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Traditions of Muhammad

(medium: poster art, response: week 4)

The readings for Week 4, filling in our discussion on the different traditions of glorifying and understanding the Prophet Muhammad, and Prof. Asani’s Chapter 3 in Infidel of Love, prompted an exploration on my part of the different depictions of the Prophet. There are so many culturally and historically influenced “ways of fitting him in” to the existing forms of knowledge in different ‘Islamic’ societies. In this poster I have sketched out some of the emblematic depictions that pay homage to the Prophet and indicate how he exists across different societal conditions.

How does the Prophet as a figure in both history and a personal example come into dialogue with local folkloric traditions? The South Asian idea of an incarnation of existing powerful spirits, a beloved for whom the feminized soul yearns (with deep gender-power implications in the tradition of the virahinī in Sindhi poetry), the tradition of a Prophet of God (one among many, 28 listed in the Qur’an), or a Chinese sage (alongside Confucius) are some of the standout depictions of the Prophet to me.

Each phrase I chose to write into the calligraphic illustration left a distinct impression on me of all the different ways his greatness is depicted. Perhaps the most prolific is Muhammad’s position as a human exemplar of a well-lived, pure life. Clearly, these are time- and space-dependent, but the rich ways in which these imaginings of the ‘same’ historical figure and figure of faith differentiate themselves from one another is embedded in histories of politics, mythologies, and repertoires of metaphor that already exist in societies where Islam may come to be an essential part of a larger culture.

Significant questions that this exercise and illustration raised for me include:

  • What are the theological implications of the Prophet having the ability to play an intercessory role?
  • What is the difference between a figure of faith and a figure in history who is remembered as a great political and temporal leader?
  • What are the implications for the continuation of political/religious authority; i.e. how would claims come to be based in the legitimacy of certain ways of seeing the Prophet?


~ by kirin on February 17, 2014.

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