Ramadan for Artists

Faith is “moving past coloring books and beginning to paint on a blank canvas.”

I was surprised when I first read these words by Aaliah Elnasseh, one of the Muslim artists in our interfaith arts community at The Sanctuaries. Many of the younger people I meet tend to associate religion, and by extension faith, with rules and restrictions -- traditions that demand strict obedience. Is faith not the definition, par excellence, of coloring within the lines?

“For me, faith, like art, is a refusal to be limited,” Aaliah continues, turning this popular image of faith upside down. Faith is not shrinking into the expectations of others, but rather bursting through the constraints that we too often set for ourselves and on the world around us. It is crossing the boundaries of what we perceive, how we treat one another, why we live and what we live for. Faith is trespassing on possibility.

And that has profound implications, as the Christian mystic Simone Weil reminds us, with reference to the brutal practice of slavery in antiquity: “When circumstances came about wherein a number of slaves were liberated, masters could not get [unliberated] slaves to obey them … Thus as long as liberty does not feel like a possibility, slaves cannot disobey. Whenever they sensed it was possible, they could no longer obey.”*

Although I am not Muslim, I consider Ramadan to be a season of sowing the possible. I witness Muslim artists like Aaliah fast not only with their body, but also with their mind and heart -- seeking both outward and inward fulfillment, as al-Ghazali might say. This alignment of action with intention is critical to the spiritual and creative life alike. Every artist knows how important it is to cultivate outer technique alongside inner vision. It is no small task. But I want to believe that in pursuing this purification in body and spirit, Muslims are planting seeds of possibility, not only for themselves, but for us all.

In an age of distraction, Ramadan shows us that it is possible to pay attention.
In an age of excess, Ramadan shows us that it is possible to make sacrifices.
In an age of division, Ramadan shows us that it is possible to become whole.


* Simone Weil, Late Philosophical Writings. Trans. Eric O. Springsted and Lawrence E. Schmidt. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015: 101.

Rev. Erik W. Martínez Resly's reflection comes to the Parliament of the World's Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at [email protected], or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.


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