WASHINGTON – Akbar Ahmed Ibn Khaldun believes people should do everything they can to encourage understanding between cultures and societies. Part of his contribution is a new documentary that explains Islamic art.
The Brooking Institutions hosted Wednesday's screening of “Islamic Art Glories,” the three-part television program Ahmed made for Britain's Channel 5,which aired it in the fall.
Ahmed is the chair of Islamic Studies at American University here and a non-resident senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He is a former Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom.
The hour-long documentary displays Islamic art and history,mainly focusing on the significance of the Islamic world. It also gathers art and art devotees using architecture,history and the beauties of Islamic art with a goal of reducing the gap between the Islamic world and the non-Islamic world.
“For Muslims like me,Islam means more than a religion,” Ahmed says at the start of the film.
Islamic architecture has encompassed a wide range of both secular and religious styles from the foundation of Islam to the present day.
The film shows the principle Islamic architectural types; the mosque,the tomb,the palace and the fort. From these four types,the vocabulary of Islamic architecture is derived and used for buildings of lesser importance such as public baths,fountains and domestic architecture,which are all shown in Ahmed's documentary.
Ahmed took the opportunity at the screening to explain his vision for Islam. He repeated some of the facts from his personal Web page that he said the non-Islamic world needs to know.
About 1.3 billion Muslim live in 57 countries,one of which has a nuclear bomb. One-third of the world's Muslims live in non-Muslim countries,with about 25 million in the West,including 7 million in the United States. And finally,he noted that Muslim nations are indispensable in American foreign policy.
The documentary was filmed in the historic cities of Istanbul,Turkey; Damascus,Syria,and Cairo,Egypt. It examines achievements from the earliest Islamic art and delves into Islam's respect for knowledge and the more spiritual Islamic tradition of Sufism.
The final part of the program deals with the last great Islamic dynasty,the Ottomans,and their great capital at Istanbul. The two dominating buildings of historic Istanbul are the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. The latter was converted to a Christian cathedral and still contains the images of Jesus and Mary alongside the motifs of the early caliphs. This episode also looks at calligraphy,the Islamic art-form that grew out of the careful copying of the word of God.
Following the film,there was a panel discussion.
Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Mahmud Ali Durani said this is the proper time for the film because of the sensitive incidents happening around the world. He called Islam the religion of humanity and harmony,which asks for unity,love for mankind and acceptance of beliefs and other prophets.
Cynthia P. Schneider,a former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands,a professor at Georgetown University and a non-resident senior fellow of foreign policy at Brookings,said the gathering was tremendous opportunity for Islamic scholars and scholars of other religions to talk about art,Islam and religion in general.
The series was a hit in the UK,Ahmed said he and his team hope it will be aired globally.