Monthly Archives: January 2014

The difference between Islamic and Muslim art

A depiction of the Zodiac at the Turkish & Islamic Art Museum

In the New Year I often sign up for a course (or two) and learn something new. This year I am combing my interest in religion and art by attending a course entitled Mosques, Palaces and Gardens in the Muslim World.  It is fascinating. The course is lecture based with colour slides and hand out sheets with glossaries, further reading and course notes. For me it is filling in certain gaps. I have read a fair few books on Islam, including it’s history. Some of those books have been rather academic but some of what I’ve read has stayed.

The course has ironed out some misconceptions that a lot of people have, including me, about what is allowed in art from a culture coming out of Western Arabia.  As our tutor tells us, the term Islamic art is a false one.  Like any other art there is a difference between religious art and secular art and should be defined as such. Our tutor (who is Muslim, but says she is not a good one!) explained that within Islam many people do not understand this because they have never been told. So the myth that you cannot have figures – human or animal – in art is both confusing and wrong.

It was interesting to see that in the early days even Muhammad was represented in art form. Later it was thought that his face should be veiled  and finally it was not thought right to have any images of the Prophet. This then has been a gradual process. Not only that but there is no problem with animals and people being featured in secular Muslim art. Only religious art (Islamic) is devoid of those images. But certainly there was a crossover and also a borrowing of art techniques from neighbouring Kingdoms including using Christian artists from Byzantium who were experts in mosaics.

This course is a real eye-opener to how Islam progressed and how like Christianity there was a lot of store set by power and wealth. It seems both these strands of the Abrahamic faith  had much in common as they began to amass a following and saw personal benefits. Each seems to get away from the roots of their religion.  If we look at Christianity, it was seen as a good thing when Constantine made  it the official religion but with it came the wealth, the power and the individual.  Constantine wasn’t even baptised until he was on his death bed. He didn’t want to give up his life to God until he had too!

I am looking forward to more weeks of learning about the art and architecture of the Muslim World, including a visit to the V&A Museum in London to see their collection of, ahem, Islamic art!

Laughing at religion

Is it okay to make fun of religion? Last night I watching a programme about the life of Irish comedian Dave Allen. I grew up watching his shows and loved his humour. Dave was brought up a Catholic, moved to the UK where he began life as a comic, initially starting as a Red Coat at Butlins where he performed with others on stage.

Dave’s home life in Ireland seemed very free but the Catholic Church dominated at school. Dave was a free-thinker, something the church didn’t approve of! His comedy shows were littered with jokes, monologues and sketches about religion, particularly the Catholic Church.  Some of these jokes got him into trouble with the viewing public but I never found them offensive.

The Catholic Church has come under fire a lot over the last few years due to abuses to children. The ‘old’ Church was narrow minded and far from being what I would call Christian. Their views and teaching were dogmatic and cruel. I think they messed up the minds of many children who were taught to obey without question or go to hell. I have never had a lot of time for the Catholic Church. They seemed blinkered and not ‘of this world’ at all. Latin American Catholics saw their religion differently. That has been a stumbling block for the Church of Rome but the new Pope seems different.  I like what I see and I think he will be good for the Catholic Church. He seems far more in touch with ordinary people and says some profound things.

I’ve got a little away from my earlier question but I needed a background to work against.  Humour can be quite liberating. In Dave Allen’s case he used his experiences to show some of the hypocrisy of the Church  as well as to see the funny side of life. I don’t believe he was out to insult anyone.  It was all done in great fun and I was never aware that he crossed any lines.  I guess for the times he was active on TV (60-80’s) times were different and perhaps it was a step too far for a few but I also remember watching TV comedy that was racially prejudice using negative language that would be censored today. When I look back on that I am appalled I ever found those programmes funny. These days I cringe at them.

I am not suggesting that we should make derogatory comments about any religion but we should be able to laugh at ourselves and come off our high horse by looking at the world, including religion, from a lighter side. Of course there  is always a line you shouldn’t cross.  Then again, people have different views on where that line is!

I was walking up our high street yesterday and there were two men spouting off, trying to get attention for their views. I didn’t hear all they said but one thing stuck….Jesus was not a member of the Church of England. There was something about Jesus not having anything to do with religion. I think they had a good point! Religion is man made – we made the rules, the hierarchy and much else. Yes, we formed it from the teachings of Jesus but I wonder….if Jesus returned today what would he think? What would he say about what man has done in his name, how the Church has abused their position, gone to war supposedly in his name. Much is done using the name of Jesus/God. Maybe that is religion but it’s not faith – it’s not what Jesus meant.

Back to humour. I cannot speak for other religions.  There have been controversial issues over things said about Islam in humour.  I often think that Muslims find Christians a bit airy-fairy and uncommitted in their faith. They may have a point at times. There seem few Muslim comedians, though the Jewish are quite happy to laugh at themselves and are quite happy to debate faith. They are free-thinkers too. That’s what we should be. Anyone who tells you that this is the way to do it, that is what you think or are not willing to share with you their belief system unless you are a member is not worth listening to. People need to search for themselves, read, learn, observe,  experience and come to their own conclusion.

Sorry, this is a bit of ramble and only my view which has been rolling around in my head. Hopefully some of you will get where I’m coming from!