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Author: bwurie98

The Whirling Dervishes

During the eighth week of our course, we discussed the Sufi traditions of Islam, as well as the roles music and dance play across various cultures. Sufism refers to the mystical, esoteric orientation of the Islamic faith which focuses heavily on connecting with the unseen, netherworldly aspect of reality. The exact origins of this orientation are not clear, but some believe it dates back as far as prophet Muhammad’s time. Sufi individuals strive to achieve spiritual enlightenment, under the instruction of a certified guide, known as a shaykh or pir. During this journey, individuals discipline themselves to let go of the ego, and embracing divine love.


A key narrative underscoring the Sufi outlook is that of the Day of Alast, the day when Allah gathered all of Adam’s unborn progeny and directly spoke to them. The story is highlighted in Surah Al-A’raf, verse 172: “When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam—from their loins—their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (Who cherishes and sustains you)?”— They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were unaware.” This moment symbolizes the mankind’s original state of peace and presence in God’s divine love, a nostalgic moment all Sufi individuals strive to return to on their spiritual journey.


There are a wide variety of artworks and ritual practices specific to the Sufi traditions, most notably the sama’ and the ghazal. The sama’, which translates to “listening”, refers to the ritual listening to chanted poetry, sometimes accompanied by music. Sometimes the emotive power of the voice, in addition to the powerful messages of the words, prompts individuals to dance, possibly culminating in a state of ecstasy. During this state, the listener is beyond their senses, utterly enraptured in an otherworldly experience of divine love. The ghazal, or love lyric, refers to a poem, structured as a series of couplets which are usually independent in thought, but unified in their rhyme and meter. The ghazal, which was also popularized in Persian tradition, was heavily utilized by certain Sufi poets, who wrote poems on divine love. These poems would often contain wine imagery, which is prohibited legally in Islam, but symbolizes the individual’s non-rational, incommunicable experience when enraptured by divine euphoria.


A particular Sufi branch that has captured the attention of the West is that of the Mehlevi, founded by Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s son, Sultan Walad, in the thirteenth century. They are notable for their characteristic style of sama, during which individuals clothed in flowing white gowns spin in circles, which earned them the title “The Whirling Dervishes”. During this ritual, one hand is extended palm down to the ground, while the other is extended palm up to the sky, symbolizing that whatever provision comes from God from above, should be shared with all people on earth.  With each rotation, the dancer repeats the name “Allah” over and over, in a meditative state.  I have drawn a sketch of this particular ritual at the top of this post. Banned by Kemal Ataturk in 1925 as part of his efforts to secularize Turkey, the ritual was later reinstated only as performances for tourists. However, the ritual still thrives to this day. On a broader scale, the Sufi outlook and traditions have endured and thrived across the ages and across cultures, from the ghazal reciters of southern Asia to the pirs and shaykhs of western Africa.


And Allah knows best.


No Complusion


During the first week of our course, we were introduced to fundamental Islamic concepts. We discussed the origins of the Islamic ideology, its relation to other monotheistic faiths, and its permeation across cultures of almost every variety.

For this post, I painted an excerpt from Verse 256 of Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow). It translates as follows: “There is no compulsion in faith [or religion]”. Simply put, Muslims are prohibited from forcing other people, Muslims or otherwise, to comply by any aspects of the Islamic faith, for any reason, whatsoever.

Throughout certain academic discourses, global media, domestic and global politics, and even within day-to-day interactions, extremist narratives of Islam have been perpetuated, normalized, and generalized to label all adherents of the faith, at the expense of millions of practicing Muslims around the globe.

A primary example of this phenomenon can be seen with the hijab (veil), a widely controversial topic among many critics of Islam, as well certain adherents of the faith. Throughout certain verses of the Qur’an, both Muslim men and women are instructed to dress modestly and act honorably when engaging with one another, but there are differing interpretations on the specifics of dress.

A verse from Surah Nur (the Light) covers one aspect of dress for Muslim women, relating to interactions with family members vs. non-family members:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār (head cover) over their breasts and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves* whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments” (24:31)

In another verse, Muhammad is to instructed to tell Muslim women to cover themselves in order to protect themselves from lewd stares and harassment in public:

“Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their jalabiya (outer garments) over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. And Allah is most Forgiving, most Merciful” (33:58-59)

Essentially, Qur’anic scripture instructs Muslim women to cover their bodies and head (read: not face), to preserve their modesty. Men are also encouraged to cover themselves and act modestly when interacting with women. Far more important than physical appearance and dress, however, is moral, honorable behavior when engaging with different genders.

Throughout centuries of patriarchal interpretations and cultures, the wearing of the hijab has been enforced by some countries by law, patriarchal structures, and cultural norms. Regardless of the interpretations of these verses, these mandates are in direct violation with a fundamental concept of Islamic faith: no compulsion in religion. Women are free to choose to wear a hijab or not, end of discussion. Some may abstain due to personal preference, fears for their personal safety, or simply differences in belief. In certain countries, the headscarf and/or veil have been banned because certain government officials believe they impede on personal liberty. Since the atrocities of 9/11, American Muslim women have increasingly reported harassment, discrimination, and assault within schools, professional environments, and public settings, for the simple fact that they choose to wear the headscarf. Interesting how an object originally intended to safeguard against harassment is now provokes such harassment itself, but I digress.

Regardless of how certain individuals, scholars, or institutions interpret Islamic scriptures or texts, faith is primarily and unequivocally an independent relationship between the human and God. It is beyond our authority to judge or control others’ actions in this life, unless they are actively causing harm. No person can carry another’s burden or take responsibility for another’s actions in the face of God. No one certainly has the right to compel another to act a certain way.

And Allah knows best.



*Slavery within this setting does not refer to race-based slavery, as this was prohibited in Islam, but it was common practice among the Arabs to take prisoners of war as servants. In addition, consenting individuals who owed debts and could not find another way to pay them off would work as servants for a period of time to those whom they were indebted. However, Muslims who chose to take servants were instructed to treat them with respect, compassion, and justice.


For greater convenience, I have attached a link to the English translation of the lyrics, as well as the original version sung by Maher Zain: http://lybio.net/maher-zain-mawlaya-arabic-version-english-translation/pop-music/

During the fourth week of our course, we discussed prophet Muhammad as a paradigm of morality for humanity. Part of the Islamic ideology hinges on belief in Muhammad as God’s final messenger to all mankind. Muslims throughout the centuries, from his first companions to contemporary Muslims, have expressed their love and devotion for the prophet in a myriad of ways across a variety of cultures, from intricate poetry to beautiful songs to illustrious artwork.

For this blog, I recorded a cover of Maher Zain’s “Mawlaya.” Mawla is a polysemous Arabic word, which in the context of this song translates to “lord” or “master.” The singer calls upon his/her/their Lord (i.e. Allah) to send peace and blessings forever upon His beloved (i.e. Muhammad), and the rest of the song continues with beautiful praises of Muhammad’s noble character, as well as fervent desires to be united with him in the Hereafter, in Paradise.

Muhammad’s role within the Muslim community was multi-faceted. In addition to delivering the words of God, he was a spiritual guide to the community, a political leader and uniter, a peacemaker between tribes, an intercessor on behalf of the mankind, and, just as importantly, a father and husband.

One of Allah’s 99 names is An-Nur, the Light. Allah’s describes Muhammad as a vessel for His light: “a light (nur) from God” (5:15) and “a radiant lamp (siraj munir)” (33:46). Allah also describes him as “a beautiful model [of character]” (60:6), the ultimate paradigm for morality and good character. Allah also confirms Muhammad’s divinely-ordained spiritual authority: “He who obeys the Prophet, obeys God” (4:80, 4:64). Essentially, Muhammad’s mission to humanity is not simply a call to follow a certain faith or ideology, but his presence is a manifestation of God’s mercy and light to mankind: “And We have not sent you [O Muhammad] except as a mercy to the world” (21:107).



Surah Najm – The Star

In the interest of conserving space on this blog post, I have included a link to the Arabic text, English translation, and English transliteration for listeners to follow along with the audio.


During the second week of our course, we studied styles of Qur’anic recitation across different countries, cultures, as well as the origins of the revelation, compilation of the Qur’an. We also studied the the power of the aesthetic allure of the Qur’an, how its beauty has endured over times, and how it has been preserved in the minds of Muslims for over 1400 years.

For this blog, I recited surah An-Najm, The Star (chapter 53). The chapter gets its name from the fact that Allah opens up by swearing by the star. The chapter has three main sections. During the first section, Allah addresses the people of Makkah, admonishing them for their doubt in the validity of the Qur’anic message, as well as their claims that Muhammad has made up the verses and spoke out of delusion. Allah explicitly states “And he (i.e. Muhammad) does not speak out of (his own) desire. It is but revelation revealed (to him). It is taught to him by one (angel) mighty in power” (verses 3-5), and so forth.

In the second section, Allah affirms his absolute sovereignty and knowledge over the entirety of the universe, far above the idols fashioned by those who have strayed from the universal message of submission, sent to previous nations.

Doubtful of this seemingly new message from God, the people of Quraysh (Muhammad’s tribe) initially turned away from the message. In the third section, Allah reiterates that His message has been sent to mankind before, through the scriptures of Musa (Moses), Ibrahim (Abraham). Previous nations may have been given different commandments, but they are all inspired by the same source: islam, submission to the One God.

After presenting these various themes, Allah concludes by warning mankind of the impending Hour, which no one can avert, the Day when all souls will return to Him and stand before Him to be judged in the afterlife. The concluding verse “So fall in prostration and worship (Allah)” (verse 62) is one of 15 verses of prostration throughout the Qur’an. Upon recitation of such a verse, the reciter of the Qur’an immediately falls into prostration and makes a special dua (supplication), provided their current condition allows.

According to a hadith recorded by Al-Bukhari and narrated by Hadrat Abdullah Ibn Al-Mas’ud, this surah was the first that the prophet Muhammad recited publicly, in front the Ka’bah, for all present to hear. Upon reciting the final verse of prostration, the entire assembly present, both believers and non-believers, fell in prostration, including the chiefs of the Quraysh who had previously discredited his message. Utterly captivated by the beauty and power of the recitation, none were immune to the power of the Qur’anic words. This story is just one of many stories that exemplify the mysterious power of the aesthetics of the Qur’an, the likes of which the Arabs had never encountered before. After Muhammad’s death, the recitation was passed on for generations, and remains the most well-preserved text in human memory on the planet.

That being said, our primary responsibility as Muslims, far more important than rote memorization is the proper application of its message in order to live lives of peace, empathy, and service, and this task requires good intentions, proper guidance, and consistent humility.

And Allah knows best.


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