Friday, June 22, 2012

'Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World' - A Review


If you are in the US, by all means mark your calendar on
Friday, July 6th 2012 
9.00 p.m. EST 
and tune in to PBS
for a mind-opening, heart-soothing and pretty documentary by Unity Productions Foundation (UPF):
'Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World'

Having watched a sneak preview of the film, I have confidence that come 6th of July, UPF will have achieved another milestone for its mission of creating peace through the media.

Narrated by Susan Sarandon, this 90-minute documentary cleverly weaves the passage of time, with people, places and beautiful objects - the when, who, where and what of Islamic arts since the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Viewers will get to 'travel' to significant places in Islamic civilization such as the Dome of Rock, the grand mosques in Istanbul, Djenne Mosque in Mali, Alhambra and Taj Mahal, while exploring Islamic arts from five angles - 'The Word', space, ornaments, color and water.

One of the two Executive Producers, Alex Kronemer said: "We hope watching the film will result in Muslims feeling a source of pride as well as celebration in their heritage." That's true, but I am more proud to see how passionately the non-Muslim art experts elaborate the intricate beauties of Islam, reflected even in simple objects such as a calligraphic bowl and a reed pen. They offer a fresh and refreshing perspective into the Islamic world and have opened my eyes and mind to my own religion. The film reminds me of how great Islam used to be and provokes a deeper introspection into the quality and reality of present day Islam.

If it was directed and produced by a Muslim, the film might not achieve its intended purpose. It might become too obvious and predictable. Robert Gardner's creative selection of art objects and contents has allowed the film to have a more neutral and palatable offering for both Islam-friendly and skeptical non-Muslim viewers.

I am especially delighted that Sufism gets a mention in the documentary. And the definition of Sufism in West Africa as quoted in the film should be true elsewhere - "That it is tolerant in nature...that people can have their own experience and celebrate their own experience with God. That we need to make space where we can be alone with our own thoughts, that we are a small speck of this universe."

Islamic art, in fact anything that is beautiful in this physical realm is a reflection of the attribute of God, the Divine Beauty - Al Jamal. Perhaps Muslims of the past could achieve a high level of artistic beauty because they understood the reality of Islam better, they understood servitude better that they had become a pure receptacle of His Divine Beauty, that they had become a truly clean mirror reflecting God's beauty amazingly.

Watch the film, allow yourself to be mesmerized by beauty which transcends faith. We may still continue to be divided, but at the end of the day it's not our struggles that will be cherished, but it is our common creativity and intelligence that will flourish and stay beautiful for the longest time.

Beginning 6th July 2012, you may purchase the film's DVD from for US$19.95
Thanks to Arshiya Kapadia for the sneak preview.

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