Muslim American Artists' Response to 9/11

In January 2002, in the wake of 9/11, Daisy Khan collaborated with a handful of Muslim women to create a Muslim response to 9-11 through culture and the arts.  They identified a growing network of American Muslim artists from all fields including performing, literary, and visual arts and produced a largest public Muslim response to the September 11th called “Reflections at a Time of Transformation: Muslim Artists Reach Out to New Yorkers.

The day-long event held at New York’s Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, brought together 600 people from the tri-state area on a snowy day. The exhibit displayed specially- created works of art by a diverse group of 22 visual artists, poets, photographers, Musicians, writers. sculptors and musicians. Along with Afghan children’s drawings (part of an American-sponsored children’s art program) Muslim Jazz Guitarist James Blood Ulmer, Trumpet player Barry Danielian created new compositions written in response to 9/11.

The walls were adorned with Mohamed Zakariya’s calligraphy, Totanji’s Women in Prayer charcoal, a canvas of the burning towers, Mumtaz Hussain’s sculpture of the skeletal remains of the towers, Nasser Ovissi’s Horse & dove painting, Aziz Rahman & Shekaiba Wakili’s photos & scenes of World Trade, Michael Green’s silkscreen,  Salma Arastu canvas of burning towers, Zarina Hashmi’s prints of the cosmos all under Dolly Unithan canopy of more than 150 floating doves symbolizing peace.

In 2003, millions of viewers saw the event featured in PBS Documentary “Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet.” View the trailer below (start at 3.15 minutes):

The Milder,Gentler Side of IslamBy 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.”

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 remembrance, 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

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.‘”