Explore the World of Islam in Blacksburg

Sep 19, 2016

Even though Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the world's population, the political, religious, historical, and cultural aspects of Islam are not known or understood by most Americans. The Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech is hoping to play a part in changing that with an "Islamic Worlds Festival."

It will be a 360-degree view of the large and diverse world of Islam. Impossible to do, that is unless you focus the lens of the arts on this rich topic. 

Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi’s stunning, large-scale photographs of Arab women confront gender and cultural stereotypes in powerful images that explore female identity through both Arab and Western lenses. Her photographs are on display now in the Francis T. Eck Exhibition Corridor through the festival.

“And the arts, by virtue of tapping into what we feel, I’d argue it can cut through sometimes those things that would divide us.”

Jon Cathewood -Ginn is Partnerships and Engagement Manager at the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.

“Things like language, history, daily perspective or cultural practice. It has this wonderfully disruptive and celebratory ability to do that.”

Universities are particularly good at fostering discussions and engaging people in dialogue on topics that might be more difficult in other settings.  They can go deeper than the headline making atrocities threaten to crowd out everything else when the word Islam is even mentioned.

“2014 saw any number of crises, both domestic and abroad. Everything from the Charlie Hebdo attacks to issues of hate crimes within the United States against practicing Muslims that really created a sense of urgency and immediacy and, I think, commitment to this effort. How could we in this small way, here in Blacksburg, VA, create something that would open conversations or advance conversations that might not otherwise be existing or existing in private settings and to challenge some of those misperceptions that other avenues might be propagating.”

Marc Lucht is Director of the Undergraduate Research Institute.  His background is in philosophy and peace studies

“Some people think that Muslim voices are too much a part of our culture, they’re afraid of Sharia Law. Other people are afraid that Muslim voices are systematically marginalized. What I do think is that when public discourse turns to Islam and Muslim cultures, public discourse usually is focusing narrowly on violence and injustice all too often and festivals like this enable people to learn about a much more rich repertoire of cultural phenomena.”

“We know that there are many bad things happening all around the world but Muslims are more than 1 billion people.”

Mohammed Sayem is a graduate student studying computer science, who came here from Egypt 3 years ago. He’s part of the planning group for this festival, which began work more than a year ago.

“So yeah, we have good people , we have bad people, as any other cultures, but this festival, it provides a first step which gives anyone the possibility to connect with Muslim people and people who are coming from different countries.”

The five themes of the Islamic Worlds Festival are these: What Islam Means to Me, Gender and Islam, Crossing Boundaries, Words, and Colors. Sayem says the overarching them is this:

“We have many interactive effects, so the food tasting, the fashion shows, the after shows, the post shows, so all of these events are supposed to give the opportunity to talk. You can ask us questions, you can just talk, you can just come and then you can leave.  But this opportunity is what we are trying to provide.”

The Islamic Worlds Festival runs from April 7th through the 11th at the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech.

Robbie’s report this morning was part one of a four part series-in the coming days we’ll be exploring some of the other themes of the conference. You can find more information about the conference here.