Ayah Al-Zubi | Professor Asani | GENED 1087 |17 December 2019
I have one goal— it lies in making sure you get out of my work what you want to get out of it— make it Your Own. Open your mind and let the work guide your mind to the way it wants to naturally, outside of societal influences. In reflecting on these pieces, I recognize the role that we have in how we perceive ideals, ideas, etc. This role can negatively influence how we come to accept groups— and in this class, this group was Muslims. Islam. I say Islam, most people say oppression, fundamentalism, terrorism, etc. We’ve been so inclined and driven by society’s limited lens, a lens that does more harm than protection. At the expense of the character of others, minorities, this lens only works to satisfy a superiority complex that is deeply established by the oppressors. With that being said, this role can positively influence how we come to accept groups. When we allow ourselves to let go of our prejudices, we allow ourselves to embrace the beauty of how others feel complete. The act of letting our egos (this idea of inner jihad in Islam) go, is the act of allowing everyone to be who they are including ourselves.
My question for you: What role will you choose?
Would you believe it if I told you, as a Muslim, I have held the role that negatively influences how I come to accept Islam? For the longest time I questioned my religion with frustration; I continuously asked questions because all this time I grew up in a community where I thought that my religion was my enemy. Why can’t I listen to music? Why can’t I eat or drink for a month? Why? All this frustration took over who I was. I no longer wanted to associate myself with a religion that made me feel like such an outcast. Yet, I never understood the reality of me not wanting to associate myself with this image that others had painted for me and my people. Not until last year. However, even then I still doubted. I was and am still curious. This class was the beginning of a journey to coming to terms with my own perception of religion. A perception that may come in conflict with different aspects of how I want to define myself, but this is a reality in any case.
I hope you feel comfortable when coming to learn about my projects. If at any point you don’t, it’s most likely the dissonance of thoughts you may have already had about certain topics within Islam. Allow yourself to embrace this dissonance because in doing so, you’re coming to light with other perspectives and recognizing their existence. I want you to be able to experience the light of Islam through these projects. This feeling may manifest in a plethora of ways. I want you to be more curious after you look at my pieces than you were before looking at them. In other words, allow my pieces to pop the bubble in your mind on what Islam may be. Islam is a religion of peace, and I want you to feel this peace, “To these Muslims, therefore, Islam is literally a religion of peace and peace making, a principle that millions of Muslims around the world express every day when they conclude each of their daily prayers by exchanging wishes of peace,” (Asani 58). This is because religion, specifically Islam, gets easily misconstrued at the hands of those who don’t practice the religion or use religion as a means of gaining power. Thus, Islam has to be studied not only in the context of its doctrine, and work, but in the light of literature, arts, etc. because it’s multi-faceted. A religion that is multi-faceted also works to bring more hope and faith to people because it provides multiple opportunities to come to terms with the long-term goals of life.
There are arguably an infinite amount of ways to perceive Islam— my blog is only six of those perceptions, beliefs. In beginning this course, it was important to recognize that the Islam stripped of all its perspectives is held within the Qur’an. Now, after this class it’s even more important to recognize that Islam only grew based off the power of community belief, orally. This focus on the sources that helped establish a baseline for Islam are crucial. An oral experience of Islam allows the listener to see the beauty of the religion. Two of my pieces directly fit into this theme of sources of Islam— my first and third project. In these projects, I aimed to put the sources’ influence on our perspective of its beauty. In fact, Islam spread because of its sources presenting the beauty of it. This beauty was primarily expressed through Mohammed (PBUH) after God had him read miraculously. Within the first project you’ll notice this theme shed through “sacred sound”. By listening to the reciting you’ll notice the power and elegance of the words together. In the third project, I come to understand mosques as a source of the establishment of Islam— especially as Mohammed’s (PBUH) home was the first mosque created. Mosques present the beauty of Islam physically, yet, can be functional. In studying the sources of Islam, mosques are the platform to physically feeling a space surrounded by the realm of Islam. This project demonstrates the beauty of a physical space in which Islam can be practiced. Thus, in other words, the sources of Islam become the founding baseline beauty of Islam. From then and there can its beauty only magnify in different ways— the ways that you see fit.
The second project by itself demonstrates multiple themes. I want to highlight this project because of its multi-symbolic aspects. It hits two themes, through both the sources, and post-prophetic communities. In looking at the sources, you can interpret the basis of utilizing “Allah” as establishing the power of the sources— those that create the remembrance of God. In terms of the other theme, the idea of post-prophetic communities, as seeing the stereotype of oppression of females in Islam. This presents the concept of perspectives and will be clarified as you allow yourself to soak in the piece before beginning to read my intentions.
As the second project was the link between Part 1 and Part 2 of this course. I will go on to focusing on the pieces that reflect Part 2, post-prophetic communities, alone— pieces four and five. The fourth project addresses a ritual practice that we didn’t necessarily go over in class. I created a rosary to depict the power in experiencing religion through tangible objects. Rosaries are often over looked in Islam because of their practicality. They’re used by many Muslims as a source to actively remember God. In relation to Sufism, I connect this act to zikr, a way of devoting to God. In the fifth project I performed a piece that reflects the power of poetry, specifically ghazals. Ghazals, these “love lyrics” are the outlet of many poets to describe the ability of poetry to transform faith in religion. In performing a translated piece, I came to experience the beauty of their rhyme and words.
Lastly, my sixth project addresses the theme presented in Part 3 of this course, Literature and the Arts in Contemporary Muslim Societies. This piece was made specifically to be interpretive in what the audience has been exposed to about Islam already. For example, this painting may carry the feeling of the pain the Muslims feel due to Islamophobia, while for others it may reflect the perceived idea that Muslims are oppressed by their own religion, specifically females.
Thus, by reflecting on my pieces, you’ll come to understand what I’ve learned in this course. Throughout the realization of Islam’s multi-layered construction, it’s integral to not reduce it to its literal exemplification. We have interpreted Islam for its doctrines, but its diversity lies in the interpretations, “Yet the diversity of texts and interpretive methods has led Muslims to develop radically different notions of their faith.” (Asani 97).
I walk out of this course with more questions than I walked in with. This is the power of fostering an atmosphere in which you feel comfortable dropping all previously held conceptions you may have had, especially as a follower of the religion. In summary, there are three ideas that have managed to persist while taking this course. First, I want to discuss this idea of Islam being something different to everyone. Especially in a society like ours, it’s effortless to fall into the trap that everyone believes the same way. Secondly, this course allows you to be more curious— to feel safe being curious. Curiosity gets a reputation of creating more chaos, than it does comfort. However, when the environment in which curiosity exists, welcomes it, then no one loses; the connection is only deeper, solidified. Lastly, walking out of this course with the knowledge I’ve learned, I’ve learned to embrace who I am. Self-love is the hardest love to personally reach, and this class has brought me one step closer to loving myself. To be able to recognize the beauty in my religion and not let what others think influence me has made me accept who I am, a process that has been extremely difficult coming from a conservative, homogenous community— and coming into an institution like Harvard.
So, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for taking the time to hear my voice. Thank you for letting your walls down. Thank you for giving me the space to be me. Thank you for this opportunity.