I do not come from an artist family background. None of my close friends were ever known for artistic musings. And no, I do not idolize Bob Ross. But read along because I have an Islamic art manifesto to share. After graduation I went on to teach at one of the finest American Islamic schools. I spent four years teaching there to discover and learn some amazing stuff. One of the things I learned there was that academic excellence and a successful career oriented students to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, and a computer specialists but being an artist was never on the list. Art was looked upon as a craft or hobby. Even Islamic art was always a thing of the past. Muslim artists were either vocal artists who go around singing nasheeds or performed in movies and plays. Art was perceived as something beautiful but not so beautiful as to become a career choice. If art was ever taught as a subject, it was probably the last one of importance right next to say lunch and afterschool activities. At least we know the benefit of having a lunch but what about art? You get my point. I was not an art teacher but I loved rendering wall space into cool artsy projects. In one of favorite projects called ‘my beloved neighbor’ I placed a large picture of Medina mosque and placed blinds on top along with curtains on the side to give an impression of a window opening to the city of Medina in the neighborhood of the Prophet Muhammad. In another project, I built a tree made out of paper with real branches with leaves in Fall and glued paper leaves all over the school walls with the hadith stating that when two Muslims meet and shake their hands their sins fall like tree leaves in the Fall.
However, I no longer teach at the school but I have fond memories of all of my associates and students. As a Muslim minority in the US, I learned that we are susceptible and sensitive. We are grateful for the many blessings in the West, yet afraid about the future of Islam and Muslims as well. I think this fear was also aligned with not taking any chance with your profession. Art found in the homes of American Muslims is either modern art prints or ‘Islamic art’ that is imported from factories in China. Only a handful of professional Western Islamic artists could be found here in the US. Since the trend is to import sacred art, an emergence of the Islamic art in the West will be difficult to establish. For example, I have been to dozens of Islamic art events where plastic and tin plaques with gold and silver glitter glued printed copies of Arabic are found. Rarely, I would find an original artwork by a living artist. I noticed the plastic art has taken over the Muslim houses whether they were African-Americans, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Indians, Moroccans, Latinos all of their houses were filled art that were merely replicas shipped from overseas. It was art made from plastic with lots of old world ideas – gold, silver, and black were the color of the choice. People hang plastic amulets, wall décor, and charms with innocence as sacred and holy. However, it took me about ten years to figure it out that these innocent plastic replicas have caused the death or at least decimated Islamic art within the Muslim community. I share with you the story of the disappearance of original Islamic art in the Muslim community. When an individual observes these factory replicas of highly sophisticated calligraphy patterns and geometric designs, they are overwhelmed by the majesty of the master art. Plus, nobody can compete with the price tag. If I bought a 2×4 feet canvas and simply painted it red with acrylics, it will cost around $100. How could this $100 red painting compete with $5 Turkish or Indian ‘Made in China’ replicas? My calligraphy lines would simply look shaky when compared with the master calligrapher’s work. Unfortunately, the master calligraphy probably never got paid a penny in royalty for his bootlegged, illegally copied work. Hence, master calligraphers and artists rarely prosper through replica art and therefore, it is immoral to support the plastic arts on this account alone. Original Artwork is something that you transfer from one generation to another. It is a heritage. Nobody ever takes plastic replica as serious art.
My mission is to inspire people to develop a genuine love and culture for arts within the American Muslim community and to lead a movement or renaissance here in the West. I believe a sign of this work was when I lost recordings of all of my talks when my website Liberal Arts Forum went down. It was a deeply saddening Ghazalian experience (Imam Ghazali, the great philosopher-theologian of Islam who lost all of his knowledge/books to the bandits and thereafter committed himself to memorizing his books) because I committed most of my thoughts/teachings on audio files. However, it was a reminder that only good work, not mere words last forever. This led me to focus on arts that would be cherished by people from one generation to another. There is a famous hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that reminds us that if one sees some evil or malpractice prevalent amongst people, s/he should change it with one’s hands, tongue, heart. With my original hand painted artwork, I plan to change Islamic art scene with my hands and make plastic Islamic relics a thing of the past. Think of art not as a hobby but as a mission. Join me on this journey of creating, supporting, establishing a new norm for Islamic art in the West.
Here’s my secret to my artwork success, I make public all the methods, supplies, and tools used in my work. One could copy all of my work illegally it is not that difficult but they cannot copy my creative spirit. To create art is not to copy.
There are many notable Islamic calligraphers in America such as M. Zakariya, Haji Noor, Salma Arastu, etc. My quest is not to compete them in thuluth or kufic styles or to sell my work or teach a lesson or two about calligraphy. My work is not to simply copy and revive an old script but to live a new script and write with it your story and mine. Your work and my work is to revive hearts with art.