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Social Islam biased against freedom of arts: Filmmaker Shama Zaidi

Delhi,Art/Culture/Books,Religion, Sun, 29 Apr 2012 IANS

New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) The idea of social Islam - the practised version of the faith - in conservative Muslim countries comes with a bias against the freedom of arts, says Islamic scholar, filmmaker and theatre personality Shama Zaidi.


'The attitude of Islam towards these arts have affected the place of the arts and their practitioners in society,' Zaidi said at a discussion 'Social Islam in South Asia: Current Trends' hosted jointly by the India International Centre and the South Asia Monitor, a resource forum ( that provides perspectives on the South Asia region.



Zaidi, also a scriptwriter and art designer, attributes the gradual decline in the state of performing arts, crafts and traditional livelihoods in the community to 'globalisation, Islamisation, urbanisation and a loose caste system' which is tilting the social balance in favour of men and academic orthodoxy.



Citing an instance, she said after the uprising in Egypt, the authority had closed down the opera houses in Cairo.



'Young people were more into making protest music. The sacred zikr (Sufi music chanting the name of god) is forbidden. I was working on a script for (director) Muzaffar Ali on the Sufi seer Jalauddin Rumi and I visited an underground 'shama zikr' (candlelight Sufi assembly),' she recalled, adding the 'zikr' music sung by the followers of Rumi has retreated underground.



The practitioners of Sufism are 'not liked' by the government in Iran, Zaidi said, recounting the ordeal that one of her friends in Iran had been subjected to.



'One of my friends, a Sufi, was told that if she abjures Sufism, she would be given her promotion,' she said.



Zaidi contended that the space for singing and dancing in the name of god was shrinking in Pakistan as well. She said 'the spaces for music at Sufi 'mazars (shrines)' were closing down'.



'You can't do that at the tomb of Sufi mystic and poet Bulle Shah any more,' Zaidi said.



Pointing at the trends in India, Zaidi claimed the traditional musicians at the 'dargah' of Nizamuddin Auliya in the capital were singing more at the India Habitat Centre and at concerts.



'They are looked down upon by other musicians because they are not trained enough...The instrumental music has died and the 'qawaali', music of the shrines, has become crooning,' she said.



She hinted at a 'caste stranglehold in Indian music' which does not often allow fresh talent to become an 'ustad's shagird (disciple)'.



'We have not accepted music as a discipline because of Islamisation. Lot of musicians are giving it up,' Zaidi said.



Girls are not allowed to recite or sing once they grow up and are taken off family trade involving crafts and put behind the 'purdah', she said.



'The crafts are all but dying. This attitude is pretty bad and I don't know what can be done about it,' she said.



Besides the rigidity, politics and conflicts of faith have barred Islam from carving a socio-cultural space for itself, she claims.



Zaidi says she herself is a victim of 'bias'. One of her documentary films, 'Islam in India', a study of its socio-cultural heritage, has been languishing in the cans for almost 20 years.



Commissioned by the ministry of culture, the movie, when made, ruffled the feathers of the 'ruling Congress party which wanted changes made in the movie in favour of the party' and raised opposition hackles which felt 'it was communal to show such overt influence of Islam' in India, Zaidi said.


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