Arts & Culture Theme

Introducing This Year’s MSA Theme!

Earlier this summer, we sent out a survey introducing MSA Themes, explaining what purpose a theme would serve and asking the community to vote (or suggest their own) for the theme that they think sounds most interesting and relevant to them. MSA Themes are meant to connect the greater intellectual and cultural strengths of our organization to issues defining our world today. Across different MSA committees and spaces, we wish to explore nuanced and relevant topics in ways that provide perspective and insight through a special series of workshops, exhibits, guest speakers, performances and more. The goal is to loosely connect MSA activities and events to an overarching theme in an effort to build a more cohesive community that challenges itself to engage with meaningful, intellectually stimulating issues. We hope the theme will also serve as a medium to further push MSA-ers to be visionaries and to lift our consciousnesses so that we may grow as individuals and as a community. The selected theme for this year is Empowering Our Community Through Arts, Ideas & Culture.

“God is beautiful and loves beauty.”
-Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)

Art is a universal language that can speak to and engage with members of all communities. It has the unique power to build new connections between us, both locally and globally. The arts enable people to rise above barriers in society by creating new paths of communication and alternative ways of thinking.

At a time when our faith has been heavily politicized, increasingly demonized, and critically fragmented, we view the arts as a way to expand the understanding of our faith amongst the broader community and to also enhance communication and bring together the different socio-cultural identities that make up the diverse Muslim-American community. Underlying our pursuit and nourishing of the arts is a deep appreciation for the processes of reflection, intention and purpose. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) exemplified this pursuit by empowering artists in his community to create art that promoted Islam and the well-being of Muslims. The art created a sense of belonging and contentment within the community, and also allowed him to engage with outside communities.

Artistic expression is a way for us to define and narrate our own stories while weaving together our rich American and Muslim heritages. In an effort to provide new perspectives and open doors for mutual engagement amongst people, we hope this year’s theme will provide a more nuanced and varied representation of Muslims, rather than the common stagnant, monolithic depiction of who we are. As Muslims, we are encouraged to see the beauty in the world as a part of our heritage that we often forget or perhaps see as less important. We hope we can use this creative energy to enhance our own appreciation of faith, as well as to promote the richness of our Islamic heritage and the depth and beauty of our distinct Michigan Muslim identities.

From a panel discussion on Islam and Hip Hop, to a lecture that spotlights Muslims in film and screen arts, to workshops that focus on visual art, to a cross-campus interfaith concert, to a profound discussion on the value and significance of positive cultural production, MSA Committees are excited to present a series of events that align with this year’s theme. Please use this page as a resource to stay updated about upcoming theme events- which will occur at least once a month.

We hope that beyond these events, this theme will carry on in discussions in smaller circles and personal conversations. What does art mean to you? Why is it relevant? How can we use it promote positive social change? If you have any suggestions for activities/events, or if you would like to share your own thoughts related to this theme (through a photo, article, sketch, or even a piece you come across that you would like others to reflect on), please e-mail your thoughts and submissions to

THEME EVENT SERIES (to be updated regularly)

October 1 – Islam & Hip-Hop Panel Discussion: The 5 Pillars & The 5 Elements with OneBeLo, Langston LUV, and the ReMINDers (Aja Black and Big Samir) co-sponsored with Hip-Hop Congress and MESA/Trotter. Discussing art as a tool for empowering marginalized communities, ally-building, spreading positive thoughts, and connecting to & explaining one’s deen. (Organized by the Social Justice & Activism Committee)

Watch the entire event under the “Recorded Events” section on our blog’s homepage!


At the beginning of all weekly MSA meetings, we devote some time to the “reflection” portion. Basically, we invite community members to share any thoughts on their minds or talk about experiences that provided them lessons to learn from. These are minutes from the reflection segment of last week’s meeting.

Reflection with Nama Khalil and Noor Haydar. Nama and Noor are taking about the relevance of art in our lives. Why it’s important for our community to promote and cultivate spaces for the arts.

Nama Khalil is currently a PhD student at Michigan in Anthropology.

  1. Majored in art for her undergrad.
  2. When she switched to photography from pre-med she received backlash from the community; people assumed she was taking the “easy” way out.
  3. However, she also knew of many Muslim leaders who emphasized the importance of art in the American Muslim community and taking ownership of our culture.
  4. A gallery asked Nama and some other Muslim artist to put together an art exhibit at her university..One way to combat stereotypes, ignorance and hate is through creative expression.
    1. However, they seemed to have a stereotypical view of Muslims and Islamic art.
    2. So the Muslims artists opened up the exhibit to all artists and asked them to also contribute so that the art of the Muslim students seemed more mainstream.
  5. Nama hopes that with the MSA arts theme we not only focus on events that are seen as entertainment, but to also branch out and show other forms of art. There’s value in all different forms of art, whether visual or performance.
  6. We need to be comfortable with who we are in this country, a part of it is forming our own culture. Art is a huge component of culture.
  7. It is important to have these sorts of conversations about creating spaces for artists and supporting them, along with other underrepresented groups in our community.

Noor Haydar recently graduated (BA in Screen Arts & Cultures).

  1. Art has a significant though often overlooked place in Islam.
  2. Read a transcript of Dr. Umar Farooq Abdallah’s speech in Midland, MI  from November 2010 where he speaks on his essay, Islam & the Cultural Imperative.

“[We must be] Creating something that is genuinely Islamic. It’s not to make us assimilate into [the greater American] society, but it is a culture that gives us values and norms that make us able to function in our society…Culture is very important in Islamic Law. in Islamic law we have 5 maxims, (kuliyaat oosoliya) that the whole of the law is based on. The first four:

  1. Things are in accordance with their intentions/objectives.
  2. Certainty is not removed by doubt.
  3. Difficulty necessitates facilitation.
  4. Harm shall be removed

These maxims are by the consensus of all of our scholars: Shaafis, Hanafis, Hanbalis, Malikis and the Shiaa agree that that all of our laws are based on the maxims.
The last [and relevant one here] is “العادة محكمة” “good custom has the rule of law.”
So wherever we go, if we go to China, we don’t try to make them Bedouins or Arabians. we look at Chinese society, and we see what is good in what we do and that we will keep and modify and make it beautiful. This was the genius of the Islamic civilization. [Referring to earlier example in speech] This is why Islam is like the crystal clear river…it takes on the color of the bed that is underneath it and makes it shine.
Wherever Marco Polo traveled, he was a foreigner. Ibn Battuta traveled two times the distance, but felt connections to cultures because of their foundations whenever he encountered Muslims.”

  1. So, everywhere Islam goes it incorporates the good of the society’s culture. We are working on this, but still have a long way to go as American Muslims, and the first step is to acknowledge the place and value of art in our community. It is a universal language everyone understands, and it is multifaceted, as Nama mentioned. Not just for dawa, but also helps foster activism, spirituality, understanding etc.
  2. Many Muslim artists are who perform at “Muslim” events are expected to only talk about Islam instead of allowing them to express themselves in the manner of their choosing. We, as a Muslim community should welcome those people and not push them to the periphery – People shouldn’t feel like they have to step outside of the community to find support or success.
  3. We should support our Muslim artists, not exploit their skills/talent when it comes to what we see as inherently “Islamic” causes. We should set up them to succeed, and help them create the best art they can.
  4. This MSA arts theme is a step in the right direction.

It brings us closer to supporting Muslim artists and giving them a space in our community. It’s important in inspiring others and letting them know this is a legitimate and valued hobby, let alone career path. Artists are already marginalized in society, we must make a concerted effort to include and support.

November 1 – Reel Talk: Spotlight on American Muslim Media Artists with filmmaker & produce, Lena Khan (, and photographer & digital artist, Ridwan Adhami ( Co-sponsored by the Screen Arts & Culture Department and American Culture Department. Sharing stories of the successes and challenges of this minority within a minority- and the ways in which the intersectional backgrounds of Muslim artists in the American media industry influence their work. (Organized by the Publications & Media Committees).

November 5 – Social activist and slam poetry artist Zain Shamoon will be performing at the 11th Annual Fast-a-thon! Join us in the Rackham amphitheater 5-8pm on Monday!

January 24 – Join MSA and Canterbury House for “Diversity in Harmony: An Interfaith Concert” on January 24th at Hillel! We’ll be featuring performances by Muslim, Jewish and Christian artists including Quartex, Kol HaKavod, Steve Rush and Dawud Wharnsby Ali.

Concert Flyer

February 1 – Photographer, director and filmmaker Mustafa Davis will be delivering the keynote address at the annual Michigan Muslims Banquet on Friday, February 1st! He will be discussing the significance of art in his life and the importance of actively producing and promoting culture as a community. Register here:


February 22 - Join us Friday, February 22nd at 7pm in the Michigan League Ballroom for “Muslims in the Arts: Celebrating the Creation of Beauty” featuring a night of reflective performances by

Opening remarks by Nama Khalil and opening performances by Arwa Alsamarae, Nadir Rahman & other UM student artists! 
This event is free and open to the public.
Suggested donation of $5 for Syrian orphan refugees through
 Muslims in the Arts Flyer
Join us as we nourish and recognize #MuslimsintheArts

marts collage



March 15-17 – Please join us for Sacred Time Project, a bi-annual spiritual, intensive retreat. We’re blessed to have the opportunity to spend time and learn closely from Dr. Omar Mahmood and Chaplain Tayssir Safi. Register here for a weekend full of reflection, bonding and spiritual development. In addition, during this STP, Dr. Omar Mahmood will be reflecting, analyzing and teaching the lyric poetry of Imam Al-Haddad including “The Perfumed Breath.” We will also hear nasheed throughout the program to reflect and remind us of Allah (SWT).

April 4 – Join us for a night of storytelling. Founding in Chicago in 2006, the Hijabi Monologues creates a theater space for Muslim women’s stories; a space to breathe as they are; a space that does not claim to tell every story and speak for every voice. Through sharing stories, strangers touch and connect. Through stories, we are challenged. Through stories, we are human.


2 thoughts on “Arts & Culture Theme

  1. Pingback: Introducing This Year’s MSA Theme! | Michigan Muslims

  2. Pingback: Tonight: “Diversity in Harmony” Interfaith Concert | Michigan Muslims

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