Art Portfolio Item 2

Perry’s description of Karbala paints a grim picture. Husayn is faced by Yazid’s powerful army and is significantly outnumbered. He recognizes his imminent death and prepares himself for martyrdom. The conversations he has before he went into battle show that he is aware of what is to come. Nonetheless, he carries himself with pride going into the encounter. For Husayn, the conflict is not about emerging victorious – he is determined to die fighting in protection of his beliefs. This carries deep social justice implications within the Shi’i Islamic tradition. The martyrdom of Husayn presents difficulty and struggle as an essential part of Islam. The Shi’a lost the battle against Zayd I and thus understand Islam through mourning, loss, and most of all, perseverance. 

 

I chose ink on paper as my artistic medium because I wanted to emphasize a deep, historical tradition. A more modern vehicle such as film would break away from the message that this piece intends to convey. Calligraphy is a long-lasting part of Islam that was a part of many early Muslims’ experiences outside the oral tradition. Using calligraphy, I hope to show how the story of Husayn is also historical and part of the early, foundational experiences Shi’i Muslims have with Islam. I intentionally chose black because of its connotations as a color of mourning. The color is not inspiring or motivating. Just as Husayn was fully aware of the dismal situation he was entering, social justice efforts are not exclusively about a positive final outcome. Minority activist voices originate from principle – a personal commitment to convey and defend important political stances. 

 

Finally, the words spell out لا تخاف انا الله معنا, translated as “Do not fear for God is with us.” Muhammad (PBUH) said these words to Abu Bakr when they were hiding in the cave as members of Quraysh chased them. The Prophet’s (PBUH) faith in God can be reflected in the Shi’i interpretation that despite the difficulties they encounter, their efforts will be rewarded by God.

Sources:

 Sir Lewis Pelly, “Martyrdom of Husayn,” The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husein: Collected from Oral Tradition, vol. 2 (London: W.H. Allen and Co., 1879)

 Asani, Ali. “Postprophetic Authority 1 Shii Imams 1/3 Oct” Gened 1087, 3 Oct. 2019, Harvard College. Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

 I would like to thank my colleague Abdullah Bannan for his assistance in showing me how to prepare this calligraphic design.

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