Issue 29 PREVIEW: The Islam Issue
Editors’ Letter As a contender for a subject to explore in words and pictures, Islam was at once too obvious and too risky. “The Question of Islam” was our starting point – in determining what we wanted to know and what others had already explored.
It’s for predominantly negative reasons that Islam, and its attendant politicised incarnation, Islamism, is rarely out of the headlines. While all religions succumb to extremism, it is the specific tactics of Islamist fundamentalists – suicide bombings – that have bred a culture of fear in which the religion and terror have become conflated. We, however, wanted to look at Islam in its myriad manifestations – cultural, political, social and spiritual.
As a spiritual path, Islam leads its pilgrims on the hajj, as Newsha Tavakolian shares with us in her photographic essay of her own journey to Mecca. And in Bangladesh, Munem Wasif observes his family and friends as they live their own interpretation of faith. Although apostasy is the ultimate act of impiety for Muslims, Islam welcomes converts. Paul Hayward looks at the appeal of Islam for black American sportsmen from when Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, while white British convert Kevin Brice looks at media misreadings of his own indepth research into the subject.
While the UAE offers its subjects the most opulent spaces for prayer, as photographed by David Cowlard, in countries that are traditionally not Muslim, it can be difficult to find the space to speak the word of God. The building of mosques is not yet banned in Italy yet rigid rules and regulations have led to a culture of makeshift mosques springing up on the edge of towns. In France, although Halal butchery is in the ascendant, life for French or immigrant Muslims is far from easy – the niqab and burka are banned there, as of April 2011. Yet in one of the UK’s whitest regions, South Shields, a boarding house for a community of Yemeni seamen provided a home from home. Integration and the multiculturalism policy, now belittled by the present UK government, is explored thoroughly by Ziauddin Sardar.
The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia at the beginning of this year took us all by surprise. The speed at which other countries began to oppose their governments, in what has become known as the “Arab Spring”, has secured these movements their own moment in history. As well as featuring the brilliant and brave work of three photographers – Ivor Prickett, Mads Nissen and Christian Als – from Egypt, Libya and Algeria respectively, we questioned the role of Islam in these uprisings, or whispers of dissent. We turned to one of the world’s most highly respected Middle East correspondents, Robert Fisk, for an answer. In our Report section, historical context is added with the photographs of Hengameh Golestan, of women protesting for their rights in 1979.
In two of the world’s poorest countries, however, a creeping Islamification is apparent. Sana’a, the exquisitely beautiful capital city of Yemen has played host to a spate of bombings targeted at tourists, in a concerted campaign by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. In Somalia, Jehad Nga has witnessed a total cover-up by women in the six years he has been photographing the country, for fear of public stonings carried out by Islamist groups like al-Shabaab. In Pakistan, too, Islam is not just the state religion, but an ideology harnessed to oppress. Madiha R Tahir writes from her home in Pakistan on the pernicious blasphemy laws and Malu Halasa brings us banned Iranian art.
Elsewhere in the magazine, we are proud to feature elegant fiction by Aamer Hussein, excerpts from Kenan Malik’s sharp book From Fatwa to Jihad and Leila Ahmed’s study of the veil as worn by American Muslims, as well as an exclusive interview with the extraordinarily prescient photographer Abbas, who has been investigating the subject of Islam and militant Islam through his camera since 1984.
We are approaching the subject of Islam from the only perspective we can: from a Western viewpoint. In this way, we are of course limited. Yet how Islam is seen by the West, how it is represented by writers, photographers, artists and the media at large, is critical. We hope that our selection of work by a wide variety of practitioners sheds a little light on what has become one of the most hotly debated and divisive topics of our times.
Issue 29 s/s 2011: The Islam Issue is out now!
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