Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)

Rumi: A Cosmopolitan Counter-Narrative to Islamophobia

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)

Rumi: A Cosmopolitan Counter-Narrative to Islamophobia

Article excerpt

In July 2012, a fourteen-minute amateur film called the "Innocence of Muslims" was released on Youtube, depicting Prophet Muhammad as "a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug" (Kirkpatrick, 2012). This resulted in outrage and deadly clashes on the streets of Cairo, Benghazi, Tunis, Sydney, and Paris. On November 13, 2015, three teams of Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) fighters carried out a coordinated terror attack in various parts of Paris. The attackers killed and wounded hundreds of innocent individuals as a way of spreading their apocalyptic, anti-western, fundamentalist Islamic ideology (Wood, 2015). In the aftermath of this tragedy, Marine Le Pen's National Front party won two regional elections in France, giving voice to the growing anti-Muslim and antiimmigrant sentiments (Chrisafis, 2015). These events demonstrate a growing presence of far right parties in European Parliaments as a result of mounting fears of Muslims invading Europe (Allen, 2016). In the United States, Donald Trump's 2016 presidential candidacy is a testament to anti-Muslim and anti-immigration attitudes. At the time of this writing, Trump has notoriously called for an all out ban of Muslims from the country. Judging solely by these events, there seems to be a fundamental conflict of morals and values between the West and Islam. To describe this conflict, Samuel Huntington (2011) coined the term "the clash of civilizations." According to his influential thesis in the book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (2011), cultural and religious differences were to become the primary source of conflict in the post-cold war world.

Fortunately, there is a counter-narrative to the theory' of the clash of civilizations. Just as in the West, Islamic societies are diverse and heterogeneous. Within this diversity', there are many individuals and factions who aspire for basic human rights and democratic values. In the Sufi tradition of Islam, for example, there is also long history of inclusivity and openness to all individuals, in spite of religion, race, creed, or class. The poetry' of Rumi personifies the cosmopolitan spirit of Sufism. Rumi's wisdom and philosophy' still resonate deeply' in the contemporary context, providing art educators with a compelling artistic figure whose life and poetry-' challenges prevailing negative stereotypes of Muslims.

In this essay, I use the words of Rumi to counter the notion of the "clash of civilizations." I argue that Rumi's life and poetry' embodied a cosmopolitan philosophy, which views humans of different cultures as belonging to the same community in spite of differing values, beliefs, politics, cultures, and religions. This open and inclusive view of humanity', which has historical roots in both Eastern and Western philosophy, provides a much needed bridge among cultures. Art educators can play a key role in countering Islamophobic views by' engaging in cosmopolitan conversations with great artists from the Islamic world. There is much to be learned from the unique cultural heritage and universal humanity of artists like Rumi.

Islamophobia in Western Media

Let us begin with a simple exercise. Write the word "Muslim" on a blank sheet of paper and draw a circle around it. Then begin to mind map any' words you associate with this word. According to Gottschalk and Greenberg (2008), most Americans who have been asked to do this exercise associate "Muslim" with violence and oppression using terms such as Osama bin Laden, 9 /11, suicide bombers, jihad, veiling, and the Middle East. The authors raise the astute question: why, for so many Americans, has "Islam become synonymous with the Middle East, Muslim men with violence, and Muslim women with oppression?" (Gottschalk & Greenberg, 2008, p. 4). Such pervasive stereoty'pes have deep historical roots. In his seminal work on orientalism, Said (2003) traced the roots of modern representations of the East to the early nineteenth century which saw a proliferation of interest among Western thinkers, politicians, and artists in the vast regions that extended from China to the Mediterranean. …

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