Sunday, August 23, 2009

American Qur'an - Art Exhibition

Long Beach artist's illustrations of a new take on Koran

(TERROR: "Sura 44 (A--B)" shows the towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. (Sandow Birk / Catharine Clark Gallery / March 26, 2009)

The response to the story below from LA Times concerns me and here are my notes about it.

"Mohammad Qureshi, an administrator at the Islamic Center of Southern California, had a stronger reaction. "That is not acceptable at all,"

Mr. Qureshi has apparently lived in America and must be familiar with the values of freedom and the politics of the Neocons, apparently he overlooked it and made that call as if he is the God appointed king of Muslims, and that when he says it is not acceptable the artist is going to bow down to him and back off. The Neocons are hungry and looking for fodder and thanks to Qureshi for feeding the vultures for a few more months, now they got nothing to sink their teeth into.

We have to give him the benefit of doubt, he may have said it in a different context, but that is what has been happening with the Neocons. We have to pause and figure out how to handle this art, we can react and mess up every thing or have the patience and figure out a solution.

To be a Muslim is to be a peacemaker, one who seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence.

Please share your ideas, please write, do the spell and grammar check and then post it. Keep it brief - 150-200 Words and no more. Fewer people will read your message if it is long. You can write your comments at:

Mike Ghouse
# # #

Long Beach artist's
illustrations of a new take on Koran

Sandow Birk's 'American Qur'an,' heading to San Francisco and Culver City galleries, breaks away from Islamic tradition to examine the faith through contemporary images.

By Sharon Mizota

August 23, 2009
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There's a long tradition of illustrating scenes from the Bible -- even a version of Genesis by alternative comics master R. Crumb. But the Koran, which Muslims consider to be the holy word of God, has never incorporated images of people or animals, according to Linda Komaroff, curator of Islamic art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"It simply wasn't the kind of thing that would come up," she said, "In Islam, like Judaism, there's one invisible god that's everywhere, that can't be seen and can't even be comprehended." As a result, there was no need to develop figurative imagery for religious purposes. The Koran, said Komaroff, is regularly decorated with geometric or vegetal patterns, but she has seen only one example that contains more representational imagery. It depicts the facade of a mosque.

Now, Long Beach artist Sandow Birk has challenged that centuries-old tradition. His series of works on paper, "American Qur'an," is an English-language version of the central text of Islam, illustrated with scenes from contemporary American life. Selections from the project, which is ongoing and will eventually include over 300 pages, will be on view at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco starting Sept. 5 and at Koplin Del Rio gallery in Culver City as of Sept. 8.

Executed in ink and gouache in an understated, realist style, many of the 16-by-24-inch works depict everyday sights -- urban street life, office workers in their cubicles, a pregnant couple in their frontyard. Others represent more historic moments, such as the smoking towers of the World Trade Center or a funeral with a casket draped in a U.S. flag. In the center of each image are two neatly framed boxes containing the text, hand-lettered in a font reminiscent of graffiti writing.

Although the Koran does not prohibit the creation of images, it does contain an injunction against the making of idols, and the faith's second most important text, the hadith, includes additional restrictions on the use of figurative imagery, said Komaroff. Whether "American Qur'an" violates these decrees seems to be a matter of interpretation.

Birk was not available for comment, but a statement on Koplin Del Rio's website said that although he followed "traditional guidelines" for color, formatting and decoration, " 'American Qur'an' is not to be considered a 'Holy Qur'an' in that it does not contain the original text in Arabic."

Komaroff had doubts about this claim. The Koran, she said, "wasn't meant to be restricted to those who could only understand or read Arabic. It was meant to be a universal message. So I don't know that it's correct to say if you render it in English that it takes away its sacredness."

Mohammad Qureshi, an administrator at the Islamic Center of Southern California, had a stronger reaction. "That is not acceptable at all," he said after viewing images of the project on Birk's website. He was particularly concerned about images of a liquor store and a woman he described as "half-naked," and thought they would be offensive to Muslims.

Controversy is familiar terrain for Birk, who for the last 20 years has used art historical references to address contemporary social issues, creating ironic, sometimes surreal images of gang culture, prisons and the war in Iraq. A native of Orange County and a 1988 graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design, he is well known on the West Coast and has a growing international profile. Many of his projects involve extensive periods of research and travel, and his interest in the Koran stems from his visits to Muslim countries and to prominent collections of Islamic art over the last 10 years.

Yet "American Qur'an" is a bit of a departure for the artist in that its intent is neither ironic nor critical, said Darius Spieth, an associate professor of art history at Louisiana State University who has followed Birk's career for over a decade. "What he's after is more of an educational project," Spieth said, "Although Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the U.S. currently, most Americans do know relatively little about it, and I think that's also kind of his mission."
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times,0,5002675.story


1 comment:

  1. The word of Allah is important and it needs to communicated in as many languages as possible across the world.Adoption for commands of Allah is an ecological imperative as Muslims praying 5 times a day avoid energy intensive leisure engagements. Arabic texts should accompany the English text in order to ensure commentary from the Arabic linguists on the quality of translation .Arabic language is not more sacred than the English, French and my Angika and Urdu as all the languages are for facilitating communication. Pictures are not needed at all. This can not be called an American Qur'an as Muslims prohibiting use of live images would not accept the images used for illustration. It is Sandow Birk's effort for which he is personally responsible and not all the Americans.



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.