism, nafs mutma’inna frees the soul from worldly concerns and values (such as materialism) guides them to the true path of God, otherwise known as tariqah alhaqiqah (Marabout in West Africa⁠—Ahmadu Bamba Lecture Powerpoint).

Many Islamic practices are available to help Muslims elevate their nafs into nafs lawwama, and eventually nafs mutma’inna. These practices are collectively known as tazkiyah al-nafs (purification of the self ego). Tazkiyah al-nafs includes supplication (dua), and dhikr, the act of remembering Allah in daily life (Sufi Music and Dance Lecture Powerpoint). Depending on a Muslim’s sect and culture, dhikr is practiced in various ways throughout the world, including music, dance, and chanting; nonetheless, all practicing Muslims perform the same 5 instances of dhikr on a daily basis⁠—prayer.

In order to demonstrate one universally practiced form of dhikr (with respect to the Islamic world), I decided to model the motions of an Islamic prayer. I purposely set myself within a spiritual setting (notice the “Allah” plaque, quranic text, and Islamic bookshelf) to emphasize the attempt to seek an intimate connection with God through prayer. Through each motion, Muslims are expected to maintain dhikr by focusing exclusively on their current prayer to God. In one photograph, I model the required prostration in our prayers. Bowing down to Allah generates a sense of humility in Muslims that not only helps reduce their arrogant nafs, but also helps to elevate it towards lawwama and mutma’inna. Hence, prayer is an important Islamic pillar because it helps guide the nafs towards tariqah alhaqiqah.

Creative Project 3 – Tears For Karbala Recitation: A commemoratory narration of the aftermath of the Karbala Massacre (Week 5)

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https://youtu.be/pJYN5ZEbKP8

The massacre of the Prophet Muhammad’s family in Karbala is the primary historical event of Shia Islam that continues to define and influence its values. As we learned in lecture, the massacre in Karbala resulted in the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his 72 companions against the powerful Umayyad army of Yazid (“Postprophetic Authority 1 Shii Imams ⅓ Oct” Lecture Powerpoint). Essentially, the events at Karbala was the battle of two perpetually competing forces: “good and evil” (“Postprophetic Authority 1 Shii Imams ⅓ Oct” Lecture Powerpoint). Imam Hussein’s sacrificial resistance to the corrupt Umayyad power system represents the fundamental human value of social justice–that people should fight for the side of righteousness and virtue, no matter the worldly cost. Because this event took place on the 10th, or ashr, of the Islamic month, Muharram, the Karbala massacre is recognized as Ashura. Approximately 1400 years later, Muslims around the world continue to commemorate Ashura annually during the first 10 days of Muharram and 40 days after (the 40th day is called the Arbaeen). Throughout this period, Muslims commemorate the martyrdom and persecution of Prophet Muhammad’s family by performing several aesthetic practices. Among these are supplications known as ziyarat and devotional melodies known as latmiyat. In section, we examined other practices, including films and plays recreating the massacre, such as the Iranian Ta’ziyah (Chelkowski 1).

During the initial ten days of Muharram, one of the Shia organizations in Dearborn, Michigan host a series of immersive Ashura programs. Among many other facets, the programs include quran recitation, poetry, narrational tributes to Karbala, latmiyats (devotional songs for ahlul bayt), and of course, a religious lecture related to the significance of Ashura. These narrational tributes, otherwise known as “Tears For Karbala,” are nightly segments that give a detailed, multi-perspective depiction of Ashura; every night focuses on a particular martyr’s final scene or the family members of Imam Hussein who did not participate in the Battle. In this way, “Tears of Karbala” gives a holistic portrayal of Ashura and often initiates the flow of emotion within the audience during these nightly programs.

In my uploaded video, I am seen reciting the final scene of “Tears For Karbala” for a Ashura Program back in my home city, Dearborn. In this scene, I describe the aftermath of the Massacre, while focusing on Sayida Zainab’s perseverance, as she will have “many sleepless nights” assuming responsibility for the remaining family of Hussain. Like Imam Hussain, Sayida Zainab’s renown statement, ”I see nothing but beauty,” (Section Discussion Week 5) in response to Yazid’s tormenting reference to the Karbala Massacre ultimately demonstrated her enduring resistance against injustice—a theme so powerful that it resonates heavily in contemporary Shia ideology. 

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Creative Project 2 – The Recitation Styles of Ayat al-Kursi (Week 2)

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The Quran is undoubtedly the most important religious text in Islam. Muslims around the world approach the Quran with ultimate reverence and associate it with extraordinary beauty. All aspects of the Quran, including its meaning, calligraphic design, and sound contribute to the aestheticism of the scripture. In this piece, I focus primarily on the sound of the Quran and how different performance styles reflect the diversity in Islamic culture.

As we discussed in lecture, within the Islamic world, it is important to distinguish sound art from music (“The Quran: God’s Word and the Arts of Recitation” Lecture Powerpoint). Although Quranic performances typically resemble musical notes, Muslims categorize them as sound art, which has less of a secular connotation. Hence, Quran performers are known as reciters rather than singers.

For this project, I focus on a well-known Quranic verse, Ayat al-Kursi, in two main styles of recitation: murattal and mujawwad. Similar to surat al-Fatiha, Ayat al-Kursi is a memorable Quranic verse and is revisited by many Muslims on a daily basis. Known in English as the Throne Verse, Ayat al-Kursi is valued for its detailed description of Allah. As we learned in lecture, many of the ninety-nine names of Allah contradict each other; this of course is inevitable because the names are essentially a worldly attempt of defining the indescribable Divine. Because Ayat al-Kursi is a Quranic verse, in which Allah directly describes Himself, it is invaluable for Muslims seeking to develop a greater, authentic understanding of the Divine (“Fundamental Concepts (cont) 10 Sep” Lecture Powerpoint).

In Sound 1 of my uploaded file, I began by reciting Ayat al-Kursi in a beginner level murattal style.  This performance method focuses on the correct pronunciation and articulation of Quranic verses. The term, murattal, derives from the Arabic word, tartil, or “measure[ment]” (Sells 25). In this way, murattal is a universal form of recitation because its emphasis on clarity helps Muslims around the world understand the Arabic verses more easily.

In Sound 2, I recited the verse in a beginner level mujawwad style. This form of recitation focuses on the melodic performance of Quranic verses and typically varies by the reciter. Mujawwad derives from the Arabic word, tajwid, which literally translates to “embellish[ment]” (Sells 25). Similar to the murattal performance, the mujawwad recitation is controlled by traditional Quranic pronunciation rules. However, it places a much greater emphasis on individual style. By personalizing the sound of religious scripture, mujawwad recitation allows reciters to internalize the Quran and relay its message through aestheticism. Indeed, mujawwad performances emphasize the beautiful sound of the Quran and produce a “fascinating thrill…in the hearts and ears of its listeners,”–one that is so powerful it continues to attract new Muslims towards Islam (Kermani 44).

Although the aesthetic sound of the Quranic verse is sufficient to capture its beauty and significance, it is nonetheless important to understand its meaning. Therefore, in Sound 3, I have included an English translation of Ayat al-Kursi.

Creative Project 1- The Prophetic Revelation Through Jibrail’s Lens (Week 1)

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The First of the Last Revelation 

I am the gateway between the physical and metaphysical.

I have been sent down to this world several times to formally assign a leader for humankind. One who will connect humans with their Creator.

prophet.

By providing assistance to their revelations, I have helped guide the hundreds of thousands of prophets in different regions throughout history. While humankind clings to the legacies of these leaders, I am here today to send down one final prophetic revelation.

That revelation is Islam, and its prophet is Muhammad.

It is a chilly, serene night. The winds are cool and calm. I wait outside an elevated, enclosed space near the holy city of Mecca. Jabal an-Nour, 610 c.e.

I was thoroughly prepared for the events to come. He said it will change the course of mankind’s previous notion of spiritual transcendence. Of what it means to truly be muslim in this world. Verily, my Master is All-Knowing.

When I enter the cave, I am greeted by an influx of humility and virtuousness. He has been awaiting my presence. And so I begin by revealing to him the Divine message:

 

“O Muhammad! Read. 

Read in the Name of your Lord Who created, 

Created man from clots.

Read: And your Lord is The Most Honorable,

Who taught by the pen.

He taught man what he did not know…”

 

Indeed, he is receptive and embraces revelation. On this night, Muhammad has conveyed the most precious message, and soon he will relay it to the rest of the world: the Quran. All Glory to my Master, for He has chosen the perfect prophet to guide His followers toward Him!

 

I began with Adam.

 

I helped foster the prophecies of thousands more.

Abraham.

Moses.

Noah.

Jesus.

 

I now conclude with Muhammad.

 

There is no better candidate to end the lineage of the prophecy. He will carry the Quran of Allah and become the Messenger of Islam.

 

On this night and hereon after, Muhammad will guide mankind.

 

On this night and hereon after, Muhammad will guide mankind.

 

On this night and hereon after, Muhammad will guide mankind.

 

-Archangel Jibrail 

In the beginning of Islam, Allah sent Archangel Jibrail to deliver the first revelation to Muhammad. Through this Divine encounter, Muhammad was officially recognized as the final prophet among thousands who previously guided believers towards the path of Allah (Sells 5). Hence, the first revelation of the Prophet Muhammad is widely cherished throughout the Islamic world. Not only did this event initiate the development of Islam, but it simultaneously marked the first time in which a Quranic verse was released to the Prophet. Unlike previous Abrahamic texts, the Islamic scripture came from one, supreme source: Allah. Over the span of roughly 20 years, this scripture was released to the world through prophetic revelations.

In lecture, we learned that because the Quran was revealed in segments over a long period, quranization, or act of codifying the Quran, was a relatively delayed process. The Quran addresses the supposed inauthenticity of fragmented revelations by “suggest[ing] that human beings are not able to bear all the truth at once” (Sells 3). Nonetheless, the absence of written scripture by no means stunted the growth of Islam; in fact, it substantially contributed to the development of the religion, as people were attracted to the “Quranic experience” (“Fundamental Concepts 5 Sep” Lecture Powerpoint). Indeed, the notion of “experiencing” the Quran began with the Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, when he was instructed to recite Surat al-Alaq.

To emphasize its historical significance, I wrote a journal entry through the perspective of the angel who played a major role in this revelation: Jibrail. By relaying the Divine message to Muhammad, Jibrail anticipates the destined global impact of his prophecy as the representative of Allah’s final message: Islam. The Prophet’s collection of Quranic ensured that he could provide his followers with an authentic “divine-human relationship” (Sells 3). In this way, Muslims who experienced the Quran simultaneously experienced Allah.  Additionally, the Prophet’s internalization of the Quran effectively appealed to all types of people; because literacy was not a necessary factor to experience the Quran, the inclusivity of Islam is what allowed the religion to flourish under Muhammad’s guidance, who became known as the “Walking Quran” (“Quran as recited word, 10/12 Sep” Lecture Powerpoint). As the Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation fostered the spread and development of Islam, it essentially gave rise to the wide-scale diversity of Muslims (varying in race, ethnicity, and culture) who shape the religion today.

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