I decided to take this class because I have never been exposed to Islamic culture. All my life, I have been a Christian, and I have never had the opportunity of learning about different cultures. This particular year I am a senior, and I needed to fulfill an elective. As a result, I chose to take this class. Another incentive was the fact that I found out that Oludamini was going to be a teaching fellow in the class, and when I took his class last year, I had an extremely positive experience. From the way Oludamini was describing the class, I knew it would be interesting.
Another aspect of the class that I found interesting was the fact that the class was going to use a creative approach in learning about the religion. Instead of reading numerous books and writing a large amount of papers, we were going to be asked to use creative methods in representing many of the themes we learned in class. For example, one of the projects that we did in class was the mosque project. Instead of simply reading books about what constitutes a mosque, we were asked to create our very own mosque. At first, I was rather perplexed by this assignment. I did not understand why I was engineering a building in a religions class. As I sat with my group, we discussed the various components of the mosque, its circular shape, the community kitchen, etc. I had no idea of the depth of understanding that I had about mosques. It was not until I was able to apply these concepts, or build my own mosque, that I was able to see how much I have learned in class. Overall, I have very much appreciated this class. I can by no means say that I completely understand the Islam culture. In just one short semester, I do not think it is plausible to review all the concepts within a religion. On the other hand, I can say that I know the basic ideas.
An important aspect of the class was to create numerous mini projects that demonstrate one’s understanding of important themes within the class. For my own projects, I journeyed through multiple themes and readings, including weeping, the multiple meanings of art, the importance of speaking the word, the Conference of the Birds, women’s rights, and the overall importance of Muhammad.
My first project dealt with the idea of weeping. “Read the Qur’an and weep. If you do not weep naturally, force yourself to weep.” Many individuals say that weeping is a language that is universally understood by all cultures around the world. When a person weeps, we know that he has been internally touched in some way either positively or negatively. This is the same in Islam. In order for someone to truly connect with the Islamic faith, he must shed tears and weep because this represents his commitment to the overall religion. In the project, I did a sketch of an individual weeping; however, I had to decide how to represent the different sides of weeping within the culture. In order to do this I did the drawing in black and white because I did not want color to take away from the story of the individual. I drew a woman, who is kneeling down as she cries on her hands. I wanted to emphasize the importance of submission and also equality. It is important to note that the idea of weeping transcends through all genders. The overall purpose of the drawing is not to identify the individual, but it is to appreciate the fact that this individual is submitting herself to God and committing to the word through her tears.
For my second project, I focused on a main theme from Week 6, which are the multiple methods of Islamic art interpretation. For the project, I did a sketch of one of the most intriguing hidden images that is used around the world. When you first look at the sketch, it may seem as though it is a picture of an old woman with a draping over head; however, if you take a second look, you can also see a young woman looking away. I wanted to do this particular project because in class we discussed how different scholars have their own opinions about the interpretations of Islamic art. For example, in Islamic Art and Spirituality, Nasr emphasizes the fact that Islamic art is connected to an artist’s spirituality. However, Necipoglu argues that the situation at the time influences a viewers perspective of the artwork. I believe that my sketch can be connected to this theme. How do we know that this picture is an old woman or even a young lady? Are there other images within this sketch that we are missing? Did the viewer have a spiritual moment that enabled him to only see the old woman? Or is the individual a victim of love and sees the young lady because it reminds him of his ex-lover? Pieces of artwork may look one way; however, with a second glance, its interpretation can have a whole new meaning.
For my third project, I focused on the oral tradition in Islam. “The written text is an aid to the oral tradition, and that to achieve full mastery, one must ultimately depend on what one hears.” As a child, I have always been taught that seeing is believing; however, in the Islamic faith, this particular phrase is changed. In Islam, hearing is believing. For this project, I wrote a haiku poem about the importance of oral speaking. “You must read out loud/ to understand its meaning/ Allah must be heard.” I chose to do a haiku poem because I wanted to emphasize the fact that was not necessarily the amount of words that would determine whether or not the poem had an impact on the reader. It is not until the reader listens to the words that he can truly appreciate its essence. This dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The revelations were revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel orally. Nothing was written; instead, Muhammad listened to the words that were given to him. He taught his followers through his voice not with a book. It was not even until his words were written down to form the Qur’an that words even became apparent. Even with this in mind, many train their entire lives in order ot be able to memorize the Qur’an. Why? It is not because they are interested in the words, but they wish to capture that essential sound that forms the basis of the Islamic faith.
My fourth project dealt with The Conference of the Birds, which was read in Week 10. This particular text was important because it describes the many stories of various Sufis who suffered for their beliefs. Attar compares these experiences with various types of birds. For example, the nightingale cannot leave his lover, and the hawk is satisfied with his position in court. For my project, I did a sketch of a nightingale, perched on a branch, yearning for the “drippings” of the heart. However, the problem is that the nightingale does not notice that the branch he is standing on is beginning to break. “My love is for the rose. I bow to her.” The problem with the nightingale is he is too absorbed with love, and he cannot survive with it. He does not see a reason to go on this excursion because he is satisfied with love. In the poem, love is represented by the rose. The hoopoe is the guider of the journey and challenges the nightingale in his belief. The hoopoe preaches to the bird that the very love that he is yearning for is only superficial. That very “love” experience that the nightingale believed he was experiencing was being experienced by many others. “Each spring she laughs, not for you, as you say, But at you – and has faded in a day.” For this particular paper, I have to reiterate how much I enjoyed being able to choose the bird that best represented myself in section. I chose the nightingale because I am also influenced by what love can give; however, at the same time, love is capable of hurting one’s feelings. This was represented in my sketch by the breaking of the branch.
My next project dealt with the text Sultana’s Dream from Week 12. In the dream, a woman has a dream that she is escorted through an area that is dominated by women. To the women, the world is better because women make their decisions through their intelligence and not by fighting. Where are all the men? They have switched roles with the women and are trapped in the zenana. I personally thought this text was interesting because of its extremity. In my paragraph describing my project, I talk about how before section I was rather perplexed by the text. I could not fathom why the author would choose to make the world solely run by females. In my mind, the goal of the text was to enforce the equality of women’s rights; however, I did not believe this text was realistic. I felt that the text was too extreme for anyone to take it seriously. However, during section I was able to listen to other people’s perspectives, and I realized the text was simply used to give a glimpse of what could happen if the world was run by women. The author only wanted to show an alternative look at what she believed the world is today. I found this approach rather interesting, which prompted me to do my own project. I decided to do my own version of the Constitution. The Constitution is the basis of what the government of the United States is built on. The infamous line is “We the People of the United States of America;” however, for my project, I changed this line to “We the Women of the United States of America.” With this project, I attempted to think about what America would be like if the very foundation of what our nation believes in was created by women.
Finally, my last project focused on The Burda, which was written by Imam al-Busiri. The text is mainly used to praise the prophet Muhammad, who is said to have cured the poet of paralysis by appearing to him in a dream. After the poet recited a poem, Muhammad wrapped him with a scarf or mantle, and the poet was thereby healed. After the poet is cured, he awakes and spreads the good praises of Muhammad to his people. I really wanted to do a project on this particular topic because for the majority of the semester, we have discussed the important of Muhammad as a leader to the Islamic community. After his exposure to Allah, Muhammad began to spread the word to his people. They quickly began to look up to him for guidance and the word. The main reason why I chose this text is because of its simplicity yet its impact. The poet was paralyzed with no hope at all, yet Muhammad was able to heal him even in his dreams. For this project, I was inspired by this idea and decided to do a haiku poem because of its simple structure; however, the message within the haiku. In his sleep, the poet did see Muhammad, the man that can cure all things.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the class. I loved the fact that I was able to choose my own artistic method in interpreting a theme within the class. At the same time, I am thrilled that I was given the opportunity of exploring multiple themes in the Islamic community from weeping to women’s equality to the Prophet Muhammad. I would highly recommend this class to other students in the future.