11 min read

Exploring Islamic Studies at Waring by Michelle Ramadan, Edith Fouser, and Joan Sullivan

Apr 12, 2021 9:28:33 AM

In the months of January and February, students in Groups 2 and 3 in Monotheism and The Middle East course studied Islamic history and literature. Students read poetry by Sufi poets Rabi’a al-addawiyyah, Rumi, and Hafez, and reflect on the poetry’s mystical themes of divine love, separation, the self, self-annihilation, asceticism, and transcendence. 

Students then wrote poems about how the global pandemic has shaped their thinking about one or some of those mystical themes, and illuminated those poems based on the four main elements of Islamic Art -- calligraphy, geometric patterns, stylized floral & organic motifs, and figurative art -- which were introduced during Geometry classes and All-School Meeting by artist Samira Mian. 

Samira Mian, a London-based educator and artist with a passion for Islamic Geometry, was a Waring Artist-in-Residence in January. A former middle school maths teacher, she works with compass and straightedge, watercolors, and handmade paper to create beautiful paintings inspired by geometric patterns found throughout the Islamic world.

Samira taught geometric construction with 8-fold symmetry to our Geometry students. Students appreciated her warm, lighthearted manner as she led the group through a remarkably complex series of steps with simple, mechanical tools. Students surprised themselves with the work they managed to create in just half an hour. The pure engagement and joy that pervaded the experience was captivating. This exercise - which on the surface might seem to be all about precision and rigor - allowed the impressive talent and creativity of different types of math learners to shine. 

Collage of Group 2 constructions created with Samira Mian

Samira Mian, sharing her own work at All School Meeting

As part of their illuminated manuscript poetry project, Group 2 students also had the opportunity to workshop their poems via Zoom with  published poets and established editors Eileen Cleary, Robbie Gamble, Amy Grier, Aaron Wallace, and Eve F.W. Linn. 

Groups 2 and 3 Illuminated Manuscripts & Poems

Illuminated Manuscript by Mikaila Bennett, Group 2

Illuminated Manuscript by Matt Lee, Group 2

Illuminated Manuscript by Eliza Loring, Group 2

Illuminated Manuscript by Ana Corum, Group 3 

Illuminated Manuscript by Alma Power, Group 3

lluminated Manuscript by Rowan Mulder, Group 3

Student Poems:  

For the Vulnerabilities of a Mind in Silence

Poem by Ana Corum, Group 3 

“Les papillons en liberté”

the sign read

Warm air wafted from the entrance ahead of us, 

beckoning us 

into an indoor garden.

The door swung shut

Behind us

Revealing a scene of

Children and adults alike 


For the butterflies fluttered freely around them

From flower to shoulder

To the top of an old man’s head.

Like many, I was enthralled by this spectacle

Of color and movement

Whimsical and balmy.

“But the butterflies aren’t really free,” 

One classmate said.

For there’s a roof over their heads, 

Four walls contain them

Two sets of heavy doors to keep them in.

And they’ll never know of rolling fields or gnarled mangroves,

Of the habitats of their forebears.


And over a month ago there was a dismal gathering

At an intersection along Main

Where a man shed his mask

And waved a sign that said

“Live Free or Die.”

And the passengers of the cars all gestured profanely

And from the look on his face, I believe he felt as if he were

on top of the world.

As if we were all oblivious to our own prisons

and he was roaming free.

En liberté.


And it’s so quiet now.

Though it will never stay that way.

And in these trying times

It seems that quiet is becoming our default.

Especially when, 

To say anything,

We must first unmute ourselves.


And it was quiet, like this, in the garden that day.

The wind dwindled and the leaves were at rest

Eve heard the enticing hiss of evil drawing near,

And with her companion nowhere to be found

Saw no reason to draw away.

I was always here, it said,

And you’ve mistaken me for many things:

Adam’s quiet breathing, the rustle of the leaves.

Eve listened with morbid fascination

To her unprecedented guest

Weaving stories: lavish and terrible,

Flicking, unceasingly, its glossy tongue.

And Eve’s fingers trembled as she twisted 

The apple’s supple stem

Evil’s voice buzzed in her ears,

Corrupting her free will.


And such this default silence allows us to fall into a 

Perpetual and 

Negative peace.

Vulnerable, not only to negative influence

Not only to the darkest workings of our mind

But to social sloth.

Our nation’s state of restful unrest

Has allowed us to give into,

Even worship,

The myth of time.

And when we no longer know what day it is

We allow ourselves to bask in it.

For our infinite “I’ll do it tomorrow,”

Our everlasting wait for a 

“New normal”

Will shock our future selves when we wake up

In the past.

For we really don’t have “all the time in the world.”

Whether we can see that or not.

Les humains en liberté.



Poem by ToniRose Babson, Group 3 

I was told I had to stay home

No contact.

No touch.

No feeling.

Only the power of looking

through screens,

To see a blurry image 

of humans

I used to hold.

For my powerful being, 

was hardly a being at all

without company.


My heart was empty,

Searching for a meaning in this


A heart that used to take 

for granted the things

so easily

laid in front of her. 

Now taken from her.


But as the days grew longer,

the night grew shorter

and the birds chirped a little louder.

I found myself looking 

In places I’d never been before.

At homes I’d never seen before.

Out of windows I'd never peered through before.

My heart grew to understand,

and found a new home 

in things that used to bore me. 

I placed my mind into

Schoolwork and

Songwriting and



Imagine this;

A man seen something

So interesting shone through a light,

he thought he’d never looked up again.

His eyes so hypnotized, he memorized

every word. 

But one day, the light died. 

With no source of power left, 

he was forced to lift up his head.

And what he saw,

Was a world no light could create.

His mind was forced to appreciate.

And his heart,

having since been evicted,

crawled into new spaces, and found 

New lovely faces. 


As he did so, just as I.



“We are in this together”


Was plastered on 

telephone poles,

waiting rooms,

and grocery store doors.


A sea of I’s and me’s submerged in 



As much as I miss being We,

I now believe that

Growth takes me.

And independence is the key.

For those around you can only add,

but can never fully create you. 

So take advice

And learn to listen.

For a bird can’t fly without a lesson.

But once they’ve left

Their wings have grown, 

And on their own,

They do the most.

A nest can only keep so long,

before you take 

your mind elsewhere. 


Use it to appreciate 

The things around that you can’t change.

And take advantage

of time to grow,

Just as the man, and I 

have done.


Poem by Charlie Pound, Group 2 

The unlucky locked in living coffins,

surrounded by faceless forms,

blue from head to toe

besides the eyes,

two lone dots of humanity

for the dying to ponder.

A tube shoved into their tattered lungs, 

alone and apprehensive to the end.


But here I am,

two bowls of Autumn Wheat,

and one cup of coffee,

frothed milk with 2 shots of espresso,

the only thing to mark the day.

Thinking of what never came to pass -- 

Soccer across New England, robotics finals in Detroit --  

regrets from an alternate timeline.

All the time I could ever ask for 

yet nothing to show for it.


to waste

or to use wisely.


Beach Glass Days 

Poem by Catherine Peterman, Group 2 

this is a constantly moving world

like a day spent sailing

skipping and skimming over the sunlit

depths that I love


daily, I comb the pools between the boulders

for a droplet of what is new to me 

the same pattern, path, location

it’s always changing 

for now, all the bustle has stopped


like an afternoon spent lying on the gravel

walkway from the beach

to a landing

completely naturally there


every lunch, I explore the rocks and pebbles 

that litter my shoreline

searching for the same spark of sunlit rocklike formations

the tiny lumps of broken vases

mermaid’s tears


a former window pane

thrown about the deep dark bottom

a piece of an old beer bottle 

looking for that sparkle of something

foreign to the ground

yet so plentiful that I can fill buckets and jars


like an hour spent 

collecting tree bark 

leaves rustling 

and a sunlit beam

stretching down to greet me


Poem by Elijah Streb, Group 2  

A sapling

 ripped from the damp, sun warmed earth, 

its first fruit plucked 

into a new reality, 

where masks, and 6 feet are the new norms. 

Is this the flood of a rebirth? 

We sit, barely staying afloat 

in an ark of confinement.

 Living in a 2D world,

 separated, behind a screen. 

My consciousness slips away in need of 

realignment, like the tires of a car. 

The same routine: 

uttered words trapped in masks, 

instead coming out as texts, 

no emotion, no meaning. 

No one knows the effects. 

Cliques leaning away from one another. 

Friends grasping onto friends like a mother to her newborn. 

Newborn students in the spotlight with no audience. 


not sure what makes sense. 

What are their names? 

Our seniors,

 not able to lead 

camping trip or soccer games. 

Cold air rushes giving frostnip. 

Schlepping across the courtyard, 

snow covers greenery.

Slight winds rustle curled brown paper thin leaves. 

No change in scenery. 

About the guest poets:  

Eileen Cleary: author of Child ward of the Commonwealth and 2 a.m. with Keats (forthcoming), founder of the Lily Poetry Review and Lily Poetry Review Books, and curator of the Lily Poetry Salon.   

Robbie Gamble: Associate Poetry Editor at Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, and accomplished author with poems and essays in the Atlanta Review, Cutthroat, Poet Lore, RHINO, Rust + Moth, and Tahoma Literary Review.    

Amy Grier: writer and editor whose prose and poetry has appeared in, among others, Poetry East, eratio, Streetlight Magazine, xoJane, and the Brevity blog, and who is currently working on Terrible Daughter, a memoir.  

Aaron Wallace: Poet, educator, and U.S. Army veteran whose work has been published in The American Journal of Poetry, Plume, The Deadly Writers Patrol, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and Solstice Literary Magazine. One of Aaron’s poems was named as an honorable mention in the 2019 edition of Proud to Be: Writing from America’s Warriors

Eve F.W. Linn: published poet, book reviewer, author of the chapbook Model Home, and peer reviewer for Whale Road Review.  









Joan Sullivan
Written by Joan Sullivan