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Summer Time In Medina

A Blog By Hasani Hayden

Introduction Essay

Introduction Essay

Over my last three years at Harvard I have never been challenged to question the things around me more so than in this course. One of the main things that I learned from this course is the importance of perspective, especially as how it pertains to the media, politics, and religion. My goal is that this portfolio will challenge your perspective of how you view the religion of Islam in a western, Anglo-Saxon, protestant society. In particular, I intend to direct the focus of my portfolio on the elements of class that focus on around the aesthetics of Islam, whether that be creation by God as an artist designing new life forms, or by mankind to  honor and praise God. I hope to convey to the readers that monotheistic does not equate to monolith, and highlight the variation in Muslim communities by showcasing artistic creations that illustrate the range of perspectives that all ultimately seek to submit before God and acknowledge His Prophet. A reoccurring theme of the Islamic religious tradition that we’ve discussed in class has been that there is no one way to practice Islam, aside from the critical foundational aspects. Sunnis differ from Shiites and Sufis differ from non-Sufis and the variation only broadens across geographic regions. Although some people can look at that and become frustrated with the cultural inconsistencies, I instead saw beauty in the various perspectives on how to worship God in this beautiful religion.

The readings, lectures, and discussions in this course have helped me to develop a nuanced understanding of the culture of Islam societies across the world. One of the greatest parts of this course in my opinion was having peers from a variety of religious backgrounds whose commentary in sections helped to me to understand the context of the diverse range of traditions and practices of varying Islamic cultures. I truly felt that my section was on a semester-long discussion that continued to build and grow each week with the addition of new material. From this semester-long dialogue I have learned several major themes from the course that I try to reiterate in my blog posts. One of which is the importance of religious literacy in foreign policy. We obviously discussed this through the lens of the United States with their relationship with Islamic nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa, but the same logic can easily be applied to any other nation or any ethnic minority that call America home. Another critical take away is the significance of understanding the layers of identity of individuals. Professor Asani spent much of the class highlighting the complex nature of human beings and identifying religion as only one dimension of one’s identity but cautioning us to not allow for religion to become the dominant layer. We explore intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status with Islam and find vast differences in how and why people continue to submit to God. A major theme that I also observed in the course was the concept of constant self-reflection. One of the major faults with the American diplomatic policy is that it fails to admit its cultural and religious ignorance. One of the ways to understand one’s disposition is to spend time in reflection of what one thinks about another culture and asking why they feel that way about another group. As future global citizens this class has stressed the importance of self-reflection and questioning ourselves before questioning things around us. Summertime in Medina aims to be a my own self-reflection journey through this course where I try to challenge the perspective of the viewers while challenging my own understanding of a culture and religion that is unfamiliar to me. Thank you for joining me.

My week 2 blog post is focused on celebrating the creative ability of God and how humans can reflect God’s creation through the art of calligraphy. I reference the Qur’an Sura 96 says “Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by the pen, who taught human what he did not know. The pen is significant because it is what God used to create the world we know today.” Chronologically it makes sense to begin my blogs discussing with the creation of the world. The amount of detail and attention that God put into designing all forms of life showcases the amount of passion and intentionality of His creations. Although not nearly as talented of an artist as Allah, I hope that my art pieces at least can achieve the appropriate level of purpose in my work. In this piece the purpose is to acknowledge the artistic talent of God. One of the big takeaways of this course was seeing Allah in everything around us. I chose to focus on the wildlife around us, specifically on birds. The reason for choosing birds had nothing to do with the story of the “Conference of the Birds” instead I wanted acknowledge the diversity of birds in the world. There is beauty all around the world. The Prophet Muhammad says “God is beautiful and He loves Beauty”. I highlight some of the beauty in the world by showcasing these birds but also in creating other art pieces.

In my next blog post I focus on the readings from week four. This post is based on The Prophet Mohammad himself. The Prophet was known and is remembered for several different roles. He was the Messenger, the Authoritarian, the Guidance, and the Intercessor amongst other things. He was known as an individual who embodied exalted character. This collage uses different images of Allah’s creations to describe the Prophet. Some people think that images of Muhammad can be sacrilegious or blasphemous as they fear that people will worship these images over God who is ultimately The One deserving of all human praise.  I try to avoid this by not creating an image of Muhammad, but instead using images of God’s creations to showcase who Muhammad is. At the same time by using God’s creations to reflect the character of Muhammad, I hope to use God’s creations to honor The Prophet Muhammad.  I wanted to maintain the theme of the collage because I found the first process fun and exciting. With this second one I challenged myself to get creative in how I would depict the certain characteristics of Muhammad I was looking to do and was able to find a good amount of success in doing so. The art of the collage is interesting as it combines different pieces of art to create a new piece entirely. This new piece uses other creations as tools to assemble a new piece with an entirely new meaning. I continue to use this art style into the next piece as well.

Building off of my collage experience in my last two blog posts I create another collage for the next blog post builds on the week six readings. You will notice an artistic difference in this next collage. I shift from a variety of clip art images to using fonts of different style and size to write out the word “WHY”. While the “W” and “Y” match, the bold white “H” stands out in contrast to the black background, hopefully driving the viewer’s attention to the center. The purpose of this piece is to encourage and challenge art critics and historians to study the “why” just as much as the “what” and “how” of various art pieces, especially those that come from different cultural contexts. The “H” represents the viewer, the one viewing the art piece from a “western” context and the outside letters are to represent the various cultures of which western art critics study and analyze. I selected the letter H because it is completely immersed in the context of the complete word. This design serves as an analogy and prescription for future art critics as they continue to explore and evaluate art pieces from other cultural contexts.

In my next blog post I look to challenge myself with new art forms from the collage. I look to create a post relevant to the readings and discussions of Week 9. In Week 9, Professor Asani broke down the significance and origination of the Ghazal, which I look to create my own rendition here. The Ghazal is a type of amatory poem that originates in Arabic poetry, typically with themes of love and romance. Traditionally ghazals are written as if intended for secular romantic relationships between two lovers however, most ghazals actually are about the author’s love for God and are intended to be interpreted in a spiritual devotional context. In my adaption of the ghazal poem, I use another strong form of love as an analogy for a divine love. Although the love between two devoted lovers captures the passion and euphoric sensation that should also be felt for God in worship, I believe that there is a different type of love that captures other vital aspects of human’s relationship with God and I try to illustrate it here. I focus on the relationship between a parent and a child. Specifically, I look to focus on the relationship between a committed, selfless, and forgiving parent with a disobedient child who has turned their back on their parent. The bond between a loving parent and their child may not always come to mind as an example of “drunken love” but it certainly realistically often portrays the actual relationship between man and our spiritual Father. I hope that this poem captures this different angle at analyzing the relationship between mankind and God.

Building off of my new creative experiment of poetry, I was interested to explore music. In class this semester we discussed how it is common for Arabic and South Asian poets may perform their poetry in concert accompanied by a musical composition. So naturally, I explored creating my own musical composition. For my week seven blog I do not attempt to create something from scratch, as I am no composer. But I do try to create a new sound and aural experience by taking Hafusa Abbasi’s Ramadhan song and giving it a western musical adaptation. In class we have discussed the musical mashups of traditional eastern Muslim songs of worship with western musical components from Rock and Roll and Jazz. We have even examined the work of Muslim American Rappers and how their content and subject matter highlights their experience as Black Muslims in predominately white and Christian societal context. This intrigued me to create my own musical piece. With my limited talents performing any musical instruments, I took to an online digital musical production system to remix one of the songs we listened to in class. A remix is a song that has been altered from its original composition by adding new beats or sounds, chopping the sample, or adjusting the tempo of the song. In this case, I do all three. I select the featured piece by Hafusa Abbasi about Ramadhan. I thought that the Swahili rendition was unique as most of our studies focus on Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim cultures, yet still retains a lot of common lyrical and instrumental sounds from the more popular performances we examined. I intentionally aim to remix this piece by bringing in the “Trap” sound, popularized by Atlanta based rappers in the middle 2000s. Although this subgenre of rap is famous for its vulgar and violent lyrics, I think the genre also highlights themes of economic mobility, specifically the struggle of achieving success. The juxtaposition of trap harmony with the spiritual melody of Hafusa Abbasi makes this piece an even more complex and interesting composition.

In my next blog post I focus on the readings and discussions from week thirteen. Since I’ve already explored other forms of media, I decided to continue to expand on this experience by creating a short video that hopefully will help to bring my blog posts full circle to the beginning of the course. We end the course discussing the experience of African-American Muslims and the life and religious journey of Malcolm X. However, Professor Asani begins the course by discussing the importance of religious literacy for creating the ideal accepting and inclusive country we claim to be. In this short video I show a Muslim African-American sharing what is the true meaning of Islam and then being joined by popular American politicians, President Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Bernie Sanders in celebration in the new realization that they do not have to compromise their American ideology for the sake of Islam, in fact the theology of Islam reinforces everything this nation stands for. They proceed to celebrate in appropriate jubilee.