Is there a clash of civilizations?
London-based British photographer Peter Sanders, a Muslim convert, tries to answer this question in an exhibit at the British University in Egypt.
Through a mix of portraits and scenes from British Muslims’ daily lives, “The Art of Integration: Islam in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Lands , Sanders zooms in on this much contested topic.
Alongside musician Youssef Islam (aka Cat Stevens), and revered writer and lecturer the late Martin Lings, are photographs of a doctor at work, a policeman on duty and a woman wearing the niqab (face veil) applying make-up to a model.
Sanders’ photographs do not reduce the identity of the two million British Muslims to a single image.
Sanders told The Daily Star Egypt in an email interview that he is not trying to send a specific message.
“I just wanted to show the ‘other side’ of the story. All situations have two sides and I felt only one side was being presented.
Ambassador Sir Derek Plumbly, who inaugurated the exhibit, said the photographs are “particularly British and would do much to tackle stereotypes of Muslims in Europe.
While the exhibit will clearly show a different side of Muslims to non-Muslims, both Plumbly and Sanders commented that it was also important for other Muslims to see how they were integrated and accepted in Britain.
Sanders told The Daily Star Egypt that “people were very surprised that contrary to the media, Muslims are not totally oppressed in the UK and in fact hold some very significant positions in society.
What inspired Sanders were second and third generation British Muslims, many of whom he says are “young, professional and artistic young people who did not have the fears and concerns of previous generations. Within them was a confidence that to be British and Muslim was not a problem.
Sanders believes integrating the two cultures is important and comments that “Islam in China is Chinese, in Africa it is African and in Britain it is British.
“Once you start to impose a culture on another country or a group of people you begin to make them appear as alien, he says.
Plumbly thinks that a European Islamic tradition is being formulated. He agrees that is it important for “people of all countries anywhere to incorporate their national identities with their religious ones.
Yet he does not believe it is for an outsider to judge when the right balance is struck between integration and identity but “all should be comfortable with the integration.
British University in Egypt (BUE) president Mostafa El Fekki emphasized the importance of arts as the “international language. It is the language of all without differentiation, he said.
The exhibit was launched in Cairo in 2005 and has since toured internationally in 25 countries.
It will be showing in Shorouk city at the British University in Egypt, in cooperation with the British Embassy, until March 15. It is one of the initial activities of the Arab and Islamic Studies Center that the university is founding in cooperation with Exeter University in the UK.