Introduction

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The way I have typically approached religion has been through my own experience with Christianity. I grew up in southern Nigeria, where religion and cultural identity have increasingly become mutually exclusive. To me, when missed with the culture of a people, religion risks losing its purity and becomes a tool for reemphasizing beliefs that already exist among a group. My notion of religion gets challenged after learning the different ways Islam has been shaped and shaped by the people who practice it. I took Arabic in High school, so I had prior experience with Islam. It is impossible to study Arabic knowledge without accounting for the influence of religion on Arabic culture. I learnt about the Basic of the religion, like how the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, the five pillars of Islam, and the importance of the Hajj. What this approach lacked was the importance of how people express their culture artistically. Professor Asani talked in class about how artforms like buildings create a synthesis of people’s beliefs and their culture. We watched a video in class this year about Muslims in China, where they had architecture that looked Chinese but also had Islamic features like Minarets. This theme of Islam adapting is also seen when we look at the grand mosque in Mali made out of sand. Although Islam is showcased in different ways by various groups, there is universality in the concepts that are present in the religion.
Islam is a universal religion and has a variety of forms it takes. The Sunni and Shia, which are the main groups, are made up of subgroups. This is where the diversity of Islam comes from. In this class, we had a few reoccurring questions that helped provide a framework for approaching the different forms of Islam that we were exposed to. These questions are Whose Islam are we talking about? What type of Islam? And where has Islam practiced this way? Answering this question helps resolve the struggle between loud Islam and Silent Islam. Loud Islam in the context of this class is the Islamic practices that have come to shape the narrative of what we consider Islam to be. Silent Islam, in contrast often is out of the view of the world, because of who practices it, where it is practiced, and the version of Islam. It is essential to understand that the juxtaposition of loud and silent Islam is not necessarily one seeking to determine the value of each type of Islam. By this, I mean my creative Art piece only seeks to highlight both the silent and loud Islam and doesn’t seek to determine if one is better than the other. I provide a brief overview of my blog post below and how they use arts forms from the class to portray themes form this class. The themes that they convey are the adaptivity of Islam, the diversity, the role of art form in experiential Islam, and Islam as a movement. t

Who am I: In this post, I used poetry as my art form to question preconceptions of who is a Muslim. In Islam, poetry is probably the most significant art form. In Islam’s early history, the Quran has remained poetic from after the Prophet Mohammad received it as a recitation form. In class, professor Asani talked about the idea of poetry being the language of God. My poem seeks to use this rich history of Islamic poetry to reshape how we think of Muslims. Especially in the United States, where people’s ideas have been shaped by the 911 attacks, and Islamophobia excels due to people’s ignorance about Islam. The concept of Islam being a religion of violence due to this attack is a clear example of how loud Islam shapes people’s views. I use this poem to portray this theme.

Experiential beauty: I have always experienced God the most by focusing on his creation and being amazed at how incredible they are. This piece is a presentation of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Western North Carolina. In this class, we are introduced to the idea of God being the creator and that his creation worships him. In fact, the word Muslim means to submit to God. This mountain range allows me to feel closer to God by inducing my curiosity about the creator. My interpretation of this picture is, nature is submitting to God and allowing me and countless others to experience God through its beauty. This is part of the experiential nature of this class a constant theme during this past school year.

Mystical Mohammad: The way Muhammad is seen by Muslims has been shaped by the version of Islam. Sunni Muslims find the depiction of the Prophet in images to be taboo. This is also a widely accepted belief by many Muslims. I have always known that images of the Prophet were not permitted until I took this class. The reality, in Places like Iran, which is Shia, images of the Prophet are displayed as standard practice. I highlight this to provide context for the readers of this blog on the different views on portraying the Prophet in images. Believing in Muhammad’s mystical status shapes how many Muslims experience Islam. This is because it offers Muslims a way they can attain spirituality. My collage for Mystical Muhammad depicts Mohammad’s journey to achieve spirituality. Muhammad goes on a Miraj journey where he is ultimately welcomed by Allah and becomes seen as a mystical being. The differences in the belief of Mohamad’s mystical form highlight the idea of whose Islam. The realization that Prophet Muhammad has been depicted in images for hundreds of years disillusioned me. Paintings in this collage create an embodiment of a mystical event.

Lover and Beloved: In this blog post, we see the theme of humans in a close relationship with God. The relationship between the lover and the beloved is a key concept in Sufi Ghazals. In this contest, human interaction which God is an active one. The goal of this relationship is to archive spirituality. In great artistic works like the Conference of the Bird, we talked about how each bird comes up with an excuse for why they are not continuing with their journey to spirituality. This feature of an interpersonal relationship between God and Man in the trip to Spirituality results from the Sufi style of Islam. I would not have thought of Islam in this way. So it is essential to show how Islam has shaped Sufis and how they have shaped their own version of Islam.

Islam in Black America: In class this year, we taught that Islam in US contemporary culture can be found in hip hop music. The different way Islam had been present in rap music truly surprised me. My blog on Islam and Black America is greatly influenced by the concept of how Islam is shaped by cultures. In my drawing, I present a symbol of the Black Liberation movement and also the Flag of the nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam is the form that Islam in Black America took before and after the civil rights movements. The Nation of Islam did not practice like you would expect when thinking of Muslims. Obligations like going to the Hajj were not emphasized by the Nation of Islam. In this contest, Islam provided African Americans with a connection to God and a way of revolting against the institutions in America. The Idea of Islam having five pillars implants in our mind that it is potentially a rigid and uniform religion. But for Black people in America, Islam adapted and also changed them while pursuing civil rights. So not only is Islam present in art forms like Hip hop, it was part of the impetus for change for African Americans.

Veil and Feminism: For this blog post, I focused on how to contextualize social Issues within the frame of Islam. Ideas like feminism have increasingly become Westernized. There is no monopoly on feminism, and it doesn’t have to look the same everywhere. In this post, I talk about how there is a place for women to achieve equality without feeling that they need to sacrifice the Hijab. At the risk of overstating, when people question the Hijab creates a sense of burden. The response that Professor Asani introduced in this class is which Islam are you talking about. Shifting away from the generalization of Islam helps shape how we will be able to find places for social movements within Islam. In section we discussed sultana’s dream and the idea that religion is not what restricts women, rather its the institution created by men that seeks to rob women of equal liberty.

The role of art in understanding the true nature of Islam cannot be overstated. This semester we had Ali sati come performed music for the class. He performed music associated with Pakistan but mentioned that he was trending as much in India. The fact that he can trend in India with Pakistani-style music highlight’s the power of art in the Islamic religion. This blog aims to create an experiential interaction with Islam for its visitors.

Veil and Feminism

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This creative piece is inspired by the week ten theme of Islamic reform and revival. Islam for women has primarily been associated with wearing the Hijab by the West. My collage features the different types of Hijab and how they range in how much of a woman’s body they cover. In Islamic reform and revival, the Hijab has also played an important role as places like Turkey move back and forth between being progressive and conservative. My collage contains images of the different types of Hijabs. We see the lady in the bikini, which is a reflection of when Turkey is progressive and when Turkey is becoming more conservative. In this sense, the Hijab for the West has come to serve as a litmus test for the majority of Muslim notions of how Western they are. In Weber’s reading, a Catt Jacobs questions the wearing of the Hijab ” She wanted to know if there is a movement for its removal”(Weber, pp 135). She suggests that feminism in the Islamic world needs to address veiling. Although she advocates for women’s equality, she falls into the Western trap of disregarding the cultural and religious significance of veiling to Muslim women. Also referencing another piece of reading in the class, ” Sultana’s Dream,” there is the idea that the cause of gender inequality is men choosing to prevent women from accessing the same liberty. Religion is not the reason for inequality. Understanding this difference will help eliminate the bias against Islam that was found in western feminist movements.

Islam in Black America

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Black people in the US have struggled against racism and oppression in their history. This experience is likely to shape their response to the society they live in. This experience, coupled with a long heritage of Islam for African Americans, has created the perfect environment for Islam to thrive in the Black community. In week 13 we talked about the presence of Islam in the African American community. The piece I created for this blog is the black fist, which is known as the sign for black power. This symbol has been a way to awaken the black cautiousness against the oppression people are facing. The black fist is next to the flag of the Nation of Islam: a group of black Muslims united in their fight for black equality. The nation of Islam is arguably the most prominent way Islam has flourished in the black community, especially with the group’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement. it is essential to consider why Islam found a place among African Americans. An excellent way to explore this relationship is Islam’s connection to hip hop, which has an unarguably black heritage. Rapper Mors def said in an interview, “Implicit in the Shahada is a commitment to a life governed and mediated by the precepts of Islam, where Muslims are taught to fear no man, but to fear Allah alone” (Abdel- Alim,pp 1). This belief shapes Mor’s def experience as he tries to carve out a space for Black people through Music. Concepts like this in the Quran did not only help Black people in America fight against their oppression. It also motivated them to create a space for themself without fear of any man or institution.

Lover and Beloved

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In this blog, I will be talking about the Sufi mystical experience and the theme of the interaction between the lover and the beloved. In week 10 we focused on the Sufi mystic experience. My creative piece for this blog is a drawing showing a bird and a rose. They represent the lover and the beloved. In the Sufi art form, there is a reoccurring theme of the interaction between the lover and the beloved. Although using a word like the beloved suggests a passive relationship, the reality is that the relationship is filled with action between the Devine and humanity. Sufis often document this relationship in Ghazals ” To Ghazal poets; nature is particularly full of analogies to his experience in love” (Bruin pp,63). Sufi artwork often contains a description of our relationship with God using nature. In my piece, I am attempting to convey the admiration of the rose by the dove. I must confess this imagery is highly influenced by probably the most recognizable Sufi poetry, the Conference of the Birds. Ghazals are another example of the artistic nature of the Islamic experience. Muslims, since inception, have had their interaction with God shaped by the arts. Sufi mysticism highlights a personal experience with God that doesn’t have to be shaved by collective consciousness as we may find in other Muslim groups. By this, I mean people are actively encouraged to get on a path that draws them close to the Devine to archive spirituality. This is why there is a singular dove, and a singular rose in my depiction of the Devine and the beloved.

Mystical Muhammad.

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Muhammad, to many Muslim, is not just a human but a mystical being; in week 4 of the lectures, a significant theme was an introduction to seeing Muhammad in a spiritual light. Muhammad is considered as the Shafa’ah (intercessor), and he has the power to forgive sins. Millions of Muslims around the world recite the Salawat daily in order to as Muhammad for blessing. Muslims believe Muhammad to be the last of God’s messengers, to whom was revealed the final installment of revelation (Asani pp,115). In this piece, I highlight Muhammad’s Miraj journey. “Praised be he who traveled with his servant from the sacred mosque to the farthest sanctuary (masjid al-aqsa)” Sura 17. The Miraj journey seeks to explain how Muhammad attain this level of spiritual power. The first picture is a picture of Muhammad as he talks with Buraq. The chronology of the Miraj story is represented in the collage to it; we can see Muhammad on the back of Buraq, and eventually, Muhammad is surrounded by fire. This is the stage where Muhammad has become one with the Devine. Buraj is believed to be a mystical creature, which also signifies love. Muhammad, on this journey, transcended the egotistic nature of humanity and operated under the guidance of love. This idea is that humans are limited by their desire to rationalize everything and are inhibited from attaining mystical status. It is only through love that we can transcend. This story is replicated again in a more contemporary art piece of a mural. we can see Muhammad on this journey. These depictions are essential for Muslims, especially because Muhammad is considered the ideal Muslim, and artwork like this allows people to visualize Muhammad’s Journey.

Experiential Beauty

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Blue Ridge Mountains (Photo by Justice Ajogbor)

In Islam, there is an intrinsic relationship between the spiritual world and the physical creation of God. In John Renard seven doors to islam reading for week 3, he quotes Dust Muhammad ” If a form is not worthy of astonishment, it is not worth the touch of the brush” (Renard, pp 268). God shows himself to us through his creation. My creative piece for this blog is a picture that i took over spring break of a section of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Standing there and looking at the collection of mountains it looked like a painting to me. Indeed it was a form worthy of the God’s brush. This creative piece also drew me back to the idea of how Gods creation worships God through their beauty and the ability of nature to draw humans closer to the Devine. There is also the natural sounds from being in nature that is in it  own form an Adhan (call to prayer). The unity between the physical  and spiritual world goes back to a theme in class about how we can see gods beauty by looking at God’s creation. The Quran was given to Prophet Mohammad in the form of recitation, and the codification of the text did not happen for a long time after. So in this sense, poetry is a language of God, and the Adhan shows how Muslims view this. The lecture reading for this week talked about how recitation changes the experience of the Quran in traditionally Islamic countries from the West. The Adhan especially becomes a representation of Islamic identity, when you hear it, it immediately signals that there is a mosque near by. The ecstasy we experience from witnessing God’s beauty through our environment and sound becomes a way of creating a spiritual experience for all Muslims.

 

First Post. Who am I (poem)

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I am a Muslim
I appreciate the diversity of cultures
I live in downtown New York
I play the violin
I see Allah in the people around me
I am a Muslim
I believe in peace
I am devote my life to serving others
I worry about the lack of love I see around me
I let Allah’s light shine through me

I am a Muslim

The question of who a Muslim is has been debated for many years. The result is that the scope of who a Muslim is has been shaped by what professor Asani considers as “Loud Islam”. Furthermore, in the West, the identity of a Muslim has been shaped by the 9-11 bombing. Viewing a Muslim from this framework is limiting and untrue to who a Muslim is.
A very simplistic definition of who a Muslim “is a label for a person who adheres to a religion we call Islam” (Asani pp, 2). Another definition is that a Muslim is one who submits to the will of God. This definition highlights the idea that there is a direct relationship between the participants and God. The third definition of Muslim is grateful to God. These different definitions of who a Muslim is make it impossible to standardize what a Muslim should look like. The prejudice against Muslims arises from the lack of understanding of who a Muslim is. The professor Asani’s piece he quotes Elizabeth,“. . . when we understand with our rational minds what is happening within a religious tradition across time and space, we can also challenge ourselves and others to confront the gut-level prejudices that are often masked by intellectual tolerance” (Asani pp, 5). Therefore is in important to highlight the traits of Muslims to educate non-Muslims on the real nature of Islam.
My creative piece for week one highlights this idea. A Muslim is both a person with the Hijab and a lady who chooses not to cover her hair. The underlying connection between these people is their submission to Allah and their gratefulness to God.

 

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