For the Love of God and His Prophet

Weblog for Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 54

Week 1 Response: United Islamic States of America

Filed under: photoshop — cspendleton at 12:06 pm on Monday, February 10, 2014

 

The first week of the course emphasized the cultural studies approach in both lecture and in the chapters from Professor Asani’s book Infidel of Love: Exploring Muslim Understandings of Islam. The cultural studies approach requires those using it to analyze how Islam is actually interpreted and practiced in different contexts by different people rather than by limiting oneself to the holy text itself. Asani argues that it is the community of believers that give meaning to a sacred text — not the other way around (Asani, Infidel of Love, 9-10). To further comment on the diversity from one community of believers to another, I wanted to make a creative response about an American community of believers — not the minority of Americans that are Muslim today, but a Muslim American community that comprised the majority of the population. To this end, I used Photoshop to replace the fifty stars representing the states with the (Sunni) shahadah, the testimony of faith. 

This image reflects two themes central to this course that were introduced this week. The first is a question: Whose Islam? Islam is not a monolithic faith in which Muslims are indistinguishable from each other in their beliefs. Instead, Islamic practices vary across time and place; there are as many “Islams” as there are Muslims. Despite sharing a common faith, a predominantly Muslim America would still look drastically different than other Muslim-majority countries. Ultimately, an American flag such as the one above does not tell us much about the values of this hypothetical country. This is the point of the cultural studies approach: recognizing and appreciating the diversity among various communities of believers.

The second theme is how we should look beyond solely the text of a religion to best understand it. In other words, we should examine how Islam is incorporated into a variety of different contexts, including cultural and political ones. We learned in this week’s readings that political regimes have used Islam as a tool to legitimatize their rule (Asani, “Who Is Muslim?” 27) – so if Americans were majority Muslim, it would not be surprising to see Islam mixed with nationalism and reflected in the flag. After all, American politicians have used Christianity in a number of public places to express the Christian majority’s commitment to religion, including the line “one nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” inscribed on coins. With other Muslim countries like Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia reflecting Islam on their flags, it would make sense for a Muslim-majority America to do so as well.

Overall, using the cultural studies approach forces us to recognize that an “Islamic” American flag tells us very little about what a Muslim-majority America would look like in terms how its values, laws, or cultural practices would differ from the majority Christian America today. Just as Islam varies greatly from Sudan to Iran to Indonesia, an “American” Islam would be sure to reflect distinctly American practices.