Muslim Devotional Practices

Week 7:  Muslim Devotion in Local Contexts

LINK:  Muslim Devotion in Local Contexts  [Please click link to view the artwork]

In response to this week’s readings I decided to create a series of complementary journal entries that exhibit the diverse and often directly contradictory interpretations of the Qur’an, hadith, and the Prophet’s teachings as manifested in daily acts.  Renard states, “rituals help members of social and religious communities negotiate moments of special significance,” (p.35-36) but I argue in this piece that even daily practices that are not “special” require often religiously-based ethical evaluations.  This is shown through portraying the authors’ descriptions in these journal excerpts as mostly mundane, still rooted in religious interpretation, and sometimes with powerful consequences.

The text is organized into three days, with a journal entry from two different men – one writes on the left side, the other on the right.  I use different handwriting to distinguish the two authors as well.  On the first day, I address the interpretation of an unkempt man’s beard as a sign of emulating the Prophet versus the idea of “cleanliness is close to Godliness.” The idea is that people may feel “closer to God” by performing opposite rituals.  On the second day, both men happen to pass by the same beggar, and the difference in their reactions is reconciled by the fact that both of them perform the ritual of zakat, just in their own ways.  I try to make no ethical judgement between the two men by leaving the interpretation of their respective flaws up to the reader.

On the last day, Friday, both men attend Jumu’ah prayer at the mosque, but they express directly opposing views of the role of graveyards/gravestones in religious life.  The first man plans to help with the destruction of a graveyard in Borçan, Kosovo, while the second man finishes a painting he plans to place at his dead beloved’s grave site as an expression of love.  I purposefully take the reader through the discussion of idolatry in shrine creation and prayer before portraying the husband who longs for his dead Fatemah.  I try to balance the sympathetic situation of the second man with the seemingly unemotional reaction he has to the beggar on the previous entry.

Finally, I tried to weave a bit of the theme of liminality into the art piece by attempting a realist approach.  I wrote the entries by hand in pages of my personal journal, and dictated the second man’s text to a friend to differentiate the handwriting.  I wanted to convey the sense that as one reads the text they could be reading a real person’s private journal, and I hoped to mimic the experience of entering a consciousness not entirely your own – as some religious rituals can do.