Muslim American Artists' Response to 9/11

In 2002, Daisy Khan (ASMA) produced the largest public Muslim response to the September 11th attacks called “Reflections at a Time of Transformation: Muslim Artists Reach Out to New Yorkers.” Over 600 people from the tri-state area attended this event, held at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The exhibit displayed specially- created works of art by a diverse group of 22 visual artists, poets, sculptors and musicians.

This event was featured on a PBS Documentary “Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet” in 2003.

The Milder,Gentler Side of Islam
By Hisham Aidi

With snow flurrying outside the dusky chapel, the world renowned Senegalese vocalist, Mor Dior Bamba, stepped up to the podium at St. John the Divine, and in a stirring, trilling manner delivered the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer.

The splendid tapestry of the Islamic Diaspora was on full display for the 600 or so culture enthusiasts who filled The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Saturday, January 19th, 2002 for an afternoon of performances and exhibitions titled, Reflections at a Time of Transformation: American Muslim Artists Reach Out To New Yorkers.”

Afghan children’s drawings (part of an American-sponsored children’s art program) adorned the walls along with Mohamed Zakariya’s calligraphy, Totanji’s Women in Prayer charcoal, a canvas of the burning towers, Mumtaz Hussain’s sculpture of ground zero, Ovissi’s Horse & dove painting, Aziz Rahman & Shekaiba Wakili’s photos & scenes of World Trade, Michael Green’s silkscreen, Zarina Hashmi’s  prints of the cosmo all under Dolly Unithan’s canopy of more than 150 floating doves symbolizing peace.

Brian Lehrer of NPR Radio served as master of ceremony for a two hour performance, introducing speakers, poets and musicians.

Muslim Jazz Guitarist James Blood Ulmer, Trumpet player Barry Danielian accompanied with drummer Idris Muhammad and Violinist Dilshad & Summer Hussain interpreted compositions written in response to 9/11.

Poet Daniel Abdul Hayy Moore in his composition Music Space recited “This is the space of the silence of souls at their moment of release…”

Michael Wolfe in his Bearers said “and now they step down through a gash… that was a door once, ash under foot and glass about their heads in dusty halos…”

Afghan poet, Zakaraya Sherzad recited, “aspiring hope and peace in your rememberance, burning carrying the torch of life for once more…”

Salma Arastu dileaneated the anguish and confusion felt by Muslims:

I am humanity…lips are trembling, I am shocked…, dumb…,
I am humanity…, Insecure…, uncertain… In twenty first century..
I am helpless…, amazed at my own rivals…, among my own people.”

The art and music at St. John’s represented much of the Muslim world and its diaspora, but the turnout reflected the mainstream and the uppercrust of Muslim New York. The Muslim crowd of African Americans, Arab Americans, south Asians Americans, affluent immigrants and the progeny of affluent immigrants mingled and chatted with peoples of other faiths over the buffets of stuffed grape leaves, figs, samosas and Turkish Delight in a setting of glistening Samovars, palm trees and dried pomegranates.

The gathering at St. John’s seemed decidedly apolitical, skirting controversy, though organized by the Muslim community’s potentially most influential segment. Moderation and gentleness were the recurring themes.

Testimonials

We have invited you to sample some American Islamic expressions of art.  Through this medium, a rarely used window will open for you to glimpse into the House of Islam.  The greatest moments in Islamic history, those epochs when Islamic civilization peaked, were periods when the arts were highly prized.  For the modern Muslim, a crisis in the area of art has contributed to perhaps the profoundest crisis Muslims face today, a crisis of the soul.”

Imam Feisal

This is a graceful, elegant and classy event organized by those representative of the silent majority of  New York’s Muslim community, an event that exemplifies the spirit of the Muslim Ummah or community, at its best,” said Yasemin Saib, a Turkish American and one of organizers of the event. “The fact that women organized this event is what gave it the graceful touch,” she adds.

We need to show the soft, gentle side of Islam,” said California-born calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, who designed the US postage stamp commemorating the Muslim holiday, Eid. “Enough with the harshness, the revenge and the crackpot conspiracy theories. The Prophet has said that ‘there shall be no harm for harm, no revenge for revenge.‘”

God is mild and fond of mildness and gives to the mild what he does not give to the harsh,” said Daisy Khan, Director of ASMA, citing another Prophetic tradition reinforcing the gentle approach.