The following is an installment in our long-term series ‘I’m Islamphobic, And Here’s Why You Should Be Too.’ For further reading you can check out the first article in the series, ‘Mohammed and the Jews.’
What’s one thing that all Islamic countries have in common? Well, there are many, but they all seem to stem from the underlying issue that Islamic society has not progressed since its conception in the 7th century.
When your religion is the law, and your religion demonizes freedom of thought, how can anybody get anywhere? When your religion condones murdering any dissidents of your tribal way of life and archaic beliefs in the words of a warmongering pedophile, how can any academic accomplishments of merit come from your society? Theocracy and Islam are deeply linked, and for the sake of clarity we will further discuss theocracy in an upcoming article in this series. For now – the Islamic opposition to free expression, enforced by the law being Islam itself – have created a situation like a snake eating its own tail, keeping Islam primitive and tribal and preventing its own renaissance and reconstruction, resulting in societal values incompatible with basic Western values such as freedom.
Have you ever noticed before how heavily Christians and Jews are involved in the fine arts, and that there never seem to be any Muslim artists on the Billboard Top 40? I started reading up on Islamic artwork a little while ago, and was pretty horrified with what I found: That there is no such thing as Islamic artwork.
What led me to this belief? First of all, I decided to look at some Islamic artwork and try to get my own sense of what it was all about. And I was confused from the very beginning. Islamic artwork seemed to be very centered on decorative crafts and architecture – things that provoke no thought and depict no imagery. It utilizes beautiful patterns and colors and occasionally word that the translations suggest are about the religion. All of it seems to make no statement, only to serve as decoration and literal representation of the words of their Prophets. There is no painting or sculpture to speak of the way Christian artists produced work like this:
Instead, most “Islamic” artwork tends to follow these lines:
Now there’s nothing wrong with the aesthetic quality of what is pictured above. I quite like the patterns, especially what is seen inside the mosques. But it does not carry the same moral weight as what is depicted above. Think I’m exaggerating about all Islamic artwork looking more or less this way? Do a quick Google search yourself.
I then tried to find a good definition of what constitutes Islamic artwork. They all mostly resembled something like this – taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s article on the subject.
The term Islamic art not only describes the art created specifically in the service of the Muslim faith (for example, a mosque and its furnishings) but also characterizes the art and architecture historically produced in the lands ruled by Muslims, produced for Muslim patrons, or created by Muslim artists. As it is not only a religion but a way of life, Islam fostered the development of a distinctive culture with its own unique artistic language that is reflected in art and architecture throughout the Muslim world.
Sounds vague, huh? While Christian and Jewish artwork tends to consist of works that directly depicts or serves the religion, Islamic artwork is just – anything created by a Muslim person? A Jewish man believing Christianity had more commercial appeal and would draw a higher profit wrote the song ‘Spirit in the Sky’ – by this definition, this would make the song a piece of Jewish artwork instead of a piece of disingenuous Christian artwork. It doesn’t really make any sense. Let’s look at another explanation offered by the BBC:
The essentials of Islamic art
- Includes all Muslim art, not just explicitly religious art
- Islamic art seeks to portray the meaning and essence of things, rather than just their physical form
- Crafts and decorative arts are regarded as having full art status
- Painting and sculpture are not thought of as the noblest forms of art
- Calligraphy is a major art-form
- Writing has high status in Islam
- Writing is a significant decoration for objects and buildings
- Books are a major art-form
- Geometry and patterns are important
- People do not appear in specifically religious art
This reinforces the notion that what constitutes Islamic artwork is incredibly vague, and that paintings and sculptures are frowned upon under Islam – while crafts and things that make your house look pretty are perfectly okay. The ‘Calligraphy’ suggested is indeed not original and thought-provoking works, but Qu’ranic verses and other non-controversial musings on the religion.
Another interesting thing I learned around this point in my research is that many art museums don’t carry ‘Islamic art exhibits’ because the term is too vague and difficult to classify. I did find some sculptures labeled as ‘Islamic artwork,’ but most of them were dated before the time Islam was prominent in the Middle East (5th and 6th centuries).
Further digging revealed the roots of these artistic tendencies: Qu’ranic verses and other sayings of Mohammed (Praise Be Unto Him) himself condemning artwork. There are plenty of verses and hadiths condemning any kind of representation of imagery in artwork, but these were my favorites (both are hadiths of Mohammed [Praise Be Unto Him], the translations found on a scholarly article by Tasha Brandstatter)
On the day of judgment artists will be asked to give life to their own artistic works, and when they fail to do so, they will be severely punished
Those who will be most strictly punished by God on the Day of judgment will be the painters and sculptors
I love this. The guy you worship saying, ‘forget about the murderers and rapists, our God really has it in for artists. First and foremost, THOSE are the fuckers who need to go.’
Of course many modern Muslims not living under oppressive Islamic regimes reject these notions now and see them as outdated, but movements to destroy artwork and sculpture still run rampant under radical Islam. A fatwa issued in 2006 called for the destruction of all statues, prompting concerns that thousands of years of Egyptian artwork would be destroyed. The Taliban also notably destroyed Buddhist statues dating back to the 2nd and 4th centuries.
Free expression and daring artwork is needed to help move a society forward – to provoke individuals to think for themselves, to help the voices of the oppressed be understood by the masses, to criticize old ways of thinking and introduce better ones. Such a thing has not been able to transpire in the Middle East since Islam became the dominant religion. It is also important from a historical point of view – throughout history we have used the artwork of different groups of people to understand their values and their struggles. A religion that produces none of its own work, and seeks to destroy all preexisting artwork (as Mohammed [Praise Be Unto Him] was known for doing in his time), is erasing its own history and silencing those who remember it, making sure everything stays the same as it had always been.
It really is no wonder that compared to the rest of the world, they seem like they’re living in a distant, bloody past.
-Senior Editor A.
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