American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years

American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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People look at photos at the organization’s 110-year celebration brunch. (Photos supplied)
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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Muslims gather to celebrate the 110th anniversary.
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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Mosque-goers celebrate Halloween in an undated picture.
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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The interior of the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque.
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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The minaret of the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque.
Updated 24 October 2017

American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years

American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years

LONDON: Last week, the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque celebrated its 110th year anniversary in Astoria, New York City.
It is America’s oldest Muslim association, founded by white Muslims that emigrated from the Baltic states of northern Europe.
The event was marked with a typical New York-style brunch at a party last Sunday that brought together members of the community first established in 1907 as the Lithuanian Tatar Society.
“We’re New Yorkers, through and through, how else would we celebrate a historic milestone than with a brunch?” Alyssa Ratkewitch, an ethnic Lipka Tatar and the vice president, asked.
Alyssa’s grandfather was among those who taught Arabic and Qur’an to generations of ethnic Lipka Tatars when they arrived from countries like Lithuania, Poland and Belarus — part of the same wave of immigration that brought President Donald Trump’s grandfather here from Germany.
The mosque at 104 Power Street, in Brooklyn, New York City, is in a building with a pointed roof and slatted white, wood cladding. It looks more like a church that should be on a prairie than a mosque.
“It used to be a protestant church. After the early Lipka community bought the building in 1927. They added a small turret on the top with a crescent, adapting it to resemble the mosques they had left behind.”
The mass arrival of global immigrants at the turn of the 19th century led to several early Muslim communities being set up across America.
Near Ross in North Dakota, a large rectangular, brick and wood building was used as a mosque by local Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in 1929. It was knocked down in the 1970s.
Then, about twelve years ago, a tiny, brick ‘mosque’ with a dome and ornamental minarets was erected as a reminder of where it once stood.
Another group of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants built the Rose of Fraternity Lodge — later called the Mother Mosque — in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1934. It also fell into disrepair in the 1970s. But unlike the one in Ross, the Mother Mosque was rescued and renovated to serve as a heritage and education center.
Meanwhile, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community — originating from Punjab, India — founded their American branch in 1920 in Chicago, purchasing a building two years later on 45th Street and Wabash Avenue to serve as their mosque.
Alyssa’s organization predates all of these. Only the Dzemijetul Hajjrije in Chicago was founded earlier — 1906 -— also by white Europeans from Bosnia. However, that folded in the 1960s.
Inside the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque, it is a picture of integration and assimilation.
One photo on the walls of Alyssa’s office shows a group of clean-shaven men in Western-style suits standing at the front of the 19th century building. Only the man in the middle is dressed in oriental attire — the mosque’s imam.
Another, probably taken in the 1920s, is of Tatar families, smartly dressed around two tables, ready for a Halloween party. Above their heads, gruesome-faced pumpkin decorations hang from the ceiling and on the walls are black silhouettes of flying witches riding broomsticks.
One of the largest photos is from August 29, 1948, where members of the Lithuanian Tatar Society — by then, the American Mohammedan Society — pose alongside the United American Mohammedan Friends Inc. at Platzl Brauhaus picnic grounds in Ladentown, just north of New York City.
The black and white snap could have been of any group of American day trippers. Youngsters stare at the camera in swimsuits, their eyes pleading to hit the park waters; older girls pose in pretty dresses the Fonz’s girlfriends’ once wore on the famous US sitcom. Beside them, young men with greasy slicked-back hair resemble early American movie stars. There is even the odd dickie bow in the midst.
“This was a group of people determined to make a life here and because of that we embraced the ‘American way’ very quickly I think. By my generation, people were even marrying outside of the community — which was very taboo early on — and began moving to different parts of the country,” recalls 63-year-old Marion Sedorowitz, the mosque treasurer.
Throughout the organization’s history, it has remained exclusively a Lipka Tatar group, but as the community became more integrated and American, the numbers using the mosque began to dwindle.
“Over the years, assimilation has meant some people left the faith, became less observant, or simply moved away,” says Marion.
These days, the mosque only opens for community events, the odd religious one and funerals, presided over by the part-time Imam.
“We’ve had barbecues, cooking classes and tea dances. But the main religious service that takes place now are the funerals and some of the Islamic holidays.
“Wherever they are in the country, the members want to have their final rites observed here in the traditional way,” explains Marion.
For 32-year-old Alyssa, the mosque’s past will play a crucial role in its future.
“Our community is an important part of American Muslim history, and we believe it needs to be preserved for future generations. To educate them about this face of Muslim America,” she says.
One of the ways Alyssa and Marion want to do this is by reconnecting with their European heritage.
“At the anniversary brunch we announced our 2018 heritage trip back to the ‘old country.’ We’ve made contact with the Muslims in the Baltic in places where our ancestors once lived, and they’ve agreed to help us go on a journey of rediscovery.
“We hope to visit the towns and villages the early pioneering Tatars that set up the association came from.”
The trip, would see the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque take members of their community on an emotional journey back to countries like Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.
“Our ancestors didn’t have the money or means to visit the homes they had left behind in those days, and so it is unlikely anyone went back after settling in the US,” says Alyssa, who can trace her own roots back to the town of Iwie in Belarus.
“I’ve heard stories about them, and seen pictures of the historic mosques in the old country that our own was based on. Going on this trip should be a great way to connect with people like my great grandfather and his generation, and learn about our culture and heritage. It’ll be great to add new stories to pass on to future generations.”
Alyssa and Marion’s European ancestors’ story goes all the way back to the 14th century, when they first arrived in the Baltic from the Crimea.
Ironically, their Muslim ancestors were invited to the Baltic to fight religiously-intolerant Christian Teutonic Knights.
The Tatar people’s success in helping to defeat the Christians in 1398 meant the Grand Duke of Lithuania, “Vytautas the Great,” invited them to stay, embracing them as his own people.
Today, the mosque finds itself in a similar atmosphere of religious intolerance.
“Our community’s story is a reminder that American Muslims come from all different backgrounds and we have always been here.
“It reminds people that Muslims have also played a part in helping to build the American way of life, right from the start and, most importantly, it shows Americans that Muslims are not something new and dangerous.”
The 110-year-old story of America’s white Muslim community could just be the story the country needs to hear right now.


Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others

Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others
Updated 03 August 2021

Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others

Iraq gets back looted ancient artifacts from US, others
  • The majority of the artifacts date back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia and were recovered from the US in a recent trip by PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi
  • Iraq’s antiquities have been looted throughout decades of war and instability since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD: Over 17,000 looted ancient artifacts recovered from the United States and other countries were handed over to Iraq’s Culture Ministry on Tuesday, a restitution described by the government as the largest in the country’s history.
The majority of the artifacts date back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia and were recovered from the US in a recent trip by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Other pieces were also returned from Japan, Netherlands and Italy, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with Culture Minister Hasan Nadhim.
Nadhim said the recovery was “the largest in the history of Iraq” and the product of months of effort between the government and Iraq’s Embassy in Washington.
“There’s still a lot of work ahead in this matter. There are still thousands of Iraqi artifacts smuggled outside the country,” he said. “The United Nations resolutions are supporting us in the international community and the laws of other countries in which these artifacts are smuggled to are on our side.”
“The smugglers are being trapped day after day by these laws and forced to hand over these artifacts,” he added.
The artifacts were handed over to the Culture Ministry in large wooden crates. A few were displayed but the ministry said the most significant pieces will be examined and later displayed to the public in Iraq’s National Museum.
Iraq’s antiquities have been looted throughout decades of war and instability since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s government has been slowly recovering the plundered antiquities since. However, archaeological sites across the country continue to be neglected owing to lack of funds.
At least five shipments of antiquities and documents have been returned to Iraq’s museum since 2016, according to the Foreign Ministry.


Lebanese artist Nadim Karam creates memorial sculpture at Beirut Port

Lebanese artist Nadim Karam creates memorial sculpture at Beirut Port
Nadim Karam's 'The Gesture' (2021). Supplied
Updated 03 August 2021

Lebanese artist Nadim Karam creates memorial sculpture at Beirut Port

Lebanese artist Nadim Karam creates memorial sculpture at Beirut Port

DUBAI: A towering sculpture made of scrap metal from the wreckage following last year’s explosions at the Beirut Port on Aug. 4 was unveiled at the site on Monday. Titled “The Gesture,” the giant memorial sculpture is the work of Lebanese artist, architect and Beirut resident Nadim Karam, who said he wanted to honor the families of the victims of the explosions that left more than 200 dead, more than 6,000 injured and over 300,000 people displaced. Karam said he also wanted to show “the will of the Lebanese people to continue to go on.”

Nadim Karam's 'The Gesture' (2021). Supplied

The massive work, which, when seen from afar, seems to tower over the destructed silos with its commanding presence, was funded by several private companies and individuals. “It is a giant made of ashes, traces from the explosions, scars of the city, that still exist everywhere in Beirut,” Karam told Arab News. “The work represents the scars of the people that still have not healed. This figure is every single one of us and a reminder that we are the living energy of Beirut.”

One year after the Beirut Port blast damaged the lives of thousands of Lebanese and tore apart large chunks of the city, which to this day remains in a process of reconstruction, no top officials have been held accountable. Efforts to investigate the root cause of the explosions have stalled and the Lebanese, with their country in a continual state of freefall due to a collapsed banking system and stagnant government, continue to live in a state of trauma, with many fleeing the country for a better life elsewhere.

Nadim Karam's 'The Gesture' (2021). Supplied

While Karam hopes the Lebanese will support the massive sculpture, some have raised questions as to whether artwork should be placed at the Beirut Port when justice still has not been served. Many will agree that the fact that the sculpture has been made from scraps of steel from the site is a powerful statement in itself, which Karam and others hope will recall the importance of solidarity among the people and the desperate need for answers. As Karam says, “‘The Gesture’ also represents the will of the Lebanese to know the truth about what happened. Only when we know the truth will we have justice.”


Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced
Winner of the 2020 Ithra Art Prize, “Rakhm” by Fahad Bin Naif. Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

DUBAI: The jury for the 4th edition of the Ithra Art Prize has been revealed.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has announced a panel of seven international art experts as the jury for the prize.

They are Abdullah K. Al-Turki, board member of the Ad-Diriyah Biennale Foundation; Dr. Ridha Moumni, historian of art and archaeology; Brahim Alaoui, former director of the museum of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and  Salwa Mikdadi, Director of Al-Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art (NYUAD).

They will be joined by Amal Khalaf, curator, artist and Director of Programs at Cubitt and Civic Curator at the Serpentine Galleries in London; Clare Davies, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museums and Exhibits at Ithra.

The jury are responsible for evaluating submissions for the contemporary art prize, which is open to artists from or based in the 22 Arab League countries, with the winner receiving a financial grant of up to $100,000 in commission of a singular work of art. 

Individual artists and collectives are invited to submit a proposal for the Ithra Art Prize by Aug. 13, 2021, with the winner being announced on Aug. 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, the winning piece will be unveiled at Ad-Diriyah Biennale, the Kingdom’s first biennale, scheduled to be held between Dec. 7 and March 7, 2022.

The winner will join the likes of UAE-based Saudi artist Ayman Zeidani, whose project “Meem” won the inaugural edition of the Ithra Art Prize in 2018, 2019 winner, Dania Al-Saleh and Fahad Bin Naif, who won the 2020 prize for his artwork “Rakhm.”


Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition
Ard El Ewa (2015/2016). Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

DUBAI: Two large, brightly colored textile-based sculptures hang like gigantic carpets. The only thing distinguishing them from what could be a meticulously woven rug is that various textiles are sewn together and supported by structures, like sails. These artworks by Cairo-based Ibrahim Ahmed are some of the main features in his first solo US museum show “It Will Always Come Back to You” at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The show features a thematic selection of Ahmed’s work from 2013 to 2020, produced using a variety of media, including primarily textile-based sculpture, painting and photo collage exploring issues related to migration, colonialism and the Global South — regions outside of Europe and North America that have historically been politically and culturally marginalized.

Only Dreamers Leave (2016). Supplied

Two works of art are the most expansive in the show: “Only Dreamers Leave” (2016) and “Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Embroidered onto the conglomeration of diverse textiles are gold patterns that refer to baroque and arabesque iron gates, symbols of wealth and power in Egypt. Staged in opposite areas of the exhibition, the works are in dialogue with each other while also relaying Ahmed’s missive for the exhibition: to explore the myths surrounding migration to the Global North and contemporary representations of the nation-state.

The artist himself is a product of such migration. Born in Kuwait in 1984 and of Egyptian heritage, Ahmed spent his childhood between Bahrain and Egypt, before moving to the US with his family at the age of 13. In 2014, he moved back to Cairo, where he currently lives and works in the informal working-class neighborhood of Ard El Lewa. 

Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Supplied

The first work visitors see is the multimedia “Does Anybody Leave Heaven,” located in the foyer of the museum and comprising a textile-based piece, video, sound and a series of photographs. It was inspired by Ahmed’s return from the US to Egypt in 2014. The work, in the form of an assemblage tapestry (32x10 feet), is made with textile found in Egyptian streets, such as bags, clothing and other items, which have then been printed onto the “flag” in addition to other miscellaneous elements from the US.

In the Ard El Lewa neighborhood, Ahmed lives among Egyptians who have not been able to travel outside of Egypt. “When I tell them I chose to leave the US, they always ask me: ‘Does anybody leave heaven?’” he told Arab News. “The piece looks at the US as an empire and a cultural soft power, which is reflected in the objects accumulated over a period of time in Egypt that have US flags on them.”

Displayed outside the museum is the artist’s 2016 installation “Only Dreamers Leave,” an installation made of 30 sails, first displayed in Dakar, Senegal in 2018 during the Biennale of Contemporary African Art. Incorporated into the sails are 30 flags representing countries — the 28 EU members in addition to Canada and the US. Through this work, Ahmed demonstrates how the fantasies and dreams the countries evoke lure migrants away from their communal homes to other nations. The sails are made from porous and heavy materials associated with domestic and manual labor —jobs that migrants usually obtain as soon as they arrive in their new land.

Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020). Supplied

The exhibition also includes a specially commissioned work for VCU titled “Nobody Knows Anything About Them” (2019). The largest of the chandelier series to date, it is also constructed from found materials. A common practice in Cairo, says Ahmed, is to store unused materials on rooftops, a habit driven by the uncertainty of the future. “People have a tendency to conserve things that would otherwise have been discarded,” he explained.

In another room, works from Ahmed’s masculinity project can be found. These include “Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020) and “Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020), works that move from the physicality of the artist’s body to incorporate social and historical frames of reference, largely through the use of archival family photos that span 50 years. The images, the majority of which were taken by Ahmed’s father, show cars, national monuments, military parades, and museums. The photographs date from the Nasser era and map the artist’s father’s trajectory from farm boy in the Nile Delta to banker in the US, Kuwait, Bahrain, and other locations throughout the north and south of Egypt that his many business trips took him to.

Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020). Supplied

“These works, like the title, aim to show how these macro-politics exist because we are all carrying these legacies with us,” he tells Arab News. “My practice has been to look at myself closely to manifest the discourses that I come across through my art. I am looking at this idea of falsified borders, past and present, and how they negate the idea of division because, in the end, everything in the world is very much interconnected.”

“Ibrahim Ahmed: It Will Always Come Back to You” runs until Nov. 28, 2021.


Art can be a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 August 2021

Art can be a tool to heal and educate, say Saudi psychologists

Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues. (Shutterstock)
  • Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them

JEDDAH: Saudi mental health professionals are exploring creative ways to help people with mental health issues.
Art can be a calming activity that some take on as a hobby or make a living, while it can also be part of a therapeutic approach used by mental health professionals to heal and treat those in need.
The stigma of seeking professional help has declined in the past few years in the Kingdom and psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.
Art therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy where practitioners use the creative art process and output to help the client learn about themselves and to heal them.

Anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses.

Rawan Bajsair, Art therapist

Rawan Bajsair, a registered and board-certified art therapist in Jeddah, described it as a playful, non-threatening and non-invasive approach to tap into someone’s psyche.
“Art therapy is super effective. It’s a field that’s very hard to explain in words how effective it is, but I think anybody who experiences art therapy can readily feel the effect of it, even as lightly as a stress relief technique or to treat more serious mental illnesses,” she told Arab News.
She spoke of two cases she helped to treat while in the US early in her career. One of her earliest clients in art therapy was a 55-year-old woman who was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

HIGHLIGHT

Psychologists, specialized in their own distinct approaches in their therapy, are finding different ways to educate the public. Many are finding that art therapy is gaining popularity.

“She’d been hospitalized a number of times and went through different kinds of therapy until she landed on art therapy, which she continued practicing for 12 years. She truly showed me the therapeutic power of creativity and art through her work and experience with this form of therapy,” she said, adding that the success lay in how the client felt protected while having the freedom to express herself.
One of the most significant cases she worked on was with a 19-year-old male, who chose to be called Felix, who she treated in rehab.
She said clients that come to the clinic are usually defensive due to their court mandate. “When Felix first joined my art therapy group he was like most of the clients — none of them really wanted to make art, they thought it was childish.”
After offering some tools and explaining the process of experimenting without any expectation of the product, “some people would just play around with the tools and not actually make anything out of it, and that on its own is therapeutic.”
In the case of Felix, one of the things she offered him was a rubber stamp that printed out jars.
“I just demonstrated how he could use it and I noticed week by week he would place a print on more jars and he would experiment on different kinds of paper and it was really therapeutic at the time for him because when you think about printmaking, you really put the weight of your body into it, and there’s some kind of release that comes with painting that can be really healing, especially for past traumas.”
Felix printed jars that stayed empty for weeks and then would add something little inside the jar every week using different art materials.
“As the weeks went by, I looked at his artwork and I would see him putting his materials in these jars and he’d put some of his graffiti tag names onto them,” she said.
“Towards the end he looked at me and said: ‘So this is a safe space?’ He was talking about the jars and that’s when I got the idea of a whole book chapter that I wrote (Art Therapy Practices for Resilient Youth) about how clients can find safe spaces within these jars, whether its substance use patients or those who suffered trauma, a safe space is one of the biggest and most important component of psychotherapy.”
Educating the public through art is another aspect of using art as a medium.
Shahad Al-Sonare, 27, a clinical psychologist, believes that art is a tool to relay information and get your message across. “I usually draw to express my own feelings, so I decided to express the feelings of my patients. I convey their pain through my art to educate the world on these cases. I’ll be their medium,” she told Arab News.
Over the past two years she has drawn six pieces of art that embody her patients’ experiences, and said she will use the art as a means of education.
For issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and learning disabilities, she has found that by incorporating it into her work she is able to embody her patients struggles in a way that can be understood without the need for words.
In 2020 and 2021, Al-Sonare’s experience of teaching an autistic child in a classroom full of non-autistic children motivated her to raise awareness about autism.
“The school and other teachers didn’t understand his condition; he is actually very smart. It was sad to witness that I was the only one (teacher) who knew that there is nothing wrong with the child’s learning ability.”
“I was his eyes, ears and tongue. I was trying to educate all teachers, admins and principals on such cases. I experienced his pain through this experience and when I drew the autism piece, I wrote, ‘I’m not different, I’m just unique,’” Al-Sonare said.
“I feel like the best way someone could explain psychological cases is through pictures. Just like the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ it’s more descriptive and opens the viewer’s heart to the case,’ she said.