Calligraphy Assignment

Just as the prophets were the sources of symbols and imagery for poets, and served as inspiration for the Islamic arts such as calligraphy (Asani, lecture), it was the prophets that inspired my design. Specifically, it was the concept that “Every nation has had a messenger” (10:47) and that these prophets make up a fraternity, an integrated understanding of humanity and divinity, rather than being pitted as rivals against one another to decide which is the ‘true prophet’, and what is the ‘true message’. I tried to express this universality and hope of mutual understanding through my design.

At the same time, that there is a distinction between the English letters and Arabic script and yet they are melded in the same word, image, or entity, is an acknowledgement (rather than glossing over) of our differences and yet an affirmation of our fundamental similarity. It is a similar message, I think, to that of Barbara’s kitchen, wherein different ‘dishes’ may be created, but all share the same underlying ‘ingredients’. As Sells wrote, “The experience of the Qur’an in traditional Islamic countries is very different from Western attempts to read it.” (1999:11) My design reflects the enduring hope that this difference is something to be celebrated, something that brings us all more knowledge, just as in the verse, “We (God) have made you into nations and communities so that you may know (learn from) each other.” Despite the multitudes that remain mired in mutual ignorance, there are also those who attempt to reach across boundaries (of language, of culture) to be able to see things from another’s point of view, and appreciate the ways in which that point of view echoes one’s own.

Although it may look different at different times and from different places on Earth, the moon is a constant in our sky; even when one cannot see it, it does not mean it is not there. I feel like this parallels the nature of Allah. We may each see something different when we look up into the sky, but the moon contains within its form all our fragmentary perspectives and understandings, and perhaps even is the richer for it.

W4: Who and What is Prophet Muhammad?

I dream of the Prophet
In the centre of the garden
he stands very still
Barging through and begging pardon,
I watch from the hill
All these people watching with me
aren’t just watching him –
Do they see a man a myth see
light, or human limb?
His bright presence is enchanting
and sets all aflame;
In their eyes I see them wanting
to call him by name
In their passion they start shouting
he stands very still
To their minds there is no doubting –
voices get more shrill
Mystic, model, intercessor
Light or human limb?
God’s beloved or oppressor?
Till the day grows dim.

The sun melts slow into the sea
and sets all aflame
I love the Prophet, who loves me:
that’s all I can claim.

This week’s readings were rich – dense, even – with ideas about and perceptions of the Prophet Muhammad, something of a challenge to wrap my head around. It seems that these poets, believers, worshippers, and religious authorities all have certain conceptions of Prophet Muhammad, which cannot always be reconciled (particularly across different or conflicting strands of thinking (e.g. Wahhabi/Sufi) rather than across different roles (i.e. poets can be worshippers can be religious authorities, and so on)).

This resistance to reconciliation in the many different views of Prophet Muhammad is not just a little problem for me in my attempts to gain a deeper understanding of Islam as it is understood, believed in, and practised by Muslims of all stripes; it is also, I think, a problem for said Muslims, or even non-Muslims, who raise their voices in passing judgment on what they perceive to be the reality.

While I do not quite have a solution to proffer, I return to the idea that, whatever one’s dearly-held opinion of him, his status, and his role may be, Prophet Muhammad is the key figure that unifies a factious, unruly, and often confused (but ultimately not more so than any other community one might point to) Islamic community.

Thus, in response to these thoughts, I have created a poem that in maybe an oblique way (such as in framing it as a “dream” – how romantic : )) echoes the love poetry, the devotional poetry, that we have read this week. At the same time, in this ‘love poem for the Prophet’, I focus not only on the persona’s love for him in whatever role she fits him into (which is my interpretation, not meant to be ungenerous, of the poetry I read), but first on these questions, to which love for the Prophet actually ends up seeming like a sort of answer.

W2: The Qur’an as Talisman

This piece was mainly a response to Abdullahi Osman El-Tom’s “Drinking the Koran: The Meaning of Koranic Verses in Berti Erasure” and the idea discussed in lecture and in section of the Qur’an as talisman. I wanted to create something that speaks to the understanding of the Qur’an as a text, particularly as a text with many dimensions and a lot of power. I also found this idea (first encountered in lecture) reflected in the El-Tom reading, where he asserts,

The Koran is regarded as containing divine power; thus, to possess the Koranic texts renders an individual powerful and protects him against misfortunes and malevolent forces. The highest form of the possession of the Koran is its commitment to memory, which amounts to its internalization in the head, the superior part of the body, whence it can be instantly reproduced by recitation. (1985:416)

I found interesting the idea that there is a sort of hierarchy to different ways of ‘possessing’ or ‘internalising’ the Qur’an. I was additionally inspired to represent a child’s experience by the early pages of Ziauddin Sardar’s Reading the Qur’an, which begins, “I grew up reading the Qur’an on my mother’s lap.” Thinking about a child’s experience, engagement, and understanding as regards the Qur’an made me choose the angle I did and heavily influenced the storyline; for example, it was important to me that it was the mother who held the deeper spiritual wisdom, and passed it on to her child.