Islam and popular culture: an Inside Islam recap

All-American Muslim, a reality TV show we covered in 2011. Photo: TLC

It’s fitting to end Inside Islam where we started. When we first began the project, we focused heavily on Islam in popular culture and media. Our first shows and posts focused on Muslim youth and new media, videobloggers, and even fashion.

Our focus on cultural topics was deliberate. In our efforts to break down stereotypes about Islam, our strategy was to humanize Muslims by showing them engaged in activities non-Muslims could relate to. Popular culture has always cut across cultural and geographic borders, so we focused heavily on the medium. Continue reading

Bridging the Faiths through Art

Hatemi speaks to visitors about his work at a recent gallery opening. Photo: Haydarhatemi.com

The state of Kentucky has a strong tradition of political conservatism and also, unfortunately, a long history of bigotry. Although this means that it has become one of the more hostile places for Muslims in the US, this Islamophobic atmosphere hasn’t stopped Iranian-born artist Haydar Hatemi from creating art in his Lexington basement studio that builds bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims.

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New Islamic art documentary bridges worlds

Daniel Tutt is the Outreach Director at Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on creating peace through various media. UPF has produced several films on Islam, including Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, and Prince among Slaves.

The mainstream portrayal of Islam does not usually deal with transcendent beauty, elegant ornamentation, or intricate calligraphy. But might art be one of the keys to healing some of the chasms and conflicts that have plagued Muslim-West relations over the last 10 years? The power of art to build bridges of understanding is becoming more recognized as a vital component to repairing the Muslim-West divide. The new exhibit on Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has already attracted thousands, and leading contemporary Islamic artists in America were recently featured at the Andy Warhol Museum, as part of the Dislocating Culture exhibit.

The largest mud brick building in the world is the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali

In an another effort to present the great masterpieces of Islamic art and architecture to an American audience, a new documentary film, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World, is slated to air on PBS in 2012. The film will launch with a series of nationwide screenings starting today at the Kennedy Center with its world premiere. Exploring five themes that are central to Islamic art–the Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water–, the film traces the arc of Islamic art as a universal human endeavor that frequently interacted with people of other faiths and cultures. Framing Islamic art as the result of a multicultural and adaptive set of artistic approaches and creations, the film highlights Muslim artists who developed new art forms through an integration of various cultural expressions. Continue reading

Islamic Museum of Australia

In May 2010, a new foundation was launched in Australia, with the 2013 goal of opening the Islamic Museum of Australia, the first museum of its kind. The project is spearheaded by Ahmed and Moustafa Fahour, two prominent Muslim Australian businessmen. The focus of the museum will be to dispel stereotypes about the Muslim Australian community and Islam in general. It will also highlight the contributions of Islamic civilizations to the world. Continue reading

Islamic Galleries at The Met

The 18th Century Damascus Room Displayed at the Met's New Islamic Galleries

New Yorkers no longer have to travel to Linxia or Basra to catch a glimpse of Islamic artistic creativity. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) completed an eight-year renovation of their Islamic galleries, now housing over 1,200 works spanning more than 1,400 years. The Met even commissioned a Moroccan family with generations of artisan experience to coordinate and create a traditional Moroccan courtyard inside the museum itself.

Although most of the pieces have been in the permanent collection for years, the Met has taken some off of its dusty storage shelves and provided others with a more prominent display. Works now on display include a mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca) from Isfahan, an 18th-century Syrian reception room, and an Uzbek painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s Laylat al Miraj, or trip to heaven. Artists, historians, and many others have found a common appreciation for the stunning visuals offered to visitors, but I was also struck by the name given to the galleries.

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A Libyan Image for the World

Photo: Zehra Tajouri

Various iconic photos of the 20th and 21st century have sparked inspiration, reflection, and at times, even outrage; the Afghan girl in National Geographic, the crying Vietnamese children, and the vulture staring at a starving child in Sudan.

A number of images have received a great deal of attention during the Arab Spring, but one sticks out for its powerfully emotional evocation: Zehra Tajouri’s photo of her sister’s humble and defiant pose is one for the history books. The photo, taken and posted on Tajouri’s blog on February 16—the first day of the revolution—received immediate attention inside and outside of Libya.

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The Disappearance of Muslim Scholarship?

Islamic Calligraphy Depicting the 13th Century Andalusian Morrish Sufi Mystic and Philosopher, Ibn Arabi

We hear a lot about the decline of  intellectual and cultural production in the Muslim World, but very little attention is paid to the actual heyday of Islamic scholarship itself. Many of these traditions have indeed declined, but so too have recognition and knowledge of the most important spiritual, artistic, and scientific contributions Muslims have made. Islamic scholarship—from poetry to the philosophy of metaphysics—has been rich since the founding of Islam in the 7th century, but very few even know it exists.

A variety of factors have prevented many of the most insightful and stunning works of art and scholarship from gaining recognition. Pieces remain hidden treasures in the minds of a handful of academics and on the dusty shelves of libraries and museums around the world.

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Pop Goes Islam

With Mubarak gone, Ahmed Abu Haiba no longer has to worry about the infamous SSIS (Egypt’s Secret Police), but his 2-year-old Islamic music channel’s future is anything but certain. Haiba’s Cairo-based 4Shbab TV aims to instill Islamic values in Arab Muslim youth around the world, but some conservative Muslims think that its programming is polluting young minds with “inappropriate” presentations of makeup-wearing women in music videos. A few key Gulf-based financiers have responded to these criticisms by divesting from the channel. A popular Arab sheik even accuses Haiba of promoting “American Islam.”

In a recent Al Jazeera documentary, Pop Goes Islam (embedded below), Haiba explains his reasoning behind the channel’s creation–offering Islamic values in the language of 21st-century youth–and notes that the only women who have appeared on his channel have worn headscarves and occasionally even niqabs. No female musicians or vocalists have ever been broadcast.

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Unveiled: A Balanced Portrait

Among many events in Madison this week raising awareness about Islam and Muslims was the film, Unveiled, hosted by UW-Madison’s International Student Services and the LGBT Campus Center. The film (Fremde Haut in German), directed by Angelina Maccarone, follows Fariba, an Irani woman seeking asylum in a small, industrial German town. Following the discovery of Fariba’s love affair with a married woman in Tehran, the Irani government threatens to prosecute her for her relationship, which is illegal under Iranian legal code. Fariba’s lover begs forgiveness and swears under oath that she will change and is freed, but Fariba decides to leave Tehran for good.

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Domestic Crusaders

Domestic Crusaders explores the lives of a Pakistani-American family

In 2001, Wajahat Ali was an English major at UC-Berkeley studying under the guidance of Professor Ishmael Reed. Reed saw a unique talent in Ali and pushed him to explore the lives of Muslim-Americans. Ten years later, Ali’s play, Domestic Crusaders, has sold out theaters across the country and is the first Muslim-American play published as a book.

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