Exploring Islam Through Art, Culture, and Literature

Entries from March 2016

Week 6 Response – The Conglomerate Mosque

March 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

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Mosques serve as centers of not only spiritual, but also often community, life for many Muslims. In addition to serving as a place of worship, many mosques have some sort of additional community function, ranging from something as simple as public gyms, to, in larger mosques, educational centers. However, beyond this basic function, the similarities between mosques in different areas of the world essentially end. Though perhaps originally modeled off of the Prophet Muhammad’s original home in Medina, where he would deliver sermons atop a small stool (later becoming the minbar) to a crowd of followers gathered in the courtyard under a small awning for shade, the mosques seen around the world today are to a large extent the product of the local culture and environment in which they are found.

This diversity in Islamic art and architecture is represented here with a miniature mosque sculpted out of clay built with a conglomeration of different, distinct components of mosques found throughout the world. The front of the mosque is made to resemble the Djeene mosque in Mali, with its smoothened mud surface and scaffolding framework, while the back is divided to represent both the large dome and minaret style common among Middle Eastern and Turkish mosques and the more rounded domes that are often seen adorning South or Southeast Asian ones. These differences represent a greater debate about the existence of one Islamic (with a capital “I”) art form rooted in spiritual meaning, as portrayed by Nasr in his piece, versus the idea of Islamic art as representative of the various art forms expressed by the diverse populations throughout the Muslim world, as put forth by Necipoglu in her piece. She emphasizes the uniqueness of Islamic art that has developed since the founding of the tradition, such as the incorporation of art unique to Hindu temples in to South Asian mosques, whereas Nasr appears more focused on early architectural styles. Without recognizing these various cultures and the multiple historical influences that shaped them, one runs the risk of ultimately playing into the interpretation of “Islam with a capital I”, whereby a sense of “otherness” is essentially created that plays into the modern notion of some monolithic power in the religion that seems to be perpetuated today.

Additionally, I purposefully left the this conglomerate mosque unpainted, with a plain, white exterior, to represent the destruction of beautiful mosques in the Balkans and elsewhere by the Wahhabi sect, in favor of their “hospital white box style” mentioned by Sells in his article on the topic, devoid of any local cultural character. This is indicative of a larger cultural cleansing being conducted by the Saudis throughout the region, again contributing to the otherness described above. Ultimately, this likely plays into the culture of fear associated with that sect, and the Islamic tradition in general, that seems to be so prevalent in Western societies.

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Week 4 Response – The Many Meanings of the Mi’raj

March 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

 

 

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The Mi’raj, or the story of the Prophet’s ascent to heaven, is marked by a number of interesting and colorful interactions that are well documented in Islamic art, as evidenced by the Seguy reading. However, one of the components of the story in some cultures that, though brought up in Chapter 3 of Infidel of Love, was not mentioned in the accounts of the Mi’raj assigned for discussion reading, was that of the negotiation between the Prophet and Allah for the salat to occur five times per day, instead of fifty. Given the smile and slight chuckle with which Prof. Asani presented this story in lecture, I felt it fitting to represent it in the form of a comic showing the Prophet – sporting a purple sweatband – “running” up and down the stairs between the final heaven where Allah resides, and the lower heaven where Muhammad encounters Moses. Finally, at the end of the comic, a reference is made to one of the many names of God, or God the compassionate and merciful, emphasizing God’s mercy in this case of not directing Muslims to pray fifty times per day.

Of course, though it might be humorous to consider the story of the Prophet’s ascension in this way, some of the deeper meanings of the Mi’raj can also be gleaned from this comic. This is mainly seen in the second and fifth frames, where the Prophet can be seen prostrating in the presence of God, who is represented here with brighter colors signifying His light that is the basis of all creation. Otherwise, He remains figureless, as no artist, especially a mediocre one like myself, would be able to capture the many facets of God and His beauty and power. Furthermore, this act of prostration is a clear representation of Muhammad’s complete submission to God, which is perhaps one of the central ideas put forth in the Mi’raj. As Prof. Asani describes in Infidel of Love, this submission represents complete clearing of the human ego, and all of the negative qualities associated with it, ultimately allowing Muhammad to “see” God everywhere. This is in keeping with the Prophet’s role as a model human, who other Muslims can emulate to best practice their faith and ultimately show their love for God.

Additionally, I chose to keep the language between God and Muhammad fairly casual when the two are interacting to help represent strength of the bond between the two figures. In a sense, it represents the deep love that the two share for each other, with Muhammad truly being God’s “beloved” and the chosen one to receive His message. This is further emphasized by the fact that Muhammad is able to visit God multiple times, perhaps serving as a testament to, as Prof. Asani suggests in Chapter Three of Infidel of Love, his special status as the chosen Prophet, whereas the lay Muslim might never be able to imagine meeting Him, or perhaps only during their final journey as a soul after death.

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Week 2 Response – The Importance of Zakat

March 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

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One of my main motivations for taking A&I 54 was to become better educated about the Islamic faith, and to perhaps gain a better understanding of what it means to be, as Professor Asani says, Muslim, “with a capital M”. While I was of course raised to be accepting of all peoples and faiths, and to not judge the entire faith of Islam on the actions of certain radical groups, growing up in a fairly homogeneous Midwestern town, I certainly experienced the caustic, uninformed response to Islam that Prof. Asani describes in Chapter Two of Infidel of Love. Although I fortunately never witnessed any overt acts of racism, any talk of Muslims from my peers at school seemed to generally be centered around “terrorism” or the latest report on the conflict in the Middle East from Fox News. Even at home, much of the supposedly “left-leaning” or “unbiased” media that I was exposed to still failed to present a picture of Islam beyond “extremist”. Thus, for me, the cultural studies approach used in the class to explore this faith has been incredibly informative, revealing the rich culture and compassionate, peaceful tradition that I was always vaguely aware of, but never fully exposed to in the environment that I grew up in.

To me, nothing is more representative of this compassion than the practice of zakat, or ritual almsgiving, which is considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam. I was taken by this act of charity incorporated into the foundation of the tradition, which I have not seen in any other faith given my limited experience with religion. With this in mind, I chose to represent the idea of zakat here with a photograph of a “beggar” with outstretched hands, being offered zakat in the form of money and food. The recipient remains faceless and only the hands of those doing the giving are shown in order to allow the viewer to imagine any number of people in the position of giver and recipient. After all, there is not one single “type” of Muslim – as myself and many other young people in the US were led to believe by portrayals of the religion in popular media.

Additionally, using Photoshop, I placed the photo against a background of an old, brick wall that could have been from Medina during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. In doing this, I hoped to convey the idea that this focus on social justice arises in part from the actions of the Prophet, such as the story described in Infidel of Love of him nursing a woman that would throw garbage at him back to health, ultimately converting her to a follower of his new faith. Given the Prophet’s position as the paradigm of an ideal Muslim, these acts of compassion serve as a basis for the modern focus on compassion within the Islamic faith today. The modern nature of the beggar’s clothes represents this link between the past and the present.

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Hello world!

March 21st, 2016 · 1 Comment

Welcome to Weblogs at Harvard. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

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