Archive for March, 2014

“Hussein’s Martyrdom,” Week 5: Theology through Drama

Shi’i ritual involves commemorating and participating in the suffering of the Shia Imams who are the physical descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through Ali and Fatima. The “t” shape of this image I edited stands for “taziyeh,” which is a ritual drama depicting the siege at Karbala. The nucleus of the taziyeh, as emphasized by Chelkowski, is the heroic martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet. The image of the man in the “t” above comes from one of Chelkowski’s pictures of a man playing Hussein in an actual taziyeh performed in Iran. Hussein is preparing to confront death in order to save all believers. Therefore, the “t” is also meant to represent a cross, relating Hussein’s death to the crucifixion of Jesus whose life was sacrificed on behalf of all believers in God. So here we see a similarity in the interpretation and conceptualization of death as something sacred and prized for those who have followed a path of righteousness; thus, we draw a parallel between Christian and Shi’i tradition which interpret events of violence and suffering in terms of redemption and voluntary sacrifice.

“Digressions or Guriz were introduced to extend the scope of the Ta’ziyeh and to add variety and secular detail. These were based on episodes from Biblical or Koranic stories, and from national legend and tradition. Spectators were led to identify their own sufferings with those of these lesser heroes. For women especially, they served as a wound-healing agent, for the point was always made that all suffering was slight when compared to that of the victims of Kerbela.” –Peter Chelkowski, Taziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran.

Taziyeh, in fact, means expressions of sympathy, mourning and consolation. In seeing the brutal suffering of the most righteous, those being the Imams and specifically Hussein, spectators are led to sympathize with and mourn for them. Suffering and death of the martyrs of Karbala were instruments of redemption for all believers. Participation in taziyeh dramas, whether as an actor or an audience member, was an aid to salvation as Shi’ites believed that participants would gain Hussein’s intercession on the day of the Last Judgement. Thus taziyeh involves dynamic interaction between actors and the audience; the purity of this interaction is based on their common humanity and creates an inner harmony.

Published in:Uncategorized |on March 24th, 2014 |No Comments »

“A Celestial Ascent,” Week 4: Devotion to Prophet Muhammad

This abstract portrait, which I created out of construction paper, symbolizes the story of the mi’raj and isra’, or the Prophet’s “celestial ascent” and “night journey.” On this night, Muhammad travels with his servant from the sacred mosque to the farthest sanctuary, identified as the Dome of the Rock, atop a mystical creature called the Buraq. Through this journey, Muhammad ascends into the seven levels of heaven, meeting different prophets at each level and then God at the final level. The seven different layers of colors in my portrait represent these seven levels of heaven, with the first level being at the bottom (pink) and the last level at the top (white). The colors closely correlate with the characteristics of each level of heaven as mentioned by Knappert. For example, in the second heaven, the angel Kasim has a task to provide all creatures on earth with their sustenance; this is represented by the color green. The third heaven is made of copper (illustrated as orange), the fourth heaven is made of silver (ill. as blue), the fifth heaven is made of gold (ill. as golden-brown), the sixth heaven is made of rubies (ill. as red), and the seventh heaven is made of diamonds (ill. as white).

Different interpretations of the mi’raj and isra’ have indicated much speculation on the mystical or spiritual status of the Prophet Muhammad. The central element to the story of his celestial ascent, however, is a consistent element across most art and poetry venerating Prophet Muhammad, which is nur Muhammad or “light of Muhammad.” The light of Prophethood was primordial, transmitted through all prophets beginning with Adam. The prophetic Light finds its full expression in the historical Muhammad, who is depicted as a lamp in my portrait (the yellow squares) ascending through the seven levels of heaven. Muhammad is hence a guiding light both from and to God.

Published in:Uncategorized |on March 24th, 2014 |No Comments »

“The Noble Drink,” Week 2: Constructions of Islam

Our discussion during week 2 centered around the Qur’an and its influence on the construction of Islamic beliefs and traditions. Sardar mentions that the Qur’an, or the Holy Book, is often referred to as the “Noble Reading.” The majesty of reading the Qur’an lies in the deep internalization of the words, which El-Tom talks about in the reading Drinking the Koran. He claims that the highest form of the possession of the Qur’an is through memory whereby the words are internalized through the head and provide you with wisdom. By memorizing the Qur’an, you’re taking the sacred text and making it a part of yourself. Similar to communion in church, it’s as if you’re communing with the Divine and is thus an act of purification and centralization.

In addition to the figurative ‘drinking of the Qur’an’ through memorization, the Qur’an can also be internalized through the body by being drunk. The Berti do this through erasures, in which they drink the water washed off of a wooden slate that had written text of Koranic verses made of ink. This type of literal internalization of the Qur’an is believed to bring spiritual healing to the body as erasure was thought to cure diseases, protect against specific malevolent forces and to enable the consumer to achieve various desirable goals.

My drawing is thus a representation of the internalization, both figurative and literal, of the Qur’an. Engraved in the mug is the word “Noble,” showing that this is a drink meant to symbolize the Qur’an, or Noble Reading, itself. Written into the liquid that is pouring out of the mug are the words, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful.” Each erasure writing starts off with this line, which is frequently uttered to ensure blessings and ward off malevolent influences. So by drinking the liquid of the “Noble Drink” from this mug, you are internalizing the power of the Divine.

Published in:Uncategorized |on March 24th, 2014 |No Comments »