Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Ibrahim Chaudhry | Response Paper 3

Calligraphy

Partaking in calligraphy on a blackboard along with my peers was a greater learning experience than I had first thought it to be. I make that assessment owing to how I was able to observe the manner in which each individual added their own touch to the text we were doing calligraphy of. Consequently, Sulzberg’s point that calligraphy is a reflection of one’s inner sentiment began becoming clear to me through the variations in each person’s style of calligraphing the same text.[1]

Additionally, the varying manner in which everyone held the writing instrument had a drastic impact on the resultant calligraphy. This illustrated the intricacies and nuances involved in the technique of holding a pen in calligraphy. It also stressed the need for practice in order to perfect the technique of holding the writing instrument because it clearly has a crucial impact on the resultant calligraphy.

Moreover, a significant factor that came to light through the fact that this was my first experience writing calligraphy with chalk. The vivid differences between chalk and pen showed me the importance of the choice of writing instrument. I understood why a pen is so crucial in calligraphy and hence I understood why calligraphers quote the Prophets statement that “God first created the qalam (pen)”[2] and why the likes of the great Sufi poet Rumi reject the idea that “the pen has dried up.”[3]  This allows others, not indulged in calligraphy,  to get an idea of the significance of the pen. 

Odes

The ode is a prominent part of Persian literature and is one of the most essential tools in the arsenal of a poet hence greats like Rudaki have worked extensively with it. It has the significance associated with it initially due to the manner in which an ode tries to communicate its message. This is because in an ode the poets purpose is to solely talk about his/her point which s/he is trying to clarify to the reading audience. 

As a consequence, the poet does not indulge in fanciful descriptions because their purpose is not to depict scenic imagery. Rather, the goal of the poet is to convey as clearly as possible a perspective or a point of view to the reader. Hence, the difference between didactic poems and odes is essentially the more direct approach the latter adopts.

Moreover, it is pivotal to talk about the particular concepts the message of an ode usually revolve around. In that respect the topic areas range from the significance of varying seasons in the year to nihilistic ideas such as Naser Khosrow’s “message”.[4] From this diversity it is apt to perhaps derive the idea that odes are deep, intimate and personal insights of each poet. Each individual ode allows us to view aspects of life and human nature as the poet sees and infers them. Hence, they are in essence reflections on particular ideas in an extremely personalized manner.

Additionally, through watching various videos[5] of odes being sung and performed, my attention was drawn to how the lyrics were structured. The poets had positioned words in a such a manner that they were more musical than other forms of poetry. Consequently, I realized that while crafting odes, a significant aim of poets is to have them sung later in performance thus odes inherently embody musical elements. 

Memorisation

Memorisation of Persian poetry was initially a difficult task considering my interactions with the Persian language were rather limited. However, an exposure through memorisation brought to light certain fascinating observations.

Undoubtedly, there is great wisdom in the words of great poets like Saadi and Ferdowsi. Memorizing verses of such wisdom allowed me to study those ideas in much greater depth than I would have had I simply read them and moved on. Repetitively, going over each verse allowed me to see the various stratum and nuances present in those lines giving me a better understanding of the message, themes and concepts the poet aimed to communicate. 

Additionally, going over such knowledgeable verses was  beneficial in my everyday interactions. Owing to the all-encompassing nature of the verses such as those in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, I was able to develop a new perspective altogether regarding matters being discussed in other classes. For instance, in my class regarding Political Responsibility, the verses: When the conditions of the time brings a member to pain, the other members will suffer from discomfort. You, who are indifferent to the misery of others, it is not fitting that they should call you a human being”[6] from Sa’adis Bani-Adam enabled me to develop another perspective on the dynamic of varying relationships in a political context. Similarly, I understood the notion that silence in the face of injustice amounts to being responsible for that injustice. Thus, memorization of poems is something I hope to do more frequently.

Music

I found the pieces of music we viewed very interesting for several reasons. The first of these was the fact that this realm of music incorporated such dense poetry as a subject matter. This, for me, was very significant because it reflected the desire of the culture to value wisdom and figures like Hafiz who, through their poetry, offered this wisdom to the common man. 

Moreover, the music itself was intriguing owing to the manner in which the musicians, such as Vanessa Cetin,[7] strive to play music in such a manner that the lyrics are the star of the show rather than tune being played. The tune is organised in such a manner that it complements and supports the themes of the verses and their topic areas making the ideas of the poet clearer to listeners. 

Furthermore, the experience of listening to music was also illustrative of the different syllables one could produce owing to the intricate differences in the sound of alphabets like ت and ط. This made the music more vibrant and fascinating and noticeably gave musicians a greater set of tools to work with in the production of their art form.


[1] Sulzberg, Jean. The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, 78-79. Morning Light Press.

[2] Ibid

[3] Schimmel, Annemarie. 1984. Calligraphy and Islamic Culture, 78. New York University Press.

[4] Arbery, A.J. 2005. Persian Poems: An Anthology of Verse Translations, 99. Tehran: Yasvoli.

[5] Youtube. (2019, October 16). آمدي جانم به قربانت ولي حالا چرا؟. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV4GLuuYvZg.

[6] Bani Adam. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bani_Adam (Accessed 16th October 2019).

[7] Youtube. (2019, October 16). ‌‌‌Bani Adam Azaye Yekdigarand – بنی آدم اعضای یکدیگرند. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8F8WjwutTI.

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