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Exploring Islam Through Art, Culture, and Literature

Week 2 Response – The Importance of Zakat

March 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

Zakat Photo

One of my main motivations for taking A&I 54 was to become better educated about the Islamic faith, and to perhaps gain a better understanding of what it means to be, as Professor Asani says, Muslim, “with a capital M”. While I was of course raised to be accepting of all peoples and faiths, and to not judge the entire faith of Islam on the actions of certain radical groups, growing up in a fairly homogeneous Midwestern town, I certainly experienced the caustic, uninformed response to Islam that Prof. Asani describes in Chapter Two of Infidel of Love. Although I fortunately never witnessed any overt acts of racism, any talk of Muslims from my peers at school seemed to generally be centered around “terrorism” or the latest report on the conflict in the Middle East from Fox News. Even at home, much of the supposedly “left-leaning” or “unbiased” media that I was exposed to still failed to present a picture of Islam beyond “extremist”. Thus, for me, the cultural studies approach used in the class to explore this faith has been incredibly informative, revealing the rich culture and compassionate, peaceful tradition that I was always vaguely aware of, but never fully exposed to in the environment that I grew up in.

To me, nothing is more representative of this compassion than the practice of zakat, or ritual almsgiving, which is considered to be one of the five pillars of Islam. I was taken by this act of charity incorporated into the foundation of the tradition, which I have not seen in any other faith given my limited experience with religion. With this in mind, I chose to represent the idea of zakat here with a photograph of a “beggar” with outstretched hands, being offered zakat in the form of money and food. The recipient remains faceless and only the hands of those doing the giving are shown in order to allow the viewer to imagine any number of people in the position of giver and recipient. After all, there is not one single “type” of Muslim – as myself and many other young people in the US were led to believe by portrayals of the religion in popular media.

Additionally, using Photoshop, I placed the photo against a background of an old, brick wall that could have been from Medina during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. In doing this, I hoped to convey the idea that this focus on social justice arises in part from the actions of the Prophet, such as the story described in Infidel of Love of him nursing a woman that would throw garbage at him back to health, ultimately converting her to a follower of his new faith. Given the Prophet’s position as the paradigm of an ideal Muslim, these acts of compassion serve as a basis for the modern focus on compassion within the Islamic faith today. The modern nature of the beggar’s clothes represents this link between the past and the present.

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