Summer Time In Medina

A Blog By Hasani Hayden

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Introduction Essay

Posted in Uncategorized on May 3rd, 2018

Introduction Essay

Over my last three years at Harvard I have never been challenged to question the things around me more so than in this course. One of the main things that I learned from this course is the importance of perspective, especially as how it pertains to the media, politics, and religion. My goal is that this portfolio will challenge your perspective of how you view the religion of Islam in a western, Anglo-Saxon, protestant society. In particular, I intend to direct the focus of my portfolio on the elements of class that focus on around the aesthetics of Islam, whether that be creation by God as an artist designing new life forms, or by mankind to  honor and praise God. I hope to convey to the readers that monotheistic does not equate to monolith, and highlight the variation in Muslim communities by showcasing artistic creations that illustrate the range of perspectives that all ultimately seek to submit before God and acknowledge His Prophet. A reoccurring theme of the Islamic religious tradition that we’ve discussed in class has been that there is no one way to practice Islam, aside from the critical foundational aspects. Sunnis differ from Shiites and Sufis differ from non-Sufis and the variation only broadens across geographic regions. Although some people can look at that and become frustrated with the cultural inconsistencies, I instead saw beauty in the various perspectives on how to worship God in this beautiful religion.

The readings, lectures, and discussions in this course have helped me to develop a nuanced understanding of the culture of Islam societies across the world. One of the greatest parts of this course in my opinion was having peers from a variety of religious backgrounds whose commentary in sections helped to me to understand the context of the diverse range of traditions and practices of varying Islamic cultures. I truly felt that my section was on a semester-long discussion that continued to build and grow each week with the addition of new material. From this semester-long dialogue I have learned several major themes from the course that I try to reiterate in my blog posts. One of which is the importance of religious literacy in foreign policy. We obviously discussed this through the lens of the United States with their relationship with Islamic nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa, but the same logic can easily be applied to any other nation or any ethnic minority that call America home. Another critical take away is the significance of understanding the layers of identity of individuals. Professor Asani spent much of the class highlighting the complex nature of human beings and identifying religion as only one dimension of one’s identity but cautioning us to not allow for religion to become the dominant layer. We explore intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status with Islam and find vast differences in how and why people continue to submit to God. A major theme that I also observed in the course was the concept of constant self-reflection. One of the major faults with the American diplomatic policy is that it fails to admit its cultural and religious ignorance. One of the ways to understand one’s disposition is to spend time in reflection of what one thinks about another culture and asking why they feel that way about another group. As future global citizens this class has stressed the importance of self-reflection and questioning ourselves before questioning things around us. Summertime in Medina aims to be a my own self-reflection journey through this course where I try to challenge the perspective of the viewers while challenging my own understanding of a culture and religion that is unfamiliar to me. Thank you for joining me.

My week 2 blog post is focused on celebrating the creative ability of God and how humans can reflect God’s creation through the art of calligraphy. I reference the Qur’an Sura 96 says “Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by the pen, who taught human what he did not know. The pen is significant because it is what God used to create the world we know today.” Chronologically it makes sense to begin my blogs discussing with the creation of the world. The amount of detail and attention that God put into designing all forms of life showcases the amount of passion and intentionality of His creations. Although not nearly as talented of an artist as Allah, I hope that my art pieces at least can achieve the appropriate level of purpose in my work. In this piece the purpose is to acknowledge the artistic talent of God. One of the big takeaways of this course was seeing Allah in everything around us. I chose to focus on the wildlife around us, specifically on birds. The reason for choosing birds had nothing to do with the story of the “Conference of the Birds” instead I wanted acknowledge the diversity of birds in the world. There is beauty all around the world. The Prophet Muhammad says “God is beautiful and He loves Beauty”. I highlight some of the beauty in the world by showcasing these birds but also in creating other art pieces.

In my next blog post I focus on the readings from week four. This post is based on The Prophet Mohammad himself. The Prophet was known and is remembered for several different roles. He was the Messenger, the Authoritarian, the Guidance, and the Intercessor amongst other things. He was known as an individual who embodied exalted character. This collage uses different images of Allah’s creations to describe the Prophet. Some people think that images of Muhammad can be sacrilegious or blasphemous as they fear that people will worship these images over God who is ultimately The One deserving of all human praise.  I try to avoid this by not creating an image of Muhammad, but instead using images of God’s creations to showcase who Muhammad is. At the same time by using God’s creations to reflect the character of Muhammad, I hope to use God’s creations to honor The Prophet Muhammad.  I wanted to maintain the theme of the collage because I found the first process fun and exciting. With this second one I challenged myself to get creative in how I would depict the certain characteristics of Muhammad I was looking to do and was able to find a good amount of success in doing so. The art of the collage is interesting as it combines different pieces of art to create a new piece entirely. This new piece uses other creations as tools to assemble a new piece with an entirely new meaning. I continue to use this art style into the next piece as well.

Building off of my collage experience in my last two blog posts I create another collage for the next blog post builds on the week six readings. You will notice an artistic difference in this next collage. I shift from a variety of clip art images to using fonts of different style and size to write out the word “WHY”. While the “W” and “Y” match, the bold white “H” stands out in contrast to the black background, hopefully driving the viewer’s attention to the center. The purpose of this piece is to encourage and challenge art critics and historians to study the “why” just as much as the “what” and “how” of various art pieces, especially those that come from different cultural contexts. The “H” represents the viewer, the one viewing the art piece from a “western” context and the outside letters are to represent the various cultures of which western art critics study and analyze. I selected the letter H because it is completely immersed in the context of the complete word. This design serves as an analogy and prescription for future art critics as they continue to explore and evaluate art pieces from other cultural contexts.

In my next blog post I look to challenge myself with new art forms from the collage. I look to create a post relevant to the readings and discussions of Week 9. In Week 9, Professor Asani broke down the significance and origination of the Ghazal, which I look to create my own rendition here. The Ghazal is a type of amatory poem that originates in Arabic poetry, typically with themes of love and romance. Traditionally ghazals are written as if intended for secular romantic relationships between two lovers however, most ghazals actually are about the author’s love for God and are intended to be interpreted in a spiritual devotional context. In my adaption of the ghazal poem, I use another strong form of love as an analogy for a divine love. Although the love between two devoted lovers captures the passion and euphoric sensation that should also be felt for God in worship, I believe that there is a different type of love that captures other vital aspects of human’s relationship with God and I try to illustrate it here. I focus on the relationship between a parent and a child. Specifically, I look to focus on the relationship between a committed, selfless, and forgiving parent with a disobedient child who has turned their back on their parent. The bond between a loving parent and their child may not always come to mind as an example of “drunken love” but it certainly realistically often portrays the actual relationship between man and our spiritual Father. I hope that this poem captures this different angle at analyzing the relationship between mankind and God.

Building off of my new creative experiment of poetry, I was interested to explore music. In class this semester we discussed how it is common for Arabic and South Asian poets may perform their poetry in concert accompanied by a musical composition. So naturally, I explored creating my own musical composition. For my week seven blog I do not attempt to create something from scratch, as I am no composer. But I do try to create a new sound and aural experience by taking Hafusa Abbasi’s Ramadhan song and giving it a western musical adaptation. In class we have discussed the musical mashups of traditional eastern Muslim songs of worship with western musical components from Rock and Roll and Jazz. We have even examined the work of Muslim American Rappers and how their content and subject matter highlights their experience as Black Muslims in predominately white and Christian societal context. This intrigued me to create my own musical piece. With my limited talents performing any musical instruments, I took to an online digital musical production system to remix one of the songs we listened to in class. A remix is a song that has been altered from its original composition by adding new beats or sounds, chopping the sample, or adjusting the tempo of the song. In this case, I do all three. I select the featured piece by Hafusa Abbasi about Ramadhan. I thought that the Swahili rendition was unique as most of our studies focus on Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim cultures, yet still retains a lot of common lyrical and instrumental sounds from the more popular performances we examined. I intentionally aim to remix this piece by bringing in the “Trap” sound, popularized by Atlanta based rappers in the middle 2000s. Although this subgenre of rap is famous for its vulgar and violent lyrics, I think the genre also highlights themes of economic mobility, specifically the struggle of achieving success. The juxtaposition of trap harmony with the spiritual melody of Hafusa Abbasi makes this piece an even more complex and interesting composition.

In my next blog post I focus on the readings and discussions from week thirteen. Since I’ve already explored other forms of media, I decided to continue to expand on this experience by creating a short video that hopefully will help to bring my blog posts full circle to the beginning of the course. We end the course discussing the experience of African-American Muslims and the life and religious journey of Malcolm X. However, Professor Asani begins the course by discussing the importance of religious literacy for creating the ideal accepting and inclusive country we claim to be. In this short video I show a Muslim African-American sharing what is the true meaning of Islam and then being joined by popular American politicians, President Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Bernie Sanders in celebration in the new realization that they do not have to compromise their American ideology for the sake of Islam, in fact the theology of Islam reinforces everything this nation stands for. They proceed to celebrate in appropriate jubilee.

Week 13 Wa-Americana-Salaam

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28th, 2018

Week 13

This post was inspired by the “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. I wanted to focus on the African-American Muslim experience in a predominately white protestant social context. Over the course of the semester, Professor Asani has discussed how the principles of Islam are nearly identical to the same principles of which this nation was built on. I look illustrate that here in this video. As an African-American I can empathize with the “othering” rhetoric used against Muslims in this nation, to isolate them from the American body. Similar groups who may bully Muslims in this nation, often times harass or are prejudice towards African-Americans. In this piece, I intentionally select an African-American Muslim to represent this “other” group, that often times is not thought of conventionally as American. This man first greets the viewer and shares what he believes in. His values are accepted by popular United States politicians and they begin to dance in celebration. I hope to show how intuitive the synergies between the Quranic teaching and the American constitution align. It is also critical for the long-term sustainability for this nation to become inclusive of different identities and beliefs. Considered to be at one time the most progressive nation in the world, on the forefront of human thought, America has lost her way and has lost what made her so unique of a country. This is also a nudge to future and current politicians to be critical of how we perceive different identities. Our similarities are what make us strong and those should be the things we spend our time on.

Week 7 East Meets West

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28th, 2018

Week 7

This blog post was inspired by the “Studies in Arabic Literature” specifically the chapter titled “To Propagate morals through popular music: The Indonesian Qasidah Modern”.  The author discusses how qasidah had entered the world music market and sparked an idea for me to blend the sounds of a song we’ve listened in class with current popular music in America. For this piece, I wanted to bridge the Eastern and Western world together. By taking Hafusa Abbasi’s song and giving it a Western twist, I hope to reflect the current internal debate on the role of music, and which forms of music are appropriate for worship. This composition uses very popular hip-hop sounds of booming 808s, sharp high hats, and snapping snares. The combination of these musical components is popularly known as the fundamentals of “Trap” music production which originated in the Atlanta hip-hop scene around 2007. This new sound was very niche at the time and began to achieve mainstream popularity only recently. While learning about the esoteric worship style of Sufism in class, I tried to imagine a musical sound or genre that may share the esoteric nature of Sufism, and this is what came to mind. The unique sound is one that similar to Sufi worship can stir up the emotions of participants. However, the mystical melodic Sufi worship song is juxtaposed with the vibrating and hard-hitting sound of the Trap drum kit which I believe makes for an even more interesting composition. We discussed in class the blend of Sufi music and Rock’n’Roll and so I was very curious to explore the blend with a musical genre I was more familiar with. The Swahili song by Abbasi had a unique melody that was unlike much of the Arabic and South Asian Sufi songs I explored, which made it even more interesting to “remix”. I hope you all enjoy!

 

 

Week 9 Patiently Waiting

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27th, 2018

This blog post takes from the “Introduction to the Conventions of the Urdu Ghazal” by Carla Pietievich. Specifically, I was inspired by the part of Chapter One where the author writes “That the beloved might be either human or divine is another essential convention of the ghazal” (Pietievich 5).  I wrote this ghazal with the story of the prodigal son in mind. As the story goes, a father has two sons and the younger demands his inheritance early and wants to run away and live his own life. He receives it and ends up being foolish with his money quickly finding himself homeless. Eventually, he humbles himself and returns back to his father where he is welcomed with a celebratory dinner. The setting of this poem is from the father to the son who left him before his return. Although a father-son relationship isn’t typically thought of as “romantic” the deep passionate love the father must have felt for his son is just as strong as the love of two lovers. Similarly, this poem could be interpreted as from God to humans. As he patiently waits for us to return to him, although he cries out to us, we turn our backs and walk away.  Yet he is faithful and continues to wait even though our neglect hurts him. We discussed in class how Sufis use poetry, really the art of language, to depict the supernatural that transcends all human understanding which is bound by time and space. I attempt to achieve the same level of artistic expression here. We don’t really know why we love, or why it hurts more when those we love hurt us. The rational and instinctual mammal would focus first on the survival of self, but we care deeply about those around us and do irrational things as a result.

 

Week 6 “Getting to WHY”

Posted in Uncategorized on March 20th, 2018

Week 6 Blog Post

 

This post was based on this passage from the Ismail R. Al-Faruqi text, “Misconceptions of the Nature of Islamic Art”. Here, on page 29 the author says “And yet Western scholars of Islamic art have been unfair in their overall assessment of its real value. For all their self-application their seriousness and brilliance, their hard work and perseverance, they have failed in the supreme effort of understanding the spirit of that art, of discerning and analyzing its Islamicness. For lack of any such understanding they fell upon the spirit of their own art (i.e. Western art) and, armed with that spirit as absolute norm of all art, they sought to bend Islamic art to its categories. And, when Islamic art naturally refused to be bent, their misunderstandings of it deepened.”

This passage here stood out to me. After reading it, my first takeaway was that although these Western art critics had analyzed the “What?” of the art and probably could conjure the “How?” of the process in which the art was created, I am afraid they were missing the most significant part of the works of art, the “Why?”. They lacked a deep and nuanced understanding of why the artist created these pieces the way that they did. Whether it be calligraphy, mosques, or pottery, all of these have deep religious meanings that one cannot gather from just simply observing. It requires developing an understanding of the Islamic faith and the particular subculture to really be able to appreciate the art. I wanted this collage to resemble that. By using a more standardized H and two more artistic letters on the outside I hope to juxtapose rules with expression, for such there are none.

Week 4 Blog Post “The Prophet Around Me”

Posted in Uncategorized on March 20th, 2018

 

This post is based on The Prophet Mohammad himself. In this post, I wanted to capture the various elements of his role in the Islamic faith. My intention is that the viewer will see each of these pictures and be reminded of a particular element of The Prophet Mohammad’s complete divine responsibility. The mailman represents The Prophet the Messenger (69:40). The gavel represents The Prophet the Authoritarian (7:157). The Compass represents The Prophet Muhammad, the Guidance (42:52). The football player who is blocking the defender represents The Prophet Muhammad the Intercessor (4:64). The last picture is of a woman who is looking up towards someone who serves as a spiritual role model, The Prophet as he has exalted character (21:07). Some people worry that a picture of The Prophet Muhammad can have an adverse effect on the faith and worship technique of the character in question, that they can become so consumed by the picture that they begin to worship that instead of The Prophet himself. As a result, discretion is advised. However, these pictures are not to serve as direct representations of The Prophet but simply reminders of his grace and power. The different pictures should also reflect the versatility of his character and provide us with a sense of appreciation for the breadth of The Prophet Muhammad’s abilities as God’s messenger. The hope of this collage is to also challenge us to see God in everything around us. I wanted to challenge viewers to be able to see how so much of our everyday lives return back to The Prophet and try to find him in the world around us as we go about our daily lives.

Week 2 Blog Post “Creations by The Holy Pen”

Posted in Uncategorized on March 20th, 2018

This post is based on the aesthetic significance of calligraphy in the Islamic faith. One of the things we discussed was how the Qur’an was created as an oral and aural recitation. The faith has a deep reverence for poetry and beauty which is evidence in the sounds and sights associated with the faith. One of those sights is calligraphy.  We find evidence of this in the Qur’an Sura 96 “In the name of your Lord who created: He created human from a clot. Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by [means of] the pen, who taught the human what he did not know. The pen is significant because it is what God used to create the world we know today. Therefore, I decided to include the pen in my collage. The pen represents the power of art and acknowledges that God himself is an artist. Another text that contributed to this piece is the famous hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that says “God is beautiful and He loves Beauty”. This is why I brought in the picture of the different beautiful birds. Each one is drastically different from the next. I could have listed 10,000 different breeds of birds and each one would have details unique to only their genus. I think that birds are the most gorgeous creatures created with their dynamic feather patterns, beautiful songs, and dizzying flight patterns. Each one created by God’s pen. Now humans can also create beauty themselves by mastering calligraphy and other art forms.