Introductory Essay

Posted May 5th, 2014 by
Categories: Uncategorized

True Islamic Worship Meets Culture, Society, and Nationalism

                Islam, in its literal meaning, refers to submission to Allah, and a Muslim is one who submits to Allah. By these broad definitions, well-known Jewish and Christian figures like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus qualify as Muslims; indeed, they are deemed as prophets in Islam. Such understanding of the words “Islam” and “Muslim” highlight submission as the principal evidence of an individual’s encounter with the divine. Submission comes down to showing gratitude to Allah, the Creator, and worshiping Him while one is on earth. Worship, to the Muslim, is two-pronged: it is toward Allah (that is, ibadat), and it is toward fellow mankind (that is, muamalat). A good Muslim, therefore, submits to Allah by practicing the devotional life prescribed by the Qur’an and the hadiths (these are records of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and customs). Such devotional life involves elements that are directly set toward pleasing Allah and those that are set toward one’s social responsibilities. Since devotional life is based on exegesis of the Qur’an and the hadith, and exegesis is markedly influenced by culture, Islamic worship is noticeably subjected to the social and cultural contexts in which it is practiced. Further, Islamic worship comes into very frequent interaction with nationalism and culture, sometimes resulting in varying manifestations of Muslims’ devotional lives. My blog posts and creative works explore the influence of cultural and social contexts on the expression of “true” Islamic worship.

Islam started with the supposed revelation of the Holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel in the 7th century. From the angel’s first command iqra, urging Muhammad to recite after him, to the end of the twenty-three years long revelation of the sacred text, the aural, the oral, and the written experiences of the Qur’an have featured prominently in Muslims’ devotions. Children born to Muslim guardian(s) encounter the revelation very early in their upbringing. Ziauddin Sardar, author of Reading the Qur’an: the Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam, recalls being introduced to the Qur’an on his mother’s lap at age six, much later than many Muslim children have this experience (3). Thus, from childhood the Muslim is taught to revere the Qur’an, experience the text by both reading and listening, and to devote himself or herself to the life prescribed by the text. A “good” Muslim, as one who truly submits to Allah and observes “true” Islamic worship, makes the Qur’an a very regular fixture in his or her life. This may take the form of reading the text or listening to a recitation of the text. There is a particular emphasis on the aural experience of the text since it more closely resembles Muhammad’s experience of receiving the revelation. Indeed, when the Qur’an was first codified as a written text, reciters were sent in accompaniment with the text to ensure that Muslims had access to both the aural and written experiences.

Such emphasis on the aural experience of Islam’s sacred text naturally resulted in later discourses on how to most appropriately recite the text. Interpreting hadith records, the well-known al-Ghazali, in his The Recitation and Interpretation of the Qur’an: Al Ghazali’s Theory, identifies ten rules that may govern the correct way for a “good” Muslim to recite the Qur’an as an act of worship (34-55). These rules are captured in the poem in the second blog post, and they regulate the pace of recitation, the posture of the reciter, and the manipulation of the reciter’s voice. These external conditions on Qur’an recitation as “true” worship, however, take different forms when Muslims’ devotional lives meet with different socio-political and cultural contexts. Scholar Anne K. Rasmussen, in The Qur’an in Indonesian Public Life: the Public Project of Musical Oratory, notes that in Indonesia, unlike elsewhere on the globe, women are allowed to participate in public recitation of the Qur’an (30). Thus, an external condition that public recitation of Qur’an remains a male’s privilege is not upheld in the Indonesian community, where the usual concern about female reciters’ voices seducing male listeners does not prevail. Gender as a factor in Qur’an recitation is only one way in which Muslim devotional life meets a cultural context and is shaped by that context.

Among the Bertis of Sudan, the place of the Qur’an in Muslim devotional life is augmented by the practice of drinking erasures of Qur’an verses and lists of the names of Allah as a form of medication (El-Tom 415). This practice, though not unique to the Bertis, is arguably a product of the intersection between Islamic devotional life and orthodox pre-Islamic religious practices of the indigenous people. Abdullahi Osman El-Tom reports that about a tenth of the Berti populace train to become fakis, people who have supposedly memorized the entire Qur’an. The fakis are the figures who are endowed with the privilege to write Qur’an verses and the names of Allah as medicines for the people (415). Thus, among the Bertis the writing of the Qur’an and the names of Allah as worship assumes what is very likely a pre-existing cultural construct of treating a sacred text as a means for healing. The first blog post captures this cultural practice. The image, entitled “Once a Student of the Qur’an, Now a Master of the Text and a Healer by it too,” depicts a trained faki at his desk with a Qur’an and a concoction presumably made from washing of Qur’an verses. The concoction is to be administered to the ailing child in his mother’s arm. The image reminds its viewers of the influence of culture on Islamic tradition and practice in a Muslim community. Together with the previously discussed impact culture has on gender as a factor in public Qur’an recitation, the use of Qur’an verses as medicine in Sudan exemplifies the different expressions of “true” Muslim worship in different cultures.

Poetry as a form of “true” worship is yet another manifestation of Islamic devotional life that is very much influenced by cultural context. Islam, at its inception, came into conflict with poetry as an art form used in religious expression. The polytheistic society within which Muhammad was emerging as a religious figure used poetry as a common expression of its religious piety, and the Prophet was neither fond of the society’s polytheism nor its use of poetry in religious expression. But, this sentiment changed later in Muhammad’s lifetime when a previous dissentient, the poet K’ab ibn Zuhayr, wrote the ode Banat Su’ad in honor of the Prophet. Muhammad welcomed this poem, paving way for a continued practice of using poetry as a form worship in Islam. This evolution of Muhammad’s relationship with the Arabian poets is in itself an example of culture shaping Islamic devotional life when the two have intersected. Later Muslims have continued to use poetry in worship. Al-Busiri’s ode and the story of the Prophet acknowledging the poem in a dream and subsequently healing Busiri of paralysis are well-known in Muslim circles. Indeed, some Muslims copy the ode with added prayer requests as an expression of Islamic piety. Poetry in Islam is, however, not just a product of the Arabic culture in which Islam was birthed; it is also frequently shaped by the cultural context in which Islam is practiced. Ali Asani in his chapter, “In Praise of Muhammad: Sindhi and Urdu Poems,” recognizes that the Sindhi poems, which often celebrate Muhammad’s birth, mimic native poetic forms like wai and kafi (161). My second blog post follows in this theme of poetry in Islam; it is a poem that succinctly covers all ten external rules postulated by Al-Ghazali to govern Qur’an recitation.

Arguably, no expression of Islam most clearly demonstrates this use of poetry in devotion as is done by Sufism. Sufism – practiced by both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims – is founded on the belief that creation, since the day of alast, seeks to be united with its Creator again, and this unity can only be attained through overcoming one’s ego (that is, nefs). Sufi practices differ across different Sufi orders, but they often include whirling dances, qawwalis, and poetry. Ghazals are Sufi poems filled with sentiments of longing for a lover, much like the Sufi teaching that creation longs for Allah. My fourth blog post, though not an Urdu ghazal, is a reflection on a classic Sufi poem, Farid Attar’s The Conference of the Birds. In this epic, Attar explores the themes of denying one’s ego and pleasures and pursuing one’s Creator – two themes which are prominent in Sufi thought and devotional expression (35-51). The birds, under the inspiration and leadership of the mythical hoopoe, chose to renounce their pleasures – symbolic of humans’ egos – in order to be united with the legendary Simorgh, representative of Allah in Sufism. The practice of Sufism and the eminence of poetry in this expression of Islamic devotional life are captured in my fourth blog post, a cardboard cut-out of a bird standing on a mount of clay dough. The beautifully colored feathers of the bird, like the affections of the birds in Attar’s work and the nefs of humans, may serve as a hindrance to the bird’s pursuit of being unified with tis Creator. The cardboard cutout bird must therefore learn to detach itself from its beauty and pride if it is to be united with its Creator. The clay dough, being an earthly and perishable material, is symbolic of the sharia which is, to the Sufis, only an external manifestation of Islamic religious piety. Thus, sharia is a mount from which a Muslim launches to pursue the more spiritual manifestation of Islam. In essence, the place of poetry in Islam, and especially Sufism, is a result of an evolutionary process that was necessitated by the intersection between Islamic devotional manifestations and the Arabic culture in which the religion first appeared.

In Complaint and Answer, Muhammad Iqbal employs poetry as a mode of dialogue with the divine. Interestingly, this use of poetry is so well accepted by the divine that, even though the poet’s complaint can be deemed disrespectful toward Allah, heaven welcomes it. In the answer, Allah tells of the magic of poetry, poetry’s “power to soar on high,” and poetry’s holy origin (Iqbal 37). In using poetry as a form of prayer, Iqbal complains to Allah about the decline in the earthly success of Muslims (3-33). This decline, according to the poet, has come on the back of continued devoutness of Muslims; in effect, Allah had unfairly forsaken Muslims. The poet’s view of the seeming collapse of Islamic civilization is contained in the leftmost heart of my sixth blog post, a painting. That heart is white – much like the impeccable piety of the Muslims on whose behalf Iqbal complains – and it is pierced by a black arrow, representing Allah’s unjustified forsaking of Muslims. Allah chooses to respond to Iqbal’s complaint using poetry, a product of culture that is eminent in Islamic expression of devotion. Allah justifies the seeming neglect of the Muslims by calling to mind the corrosion of Islamic piety. Allah reminds Muslims of the devout fathers of the faith, mentioning such names as Ali, Uthman and Ghazali. More interesting, though, is Allah’s complaint that the Muslims have embraced the corrupting religions of other cultures; they have been lured by India’s idols, and “education and refinement” have brought them to accept idolatry (Iqbal 59). That is, to Allah, social and cultural contexts like education and other existing religions in India have corrupted “true” Islamic worship when devotion and culture have met. The rightmost heart of my painting in the sixth blog post captures Allah’s perspective on Iqbal’s complaint: the Muslims have a corrupted and darkened heart that has been pierced by Allah’s just judgment, represented by the white arrow.

Hitherto, we have observed intersections between “true” Muslim worship and cultural and social contexts. Much of this discourse – gender role in public Qur’an recitation, drinking washings of Qur’an verses, and poetry as a product of culture and a common fixture in Islamic devotion – has focused on ibadat, worship toward Allah. But, Islamic devotional life has a second leg, muamalat, which is social responsibility as worship. As one may expect, social responsibility as a dimension of religious piety comes into frequent intersections with social and cultural contexts, and these contexts may influence what becomes accepted as “true” Muslim worship. Now, we turn to look at two examples of these intersections: welfare of the needy in society and loyalty toward the nation-state.

The pillars of Islam, though varying between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, include the zakat, a responsibility toward all Muslims to be charitable to those who are needy in their societies. The intentions that donors carry when they fulfill zakat as part of manifesting Islamic piety have been prominent in many discourses. Senegalese author Aminata Sow Fall’s The Beggars’ Strike explores this discourse. In this story, the wealthy in Senegal had contemptuously approached the needy and given alms only as means of asking for more favor and wealth from Allah. The beggars, in response to the contempt, took leave of the city’s streets. A bureaucrat, with an instruction from a marabout, sought to show charity to the beggars, but the absence of the beggars on the streets resulted in the bureaucrat’s inability to observe his social responsibility. Consequently the bureaucrat failed on his aspiration for a political position. This essay will fail to resolve the conflict posited by Aminata’s novel, but we may consider a similar phenomenon that plays out in the discourse over the construction of mosques (that is, masjids). There remains the question: how much of resources should be channeled into construction of Muslim worship sites at the expense of directing these resources toward catering for society’s needy ones? The pencil sketch in my third blog post inflates this question by showing a beggar in front of a beautifully ornamented masjid. It may be supposed that this beggar has begged in front of the mosque for a long time, but his needs remain largely unmet because resources are instead used in maintaining the decoration of the mosque. Here, the context of social responsibility is poorly encompassed in Islamic piety. But, one can easily imagine instances when social enterprises like community centers in mosques have greatly enhanced the livelihood of members of a society.

In post-9/11 United States, the authenticity of Islamic devotional life has often been questioned, mostly by Americans who associate terrorism with jihad and Islam at large. Much of this questioning has found Muslim-Americans often with the responsibility to prove that their religion does not imply a cessation of their loyalty to the nation. Changez, the protagonist in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, though not-American, faced this conundrum in the wake of the bombing of the World Trade Center. For Changez, as for many Muslims in America, the situation that played out during the heightened socio-political struggle shortly after the tragedy resulted in depreciated appreciation for the United States. Such appearances like the hijab for women and the beards for men unfortunately became visible markers for “Arabs,” some of whom were assaulted by some Americans. Thus, in the midst of the political conflict, America encountered a meeting of Islamic worship expressions and a socio-political context of nationalism and loyalty to a nation-state. This intersection of “true” Islamic worship, arguably evidenced by the wearing of the hijab or the beard, and nationalism are explored by my fifth blog post. The pen-sketched image in the post shows a ubiquitous symbol of Islam, the star and crescent moon, colored in red, white, and blue – colors associated with the Unites States’ national flag. This depiction calls to question again whether or not one can demonstrate Islamic piety and yet remain loyal and true to a nation, particularly a non-Islamic one like the United States.

While adherents to a religious tradition may contend that the elements involved in their expression of religious piety are of divine and unbiasedly true origins, they will find it very challenging to divorce the implementation of these elements from cultural, social and political contexts. This remains especially true of Islamic devotional life. Exegesis of the Qur’an and the hadiths are influenced by social and cultural contexts. In Indonesia, for example, women are allowed to partake in public recitation of the Qur’an due to social acceptableness, but in much of the global Islamic community only men enjoy the privilege to recite the Qur’an publicly. A pre-existing culture very likely influenced the practice of using washings of Qur’an verses as medicine among Sudan’s Bertis. Similarly, poetry in Islam was arguably a product of devotion meeting an Arabic religious practice in the early years of Islam. Socio-economic factors remain strong features in discourses on zakat and welfare of the needy in Muslim communities, while heightened socio-political conflicts in post-9/11 America unfortunately sometimes constructed devotional expressions like the wearing of hijab or beard as markers of America’s enemies. These are only a sample of manifestations in which true Islamic worship meets society, culture, and nationalism, and my blog posts investigate such manifestations.

 

Works cited

Asani, Ali. “In Praise of Muhammad: Sindhu and Urdu Poems.” Religions of India in Practice. Ed. Donald S. Lopez. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995. 159-86. Print.

El-Tom, Abdullahi Osman. “Drinking the Koran: The Meaning of Koranic Verses in Berti Erasure.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 55.4 (1985): 414. Print.

Fall, Aminata S. The Beggars’ Strike. Trans. Dorothy S. Blair. London: Longman, 1981. Print.

Ghazzālī. The Recitation and Interpretation of the Qurʼān: Al-Ghazālī’s Theory. Trans. Muhammad Abul Quasem. Bangi, Malaysia: M.A. Quasem, 1979. Print.

Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. Print.

Iqbal, Muhammad. Complaint and Answer: Shikwa and Jawab-i-shikwa. Trans. A. J. Arberry. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1955. Print.

Rasmussen, Anne K. “The Qur’ân in Indonesian Daily Life: The Public Project of Musical Oratory”. Ethnomusicology 45.1 (2001): 30-57. JSTOR. Web. 02 May 2014.

Sardar, Ziauddin. Reading the Qur’an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

 

Blog Post 6, Complaint and Answer

Posted May 2nd, 2014 by
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AIU57 Blog Post Image _ God and man look at man's heart _ Complaint and Answer

 

What determines that Allah is in favor of one’s worship? To the early caliphs of Islam, from whom arose the authority figures of Sunni Islam, territorial expansion, remarkable constructions, etc., were evidences of Allah’s favor toward them. To the Shi’a Muslims, whose history has been characterized by martyrdom and political defeat, oppression, suffering, and martyrdom can be evidences of Allah’s favor of their worship. Muhammad Iqbal’s poem, Complaint and Answer, begins with the poet’s complaint that Allah has forsaken Muslims and favored non-Muslims by giving these non-Muslims economic, social, and political successes. Further, the poet complains that this disfavor from Allah has come on the back of remarkable Muslim piety and devotion. The leftmost heart in my painting captures the poet’s complaint by depicting a white heart – symbolic of true and remarkable Muslim piety – pierced with a black arrow – symbolic of disfavor from Allah.

Such complaint from the mortal poet may easily be seen as disrespect toward an immortal God; but, interestingly, God responds without punishing the poet and acknowledges that the use of poetry to complain was a welcome gesture. This is reflective of poetry’s role in Islamic devotion. God’s response turned the earlier complaint on its own head, with God reminding the Muslims that their hearts are neither pure nor white, and that it’s the devotion of their forefathers that they claim in suggesting that they have lived in submission to Allah. I depict this view of the Muslims’ heart by Allah as the black heart on the right side of the painting. The white arrow piercing the black heart shows that indeed, from Allah’s perspective, it is fair that Allah forsakes the disloyal Muslims. Between the two hearts in the painting is a mirror to show that the complainant and the respondent are both looking at the same heart; yet, they arrive at different views of the condition of the heart.

Blog Post 5, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Posted May 2nd, 2014 by
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AIU57 Blog Post Image _ Islam Meets America _ The Reluctant Fundamentalist

 

For much of the United States of America’s history, the nation has been characterized by strong Christian sentiments, those bore by the early European settlers of the land. But, with historic immigration of people from other nations, religions other than Christianity made way into the United States and found welcome venues across the nation. One of these religions, clearly, is Islam, a religion whose entry into the United States is (strongly) associated with the sack of the Spanish Moors in the 17th century and the later arrival of Muslim Africans as slaves in the newly founded nation. In spite of this early introduction of Islam to the United States, the religion largely remained a less recognized part of the nation’s social and cultural fabrics, arguably until the September 11, 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center by some radical Islamic terrorists. The results of this tragedy included Americans paying much closer attention to Islam and very unfortunately a significant portion of Americans doubting the patriotism of Muslim-Americans. Indeed, Muslim-Americans, and many who appeared to be Muslims, were met with my disdain in the wake of the tragedy.

The unfortunate aftermath of the 9/11 bombings are captured by Mohsin Hamid in his The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in which Changez, the protagonist, tells of the hatred he and other Arab-looking inhabitants of the US faced after 9/11. My creative work is a ubiquitous symbol of Islam pen-colored in red, white and blue – the colors of the US national flag. By depicting the US national colors, my artwork shows the intertwine between the United States’ history and Islamic influence while suggesting that indeed Muslims can be and are a loyal part of our nation. In Changez’s encounter with the American tourist in Pakistan, in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the former Princeton University student very early informs the American of his love for America. In that information is a voice of many Muslim-Americans, who still seek to tell America that they love the nation and are strong patriots of the nation.

Blog Post 4, based on The Conference of the Birds

Posted May 2nd, 2014 by
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AIU 57 Blog Post Image _ Conference of the Birds

 

Why should any person worship God? Is worship to be a means to escape eternal damnation or a means to satiate one’s own pleasures? According to 8th century Muslim, Rabia al-Adawiyya, worshipping God should be the for the sole purpose of honoring God, not for escaping eternal fire of hell or even meeting one’s pleasure needs. Worshiping God for the purpose of honoring God, according to Sufism, requires that the individual be united in a loving relationship with Allah through Sufi worship practices like singing qawwali or whirling dance. In these practices, the individual seeks to re-unite with Allah as in “the day of alast,” when creation responded to unite with and submit to Allah. Such themes as pursuit of an inner self, union with Allah, and journeying into another realm of being are explored by Farid al-Din Attar in his novel, The Conference of the Birds.

In The Conference of the Birds, a collection of birds renounce their many pleasures and hindrances to join the hoopoe in journeying to meet the king of all the birds, the mythical Simorgh. I capture one of these birds in my artwork, a cut out cardboard of a bird mounted on a clay dough stand. My bird has beautifully colored feathers – blue, green, and orange feathers – which could be reason for much pride and contentment with itself. In this fashion, my bird is much like the birds in Attar’s work, who had much to comfort themselves with and take pride in. But, like the birds in Attar’s novel, the bird in my artwork, if it seeks to really realize its inner self and be united with its Creator, must renounce the pride in its beautiful feathers and mount on worship practices that can recreate the day of alast. The clay dough mount is also symbolic of the shariah, which, though part of Islam, is only a ground for progressing toward the haqiqah, according to Sufism.

Blog post 3

Posted March 22nd, 2014 by
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The practice of Islam arguably comes down to two things: gratitude-motivated worship of Allah (ie. ibadat) and service works toward fellow humans (ie. mu’amalat). The well-known five pillars can be classified roughly under the two groups with shahadah, salat, sawm, and hajj under ibadat, and zakat under mu’amalat.

There remains a debate about the correctness of decorations in Islamic art and architecture, and one may contend that decorations of masjids, in that they capture the beauty of Allah’s creation and His infinite glory, are appropriate. But, others who have opposed the (excessive) decorations have called to question the unmet needs of the poor in Islamic communities. To these dissentients, the resources employed in decorations may be otherwise employed in charity toward the poor in the communities. My creative image for this blog post touches on the debate on decorations and response to the poor and needy.

In my sketch, I portray a beggar, with a maimed left hand, in front of a decorated masjid. The beggar is holding out his calabash, supposedly in pleading for some alms from Muslims who observe the zakat. One who is against overly decorating may quickly point to assisting the poor as better means to worship Allah than the decorations that are often associated with Islamic art. The concept of worshipping Allah by the giving of alms is one of the major themes of Aminata Sow Fall’s “The Beggar’s Strike.” In the reading, Aminata discusses the motives with which many Muslims give alms to the poor: for self-indulging blessings from Allah. My sketch reminds Muslims that in worshipping God, fellow men ought not be neglected, and on the way to the mosque, one must not miss the needy in front of the mosque.

Blog post 2

Posted March 22nd, 2014 by
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O Muslim, spend not thy day in repose alone,

But keep that Ancient Text by thee.

Let its words divinely revealed

Refresh thy soul all through thy days.

 

O Muslim, read not thy text in leisure,

But in standing at thy mosque recite its words.

Make no haste its pages to render,

Recite at pace that lends remembrance.

 

O Muslim, pass not thy week without reciting,

But in reciting the whole, mark thy week.

Write its words upon thy tablets,

Fret not the dots and marks to use.

 

O Muslim, race not through thy recitation,

But in slowness render each word.

And without some tears complete not thy reading,

Or else force thyself to weep.

 

O Muslim, neglect not thy prostration,

But in every stance comply with the text.

Before you read, request His protection,

Lest poor Satan on thee attends.

 

O Muslim, recite to thy hearing,

But be careful others are hearing.

Let thy voice adorn the text,

Yet stretch thy voice without excesses.

 

Islam started in the days of Prophet Muhammad with an interesting relationship between the prophet and poets. Zuhair opposed the prophet until the turn of events, when the poet’s ode in honor of the prophet was well received by the prophet. Many Muslims continue to explore poetry as one of the ways to demonstrate Islamic piety, be it in the marriage-themed Hindu poems in honor of the prophet or in copying over Busiri’s Burda with supplemental requests to be met with Allah’s blessing. My creative exercise for the second blog post employs this tradition of poetry. My poem attempts to capture another ubiquitous demonstration of Islamic piety: recitation of the Qur’an.

The first word of the Qur’an revealed to Prophet Muhammad was “iqra,” commanding the prophet to recite after the angel. In many Islamic communities, it is not uncommon for the inhabitants to listen to recitations of the Qur’an on the radio; indeed, in some communities like Indonesia there is an appreciation of the recitation of the Qur’an as an art form, but all Muslims understand that both the oral and aural experiences of the Qur’an are more than mere art forms, as it’s discussed in Kristina Nelson’s work. In light of this appreciation of the aural experience of the text as beyond art, there have emerged rules – mostly based on the prophetic sunnah and hadith – to characterize the appropriate ways for reciting the Qur’an. One prominent voice is these set of rules is Al-Ghazali, whose piece from section discussed the 10 rules that must guide recitation of the Qur’an.

My poem poetically entreats Muslims to appreciate and appropriate the 10 rules of Qur’an recitation from the Al-Ghazali reading. The first stanza of the poem urges the Muslims to appreciate the holy writ. The next five stanzas contain two of the 10 rules each in the order that was discussed by Al-Ghazali. The second stanza tells Muslims to recite in the mosque and in proportions of the text that allow remembrance and meditation on the text. The third, fourth and fifth stanzas implore Muslims to read the text often, at the appropriate pace, and in weeping. The last stanza deals with the voice with which to recite; some communities of interpretation like the Wahhabis oppose excessive adornment of the recitation while other communities appreciate the beauty of the voice used in reciting the text. Al-Ghazali’s stance, as is captured by the poem, is to avoid excessive adornment of the recitation.

Blog post 1

Posted March 22nd, 2014 by
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AIU54 Blog Post 1 Image 001

This image explores the central role occupied by the Qur’an in Islamic piety, whether in upbringing of Muslim children or in culturally motivated uses of the supposed holy writ. In Ziauddin Saddar’s reading from the first discussion section, he recalls his early exposure to the text that was revealed to Muhammad for the following of all Muslims. Ziauddin’s mother would read the text to him while the six-year old lad sat on his mother’s lap. Interesting enough, Ziauddin suggests that six years was too late for him to have been introduced to the central activity of reading and listening to recitation of the Qur’an. In my image, I show a baby in his mother’s arms, supposedly much younger than six years old. The baby, as it is the case for many other people, is exposed to Qur’an recitation by being brought into office of a hafiz – one socially recognized as a guardian of the Qur’an.  The title of the sketch, “Once a Student of the Qur’an, Now a Master of the Text and a Healer by it too,” captures the fact that the hafiz himself was once a student in his mother’s arm but has grown into a reliable guard of the text.

Beside the young man in the image is a jar containing a concoction, which is intended to be a medication synthesized from dissolving writings of Qur’anic verses. The man could be one of the Sudanese traditional healers in Abdullahi Osman El-Tom’s piece from the first set of section readings. In the reading, Abdullahi explores a cultural healing practice prevalent among the Muslims of Sudan. The practice involves writing verses from the Qur’an (ie. ayah) on slates and using the washings of the writings as medication in hope that the Qur’anic verses have the potency to heal. My sketch captures this practice by showing the concoction on the desk of the hafiz; possibly, this concoction was to be administered in healing the baby in the mother’s arms. Muslims’ religious piety revolves around the revelation of the Qur’an, and this revelation is introduced to children in Islamic communities very early in their developments; this introduction may take the form of parents’ recitation of the text to the children, or even the child’s drinking of the text as medicine.

Hello world!

Posted March 22nd, 2014 by
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