Rumi’s Elephant

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In the introduction of Jasmine and Stars, Fatemeh Keshavarz references Rumi’s story about the people identifying an elephant as various other things because it is dark and they cannot fully see the whole animal. This story is meant to reflect the idea that often we only look at one narrow perspective of something and fail to miss the big picture. I am in complete agreement with that. The world is vast, and yes, perspectives are often skewed because people look too closely at one view of things without recognizing that there are other parts of life. But, in some ways, I am confused by this metaphor. It seems to me that Rumi is saying it is indeed possible to see the whole elephant, as long as you turn the lights on (or the sun rises… essentially there just has to be light). However, it seems that Fatemeh Keshavarz is saying that we never can fully switch on the light in understanding another culture or religion. Yes, I know that I am not fully conscious of everything that goes on, and I am not claiming that I could ever understand every perspective of every person on Earth. That would be irrational and unrealistic. In some ways, though, I feel like her perspective is a bit defeatist and could be interpreted by others (in fact, has been interpreted by others) to mean that we should even try. I am not using this space to counter Fatemeh Keshavarz or tell Rumi that his story isn’t all-encompassing. Rather, I just want a put in a plug for people who try. I want to shine a little bit of light on the people, like my colleagues and professor in Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literatures, who try to make their candle brighter and see more of the elephant. It is, in a literal sense, impossible to truly understand the entire elephant. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. We must educate ourselves to learn more about the world around us, and we shouldn’t be told that trying is worthless. We should be embraced by the world because we are really trying. We are working as hard as we can to see more of the elephant, and we should be acknowledged for that. By telling others that they can never fully understand us, we aren’t telling a lie, but we are also being insensitive to the fact that they are attempting to understand.

 

For this piece, I created Rumi’s elephant, as it is described by all of the people who touch the elephant’s different parts. Thus, the ears are fans, the tail is like a snake, the trunk is a big pipe, the legs are like pillars or trees, and the back is like a throne. I creates this piece with paper scraps, a piece of birch bark, some ribbon, and foil. I used these elements to bring Rumi’s imagined elephant into existence—each scrap of perspective pieced together into a whole elephant.

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