Questions about Islam

How long did it take to make the Alhambra.
Most of the construction was done over 120 years, from 1238 to 1358; but undoubtedly not continuously or at a steady pace.

What was the purpose of the fountain in the Alhambra?
It is traditional to have water features like pools and fountains in Islamic architecture. They help cool the air and make life more pleasant.

I am curious about why the Jews had to convert or leave the country.
Queen Isabella was a religious fanatic who was determined to cleanse Spain of the last traces of people who were not Christians. Columbus sold her on the idea of financing his voyage to the Far East partly to raise money to fund a new crusade aimed at the Muslims in the Holy Land.

What are the Spanish songs How did other subdivisions of Islam react to Sufism? Their cultural views seem somewhat different?
Sufis have often been persecuted (and are now being persecuted) by other Muslims, but because many of the greatest poets and most popular musicians of Islam have been Sufis, their influence is great.

Do Muslims and Hindus still live by each other?
In India Muslims and Hindus do live in the same cities, though often in separate neighborhoods. Old Delhi is dominated by Muslims, New Delhi by Hindus, for instance. As Hindu nationalism has become more aggressive in recent years, there has been a tendency for the two to separate; but there have been long periods in which religion didn't separate people that much, especially in the cities.

Why is Islam so tolerant of Hinduism when it conflicts with it in so many ways?
It wasn't always tolerant. Some Muslim rulers of India were fanatics who destroyed as many Hindu temples as possible; but others were not particularly religious and were happy to live and let live. Remember, the Hindus always vastly outnumbered the Muslims. They couldn't convert or kill them all.

What about belly dancers? Did they originate in Muslim countries?
Yes, but they have nothing to do with Islam, which generally frowns on dancing (except for Sufis). Here's a page on the history of "belly dance."

What about Fatima?
Fatima was the name of Muhammad's daughter, his only child,; but the Fatima you're probably thinking of is the Virgin of Fatima, an apparition of the Virgin Mary near Fatima, Portugal. Read about it here.

Where did Gypsies originate?
Most modern scholars think they emigrated from northern India (now Pakistan) West into Europe. You can read more about this history of the Gypsies here. There is a terrific documentary of the various kinds of Gypsies and their music called Latcho Drom. I requested it for the library, but it doesn't seem to have arrived yet.

Explain more bout Sufi practices and the role of poetry.
For general background, see the Sufism site at http://www.naqshbandi.net/haqqani/sufi/sufi_islam.html. Other resources: "What is Sufism?" Sufism naturally lends itself to poetry, because mysticism works through symbols, the language of poetry. Human love is compared to divine love, the intoxication of wine to the rapture of the human soul as blends with the divine spirit of God. Much Sufi poetry reads to Westerners as extremely sensual and physical; but it is read by believers as allegorical, like the Hindu erotic poems addressed to Krishna in your reader. Visit the Rumi Website. See also Irene Markoff's "Introduction to Sufi Music and Ritual in Turkey."

I don't know if this has something to do with Islam, but I was wondering why most people in the Middle East don't want their pictures taken.
I hadn't heard this, and I don't know if it's true. However, some very conservative Muslims and Jews alike are opposed to photographs of people, and films and television as well. They make up a small minority of people in the Middle East, however. Many people are irritated when total strangers invade their privacy by snapping pictures of them without asking first. It doesn't necessarily have to do with religion.

Please show more of the paintings and talk more about who would have painted them.
I am not an expert on Persian miniatures (the paintings I showed in class), but there is a good exhibit online at http://knight3.cit.ics.saitama-u.ac.jp/hobbies/miniature/miniature.html. It contains both ancient and modern art.

I would like to know more about how they make the writing into pictures.
Arabic lends itself in its many scripts to being shaped into attractive abstract designs, including some that resemble plant and animal life. See the Islamic Art and Calligraphy pages.

In the last lecture you mentioned the bump on the forehead. Is that why the Muslims wear the painted red dot on their forehead?
The red dot (tilak) is originally Hindu, but is generally worn by South Asians today merely as a body decoration, with no particular religious significance. It has nothing to do with the mark on the forehead which is acquired by the pious by bumping their heads to their prayer mats.

More about what the Muslims think of other religions.
You'll find a good deal of information about Muslim views of Christianity at Basic beliefs of Christians and Muslims side by side.

I would like to know more about the lives of Muslim women.
There is a very wide variety of lifestyles among Muslim women. Pakistan, one of the more conservative Muslim states, has had two women heads of state, which puts it ahead of the U.S. in that regard. Many Muslims tend to be rather defensive about Western critiques of their ideas on proper gender roles. For a typical defense, see "Women in Islam." Another very interesting comparison of the roles of women in three religions is "Women in Islam versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and the Reality." The extreme positions being taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan are not typical of most Muslims.

I would like to know more about whether they are any practices or rituals that are common between Islam and Christianity or Judaism.
All pray, all encourage charity to the poor, all have marriage ceremonies. Jews and Muslims both practice circumcision and have similar rules about the ritual butchering of animals for consumption. Many Christians, like Muslims, go on pilgrimages; but doing so is not a required practice for any Christian. Each religion observes one "holy day" a week.

I would like to know more about the Sunni & Shiite differences in Islam.
For a brief introduction, see "Shi'ism. There's a very scholarly paper on Shiism for really serious scholars on "The Origins of Shi'ism."

How does the Islamic religion tie in with Malcolm X and his preachings?
The Nation of Islam, or "Black Muslim" movement whose most famous founder was Elijah Muhammad, attempted to develop an alternative religion which would support the aspirations and hopes of African-Americans. Besides urging self-sufficiency and strict morality, he preached that black people were God's chosen people, and that whites were "blue-eyed devils." His most famous disciple and spokesman was Malcolm X. Elijah Muhammad held many unorthodox views, as Malcolm discovered when we travelled to Mecca and returned convinced that the Nation of Islam had misled its followers. Malcolm converted to orthodox Islam and tried to found an alternative group, but was assassinated soon after. Louis Farrakhan leads a famous splinter group which has branched off from the original Nation of Islam. Orthodox Muslims insist that the racially-based teachings of the Nation of Islam are abhorrent to the traditional believer. See the critique of the Nation of Islam by Jan Dodoo.

Why do people who convert to Islam change their names?
Elijah Muhammad, leader of the "Nation of Islam" (see above) urged his members to take Islamic names partly to reject the family names imposed on them during slavery times. The "X" in names like "Malcolm X" stands for the unknown original African name of the family from which modern a modern African-American is descended.

Why were Muslims not allowed to drink wine?
The Qur'an regards the drinking of alcholic beverages as sinful. In Sura 4, verse 43, it says that an intoxicated person has a "befogged mind" which does not permit of proper prayer. Wine-drinking is associated with gambling as a vice and totally prohibited in Sura 5, verses 90-91.

Did Muslim architecture influence the architecture in Russia? The Pointed domes in Iran look similar to the domes in Russia.
Yes indeed. The form of Orthodox Christianity which entered Russia a thousand years ago was profoundly influenced in its architectural style by Turkish traditions. The "onion-shaped" dome is common to both Middle Eastern Mosques and Russian Orthodox churches. Interestingly, such domes also occur on Catholic churches in southern Germany, where Muslim influence was strong during the Renaissance.

Could you explain more about the animals with red lines on their necks?
I haven't been able to find any examples on the Web, but I've seen images of deer grazing, for interest, with a thin red line indicating that they have actually been beheaded, the artist hoping that this will avoid breaking the prohibition against depicting living beings in art.

I would like to read some more of the love poetry.
You'll find Sufi love poetry at "Traveling the Path of Love," but of course these are allegories with religious meanings. You can read more about Layla and Majnun in my study guide to the work. WSU doesn't own a copy of the Gelpke translation which those notes refer to, but there is a copy of Colin Turner's translation.


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