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

Feature

IFNA

page 2

     I began to wonder about the place of art in a Muslim's life and why many Muslims seem to ignore, or all but ban even  Islamically
acceptable art today. Why is this so?  After thinking about this for a while, I have come up with several conclusions about why Muslims have become estranged, distanced from art.  The first point is in the stagnation of the Muslim mind. We all say we are sincere, trying Muslims, but our understanding of Islam has descended to such a low level that if a Sahaba came here today, he or she might call us a bunch of dead wood.  
     Sure, we make our Salah and we chant our du'as, but there is no life there. We have ceased to see the magic and joy in Islam and our Eman has become something of a mechanical ritual. 
     It's almost as if we've compartmentalized Islam into a daily prayer schedule and taken the flavor, the urgency and joy of true Eman out of the rest of our lives. Haven't you ever heard the saying of the Blessed Prophet, when he warned that there will come a day when the Qur'an will not go past our throats, when we'll chant it, but not even think a bout it? Why do we all act as if that could never apply to us? 
     Why do we assume that this prediction is for some far off people in the distant future?  It may be applying to us now.
     Imagine this! If you could summarize the whole message of the Qur'an into a couple of sentences, it could go like this: "You are going to die. You have a chance to live a beautiful life in obedience to Allah. You will get the most fabulous reward for doing so. Beware the dangers of your lower desires. Place your hope and trust in Allah who is more loving than you could ever imagine." 
     This is the message of Islam! Yet we have reduced Islam to such a low level! We live Islam as if it were a competition to defeat other Muslims in arguments. 
     We live Islam as if it were some ritual that our parents said to do but that we really don't want to. We live Islam as if it were nothing more than a set of restrictions on our freedoms! Look at that!   
     We see Islam as an impediment to our desires and happiness as if it were nothing more than a set of do's and don'ts. 
     How dead can we be?! Is it any wonder that all we do is argue with each other! We have traded the joy of Eman for the depression of doubt.

"We see Islam as an impediment..."

     When I came to this realization, that Muslims in the West are, in fact, not creating much in the way of the arts or culture, I began to look into this problem deeper. Perhaps I should have realized something was wrong after meeting the last couple of dozen Muslim college students who were going for careers in television, fashion design, music, painting and art history.  All of it, non-Muslim oriented. 
     Bright young Muslims who are artistically inclined just never think seriously about going in an Islamic direction in their explorations and after considering the hostile attitude of the modern-day religious establishments towards any kind of creative expression. 

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     We are not without hope, however, for the path of Islam remains there, waiting for us to set off once again on the journey to self-realization and salvation. This leads me to the second problem area that keeps modern-day Muslims from appreciating art and that is in our general state of knowledge. Can you believe it? Since becoming a Muslim, many years ago, Subhanullah, I have come to the realization that many Muslims don't know what Islam teaches or how to perform its rituals. Do you know how many Muslims I've met who believe in magic amulets, casting spells, praying to saints, or reading tea leaves? We have such an odd mish-mash of superstition, fact, fiction and cultural weirdness to contend with that it's amazing. And this extends into every other area of knowledge as well.
     Think about it. As a religious community, we have been separated from Islamic teachings that 500 years ago, Muslims took for granted. 500 years ago.  Every housewife and kid in the street knew things about Islam that many of us have never even learned yet.  When it comes to issues such as art, singing, women's equality, choosing leaders and other things, today we are hopelessly confused and in a state of uproar.
 Now of course, the reasons for this decline in knowledge are complicated, mostly due to our ancestors forgetting the Akhirah and loving the Dunya, but the end result for our Ummah was a series of general invasions by the Hindus, Jews, Christians and Buddhists who succeeded in taking over virtually the entire Muslim world for over two hundred years. Some of which they still occupy.
     Now do you think that when the Jews and Christians and others had us in the palms of their hands, they wouldn't try to mess us up more? Of course they tried and in many respects, they succeeded. They destroyed the traditional social structures, and most of the Madrasahs and colleges. They even created new sects in our midst, such as the Bahais and the Qadianis which plague us continually to this day.
Look at us.  Even though they left most of our Muslim lands, they left behind a broken Muslim community that is oftentimes at war with itself. Again, we are not without hope, for Allah promised to change our condition if we change what's in our hearts. We seem to be turning our hearts in the right direction.  This brings me to the third area of difficulty in reconciling art and the modern Muslim and that is in the current Islamic revival.

 
"Wisdom is the property of a Muslim wherever he finds it."

The Blessed Prophet

Alhumdulillah, for over 50 years now, Muslims all over the world have been reawakening themselves to Islam and its values, but it is this very process that has caused some of the trouble.  The call of Muslims these days has been, "Return to the Qur'an and Sunnah!" And although many in this movement are sincere, there are many others who require, as a part of their simplistic philosophy, a never ending mind-set of rejection and constant conflict. 
     Firstly, they reject everything that happens to appear "Western."  Okay, I can understand that. Muslims were oppressed by Westerners, so rejection is a natural part of the healing process. When the healing is complete, rejection can give way to absorption. Like the Muslims used to do when they encountered new civilizations and ideas.  For after all, the Blessed Prophet said that "wisdom is the property of a Muslim wherever he finds it." But at the same time, many of these radical, conflict-oriented Muslims have made the rejection of Muslim civilization as a part of their platform. Can you imagine that!
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