In Mormon tradition, Saints are asked to take on themselves the metaphorical features of Christ—“Have ye received his image in your countenance?” The hope of this challenge is that the faithful will actively seek to learn the attributes that Jesus exemplifies, and take those attributes on themselves.
For Christians, Jesus is the great link between God and man; the Apostle John stated that Jesus is God’s Word made flesh to dwell among us. For Muslims, the One God of the Old Testament needs no help in His work with mankind, but desires us to have His Word. In Islam, the Word is made legible: the Qur’an is quite literally God’s Word, miraculously given through the Prophet Mohammed in a form mortals can understand. The attributes which God desires us to learn are His Names, a solid parallel to the Christian understanding of the Divine countenance. For Christians, the flesh of God’s Word provides for metaphors relating to the physical body; for Muslims, the written Word of God provides for parallel metaphors in the writing and book arts. In both systems of belief, the manifestation of God’s Word becomes the vehicle for our expression of faith.
In the US, Islam is commonly considered a racial religion, and understood through lenses of partial and poor information. Personally, the Islam confronting me through popular outlets was dramatically different from that practiced by my Muslim friends. As I began to learn more about this faith, I discovered the tradition of the 99 Most Beautiful Names from the Qur’an. God is truly infinite in His attributes and abilities, but the 99 Names are an index of God’s infinity, simplified for the benefit of our mortal minds. These are the attributes of God that illustrate His mercy, His patience, His power, and His majesty; they help the faithful navigate their place in the universe relative to God, and provide direction for worship and emulation. They give focus to gratitude as well as beseeching, and form a wonderful point from which to start an exploration of another faith.
My personal response to each Name, a synthesis of research and discussion with members of sunni, shi’a, and sufi communities, is sculpted with cold-worked flat glass, a traditionally Occidental medium. The sculptures are tangible records of my personal struggle against prejudice and ignorance, and allow me to share my journey towards understanding with others. The intent of the project is to both share the beauty of a misunderstood culture, and enlighten patrons to similarities of belief that can strengthen our shared community.