Monthly Archives: November 2015

Transforming the Self Through Islam


In “Transforming the Self Through Islam”, I attempt to convey the role of transformation throughout different notions of Islam. The transformation of the self is what ultimately defines Islam according to Sufi ideals and the philosophy of Iqbal. In this sense, Islam has come to be interpreted in very inclusive ways. Pinto highlights this inclusive conception of Islam in “The Mystery of Nizamuddin Dargah: The Accounts of the Pilgrims”, by analyzing the relationship between pirs and the individuals that visited them at the dargah. This relationship and the developing symbols seen throughout Sufism reflect the concept of self-transformation.

My portrayal of Iqbal’s symbol of the garden and the desert attempts to emphasize the connection between Iqbal’s message of universal love and the Sufi principles of spiritual transformation. Similar to how Iqbal encourages a rebirth of Muslim identity by developing the self, Sufis call for a journey of self-awareness through Islam. This journey is exactly what Iqbal alludes to when he encourages Muslims to abandon the garden and fly into the desert. By embarking on this journey from the garden to the desert, the individual transforms their identity from egocentric to God-centric. In Pinto’s paper, non-Muslim and Muslim pilgrims alike reflect this transformation while visiting the Sufi shrines. In a state of distress, the individuals attempt to abandon their troubles in the garden and actively develop their self through their relationship with the pirs.

Pinto discusses the role of the Pirs with regard to the transformation of the individuals who come to dargah. He highlights the central function of love with the Pirs. The individual’s manifestation of eternal love, seen in Iqbalian philosophy, overcomes the feelings of fear and angst. The loving pir relationship is consistent with that found in the symbolic use of the Virahini in Sufi literature. The symbol of the longing Virahini woman is used to connect the soul to Muhhamed. The virahini-soul symbol reflects the need to relieve the self of their suffering by developing the ego and forming a union with the beloved, or God. The pirs function as the beloved for the pilgrims visiting the dargah. Pinto mentions the various instances that pilgrims visiting the dargah would describe how their mutual love with the saints allowed them to evolve into a better person. Such love is inclusive of everyone, of any religion. Sufism preaches that anyone can experience a symbiotic relationship with the saint, which is a “gift to be received with gratitude, in faith, and with pure heart” (Pinto, 124). Thus, the act of visiting the dargah is seen as a form of transformation of the human soul, through the attempts of the individual to free themselves from their troubles by building this relationship with the saint and ultimately coming to the “realization of salvation” (Pinto, 124). Here, both Sufi principle and Iqbal break down the notion of submission and present an inclusive interpretation of Islam. Sufism offers a dimension of Islam that does not simply refer to practice of devotion, but to the development and maximizing of one’s potential as a human being.


Silent vs. Loud Islam


I found the distinction between a silent and loud Islam highly captivating, as it relates to many of the issues that have emerged over the course of South Asian history. I wanted to literally embody the contrast between these two ways of interpreting Islam using clay. The kneeling figure represents the silent Islam and the larger standing figure represents loud Islam. This concept of a silent Islam that we discussed during class relates back to Pinto’s “The Mystery of Nizamuddin Dargah” in which he highlights the inclusive essence of Sufism, specifically through one’s relationship with the pirs. The act of participating in Nizamuddin dargah and paying homage to the saint is a subjective experience open to all, even non-Muslims. The concept of universal love forms the basis of silent Islam. Eaton also alludes to how the concept of love is advocated through Sufi folk literature in “Sufi Folk Literature and the Expansion of Indian Islam”. The literature spread through Hindu rural villages, preaching themes of female love and for one to “feel comfort in God’s unity and majesty” (Eaton, 122). The incorporation of mystical zikrs in the literature attempted to connect the individual to God. This personal connection with God through faith makes up the notion of a silent Islam. Eaton emphasizes how both Hindus and Muslims have access to this experience.  The simple, personable messages of the literature do not require any doctrinal knowledge. Similarly, the dargahs were not limited to only those visitors with such doctrinal background. With the promotion of self-love, silent Islam has no ulterior social or political motives as with loud Islam, but merely has a desire to encourage believers to love themselves and grow from within. From this perspective, one can only understand something they believe in to the extent that they love it.

I tried to portray this loving relationship between God and Muslims by depicting silent Islam in contrast with loud Islam. Silent Islam is not built on the basis of power and politics, but solely on the basis of faith and personal love. In such a way, I represented silent Islam as a small figure, praying on its knees. I had the figure praying to portray the Muslim as a ‘believer’ of Islam, the religion. This Muslim of silent Islam experiences a transformation of the ego through their relationship with God. Not only Sufis, but Iqbal, preached this notion of evolving from within. Anyone can emulate this Islam, even the Hindus visiting dargah or the infidels described by Iqbal, who managed to transform themselves. For this reason, silent Islam is a broader conception of Islam that directly contrasts with the loud Islam. The loud Islam appropriately has a large head to depict the egoistic nature of this Muslim identity. This Islam is connected to various factions of authority and power. With that said, the figure stands on a multi-layered pedestal to demonstrate how this Islam is grounded on the social, political, economic, and state factors of society. This Islam is not seen as a religion, but rather as a conception of the state. Rather than playing the role of a ‘believer’, the Muslims of loud Islam are the ‘submitter’.

What is Islam?

I am Islam

I am orthodox

I am knowledge

I am here to spread the knowledge of faith

I believe in the invisible

There is nothing to challenge

I am Sunni


I am Islam

I am total authority

I am Wali

I am the basis of spirituality

I believe in the visible

There is always a purpose to suffering

I am Shia


I am Islam

I am the revival

I am a leader of peaceful propagation

I am a servant to God and his creation

I believe in the final religion

There is no greater power than God

I am Ahmadi


I am Islam

I am the soul

I am faithful to the light

I am always on this journey towards truth

I believe in an unconditional love with God

There is no place, no discipline

I am Sufi


I am Islam

I am the eagle

I am constantly evolving

I am a co-worker with God

I believe in eternal progress

There is no limit to my potential

I am Muslim


This poem emphasizes the multiple Islams that have emerged under different authorities. The ambiguity of Islam allowed different Muslim communities to develop their own definition of Islam with regard to their group interests. This ‘customization’ of Islam motivates many of the issues in South Asia today. Islam remains subject to manipulation by the range of Muslim authorities. There may never be an answer to ‘What is Islam?’ and ‘Who is Muslim?’, but there is always a place and need for acceptance. With this said, one major conclusion I have drawn from the overarching controversy regarding Islamic identity is the function of tolerance as a means of resolution. An incontestable tolerance of the many interpretations is the only way for the many Islams to co-exist in harmony.

My poem alludes to the different Islams that I have seen through the course that really stood out to me. I highlight five different Islams defined by the Sunnis, Shiites, Ahmadis, Sufis, and Iqbal (although Iqbal merely presented a philosophy/vision for the true Muslim). With each sect, I allude to some of their core beliefs to show the contrast and similarities between the different perspectives. Despite the areas of overlap among the varying interpretations, these Muslim communities and sects still believe their Islam is the only one and that their ideology embodies the true Muslim. There was no room for accepting the beliefs of the ‘other’ or the outsider. This toxic level of intolerance fueled sectarian conflict, particularly between Sunnis and Shiites, which Zaman analyzes in “Sectarianism in Pakistan”. Zaman mentions how each sect viewed their own faith in the pursuit of power. They clashed on various aspects of society that were critical during the process of Islamization in the emergence of Pakistan as a modern religious state. With this, Zaman stresses this form of religious nationalism that appeared as a means of reconciling religion and politics. But how may one establish a religious basis for an Islamic state when there remains no clear definition of Islam? With each clash of opinion and each attempt for change in South Asia, the matter goes back to the broader, more crucial question of ‘What is Islam?’.