Week 5: Post-Prophetic authority, communities of interpretation, and Shi‘i Piety
Medium: Paper Collage
Love for the ahl al-Bayt (“People of the House”), specifically Ali and his progeny, is central to Shia piety. For this reason, the tragic death of Hassan and Hussein has important implications for the Shia community. Taziyeh is a passion play born in Shia Iran that commemorates the tragic fate of Hassan in Karbala. As opposed to Western theatre, the audience is very much a part of the play and will weep with emotion during the play. In this creative way, the Shia community is able to express their grief, commemorate their beloved leaders, and express their devotion in a form of communal worship.
Inspired by the powerful imagery of the Taziyeh and the love story between Qasem and Fatimeh, I created a collage made from paper. The collage depicts the resilient Fatimeh with her arms tucked neatly by her sides as she stands in a sea of blue water. The water imagery is inspired by the moment Hassan tells the dervish from Kabul with parched lips that “…we are never in need of the water of this life.” Retaining pride and dignity in the face of defeat and brutality is one of the resonating messages in the Taziyeh. Fiery flames surround Fatimeh, reminiscent of the desert’s heat. Fatimeh’s face is pale and she is on the brink of death from dehydration, yet she refuses to lift her hands to drink from the water that she is engulfed by. If you look closely into the water, you will see hints of people drowning in the water. The people drowning warns the audience of what might happen if you partake in the consumption of the water of this land, meaning if you let yourself be consumed by earthly desires. She wears a sweeping green head scarf that reminds the audience that she is of Ali’s house, and that she is a widowed bride, still wearing the traditional green that Muslim brides tend to wear on their weddings. She does not take off her green wedding veil, instead she will wear it until she is reunited with Qasem on Judgement Day.
Week 4: Prophet Muhammad as Paradigm, the Mi‘rāj, and Poetry in Praise of the Prophet
Medium: Black Ink on Paper superimposed on a wall
The Prophet Muhammad is God’s beloved, or habib Allah. Muslims all over the world have such respect and love for their Prophet that they honor him by following his traditions and way of life, or his sunnah. They celebrate this love creatively through artistic forms such as poetry and art. I chose to create a scene using ink that celebrated the uniqueness of Muhammad as a prophet. It is commonly known that Muhammad was an orphan, and though he was cared for by his extended family, this reality shaped Muhammad’s preachings and values profoundly. Though piety is stressed, there is an overarching theme in his teachings that emphasizes the ideal of social justice. Muhammad himself was a pioneer of social justice during his time. He encouraged giving alms to the poor and taking care of the orphans, and stressed that aiding the needy is just as important, if not more important than worshipping God through prayer.
I had taken a picture of a little orphaned girl begging on the streets during a harsh winter in Kabul, Afghanistan and used this as a template for my painting. The little girl can be seen leaning against a wall bundled in many layers as she looks to the side, anxious in the cold. Hovering above her is the image of the Senegalese religious leader: Amadou Bamba. One cannot be quite sure if his image is hovering above the girl like an angel, or painted by a human being onto the wall. Either way, his presence holds significance for the little girl because he is the only other subject in the scene, symbolizing how the rest of the world has abandoned her, and so she now only has the painted memory of Amadou Bamba to give her barakat (blessings). The irony of this situation is that though people give money to beggars hoping to get their barakat, it is the beggars who are in greater need of God’s material blessings. When the Prophet passed away, he left the people who needed him the most: the poor, the wanderers, the orphans. The Senegalese think that some of the Prophet’s goodness is found in others, and that Amadou Bamba is one of those people, left in charge to take over the Prophet’s work. The orphan girl does not know that Amadou Bamba is there to look after her and give his blessings because even though he is hovering above her left shoulder, she is looking over her right shoulder for help. This, too, reflects the idea that God’s blessings are there, even if you might not see them at the time.
The message of this piece is that if one loves their Prophet, then surely they must love all of the Prophet’s children, the orphans.