This blog is not only an evolution in understanding of the main themes of this course, AI54: For the Love of God and His Prophet, but also a dive into the the issues that have become important to me over the course of four years at Harvard. This blog gave me the opportunity to draw deeply for inspiration from my surroundings and to reflect on relationships I have built and will leave behind, on the learning that has changed how I view the world.
This is academic, yes, but also deeply personal.
The largest theme addressed throughout my posts is the role of cultural studies in understanding particular perspectives. Nothing, whether creation or interpretation, is ever made in isolation, and this approach ensures that the lofty academic theory that we interacted with throughout the semester didn’t lose touch with or appreciation for the mundane.
My initial attempts at posting on this blog tried to address this head on, taking the surface of culturally distinct mosques to make my point (“The Cultural Lens”). I cannot say that I succeeded in capturing the full breadth the cultural studies approach; despite the inclusion of buildings from major Islamic communities around the world, it lacked context. Were the colors used on the buildings common to the area, or were they purposely made to look distinct from their surroundings? Those are crucial questions, and in my haste to make a judgement about the culture I overlooked them.
I tried to resolve this misstep in my very last post on the blog, “Utopia”. This work is tackling the issue of context straight on, thinking about how the time and place we are in profoundly influences what we think is the most ideal. This broader understanding of why people think the way they do is especially important in issues like women’s rights, which ultimately have no objectively right answer and stem from deeply personal beliefs. In retrospect, this is an exercise in empathy, one that that can and should be replicated frequently and for many problems. We all are profoundly complex, and learning comes from sharing even just a few of those layers with each other.
I also tried to note how vastly different cultures and traditions can intersect in surprising ways. While I don’t study religion per say, there was knowledge that I’d acquired from various other classes and my upbringing that sometimes unexpectedly tied with the lesson on hand. The post “In Praise of Allah”, a short comic, tries to tie the Daoist notion of nothingness, wholeness, and the fluidity between the two with Islamic conceptions with God. While I’m sure theologians may have very specific objections to such a comparison (if my time in CB23: Hebrew Bible has taught me, it’s that religious scholars tend to nitpick), I think that trying to build these bridges is a worthy goal. Cultural transmission is a key component of building a tolerant, open society, and even unconventional ties can help support the idea that we all seek very similar things like fulfillment, love, and understanding.
The most interesting quirk of this blog was how there was no limit to the mediums. I made the choice to employ many is an homage to the wide variety of Islamic religious tradition, not to mention the quirks that will arise between thousands of different Muslim communities. Each has its beauty, from the dramatic, audience-driven performance of the taziyeh in Iraq to the rad rock music of the Coca-Cola Studios. The choice to be creative also forced me to consider my surroundings in new ways, which was, funnily enough, also a theme in this class. What things have symbolic value that we are simply not aware about? As my small collage in “A Creature of Mystery” shows, the creation of meaning can not only be prescribed by an authority like the Koran, or it can also be organically created via art and expression, something that we witness across the vast number of Islamic cultures.
I become most fascinated, I think, with the ideas behind mysticism and Sufism. There is something tantalizing not necessarily about the idea of “letting go” to find God, but doing so via ecstasy. This stands in stark contrast to what I generally think religion is, a pregnant reminder of what my assumptions are when it comes to topics like these. Here, though, the theme of politicization also took root. From the marabout in Senegal to the British committee on leveraging Sufism, there is a clear line drawn between power over the people and communal beliefs. This blog does not address these head on, but these undercurrents are present even when discussing seemingly phenomenon like street art in Senegal, as seen in “Marabout on the Street”.
Most importantly, though, this blog is the product of discovering the role art can have in my everyday life. People at Harvard hesitate to express ourselves outside what is commonly accepted, like talking about our extracurriculars, our jobs, our homework. What’s pushed to the side are the musings we have while embedded in such a dense, diverse space, the outcroppings of personality that we aren’t always entirely comfortable with displaying. In short, what’s missing is trust. We don’t believe that we are capable of creating, and we don’t trust other people to interpret what we make correctly. This blog is an important reminder of what art is. It is the chance to speak out, to question things. It is the chance to hear people out, to make a community. It is the freedom to take in brand new information with confidence that you will ultimately see things through your own eyes.
I’d like to thank Professor Asani and Ceyhun in the creation of the materials of this blog – while they were not directly involved in writing these posts, they were the main source of inspiration and information throughout the past semester. I’d also like to thank, oddly enough, Harvard; while I’ve doubted the Gen Ed program before, this class showed me that there is still room for creative growth in our curriculum.