Living Islam Today
A Magazine for Muslim Americans
Vol. 1 Issue 1                Spring 1420/ 2000

Feature

IFNA

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate Source of All Mercy

 
Islam and the Arts      Allah has commanded the Blessed Prophet Muhammad to say, "I must recite the Qur'an, then whoever receives guidance, it is for the guidance of their own self. And whoever goes astray, say to them, 'I am only a Warner.'"
     As we approach the new year in the Islamic calendar, I've begun to reflect upon the condition of Muslim culture in this often labeled, "Modern World." Many factors prompted me to consider this topic, not least of which was all this Millennium madness that gripped the non-Muslims and made them re-examine themselves and the progress of their cultures also.  
     In a similar spirit, I wanted to consider the state of our culture and I chose to look at the place of Art in our community. The visual, literary and spoken arts and how, in my understanding, they relate to the life of a Muslim. For as many people have noted, you can gauge the spirit and vibrancy of a people by what they create.  After all, the Prophet declared, "Indeed, Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty." An obvious and clear reference to art, both natural and man-made. 

by Yahiya Emerick

"Indeed, Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty."

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My Respected Brothers and Sisters, when we look into our early childhood years and all of the things that have influenced our sense of the world, we find a vastly different reality from what we experience as adults. Indeed, We take a lot of things for granted that we did in our youth.  As children we sang songs and read stories. We painted pictures and built sand castles. We went to museums and sometimes traveled and saw a lot of beautiful sculptures, buildings, and other things created by the hands of men or by the power of nature.
Our imagination, our very understanding of the world is often shaped by these sounds and images which collectively constitute what can be termed as "Art." This phenomenon carries over into our adult lives and helps shape our tastes in decor and in how we structure our environment around us. 
     When we think of art we often get mental images in our heads of paintings, theater productions, great writing, fine architecture or the like. If I asked you right now to place a mental picture in your mind that represents art, what would imagine? What is art to you? Chances are, everyone would think of something different, something unique to their own experience and tastes.
     Now listen to this shocking tale:
     One day, a few years ago, I was teaching an Islamic studies class to fourth graders in an Islamic school.
       I don't remember what the lesson was on, maybe on Salah or Sirah or something.  Out of nowhere, one little girl, and I'll never forget this image, raised her hand and asked a question that was so unexpected that I was taken aback for a moment.  She asked, "Br. Yahiya, why don't Muslims have any talent?"  I froze for the kind of second that seems like an eternity. Can you imagine that question?! She was asking why Muslims had no artistic talent with regards to the arts! I quickly composed myself and began to explain that Muslims have been some of the finest artists in the world.
     I mentioned the great architecture, the visual arts such as floral design, and Arabesque, even Persian miniature painting, the great poets, the finely woven carpets and so on. But do you know what? I saw in her face that she wasn't buying it, and I felt helpless. In a moment, I realized her reality. Although she came from a good Muslim family which had roots in the Muslim world, for her, the only art she ever saw was created by non-Muslims. She might recall trips to the museum which are filled
with examples of art made by non-Muslims, whether peoples: some of it shameful, some of it beautiful. 
     When she goes places with her family, she sees murals and giant modern art sculptures in steel and stone. She reads great books filled with life and imagination.

  When she turns on the television, she sees non-Muslim singers and musicians plying their craft, and great shows and pageants filled with actors and actresses. All of these things being exercises in art and creative expression.
     Do you get the point? Do you understand?  In her home, there is probably no piece of art made by any Muslim other than one of those machine-made, flashy plaques with some Qur'anic verses written on it, which she can't read anyway. Moreover, she had probably never read any book or poem written by a Muslim that fueled her imagination or made her smile.  
     She probably never had the chance to visit a beautiful Masjid full of art and decoration, and she probably never even sang a song about 'Eid that made
her feel part of a larger identity, such as when the Christian and Jewish kids sing their songs of celebration during their holidays.
     In short, she saw Muslims as having no talent and not creating anything that was beautiful or pleasing to the senses.

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