The newest published work to come from Butler University Director of International Studies Fait Muedini, Idolatry of the Translated Forms, is a clear departure from Muedini’s traditional written research—the 99 poems weave together to form the first book of poetry he has ever published.
“A lot of my work is research, of course—a lot of work related to human rights, LGBTI rights, child education rights—but I’ve always had a passion for writing poetry, as well,” Muedini says. “I just keep writing, keep writing, putting it aside, and really not thinking much of it. And there came a point when I said, ‘well, maybe I should focus on poetry as an outlet for publishing, as well.’ I’m happy I did it. I probably should have done it earlier.”
The book is deeply rooted in Sufi poetry and ideas, most of which are encapsulated by notions of beauty and love. Like his passion for poetry, Sufism has been a theme in Muedini’s life for a number of years. His ties to the subject matter of the book make it both a personal and striking read.
“The poems clarified a lot of how I view the world,” Muedini says. “And the best way to describe it, it’s really this idea of non-duality, just kind of thinking about the world as a unity of everything—this manifestation of nothing, but what is understood as beauty and love—again, a very Sufi idea. All of the poems in some way center around the idea of elevating this idea of love in everyday beauty.”
But why stop at 99 poems?
Muedini explained the significance of the number in Islamic theology. Within that faith, he says, there exist 99 names or attributes of God known to the human mind.
“My idea of the book is idolatry of the translated forms, which essentially means all our conceptions of God are lacking—we can’t ever understand, with language, what the ultimate power of God is,” Muedini says. “In Islam and Sufism, there’s this idea that God has a 100th name, but that it’s not revealed to anybody. And so, it’s essentially silent. That’s exactly what I was going for.”
Apart from publishing a new book, what else has Muedini been up to lately? Below, we chat with him about favorite meals, must-read books, and go-to films—spoiler: he loves slapstick comedy.
Are there any television shows or series that you’re watching and enjoying right now?
To be honest, I don’t get too much into series. It’s not that I don’t like TV, it’s that once you get into a series, you feel like you have to watch all of it. And that takes a lot of time. I’ll have some soccer games on in the background when I’m doing work, things like that.
In the vein of less time commitment, then: What about films? Do you have a favorite film?
I do tend to watch more films. I like a lot of introspective foreign films, or outright slapstick comedy type films—it’s really that dichotomy.
Do you have a go-to for each of those categories?
There’s a film in my course that a student actually recommended called Mustang about social gender issues in Turkey. It is a story about these five sisters who have various social pressures on them to marry, and then human rights abuses against women. I also thought Roma was very powerful. Films that I think really get people to reflect on topics and themes that again, bring about the human condition, I would say, are where there’s a lot of interest.
Friends who’ve known me forever will know that Dumb and Dumber is by far the funniest I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it countless times and I still laugh uncontrollably at so many of the parts.
What books should everyone read in their lifetime?
I just would tell people just to keep reading. The more you read, the more ideas you’re exposed to. Really, it depends on the genre of what you’re looking for. So, in the spirituality genre, for example, there’s a book called The Upanishads. It’s an ancient Hindu text—that was really one of the most influential books in my life.
For something like financial advice, there’s a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, which I think everyone should read. For something about monetary policy, there’s a book I really think everyone should read called The Bitcoin Standard by Saifedean Ammous. But again, it really depends on the category of literature because there’s just so much in every field.
What is your favorite meal to either cook or eat?
I don’t cook. I’ve never even tried cooking. So, there’s that. Thankfully, my wife loves to cook, and so she’ll learn recipes and try a variety of dishes. I am very fortunate about that. My palate is pretty American-based—fried chicken, cheeseburgers—things like this. Although, I’m realizing as I get older, I should eat much less of it.
What three historical figures would you most want to have dinner with?
The ones that just immediately come to mind for me, I would say the Sufi poet Rumi, absolutely. Albert Camus, my favorite overall writer, would come to mind. There was a poet who died not too long ago. Her name was Mary Oliver, and she was an American poet. Those would be the three who would come to mind for me, initially, that I would have that dinner with.
What do you consider to be the most interesting thing that you’ve done in your lifetime?
For me, what has brought by far the most joy throughout my life—and continues to—is really to be married to the person I’m married to, whom I love very much. We have two children together. And with them, just seeing the wonder in their eyes every day, to me is interesting; seeing how they’re going through life, and how they are developing their characters and personalities. So just having a family is, I think, the most interesting. I mean, I could quote where I’ve traveled, what I’ve written, but to me, it just pales in comparison to having this core nucleus of my family.
Where is your favorite place to be?
It doesn’t matter anymore. I think this poetry really kind of brought that out: I really have tried in the past years just to be present in any spot I’m in. Being around my family—if I take kind of a non-physical location—being around my family as much as I can, is always where I’m happiest. There’s just beauty in every space, every place, if we just pay attention to it. And so, I actually don’t like sometimes when people say, ‘I must go here, I must go there,’ because I think you forget the wonder of where you’re at now in that present moment.
What has been your favorite part of being a professor at Butler?
That’s an easy one. Just the inquisitive minds of my students. I mean, being alert, having conversations with them, having them just ask such detailed questions—really wanting to learn about the world, wanting to learn about human rights issues, and being so committed to their education. It makes work just such a joy because students are just excellent and have been excellent since I’ve arrived here.