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

Feature

IFNA

page 5

     Today, we hold up the cultural achievements of Spain, Baghdad and Persia to the non-Muslims and we say, "This is the fruit of Islamic civilization." How do we then say among ourselves that art and culture is a waste of time? We hold up Ibn Khaldun, Rumi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Hazm to the non-Muslim world and say look at our great writers, but again, how can we say great literature is unimportant today?     
     Abu Darda, the famous Sahaba, once said, "I devote some of my time to recreational activities so that I am refreshed with the strength necessary for the battle for truth." If we claim to avoid art because we want to concentrate on our Deen, then we are doing our Deen a disservice by robbing ourselves of halal enjoyment of the simple things of this life. The Early Muslims were not making Salah and Dhikr and Siyam every moment of every day. They went to their jobs; they had family time; they sang songs and composed poetry. They had dinner parties and sports contests.  They went shopping, decorated their homes and hung out with friends. They went on trips and made simple art in cloth, pottery or whatever else they had and they did it without being overly extravagant and without crossing over into haram. 
Yet we ignore all of this and thus become lop-sided as Muslims. We feel that there is no room for halal enjoyment in Islam. We tell our children there is no fun in Islam, and we all but force them to look to the non-Muslims for art and entertainment because we don't provide any of our own.  As we try to live by this impossible standard, we sometimes make ourselves into hypocrites by indulging in art and music created by non-Muslims as well, or created by people who are Muslim in name only, not caring if their art is halal or not. It doesn't have to be that way. We can change and improve our understanding of the proper place of the arts in a vibrant and healthy Muslim community.  There was a time when Muslims held great contests in poetry. Today, if we want those things we have to go to the non-Muslims and watch or participate in activities of their design. Isn't it time for us to design our own cultural life again? 
     If you want suggestions for reintegrating Islamic art in your life, here are some things you can do.  First, seek out Muslim writers, both classic and modern and learn to read again. If we are what we read, are you and  your children Muslims? We must begin to read the works of Muslim writers and poets again.  
     
     We must buy fiction and literature, written by Muslims, for our children as much as we buy non-Muslim books for them.  All the big Ulema in former times also read the famous literary classics. Did you know, for example, that poetry was taught as part of the syllabus in the Madrassas and colleges in the old days?
     When we study Islam today, we disregard educating our tastes and imagination with poetry, literature and stories of Muslim heroes and adventurers. Is it any wonder we often appear boring?  
     With regards to visual art, be on the look out for Muslim-oriented art and buy some that strikes your fancy, such as paintings, wood carvings and wall hangings, and don't be cheap about the price. You would never haggle or bargain with a non-Muslim artist. Why bother the Muslims? 
     You don't know how many times I've been in Muslim homes and seen art created by non-Muslims, such as animal statues, European style paintings, and the like. Muslim inspired art would look so much nicer and give a different flavor to the home environment.  
     We sometimes downplay the importance of art thinking that we grew up with it in Pakistan, India or Egypt and saw it all. 

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How about Islamic art classes?

     If we are going to succeed as a well rounded community, then we must allow ourselves to become secure enough in our identities as believing Muslims to indulge in halal activities so that our children and converts can see, as the Blessed Prophet said on one 'Eid day, "That there is room for enjoyment in Islam."  A Muslim who engages in 'Ibadah and has the capacity to appreciate and enjoy, in a halal way, the beautiful things of this life, that person is superior to a Muslim who rejects halal beauty and makes Islam seem boring, dry and full of fitnah. 
     May Allah help us to become well-balanced Muslims who avoid the shameless art of the non-Muslims and who encourage the halal artistic expression of Muslim artists. May Allah help us seek out the forgotten aspects of Islamic civilization, so we can reconnect with our heritage and reawaken our sense of achievement as a community. 
     May He help us establish ourselves as a vibrant living entity which can stand on its own in all areas of life among the various communities of people today. 
     May He help us regain our lost heritage so that the non-Muslims once again look to us as the leaders in the arts, sciences and humanities.      
     Allahumma. Ameen
     We fail to realize that our children are not growing up in a Muslim country surrounded by great works of Muslim art. By our own hands we make them identify with non-Muslim culture by not showing them the Islamically acceptable alternative. These and many other things, such as Islamic art classes  and Muslim chorus groups, can be organized to bring artistic expression in a halal way back into our lives. These things can help us rekindle the embers of Islamic civilization in our communities here in America.  Where to begin...
Here's a small list of books, - and - that you can use to begin your quest for the artist (halal that is) in all of us

1.  Diversion and the Arts in Islam.  Yusuf al Qaradawi.  (halalco)
2.  Islamic Designs for Artists and Craftspeople.  Barbara Brend. (Soundvision)
3.  Costumes and Customs of the Arab World.  (IBTS)
4.  Masterpieces of Arabic Calligraphy.  (IBTS)
5.  Rare Masterpieces of Arab and Islamic Art.  (IBTS)
6.  The Qur'an Manuscripts in the Islamic Museum, Jerusalem.  by Khadir Salameh. (or) Islamic Art and Architecture  by Issam El-Said. (or) Impressions of Granada and the Alhambra by Girault de Prangey. www.garnet-ithaca.co.uk

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