Why artists of the Muslim world need to get on with the story

Wajahat Ali

http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090829/WEEKENDER/708289761/1080/NONE

Pep Montserrat for The National

During the time of the Prophet Mohammed, the storyteller was valued more than the swordsman. Through poetry and eloquence, the speaker used his artistry to weave words and rhyme like magic, often enthralling the audience as he used fiction and history proudly to narrate his tribe’s triumphs and tragedies.

Yet many modern Muslims have decried creative endeavours such as music, filmmaking, acting and theatre as “un-Islamic”. However, the watershed victory of President Obama in 2008 ushered in a new generation comprising vibrant, progressive Muslim artists who use their talents to redefine a bold new vision of art. One that reclaims their hijacked heritage, restores dignity to Islam and Muslims, deconstructs stereotypes and uses art as a means to build bridges of understanding.

When the two towers fell in New York, they took with them the inhibitions of many fear-mongering and prejudiced Islamaphobes who were given a licence under the Bush era to publicly spew vitriol against Islam and Muslims as harbingers of terror and cultural stagnation.

A narrative was immediately set, casting the protagonists as the West – a nebulous and nonsensical term referring to America and select parts of Europe – and the antagonists as Muslims and immigrants.

Unfortunately, Hollywood often tried progressive open-mindedness, but routinely failed, aside from the excellent Syriana starring George Clooney. In trying to portray Muslims positively, most mainstream Hollywood features can only muster depictions of Arabs against a backdrop of terrorism and extremism. It should surprise no one that a 2009 ABC poll revealed that 48 per cent of Americans don’t hold a favourable opinion of Islam; more than 50 per cent don’t know a single Muslim; and nearly 29 per cent believe mainstream Islam advocates violence.

However, because of the backlash against Muslims after 9/11, many Muslims renounced the traditional career path and opted for more challenging roles in the arts and media. Throughout history, marginalised groups and oppressed minorities have used art as a means to fight back against intolerance. The ingredients that fuel such sentiments are generally political – random profiling at the airport, for example – as well as a renewed respect for one’s identity, culture and people. The phase that many Muslims went through from 2001 to 2007 was a necessary step for artistic evolution, as it contained righteous indignation against inequality, vocal affirmation for one’s religious and racial identity, and healthy doses of political activism.

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Crusading for Modern Islamic Art

Beyond calligraphy, geometric designs and classic Islamic poetry, there’s Wajahat Ali, who with his new play “The Domestic Crusaders” is rewriting the book on what is modern Islamic art.

BY: Shahed Amanullah – http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Islam/2009/03/Crusading-for-Modern-Islamic-Art.aspx

The Domestic Crusaders

As majestic as the history of Islamic art is and as celebrated as it is in today’s world, it has never been able to really extract itself from history. While the intricacies of Arabic calligraphy, geometric shapes, and varied architecture of the Muslim world are required subjects in any reputable school of art or architecture, they are taught more as history rather than an art that is living or relevant to the 21st century.

The state of Islamic art today has, with few variations, changed little from the classical art of centuries past. Beyond calligraphic arts, geometric designs, and certain musical forms that have existed in various parts of the Islamic world, there are few expressions of Islamic art today that venture outside these areas.

But is there more to Islamic art than what we have come to expect? A few artists have tried to expand the meaning of Islamic art in today’s world to areas such as music, film, and theater, but with limited success (at least in Muslim circles). Some have abandoned the idea of creating artistic expressions with an Islamic foundation and have resorted to creating secular or modern kind of art that has a few Islamic references.

But one artist, Wajahat Ali, has attempted to create what can loosely be called a Muslim play, although the themes embodied in it can be appreciated universally. Drawing on the tradition of storytelling that has permeated the Muslim world–yet has remained dormant for centuries–Ali’s play “The Domestic Crusaders” attempts to tie together themes of Muslim history and American Muslim culture, as much as such a culture exists today. Continue reading