Friday 20 September 2019: Pre-Khutbah Talk – Celebrating our Heritage: Exploring Islamic Cultural and Traditional Practice Through Visual Arts by Thania Petersen

Friday 20 September 2019: Pre-Khutbah Talk – Celebrating our Heritage: Exploring Islamic Cultural and Traditional Practice Through Visual Arts by Thania Petersen

I am overwhelmed with joy to be talking here today. Believe it or not, I have been talking to you for a long time and when this invitation came, I felt as though someone here has finally heard me.

And that is the power of art, it has the incredible ability to reach people of all ages and races. It surpasses language and cultural barriers, it is the language of the heart.

Throughout our history on this earth we have created the most extraordinary objects from paintings to building mosques, poetry, calligraphy, sculpture… the list is endless. These artworks outlive each generation and in some way or another fulfills the next generation with stories of who we were, enriching them with lessons and information which in turn become their heritage.

Art is not only used to make things beautiful but also to challenge the norms, to protest – one of Apartheid’s biggest downfalls was not keeping a closer check on the artists whose work and voices travelled internationally exposing the exploits of their people. Helping to reveal our struggles internationally. Whilst everywhere else in the world artists were being locked up and banished, here we flourished, thanks to the Apartheid white man’s lack of refined taste (lol)!

 

So for me Art is a tool I use to defend what I love. In the visuals there is a voice and that voice has no rules, it does not have to be politically correct or polite. It doesn’t even need to be right or wrong… sometimes it can simply say ‘stop! Please let’s talk about this!’

It is heritage month and as I was preparing this talk I quickly googled the word ‘heritage’ as we do for everything! Although most of my earlier work highlights our past, what I would like to talk about today is not the past but the present. We all know what we have inherited but I am not referring to our Cultural Traditions – our Cape Malay, Indian, British, Khoi heritage and Nationalities. What we have inherited transcends all those things and gives us the space to be a part of the entire human race. We have inherited Islam and to this there are no limits, within Islam we are not confined to any race, tribe or nationality. Islam is an Anti-Separatist Movement, it is Anti-Apartheid, it is Anti-Colonialism, Anti- Nationalism. Here we are all equal,  it is this notion of Equality that has attracted countless people to embrace Islam since the very beginning. It offers liberation and freedom.

Yet I wonder if we have become confused or lost sight of what it is we have inherited? Islam is a religion which I understand to be Tolerant, Diverse, and Inclusive. It is ultimately LOVE. Our divine love has filled our spirits for centuries and carried us through all our trials and tribulations. Islam had kept us focused and enabled us to overcome our darkest hours in the Cape. Through prayer, thikr and ritual we remained dignified, united and happy. However in recent years I have been deeply saddened by the loss of friends and family from my life, people I love dearly, who have become indoctrinated by Wahhabi teachings. I am sad that some of our spiritual leaders are driving cars that could feed a village for years and yet we depend on these people to educate us on humility and kindness. I feel sad that we go to Mecca and we blindly celebrate the commercialization of Islam by proudly taking photos in front of the clocktower towering over our Kaaba. Our Kaaba which is beginning to disappear amongst the money making racket Consuming our sacred land. I am saddened that more and more of us aspire to the decadence and imagery of Saudis.

So, my work now says to you, Let’s please talk about this. Do we need to stop and ask ourselves “are we looking after our gift? Are we looking after our heritage?”

 
 
   

These rugs together formed part of a show titled Iqra.

When the Angel Jibreel descended to the Earth to command our Prophet (saw) to READ, it was a time like now, when women were being abused, people had no rights, children were

   

enslaved and abused, the ruling class exploited the working classes, material decadence and perverse appetites took precedence over everything else. Society was spiritually baron.

Are we not back there today? Perhaps it is time for us to READ now. Perhaps the Angel Jibreel uttered that command to us too. We need to remind ourselves of the true essence of our belief. Take ourselves back to the simple act of Reading. Don’t take for granted that what your child is learning at Muslim school is correct – read his work, be a pro-active Muslim, educate and choose what you accept as the truth. We have been given our intellect to protect us. Have faith in your ability to know the difference between right and wrong!

Things are being lost and we need to recollect and reconnect with our truths. We need to stitch it back together in the same way these rugs have been sewn laboriously, without sleep, one thread at a time. 

The musallah to me is a symbol of a sacred space, when we are seated on our musallah and in prayer, this is our most intimate time with Allah. No one else is present, it is an absolute private and spiritual moment. I chose to make these musallahs to reference that intimate moment, the infiltration of the blackness as it eats at the colour, practically erasing the life of the rug, refers to the creeping in of dangerous political ideologies such as Wahhabism into our hearts.

   

Islamophobia is on the rise globally and I use these rugs to try and make people out there understand that what they think Islam is, is not Islam. As I ask us all to read, I ask them too. I translated Iqra into several different languages as I believe Islam speaks to everyone. I beg them out there to read so they can eliminate their prejudice and fear against us who only know LOVE.

   

As a Muslim community we need to take responsibility for what is happening without and within our ummah. I do not have any answers only questions for you. How are we, in our daily behavior contributing to the destruction of Islam?

This image (above) interrogates the notion of a constructed Cultural Muslim Identity.

Is this what it means to be a Muslim? Are we assisting in the commodification of Islam by literally buying into this? What for? How does it make you feel? Is it okay to brand our products with religious referencing? I ask myself everyday if I too am guilty of this.

We are all struggling, no one is getting things 100% right and that is okay. But we need to talk and support each other and try and create a safer world for our soul, together. Adopting a Saudi identity and style will not lead us to Allah. Most women I speak to only wear these garments for comfort and convenience, but perhaps we should not. Perhaps it shows an allegiance to a State or an Ideology we do not adhere to. Like carrying a flag.

In fact, I dare to say, stay away from anything Saudi. They are responsible for funding the literature and propaganda that is destroying our inheritance, preying on weak and vulnerable societies. From my understanding, Allah accepts us as we are, you do not have to change your cultural identity to be a Muslim, you do not have to adhere to a certain style or project a particular image. This will distract you from the fundamental qualities of Islam. The laws in Islam are there only to assist us in being the best human beings we can be by liberating us from Material Culture. Yet I fear that our spiritual practices may have been hijacked by Material Ideas of holiness.

Materialism comes in many shapes and forms and it keeps us so busy that we fail to see that what we have inherited may well be slipping away from us.

 

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