What never ceases to amaze me are the expressions that people have when they first meet me. Because I'm an exhibiting contemporary artist a lot of time I'll interact with people like curators, museum directors, patrons and such, online or by phone long before I physically meet them. Sometimes I think they expect a wild eyed scraggly beaded man wearing traditional Saudi attire (I'm Egyptian by the way). Or they think that because I'm a visual artist then I'm sort of 'anything goes' hedonistic secularist, fat blunt in one hand and glass or Merlot in the other.
But I'm not, I'm just an American Muslim.
And I'm part of the birth of a new Muslim cultural identity that's truly a historical event to witness. We are the fruit of the American melting pot, where the divisive cultures of our parent's homelands are foreign to us. I do not see color or ethnicity as a hierarchy but as an opportunity, the same opportunity that exists in teaching and learning about each others' religions.
This is the true essence of Islam, that unfortunately has been distorted through people who have monolithic ideals. Yes, we have limitations on what we can and can't do, how much or how little we are permitted to engage with certain aspects of any society. But those parameters are hardly limiting, actually liberating in knowing you are safe to indulge in the permissible.
From time to time I find the challenges of being an American raised Muslim coming more from other Muslims who have not understood the full potential afforded Americans. Yes, I am an artist. My discourse on the world around me is done visually. Mundane details like hairstyle and choice of attire are at times unorthodox. I listen to music when I'm inspired to create the object that I hope will become vehicles of conversation in galleries and museums. I knew this was my future when I went to Hajj, camera in hand, documenting experiences for future audiences. So please, call me Hajji Hippie Arteest.
Again, I'm still a Muslim. These activities are the gifts given to me by my creator, and I use them in pursuit of a better understanding of my religion, and the cultures of my parents' region. An understanding that is not just focused on "westerners" but also critical for Muslims to be introspective of how they are viewed, and why they are sometimes misunderstood.
The good thing is knowing that I'm comfortable and privileged to be part of a generation that is free to distill the hubris of ethnocentric culture from the superstructure of Islam. This is what makes America great.
We skate, we snowboard, we make art, we make music, we fall in love, we slam poetry, we go baggy, we go skinny, we get emo, we get big.
But we also pray, we memorize Quran, we fast, we give in charity, we educate, we represent.
We are the ambassadors of an emerging American Muslim identity, just as rich and full of nuanced subcultures. My niche is art. You'll find me in the mosque after the gallery reception. I hope one day we'll break fast together.
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