One of our fave blogs is Bruce Hietbrink's GodBricks (see our piece, The Fiqh of Bricks). If you're not already familiar with this, take some time to check it out. If you're already a fan, you obviously know why we like it. So you can guess how thrilled we were to see, on GodBricks, the latest intersection between LEGO and Islam. It's Teaching Kids the Holy Quran, a minimalist LEGO blog by Toronto's Mezba Mahtab. Mahtab is a 2006 winner of the Brass Crescent Award for Best Post or Series (Don't forget to vote for this year's BCA – we're up for Best New Blog!)
Unlike the detailed dioramas of the Brick Testament, Mahtab has chosen to focus right in on the details – the people and characters that make up each ayat of the Qur'an. Back in April, he started "sculpting" fellow bloggers in LEGO, and the day before Hallowe'en, announced Teaching Kids the Holy Quran. Why?
What I have noticed is a lot of kids (and even adults) read the Quran without understanding a single word of the text. Allah Himself has agreed to protect the Quran - so the Book does not need the efforts of people like me, but I hope the interesting visual representation of the translated words will help in raising the interest of some kids (and even adults who may not normally have the inclination) to read (and understand) the Quran. In other words - I hope they read with meaning.
He's bang on. The emphasis on learning to read Qur'anic Arabic without an equal emphasis on comprehension leads to some interesting outcomes: people (i.e., me) who can recite prayers without knowing what they're saying. For the record, I do understand why this happens. The mechanics of learning the script and recitation is pretty difficult. A young brain can handle it, and the assumption is that you'll speak enough Arabic, Urdu, whatever, during your life that you'll fill in the blanks. Get the tough stuff done first. When Mom taught me how to read Arabic, and then led me through reading the Qur'an, I read the English translation after reading the original Arabic. During prayers, the recitations are all done in Arabic. So the number of Arabic recitations significantly outweighed the English recitations, and the primary goal of being able to recite a multitude of surahs for salat was achieved. I never took it upon myself to properly map the Arabic to English, so my understanding isn't word-for-word, it's surah-to-general story.
Where Mahtab's beautiful close-up shots really kick in is by providing the visual context in which to place the general story and the activity within a specific ayat. Using LEGO minifigures and spare brick sets, all the emphasis is placed on the interaction and emotion of the characters and story. I'm also seriously digging the outfit on the eeeeeevil parsimonious guy in the illustration of Al Maun (Be sure to click the images to really appreciate the photography.) He's slowly building his library of surahs. As of this post, surah 94, Al Inshirah (Relief) and surah 107 Al Maun (Alms giving) are up for your viewing – and understanding – pleasure.
As rule #3 importantly points out in the Rules section of the blog, "No portrayal of Islamic figures. Or of Allah." As some of you have noticed, Muslims sometimes react poorly when the injunction against images of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) or other non-portrayable beings is broken. Not only is Mahtab not doing that, I seriously doubt anyone in their right mind would mistake a LEGO minifigure as an accurate portrayal of anyone and somehow worship it, committing shirk. Then again, if you're that easily manipulated, you need more help than even LEGO can provide.
When I read rule #4, "Keep it contemporary," I can't help but think of Sandow Birk's American Qur'an. Another artist using – gasp – art as a medium for conveyance and interpretation. Some people get caught up in the fact that Birk used paintings to illuminate the Qur'an, but ignored the fact he didn't break any rules. In fact, he illustrated it with great respect. While Mahtab's purpose may be stated differently, both his and Birk's goals are the same – providing an accessible, engaging visual way in which to read with understanding.
This is a huge, cool, multi-year project. We're excited to see more from Mahtab and wish him the best!