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Aesthetic Interpretation of Islam

Calling Allah ~ ‘Ismu ’l-’A‘ẓam

Ismu l-Aẓam

by Katherine Alosi Okumu

You are called Al-Alim, the all-knowing one

Do you anticipate the persecution of your people?

You are called Al-Baseer, the all-seeing

Can you see the hatred boiling from the mouths of the militant?

You are called Al-Khabeer, the all-aware one

Accusations slice the ears and hearts of innocents

You are called As-Sami’, the all-hearer

Violence cuts the song of worship from the villager

You are called Al-Ba’ith, the infuser of new life

They have turned the commoners to martyrs

You are called Al-Muhaymin, the preserver of safety

While we lose our daughters and our fathers

You are called Al-Haadi, the provider of guidance

Guide us towards a righteous path

You are called Al-Jaami’, the assembler of scattered creations

Our lives forfeit to a citizenship in heaven

You are called Al Muntaqim, the avenger

Inflict your retribution on the heart and mind of Myanmar

You are called Al-Adl, the embodiment of justice

Justice in this life and the afterlife for all lives



In Week 1, we discussed the 99 names of Allah and their appearance in artistic renderings of Allah’s power and glory. Meant to be read allowed, the poem recalls the power of aural recitation, particularly when reciting the Quran or speaking the name of Allah. 

The title of the poem, ‘Ismu l-Aẓam, translates to, “the most supreme and superior name.” In some Sufi mystical traditions, this name is said to be the most powerful and, if spoken, will be answered with great intensity by Allah. Individuals have been deported/faced years of prison for delivering teachings about Sufism, accused of preaching.  

This poem was inspired by the ongoing persecution faced by Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar and explores introductory components of Islam introduced in Week 1 of the course. The inspiration for this poem stems from the emotional intensity of discussing the history of Islam in a predominantly Buddhist state in the office I work within, The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. I felt a sense of powerlessness; there is only so much an institution can do, particularly when constricted by both bureaucratic forces and one’s own awareness of the past results of Western influence. 

In the piece, I invoke 10 names of Allah to articulate details of suffering: lack of earthly citizenship, accusations of nature, and physical violence. The power of aural recitation is further emphasized by lines that refer to the silencing of voices and the context of the silencing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.