Illustration by Pep Montserrat for The National.
Pep Montserrat for The National

Why artists of the Muslim world need to get on with the story



During the time of the Prophet Mohammed, the storyteller was valued more than the swordsman. Through poetry and eloquence, the speaker used his artistry to weave words and rhyme like magic, often enthralling the audience as he used fiction and history proudly to narrate his tribe's triumphs and tragedies. Yet many modern Muslims have decried creative endeavours such as music, filmmaking, acting and theatre as "un-Islamic". However, the watershed victory of President Obama in 2008 ushered in a new generation comprising vibrant, progressive Muslim artists who use their talents to redefine a bold new vision of art. One that reclaims their hijacked heritage, restores dignity to Islam and Muslims, deconstructs stereotypes and uses art as a means to build bridges of understanding.

When the two towers fell in New York, they took with them the inhibitions of many fear-mongering and prejudiced Islamaphobes who were given a licence under the Bush era to publicly spew vitriol against Islam and Muslims as harbingers of terror and cultural stagnation. A narrative was immediately set, casting the protagonists as the West - a nebulous and nonsensical term referring to America and select parts of Europe - and the antagonists as Muslims and immigrants.

Unfortunately, Hollywood often tried progressive open-mindedness, but routinely failed, aside from the excellent Syriana starring George Clooney. In trying to portray Muslims positively, most mainstream Hollywood features can only muster depictions of Arabs against a backdrop of terrorism and extremism. It should surprise no one that a 2009 ABC poll revealed that 48 per cent of Americans don't hold a favourable opinion of Islam; more than 50 per cent don't know a single Muslim; and nearly 29 per cent believe mainstream Islam advocates violence.

However, because of the backlash against Muslims after 9/11, many Muslims renounced the traditional career path and opted for more challenging roles in the arts and media. Throughout history, marginalised groups and oppressed minorities have used art as a means to fight back against intolerance. The ingredients that fuel such sentiments are generally political - random profiling at the airport, for example - as well as a renewed respect for one's identity, culture and people. The phase that many Muslims went through from 2001 to 2007 was a necessary step for artistic evolution, as it contained righteous indignation against inequality, vocal affirmation for one's religious and racial identity, and healthy doses of political activism.

Around 2002, the world was introduced to Muslim comedy, as Preacher Moss, an African American convert to Islam and stand-up comedian, and Azhar Usman, a South Asian Muslim who was a licensed attorney, premiered their comedy show Allah Made Me Funny to sell-out audiences. In Canada, Zarqa Nawaz premiered her successful sitcom Little Mosque in the Prairie, which centres on a fictional Muslim community coexisting with non-Muslim neighbours. As a practising Muslim who covers her hair, Nawaz wisely followed in the footsteps of Bill Cosby, who revolutionised and humanised the depiction of African Americans with his landmark comedy show by portraying them as educated, affluent members of society.

Humour, however, is not the only vehicle for Muslims to reorient the dialogue with non-Muslims. Dr Naif Al-Mutawa decided Muslim children needed their own Batman and Superman and created "The 99", the first team of Muslim superheroes. Willow Wilson, an American convert to Islam, is the first Muslim comic book writer for a major comic company, DC, where she premiered her graphic novel, Cairo, depicting modern day Egyptian society as a chaotic yet tremendously vibrant Muslim society rife with religiosity, corruption, political instability, jinns and many, many shishas. Wilson also penned her honest and uplifting memoir Butterfly Mosque which chronicles her conversion to Islam and embraces - not demonises - both Muslims and the West as critical foundations for her spiritual journey.

Despite these numerous successes, some Muslims still demand all expressions of art be used as vehicles for dawah - a call and invitation to Islam. This myopic lens of viewing art and the world straitjackets many Muslim artists. Many artists I have talked to feel an undue pressure to make all their works halal, so to speak. No wonder Yusuf Islam made the wise decision to perform simply as Yusuf on his excellent new CD, Roadsinger, and remove the glaring emphasis away from his religion. His peaceful lyrics and soulful voice do all the talking instead.

Muslim art must open up to include rich and diverse voices who represent the gamut of the Muslim experience. Landmark events such as New York's Muslim Voices and Washington DC's Arabesque understand this initiative. They invite artistic talent from around the Muslim world in a desire to establish influential cultural dialogue that engages both Muslims and non-Muslims as audiences and financial supporters. These watershed cultural movements realise that the Muslim community, much like the world, is a vast and multicultural playground where not every artistic expression necessarily shines through traditional means. The artistic expression of Muslims should be more proactive and progressive and not solely focused on Islamic dawah.

For example, the Kominas, a Punjabi taqwacore punk band, sport mohawks and tattoos as they thrash on stage singing Suicide Bomb the Gap. Although they might appear un-Islamic, their music and lyrics are thoroughly informed by their upbringing as Muslims in America. Like a number of minority groups, Muslims often resent airing dirty laundry. Showing the warts and fissures of their communities is seen as shameful. However, so is the reality of honour killing, domestic abuse, racism, misogyny, and sectarian violence. By exposing these warts through honesty, humour and realistic, flawed Muslim characters, Muslims will cease feeling alienated and instead find empathy with audiences who can identify with their triumphs and tragedies.

It is with this intention that I wrote the play, The Domestic Crusaders, which is premiering on September 11 in New York. Described by one reviewer as "one of the first major Muslim American plays", it draws on the rich tradition of American and Muslim storytelling. The play takes place in modern day, post 9/11 America and features three generations of a Muslim American family who convene at the family home to celebrate the birthday of the youngest son, Ghafur. Throughout the day, the six members - all diverse, passionate and Muslim - reveal secrets and gain awareness as they struggle to assert their own identities and beliefs, while maintaining the thread that connects them to one another. None of the Muslim characters is perfect. They are flawed, hypocritical, judgemental, insecure and at times racist. They are also passionate, intelligent, humane, tolerant and colourful.

Following in the footsteps of Muslim artists past and present, a new generation seeks to voice the reality of the Islamic experience. In the US, we are trying to move away from focusing on 9/11 as a day of horror, and instead make it a day to recommit ourselves to national service. It seems a good day as well to open Domestic Crusaders in New York. We too suffered on 9/11, but that is not all there is to our story; our story is constantly being written, and sung, and acted, and performed.

Wajahat Ali is a writer, journalist, blogger and attorney. His work, The Domestic Crusaders, premieres on September 11 in New York. He blogs at www.goatmilk.wordpress.com

The bio

Who inspires you?

I am in awe of the remarkable women in the Arab region, both big and small, pushing boundaries and becoming role models for generations. Emily Nasrallah was a writer, journalist, teacher and women’s rights activist

How do you relax?

Yoga relaxes me and helps me relieve tension, especially now when we’re practically chained to laptops and desks. I enjoy learning more about music and the history of famous music bands and genres.

What is favourite book?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - I think I've read it more than 7 times

What is your favourite Arabic film?

Hala2 Lawen (Translation: Where Do We Go Now?) by Nadine Labaki

What is favourite English film?

Mamma Mia

Best piece of advice to someone looking for a career at Google?

If you’re interested in a career at Google, deep dive into the different career paths and pinpoint the space you want to join. When you know your space, you’re likely to identify the skills you need to develop.  

 

Our Time Has Come
Alyssa Ayres, Oxford University Press

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

In the Restaurant: Society in Four Courses
Christoph Ribbat
Translated by Jamie Searle Romanelli
Pushkin Press

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

Ready Player One
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance

Results

2.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh40,000 1,700m; Winner: AF Mezmar, Adam McLean (jockey), Ernst Oertel (trainer).

3pm: Maiden (PA) Dh40,000 2,000m; Winner: AF Ajwad, Tadhg O’Shea, Ernst Oertel.

3.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh40,000 1,200m; Winner: Gold Silver, Sam Hitchcott, Ibrahim Aseel.

4pm: Maiden (PA) Dh40,000 1,000m; Winner: Atrash, Richard Mullen, Ana Mendez.

4.30pm: Gulf Cup Prestige (PA) Dh150,000 1,700m; Winner: AF Momtaz, Saif Al Balushi, Musabah Al Muhairi.

5pm: Handicap (TB) Dh40,000 1,200m; Winner: Al Mushtashar, Richard Mullen, Satish Seemar.

ASIAN RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP 2024

Results
Hong Kong 52-5 UAE
South Korea 55-5 Malaysia
Malaysia 6-70 Hong Kong
UAE 36-32 South Korea

Fixtures
Friday, June 21, 7.30pm kick-off: UAE v Malaysia
At The Sevens, Dubai (admission is free).
Saturday: Hong Kong v South Korea

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Vault
Started: June 2023
Co-founders: Bilal Abou-Diab and Sami Abdul Hadi
Based: Abu Dhabi
Licensed by: Abu Dhabi Global Market
Industry: Investment and wealth advisory
Funding: $1 million
Investors: Outliers VC and angel investors
Number of employees: 14

SPEC SHEET: NOTHING PHONE (2)

Display: 6.7” LPTO Amoled, 2412 x 1080, 394ppi, HDR10+, Corning Gorilla Glass

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 2, octa-core; Adreno 730 GPU

Memory: 8/12GB

Capacity: 128/256/512GB

Platform: Android 13, Nothing OS 2

Main camera: Dual 50MP wide, f/1.9 + 50MP ultrawide, f/2.2; OIS, auto-focus

Main camera video: 4K @ 30/60fps, 1080p @ 30/60fps; live HDR, OIS

Front camera: 32MP wide, f/2.5, HDR

Front camera video: Full-HD @ 30fps

Battery: 4700mAh; full charge in 55m w/ 45w charger; Qi wireless, dual charging

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Google Pay)

Biometrics: Fingerprint, face unlock

I/O: USB-C

Durability: IP54, limited protection

Cards: Dual-nano SIM

Colours: Dark grey, white

In the box: Nothing Phone (2), USB-C-to-USB-C cable

Price (UAE): Dh2,499 (12GB/256GB) / Dh2,799 (12GB/512GB)

How it works

Booklava works on a subscription model. On signing up you receive a free book as part of a 30-day-trial period, after which you pay US$9.99 (Dh36.70) per month to gain access to a library of books and discounts of up to 30 per cent on selected titles. You can cancel your subscription at any time. For more details go to www.booklava.com

THE BIO

Favourite car: Koenigsegg Agera RS or Renault Trezor concept car.

Favourite book: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes or Red Notice by Bill Browder.

Biggest inspiration: My husband Nik. He really got me through a lot with his positivity.

Favourite holiday destination: Being at home in Australia, as I travel all over the world for work. It’s great to just hang out with my husband and family.

 

 

Most polluted cities in the Middle East

1. Baghdad, Iraq
2. Manama, Bahrain
3. Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
4. Kuwait City, Kuwait
5. Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
6. Ash Shihaniyah, Qatar
7. Abu Dhabi, UAE
8. Cairo, Egypt
9. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
10. Dubai, UAE

Source: 2022 World Air Quality Report

MOST POLLUTED COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD

1. Chad
2. Iraq
3. Pakistan
4. Bahrain
5. Bangladesh
6. Burkina Faso
7. Kuwait
8. India
9. Egypt
10. Tajikistan

Source: 2022 World Air Quality Report

The Florida Project

Director: Sean Baker

Starring: Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe

Four stars

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE.

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

THE DETAILS

Kaala

Dir: Pa. Ranjith

Starring: Rajinikanth, Huma Qureshi, Easwari Rao, Nana Patekar  

Rating: 1.5/5 

Quick facts
  • Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL) offers free guided tours of art in the metro and at the stations
  • The tours are free of charge; all you need is a valid SL ticket, for which a single journey (valid for 75 minutes) costs 39 Swedish krone ($3.75)
  • Travel cards for unlimited journeys are priced at 165 Swedish krone for 24 hours
  • Avoid rush hour – between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm – to explore the artwork at leisure
The National Archives, Abu Dhabi

Founded over 50 years ago, the National Archives collects valuable historical material relating to the UAE, and is the oldest and richest archive relating to the Arabian Gulf.

Much of the material can be viewed on line at the Arabian Gulf Digital Archive - https://www.agda.ae/en

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

The specs

Engine: 0.8-litre four cylinder

Power: 70bhp

Torque: 66Nm

Transmission: four-speed manual

Price: $1,075 new in 1967, now valued at $40,000

On sale: Models from 1966 to 1970

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

Company profile

Name: Tabby
Founded: August 2019; platform went live in February 2020
Founder/CEO: Hosam Arab, co-founder: Daniil Barkalov
Based: Dubai, UAE
Sector: Payments
Size: 40-50 employees
Stage: Series A
Investors: Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Wamda Capital, STV, Raed Ventures, Global Founders Capital, JIMCO, Global Ventures, Venture Souq, Outliers VC, MSA Capital, HOF and AB Accelerator.

Ballon d’Or shortlists

Men

Sadio Mane (Senegal/Liverpool), Sergio Aguero (Aregentina/Manchester City), Frenkie de Jong (Netherlans/Barcelona), Hugo Lloris (France/Tottenham), Dusan Tadic (Serbia/Ajax), Kylian Mbappe (France/PSG), Trent Alexander-Arnold (England/Liverpool), Donny van de Beek (Netherlands/Ajax), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon/Arsenal), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Germany/Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Juventus), Alisson (Brazil/Liverpool), Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands/Juventus), Karim Benzema (France/Real Madrid), Georginio Wijnaldum (Netherlands/Liverpool), Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands/Liverpool), Bernardo Silva (Portugal/Manchester City), Son Heung-min (South Korea/Tottenham), Robert Lewandowski (Poland/Bayern Munich), Roberto Firmino (Brazil/Liverpool), Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria/Manchester City), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium/Manchester City), Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal/Napoli), Antoine Griezmann (France/Barcelona), Mohamed Salah (Egypt/Liverpool), Eden Hazard (BEL/Real Madrid), Marquinhos (Brazil/Paris-SG), Raheem Sterling (Eengland/Manchester City), Joao Félix(Portugal/Atletico Madrid)

Women

Sam Kerr (Austria/Chelsea), Ellen White (England/Manchester City), Nilla Fischer (Sweden/Linkopings), Amandine Henry (France/Lyon), Lucy Bronze(England/Lyon), Alex Morgan (USA/Orlando Pride), Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands/Arsenal), Dzsenifer Marozsan (Germany/Lyon), Pernille Harder (Denmark/Wolfsburg), Sarah Bouhaddi (France/Lyon), Megan Rapinoe (USA/Reign FC), Lieke Martens (Netherlands/Barcelona), Sari van Veenendal (Netherlands/Atletico Madrid), Wendie Renard (France/Lyon), Rose Lavelle(USA/Washington Spirit), Marta (Brazil/Orlando Pride), Ada Hegerberg (Norway/Lyon), Kosovare Asllani (Sweden/CD Tacon), Sofia Jakobsson (Sweden/CD Tacon), Tobin Heath (USA/Portland Thorns)

 

 

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
Power: 261hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1,750-4,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 10.5L/100km
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh129,999 (VX Luxury); from Dh149,999 (VX Black Gold)

UAE's role in anti-extremism recognised

General John Allen, President of the Brookings Institution research group, commended the role the UAE has played in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

He told a Globsec debate of the UAE’s "hugely outsized" role in the fight against Isis.

"It’s trite these days to say that any country punches above its weight, but in every possible way the Emirates did, both militarily, and very importantly, the UAE was extraordinarily helpful on getting to the issue of violent extremism," he said.

He also noted the impact that Hedayah, among others in the UAE, has played in addressing violent extremism.

MATCH INFO

Tottenham 4 (Alli 51', Kane 50', 77'. Aurier 73')

Olympiakos 2 (El-Arabi 06', Semedo')

WHAT IS A BLACK HOLE?

1. Black holes are objects whose gravity is so strong not even light can escape their pull

2. They can be created when massive stars collapse under their own weight

3. Large black holes can also be formed when smaller ones collide and merge

4. The biggest black holes lurk at the centre of many galaxies, including our own

5. Astronomers believe that when the universe was very young, black holes affected how galaxies formed

Scores in brief:

Day 1

New Zealand (1st innings) 153 all out (66.3 overs) - Williamson 63, Nicholls 28, Yasir 3-54, Haris 2-11, Abbas 2-13, Hasan 2-38

Pakistan (1st innings) 59-2 (23 overs)

MATCH DETAILS

Manchester United 3

Greenwood (21), Martial (33), Rashford (49)

Partizan Belgrade 0

Tips for job-seekers
  • Do not submit your application through the Easy Apply button on LinkedIn. Employers receive between 600 and 800 replies for each job advert on the platform. If you are the right fit for a job, connect to a relevant person in the company on LinkedIn and send them a direct message.
  • Make sure you are an exact fit for the job advertised. If you are an HR manager with five years’ experience in retail and the job requires a similar candidate with five years’ experience in consumer, you should apply. But if you have no experience in HR, do not apply for the job.

David Mackenzie, founder of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones Middle East

The bio

Favourite book: Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer

Favourite quote: “The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist

Favourite Authors: Arab poet Abu At-Tayyib Al-Mutanabbi

Favourite Emirati food: Luqaimat, a deep-fried dough soaked in date syrup

Hobbies: Reading and drawing

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming
Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics
Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

The biog

Name: Timothy Husband

Nationality: New Zealand

Education: Degree in zoology at The University of Sydney

Favourite book: Lemurs of Madagascar by Russell A Mittermeier

Favourite music: Billy Joel

Weekends and holidays: Talking about animals or visiting his farm in Australia

THE SPECS

Jaguar F-Pace SVR

Engine: 5-litre supercharged V8​​​​​​​

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Power: 542bhp​​​​​​​

Torque: 680Nm​​​​​​​

Price: Dh465,071

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

MATCH INFO

Wales 1 (Bale 45+3')

Croatia 1 (Vlasic 09')

Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations
Edited by Sarah Cleave, Comma Press

$1,000 award for 1,000 days on madrasa portal

Daily cash awards of $1,000 dollars will sweeten the Madrasa e-learning project by tempting more pupils to an education portal to deepen their understanding of math and sciences.

School children are required to watch an educational video each day and answer a question related to it. They then enter into a raffle draw for the $1,000 prize.

“We are targeting everyone who wants to learn. This will be $1,000 for 1,000 days so there will be a winner every day for 1,000 days,” said Sara Al Nuaimi, project manager of the Madrasa e-learning platform that was launched on Tuesday by the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to reach Arab pupils from kindergarten to grade 12 with educational videos.  

“The objective of the Madrasa is to become the number one reference for all Arab students in the world. The 5,000 videos we have online is just the beginning, we have big ambitions. Today in the Arab world there are 50 million students. We want to reach everyone who is willing to learn.”

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets

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