Islam as Integral to Innovation

Week 11: Islam and Modernization 

The image of a lightbulb constructed through the repetition of the word “Islam” in Arabic.

During Week 11, we explored the various reform, revival, revolutionary, and resistance movements that have taken place within Muslim communities and nations. Throughout these classes we interrogated concepts of authority, gender, nationhood, identity, and belonging in Islam. Islamic reform and revival movements did not occur in vacuums. They were and continue to be influenced by outside political forces that reflect global power dynamics. Therefore, we asked questions, such as Which Islam?Whose Islam? and Islam as a tool for what?

One of the reformists we studied was Sir Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938) who was an Indian Muslim poet and philosopher. He believed that, at its bedrock, Islam is defined as progress and is considered intrinsic to economic and intellectual advancement. Iqbal posits that Islam is not just about prayer and devotion, but it is about development of the self and society.

He wrote, “When I was in Europe, I saw much Islam everywhere but I saw very few Muslims; now I am back in Egypt, I see many Muslims but little Islam.” 

Inspired by this famous quote, I chose to create a digital drawing of a lightbulb – a recognizable symbol of innovation and industry – by repeating the term “Islam” in Arabic over and over again. As a result, this lightbulb is literally constructed by the term “Islam,” so as to portray the religion’s fundamental connection to societal development. In this case, it is the capital “I” Islam, which refers to the more institutionalized version of the religion and not simply identifying anyone who submits to Allah.