In Review: Stories, Journeys and Belonging
“A Journey of Love crystallises the human and aspirational traits of Imam Husayn.”
As Arbaeen approaches it is hoped that a continuous state of introspection from Muharram onwards would spark an internal revolution that quashes all Yazidi traits and enlivens our Husayni qualities to achieve victory. This annual reminder of our obligatory greater jihad is reflected in a series of art pieces currently on display by Intifada Street, an art company founded by artist and activist Muhammad Hamza which gives voice to the untold story of the oppressed.
Journey of Love is an exhibition framed by the 7th century journey of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad(s) to Karbala. It emphasises the Husayni qualities of truth, love, beauty and freedom from oppression. Exploring similar themes and a deeply personal reflection of the inspirational story of Imam Husayn(a), this labour of love also reflects a contemporary struggle.
Journey of Love is on at the Islamic Human Rights Commission until early December.
Sharing Our Stories
At the end of September I was privileged to see the Hijabi Monologues come to London. Based on a secular feminist monologue first shown in the US in 1996, the HM is now an international project that tells of the real life experiences of Muslim women. Using the original uncensored and unfiltered model, it seeks to tell the stories of hijabis that convey a spiritual journey mired by earthly sufferings. Did it succeed? For the most part, yes. The monologues were honest, candid and refreshing. It was heartening to listening to stories unfold that could so easily have been my own. They expressed an experience of isolation, tension and confusion that was often an internalisation of feelings of another’s fear. The performances were convincing and engaging causing me to shudder, laugh and almost cry. A pre-performance conversation with an advisor of the organisation that funded the London play made it apparent that she had questioned the legitimacy of this project being accepted for funding. Her concern was that it did not promote a positive image of Islamic arts and culture which was one of the prerequisites for funding. By the end of the performance she was as convinced, as I was certain, that it was a worthwhile collection of stories that needed to be told.
Where I became disheartened was in the fact that many of the stories were taken from the first US performance in 2006 penned by the original writer and licence holder Sahar Ullah.
The callout earlier this year, and the title, had given the impression that current stories from the UK would be used. In essence, the stories would be relatable but instead narrations from other places were re-contextualised to fit in with our understanding. A story centred on American football was edited with soccer references to suit its new location. For me this was disappointing as was the fact that the retelling of our stories in this format is now under licence.
The Hijabi Monologues are available to view on YouTube
Belonging Black and Muslim in Britain
The experience of being Black and Muslim in Britain is the theme of a series of seven short films that was produced to commemorate Black History Month. Documenting the feelings of Black Muslim men and women of all ages and varying professions and backgrounds, the juxtaposed interviews gave an informal insight into the hearts and minds of the often invisible, unsung and under-represented in the community to which I belong.
I was fortunate to attend the preview screening and Q&A that preceded the online launch of a selection of these short films created to address a lack of faith representation during Black history month in the UK.
Co-producers Saraiya Bah, Sakina Lenoir and Mohammad Mohammad were motivated to collate these experiences in order to reflect a diverse Muslim voice within the African-Caribbean community in order to affirm a heritage through the documenting of oral histories and to consolidate these within the larger narrative of Black and Muslim experience.
Each short film revolved around a pertinent question posed for the sitter to answer directly to camera. “Should faith be a pivotal part of Black History Month?” followed by, “what was the strangest thing you’ve experienced about being Black and Muslim?” This was a light hearted question which highlighted a lack of acceptance of Black Muslim heritage, particularly within the wider Muslim community.
The Dominican author, Junot Diaz, once said: “if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at a cultural level, any reflection of themselves,” a powerful statement which reflects how many who are Black, Muslim or both feel about their place in society.
The screenings will go a long way in educating new audiences about other cultural experiences and getting them to engage. And carving out this new path of representation will create a platform for once isolated groups. In 21st Britain this is unfortunately still necessary in order to dispel racism and Islamophobic thinking. Fundamentally it is important to be seen and heard.
Black and Muslim in Britain is available to view on YouTube
The Place to Be
The Islamic Garden, Stockwood Discovery Centre
Stockwood Discovery Centre, formerly known as Stockwood Craft Museum, is a Park and recreational centre that spans over one square kilometre. Along with its golf course, horse riding facilities and rugby pitch, it houses a museum, art gallery and a variety of themed gardens. With an annual footfall of over 7,000 it is the most popular park in the town.
One of these gardens, the Islamic garden (also known as the Asian garden), is currently being redeveloped and throughout last summer I have been working on a project with the local community in Luton to build a Peace Fountain. The idea grew out of the negative perception that the town has earned from the media and internal issues that exist around a lack of community cohesion.
The Peace Fountain Project was instrumental in countering this by bringing diverse members of the community together to engage in art making and creating a lasting testimony to remind themselves and others of that unity. The project ended with an event to commemorate the International Day of Peace and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the centre.
Stockwood Discovery Centre
London road, Luton LU1 4LX
Open daily from 10am-4pm