Islam students at LUC

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Unfortunately, this was our last week of class.  The first half of our class consisted of learning about the different sects of Islam while the second half was an open discussion that mostly revolved around the Boston tragedy.  I was very interested in the first half of our conversation because I had never heard about the Ibadi sect.  It was also good to hear that the difference between the Sunni and Shia sect is basically minimal in the greater picture of the Islamic paradigm.  I was still a little bit confused as to where the Sufis fit into Islam.  We talked about Sufis practicing Ihsan or the form of worship closest to the Divine, however, how does one get there?  Is it not the goal of every Muslim to get closer to the Divine and eventually reach Ihsan?  Is it that once a person gets there, s/he can classify her/himself as a Sufi?

In response to ts88:

I found it interesting that you discussed the dichotomy of love and grief.  I think through our readings in The Vision of Islam, we also find a lot of dichotomies: life and death, light and dark, etc.  In the book, it talked about how God is the ultimate Light and is Real, whereas everything that we experience is a dim, partial version of light and reality.  Also, what you said about grief being necessary to love is a very interesting concept.  I do agree with this.  I remember in the beginning of the semester, when we were talking about the levels of faith, the one who reaches ihsan or is closest to the Divine is also in the most pain.  I feel like this is true because when you love someone or something so much, you care about not hurting them, protecting them, and you want to be with them all of the time.  When you cannot do the latter, you hurt.

I leave this class feeling incomplete.  I definitely want to learn more and go into some of the details.  I think this class provided a good foundation to discover Islam.


Today in class, we looked through Rumi: The Book of Love to find images or ideas of spirituality in his poems.  I remember reading about Rumi before and he comes from a Sufi background.  I am not exactly sure what Sufism is, but I do know that one characteristic of this group of people is that they sing songs/hymns or write poetry that can come off as romantic but is devotional.  The poems can be attributed to this life as well as the spiritual life or God.  I think this is a very interesting take on spirituality.  That one can speak of loving or desiring God in the same way that one would speak about loving or desiring something more tangible.  This love that Rumi speaks about seems to be in its highest form.  It sounds as though he is talking to his lover, but this can also be an allusion to God.  One of Rumi’s quotes really speaks to this idea:

“When I am with you, we stay up all night.

When you are not here, I can’t go to sleep.

Praise God for these two insomnias!

And the difference between them.”


In response to vaultingrambler:

I do love that everyone interprets things differently.  Even within my own group of three, whenever we finished reading a poem, each of us had different ideas of what the poem meant to us.  It was interesting to hear everyone’s perspective, and eventually we came to a consensus on what the general idea of the poem was.  I also agree with you that Rumi’s poetry is honest and sincere.  I find that many poets are honest and sincere, but I feel that Rumi’s love and devotion was transparent: we could really see how he felt.  Also, the poems that I read brought me a sense of peace and serenity, and I really like peacefulness as an overarching theme throughout his writings.

Last week, we talked about religion and the law.  We discussed Shariah and what it aims to preserve.  In our small groups, we had to list ways the law can protect these things (intellect, wealth, life, etc.)  It was interesting to see that secular law would also protect these things.  For example, the right to an education protects one’s intellect.  The hardest one to discuss was probably dignity.  First, we were having difficulty defining this term and once we did, the only things we could come up with to protect your dignity were things such as protection against slandering or false allegations and such.  Also, something that we did not specifically discuss but is out there is that Shariah is not fixed; it is flexible depending on time and place.  After consulting many people that are knowledgeable in the area of shariah (i.e. sheikhs, scholars), one must use her/his intellect and connection with God to decide which ruling is the most suitable for oneself.  I did not know this before.  I used to think the Islamic Law was set in stone.

In response to muffins26:

It is true that we have laws to protect these things that religious laws used to protect, and in class, we did mention how religion may be becoming less of a priority or set of beliefs for people nowadays.  However, religion does still exist and is popular.  Why?  In my opinion, it is the belief in a higher power that initiates this chain reaction.  Even with the advancements in science and technology, there will always be things that we do not know and probably will never know.  I think that some of us find security in the belief that there is something greater than ourselves at work in all of this.  Once we accept this, we are willing to govern our lives in a way that keeps us feeling secure or keeps this power “happy” with us.  And that may mean to follow a religion.  It is interesting and kind of sad to see all these potential aspects of our individuality (religion, culture) be washed away or stripped from us in order to fulfill some of these Western ideals.  That is a conversation for later…

In class this past week, we finished watching A Separation.  At first, one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this film is because it was modernized.  As the plotline continued and we were introduced to all of the characters, I was able to see how great this film really was.  We were told to look out for gender relations in this film.  I found it to be especially interesting that the relationship between the couples is so similar to the relationship we find these days.  For example, the reason why Simin and Nader want to get divorced is a matter of different interests, not something so horrible such as abuse.  One of the best things the director did was not let the audience know who the daughter ends up choosing.  Throughout the film, we are exposed to Simin’s rationale for leaving and Nader’s rationale for staying.  We can understand the positions of both of these characters as the plot develops.  Both are right in their own way, and if Termeh was to choose one over the other, we would be given a sense of inequality between the genders.  By not giving us an answer, we are left with the idea that both the woman and the man are right and equal.  Also, the film acknowledges the differences in gender relationships due to socioeconomic status.  In the lower class couple, we were able the man in more control than the woman.  This is extremely common in all cultures, even in our American culture.  I think this film did a fabulous job at depicting the Iranian culture and expressing its similarities to our American culture.

In response to jonnythemagiccowboy:

I cannot say that I agree with your interpretation of women in the film.  In some scenes, it may have seemed like Raziah was being kept in line by her husband, but I do not think this is a characteristic of Muslims women alone.  This is a characteristic of women, in general.  The film did a good job of portraying the similar gender relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.  Raziah, a lower class woman, has a hot-tempered husband.  She decides to step up and provide for her family by taking on a care-taking job without notifying her husband.  This is not an uncommon occurrence in our American culture.  Also, the equality between the upper-class couple, Simin and Nader, is something to acknowledge as well.  I would say that this film did not show women in an oppressive light with relation to Islam.

This week, we watched a “boring” documentary about what Muslims really think.  A group of researchers went around the world and interviewed Muslims to see what they are really like with regards to what the media portrays.  Professor Mozaffar asked us about whether we felt like this was actually a rigorous study or if it was religious propaganda.  First of all, I do not think this documentary was boring at all.  I think it was a complete eye-opener.  The documentary really showed us how the media portrayal of Muslims is so far away from what it actually is.  For example, in the media, we hear that Muslim women are oppressed in the Middle East, however research shows that in most Arab countries, the majority of Muslim women and men say that women should be allowed to work.  Also, the media depicts hijab as a form of oppression whereas the majority of Muslim women who wear the hijab do so because they believe it is a religious mandate.  Another fact that I found to be very important is that the 7% of Muslims respondents that claimed the attack on September 11th was completely justified could not even recite a verse from the Qur’an that justified their position.  This shows a major disconnect between their interpretation of Islam and what the media portrays as Islam.

In response to ts88:

Thank you for sharing that article! I have not gotten through the whole thing yet, but so far, I am enjoying what I am reading.  Like the article says, there is so much curiosity behind the practices of Muslim women and so many people believe that understanding Muslim women will help people understand Muslim men and the attacks.  However, like the author says, if the word Muslim was replaced with Christian or Jewish, would there still be just as much questioning?  Why are the practices of devout Christian women and devout Jewish women brushed under the bush while the practices of Muslim women are negatively exposed in the media?  Just like you said, it is a part of their culture and it is their right to cover up just as it is the right of people in the West to expose themselves, if that is what they think is liberation.  It is not right for the West to impose their interpretation of liberation on others.  Of course, the West has a great influence, but we need to know when to back off…

In class:

For the first half of class, we went to the Islamic Art Exhibit for Islam Awareness Week.  It was wonderful to see how excited and welcoming all of the individuals hosting the event were.  Also, the people who were doing Arabic calligraphy were fantastic.  It seemed so easy for them to make such quick art.  But this is truly art.  They wrote everything so beautifully.  I wish I had spent more time looking at the posters and other art forms put up around the room.  Overall, I was really happy to have been able to attend this event.

In response to braaaaaains:

I just want to say that I really appreciate the way you approach the concepts we learn about in our class.  As a Muslim, some of my practices are second nature to me and I do not think twice about what I am doing.  To recognize that the act of prayer is one of the few oral traditions that has been passed down for over 1400 years is very interesting.  I think when we are young, we just do the actions that we are taught by our elders.  Hopefully as we get older, we begin to understand the meaning behind the motions that we are doing and words that we are saying.  For me, prayer is very intimate.  I have recently begun to realize its significance in my life.  However, I am still working on understanding the meaning and feel behind all of the motions.  I feel that the spirituality means more than the form for me right now.  I love your comment at the end that Islam is composed of multiple layers that rely on or supplement each other.  This is important to understand.  Again, as a Muslim, I am realizing how much of my being is expressed through my faith.  In other words, simple things like kindness or mercy are required of me through the pillar of giving alms.  So if I am kind or merciful to my peers, I may not necessarily attribute these characteristics to my faith immediately, it may just be who I am or have become due to the first level of my faith.   

In class:

On Tuesday, we watched a film called “The Colors of Paradise.”  At first, I did not understand why we were watching it or how the material connected to what we were learning in class.  When Professor Mozaffar asked us how we would characterize the father and the son, I started to see how it relates to the levels of faith we discussed last week.  Throughout the film, Muhammad, even with his blindness, seemed so grateful and content with all of his experiences.  Multiple times we see him “reading braile” on nature.  The father, on the other hand, was miserable.  He questioned God for putting all of these “miseries” in his life: a blind son, a dead wife, an unsuccessful attempt to get remarried, etc.  He never thanked God for his blessings and probably never recognized the good things he had in his life.  Toward the end of the film, I was so worried that the father was going to kill his son; he literally seemed to abhor his fate.  It was sad when Muhammad passed away, but again, I would classify it as a happy ending because he ended up where he was meant to be: in Paradise.

In response to winteraction:

I appreciate you addressing the gender dynamics in the film.  Recently, one of the biggest things I have been trying to do is critically analyze my social interactions more.  Many of us are probably aware that we do live in a patriarchal society, even though we are thought to believe women and men are equal.  The one thing that I always go back to, is my faith, Islam.  I know that there has been a misrepresentation of the religion in terms of gender dynamics.  Many see this faith to be oppressive to women, but I see it otherwise.  I see it being a faith that respects women and men, alike.  I feel like the reason we may have this misconception is because culture mixes with religion in many parts of the world and the culture of a region may be patriarchal.  Therefore, I believe it has become important for me, specifically, to recognize the differences between cultures and religion and evaluate each separately.