Sunday, 16 September 2012

Islam, Culture, Art and Identity

Heard a fascinating talk at a local mosque a couple of weeks ago about Islam and Culture. The speaker, who was a student of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, made some interesting points, some of which are summarised below:

Intellect and Passsion are two opposite things, and we all need to have both working together, in a balanced manner, in our minds.

Unfortuntely, the Muslim community has a difficult time balancing what Muslims love and what what is reasonable.

As an example of how powerful identity is, consider a national flag. It is just a piece of fabric with some colours printed on it - but it symbolises so much more and can have a value far beyond its material worth to nationals of that country.

The speaker asked the attendees to consider three questions. What is culture? What is beauty? What is Islam? To genuinely ask people what they thought about a subject is an unusual (and very welcome) thing to see at a mosque and the resulting discussion was quite productive, although people were so wary of saying the wrong thing that the speaker had to urge the attendees to "think outside the religious box"!

One very thought-provoking analogy that the speaker used was that culture was like a cup in that it provided a vessel and context through which concepts such as faith could be carried and taken in, and that "every nation has its cup".

The speaker pointed out that those who wish to deny all arts and culture were denying people a "cup" thorugh which they could understand issues and concepts - and that countries that are without a culture have no identity or cohesion.

He went on to urge the attendees to push to engage better with the arts and humanities and to participate in these fields.

At the end of the talk, one attendee asked why it was that he would not dare recommend a friend to visit an art exhibition if there was even one "unislamic" picture there, but would have no problem with recommending that the same friend go and buy, say, a good value fruit juice in ASDA - even though that supermarket has whole aisles of alcoholic products and non-halal products.

The speaker, and the Imam present, commented that Muslims needed to be able to take what was good from exhibitions, and to be positive about art and the humanities.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this with us. We need scholars like this, who can make us THINK and contemplate rather than people who are just preaching commands they hardly understands themselves. I am writing to you from the Horn of Africa, in an area where there is large Muslim community with long history and wonderful cultures that embody the Islamic values so beautifully. The metaphor of CUP is itself a testimony of how to employ linguistic art form to convey an important idea. Jazakallah