Friday, September 23, 2005

Spiritual Tree

Muslims have formed a significant presence in Britain since the ninety-sixties onwards and their cultural development and assertion has lead to the emergence of a number of religious and political organisations. The aesthetic sense of the British Muslim community however remains underdeveloped. The Guardian’s art correspondent Jonathon Glancey commented as such in his article ‘The ideal dome show’ (17 June 2002) which appeared as part of the newspaper’s week-long coverage of Muslim Britain. Casting his eye over the variety of mosques that have appeared on the British landscape since the sixties, he lamented the lack of artistic achievement that has characterized Muslim presences in many other parts of the world. This is partly because the language that is dominant at present reflects a political mobilization that has formed the core of the British Muslim experience. This has impeded a holistic and open development of a culture that remains apprehensive in its relations with others. Part of this is due to a lack of self-confidence and part of it is also due to a sheer bewilderment as to the manner of engagement.

The process, however, is dialogic and I wish to disentangle the contentious issue of the public celebration of religion. The local community, either within the public sector or on the ground on the streets of Bradford, has found the assertion of religion difficult to understand. This is partially because religion itself is generally a private matter in British social life. The negative evaluation of Islam and Muslim identity has however resulted in the public assertion of Muslim identity as is common in most identity politics movements. This defiance has the additional effect of compounding an antagonistic relationship and simultaneously eliciting an immediate recognition of negative Muslim associations such as Muslim terrorists and Muslim thuggery. All of this means that the languages of engagement and interaction become increasingly unavailable towards community cohesion.

This is where the language of art can help. Art itself is an expression of what is within and it can, within our local context, become a source of self-confidence and out-reach. Burckhardt’s ‘Fez, City of Islam’ exceptional account of the city of Fez in Morocco and the relationship between its urbanism and art reveals the intrinsic part of art in Islamic life. It is this potential for beauty that we wish to acquire and spread. The prohibition of depictions of life has meant that the visual Islamic arts have concentrated on calligraphy and illumination, and the result has been, as exemplified by the interior of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, that less is more. We have set up an organization called ‘Spiritual Tree’ that seeks to encourage the teaching and practice of traditional Islamic arts. Towards this end, we organized an eight week course over summer in calligraphy and illumination. The pictures below are from an exhibition of the teachers’ and the students’ work. If you are interested, and would like further information, then please send an e-mail to

Efdaluddin Kilic, a master calligrapher from Istanbul, is providing an introduction to the science of calligraphy. Mahmud Manning, a master illuminator, is seated on the right.

An exhibition of the teachers' work completed during their stay in Bradford. This exhibition will remain open to viewing for one more week at Cartwright Hall in Lister Park in Bradford.

An exhibition of the students' work in calligraphy and illumination.

Close-ups of examples of calligraphy and illumination by various students.