Reflections on Islam

Mystical Meditations and Other Miscellaneous Musings

Category: Drawing/Collage

Week 10: The Conference of the Birds

“Now I am made one with You and from that Union my heart is consumed with rapture and my tongue is bewildered. By union, I have been merged in the Unity, I am become altogether apart from all else. I am You and You are I – nay, not I, all is altogether You. I have passed away, ‘I’ and ‘You’ no more exist. We have become one and I have become altogether You” -Farid ud-Din Attar

 

In this blog post, I have chosen to combine drawing and graphic design to produce this image of 7 birds, all containing a different word for God in 7 distinct languages: Greek, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Yiddish, Urdu and Hebrew. This idea was inspired by week ten’s reading of Conference of the Birds. The journey taken by the birds in Attar’s celebrated poem leads them through seven valleys that each carve out a different moral lesson. In the valley of search, the birds undergo a hundred different trials, ultimately learning that they mustn’t always take the path laid before them, but rather, must seek their own path through patience and determination. Then follow the valleys of love, knowledge, unity, poverty and nothingness.

 

Following all of these trials, only thirty of the thousand birds remain. It is only after they have cleansed their spirits and endured these hardships that they are able to arrive at enlightenment. Having passed all of the tests that the valleys presented them with, the birds finally reach “The Simurgh” who they had been traveling so long to find, only to discover that the Simurgh is them. They had reached the state of enlightenment and realized that God was within them, and they were God altogether. This unity of things is what The Conference of the Birds essentially teaches.

 

I chose to depict seven different birds to symbolize the seven different valleys that the characters had to brave before reaching their destination. I also wanted to include different writings of the word “God” to symbolize the universality of this message and the diversity of communities that are united through this theme. Finally, I added a layer of water onto the drawing, just to artistically depict the final scene where the birds recognize their reflections in the water.

 

I found this theme fascinating, because so many times, people exhaust their energy trying to find another person or religion or philosophy to give them the answers to life. Instead of paying money to have your palms read or investing hours into reading self-help articles, sometimes, the key lies in clearing your mind, cleansing your spirit, and just looking within yourself to find those answers.

Week 2: Constructions of Islam

In Professor Asani’s second chapter of Infidel of Love, he notes that “Diversities of language, religion, or race, according to the Muslim scripture, are to be respected as signs of divine genius and opportunities for mutual understanding, tolerance, and compassion between nations and communities.” Of the many themes discussed in the first couple weeks of lecture, this was perhaps my favorite. The notion of the term ‘muslim’ as one that refers to any member of the universal community of believers, regardless of the particular faith that they ascribe to, is one that I find incredibly accepting as a devoted Catholic still eager to learn about Islam and open to any Truths it may hold therein. Discussing the difference between “Muslim” with a capital ‘M’ and “muslim” with its aforementioned, all-encompassing definition, made me realize that believers ascribing to Islam, although confident that Islam is the religion of Truth, are very pluralistic in their conviction that all religions are striving towards the same personal encounter with the Divine.

This quasi-collage of “muslims” pictured above was inspired by this pluralistic outlook. Despite diversities of language, religion or race as Professor Asani mentions, all of these communities of believers are united in their yearning for the transcendent essence that lies at the root of all creation. These differences are not meant to be seen as divisions, but rather as “signs of divine genius” and as chances to grow in understanding of and foster relationships with our fellow man. It is for this reason that I believe so many world religions, traditions and spiritualities hold the celebrated “golden rule” so intimately to their creeds. At their very core, the religiously inclined want nothing more than to spread compassion and to uphold justice.

Professor Asani also notes that “Anyone who is polluted by violence cannot, by definition, be a Muslim. Instead, the faithful need to cultivate within themselves so that they can extend compassion to all of God’s creation.” To be Muslim does not simply require biological happenstance and knowledge of the Qur’an. To be a true Muslim means to recognize that all believers are part of the same family and that they all share a common mission to be the love in whose image they believe to have been created, and to make an effort, however grand or slight, to leave this world a bit more uprightly than they found it.