Muhammad and the Rose

March 22nd, 2016

Reflection on Suleyman Celebi’s Turkish poem, Mevlid- Serfi (Week 4)

Upon reading this poem I was IMG_4141
confused by the exalted theology of Muhammad. I was unable to account for the dissonance that verses such as, “since Muhammad is cause of this existence, with simple hearts petition his assistance,” and what I conceived of as a strict ideology of Monotheism, which existed in sharp contrast with fear of shirk (Chelebi, 18). My confusion wasn’t eased when I came across equally extravagant exaltations of Muhammad, such as “whose light did make the whole world shine in brilliance, whose rose-like beauty filled the world with roses” (Chelebi, 25). This confusion demonstrated my lack of understanding about the role of mentorship and potential for emulating the perfection that Muhammad represents in many Muslim contexts.

I’m intrigued by this verse employing the imagery of the rose because there is something contagious about Muhammad’s beauty, which enables him to fill the world with roses. Yet, his beauty is not that exactly aligned with that of the rose, but rather, something “rose-like.” This distinction is indicative of Muhammad’s distinction, as the last embodiment of the Divine Light, and there is almost something otherworldly about him, despite his fully human existence.

The comparativist in me cannot resist recalling the fact that Mary in the Christian tradition is also associated with the rose. I am intrigued by the association of the rose, which many consider to be the most beautiful or perfect flower, and these two religious figures. I think an analogy will concisely sum up my musings.

Muhammad: The Qur’an :: Mary: Jesus

Both Muhammad and Mary are the means by which the divine is manifest in the world. Both are the vehicles through which God exercises Her will. It is at this point that I recognize my lack of knowledge about the doctrinal presence of free will in the Qur’an and in Islamic traditions. I am tempted to say that both Mary and Muhammad are deemed as exceptional, perfect, rose-like beings within their respective traditions because of their willingness to submit their wills to the will of Gods. While I do not know the explicit teaching on this subject from as rooted in Islamic tradition or the Qur’an, I do recall one of the main messages from Muhammad’s Mi’raj, and that was his shift from ego-centric to God-centric. This, in conjunction with the fact that Muslim literally translates as “one who submits,” makes me inclined to think that this hypothesis is plausible.

On Prophetic Light

March 22nd, 2016

Reflection on Vernon James Schubel’s Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: Shi’i Devotional Rituals in South Asia (Week 5)

Light has a special place in the human imagination of the divine. This is clearly demonstrated in the following verse of the Qur’an: 

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.

The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp—Prophetic Light

the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star—lit from a blessed olive tree,

neither eastern nor westernwhose oil almost lights up,

though fire should not touch it.

Light upon light.

Allah guides to His Light whomever He wishes.

Allah draws parables for mankind,

and Allah has knowledge of all things.

Quran 24:35

I’d like to take a few moments to reflect upon this verse.

I appreciate the indiscriminate nature of the light as it is depicted here, giving the passage pluralistic appeal. I imagine light pouring out into the darkness and covering all that it comes across, regardless of race, gender, or creed.

I’m captivated by the notion of the lamp as a clear glass, as the verse states, “as it were a glittering star.” It saddens me that this strikes me as optimistic. I wish that God’s light or the light of truth and clarity was as clearly visible today as if it were to shine through a clear, glittering glass. However, I feel the morally murky waters of political agendas, spiritual and physical materialism, and fear, often prevent us from perceiving truth directly. For that reason, I’ve surrounded the lantern in translucent blue hues. The light of the divine is still visible, but it is not clear.

However, the light shines most directly through the word Muhammad. I designed this in light of (ha!) the Shi’i traditions notion of Divine Light, which is transmitted through the lineage of the prophet. Schuebl describes a unique Shi’i cosmology in which prophets were created before creation from a primordial light and that as a result, through their especially close relationship with God, they are endowed as “spiritual descendants” with “special abilities and powers” (32). I’m intrigued by several notions of this cosmology, predominantly the predestined nature of the close relationship that Muhammad’s spiritual descendants are able to achieve with regard to the divine, but also because of the emphasis on ancestry and the process of passing down sacred wisdom. While I have a hard time relating to the former, I think the latter is something I could pay closer attention to in my daily life and in familial relationships as a means for seeing the Divine Light more clearly, despite the clouded lantern.

Muslim Mother, Christian Mother

March 21st, 2016

Reflection on Ziauddin Sardar’s Reading the Qur’an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam (Week 2)


Reading the opening remarks of Ziauddin Sardar’s opening chapter entitled The Qur’an and Me struck a deeply personal. He begins, “I grew up reading the Qur’an on my mother’s lap”(3). I felt an immediate connection to his words as I had begun a paper for an existential phenomenology course several weeks early a similar way. The introductory remarks of my own paper read:

I first came to know God sitting on the front porch of during summer storms after the electricity had gone out. By flashlight, my mother would read to me from my children’s picture book Bible, and her soothing voice gave life to the promises of peace we read. Here, I came to associate God with both the might of the storm and the gentleness of my mother’s touch.

Thus, when Sardar remarked that for many Muslim children, their connection to the Qur’an is not distant or academic, but rather, “infused with associations of the warmest and most enduring of human bonds,” I felt as though I knew exactly what he meant (3). He describes the natural association of love for the text given the extremely personal medium through which he learned it (5).

I found another interesting parallel in our initial understandings of the sacred texts in our respective traditions: each was centered on love. For me, the love in the text was that of Christ’s absolute submission and sacrifice for those who he loved. For Sardar, he described a great love for God and His Words, unconditional – like that love between a mother and a child (5).

The timely pairing of our reflections led me to begin contemplating the role of motherhood in perpetuating the faith and why this duty so often falls upon the mother when there are often many other able adults in a child’s life. Perhaps the answer is one of pragmatics, but the rationale may also be that it is intuitive. In addition to nurturing a child’s physical needs, the mother seeks also to tend to her child’s spiritual needs. I’m curious about how one’s introduction to religion and the sacred text in one’s tradition impacts their hermeneutical orientation throughout the course of his or her life. I also wonder at what point in one’s journey of faith other influences begin to outweigh and overpower the pervasively peaceful context in which some learn about the divine in.

I am grateful for Sardar’s memoir as it provided an outlet to consider the role of motherhood in religion. For my artistic reflection (in case it is not clear), I have drawn two symmetrical silhouettes of a mother reading to her child. Within each silhouette I have written musings on motherhood and parenting from the sacred texts considered herein. The passages in the mother-child figure to the left are from the Qur’an and the figure on the right is comprised of Biblical phrases.

Hello world!

March 21st, 2016

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