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Introductory Essay

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Having grown up in Pakistan, I have been surrounded by Islam my entire life. I personally belong to a religious minority, the Ahmadiyya, and got to experience the exclusive nature of the predominant Islam. As such, I came into the course with a decent understanding of Islam and the different strands that make it up. I was very aware of the history of change that Pakistan as a state went through from being envisioned to be a secular state by Jinnah to evolving into an Islamist nation, however, I was not aware of why this change took place. The course, “Multi-Sensory Islam” by Professor Asani really helped ground my experience of Islam and provide the vocabulary to define what I had seen growing up in Pakistan. Despite the different sides of Islam that I saw, I still had a very narrow experience of Islam and through taking this course I learnt how little I had known about the religion that I grew up with. From learning about Sufism to the fusion of Islam with Jazz in America, this course really taught me the value of aesthetics in Islam.

The course began with Professor Asani asking the class to rethink about what they experienced as Islam in their lives. The question that he asked in the beginning of the course about whose Islam we had experienced made me wonder what he meant by whose Islam. It was only through the next few weeks that I realized how there were different perceptions and experiences of Islam. It was not a monolith religion, as growing up in Pakistan had me thinking. Islam was not merely a religious ideology, divided into sects, but rather it was an instrument through which people over the ages have submitted to a greater superpower. Professor Asani placed a stress upon how Islam was a religion to be experienced and that Islam had existed even before the Prophet Muhammad was revealed the Quran and started professing the message of Islam through different prophets who called upon people to submit to God. It felt liberating to see a professor expanding the horizons of Islam and communicating how there were prophets whom Muslims associate with other religions like Krishna for Hinduism and Buddha for Buddhism. I felt grateful to be in an environment where such an analysis of Islam was accepted and openly taught. I know for certain, that the professor could not have taught this course in Pakistan due to role of religious ulemas and mullahs in censoring what can be understood as Islam.

A central theme of the course has been the distinction between the “loud” Islam and the “silent” Islam. The ulemas and mullahs who limit what can be understood as Islam and oppress those who want to experience Islam through a different lens are part of the loud Islam. My understanding was that the loud Islam was the problem. It was overwhelmingly taking the spotlight away from the inclusive and compassionate elements of Islam. The “silent” Islam which is not covered in the media was best portrayed to us through the professor recounting the tale of when he brought some American tourists to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Pakistan. After having an intense experience which left the Americans in tears but rejuvenated, one of the tourists asked Professor Asani that if what she just experienced as part of religious rituals at the shrine was Islam, then why hadn’t she seen it before? The same is true for me. Even though I grew as an Ahmadi, I only experienced the loud Islam. Growing up as religious minority that was outlawed, my religious experience was more influenced by the loud Islam than other Muslims because I got to see the side of loud Islam changing the perception of friends and neighbors who at once changed their attitudes towards me upon learning my religious affiliation. I got to experience how the loud Islam played with not only how people defined themselves but also with their psyche and attitude towards others. I learnt that the country I grew up in did not belong to me.

On the other hand, the religion that I grew up associating with, professed elements of silent Islam in certain ways while still excluding other elements of silent Islam. Where at one hand the women in our religion were allowed to go to mosques for prayers and encouraged to do so, they could not lead prayers. In class, we read about the New York activist who lead a congregation of men and women and it was really eye opening for me. I used to think that my sect, the Ahmadiyya, were the most modern and forward thinking in their attitudes towards preserving the rights of women but I realized that it was not true. However, the Ahmadiyya sect, does have a more modern understanding of Islam than other dominant sects. This can be seen in their role in converting jazz musicians in America to Islam. Clearly, the musicians realized that Islam and music did not stand at odds with each other and that their profession was cherished in Ahmadiyya Islam, which among other reasons, encouraged them to join Ahmadiyya Islam. However, like other religions, Ahmadis do not look favorably to the practices of Sufism like praying at the shrines of other Sufi saints. While there’s an acceptance of the practices and rituals associated with Sufism, praying to anyone else other than Allah is strictly prohibited in Ahmadi Islam. Another interesting fact that differentiates Ahmadis from other sects is that they cannot say prayers behind an Imam who does not believe in the prophet after Muhammad, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

We also learnt about Ahmadis in class, when Professor Asani talked about the crucial role they played in the creation of Pakistan and in relation to the foreign minister of Pakistan Sir Zafarullah Khan and the only Nobel Laureate of Pakistan, Dr. Abdus Salam. In class, we covered the Ahmadis briefly, talking about the laws imposed upon them under different regimes, like Zia-ul-Haq’s, where they were used as political instruments and where their rights to profess the religion they believed in were significantly curbed down. I wrote in depth about my experience growing up as an Ahmadi in one of my creative responses, “The Outlawed Sect” in which I convey the difficulties that minorities like the Ahmadis must experience growing up in an increasingly radicalized and Islamized country. Certain beliefs that Ahmadis hold distinguish them from other Muslims, the most important of which is the belief in a prophet after Muhammad. Another belief that is unique is about the idea of Miraj. Most Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad physically travelled to the heavens whereas Ahmadis have a more reasonable understanding of the experience and believe it be a strictly spiritual experience. I portray the idea of “Light upon Light” in my representation of the experience of Prophet Muhammad’s Miraj in my blogpost “Ascent to Heaven”. The concept of Light hints at the primordial light that Muhammad represented, and how his Nur (Light) was given in bits and pieces to all the other prophets, those before and as an Ahmadi I have to say to the prophet after him.

This class is unique in its way of evaluating students. Instead of having academic essays, the class uses a mix of creative projects and short essays explaining these creative projects, standing true to its goal of having the students learn and portray their understanding of Islam through aesthetics and art. The first assignment we were asked to do was a Calligram project which involved integrating the name “Allah” into the project. For my illustration, I drew a caricature of a human being surrounded by two angels on the sides who are professing the name “Allah” into the human’s ears portraying the concept of accountability. It was meant to represent the role of angels in writing down the deeds of humans and communicating them to Allah on the day of judgement. Then for our mosque project, we envisioned building a mosque in front of the 9/11 memorial. By building a mosque next to the 9/11 memorial site, we wanted to convey the understanding of reconciling with the past and making people realize the distinction between those who were involved in the 9/11 attacks and what Islam stands for through a mosque that was open to all the members of the community. The inclusive nature of our mosque portrayed the teachings of the “silent” Islam, which is available for everyone to experience regardless of their sect and religious affiliation. Through the mosque project, I learned how to work with a group and the whole process of constructing a mosque gave me a better understanding of concepts like “Mihrab” and other communal aspects of a mosque. These communal aspects and the inclusive nature are missing from traditional mosques in Pakistan, which strictly serve members of a certain sect.

Another important takeaway for me from the course was the distinction between the Islam with the small “I” and the capital “I”. I learnt through the course that it was only after Quran was formally coded up that Islam with the capital I came to being. Islam was a religion to be experienced not an exclusivist ideology. Furthermore, the differences were cemented by going over how the process of colonialism gave a newfound understanding of Islam and other religions, which began to be used as labels, to create distinctions between groups of people. It was a profound experience to learn about the role of nationalism in creating a divide between different religious groups in the subcontinent and how boundaries came to be accepted as a norm in separating groups of people with different beliefs and faiths. For the class, we were expected to come up with a portfolio of creative projects, and my creative response to week 1, “Islam vs the West” highlighted many of themes that we have talked about like the loud and silent Islam. Through this response, I portrayed the effects of extremist religious ideology in Islam, in brainwashing individuals and creating barriers between Islam and the West. The West, in turn, started seeing Islam as no different than actions of a few individuals, who used the name of Islam, to terrorize others. The West began portraying Islam as a religion of war and conflict, creating an image of Muslims that has sparked Islamophobia and caused Muslims around the world to be persecuted and looked down upon for their association with Islam. It is in this context, that the silent Islam is missing from the status quo. The media only highlights the violent actions of those who associate with a certain extremist understanding of Islam, but the media does not show the more inclusive side of Islam.

Another important component of the course is the discourse on Sufi Islam. Sufi Islam represents the experienced Islam instead of the didactic Islam. The Sufi Islam is different from the “loud” Islam, in that it does not espouse the understanding of Islam as strictly reliant on Sharia law and is not exclusivist in nature. Poetry dominates Sufi traditions of Islam and for my portfolio, I wrote a poem, “God’s Love” to share my understanding of Sufism. In it, I profess love to God, by symbolizing him in the form of a human for whom I can have different forms of emotion, from affection and longing to love. Another creative response that used the medium of poetry was “The Nur Of Joseph” in which I recounted the journey of Prophet Yusuf and connected it with the pain that Hussein’s mother would have gone through upon seeing the blood-stained shirt of her son. It was my way of illustrating what I had learnt about “Ta’ziyah” plays in Iran, where creative renditions of the tragedy of Hussein’s death at Karbala are played out. The course placed an emphasis on the Shiite sect, and I would have liked to see the same emphasis placed on Ahmadiyya sect but there’s only so much that can be covered. It was interesting to me to learn about the Twelver Shia and the concept of the awaited twelfth Imam. It was fascinating to learn how different religions have all been waiting for the Messiah in different forms. The idea of the coming of the Messiah is so interesting to me because the prophet that we, Ahmadis, believe in, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, claims to be the Messiah as well as the twelfth Imam and the manifestation of all the awaited prophets, like Isa. This idea of a “chain of prophets” ties into my creative response “Chain and Key to the Lock” in which I represent the different prophets, both known and unknown through a chain which is connected to a lock that symbolizes the Quran. The Quran which is meant to serve as the lock is the final word of God. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the prophet that we believe in, did not bring his own scripture. The Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet to have brought a scripture, and the Quran would stay to be the final word of Allah.

Overall, I learnt a lot through this course about a side of Islam that I did not know existed. Now, every time I come across religious calligraphy, my thoughts go back to all the videos that we have watched and the discussions that we have had in the class and sections about the evolving role of Islam in the world. Thank you so much for the experience and I truly hope that you enjoyed my portfolio. I had a great time creating it.

The Outlawed Sect

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Barbed Wires

Week 11: Creation of Pakistan

Medium: Markers

Title: The Outlawed Sect

In this illustration, I have drawn the wall with barbed wires around my house back in my hometown Lahore, Pakistan. It depicts the outsider status that I, as a member of the Ahmadiyya community, have grown up with. The Ahmadiyya community was outlawed in 1974, under the governance of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The community was constitutionally recognized as non-Muslims and they were not allowed to call themselves Muslims even though they considered themselves Muslims and a sect in Islam. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took these steps as a political move to win support of the religious extremists in Pakistan who constituted a large portion of Pakistan. The Ahmadiyya community was seen as outlaws because they believed in a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani. The state of religion in Pakistan can be correctly depicted “as a fossilized monolith: Arab, patriarchal, rigid, violent, and utterly at odds with modernity” (Pg 103, Robert Rozenhal, Debating Orthodoxy, Contesting Tradition).

Growing up in Lahore, I experienced persecution from people I called friends. As soon as someone found out that I was a “Marzai” or “Qadiani”, which are derogatory terms used to denote someone who’s an Ahmadi, they would stop being friends with me and call me “Kafir” (Sinner). Mirza Ghulam Ahmad can be categorized as a revivalist who wanted to restore the glory days of Islam and started a movement claiming to be Mahdi or the promised Messiah. “Championing themselves as defenders of God against a corrupt modern world, revivalists promise to restore Islam’s lost glory through a systematic program of social, religious, and political activism” (Pg 113, Robert Rozenhal, Debating Orthodoxy, Contesting Tradition). In class, we have seen the symbols of Avatara being used to talk about the promised Mahdi, and all religious faiths believe in the coming of a Messiah before the end of days. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed the title of Messiah and the second coming of Isa, which all Muslims believe in. However, he was met with fierce resistance especially in Pakistan by religious scholars who denied his claims and called him a false prophet.

On April 26, 1984, in attempts to make Pakistan into an Islamist nation, Zia-ul-Haq,  passed an ordinance against Ahmadiis, which prevented them from preaching or professing their beliefs. A blasphemy act was also passed under which anyone saying anything against the Prophet Muhammad, could be killed. In passing this law, the state legitimized the killing of those who did not believe in the finality of Prophet Muhammad, by effectively stating those who did not openly accept the finality of Prophet Muhammad and claimed differently, would have no rights under the state. Since the Ahmadiyya community believed in a prophet after Muhammad, these laws paved the way to state accepted persecution and oppression of the religious minority, the Ahmadiyya community. Under this ordinance, we could not “pose as Muslims”. The barbed wires around my house symbolized the outsider status that we Ahmadis felt, fearing for our protection from religious extremists. Practically, it was meant to prevent anyone from climbing in to the house and openly hurting or killing members of our family. There were instances in which “mullahs” gave sermons outside in a park right next to our house, about how, we Ahmadiis are “Wajabul-Qatl”, meaning that it’s legal and within the teachings of Islam to kill us and that we had no rights. The mullahs would leave stickers on our door, marking us as “Kafirs” and calling on others to stop interacting with us. Another time, someone threw a huge brick into our house garage and fortunately no one got hurt. Things have only gotten worse since then. Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, who has been ousted out of power, passed laws last year according to which, our state id and passport would now have “Non-Muslim” written over it instead of “Ahmadi”, further stifling our ability to identify as part of the Ahmadiyya community and calling ourselves Muslims. This attitude towards Ahmadis is only specific to Pakistan. In countries other than Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya community is recognized as Muslims except for Saudi Arabia. For these reasons, many Ahmadis are trying to leave Pakistan to seek refuge in countries where they can openly profess their beliefs because they also believe that “from Morocco to Indonesia to United States, Islam is diverse and dynamic as the cultural continuum it inhabits” (Pg 103, Robert Rozenhal, Debating Orthodoxy, Contesting Tradition) and in these countries, Ahmadi Muslims have played an integral role in spreading the message of peace and love as symbols of Islam.

 

God’s Love

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Week 9: Sufi piety: the ghazal (love lyric)

Medium: Poetry

Teri Chahat Jo Meray Naam Ho Gayi | Zindagi Bhi Ik Inaam Ho Gayi

Your desire which became my possession | Life also became a gift

Shaad Mein Ho Gya Har Ik Rang Say | Teri Ulfat Jo Sar Aaam Ho Gayi

I became happy with every color | As your affection became my new every day

Dekha Tunay Jo Bhar Kay Mujhe | Manzil Ishq Ka Paygham Ho Gayi

You saw me with a full gaze| My destination became a message of your love

Rehta Bilal Isi Darpay Sada | Sehar Thi Jab Chalay! Ab To Shaam Ho Gayi

Bilal stays sound step by step | It was morning when we started walking, now it’s evening

 

I have written an Urdu ghazal in name of my love for God. Through the ghazal the love is expressed as a form of unending affection and longing. Ghazals in Urdu are used by mystics to express their devotion to God. It is a form of Sufi poetry. The concept of love can not be understood without evoking it for another human being in physical form as such the Ghazal can be interpreted as expressing love for another human or God. “As a phenomenon the concept of love cannot be understood without reference to its human and even biological origin” (Poetry of Love, Pg 51). The “earthly emotion is ‘sublimated’ into a higher state of the spirit” (Poetry of Love, Pg 51) through which a human being is able to connect with God and express his love for the Creator. In my Ghazal, I maintain the convention of having the Kafiya or Qaafiyaa precede the Radif. The Kafiya which is commonly understood as the rhyming pattern of words is in the case of my Ghazal all share the ending sound of “am” used in words like “Inaam”(Gift) “Aaam”(common), “Paygham”(message), and lastly “Shaam” (evening). The radif in my ghazal is “Ho Gayi” which means “it happened” or “to happen”. I have translated the Ghazal into English. It starts with an expression of love that is synonymous with the desire to possess God making my life into a beautiful gift; through accepting God I can see the life given to me as a gift from God which is valuable in itself by way of being a gift. Second, I explain how I became full of life as I started acknowledging God within me every day. Third, I express how when God saw me and accepted me, the purpose of my life became a message of his love in which I wanted nothing more than the affection of God. I end the ghazal by stating how it was morning when I started remembering God and now it’s evening and I have still been lost in the remembrance of my lover. “Another feature which soon became characteristic of ghazals is the mention of the poet’s name in one of the last lines” (Poetry of Love, Pg 52) I have stayed true to the tradition of including the poet’s name by including it in the last stanza to express that the love expressed towards God in the Ghazal is directly from me. In answering the question of “Does the life of the poet provide us with clues of a mystical affiliation, or is the poet only known as a court poet?”, the ghazal in my case can be regarded as mystical instead of a court poem since I have in my personal life tried to find and connect with God through merging my religious identity with my interests in music as a musician and adventurer. I also identify as a member of the Ahmadiyya community which has been perceived by some as having Sufi inclinations due to their belief in a Messiah although I personally fail to see the similarities. However, except for my personal pursuits of finding God through music and experiences, I do not have any official connection with Sufism so the Ghazal can perhaps not be regarded as a Sufi poem but can be categorized as a “profane love song” written in the name of love for God.

Islam Vs The West

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Perceptions of Islam

Week 1 Response: Constructions and perceptions of Islam

 

Medium: Watercolors

 

In this illustration, I have painted a terrorist holding guns placed side by side to the twin towers which became the scene of a terrorist attack on 9/11. I have tried to portray the “clash of ignorance” as Agha Khan puts it. After the infamous 9/11 attack, the perception of Muslims became equivocal to that of terrorists in the West. I have tried to illustrate both sides painted with a single color representing each to emphasize how “people represent those different from themselves through simple caricatures, painting them with a single color and a single brush stroke, thus stripping them of their humanity” (Ways of Understanding Islam, Pg 3). Furthermore, I have added the term Jihad on the side of the terrorist to highlight how the terrorists in this case is ignorant about the true meaning of Jihad and how that’s a result of religious illiteracy. The misguided terrorist who on one hand might be completely ignorant of the myriad of factors (political, power plays by the elites/feudal classes who oppress the poor segments of their society) that contributed to his disillusionment with his and his family’s living situations, makes him amenable to attributing the cause of his and his people’s misfortunes to the West or unnamed people he is trained to terrorize and kill. In a way, his humanity has been robbed from him by a confluence of events and factors that he is not able to recognize and in the absence of widespread education that encourages critical thinking and questioning the root of our human problems, he is easily manipulated. “Religious Illiteracy can also provide the perfect breeding ground for extremism with religions” (Pg 3, Ways of Understanding Islam)

In response to the 9/11 attacks the West has become the symbolic hater of Islam considering the religion an ideology of terrorism. Because the terrorists associated themselves with Islam, the West has started attributing the actions of these terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda to Islam as a religion. “With regard to understanding Islam and Muslim cultures, this leads to the perception that faith itself is responsible for the actions of all Muslims. It also leads to the assumption that whatever happened in a predominantly Muslim country can be attributed to Islam”.(Pg 4, Ways of Understanding Islam).  What is considered “Islam” in the post-colonial world is dominated by the powerful groups in the Islamic world including the Saudi Wahabis (because of oil) and other gulf countries who have played a big role in sometimes disturbing and at the very least negatively influencing the traditions of South Asian Muslims for instance. In context of cultural studies approach, Ali Asani in his essay, “Ways of Understanding Islam” talks about how a group of Americans upon visiting the shrine of Khawaja Mooen ud din Chishti question why they haven’t seen this side of Islam, “If what we saw was Islam as it is understood by millions of Muslims in this part of the world, how is it that I didn’t know about it?”. This is because what these Americans observe is the “silent” Islam which does not get covered in the media and does not take a political stance like the “loud” Islam that the West is used to hating. The “loud” Islam has become an instrument to disillusion the West into believing that in Islam, the term Jihad is synonymous with war. Such simplification of Islam leads to “serve to dehumanize ‘the other’ and often lead to tragic consequences.” (Ways of Understanding Islam, Pg 5)

The Nur of Joseph

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Week 3 Response: Concept of Prophethood and God’s Prophets as Heroes

Medium: Poetry (Punjabi)

Ishq Nu Rawaya Ni

Love was not made to cry,

Ishq Nay Dukh Dard Wich

Love amid pain and suffering,

Andhay Pan Nu Seenay Laya Ni

Caused blindness to grip the chest

Au Husayn Di Dard Samjh Da

He Should have seen the pain of Husayn

Jida Beta Uski Ankhaan Day Samnay Marya

At seeing his son martyred before his very eyes

Aur Husayn Di Ma Tay Ki Biti Hoyay Gi

And what would have befallen the mother of Hussayn

Judon Unhein Husayn di Kameez Nu Mun Laya

When she would have rubbed his bloodstained shirt on her face

Aina Sab Nu Wakhaya Ni

Didn’t show it to everyone

Deedar Sirf Unha nu Honda

Waiting is only done by those

Jinha Ne Mashooq Nu Sab Kuch Banaya Ni

Who haven’t made the admirer into everything

Joseph Day Nur Nay

The Nur of Joseph,

Kinyan Nu Tarpaya Ni

Made so many to shake

Pehlay Kunway Day Wich

First in the well,

Phir Jail Day Wich

Then in the Prison,

Joseph Nay Khuda Nu Bhulaya Ni

Joseph did not forget his God

Noor Nayio Milda Gandeya Noon

Nur is not received by the oppressors

Beshaq Ghulam Hove ya Badshah

Whether he be servant or a king

Khuda Di Shaan Wekho

Look at God’s magnificence

Joseph Nu Jhuklaya Ni

Did not cause Joseph to bend

Udday Khaban Day Wich

In his dreams,

Nur Da Sach Dikhlaya Ni

Nur was made into truth

 

In week 3 of the course, we analyzed the fantastic account of Joseph’s life, a story of submission to God. I wrote a poem in Punjabi dedicated to Joseph’s perseverance in the face of adversity. It begins by recounting the pain of Joseph’s father, Jacob, for whom Joseph was his beloved; Jacob’s father is gripped with such pain that he goes blind from crying seeing the bloodstained shirt of his son, which is presented to him by his other sons, and the brothers of Joseph, as proof that the wolves had devoured Joseph. This pain of Jacob at seeing his son’s bloodstained shirt, is compared to the pain that Husayn and his mother had to endure at the loss of their respective children, in ta’ ziya plays. Husayn, however, had to see his son die in front of his eyes, unlike Jacob who only heard the account from his other sons and in the ta’ ziya play the pain of Husayn’s mother is given even a higher degree of intensity. We saw this in John Renard’s account of ta’ ziya in the Seven to Door to Islam, “Jacob reflects on the trauma of seeing the bloodstained coat of his son. As he looks into the future, Jacob wonders how much greater the pain of the mother of Husayn will be when she sees the shirt of her son who has been so brutally slain” (pg. 6, John Renard, Seven Doors to Islam)

Then in the poem, I talk about the Nur of Joseph which makes Zulaykha and the Egyptian women become smitten by his looks. The Egyptian women cut their hands while peeling oranges on the sight of Joseph, which reflects on Joseph’s beauty and his Nur. The poem then goes on to salute Joseph’s perseverance, who even despite being put in the well by his brothers and later into a prison by Zulaykha, doesn’t give up on his faith in Allah. Allah in turn rewards Joseph by making his dream come true about being bowed before by the sun and the moon and the eleven stars. In the poem I talk about how the real Nur is not received by servants and kings a like, and it requires perseverance in the name of God. The stature of Joseph, in his dream, is a representation of the real stature that he enjoys at the end of the story, when Joseph is reunited with his father and bowed before by his brothers who Joseph had forgiven for their part in making sure that Joseph lived a life of misery.

 

Ascent to Heaven

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MI’RAJ

Week 4 Response: Illustrations of the Miraj

Medium: Digital Art

In this illustration, I have depicted the ascent of Muhammad to the heavens to meet with God. The illustration depicts Muhammad on a winged creature in the presence of white light emanating from the figure of Muhammad and God in top right corner. On the left, I have drawn a minaret to highlight the debate of namaz prayers that God and Muhammad argued upon, where Muhammad bargains to reduce the number of prayers.

The Prophet’s ascension to the Heavens in only alluded to in the verse of chapter 17, “Praised be He who travelled by night with His servant from the sacred mosque to the farthest mosque upon which we have sent down our blessing, that We might show him some of Our signs”.

From the readings of week 4, “Following God’s Beloved: Prophet Muhammad as the Ideal Muslim” in Infidel of Love, Professor Ali Asani explains the incidence of Miraj as told by Ibn Ishaq, one of the earliest biographers of Muhammad’s life. The account goes as follows: “One night the Prophet is awoken from by the angel Gabriel and asked to mount Buraq, a part human/part animal winged creature. Riding Buraq and accompanied by Gabriel…Finally, he comes to the highest heaven where he is blessed with a beatific vision—a face to face meeting with God.”

In my illustration, I have highlighted the Nur of Muhammad which in the presence of God makes the light verse discussed in class, pertinent because in class we discussed how the light of Muhammad is a primordial light bits and pieces of which had been attributed to every prophet. The source of Muhammad’s light is God.

“Light upon Light; God guides to His Light whom He wills. And God strikes similitudes for man, and God has knowledge of everything” (24:35)

In my illustration, I have also depicted the story of bargaining with God the number of namaz prayers that was to be compulsory on Muslims by drawing a minaret in which Muslims say their prayers. From the readings the account goes as follows: “…on his journey back to earthly realms after his encounter with God, Muhammad meets Moses. During their conversation, Muhammad tells Moses that God has commanded his followers to pray fifty times a day. Upon hearing this, Moses, based on his experience with his followers, urges Muhammad to return to God and request a reduction in the number as Muslims would never be able to fulfill such an onerous prayer requirement. Muhammad then goes back and forth between God and Moses negotiating the number of required prayers till they are reduced to five”. (Pg. 130, Ali Asani, Infidel of Love)

Lastly, the question remains whether the ascent of the Prophet Muhammad was a spiritual or a physical experience? Muslims are divided upon the argument and claim that if it was a spiritual experience than why was Buraq needed to ascend to heaven. In my illustration, I have also just shown Muhammad being able to see God. Even Angel Jibrael who accompanied Muhammad on the ascent, didn’t go to the last level because Angel Jibrael represents intellect. We have seen in class that mystics describe the ascension as possible just because Muhammad had completely abandoned his ego. Mystics also believe that events like mi’raj are common among spiritual mystics who have themselves no ego as “in the presence of God there can be only one ego” that of God.

Chain and Key to the Lock

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Lock and Key

Week 2  Response: Quran as Sacred sound and God’s Word as Sacred Design

Medium: Color Pencils

In week 2 of the course, we read Michael Sells Approaching the Quran, in which he emphasizes how God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, as the final word of God.

“In seventh-century Arabia, a man named Muhammad began reciting what he said were revelations to him from God. These revelations referred to themselves as the Qur’an.” (pg 2, Michael Sells, Approaching the Quran)

God sent down the word of Quran to Muhammad who came from a long line of prophets. In class, we discussed the surah which mentions that there were prophets revealed to every nation, “Every nation has had a messenger” (10:42).

In week 4, lecture reading, Infidel of Love, we learned how there were prophets before Muhammad, a total of 1,24,000; some known and some unknown; some are explicitly mentioned in the Quran, others are derived from Hadiths and others are those whose names we don’t know.

“They present Muhammad as a prophet in the line of prophets stretching back from Jesus to Moses to Abraham” (pg 2, Michael Sells, Approaching the Quran)

In my illustration I reveal the chain of prophethood that started with Adam and ended with Muhammad where Muhammad was the key to Quran, the word of God. The Quran’s word is sacred text and I have depicted it as a lock that’s also drawn to look like the word Allah to show the importance of Quran in Islam. In class, we discussed how Quran is the final revealed scripture, acting as the lock to the chain of prophethood. In week 4, we also discussed the concept of  Krishna as the prophet and therefore I have put him in the chain to highlight how he was a prophet too. Some of the chains I left blank to show that there’s an endless line of Prophets, many of whose names, we don’t know about.

“Say: we believe in God and what has been revealed to us and what was revealed
to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses,
Jesus, and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between one and
another among them and to Him [God] do we submit [literally, before God we are
submitters (muslimun)] (3:84).

These verse taken from week 4 readings highlights how Quran is the culmination of God’s word. And that  Prophet Muhammad is the “Seal of the Prophets and ultimate culmination of Prophethood”. (pg. 115, Infidel of Love)

Overall, through my illustration, I have depicted the concept of Muhammad, as the “Seal of The Prophets” while also being the key to understanding the word of Quran, the perfect manifestation of God’s word. The Quran is like a lock with many layers and like an onion that needs to be peeled to get to the source of the truth. We saw in class that descendants of the Prophet(spiritual and physical descendants) have also served as the means to unlocking the secrets of holy book but all paths and underlying secrets must go through the big key (culmination of the chain) i.e the prophet himself.

 

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