Wednesday, June 2, 2010

THE ISLAMIC VIEW OF CRAFTSMANSHIP

From an Islamic perspective art consists in fashioning objects in a manner conformable to their nature, for that nature has a virtual content of beauty, since it comes from God; all one has to do is release that beauty in order to make it apparent.

According to the most general Islamic conception, art is no more than a method of ennobling matter.

And since there is no better action than the remembrance of God, according to the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh), a craft can be good only to the degree to which it aids in this remembrance, directly or indirectly.

Just as knowledge of Qur'an and hadith, according to traditional Islamic teaching, needs to be passed down through an unbroken golden chain from teacher to student leading back to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Similarly this wisdom and baraka (spiritual blessing) is recognised and permeates many aspects of the conscientious Muslim's life even in the domain of craftsmanship.

The following account is found in Titus Burckhardt's book "Fez: City of Islam"

"I knew a comb-maker who worked in the street of his guild, called Abd al-Aziz (slave of the Almighty).


One day he complained to me that the importation of plastic combs was diminishing his business: 'It is not only a pity that today, solely on account of price, poor quality combs from a factory are being preferred to much more durable horn combs,' he said; 'it is also senseless that people should stand by a machine and mindlessly repeat the same movement, while an old craft like mine falls into oblivion.


My work may seem crude to you; but it harbours a subtle meaning which cannot be explained in words. I myself acquired it only after many long years, and even if I wanted to, I could not automatically pass it on to my son, if he himself did not wish to acquire it - and I think he would rather take up another occupation.


This craft can be traced back from apprentice to master until one reaches our Lord Seth, the son of Adam. It was he who first taught it to man, and what a Prophet brings-for Seth was a Prophet-must clearly have a special purpose-both outwardly and inwardly. I gradually came to understand that there is nothing fortuitous about this craft, that each movement and each procedure is a bearer of an element of wisdom. But not everyone can understand this. But even if one does not know this, it is still stupid and reprehensible to rob men of the inheritance of Prophets, and to put them in front of a machine where, day in and day out, they must perform a meaningless task."