NPR’s Muslim Artists, Now series attempts to close the gap in our understanding of Islam and the cultures that it has helped shape. The series reveals how art can change the perspective of the Muslim community in the world at large.
Few things are more widely misrepresented than Islam. This stems from the medias portrayal focusing solely on extremists who do not represent the religion accurately. Islam in general receives an unfair perception worldwide; however, efforts such as NPR’s series on Muslim artists seeks to initiate a conversation about how we can bridge the gap in our understanding and educate ourselves on the experiences of those who practice the religion.
Art offers a medium for cultural understanding unlike anything else. Many people use art as a means to discuss their lives and personal narratives, which creates a space to change the way we acknowledge people and places we’re unfamiliar with. Western perception of Islam and its values is overdue for a refresher course in the actual teachings of the religion in order to move us away from a biased representation of a religion that has followers from numerous cultures. Artists, musicians, and writers have come together—intentionally or not—in order to educate the masses on experiences of modern Muslims and to provide a haven in which to discuss the common misconceptions.
NPR’s now-running series addresses how the art world is shifting the conversation from fundamental otherness to unconditional understanding.
Their first eight-minute installment was released August third and is titled, “Opulent And Apolitical: The Art Of The Met’s Islamic Galleries”.  In this, the question is asked: What is Islamic art? In the last ten years, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has dedicated fifteen galleries to Islamic art alone. The British Museum in London and The Louvre are among other notable names that have been investing in new galleries devoted to Islamic art. All of this has come together to attract people to learning about the roots of Islam, its teachings, and history. Listen in as NPR correspondent Bilal Qureshi discusses the implications of these galleries opening worldwide with the Met’s curator for Islamic Art, Sheila Canby.
The second installment was released August seventh and is titled, “’May Allah Bless France!’ Tells The Story Of France’s Hip-Hop Gatekeepers”. Abd Al Malik is a best-selling French rapper, poet, acclaimed author, and now filmmaker. In the same vein as Boys in the Hood and Menace to Society, May Allah Bless France! tells the story of Malik’s life, growing up in the “depressed suburbs” of France along with millions of other Muslims. Because of their religion, they are other-ed and marginalized, and don’t ‘feel’ French. Malik suggests that if you’re to understand the French Muslim experience, you have to listen to French hip-hop. France has the second biggest market for hip-hop music outside of the States, and the majority of the top artists in France are Muslim. Malik’s hope with the release of his new film is to educate the Muslim community and the French establishment to meet in the middle, and learn to accept and understand each other. In this piece, NPR uncovers the deeply political nature of hip-hop music in France and its influence on the Muslim community through their interview with Abd Al Malik.
The third installment was released August fourteenth and is titled, “Muslim Feminists Rewrite Boundaries On The Street And In The Home”. One of the most widely criticized practices by some followers of Islam is their treatment of women. NPR’s Lynn Neary interviews two female Muslim writers who are openly critiquing their religion. Mona Eltahawy, author of Headscarves and Hymens, has become a revered Muslim feminist. She says that given the strict laws hindering the freedom of women in Saudi Arabia women have little choice but “to lose [their minds] or become [feminists].” Having moved to Saudi Arabia from London at the age of fifteen, Eltahawy has made it her goal to abolish what she calls the “Trifecta of Oppression”: by the state, on the streets, and in the home. Author of The Upstairs Wife, Rafia Zakara, is also fighting for the crucial reclamation of the identity of the modern Muslim woman. She speaks of the loneliness of being a Muslim woman in the art world, and the general misapprehension of her culture. NPR explores how female Muslim writers are using their own words to inspire the kind of change they hope will make life better for women around the world.
This series promises to be a captivating discussion of the slowly but surely changing perception of Islam and the cultures that it has shaped worldwide.
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