Reflections on Islam

Mystical Meditations and Other Miscellaneous Musings

Category: Graphic Design

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 5: Expressing Theology Through Drama

Today is Palm Sunday for Catholics all around the world. On this day, the gospel reading at Mass is different from any other day of the year. While most Sunday readings of the gospel change yearly, this feast day alone is commemorated with the recounting of Jesus’ passion. This narrative has been interpreted throughout the years in dramatic forms that have come to be known as passion plays. It is fitting then, that on this day I make this blog post about a passion play in the Muslim tradition.

The Ta’ziyeh is one of the most powerful examples of this dramatic genre known as “passion plays.” In this theatrical production, Shiite Muslims in Iran perform a reenactment of the tragedy of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The tragedy recounts the death of Hussein, along with his male children and companions in a brutal massacre at Karbala in the year 680 AD. Hussein’s murder, the consequence of a prolonged power struggle for control of the newly emerged Islamic community following the death of the prophet, resulted in the formation of two major factions of Muslims that had developed opposing views regarding leadership. This slaughter at Karbala came to be seen as the ultimate example of sacrifice for Shiite Muslims.

This Iranian tradition which began in the mid-nineteenth century “literally means expressions of sympathy, mourning and consolation…Despite criticism by the majority of the religious authorities who considered it sacrilegious for mortal men to portray any holy personage, Ta’ziyeh became more and more beloved by the people.” (Chelkowski, page 2, 8) This creation and consequent evolution of tradition is exactly what inspired me to make this graphic of the Elie Wiesel quote pictured above. I think the quote highlights the extreme importance of story-telling for the sake of the preservation of history and culture. This sustained tradition that relives the death of Hussein, which underscores the entire Shiite creed, is in a sense linking the survivors to the memory of their beloved martyrs.

I chose for this design to be somewhat simplistic because I wanted the attention to be directed towards the actual quote. But the line of designs on the left-hand side reminded me of similar visuals we have seen in Islamic arabesque. Similarly, the design pictured above the quotation resembled many of the architectural designs I had seen on my visit to La Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Although Wiesel was referencing his own Jewish ancestry, I think this is a lovely example of how humanity is united. Despite differences in cultures, races, opinions, times, and spaces, the human experience is, in fact, universally related. The importance of oral tradition in molding a culture or a people’s history is the same across these differences, and I think that this is an especially fitting representation of this phenomenon.