On Sunday, third and fourth grade students from Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester and the Upper Westchester Muslim Society (UWMS) came together to create the design for a quilt that represents stories found in both the Quran and Jewish texts. The finished piece will be a gift to the UWMS for their new building.
The journey began a couple weeks ago when the American Folk Art Museum came to teach the students how quilts can tell stories through color, shape, symbols, and words. With this knowledge in hand, the students were divided into four groups and each group was given a different story that appears in both Jewish text and the Quran. The students studied these texts, analyzing the similarities and differences, and then discussed the main message of the stories.
Next, they thought about different ways the stories could be depicted through art, making sure not to include any human figures so that it could be displayed in the mosque. Once each student had a sketch of a possible design for the quilt block, they shared their ideas with their groups and decided on one final design for each story.
The first group discussed the story of Abraham discovering the fact that there is only one God. This story appears in both Quran 6: 74-79 and Beit HaMidrash 2:118-196 (Jewish Midrash). In the story, Abraham sees the stars, moon, and sun and believes each, in turn, must be the ruler of the world. Only after each rises and sets does he realize that there must be just one God who rules over everything. The students created a picture of each element in the story along with the question “who is God?”
The second group discussed the story about Abraham smashing his father’s idols, which appears in Bereshit Rabbah 38 (Jewish Midrash) and Quran 21:51-67. The students in this group had many wonderful ideas about how to depict the scene and the overall message. They finally decided on the image on the right which shows the smashed idols at the bottom and one large idol holding the stick which Abraham placed in its hand.
The third group studied the text about Abraham leaving his parents’ home, found in Quran 19:41-50 and Genesis 12:1-7. They drew a house and a trail with footprints leading away from it. At the top of the piece, they included the promise “I will bless you.”
The last group studied the story about Abraham rushing to welcome guests into his tent. These guests announce the coming birth of a child to Abraham and Sarah in their old age (Genesis 18:1-5 and Quran 11:69-73). In their sketch, they included pictures of the tent, the food that they served the guests, and a basket and blanket to represent the coming baby. Yellow and red lines emerging from the tent represent Sarah’s laughter at hearing the news of a child.
Next week, the students will translate these sketches into fabric art. I’m excited to see how these stories come to life!