I went into this course with barely any knowledge of Islam, let alone religion in general. I now have not only a fundamental understanding of the different religions of South Asia, but also a greater recognition of individuality and how religion plays a part in the process of self-identification. As somewhat of an agnostic, I did not have many expectations for the course. I had been exposed to conversations of Islam frequently during my travels and everyday interactions. I had often felt I had no voice in these conversations. I did not think that I had enough background knowledge to even form an opinion regarding such a deeply rooted topic. Through Professor Asani’s course, I thought I would simply learn about how Hindus and Muslims co-existed in South Asia across various platforms of society. The course went so far beyond this initial belief. My studies have allowed me to look at Islam through the broader lenses of religious communalism and individuality.

Professor Asani encouraged the class to take into account the multitude of viewpoints being presented in the various readings. Depending on the environment and background of the speaker, there exists a wide range of interpretations that must be considered while reading. Many historical papers challenge current theories and established constructs. Throughout history, the conceptualization of Islam has been approached from a range of perspectives. Interpretations depended on the ethnic and cultural background of the speaker. Initially, I did not take this predisposition of the author into much consideration. I have now come to appreciate how these varying lenses of history are crucial to understanding the phenomenon of religion. Because religion, specifically Islam, is imbedded in a complex web of social and political contexts, these historical analyses also demonstrate such complexity. They all ultimately attempt to conjecture the diverse experiences of being Muslim in South Asia. I struggled to grasp onto the underlying concepts of the readings with regard to the broader questions of Islam. Similar to the modern historians’ accounts of Islam, I misinterpreted the role of religion in South Asia in highly nationalistic terms. By analyzing the interpretation of Islam from not one, but many, historical viewpoints, I was able to conceptualize the function of Islam in the greater picture of South Asia.

I found that a central theme reoccurring throughout the course readings is the ways in which authorities played a major role in the emergence of religious identity. The heterogeneous nature of Muslim communities facilitated indefinite boundaries between groups that were upheld by individual attempts to define Islam and lay the basis of Muslim identity. Despite a common culture among Muslims, religious identity became convoluted across dimensions of caste, ethnicity, sect, etc. Some experiences and voices took precedence over others and a clear division developed throughout South Asia. The papers show the way religious divisions created cultural distancing and negatively influenced the emergence of communal identity.

What interests me most about the readings and discussions this semester is how Islam functioned as, not only a binding, but also a dividing factor in South Asia. It amazes me how a religion, something that should unite different groups of people, often operated as an isolating force among communities. This division can only circle back to the issue of identity. It remains difficult to form a Muslim identity when no one knows what truly constitutes a Muslim. There is no right or wrong Muslim. The lack of a concrete definition of the religion made it difficult to determine what was proper devotion. With this said, the interpretation of Islam was subject to manipulation. Anyone of authority could define the religion in whatever terms they warranted beneficial. This controversially led to the development of many Islams from the many layers of authority seen throughout South Asian history.

I chose to make this idea of multiple Islams the central theme to my creative responses. Although it is a very broad theme, I did not know how else to capture the true complexity of Islam across such a varied geographical span and a rapidly evolving social context. Many of the readings drew upon how the often contradicting sides of Islam became woven into society. As the course progressed, I learned to conceptualize the different applications of Islam in a more connected, formulated manner. I can now better rationalize why a single Muslim community or one Islam may never exist. The social context of Muslim communities is constantly evolving, creating varying perspectives within respective religious communities. With this changing environment comes a continuous need to reformulate ideals to fit within new frameworks. My seven creative pieces explore the varying ways in which Islam has been constructed and reformulated to satisfy the interests of different authorities and to cater to the changing social climate.

My first response directly addresses how the multiple Islams affected the development of Muslim identity. This piece addresses Islam from a broader perspective, incorporating the many different interpretations that have emerged throughout the course. I wanted to show how Muslim identity became divided through these different interpretations across various sects. The consciousness of individual sectarian identities formed a basis for communal ideologies. The opposing ideologies often clashed, demonstrating how Islam played a divisive role in religious communities. My poem “What is Islam?” shows how the ambiguous nature of Islam allowed different sects to reconstruct their own Islam. I chose the medium of poetry because it played a critical role in the Muslim experience and functioned as one of the few uniting factors in society. Sufis used poetry as a means of developing the self in their vision of Islam. Unlike many factors of society, Sufi poetry was open to all communities. Although Islam can be intepreted in this inclusive way, the poem also shows how religious groups interpreted Islam in exclusive terms.

I found the inclusive principles of Sufism highly inspiring throughout the course. I wanted to illustrate the Sufi interpretation of Islam through the lenses of a silent and loud Islam. “Silent vs. Loud Islam” depicts the discrepancies between these broader ways in which Islam has been reconstructed through time. I show this distinction in my clay figurines. The small figure represents silent Islam, whereas the bigger figure represents loud Islam. The course has allowed me to identity the distinctive interpretations of Islam that build off principles of a silent Islam and those off of a loud Islam. Similar to Sufism, the principles of Iqbalian philosophy reflect the nature of a silent Islam. Both Iqbal and Sufi principles interpret Islam purely upon an individual connection with faith. In contrast, loud Islam with a capital “I” is bounded with power as an ideological identity. Loud Islam posits itself against ‘the others’, where all non-Muslims are viewed as the enemy or invader. We discussed how this category of interpretation created many issues among communities, particularly with the emergence of Pakistan as a religious state.

I demonstrate the conception of a silent Islam by directly connecting classical Sufi thought with Iqbalian philosophy in my piece entitled “Transforming the Self Through Islam”. Of all the topics over the semester, the poetry of Iqbal and his notion of self-transformation had the most impact on me. I wanted to visually connect his inclusive interpretation of Islam with the principles of Sufism. I use Iqbal’s symbol of the garden and the desert to portray the theme of transformation seen throughout Sufism. Pinto demonstrates the role of dargah and the Pirs as one example of this transformation in “The Mystery of Nizamuddin Dargah: The Accounts of the Pilgrims”. The Sufi principle of spiritual self-transformation translates into the notion of leaving the egocentric self behind in the garden in order to develop the self among the harsh environment of the desert. Both Sufis and Iqbal define Islam in highly individualistic terms. The two interpretations urge the individual, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, to take an active role in emancipating their selves through selfless love and their relationship with Allah. The concept of self-transformation really inspired me in this piece and throughout the course. I respect how this notion of Islam applies to all human beings, independent of their religion, who simply seek some sort of improvement. In this sense, the individual is given purpose and responsibility with regard to their religion. The individual acts as a coworker with God, as opposed to simply as submitter to God. Sufis emphasize this role of God as “Wali”, who can intercede on behalf of devotees in their journey towards enlightenment.

Despite the inclusive nature of Sufism, Islam can be used as a means of exclusion. I literally depict this exclusion using a Venn diagram called “Labeling Islam”. This piece demonstrates how authorities used religious labels, specifically with architecture, in order to maintain control over non-religious aspects of society. Throughout the course, we discussed how the adherence of religion to these different aspects of society created many issues. These religious labels allowed authorities to take ownership against ‘the other’. Communities not only became divided through the religious labeling of architecture, but also through the labeling of language. Altogether, such religious labeling was driven by a desire to exclude the ‘other’ and reinforce political dominance over another religious authority.

This concept of the ‘other’ forms the basis of an exclusivist interpretation of Islam. With the introduction of Pakistan as a nation-state towards the end of the course, the rejection of the ‘other’ became a repetitive theme throughout the readings. For that reason, I wanted to include two pieces regarding the role of Islam as a divisive force in Pakistan. I highlight Sardar’s “That Question Mark” in my piece entitled “The Survival of Pakistan” to emphasize how Islam has been interpreted in highly exclusivist ways as a form of nationalism. With the emergence of Pakistan, Sardar alludes to the ‘chain of deep state’, where religion mediated all political and social aspects of society. After being exposed to the many versions of Islam, I was able to conceptualize how religion intertwined with politics to form an ideological basis for the secular state.

The establishment of a secular government created issues among clashing authorities, particularly in defining the state in terms of religion. Abbott’s paper “Pakistan and the Secular State” analyzes how authorities could not come to agreement on the defining the role of Islam in Pakistan. My creative response entitled “Framing Islam” depicts the issue of forming a secular state built upon a common religion. Abbot addresses conversation regarding whether Pakistan is truly a religious or a secular state. He mentions the ways in which the traditional system of Islam and what is perceived as a “theocratic state” was replaced by modern interpretations to support the interests of authorities. The separation between state and religion ultimately depends on who has authority.

With that said, Pakistan set an example of how authorities inappropriately used religion to maintain order in society. As somewhat of a social experiment, the creation of Pakistan on the basis of a common religion proved divisive. Religion provided an outlet for authorities in taking advantage of ideological division among communities in order to maintain control. The fact that Pakistan had “not yet, in fact, discovered a simple, objective definition of a Muslim” (Abbot, 364) made it even more difficult to assert Islam into Pakistani politics. In order to channel the account of Abbot, I use a framed, divided shadow box to indicate the different aspects of the Islamic state that attempted to manipulate Islam into its framework. The divisions of the frame into economic, political, legal, and military units of society respectively show how authorities clashed in attempt to fit Islam into their own vision of the nation state.

Much like how religion became politicized under these authorities, historical accounts also used religion in a highly politicized manner through their portrayal of Indian history. The varying constructions of the past were a way of asserting religious authority in the form of nationalism. My final piece reflects how Indian historical accounts have been simplified down to a singular tale of Hindu history as an effort to promote nationalism among the Hindu community. Pandey’s “the Appeal of Hindu History” inspired my piece entitled “Funneling Time”. I attempt to show the different aspects of a heterogeneous Indian history that were reduced into one monolithic construction of the past. The motivation behind this reduction of history parallels the reasoning behind the various interpretations of Islam mentioned earlier. Just like these interpretations, the formulation of one Hindu history intended to create exclusion of the ‘other’ or Muslims.

Altogether these seven creative pieces all reflect connect to the overarching theme of, not one, but many different Islams. The variety of definitions of Islam, in both inclusivist and exclusivist terms, is one of the main concepts I took away from the course. I came to understand how ambiguity can foster manipulation. In other words, the ambiguity of Islam made the process of defining the role of the religion in society accessible to a range of authorities. I found myself constantly asking how I would come to define Islam and what it means to me as someone who is not devoted to the religion. In my opinion, Iqbal provides the ultimate answer to my overarching question of What is Islam?. The answer to this question does not lie in the mosque or objective practices within the religion, but in the human soul. We must look at Islam and any religion through the broader context of the universe and how the individual evolves within these many worlds. The definition of Islam applies to any system of belief in any corner of the world.

Funneling India


“Funneling India” depicts the shortcoming of various historical accounts that reduce Indian history into a one-pointed, singular tale. Pandey’s “The Appeal of Hindu History” inspired this piece, in which he analyzes how Hindu history has come to define all of Indian history. His paper highlights how the construction of the past allowed authorities to assert identity and status among religious communities. He shows how these constructions of Hindu history functioned as a nationalist upsurge, attempting to define the ‘true Indian’ against ‘the other’, or Muslims. ‘Hindutva’ ultimately reflected the Hindu attempts to formulate Indian history in exclusive nationalist terms.

I wanted to capture this reduction of Indian history in my creative response. The funnel reflects how both British and Hindu historical accounts neglect the complexity of Indian history. Through their narratives, all variations of Indian histories “are similarly collapsed into one monolithic category called ‘the Hindus’” (Pandey, 380). Each bubble represents a different aspect of Hindu history that has been overseen in historical narratives. The two bubbles on the bottom, one depicting the caste system and one depicting the different sects of Hindu communities, portray how the various castes and sects of India have been merged into a single depiction of the ‘true Indian’. Another bubble shows the different regions of Indian to represent how regional variations of these communities were discounted for in Hindu history. The bubble containing a timeline reflects the timelessness of historical narratives and how “mythic time, historical time, our time, all run into one another” (Pandey 384). All time and place is fixed to convey a cycle of Hindu resistance against the ‘other’. The last bubble containing the swords and blood attempts to account for how Hindu history has merged the numerous riots and outbreaks of the past into the “image of a single, bloodthirsty, insatiable invader” (Pandey, 380). Pandey describes how every conflict regarded Muslims as the enemy and ultimate source of contention. In such a way, the internal histories of various Hindu communities remain irrelevant as they funneled into a singular, homogenized tale. This tale, Pandey describes, only acknowledges the conflict of Hindu versus Muslim, good versus bad, Rama versus Ravana, all centered on a fixed issue.

The funnel literally shows how all these variations and inconsistencies in Hindu history are filtered into a singular conception of the state. I represent the state with the temple at Ram, which lies at the bottom of the illustration as a product of the funnel. I wanted to highlight how Pandey compares the event of Ram Janmabhumi to this conception of the state. He suggests how the role of the site in history parallels the complete, fixed nature of Hindu India as a nation. All events in Hindu India cycle around this event at Ram, where “everything leads-and returns-to this point” (Pandey, 374). Both Hindu history and the temple of Ram do not depict any agency or individuality. The multiple strands of the past have been striped of any context, time, or space. In this way, Pandey proclaims that religion “substitutes for both history and politics” (Pandey, 387). The blurring of religion with politics allowed authorities to reconstruct the role of religious identities with respect to their own interests. Just like the manipulation of Islam seen in my other creative responses, Hindu historical accounts manipulate the past as a means of asserting state power and promoting a nationalist unity.

Framed Pakistan


The “Framed Pakistan” four framed images surrounding the crescent moon of Islam respectively portray the distinct authorities in Pakistan that manipulated the role of Islam to maximize their own legitimacy. I echo off the perspective of Abbott in “Pakistan and the Secular State” to visually display the divisive role of Islam in the emergence of a nation. The figurative idea of different frameworks existing within society demonstrates how authorities played a hostile role in the development of Muslim identity. For that reason, I take these frameworks in a literal sense for this creative piece. The frameworks of these authorities are literally portrayed in each of the sections surrounding the central force of Islam driving the foundation of the state.

I represent the inflexible frameworks of law, economy, religion, and military authorities in Pakistan, which posed many challenges in the establishment of the Pakistani constitution. Legal authority is depicted with the scale of justice used in the court of law. In this form, authorities try to interpret the Qur’an in a way that maintains social order and benefits the state. Much debate surrounded determining the extent to which Islam (according to the Qur’an) would govern the laws of the nation. Similarly, economic authority, specifically the debate over interest, was another area of conflicting interpretation with the emergence of the Islamic state. I portray the role of Islam in the economy with the image of “Bank Islam” and the payment of the riba. The riba represents how the Qur’an intervened with state affairs. There remains controversy and clashing opinions over the payment of the riba because it is forbidden in the Qur’an. Thus, religious affairs and opposing interpretations of the riba in the Qur’an threaten the financial situation of Pakistan. Additionally, I represent religious authority with the image of the Pakistani constitution. Abbott stresses the negative influence of different religious leaders’ interpretations of what constitutes a Muslim. Religious leaders called for an amendment in the constitution that declared the Ahmadiyya a non-Muslim minority. Ahmadi individuals, therefore, could not take any part in the government or military. This brings me to the last, debatably most important area of authority, which is the military. The military, represented with the crossing swords, neglected any sort of polity and democracy in Pakistan and dominated all affairs of society, while using Islam to maintain control. Overall, these areas of authority embody the theme of how the ‘many Islams’, described in my other creative responses, created issues in the balance between religion and state


The Survival of Pakistan

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I created this sketch titled “The Survival of Pakistan” to convey how, despite the divisive nature of Islam, various uniting factors in Pakistan have managed to hold the nation together. Sardar in “That Question Mark” outlines this divided nation with the notion that Islam “functions as a mechanism for oppression” (Sardar, 5). He alludes to the ‘chain of deep state’ philosophy to describe how Islam was used to maintain balance between military, feudal landlords, and politicians. Islam took on a highly toxic connotation. It managed to drive communities apart and clashed aross various dimensions of society. This clash became most evident between the Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. Many of the papers we read that week described the ways in which this sectarian conflict divided the nation, with little mention of the ways the nation was able to thrive. I, therefore, found interest in Sardar’s paper because he stresses why Pakistan did not completely fall apart. In addition to the resourceful abilities of the individual, he highlights the healing source media, music, and literature has provided for Pakistan.

I attempt to demonstrate this conflict and survival in my drawing. The Deodar cedar tree represents Pakistan, as it is the national tree. The Sunnis and Shiites depict the sectarian conflict threatening to tear the nation (tree) down with their violence and political corruption. As we see Pakistan falling, it still remains held up by cultural forces. I represent the music and literature sources of Pakistan holding the tree up against the opposing forces. Music was something that everyone shared in common no matter what their beliefs or interests were. Pakistanis managed to connect over pop culture sources, like the music television series Coke Studio. Sardar mentions how this pop culture was “a clear attempt to bridge the cultural fragmentation of Pakistan’”(Sardar, 13). This outlet of music and deep-rooted literature brought Pakistan together through a single shared aspect of society. With the many Islams creating a pressing need for union, these cultural traditions played a restorative role.

Labeling Islam


“Labeling Islam” employs the exclusive yet overlapping structure of the Venn diagram to demonstrate the issues with how religion operated as a label to categorize Indo-Islamic art and architecture. Bhatt and Patel’s paper “How Buildings Divide and Unite Us” inspired my portrayal of architecture as what the authors describe as ‘racial art’. The paper analyzes the controversial yet complex relationship between religious buildings as ‘racial art’ and religious identity. Labels were used as a means of gaining authority by asserting dominance of one race over another. Bhatt stresses how buildings that demonstrated a confluence of Hindu and Islamic building traditions were not viewed in geographical or cultural terms, but rather as a declaration of political dominance of Islam over Hindu India. This categorization of Indo-Islamic architecture reflects the issue of perspective and authority. The categorization of religious buildings depended on what authority was doing the labeling. Colonial historians inappropriately used these religious labels in adherence to buildings in order to divide the Hindu and Muslim communities and maintain control over India.

Bhatt and Patel examine the village of Mandal to show how the residents’ religious identification with their buildings does not reflect the mutually exclusive function historians cast on these buildings. The integration of mosques in Hindu and Muslim communities forced the communities to oversee any labels in order to co-exist. The close proximity of the two communities created a mutual dependence on each other that came to be centered around the religious buildings. Thus, Bhatt calls for a historical reassessment of the religious labeling of buildings by referencing the integration of buildings into the daily lives of both Hindus and Muslims in the village of Mandel.

In my venn diagram, I wanted to convey the ways in which authorities have manipulated Islam in order to fulfill their own interests. They give the secular entity of architecture a religious label in hopes of dividing the two communities. This demonstration of inappropriate religious adherence to non-religious aspects of society can also be seen in the Bengali language movement. The labels of languages as Islamic, like art, were a reflection of one’s identity and therefore a way of asserting authority. Using Indo-Islamic architecture, I display the categorization of famous religious buildings as ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ as a statement of political authority. Many of the buildings included architectural elements, like pillars and domes, that resemble both Hindu and Muslim styles. Despite this overlap of styles, the buildings are still put into discrete, exclusive categories. The Taj Mahal was an example of how, although the building reflects a fusion of Hindu and Persian architectural elements, British historians labeled it as Muslim art in order to create boundaries between religious communities.

Transforming the Self Through Islam


In “Transforming the Self Through Islam”, I attempt to convey the role of transformation throughout different notions of Islam. The transformation of the self is what ultimately defines Islam according to Sufi ideals and the philosophy of Iqbal. In this sense, Islam has come to be interpreted in very inclusive ways. Pinto highlights this inclusive conception of Islam in “The Mystery of Nizamuddin Dargah: The Accounts of the Pilgrims”, by analyzing the relationship between pirs and the individuals that visited them at the dargah. This relationship and the developing symbols seen throughout Sufism reflect the concept of self-transformation.

My portrayal of Iqbal’s symbol of the garden and the desert attempts to emphasize the connection between Iqbal’s message of universal love and the Sufi principles of spiritual transformation. Similar to how Iqbal encourages a rebirth of Muslim identity by developing the self, Sufis call for a journey of self-awareness through Islam. This journey is exactly what Iqbal alludes to when he encourages Muslims to abandon the garden and fly into the desert. By embarking on this journey from the garden to the desert, the individual transforms their identity from egocentric to God-centric. In Pinto’s paper, non-Muslim and Muslim pilgrims alike reflect this transformation while visiting the Sufi shrines. In a state of distress, the individuals attempt to abandon their troubles in the garden and actively develop their self through their relationship with the pirs.

Pinto discusses the role of the Pirs with regard to the transformation of the individuals who come to dargah. He highlights the central function of love with the Pirs. The individual’s manifestation of eternal love, seen in Iqbalian philosophy, overcomes the feelings of fear and angst. The loving pir relationship is consistent with that found in the symbolic use of the Virahini in Sufi literature. The symbol of the longing Virahini woman is used to connect the soul to Muhhamed. The virahini-soul symbol reflects the need to relieve the self of their suffering by developing the ego and forming a union with the beloved, or God. The pirs function as the beloved for the pilgrims visiting the dargah. Pinto mentions the various instances that pilgrims visiting the dargah would describe how their mutual love with the saints allowed them to evolve into a better person. Such love is inclusive of everyone, of any religion. Sufism preaches that anyone can experience a symbiotic relationship with the saint, which is a “gift to be received with gratitude, in faith, and with pure heart” (Pinto, 124). Thus, the act of visiting the dargah is seen as a form of transformation of the human soul, through the attempts of the individual to free themselves from their troubles by building this relationship with the saint and ultimately coming to the “realization of salvation” (Pinto, 124). Here, both Sufi principle and Iqbal break down the notion of submission and present an inclusive interpretation of Islam. Sufism offers a dimension of Islam that does not simply refer to practice of devotion, but to the development and maximizing of one’s potential as a human being.


Silent vs. Loud Islam


I found the distinction between a silent and loud Islam highly captivating, as it relates to many of the issues that have emerged over the course of South Asian history. I wanted to literally embody the contrast between these two ways of interpreting Islam using clay. The kneeling figure represents the silent Islam and the larger standing figure represents loud Islam. This concept of a silent Islam that we discussed during class relates back to Pinto’s “The Mystery of Nizamuddin Dargah” in which he highlights the inclusive essence of Sufism, specifically through one’s relationship with the pirs. The act of participating in Nizamuddin dargah and paying homage to the saint is a subjective experience open to all, even non-Muslims. The concept of universal love forms the basis of silent Islam. Eaton also alludes to how the concept of love is advocated through Sufi folk literature in “Sufi Folk Literature and the Expansion of Indian Islam”. The literature spread through Hindu rural villages, preaching themes of female love and for one to “feel comfort in God’s unity and majesty” (Eaton, 122). The incorporation of mystical zikrs in the literature attempted to connect the individual to God. This personal connection with God through faith makes up the notion of a silent Islam. Eaton emphasizes how both Hindus and Muslims have access to this experience.  The simple, personable messages of the literature do not require any doctrinal knowledge. Similarly, the dargahs were not limited to only those visitors with such doctrinal background. With the promotion of self-love, silent Islam has no ulterior social or political motives as with loud Islam, but merely has a desire to encourage believers to love themselves and grow from within. From this perspective, one can only understand something they believe in to the extent that they love it.

I tried to portray this loving relationship between God and Muslims by depicting silent Islam in contrast with loud Islam. Silent Islam is not built on the basis of power and politics, but solely on the basis of faith and personal love. In such a way, I represented silent Islam as a small figure, praying on its knees. I had the figure praying to portray the Muslim as a ‘believer’ of Islam, the religion. This Muslim of silent Islam experiences a transformation of the ego through their relationship with God. Not only Sufis, but Iqbal, preached this notion of evolving from within. Anyone can emulate this Islam, even the Hindus visiting dargah or the infidels described by Iqbal, who managed to transform themselves. For this reason, silent Islam is a broader conception of Islam that directly contrasts with the loud Islam. The loud Islam appropriately has a large head to depict the egoistic nature of this Muslim identity. This Islam is connected to various factions of authority and power. With that said, the figure stands on a multi-layered pedestal to demonstrate how this Islam is grounded on the social, political, economic, and state factors of society. This Islam is not seen as a religion, but rather as a conception of the state. Rather than playing the role of a ‘believer’, the Muslims of loud Islam are the ‘submitter’.

What is Islam?

I am Islam

I am orthodox

I am knowledge

I am here to spread the knowledge of faith

I believe in the invisible

There is nothing to challenge

I am Sunni


I am Islam

I am total authority

I am Wali

I am the basis of spirituality

I believe in the visible

There is always a purpose to suffering

I am Shia


I am Islam

I am the revival

I am a leader of peaceful propagation

I am a servant to God and his creation

I believe in the final religion

There is no greater power than God

I am Ahmadi


I am Islam

I am the soul

I am faithful to the light

I am always on this journey towards truth

I believe in an unconditional love with God

There is no place, no discipline

I am Sufi


I am Islam

I am the eagle

I am constantly evolving

I am a co-worker with God

I believe in eternal progress

There is no limit to my potential

I am Muslim


This poem emphasizes the multiple Islams that have emerged under different authorities. The ambiguity of Islam allowed different Muslim communities to develop their own definition of Islam with regard to their group interests. This ‘customization’ of Islam motivates many of the issues in South Asia today. Islam remains subject to manipulation by the range of Muslim authorities. There may never be an answer to ‘What is Islam?’ and ‘Who is Muslim?’, but there is always a place and need for acceptance. With this said, one major conclusion I have drawn from the overarching controversy regarding Islamic identity is the function of tolerance as a means of resolution. An incontestable tolerance of the many interpretations is the only way for the many Islams to co-exist in harmony.

My poem alludes to the different Islams that I have seen through the course that really stood out to me. I highlight five different Islams defined by the Sunnis, Shiites, Ahmadis, Sufis, and Iqbal (although Iqbal merely presented a philosophy/vision for the true Muslim). With each sect, I allude to some of their core beliefs to show the contrast and similarities between the different perspectives. Despite the areas of overlap among the varying interpretations, these Muslim communities and sects still believe their Islam is the only one and that their ideology embodies the true Muslim. There was no room for accepting the beliefs of the ‘other’ or the outsider. This toxic level of intolerance fueled sectarian conflict, particularly between Sunnis and Shiites, which Zaman analyzes in “Sectarianism in Pakistan”. Zaman mentions how each sect viewed their own faith in the pursuit of power. They clashed on various aspects of society that were critical during the process of Islamization in the emergence of Pakistan as a modern religious state. With this, Zaman stresses this form of religious nationalism that appeared as a means of reconciling religion and politics. But how may one establish a religious basis for an Islamic state when there remains no clear definition of Islam? With each clash of opinion and each attempt for change in South Asia, the matter goes back to the broader, more crucial question of ‘What is Islam?’.