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.

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