‘We came here today to satisfy our soul for its need of beauty.’ With these words Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Jamī’ addressed the crowd at the Caravan Festival of Arts, hosted by St. John the Baptist Church in Maadi, Egypt.
But then he continued, rather surprisingly given the oft-assumed perspectives of Muslim scholars.
‘When you look to the heavens, you see beauty and love. When you look to the kingdom of earth, you see beauty and love. When you look in the faces of people, you see beauty and love…
‘And when you look at the form of a woman, you see beauty and love.’
The rector of St. John’s is Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler who stated, ‘Art is one of the best means for encouraging friendship among those with differences.’
This evening, these differences were in short supply. In addition to Jamī’ mentioned above, Chandler introduced Bishop Munīr, head of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, and Dr. Mahmūd ‘Azab, head of the Azhar committee for interfaith dialogue.
Bishop Munīr declared, ‘Many things divide us, but love, the love of God, brings us together. When we love God truly, we love each other also.
‘Art also serves a role in bringing us together.’
Bishop Munīr is also a participant in the exhibition, supplying one of his photographs. Referring to it, he stated, ‘The road ahead in the revolution is to realize we are all in one boat.
‘We must take care of this boat, which is Egypt.
‘We must also row in the same direction.’
Dr. ‘Azab declared, ‘Religion as a sign of civilization is an inspiration to scholars and artists alike.
‘Christianity is the religion of love, Islam is the religion of mercy, and Egypt is in dire need of both.’
The Caravan Festival of the Arts also featured two prominent
Yusrā is a famous Egyptian actress, and has also been honored by the United Nations as an advocate for the oppressed. She stated, ‘The arts are one of the most powerful ways to bring
‘This is true even though those who wish to restrict freedom also often wish to restrict art.
‘Art unites us, it is a language of love, a language of peace; it goes straight to your heart.’
Yet Yusrā expressed concern for the future as well.
‘One year after the revolution we are starting to hear voices that threaten our freedom.
‘This scares me, but it also makes me want to fight harder for it.
‘You can never negotiate a person’s freedom.’
Rūla Zakī is a popular Egyptian singer. Though she offered no remarks, she captivated the crowd through her beautiful rendition of ‘People of the Book’, celebrating the unity of Muslim and Christian in Egypt.
Click here for a link to YouTube of her performance, with English subtitles added.
The Caravan Festival of the Arts exhibition was entitled ‘The Road Ahead’, contemplating the future direction of the Egyptian revolution. It featured 45 artists from both the East and the West. All pieces are available for purchase, with 20% of all proceeds going to charities aiding the poor of Egypt.
The following are a few selected works of art. Remembering Shaykh Jamī’’s praise, take note of the prominence of women:
'She is our Mirror' - Khalīl al-Hakīm, Lebanon; the portrait is of ‘Alīa al-Mahdī, who caused caused great controversy in Egypt by posting nude artistic images of herself online, in defense of revolutionary freedoms
'He Holds the Future' - Dr. Fārīd Fadl, Egypt; the image suggests an emergence from the desert in full faith in God to guide the road ahead
'Unraveling' - Julia Moran-Leamon, USA; a careful look will reveal this to be a woman's dress, upon which is written the word 'freedom' in Arabic
'Motherhood and the Future' - Dr. Ahmad Salīm, Egypt; Hailing from Aswan, this image depicts the Nubian people of Egypt and their hope for the future
In addition to these, two canvases bore particularly revolutionary images:
'Colours of Hope' - Renee van Lille-Demetroudes, South Africa; note the iconic revolutionary scenes of priests and imams embracing, under the banners of Facebook and Twitter
'Bread' - Julie Klimenton, UK; the text reads: By the year 2050 the population will increase to 60 million
[Note: links to all pictures above available here]
This last painting is a reminder that no matter how beautiful is creativity, or how uniting is art, humanity must eat, and revolutions much achieve social justice. If not, all such celebrations are in vain.
Like many questions in Egypt, this one is still unanswered. The Caravan Festival is right to focus on ‘The Road Ahead.’