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Sounds of the Qur’an

Blue Mosque Prayer

Our calligraphy projects highlighted the importance of writing in Islam. As many consider the act of writing Qur’anic verses a form of worship, those who are especially gifted in the art of calligraphy are known as “scribe angels”. However, for my third blog post, I decided to focus on the idea of the Qur’an as an aural and oral text – something to be “listened to with the ear and experienced with the heart”. Originally the Qur’an, the literal translation being “recitation,” was solely an aural text, revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel and then recited to the community. It was not until long after the Prophet’s death that the Qur’an was put into writing.

Qur’anic recitation is so revered in the Islamic community that there exists a set of rules governing its pronunciation and rhythm known as tajweed. Reciting and listening to the Qur’an are considered a form of communion with Allah. As seen in the film “Koran by Heart,” Qur’anic recitation competitions are held across the globe with the most renowned event held annually in Egypt. Often times the competitors, some as young as seven years old, are able to recite the Qur’an in its entirety without being able to read or speak Arabic. Someone who has memorized the Qur’an is known as hafiz al-Qur’an, “Guardian of the Qur’an,” and is considered to have been especially blessed by Allah.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

For my second blog post, I chose to focus on the two principal sects of Islam, the Sunni and the Shi’a. As Professor Asani discussed in lecture, the Battle of Karbala and the subsequent martyrdom of Hussein, the son of Ali and the grandson of Muhammad is one of the most important events in Shia Islam. The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, marks an important time of commemoration and mourning for Hussein. The most important day of Muharram is known as Ashura when Umayyad caliph Yazid beheaded Hussein and killed most of his family. While observances of this event differ throughout the Islamic world, our lectures and readings focused on ta’zieh, a passion play re-enacting the Battle of Karbala originating from Iran. Ta’zieh is unique in how performers are able to evoke raw emotion from the audience, regardless of the number of times the play has been seen or that the participants are all aware of its ending.

The principle reason for these strong emotions is that Shi’ite Muslims consider Hussein to be part of Ahl al-Bayt and therefore the rightful successor of Muhammad after Ali. From the Shi’ite perspective, the Battle of Karbala was the prototypical conflict between good and evil, with Hussein representing good and Yazid evil. It is their belief that all those who are pious and righteous suffer in this world as suffering is ultimately redemptive and leads to salvation in the afterlife – a notion reflected in many other religions (consider the story of Jesus).

In discussing the importance of the Battle of Karbala, Professor Asani noted, “Sunni theology developed in the context of historical triumph and Shi’i in the context of worldly defeat”. My piece attempts to depict that while these two sects may have differing theological beliefs and religious practices, they are both part of the same religion and followers of Allah.


Am I A Muslim?

I pray, I fast
I believe, I abstain
Does that make me a Muslim?
I dance, I sing
I laugh, I smile
Does that make me not a Muslim?
What makes a Muslim?
Is it the way I look?
The way I dress?
The language I speak?
Do I fit your mold?
Must I fit?
Should I try to fit?
Am I a Muslim?

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