Working on these art projects has been a pleasure and helped me to appreciate the intricate art pieces we have seen in class.  I am not an artist in the classical sense, but I do believe that each one of us is an artist in our own way.  Expressing myself in this class has made the topics and themes more memorable.  Fifty years from now, I really do think I will be able to recall the art projects I made for this class and the associated themes.  One of my primary reasons for taking this class was to think about alternative teaching methods, and I can honestly say that the Cultural Studies Approach mixed with the use of individual expression of classroom lectures and readings has been extremely effective.   In my artwork I incorporate and/or was inspired by the following five themes: (1) connection to one’s own experience and context, (2) Sufi/mystical understanding of Islam, (3) role of women in Islam, (4) unity and (5) importance of recitation and the spoken word.

While listening to lectures or doing the readings for class, I would connect with certain themes and topics on a personal level (spiritually, emotionally, or simply out of pure curiosity), and I would immediately feel the inspiration setting in with ideas popping into my head about how I could express my connection to a particular reading or theme in an art project.  In a more typical class, I would not have had this opportunity for such self-expression beyond the pure intellectual excitement.  Just as the Islamic artists were able to go beyond the intellect to connect with the Divine on a deeper level through art, I also was given this opportunity through these projects.  What I really loved was that we were allowed to connect the artwork to our own experience even if that expanded into our own religious/spiritual practice.  Because of this, I incorporate chakras in my “Ascension to the Divine” piece because I see parallels between chakras and the idea of cleansing one’s ego and self to be more ready, pure and able to meet the Divine.  Also, in the video I make where I am able to actually practice seeing God in my daily life just as a verse in the Qur’an (2:164) tells us to do was expansive in that I felt that I was practicing my own religion (Christianity) while aligning with my interpretation of this particular verse.  Finally, in my last piece inspired by Conference of the Birds, I saw a connection between the teachings in the story and a verse in the Bible and was able to connect this in the artwork and explanation of it.  I really appreciate the openness of these projects in allowing us to have the freedom to think like an artist without worrying about whether our interpretation is right or wrong because in the end, we are creating the art from our own context and perspective, bringing the Cultural Studies Method to life.

Every time I study Islam, I feel the most connected to the mystical Sufi interpretation, which aligns with my more mystically inclined Christian interpretations.  Thus, much of my artwork leans toward the Sufi interpretation even if not explicitly.  Understanding Islam through what I believe to be its deeper meaning – the Batin rather than focusing solely on the Zahir – has enabled my ability to connect with Islam through this artwork.  I see so many commonalities between my understanding of God and the Sufi understanding.  Najaf Haider, an Indian historian, claimed, “The cornerstone of Sufi ideology is love” and love is a consistent theme in Sufi and more mystically inclined art and poetry (W. Dalrymple).   However, amidst the proclamations of love in Sufi writings, specifically Rumi’s, we see constant declarations of pain, struggle, and separation.   This language seems to incorporate some of the most important aspects in reaching the final goal – uniting with God in perfect love.  This is something I wanted to capture in my artwork – the idea of a journey toward the Divine and the magnificent struggle associated with it.  These struggles include: awakening the consciousness to initiate a pathway to the Divine, the pain of separation from society and the material world associated with initiating this pathway (as expressed in my last piece inspired by Conference of the Birds), the struggle experienced while on the pathway both with killing the ego and building other senses and states of consciousness, and the struggle that occurs after uniting with God has taken place.

Of course, as a woman, I am completely fascinated by the portrayal of women in Islam and the interpretations of their role in spirituality.  Oftentimes, women seem to be portrayed as a distraction as was brought up in the recitation competitions and whether or not women can recite the Qur’an and in the midst of what genders.  Also, the theme comes up in whether or not having a relationship with a woman can bring one closer to the Divine or serve as a hindrance to the Divine.  I focus on the man/woman as equal parts of the same whole that need one another in seeking the Divine.  This is present in my piece “Human Love to the Divine” where I portray the genders not as a hindrance to one another but rather as potentially mutual spiritual partners for one another on the pathway to the Divine.  Of course in class we also discussed the woman (and her body) as a symbol of Islam and as a key part of the discourse surrounding finding the “right” Islam.   I do not really portray this in my pieces, but I do appreciate hearing the various feminist and feminine interpretations of the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and the Hadith in comparison to the patriarchal and male-favoring interpretations of the very same passages.   In this same line of discussion enters the phenomenon of certain groups, from a wide spectrum of types of Islam, trying to “correct” Islam and bring it back to its pure form.  This has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but it always involves some kind of interpretation on how the woman is supposed to dress or behave.  It would be interesting to learn more about this phenomenon in other religions and cultures as well to understand if this focus on the woman is common in other movements.  We did discuss the creation of the bikini as part of the “liberation” movement of women in the 1960s and 70s, but I am curious to learn how common this focus on the female body has been throughout history and across contexts.

This course has also inspired me to think about unity and what it means in an Islamic context.  In one of our discussion sessions, we had a debate over what the term “unity” actually means and how it relates to Islamic art.  Is all Islamic art connected only if it pertains to a particular style or is Islamic art connected on a more spiritual level?  I tend toward a more spiritual/less rigid definition of unity for both Islamic art and people.  This is something I express in several of my pieces.  In my art inspired by Conference of the Birds where all of the birds make up one larger being, this theme is quite obvious.  The unity of the birds into one Simorgh demonstrates the unity of all people whether or not we are conscious of it.  Interestingly, it goes beyond Muslims (with a capital “M”) and incorporates all people (muslims with a small “m” being those who submit and choose to go on the journey).  This goes back to my ability to connect the art with my own understandings of life because I also believe that all of humanity, regardless of religious practice, is connected whether or not we are aware of it or not.  Also, in the recitation piece, I try to unite with the experience as described by others and begin to understand why recitation seems to unite Muslims around the world and serve as an important spiritual practice for many.  Lastly, in the video where I film evidence of God in my daily life, I am not filming things that others are not also united in sharing.  They are seemingly normal aspects of life that unite all of us with the additional consciousness of the Divine’s presence within those aspects.  However, I can also understand where the idea of unity can cause conflict such as in movements that seek to find the “right” Islam for everyone in an effort to reach a particular perception of unity.  Thus, I found it enlightening to think about how a seemingly clear and positive term could be both contested and potentially negative if taken in certain contexts and used for forceful or violent means.

Finally, the importance of recitation, the spoken word and its expression in calligraphy were continuous themes throughout the course that both fascinated me and inspired some of my art.  I had not previously made the connection between the difference of the Bible, for instance, and the Qur’an in the sense that the Qur’an was originally a recited piece coming from God and passed on through Muhammad who was asked to recite – “Iqra” being the famous first word ordering Muhammad to recite what he was hearing.  This tradition has become an integral part of practicing Islam for many Muslims and is the reason why the Qur’an is not easily translatable into languages other than Arabic.  In fact, it has been impossible to recreate the spoken beauty of the Qur’an in other languages.  As a child, I memorized verses from the Bible but not with the focus on the Bible’s spoken beauty.  Rather the focus was on the content of the verse and how it could be applied to my life and context.  It was difficult for me to understand how recitation competitions could be seen as a spiritual practice, especially in a language that reciters may not even understand, until I finally made the connection with the idea that words in the Qur’an and their sounds in themselves are sacred.  When I was reciting the Light verse from the Qur’an as one of my art pieces, I felt its beauty and a connection with the verse even though I do not know Arabic.  The aesthetic make-up of the Qur’an when spoken aloud is magnificent.  I may not have even fully realized this until I did the recitation myself.

I hope that these explanations give you a better understanding of the process and inspiration I experienced in creating each of these art pieces.  If only we could use this method for all misunderstandings and conflicts, giving all sides the opportunity to actually experience the context of another in relation to one’s own experience.  Studying Islam through art really brought the Cultural Studies Method to life and has inspired me to think about how I could use the method in other education contexts in my own career.  I suppose we could call that my ongoing art piece.


Works Cited

W. Dalrymple, “India, The Real Islam.” Time Magazine, July 26-Aug 2, 2004/ vol. 164, no. 4/5.


Conference of the Birds (Week 10)

This artwork is made completely out of candy (marshmallows, Peeps, and Dots).  These have been put in the shape of the Simorgh from the Conference of the Birds.  “Si morgh” means “thirty birds” and there is a play on the words in the story between its meaning and the name of the bird.  The idea is that the birds go on a journey to find their king only to realize at the end of the journey that they are actually part of what they were seeking to find.  In this art piece, you will notice that there are thirty birds with their heads sticking up as part of the design of the Simorgh.  The other dots and marshmallows represent the birds that have not yet realized that they are part of what they had been searching for all along; yet they continue to be a part of the greater being without consciousness.

This entire story reminded me of my own experience with the Bible verses from Matthew 7:13-14:

13“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Few are the birds that were strong enough to continue the journey, always with the encouragement from the Divine.  The others have yet to realize the great love and being of which they are a part.

Human Love to Divine Love (Week 9)

In class this week, we discussed Rumi and Hafez’s poems and their focus on human love vs. Divine love.  They talk about human love as leading toward Divine love.  For example, Hafez writes:

I Want Both Of Us

I want both of us

To start talking about this great love

As if you, I, and the Sun were all married

And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,

Do the wash,

Weave and sew,

Care for our beautiful


We all leave each morning

To labor on the earth’s field.

No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two

Travelling minstrels

About this extraordinary existence

We share,

As if

You, I, and God were all married

And living in

A tiny


This drawing is a simple moleskin notebook sketch with only pen and paper.  It shows a man and a woman formed together in the shape of a heart at the bottom of the stairs beginning a journey of love toward the Divine together.  You can either look at the picture as a male face on the left and a female face on the right or a full male body on the left and a full female body on the right.  This takes away the focus from the details of the drawing and helps the viewer focus on the merged figure formed by the two, which displays a deep human love.  The link leading up the steps to the Divine is made up of hearts displaying the love that links the Divine to us when we are in love, or love someone else, and how that connects or leads us to love like the Divine or to be fully immersed in the Divine.  At the top of the stairs, you can see only a piece of the heart of the Divine (representing the Divine love) because it could never fit onto a page.  The stairs are shaded at the bottom representing the impurities that must be purged and the difficulties/challenges that human love will face in getting closer to the Divine and becoming more Divine-like.

Music and God (Week 8)


In the readings “Sacred Music of Islam” and “The Shambhala Guide to Sufism,” we learn about the importance of music in particular Islamic practices.  The first reading mentioned, talks about sama as requiring a certain “tune of soul,” and in the second reading mentioned, we learn that there is a differentiation between self-indulgent listening and true listening.  The highest level of listening, as described in the week 8 discussion readings, involves complete focus on the Divine and the attributes of the Divine.  One must get lost in the music and use it as a means to focus on the Divine rather than as entertainment or distraction.  This art piece is a cut out of the word “love” in Arabic with music notes surrounding it.  In my tradition and worldview, God is love, and so I wanted to depict God as love.  The music notes surrounding it represent the music that brings us closer to the Divine.  The light shining through the background represents the clarity that we must have when listening to the music so that we are only focusing on the Divine.  The circular shape of the light represents the verse discussed in lecture this week:

“Verily we come form God and to God we return.” – Qur’an 2:156

With the music we can get lost in the wonders of the Divine while also being conscious of our connection to the Divine.  It can also be a means, particularly in Sufism, to ponder or seek clarity on mystical and esoteric issues – such as in this verse.

Ascension to the Divine (Week 4)

Medium: Watercolors, cutouts, mirror, pipe cleaner, objects and ribbon.

This piece is inspired by the readings we did on Muhammad’s night journey and ascension to God.  I am fascinated by the esoteric interpretation of it and what it means for us on our journey to the Divine.  Rumi says the following in his piece, “The Journey into Yourself”:

“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” – Rumi

This leads me to look at the buraq, so often portrayed in Islamic artwork representing the Miraj, who went on part of the journey as well. I begin to see the buraq as each of us, with the opportunity to ascend toward the Divine.  Rumi says in his piece “Born with Wings”:

 You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?” – Rumi

In my piece, I have depicted the seven chakras, six leopard print cut-outs and the crown chakra represented as the light above the mirror.  This represents the journey that Rumi talks about that we must make inside each one of us.  The leopard print recognizes the strength it will take, and the star above the buraq represents the dependence we must have on the Divine to begin and continue on that journey.  In a reading for Week 4, The Mevlidi Sherif on page 37, we encounter the following quote:

“You are the glass which mirrors my reflection; Your name have I inscribed with mine together.”The Mevlidi Sherif

This was my inspiration for the mirror at the head of the buraq, so that each person who looks at this artwork can envision herself on this journey.

Signs of Allah (Week 1)

Seeing Signs of Allah

As discussed during week one, remembering God is a charge given to humanity through the revelations that has been interpreted in a variety of ways.  Some recite the 99 Beautiful Names of God, as depicted in the music of this short film.  Others seek to see God in all of creation and throughout their daily lives.  In the following verse, we are told that we will see signs of God all around us if only we are aware.

“Behold!  In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of ships through the ocean for profit of humankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that he scatters through the earth; in the change of winds, and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth; (Here) indeed are the signs (ayat) for a people that are wise.” – Quran 2:164

In this film then, I filmed small, seemingly insignificant, pieces of my life where I see the face of God and where I was able to remember and see proof of Allah in my daily life.  I see God in what He/She has provided for me, in the people put in my life, and in the nature surrounding me.  I hope that this piece of art will inspire all to seek proof of the Divine in each moment.

Recitation of the Light Verse (Week 3)

Recitation – Light Verse

While reading “The Quran in Indonesian Daily Life” by A. Rasmussen this week, I was interested to learn about female recitation life in Indonesia.  Rasmussen’s experience, as a non-Muslim woman, learning to recite in Indonesia made me curious to try it out for myself.  She was able to observe the recitation from an outsider’s perspective while gaining access to an insider’s perspective.  I learned that I could also try to do the same.  What is it about recitation that is so special?  What makes people so dedicated to the practice and mastery of it?  Building upon our previous lectures and discussions, I know that recitation is an art that connects with the Divine in a special way because the words from the Qur’an, when spoken in Arabic, are the same words that Allah spoke to Muhammad.  After practicing the Arabic pronunciation several times, I went into a silent space to recite the Light Verse for the recording.  I felt a sense of calm and reverence that I hope is captured in my very first Qur’an recitation recording.  In the reading from Approaching the Qur’an for this week’s lecture, Sells discusses the control and slowing down of breath in relation to Qur’an recitation and its meditative quality.  As an avid yoga practioner, I can attest to the fact that reciting the Qur’an, even as a complete amateur, immediately relaxed me just as the recitation of the “Aum” in yoga does at the beginning and end of practice.   I hope one day to learn Arabic so that I can recite more effectively and be able to bring this new meditative practice that I experienced today, into my everyday life.