Sanam Tiffany: An Early Observation of Islam

In the first few week’s reading and classes I’ve learned many new things about the culture and religion of my family. Many of these things did not surprise me despite being new information, for my exposure to my family’s religion through mosque visits left me with a better intuitive understanding of the religion. But there was one new notion that was extremely interesting to me, and a way of describing religion that I have never experienced. That notion is that of the relationship between a worshipper and God being comparable to that of two lovers. This is curious to me because it was deeply surprising and yet extremely understandable: the relationship between a Muslim person and their God is deep, nurturing, intimate, and kind. At the same time, it can be tumultuous and frustrating due to its intimacy, but in these times there is hope in the strength of the bond between the two parties. This description of a relationship shows a give and take between the worshipper and their God; a two-way relationship that ebbs and flows like the tide and requires mutual respect and empathy.

In other religions, God is often painted almost mercilessly on His pedestal, portrayed as a powerful being unforgiving of any sin. Yet even in the earliest days of the creation of Islam, God shows His willingness to be kind and open-minded when Muhammad attempts to negotiate with Him. He goes back to God multiple times asking that the number of daily prayers be brought down, and each time God responds patiently, kindly, and dutifully. Even the concept of this prophet (despite his importance, still a mortal man) being given the stage to ascend to the Heavens and hold council with God is impressive and shows this God’s willingness to truly listen to the needs of His people.

Another thing that surprised me is just how radical of a religion Islam was in its creation in terms of women’s rights. I am not one who has ever thought of Islam as misogynistic or oppressive, but the amount of religious law protecting early Muslim women was a very powerful discovery. In a time where women were popularly often treated with extremely little regard, a religion establishing the lawful protection of a woman’s right to inheritance, divorce, and orphan rights was extremely surprising. Especially surprising was the notion that a woman could charge her husband for the labor she provided by breastfeeding a child – something that even in modern times is extremely progressive. Even though the Qu’ran encourages women to dress modestly, almost all of the women who practice Islam feel empowerment through their modesty and deep purpose in its significance. Though I disagree with religion being enforced by law (ie, forcing women of all religions to wear hijabs in Iran because it is an Islamic country), it is my deepest wish that in time the world will be able to stop distorting the message of Islam so that the general populous can understand what an important and progressive religion it was and is for women.

The concept of an anti-class religion is also extremely compelling. Most religions rely on some form of charity; in Islam’s case this meant giving one fifth of your annual profit to a charity and/or charitable cause. This spiritual enforcement of generosity and empathy is an important characteristic of Islam, as it shows the importance of creating a more equal environment for all Muslim people. When lines of social stratum are blurred and when wealth is given less power and importance in a social scheme, people are more prone to be open to the concept of associating with new people and learning to look past simple divisors like class. This sense of togetherness and willingness to open one’s self to any persons greatly contributes to one of the most important parts of Muslim community, which is the congregational prayer that occurs five times a day at mosque. There is a reason that the prophet Muhammad distinctly discussed coming together as a community, five times a day in the same beautiful, spiritual place; that reason is to contribute to the sense of oneness that I believe most religions attempt to create. Though each person’s relationship and interactions with God are unique and personal, creating the necessity to experience that profound love in the same space creates a strong unity among a group.

As discussed in class, this also ties into the “paradox of religion; [that is] searching for the Transcendental but engaging with earthly reality”. Mosques are designed with cosmic and spiritual significance and exude a mystical beauty in their intricate patterns and rich colors. Choosing this sort of transcendentally beautiful but still very tangible and real place makes the worshipper acknowledge the beauty of earthly life while still holding an immense respect and love for the world beyond the earth. I think much of Islamic art focuses on this melding of otherworldly and very familiar motifs and aesthetics. It is often intricate and bold, but features many common figures and symbols, many of them symbols pertaining to the Earth. In Islamic art you can see the respect for the earth and reverence/mysticism of the beyond.

Overall, Islam’s beginnings were in many ways surprising to even me, someone who has spent an immense amount of time surrounded by followers of that religion and people of that upbringing, and who has lived in The Islamic Republic of Iran for months at a time. It is by far the most radical beginning to such an established and popular religion and I am even more proud of my roots knowing that the religion my family is steeped in a religion that is rife with early radicalism and progressiveness. I wish the world could take a class on Islam and understand the roots of Muslim culture so they could see the lies in saying that it is oppressive, violent, or close-minded as a religion. From what few things I’ve learned so far in this class, Islam is if anything the farthest from those things, yet commonly misconstrued in negative ways.