This week we discussed the prophet Muhammad and his veneration in many Muslim communities. As a Catholic, I am tempted to think of Muhammad in the same terms as Christ in the Christian tradition, but our readings and professor Asani’s discussion place the Qur’an in that more exalted place, with Muhammad as the bringer of light rather than the light himself. This small switch in thinking places the prophet’s many roles in a different context for me as well. Because Muhammed translates the light of God for humanity, he can- and must- take on all the roles necessary for this mission: the honorable messenger rasul karim, the authority and master-guardian wali of believers, the teacher mu’allim of the Book and Wisdom, the witness shahid of humanity, the the light nur from God, the intercessor, and the mercy rahmah to the world.
I found Muhammad’s ascent into heaven, the mi’raj, to be an especially interesting illustration of his many roles as a blessed messenger. Surah 17 praises “he who travelled from the sacred mosque to the farthest sanctuary,” Muhammed guided by the angel Jibril and carried by Buraq through the seven levels of heaven. Like the many roles of Muhammed, the many versions and interpretations of the mi’raj emphasize different aspects of Muhammad’s blessings and messages from God. Some visual interpretations I personally found most compelling were the Persian miniature paintings of Muhammad’s journey- I love the attention to detail, vivid color, and reverence given to each figure, cloud, and star. I painted Muhammad with a veil over his face to leave his identity and diverse roles open to the viewer’s interpretation, and I left Buraq white. My seven clouds show the seven levels of heaven, and I used gold to emphasize Muhammad, Buraq, and the heavens. In section, I learned that my visual translation as a Christian also has a long history- Dante’s journey through Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell in the Divine Comedy draws some inspiration from Muhammad’s journey. The mixing of these religious traditions, artistic expression, and ideas as early as the 14th century surprises me, but also intrigues me to look for other histories of travel and exchange.