Arabic and Islamic Studies Personal Statement

Growing up around the aroma of spices in the bustling kitchen of a Persian speaking household, I quickly learnt about the significance of communication and culture within a home. Becoming aware of the disparities between my household and that of my Muslim English friends, despite shared Islamic values, directed my attention to 'Food and Gender in a Yemeni Community' by Ianthe Maclagan, illustrating cultural differences. I found the idea of female protest, through refusal of food delivery at gatherings, goes against Western perceptions of female submission in the Middle East. Publications of misogyny by figures such as Sheikh Saad Al-Hijri heavily influence such views, fuelling the blindness of Western society towards the richness of the literature and laws of the Qur'an. Misunderstanding of the role of women in Islam has contributed to major social and political frictions.

Being raised in Sparkhill, Birmingham, a patriarchal Muslim community, has driven me to understand more about the androcentric overtone of modern Islamic customs. I see studying the origins and evolution of the Arabic language within context as an important tool to addressing this. Quranists such as Edip Yuskel focus on the culture of 'Hislam' and the influence of geographical context on lifestyle, bringing attention to misplaced misogyny. Amina Wadud focuses on use of the conceptually gender-neutral term 'Nafs' in the holy text to reinterpret the role of women in the story of creation. Scholars such as Dr. Shabir Ally highlight the absence of stoning in the Qur'an, and the influence of Hadith on the treatment of women.

Samina Ali provides scope on the implications of plumbing structures of the early 600s that enabled identification of servant women by molesters. I am intrigued by how the preaching of dressing to suit the customs of the time was initially intended to protect slaves from being spotted due to their lack of a Jilbab. Yet this becoming layered with a male perspective, and imposed at a time of sectarian wars, allowed for political agenda to infiltrate the word of God. Views of these earlier converts to Islam, holding political intention rather than paradigmatic shift, have built an association between misogyny with religion. Implications of this study might help reduce female oppression amongst such Muslim communities, as would discriminating Arabic cultural practice from Quranic law. Yet living in Sparkhill also showed that the division of Sunni and Shia so beloved of Western media is more nuanced in practice.

Albert Hourani highlights cultural synthesis through the Arabization and Islamization of language and politics with the translation work of Ibn al-Muqaffa. This synthesis promoted by the Abbasid caliphate and outlined by Chase F. Robinson is paralleled in the geometric patterning of the works of William De Morgan. Further spread of artistic techniques, such as lustre, prove the ability for knowledge and invention to bypass boundaries. However, studying the Arab-Israeli conflict at an LSE Choice masterclass demonstrated the importance of borders in determining the identity of a community. Tamer Nafar, whose music explicitly addresses political crosscurrents, presents his identity conflict as a Palestinian Israeli and suggests that borders are carried in the mind as well as maps.

Events over the past 1500 years in Islamic history, have changed and shaped current Shitte beliefs. Formation of traditions, such as Ashura in Persia, have resulted in dispute over true Islamic discipline and the Arabization of religion. The 1979 revolution has created variances in views across the old and new generations in Iran, and in the Iranian diaspora. Still more interesting would be to research the negotiation between Arab and Iranian culture inherent in the increased Iranian emigration to Arabia.

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Author's Comments

I applied to Oxford, SOAS, Exeter, Edinburgh and Leeds. I received an interview for Oxford- despite scoring low on their language exam and achieving lower grades in my GCSE's than their average student. Therefore, I believe the academic approach taken would give you a good shot at an interview at Oxford. Despite being later rejected from Oxford, I had received offers from all my other choices :)


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