Muslims today find themselves in a place where our narrative is being told by others. Many equate a normative understanding of Islam to something that is radical in its nature. Politicians are making absurd statements to further their campaign goals bringing into question anyone who is Muslim for no other reason than they practice Islam. …[And], the sad reality is that there will be some who will actually believe [these] voice[s] … since Muslims wait for a voice to speak before speaking ourselves, we are one step behind.
Most of time we find ourselves reactively saying what we are not. We are not violent, we are not terrorists, we are not oppressive to our women. There can be a value in this, but in only saying what I am not, I am not saying what I am. Television, and other mediums of art, pose a very important solution to this problem.
So tell them the story, so that they may reflect —The Holy Quran 7:176
It’s exciting to see the surge in Muslim artists taking the scene these day. People like Musa Syeed, Mustafa Davis and Qasim Basir, Aman Ali, Preacher Moss and Azhar Usman, G. Willow Wilson and Wajahat Ali, Yuna and Brother Ali, among many others telling the Muslim story to audiences that religious leaders, scholars and activists would never have access to. On a larger scale, people like Lupe Fiasco, Zain Malik and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) show us the potential that can be reached. And it’s not just the sheer numbers that they have access to, but the retention factor of the audience is different because the way the stories are being told are different.
People these days are not really swayed as much as they used to be by conversations on theology or law. They want to see how you being a practitioner of your faith is something that is positive for people. Not how your being a Muslim brings benefit to you, but how your being a Muslim brings benefit to the society around you. Our artists can tell that story in a very powerful way.
The unfortunate reality is the Muslim community is not very good at supporting the Arts. On a broader level, our understanding of institutional development is quite weak. Most communities support the construction of a mosque and then perhaps the building of a school, but then stop at that. The creativity of our generation is stifled at the absence of funding to support that creativity. Our counterparts in other religious communities have millions of dollars flowing through foundations and other mechanisms that provide fellowships for new artists, funding to filmmakers, seed money to fashion designers, and much more. Our most talented end up struggling to find investors who will give them something, and when they eventually do they have to decide whether they will give themselves a salary or hire a better editor. Somehow, they still manage to produce a product of such great quality that it wins award after award, and along with it the hearts of many. Imagine what would happen if they actually had meaningful support of some percentage of the 1.5 billion Muslims who are out there. We’re lucky that there are those who are not Muslim who see the importance of having the Muslim story told, that provide the support that some of our artists need. Am I saying the Arts is the only way to go? No. But it an important way and expanding our understanding of what Art actually is and encompasses can help us see that.
Support your Muslim artists. Whether they are producing “Muslim Art” or simply art as Muslims. Invite them to come to your mosques, your conferences and conventions. Bring them to your universities, high schools and elementary schools so that students with aspirations can be inspired to tap into their creativity. Art is an essential part of the cultural fabric of society, and we find the Muslim voice beginning to enter that realm. Our support will only help to amplify it, and in turn better the understanding that many people have of our Faith in general, and we as practitioners of it in specific.
I think there are two really important distinction that he had made here: 1) We, as Muslim community, wait for someone to speak out before we, ourselves speak. 2) Arts need to be supported. As someone who made the switch from a science major to a social studies major, the opposition was overwhelming. To a Muslim sister or brother who dares goes the artistic way …may the Almight help them in their struggle because it is going to be hard for them. There is such little support from within the Muslim community, and really, it’s such a shame. For one, because we didn’t use to be like this. Muslim history is replete with examples of the caliphs and other leaders and society as a whole supporting the arts. It’s our legacy. There is nothing “un-islamic” about it.