Innallaha ma3a Sabireen
A comment from someone who visited:
Subhan Allah. I went to this exhibition yesterday and it was truly spectacular. I expected to be captivated by the beauty of the objects, but I didn’t realise that it would end up being a kind of spiritual pilgrimage. I was totally overwhelmed.The sensation of being in a space with so many things that had been made with such devotion and love of Allah was amazing. There were so many Qu’rans and illuminated manuscripts. I thought about how they had been so carefully transcribed centuries ago during a period when the beauty of Islam was as evident to the people who encountered it as it’s “art” appears today. I stood in a darkened room directly underneath a dome of lights made in imitation of the chandeliers in mosques such as the Blue Mosque. I felt drawn to the centre of the space and I gazed up at a piece of embroidered calligraphy that had covered the Ka’aba in the seventeenth century. As I stood there, the adhan began to play and I felt myself dissolving. Around me people spoke in soft tones about the countries that the exhibits came from. I had a vague awareness that I was in an art gallery, a lone Muslim woman contemplating what we have lost and simultaneously being given an awareness of what we have. I swayed slowly, comforting my baby and I cried. Standing there in the middle of a crowd, I let myself fall into the beauty of the moment and I cried, not caring that others could see me. I felt that I could stand there forever.
On the flight home, I contemplated the lack of a Muslim presence in the gallery. Here was a showing of the finest private collection of Islamic artifacts in the world, why were there not droves of Muslim’s in the gallery? In the time that I was there, I saw one other woman in hijab, one. The night before, I had visited Lakemba for the first time and I was struck by it’s drabness and how out of place I felt. I am cautious about expressing these feelings. Being an educated white woman, of course visiting Art Galleries is something I love and feel comfortable doing. Many would argue that the struggle to survive in a difficult world would take precedence for many Muslim immigrants in Sydney’s not so affluent and therefore “drab” suburbs. But there once was a time where appreciation of aesthetics was understood as part of worship, the simple beauty of early Islamic calligraphy or masjids built from mud, were not things reserved for the wealthy. Objects of everyday life, cups, plates, were made with love and a focus on the Divine. There was Baraka in such things and I felt it yesterday.
I have not felt it in ugly Besser Brick buildings, praying with a broken pinball machine behind me. Nor did I feel it at the Eid prayer I attended, where I prayed squished against an upturned table that housed a dirty nappy and blocked the entrance to the toilet. With the loss of a love for beauty in places and objects of worship, we have lost a means of feeling connected to Allah. The irony that one of the most profound moments that I have experienced occurred in an Art Gallery and not a Mosque, is not lost on me. That space was not created by Muslims and it is temporary. In a few months they will take down the lights and the “artifacts” will be put into storage. But in my memory, it will remain a masjid of sorts, a place where objects expressed a love of Allah that was verging on the hypnotic, thus acting as a bridge from one world into the next.
I came home with my faith reaffirmed and a swelling in my heart that motivates me to try in my own small way to recreate part of that lost world. For those of us in Western countries, we don’t see it much. Our surface presentation is kitsch and “drab”, Las Vegas style Mecca’s adorn the walls of kebab houses, but I close my eyes and see myself somewhere in Andalucia, eating from an earthenware bowl that is adorned with devotions to Allah! Perhaps this is partly pretention. But I am so aware of the power that Allah can give objects and it saddens me to see our religion reduced to being expressed in cheap mass production. All we gain from that is an empty shell and the weight of accumulated plastic rubbish.
Aussie Muslim’s, I implore you to see this exhibition! See it and take the immensity of it’s beauty home in your hearts. Then we can use the experience to work to express our religion outwardly in forms that do it and Allah and ultimately ourselves, justice.