by David Wilmsen, TBS contributing
question amongst Arab thinkers simply stated is this: What does
the future hold for culture in our land?
If we think
about it, the word "culture" holds multiple meanings
for each of us. For that reason, I should begin with a definition
of the concept. It is all that a people possesses of beliefs,
concepts, arts, customs, and traditions; these are lodged in
the psyche of all individuals and govern their actions in all
aspects of life, political, economic, social, etc. As such,
culture is what distinguishes any community or nation. Just
as a person can be recognized by the features of his face, so
can the features of a people be recognized in their culture,
especially their arts.
a person with no facial features. Suppose you looked into the
mirror this morning and did not see any features on your face.
The culture and art of a people are the features of its face.
And I am sorry to say that the features of our Arab nation have
been obliterated; they are lost to all of the wellsprings of
our culture and art -- poetry, literature, song, theatre, the
plastic arts, archaeology, and all else.
sure to ask why the features of culture have been obliterated
in our lands. The reasons are many, some political, some economic,
and some religious. I can say briefly that the political reasons
are embodied in the lack of freedom, which is itself the secret
of the creativity of any artist, and the lack of any coherent
national project or great dream for the Arab nation, or even
the hope for a renaissance that might ignite the energies and
creativity of poets, writers, and artists.
part, the economic reasons are simply that in difficult times
art becomes no more than a remunerative vocation rather than
a higher calling. Humans lose their sensitivities, creativity,
and their respect for art in their quest for a crust of bread.
Now to the
reasons of religion. There has been in circulation for long
years the erroneous notion that religion is opposed to art,
or that it sees art as entirety interdicted (haram).
Many a distinguished artist, believing this, has retired, whereas
in truth, religion is innocent of the charge that it repudiates
art. To the contrary, Islam has taken a great interest in the
arts and culture and their influence on refinement of sensitivities
and taste and the development of the psyche and the spirit.
Indeed, the prophet Muhammad endeavored to fix in the community
the importance of culture and the arts. He did this in many
ways, the most obvious of which was through the use of drawing
in making a point. He was also a lover of poetry and he would
receive poets with the warmest of welcomes.
especially well illustrated by the place the poet Hassan Ibn
Thabit held in the affections of the Prophet, who would say
to him, "Address me in verse," and "The Holy
Spirit is with you." He never said things like this to
any of the other Companions; instead he spoke thus to a man
who possessed the power of creativity, thereby endorsing the
enterprise of culture and the arts and serving thought and the
advancement of understanding in the community.
not repudiate earlier culture, it employed it in service of
the new idea it was calling for. Nor did it renounce the mu'allaqat
(pre-Islamic odes), poetry, or the annual poetry competitions
held at the market town of 'Ukaz and other places. It simply
transformed it from an unstructured culture into an advanced
one. It played an enormous role and exercised far-reaching influence
in the establishment of a great civilization, which has lasted
for thousands of years.
speak to us of the prophet David and his voice and his lyre,
the sweetness of which affected even the birds and the mountains.
This is a fine distinction to make, that it was he especially
who possessed such a fine voice. Why he? The age of David was
also an age of widespread advancement in many spheres, from
the creation of a powerful army to the establishment of a moral
order, which would not have succeeded without the element of
art and aesthetics represented by David's voice.
occupies a certain point along the curve of advancement; some
are at the apex of the curve while some are at the nadir. There
are others needing a boost along the curve. I believe this part
of the world is at the beginning of the curve, and we want it
to take a higher position. Simply stated, what is needed are
arts and culture appropriate to the stage it is passing through.
needed are arts and culture that will propel youth toward work,
development, and production. What is needed are arts and culture
that will arouse the energies of youth, because speaking quite
bluntly, I can say that the art that is offered to Arab youth
at present does not fulfill that role at all. To the contrary,
it is driving society toward flaccidity and collapse.
example of this is the video clip. Recorded music is an extraordinarily
affective medium for the human psyche. The history of the Arab
world shows that. In the 1950s, Egypt and many of the other
Arab countries were just at the beginning of their independence
and at the beginning of an age of hope for a complete transformation
of society. Suddenly, the songs became freighted with the ambitions
of the people for the success of the enterprise. For long years
the Arab people responded to these songs, and they live in the
minds of the Egyptian and Arab people even now, because there
was a cause worth singing about. But the video clips look like
an exhibition of pictures in which everything is topsy-turvy.
video clips comprise imported images superimposed on localized
words with no meaning to them. The result is something that
fails to edify the mind while at the same time ruining the aesthetic
sense and the artistic taste of the audience. Many people think
that the greatest problem with the latest video clips is that
they incite the latent appetites of youth, but the way I see
it is that the greatest scandal of current video clips is not
that they arouse desire but that they pervert the aesthetic
needed, then, is that all creative artists employ their art
to drive the wheels of progress in the area.
the relationship between our culture and other world cultures,
we must first recognize that with the information revolution,
the world has become a small village. Whatever happens in the
East truly affects what happens in the West, and it is impossible
to imagine a culture existing closed in upon itself and isolated
from other cultures. Whoever sees the necessity of refusing
to engage with other cultures is living in a cultural coma.
Instead, we should be interacting with other cultures and reaching
understandings with them (as the Quran says: "We have made
you peoples and tribes so that you may know [one another]).
But at the same time, we must watch to see that what we adopt
from other cultures is appropriate for the stage of development
that we are passing through. If it is, then it should propel
us along the curve of development. If it is not, then there
it is meaningless for us to adopt it.
In the end,
I call to all thinkers and artists of the Arab world and I say
to them we want to draw with our own hands the features of the
renaissance of our land.
Amr Khaled is the host of Iqra's Sunaa Al-Hayah
(Life Makers) television program, the head of the programs development
department at ART (Arab Radio & Television), and
founder and chairman of Right Start Foundation International,
based in the UK. He is presently studying for his Ph.D. at Wales
University, UK, with the thesis title, "Islam and Co-Existing
with Others." For more on Amr Khaled, see Amr
Khaled: Broadcasting the Nahda
in TBS 13.
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