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Week 12: On the Power of the Pen


This is a pen and ink piece that was inspired by Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Specifically, the idea behind this is that it is an alternative cover to the graphic novel than the original, focusing on the importance of the medium that Satrapi used as a form of empowerment in telling her story. The original novel cover features a young Satrapi staring point blank at the camera from across the table. Her body language, with her crossed arms and frowning expression, express feelings of distress and discomfort, which are representative of her experience growing up during the Iranian Islamic Revolution. During the section in which Satrapi struggled to smoke a cigarette for the first time, she reflects on how she felt that this was her turning point into adulthood – which I’m sure, to a kid smoking a cigarette for the first time, is a total symbolic moment, but I would like to argue that Satrapi was slowly losing the innocence of childhood much earlier: through the bombings, killings, and various horrifying events that she and her family witnessed; through the difficult questions she constantly asked her parents and friends; through her insistence to protest alongside her mother and father, and many more. As a result, due to the Revolution, Satrapi was forced to grow up much sooner than a normal child her age, a juxtaposition that I was constantly aware of due to Satrapi’s usage of the graphic novel: you could see that Satrapi was still a child, as illustrated, but the questions and thoughts she was expressing were so beyond her age. As a result, this illustration shows the agency that Satrapi was able to have after a situation in which many of the decisions about her life growing up were out of her hands – she was forced to wear a hijab, forced to leave her family, and so on. The telling of her childhood through a medium that is able to contrast the innocence of childhood with her intense emotional backstory was immensely effective, and so this cover represents that: her facial expressions and upright body posture are exuding confidence, and her “weapon of choice” against the trauma of her childhood is her micron pen.

Week 10: On Reclaiming the Hijab


This digital media piece was inspired by the piece Unveiling Scheherezade: Feminist Orientalism in the International Alliance of Women by Charlotte Weber.  This piece, to me, was an extension of a point made in lecture this week that really struck me and stuck to me: that the role of the hijab as a form of oppression is a product of the male-dominated Muslim societies impacted by imperialism, in which such measures for women are mandated. Weber goes into this, as represented by the left half of the piece: in her argument, she discusses how males of these Muslim societies both are able to oppress women and fetishize women through such a measure, shown through the trope present in literature of women in harems wearing veils, secluded from society due to qualities they associate with women – sensuality, eroticism, and exoticism, which are represented by the some of the phrases found on the left side. Orientalism is also included as a term on this side, in response to an important point Weber made emphasizing the complicity of Western women in this fetishization of Eastern Muslim women through the perpetuation of such tropes, contributing to their oppression by these terms. This is important, as it directly addresses the Western perception that is often perpetuated that the veil itself is oppressing the women who wear it, when the more nuanced point is that it is the societal views of women in these particular societies as a result of misogyny and colonialism that causes this oppression. The right side of this piece, as a result, seeks to reclaim the hijab, allowing women who wear one to define their rationale on their own terms: as a form of resistance against global Eurocentric tendencies, as a form of religious expression and freedom, as a form of nationalism, and through reclaiming these definitions for themselves, as an expression of feminism. This is also particularly important, as it shows that Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive.

Week 9: On the Mathnawi Style


This digital collage was created as a reflection on The Conference of the Birds, a Sufi epic poem consisting of 4500 lines written in the Mathnawi style, of rhyming couplets. The overall purpose of this epic is to present through a large allegory the Sufi interpretation of the Qur’an. This is especially notable, as the artistic interpretations of the Qur’an – directly through the poeticism of The Conference of the Birds, the further exploration of this piece through other art forms such as dance – are able to encapsulate the physical and spiritual struggles of being human in a way that connects to a person’s soul. This digital piece was inspired by a couple of lines in the epic that really stood out to me:


“We are a wretched, flimsy crew at best,

And lack the bare essentials for this quest.

Our feathers and our wings, our bodies’ strength

Are quite unequal to the journey’s length;”


Followed soon after by:


“No one can bear His beauty face to face,

And for this reason, of His perfect grace,

He makes a mirror in our hearts – look there

To see Him, search your hearts with anxious care.” 


This piece highlights the individual struggles that each of the birds encapsulated, represented by the black and white, rough sketch in the middle of a worn-down bird – each of the birds in The Conference of the Birds has their own individual vices, making them wretched and flimsy. However, the community of religion, as represented by the collection of smaller birds surrounding the larger bird, allows people to explore within and seek elements of spirituality and God within themselves, as is expressed in the second paragraph – which also aligns with the overall Sufi tradition of letting go of materialism and looking within for spiritual enlightenment and a path to God.


Week 1: On Resistance and Social Responsibility


This digital media collage was created with the idea of social responsibility as a core tenet of being Muslim in mind. This was an idea explored from the beginning of this semester, starting from Professor Asani’s interpretation of Qur’an 2:177, which calls those righteous who give away money to kin and the needy, who free their slaves, amongst other qualities. This verse emphasizes the various elements of the path to righteousness for a Muslim: faith, having a god character and participating in salat and zakat, and taking action to better society. John Renard in his work Seven Doors to Islam discusses this verse and comes to the same conclusion, highlighting the emphasis on social responsibility (pg. 12). The cultural context of any given moment in history may emphasize particular types of social engagement, so I decided to collage the symbolic raised fist of resistance with a focus on some prominent social movements of the present day: marches against the current United States political administration, especially pertaining to banning and limiting of immigration into the United States, the march for women’s rights, and the Black Lives Matter movements. All of these movements had Muslim presences in some way or another, whether it was Linda Sarsour, one of the co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, or Munira Ahmed, the face of resistance on posters to show that a Bangladeshi Muslim from Queens, NY is just as American as anyone else. A lot of the present day’s movements of resistance highlight the intersectionality of current social issues, intertwining issues of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and many other issues, thus highlighting the relevance of social engagement and visibility in today’s society, in order to help various marginalized populations.

Week 2: The Light and the Qur’an


There are multiple layers of meaning to this digital photography piece, but the main idea that inspired this piece was the verse regarding light in the Qur’an: “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp – the lamp in a glass, the glass as if it were a glittering star –kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive tree that is neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil well-nigh would shine even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; God guides to His Light whom He wills. And God strikes similitudes for man, and God has knowledge of everything” (24:35).

The light in this photo is the focal point illuminating everything in the darkness surrounding it, representing the idea of the ubiquity of God in Islam as discussed in lecture. The light shines upon the other central part of the photo – a written copy of the Qur’an, which is specifically turned to the opening, Surah Al-Fatiha. This is important, as God having knowledge of everything and guiding His Light to whom He wills is represented in the revelation of this sacred scripture to Prophet Muhammad, thus connecting the idea of light and the Qur’an as it was illuminated piece by piece to the Prophet during his lifetime.

Another layer that this photo uncovers is the idea of access to the scripture and how that is illuminating – as we’ve discussed, the Qur’an was initially an oral/aural transmission in Arabic, which was how it was initially passed from person to person. Although it continues to be recited, the Qur’an’s transition to written text both created stratifications of access to the sacred text based on one’s literacy, but also increased accessibility of God’s word to people of various cultures across the world, thus introducing more people to Islam (guiding individuals to His Light through reading the text).

Week 3: On Recitations and Tears


This piece was primarily inspired by Al-Ghazali’s The Recitation and Interpretation of the Qur’an, specifically the chapter that we read on the external rules of Quranic recitation. In this piece, Al-Ghazali discusses the role of weeping, even intentionally forcing oneself to weep, while reading the Qur’an as being praiseworthy, as it brings the idea of grief to the mind and makes the individual weeping consider “the threats, warnings, covenants, and promises which are contained in the Qur’an,” thus making an individual consider their own shortcomings in front of God (44). During section that week, we continued to talk about the intertwining of practicing such a ritual and organically feeling the emotions prescribed to that ritual – who says that one needs to come before the other? Perhaps a ritual can be practiced in order to forge the emotional bond between a sacred text and one individual, whereas for another, the emotional response is embodied as a physical response, thus creating the ritual. This grey zone of which aspect of a spiritual connection comes first shows how interrelated the body and the mind are in the context of religion – and that interconnectedness especially comes out in a spiritual act that is as physical of an experience as recitation. This concept is what I sought to bring out in my charcoal visual art piece – I depicted an eye with a single tear, within which is the Bismillah, the phrase recited before each surah of the Qur’an (except for the ninth). This piece connects the repetition of this phrase with the idea of weeping, thus showing the connection that can form between a spiritual idea and a physical ritual.

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