One of the things that is very unique about DIS is the scheduling of classes. We have some classes on Mondays and Thursdays, some on Tuesdays and Fridays, and no classes on Wednesdays. Instead of classes, we have days that are open for field studies, which we have a couple of times during the semester for each class. During field studies, we get out of the classroom and immerse ourselves in the course material in the actual city. Today, I had my first one.
My course that had the field study, Muslims in the West, is very dear to my heart, as about two years ago, my family hosted two wonderful girls from Algeria (Chirine and Manel) who were Muslim. Soon after they went back home, the current administration proposed a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. I remember talking about this with my mom and tearing up out of frustration because I couldn’t understand why someone could blame something as serious as terrorism on an entire religion, especially one that Chirine and Manel had shown me had a lot of love.
This course, I’m hoping, is going to help me to understand better the history of Islam in the west and open my eyes to all of the struggles faced by people who identify as Muslim. Chirine and Manel were so kind and open and left me wondering why Islamophobia is so prevalent. Of course, the media plays a massive role in spreading fear, but this course will dive into the truths within the religion and its history. Anyway, let’s get back to the field study.
We met up in our normal classroom (and by we, I mean my professor and six of us girls) and walked to a park outside of Rosenborg Castle. Our professor laid out a blanket and brought out some Danish pastries for us to snack on while we discussed the use of symbols in Islamic art. Because the religion prohibits any drawings of Allah, you don’t see many people or animals depicted in the art, but you see a lot of things that point to Allah, without being direct.
After our conversation, we walked to The David Collection, which is the eighth largest collection of Islamic art in the world, and began our tour.
During the tour, we saw a page of the Quran from 660 AD, which was written on goatskin, a version of the Quran from the 1500s decorated with liquid gold and “gemstone cream”, and many Islamic paintings. What was really interesting to me about the paintings was that in some, many people and animals were depicted, but had a black line drawn across their necks. This was to symbolize their deaths, so they technically weren’t drawing people, because they were already “dead”. A clever loophole, if you ask me.
In our class, we have one Muslim girl and one girl who lived in Muslim-majority countries for nine years, so getting to hear their inputs on the artwork was fascinating.
We also got an up-close look at coins with Arabic written on them from all over Europe, Asia and North Africa, showing the rapid spread of Islam.
After the tour, we walked back to campus and chatted about our favorite parts of the tour with Michael, our professor. This time was great for reflection on how each piece of art impacted us and what we were able to learn from the experience. During our time in the museum, our professor was very adamant about us not taking notes, so we could be fully in the moment and absorb everything we saw. In retrospect, that approach really helped us to get the most out of the field study.
That was a very quick summary of the whole experience, but long story short, this excursion made me so excited for the rest of the semester with this class. Here’s a link to the website of the museum!
I look forward to learning more about the ins and outs of the history of Islam in the west, so I can go back home and share what I know. After getting to know those two girls from Algeria that we hosted and the other kids that came with them to the States, I have a special place in my heart for this religion and want to prove that not all Muslims are terrorists. These kids were welcoming, funny, and so loving, which is a side of Islam that is never shown in the media. Hopefully, throughout this semester, I will have a more solid understanding of everything and will be able to better form my thoughts into words, so everything isn’t so jumbled.
Thanks for sticking around!