“Though a living cannot be made at art, art makes life worth living. It makes living, living. It makes starving, living. It makes worry, it makes trouble, it makes a life that would be barren of everything — living. It brings life to life.

“Art is the response of the living to life. It is therefore the record left behind by civilization”

-John Sloan

I came by my parents after attending an arts conference today and asked my dad a question: what’s the background of why so many Muslims are averse or have a deep fear/suspicion of the arts – especially of what they consider “Western” arts? Why did my daughter’s class at the Islamic school she attends have to cancel their field trip to see a play because some parents were concerned about the music/singing in it? Isn’t singing and the seeking of ways to communicate via rhythms an inherent part of the human psyche – so evident is it in every indigenous culture?

My poor dad, nursing his thigh – bruised from playing an over-excited game of floor hockey with my son, began listing all the great achievements of Muslims in the field of the arts from the golden era of Islam. I, so bubbly from being around other artsy people all day, pressed further: but what about now? Why is there a virtual slugfest in the comments section of too many online clips featuring artistic Muslims? Isn’t the seeking of ways to communicate via visual means also an inherent part of the human psyche – so evident is it in the cave paintings of Lascaux?

My poorer dad, shifting his weight in the sofa, began reviewing some of the protectionist thinking that began to infiltrate after the golden era of Islam. I, fidgety to get started on writing for a performance project for school now after getting inspiration from the conference, kept on: but why is this protectionist thinking so prevalent here and now? Why is it that Muslim artistic efforts are too often evaluated for how “western” or that other dreaded word, “modern” or sometimes conversely, how backwardly “pagan” they are? Isn’t it natural to communicate via the cultural currency one’s human psyche grows up in – so evident is it from the development of Muslim music such as qawwalis…and, yes, rap and, yes, country and, yes, alternative/indie (er, no, for that particular genre, we’re still in the early development stages)?

My now suffering dad, suddenly stood up and hobbled up the stairs…to get me an answer to my questions? He came back down surprisingly fast (I guess he was inspired himself by all the artsy talk – I know my dad’s a poet at heart) and pointed to something he had said in an article years and years ago: Muslims have been stuck in the unfortunate mode of defining themselves by how different they are from those around them for too long now. So, too many things are filtered through the lens of if it’s part of this culture, then it’s not part of our culture.

I was satisfied – for now. I decided to spare my dad my final question: why did some parents at an Islamic School protest the reading aloud of The Three Little Pigs because pork is haram? Isn’t it normal to read a book not eat it?

I’ll save that one for after hockey season.

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