BYU professor sculpts glass to build bridges between LDS, Islam

Published: Tuesday, July 20 2010 10:30 a.m. MDT

PROVO, Utah — To Muslims, he is known as the Merciful, the Guardian, the Omniscient, the Magnificent. Christians, too, join in by praising God as the Judge, the Giver of Life and the Truth.

The Islamic tradition of knowing The 99 Most Beautiful Names of God struck a chord with Andrew Kosorok, an LDS artist who embarked on a years-long project to depict each of those 99 names in sculptural stained glass.

"The process of learning about a name will help me find out about this other faith," said Kosorok, an adjunct professor of sculpture who teaches stained glass at BYU. "I can apply that to myself, because I worship the same God. It started as a convenient way to examine another faith and became something that helped me strengthen my own."

The Islamic and Latter-day Saint faiths are quite interconnected, Kosorok said, giving as one example the forum address at BYU in 2006 by Dr. Alwi Shihab, "Building Bridges of Understanding: The Church and the World of Islam." (speeches.byu.edu)

Shihab was introduced by President Boyd K. Packer of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve who said Mormons and Muslims are "knit together" as "people of the Book."

After hearing that speech, and realizing that media representations of the Islamic religion were inaccurate, Kosorok began researching and e-mailing religious leaders from Egypt to Pakistan about their thoughts on the 99 names, as recorded in the Holy Quran. (en.wikipedia.org)

He also talked with his friend Ghulam Hasnain, president of Salt Lake American Muslim, whom he had met years before in Hasnain's mosque.

Hasnain explained that the 99 names are more like attributes of God rather than actual names, and that devout Muslims will have plaques in their homes depicting those names in flowing Arabic script, rather than pictures of God as a human being.

Thus Kosorok's mathematical, abstract sculptures accented with Arabic calligraphy and medieval bookbinding techniques were most appropriate for the exhibit, Hasnain said.

Glass was also the perfect medium, not just because BYU graduate Kosorok has worked with it for 20-plus years, but also because it is a lesser-known component of Islamic art, Kosorok said.

"I thought it was a fantastic idea," Hasnain said. "The way I understood his intentions was to use this as a bridge … between Islam and LDS, and Christianity in general."

Kosorok said the Islamic leaders he spoke with encouraged him, a person of faith, to take his task seriously, so he spends nearly 80 to 100 hours designing, firing, cutting, etching and sculpting each glass art piece.

He works in groups of 25 with a goal of 100 sculptures — one for each of the names and one for all the names together — to be finished by the end of 2012.

The BYU Harold B. Lee Library has several pieces displayed, including Greatest, Merciful and Reliever, an etched glass box with doors that symbolizes a desert oasis, complete with a tiny palm tree and a small vial of burn ointment, "reflecting on the gift of God to heal the broken hearted, and to save — ultimately — the faithful."

"I was hoping (the reaction) would be positive, but I had no idea it would be as well received by Christians and Muslims alike," Kosorok said of his two previous shows in Provo. "Not because I'm fantastic or anything, but because it makes them think constructively about something they've never been confronted about before."

To see the art, visit BYU's Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, through Sept. 17.

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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