PAUL WALKER MADER-YORK

AI54: For the Love of God and His Prophet: Religion, Literature, and the Arts in Muslim Cultures

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Sea of Marmara in background

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

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Before this semester at Harvard University, I had never approached Islam in a scholarly manor. Since I was a small child I have been very interesting in Arabic and the Arab World. A big part of this fascination stemmed from my interest in Islam as well. In high school, I studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), also know as Fushah, and lived in Morocco and Jordan where I studied at an emersion school and worked in a hospital respectively.

Since then I have lived to the Arab World three more times for short periods of time. Most recently l lived in Cairo, Egypt in the Spring of 2014. I studied oud music and taught English to Cairene professionals. I also have had the opportunity through out my life to explore the larger Muslim world, visiting a mosque in Dorchester when I was a child, traveling to Muslim sites across India when I was ten, and studying the Adzan as I lived in Indonesia for four months in 2013.

Despite spending time in places that are rich with Islamic traditions, I do not know a whole lot about the religion in which I found myself happily ensconced for months at a time even as I actively tried to immerse myself in my surroundings and learn more about the religion. For instance, before this course, I barely knew the differences between Sunni and Shi’a and Suffi nor anything about the countless other sects that comprise the fuller picture of Islam as a web of syncretism, politics, relationships, and faith.

I have shared many cultural and spiritual experiences with Muslim friends all over the world adding to my layered understanding of this world religion, an understanding that has also been informed by my upbringing, media, and life experiences. Hopefully this blog provides a space for me to connect many forms of media/ art with aspects of Islam to improve my religious comprehension and give the reader insight into my travels with this faith experientially and academically.

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A central question in Islam where one must begin is: what is Islam?

Islam is a monotheistic religion that nearly one in four people around the world practice. Muslims believe that Jews and Christians are also ahl al-kitab, or People of the Book, which exemplifies how Muslims and this belief systems grew out of an already strong Abrahamic tradition in the Middle East. One aspect of modem Islam I found to be present in every Muslim family I spent time with was how central social justice and a sense of the larger community was; this was an idea highlighted by festivals such as Eid al-Adha in which I got to participate in both Jordan and Indonesia. Such experiences gave me a sense of the universality of good will that predominates the faith.

This portfolio/ blog for now will highlight some weekly concepts brought up in AI54 and discussion sections such as the adzan and qur’an recitations, Islamic art in calligraphy and architecture, and forms of poetry. I am grateful to Professor Asani and my teaching fellow Ceyhun Arslan for giving me a better understanding of Islam, its cultures, and its peoples.

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