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Prologue to Blog

Islam is not just a religion, it is a way of life and we have seen throughout this course how artistic expression and Islam can be interwoven within certain cultures. We have analyzed the innate beauty of calligraphy and “Islamic architecture” in early Persian and Arabian societies. We have studied the mystical elements and spiritual connection with God through poetry, art, dance, and music. We have seen how artistic expression served as a means to connect cultures and spread the Islamic message.

An extremely important concept brought up during the course is the importance of oral transmission in Islamic culture, as companions of Muhammad compiled the Quran itself orally during the time of revelation. Poetry played a huge role in early Arab society, as these poets would perform mystical tales for audiences. Many individuals within these societies memorized poetry despite being illiterate. We see the importance of recitation in the Burdah, a poetic praise of the prophet Muhammad, which is performed by congregations of Muslims within contexts of worship. Again this is an example of another form poetry that was memorized and spread through oral transmission.

Islamic culture also places a heavy emphasis on the recitation and memorization of the Quran. In fact, individuals who memorize the entire Quran, also know as Hafiz, are praised and cherished within Islamic culture. The Quran itself is to be recited in a very beautiful and flowing manner, similar to the recitation of poetry, in order to connect the reader with their lord. Recitation itself serves to be a submissive experience as the reader is expected to incorporate deep emotional elements while reading the Quranic scripture. Gahazali gives a 10-step program to aid Muslims on proper recitation techniques and allow them to experience this spiritual transcendence. The “adhan” or the call to prayer also contains a very rhythmic and musical tone while praising God and bringing together believers for prayer at the same time. The rhythm and recitation of the Adhan differs within certain areas and cultures, but still serves the same purpose and holds the same meaning.

In order to achieve spirituality one must completely submit to the creator requiring them to eliminate the concept of the ego. The Islamic religion provides important components that aid in this elimination of the ego, specifically the five pillars of faith required by each believer. The belief in one creator, the giving of annual charity, the performance of 5 daily prayers, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the fast of Ramadan all serve to eliminate the ego and focus ones intentions on complete submission to their creator. Many artists describe this journey of eliminating the ego within their works as we have seen in the tales of the birds and the story of Ayaz. In each of these tales the characters realize that in order to completely submit and attain the peace of their lord they must eliminate the ego within themselves. This struggle to eliminate the ego is evident throughout the entire course and also feeds into the struggle for identity.

This struggle for identity can be reflected within poetry, art, and music. Iqbal’s “Complaint and Answer” reflect upon the current state of confusion within Islamic identity as Muslims have incorporated other religious and cultural elements into their religion. The word Islam, specifically in western societies, carries a very negative connotation forcing current Muslims to compromise their identity. In doing so they are straying from the way and allowing ego to control their identity instead of eliminating the self and completely submitting to their creator. We see a similar struggle in the early times of Islamic society where the prophet himself was ridiculed for being a sorcerer. Many Muslims were tortured and killed for identifying with Islamic beliefs. I use a poetic approach to express the current identity crisis and struggle incorporated with maintaining my identity within a world focused on destroying my identity. My poem ends with the literal and metaphorical destruction of my inner ego through death and absolute submission.

I believe consistency and repetition are the cement and glue of the Islamic faith and can be seen within multiple elements of our course. One must consistently and continuously perform their prayers and adhere to the moral values of the Sunnah and Hadith. Constant praising of God through Dhikr, Quranic recitation, and poetic remembrance are evident in the works studied throughout the course. Calligraphy and Islamic architecture each require consistent practice and repetition in order to reach true perfection, similar to the individual spiritual journey of the Muslim. These artistic themes are universally appreciated in the aesthetic realm, reflecting on the diversity and universal unification within Islam. The early Islamic empires treated Muslims and non-Muslims with equality allowing differing religions to coexist and flourish within the same area.

The moral elements of Islam such as charitable giving, caring for the needy, and sacrificing food and water all serve to establish equality within society, yet can be compromised by greed and corruption. We see this negative effect of worldly attachment in the story of the beggars, Iqbal’s answer, and various parables within the Quran. These tales warn the reader of the imminent downfall related to corruption and greed, something we see in the tragic collapse of the roman and ottoman empires. In order to protect us from this type of demise one must purify their intentions by eliminating the ego. Islam heavily promotes charity and the sacrifice of materialism in order to prevent corruption and encourage equality within society. The prophet Muhammad himself lived like the poorest man in the village and truly cared for the well being of others over his own well-being.

The prophet epitomizes perfection and should be cherished through the practicing the Sunnah and praising his example. Believers should love God and his prophet more than they love themselves, thus again sacrificing the self for the divine. Artistic elements such as the burdah and various songs across cultures in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub- Saharan Africa are used to praise the prophet and express the love each Muslim has for the prophet. By transforming the hadith into a rap like song, I have combined these 2 elements in order to create an entertaining way of learning about the life of the prophet Muhammad and utilizing his virtues in current society. The theme of “love” is also seen in the poetic Ghazal’s where these poets express the yearning for the love of either God or a female counterpart. Similar to metaphors within the Islamic scripture, the poets use heavy ambiguity within their writing to express their struggle to attain spirituality. I incorporate the love for the prophet and the Muslim Ummah within my “Somewhere in America” rap as I reiterate the importance of following the prophet Muhammad’s example and loving fellow humanity.

The theme of oppression by religious authorities, whether it is towards the impoverished, women, non-Muslims, emerges after the death of the prophet. The poor are scrutinized and treated as inferior by the ruling class, women are confined within the home and given limited freedoms, and non-Muslims are attacked based on radical beliefs, which all go against the fabric of Islam. The current struggle of Muslim women is expressed through tales such as “Persepolis” and “Through the Veil.” Muslim men seem to ignore the respect the early Muslims held toward women as well as the powerful female figures of Aisha and Khadijah. The current state of this oppression can be seen in the Mipsterz “Somewhere in America” video, where Muslim women exhibit their strength and independence through an artistic media outlet. This video created hype and controversy in the media, as radical patriarchs criticized the women based on extremist cultural views, and not pure Islamic theological teachings. I chose to respond to the critics by creating a rap song that supports these girls and reiterates the important roles woman play in Islam.

Islam focuses on the development of community, brotherhood, and unification regardless of culture. We have seen an increasing amount of conflict between Muslim groups throughout the course, specifically the Shiite and Sunni sects. These violent occurrences directly conflict with the message of Islam. Upon studying the décor and construction of the Mosque we learned how these centers of worship traditionally serve to foster community within Muslim society as well. These segregated centers of worship evident in Nation of Islam, Shiite, Sufi, and Sunni Mosques contradict the essential purpose of these institutions, which is to promote universal worship of God and bring together the Islamic community, regardless of culture. It seems to me that culture has begun to take precedence over religion in current Islamic society. I have expressed this belief within my poetic and hip-hop blog posts, stating that unity and brotherhood have taken second place to power and monetary success. This current state of affairs is identical to Iqbal’s “Complaint and Answer” where the state of Islamic society is fading due to a lack of faith, ignorance toward prayer, and the precedent of culture over religion.

My favorite theme of the course is the use of musical performance and entertainment to educate others about Islam and eliminate the stereotypes associated with modern Islamaphobia. I’ve used 4 different examples of poetic and musical composition within my blog to educate others on Islamic belief, while at the same time conveying my own spiritual journey. Here we see the marriage of art and religion due to cultural and societal influences. The emergence of Islamaphobia has caused artistic expression to now incorporate educational components as well as revolutionary messages across the globe. Uprisings in the Middle East led to the emergence of art embodying revolt and unification of the oppressed. The development of hip-hop as a major art form has led to the emergence of Islamic hip-hop artists, expressing their struggles and spiritual beliefs through rap music. This music also serves to combat Islamaphobia by using lyrics to fight back against oppression. I use hip-hop in order to educate others on certain Islamic practices, as well as challenge oppressive beliefs of Islamaphobia.

I will end with the theme of love. Love for God. Love of the prophets. Love for humanity. Love for the Quran. Love is inherent in the Islamic faith and is expressed throughout the mediums of artwork we have discussed. Calligraphers use the divine essence in order to tap into a spiritual zone allowing them to create beautiful inscriptions of Quranic literature. The poet uses his deep spiritual connection and love for God in order to produce breathtaking poetry. The architect is inspired by the beautiful creations of his God and uses his love for these creations and his lord to created abstract and revered architecture. The musician engages in spiritual transcendence as their musical performance dictates the level of love and affection they feel toward their creator. All of these artworks are driven by love and incorporate aspects of love for God, his messenger, and the message. The Mathnawi and Ghazal both incorporate this yearning love and longing for acceptance from the poets lord. I incorporate this theme within all my blog works, be it expressing my strong love for God in Quranic recitation, depicting the beauty of God’s creation in artworks, or using poetry to convey the struggle of the self while seeking the love and approval of God.

I’ve used my blog as a tool to educate the entire world on the concepts of Islam through aesthetically pleasing mediums. I hope that the reader will discover the true beauty of the Islamic faith through my blog posts, as well as appreciate the connection between artistic and religious expression.

Masalam,

Zak

~ by zaossey on .

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