Islamic art flourishes in America

Islamic artists are springing up in America with new and innovative forms of art. Photo: Komal Zehrah

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 — Islam has a history of artistic expression stretching back to the seventh century, but many would be shocked to know that Islamic art is currently flourishing in the United States. Muslim artists from around the country are quickly developing a culture of creative demonstration that is catching many by surprise.

Komal Zehrah, age 20, studies Visual Arts at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and has always been drawn towards creating works of art. Zehrah believes that artistic expression amongst Muslims is growing, and a surprising tool is the advent of Facebook and Instagram. “With social media, Muslims can put up their own pages of artwork. Not everyone has to create their own webpages. It’s really helping a lot of Muslim artists showcase their work.”

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Speaking to the different modalities, she continues “And its not just traditional artists, we’re seeing all kinds of art being created. You are starting to see t-shirt designers, 3D artists, graphic design and more. In my opinion, the largest growth has been in the realm of Islamic fashion design.”

Not limited to traditional examples of artwork, different forms of expression have arisen on the backdrop of the Muslims engaging in liberal arts. Comedians such as Washington DC based Shahryar Rizvi have gained national prominence. Rizvi uses comedy to demonstrate that average Muslims have viewpoints related to everyday life, such as the ongoing federal government threat of furloughs. “There are more and more new comedians coming to the scene who are talking about being Muslim in America” says the humorist. 


Rizvi explains that comedy is indeed a type of art, “Stand-up comedy is just a form of storytelling.  Some types of storytelling involve pictures, others video.  But for stand-up comedy, that only involves you yourself, a microphone, a stool, a spotlight, and (for some reason) a brick wall.”

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Another artist just, in the Maryland area is Arjumand Abbas, who was inspired to create works of calligraphy because of what she saw as a need for more Islamic art. “There’s not a lot of it in living rooms, home office spaces, or actual even offices. This is something that is modern and contemporary. Islamic art is very complicated in terms of calligraphy, particularly with forms and shapes. It’s a lot for a people to take. I decided to take it one step at a time and create something that was elegant and easy to digest.”

Abbas believes that Islamic art is maturing and changing.  “It’s growing. It’s not going to be the same as what it was before, as in early Islamic artistry. I think of it as an evolutionary progress, it’ll never be the same. It’ll be a mix of different color palettes, different types of art, different forms.” She continues “Now you are seeing women’s accessories, purses, clutches and bags with Arabic calligraphy on it, and that’s becoming common and normal.”

"MashAllah" By Arjumand Abbas

“Mashallah” a textured painting by Arjumand Abbas

Abbas donates much of her proceeds to charities around the world, hoping to make a difference with her art.

Historically, the growth of artistic expression amongst Muslims is nothing new. The most well-known historical examples of Islamic art are calligraphy and architecture. The practice dates back to the time of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib, who notably transcribed the entire Quran in the picturesque Kufic script style of calligraphy, copies of which still exist in museums today. Replicas by other artists have maintained significant value, with some copies going for nearly two million dollars.

More recently however, starting in 2011, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The MET”, opened a suite of fifteen new galleries focusing on Islamic art from Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.

The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art features the “finest collections of Islamic art in the United States, with particular strengths in ceramics and illustrated manuscripts.” 

Expounding on the notion of different forms of expression, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) showcased the Islamic and Indian Arts of the Book: Conservation & Context exhibit. Curators state that “Writing in Arabic script is one of the hallmarks of Islamic art, found on all sorts of objects from the humblest to the fanciest made in a wide range of materials from earliest times to the present across the lands where Islam was a major religion.” 

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Rahat Husain

Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues.


In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.


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