Throughout the course the cultural approach has been highly emphasized and is highly prevalent in each week of material. The material is very diverse, spanning different time periods, different civilizations and societies, and different cultural means. It compares, contrasts, and intertwines music to art to architecture to poetry to literature to religion and everything in between. I think my blog does a good job at representing many different aspects of Muslim culture, and I think it is important that outsiders do not think of the word “Muslim” and have the same stereotypical single image in their head. Beyond that, I think it is important to think critically about different materials in order to see why they are so important as a representation of Muslim culture. Whether that means visualizing a text, seeing the irony in something, understanding a debate, or simply appreciating something for its beauty, dialogue is important and it can astronomically change the way someone views topic.
My blog posts, although of different media, have a unifying idea of how I approached them. I wanted to have fun in the sense that I wanted to let my creativity take over. I also enjoyed seeing the critical sides to the religion because responding well to criticism only strengthens the mission of the religion, person, or thing. Some of my blog posts emulate what I read, others criticize it or play with the criticisms within it, and still others do both. They definitely all answer to themes in the course and I want to display my creative reaction to the reader in addition to showing the importance of the actual source material.
My Sindhi Maulud was approached as an attempt to emulate the Maulud. Poetry is so ubiquitous in the Muslim world as it is, I would argue, the most respected form of art. Poets are considered the ultimate artists and even entertainers. For me this was a little difficult to wrap my head around at first because while I love and appreciate poetry, I felt like other art forms could be much stronger and louder and did not understand why poetry was so sacred. Music is so beautiful, and visual arts are so colorful and emotive. Centuries ago, I realized, poetry was the easiest was to transport a message and ensure it reached the widest audience. Additionally, writing is the most sacred form of art because God revealed the truth to the world in words, which are transcribed into writing. I also realized that Arabic is an absolutely beautiful looking script, much more so than English. Other languages with much Muslim literature such as Urdu and Persian also have their own charm. In conclusion, writing is just the most beautiful, sacred and easily accessible form of art, and this is emphasized all throughout the course, as every language and culture has its own beautiful poetry and prose. Therefore my attempt to write a Sindhi Maulud was a very humble one, knowing that it is almost impossible for anyone to match up with the great poets of the past. The most I could do was imitate style and incorporate appropriate themes.
My Complaint and Answer entry made a similar attempt. Although in this daring attempt to imitate Iqbal I was trying to incorporate more of myself into the piece rather than do a mere imitation. After all, the answer had already been done! I wanted to play around with it and be a bit more bold and brash. It was a slightly more aggressive response. Not only was the original a beautiful piece of poetry, but it was also drastically new territory and borderline questionable as it can be interpreted as an affront to God (The Answer portion I think saved it from further disapproval). The world “muslim” literally means “one who submits.” I think there is definitely less room in Muslim culture to question the religion because of stricter guidelines and expectations of behavior. In some parts of the world it is illegal to even speak ill of the Qu’ran. For this reason I think Iqbal’s poem is extremely important and texts like this are essential for the religion to thrive. To ask questions and think critically about the religion prompts deeper thought about it. Rather than follow mindlessly a person can be engaged actively in what they believe and in this way not only confront the criticisms, but point out all the positive aspects, thus confirming and strengthening their belief. Like writing a good persuasive essay, it is more effective to recognize the opposing argument and shut it down in a rational process, thus legitimizing your own argument.
Something I saw a lot in the course, while not exactly a theme, though in my opinion just as important as one, is the different interpretations of things. This is to be expected with such a large geographical and cultural expanse of Islam, but even within a culture it is interesting to see how variations in cultural and religious things exist, and how they evolve over time. I wanted to show this on the blog. I chose to do the Ta’ziyeh entry in such a way because the most absurd thing that caught my attention when learning about it was the fact that Shimr was often played as a complete fool. This was contrary to the typical Ta’ziyeh acting because the whole point of the “play” was that it was an enactment and therefore made as real as possible so the audience could feel like they were there on the field with Hussein. So I decided I wanted to make a visual statement of how ridiculous this was by making my own colorful visual with my primitive painting skills. Not only was this a funny little commentary but I think it can also start conversation of the different instances throughout Islam and throughout the course where we see different interpretation. The religion itself is interpreted in many different ways. Not only are there Sunni and Shia Islam, but there is also Sufism, other smaller denominations, and of course extreme fundamentalism. There is also the Islam of Senegal, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India, and so on. It would even be more accurate to list them by tribe rather than by country, which is of arbitrary imperial origin. If two people can look at the same sacred text and take away completely different messages, then there is definitely endless possibilities of interpretation in Islam, and I think my blog post barely even begin to touch the surface.
In my Beggar’s Strike entry, I similarly wanted to make a point about different interpretations by comically pointing out how people do not always appreciate the things they should. The city proves to be quite selfish, as they only give out of self-interest. The decree from the vice president is basically a showering of gifts to plead for the beggars to return to the city. On a larger scale it is no secret the opinion that most people have about the homeless. Even for those who do not participate in Zakat, their attitudes are often selfish because they feel beggar’s are lazy and do not deserve help. With a different point of view they might see the unfortunately difficult situation that put someone into poverty in the first place. Seeing as it is one of the five Pillars of Islam, I thought it was an extremely important message not just for Muslims but for everyone, and might inspire people to think twice when they are quick to judge. Maybe they can imagine an upside-down world where they need the homeless in order to survive.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist entry was a more serious look at the topic. Although I am naturally biased to view any form of fundamentalism as negative or extreme, this book opened my eyes to new possibilities and started to break down that bias. While I agree that Changez’s initial reaction to the 9/11 attacks was quite disturbing, as I grew with him I felt like I could empathize with him, although I could not completely understand him. I see how just because of slight changes in behavior, such as wearing a beard, he was unfairly labeled as a “fundamentalist” by the people who hurled insults at him for being “Arab” and a “terrorist.” I think to some degree he is a fundamentalist, but again it is all about interpretation. My collage asks the viewer to ask themselves how they interpret things by questioning the labels they would normally mindlessly apply to things, the biggest one of all being “fundamentalism.”
Moving on, I was absolutely fascinated when I learned of the history of Iran. Many countries Westernize as they develop and Iran was no exception, except when it did a complete 180 degree turn and became completely anti-Westernization. I wanted to immortalize the image of young Marji innocently in her Veil, denim jacket and Michael Jackson pin, smiling. I wanted the blog viewer to see it for what it was, a young girl who did nothing wrong. Persepolis is a very unique artistic text, but he themes of Western fear, modesty, extremism, and suffering for one’s beliefs are ever present in other texts and are constant hot topics of debate, especially in an ever modernizing world where people are questioning what kind of modesty is really necessary and how important is anti-Westernization.
Ultimately I think the issues presented in the class through the immensely thorough cultural approach are extremely complex and have no definitive solutions in the near future, but I hope that my blog can continue the dialogue. If people find problems or disapprove with certain aspects of my entries, all the better. It means that I have accomplished part of my goal. As the viewer goes through the blog, they can ask what aspects of Islam are in each post, are they controversial, is a point made, can a counterpoint be made, and what are the positive or educational lessons in them? I personally absolutely loved learning about Islam and have a deeper respect for it as a leading world religion and as a religion of peace, but I think the best thing I can give back is a platform for further discourse, so have at it!
The Reluctant Fundamentalist explored a very controversial theme and raised very important questions that are quite reasonable, despite their extreme sounding nature. Changez owes a lot to America as it is where he received his education and was able to attain a high paying job. But how is he reasonably expected to react when America attacks all that is sacred to him, even if it is after a tragic event like 9/11. How can his sickening smile at the news be explained? Is he a fundamentalist? It seems he might be, but there are too many negative connotations that go with the word. For that, I think the title is extremely fitting. I decided to make a collage to explore the major themes and also to question basic beliefs that are accepted as truth and the beliefs that, as Americans, we are expected to hold while reading such a book. What is so revolutionary about it is that it shows us that you don’t have to be extremist or anti-American to understand Changez’s point of view or to understand that it’s reasonable to have certain reactions that are not the norm. Changez is forced to be honest with himself about his feelings on 9/11. He has to decide where his home lies and where his heart lies, what being American means to him and if he believes he owes anything to the country. Only a self-exploration this drastic can result in him giving up everything he has worked for in a country to return to another. Changez does not necessarily want to be a fundamentalist because of the connotations, but he realizes that he is seen that way by others and that he has reason to be, and that his feelings of frustration are acceptable and real.
After reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi I reflected on the unfairness and misfortune of children who are born into violent circumstances. They are just as innocent and pure as other children but are forced to grow up much quicker. Little Marji grows up before and during the Iranian Revolution. She is a carefree girl with a loving family, but must face a sobering reality at the start of the revolution. To her, the changes she must make do not make sense as they do not seem particularly important to her. She must start wearing a veil. The entire country has become more conservative in its quest to disassociate from all things Western and American. Marji, however, is still the same little girl she was before. She still likes Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden and western clothing. I chose to do a charcoal drawing of Marji smiling wearing her veil with her denim jacket and a Michael Jackson pin (I used the book as my artistic skills are limited) because it struck me as innocent and beautiful. She takes simple pleasures out of things such as wearing a denim jacket, but also complies while wearing the veil. Most people at this time would not dare wear anything western, but Marji, not knowing any better, wears what she knows and loves. This clash of civilizations seen in the clothing of one girl seems like a wonderful display of cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence. I want to applaud Marji for her stylish and culturally respectful choices, which is why it is so sad that she is chastised by teachers and others for her dress. It is a sad reminder of the fear held by many Muslim countries of the West overtaking them. Instead of putting all focus on areas that are actually of concern, such as the oil industry, many lives had to be ruined because of petty cultural things like a denim jacket.
Complaint and Answer struck me for a few reasons. It seems that Iqbal wrote the Complaint in a very whiny, but still respectful way. Muslims are basically giving God a list of reasons why they have done everything He ever wanted them to do, and yet they suffer as other societies thrive. The writing is done in the least offensive way possible as to not anger God, but it still communicates disappointment in God’s decisions. I thought the Answer was done very eloquently. It gave a rational, reasonable explanation while simultaneously scolding them for expecting so much when other civilizations have displayed more muslim characteristics than the actual Muslims have. I thought it might be fun and interesting to compose my own answers to a couple of the complaints, so I chose two of Iqbal’s pages and wrote verse by verse responses, imagining God’s reaction to each plea, instead of an overall reponse to the whole Complaint. I then juxtaposed them for added effect. I’d like to think my responses are a little more emotional than God’s actual responses. I also kept in mind that this is an important dialogue because it is so unique and slightly controversial, and yet the topic was and is a real issue that is on the mind of a lot of people. Complaint and Answer gives people an opportunity to see their frustrations actually written in a public way, and they get to reflect on the Answer to make sense of these frustrations and possibly understand why things are not always one sided and why things do not always have to work out in one’s favor.
I, Toumane Sane, Vice-President of the Republic, hereby declare, from this day forward and effective immediately, that all of the city’s beggars- the poor, homeless, impaired, ill, tabilés, bàttu, are unconditionally welcomed into the city to live in peace. Transportation will be provided from wherever they may now reside in the outskirts of the city. Construction shall begin today on comfortable homes for the beggars, that they may have a place to rest their heads at the end of the day. These homes shall include bedrooms, kitchens, sitting rooms, restrooms, and housemaids to cook and clean. Food will always be in abundance, as well as clothing and supplies. The homes shall be well maintained. Furthermore, all beggars are to be treated with respect by all citizens. Violations of this law will be considered a crime and punished as such. Donations of insignificant amount (such as handfuls of rice or single francs) are considered an insult and are not to be accepted by any beggars, as this is below their dignity. All donations must be made in significant amounts or contributions will be accepted for the construction and maintenance of the new homes. Clothing and household items will also be accepted and are encouraged. These donations make up part of Zakat but are also encouraged outside of Zakat as acts of kindness.
In exchange for the new policies enacted in this decree, the city asks nothing more from the beggars but that they please remain visible on the streets at the traditional and expected begging locations for at least a small portion of each day, and that they please accept any and all gifts that are offered to them by the good people of this city.
That is all.
I was inspired to write this decree following the surprising and comedic turn of events in The Beggar’s Strike where the unnamed African city is successful at expelling the “unattractive” beggars from their city to make it look cleaner, but when it is time to do their duty as good Muslims and give alms to the poor, there is no one close by to give alms to. This especially affects Mour Ndiaye, whose job it was to rid the streets of the beggars but whose promotion to vice president of the republic depends on the giving of alms to the beggars in their usual location on the streets. He is not the only one affected. The people line up in the outskirts of the city to donate. I imagine that this would eventually become such a problem and inconvenience that the beggars would eventually be asked back. However, they would have no reason to go back because they were treated quite poorly in the city and receive more gifts now that they are out of the city and in “high demand.” They would need a real incentive to return to their posts. Because they naturally receive Zakat anyway, the administration has decided to channel that into a highly organized effort to make the beggar’s as comfortable as possible in the city, as well as giving them more respect. Because they ironically have no other incentive to help the poor other than needing to help the poor for Zakat, all they ask the beggars in exchange for helping them is to let them help them. I think this starts a good discussion of why people give. People are not really selfless, as discovered in the story. They give out of self-interest and self-preservation. The beggars are part of the means through which they find God. Therefore the beggars are more important than they seem.
This is a painting I did in an art program. It is an interpretation of the Ta’ziyeh. It is supposed to look as ridiculous as possible, and I will explain why. In reading about the Ta’ziyeh, or passion play about the death of Muhammad’s grandson Hussain at the hands of Shimr, leader of Yazid’s army, I learned about how the acting out of the play has changed over centuries. The Ta’ziyeh is not meant to be just a performance, but an enactment of that fateful day, one where the audience feels like they are really there with Hussein. Recently, the Ta’ziyeh has become more and more realistic, with better lines, acting, and music. It was not always that way. Specifically the representation of Shimr has changed quite a bit. As the antagonist and Hussein’s killer, he is not a popular character for the audience or for the actor that plays him. Actors tend to exacerbate his negative qualities to elevate the image of Hussein. They gave unrealistic performances of Shimr being extremely incompetent, silly, lazy, and stupid, giving the audience more to jeer about. They depicted him drinking wine and even being an infidel. The actors themselves wanted to act out Shimr in the worst way possible, distancing their own personal beliefs from this absurdly clownish character. This absurdly clownish character inspired me to literally paint Shimr as a clown, emphasizing how truly crazy it seems to diverge so much from the actual known history for the sake of entertainment. Here, Shimr has clownish red hair and a red beard, a painted face, brightly colored striped clothing and pointy shoes. He is holding a glass of wine and his sword pointed backwards in the middle of battle. His cronies are equally foolishly dressed. Meanwhile, Hussein is humbly dressed, looking simple and normal with his followers behind him. The comparison is comedic and honestly the Ta’ziyeh is more justified and respects the honor of Hussein without portraying Shimr as a fool, because that implies that Hussein was simple enough to be defeated by a complete idiot. Personally I am glad the Ta’ziyeh has transitioned to be more realistic.
Muhammad, full of God’s grace,
Shines on his wedding day as on the day of his birth!
The day God sent the Prophet to the Earth
To be born of Amina, flooding the world with light and truth,
Only He knew of this wondrous wedding day.
He saw the bride, who would long for the Prophet,
She would desire their unity to be sweet as honey
But also to be strong as steel
God planned it so, and so it is!
If only the admirer, Fonseca, should be so blessed as you!
Muhammad is worshipped across the Muslim world as the Prophet, and different cultures have their own ways of revering him. Poetry is an extremely well established and respected form of art in the Muslim world and therefore there are many styles of poetry written to honor the Prophet. “In Praise of Muhammad: Sindhi and Urdu Poems” gives two such examples. Muhammad may not be worshipped as a god or as Jesus, but he is the closest human to the divine and his life is seen as the perfect example of a human life and how to conduct oneself. In the Sindhi tradition, the “maulud,” meaning “newborn child,” becomes a type of poem that contains a few lyrical lines on the Prophet’s birth, life, and character. They also often mention his marriage and the virahini, a symbol representing a young love struck yearning woman, who in this case is his bride. This maulud is five to ten verses long and includes the “thal,” which is the beginning verse that is used as a refrain. In the last line the writer references themselves in some kind of supplication to the Prophet. I have included all the most important elements in my maulud. I thought I could even combine the Prophet’s birth, wedding, and the virahini to create a little narrative of how God knew from the day he was born that his bride would yearn for him and they should be married on a spectacular day. The maulud is not just a poem about the Prophet, but really an important way of relaying his story, the same way that the Swahili myths and legends relay his story in their own unique way, so that the Prophet will never be forgotten through generations.
Welcome to Weblogs at Harvard Law School. This is my first post.