Saturday, 4 July 2009

Islam in Great Britain through the lens of Peter Sanders

By Syed Akbar
For those who equate Muslims with terrorism, the photo exhibition by internationally renowned photographer Peter Sanders is an eye opener.
Peter Sanders the other day took Hyderabadis on a journey through the Great Britain giving a vivid photographic description of the lifestyle of Muslims living in the West.
As they say a picture speaks a thousand words, the exclusive Sanders photographs at "The Art of Integration Exhibition: Islam in Britain's Green and Pleasant Lands" "speak" on behalf of 1.6 million British Muslims loud and clear that "Muslims are not terrorists and British Muslims are as much British as others living in Britain".
Peter Sanders, who has carved out a niche for himself in the Islamic world with his classic photographs on Muslim lifestyles and monuments around the globe, points out that there's no clash of civilisations and there's no war between the West and Muslims. And his photographs proved his point. The photographs are extremely and extraordinarily beautiful and many Hyderabadis had for the first time gone through a first hand assessment of Muslims and Islam in the UK.
"For many years I wanted to photograph Islam in the UK, but to be honest, I was not inspired by what I saw. Then I began to meet second and third generation British Muslims, many of them 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," observes Peter Sanders.
Every photograph made it clear that terrorism does not equate to Islam or any other faith or human value.
"Key Islamic influencers need to counter the extremists' narrative. Mainstream message must be made more understandable, available and attractive to meet the challenge of delegitimising extremism and terror. Terrorists' malignant misinterpretations of Islam are rejected by Muslims throughout the UK and abroad," says Fazil Hussain Parvez, senior journalist.
A notable feature of the exhibition is that the photographs challenged a number of misconceptions, for instance, about the tendencies of some communities not to integrate into their adopted homeland.
Peter Sanders began his career in the mid-1960s covering London's seminal rock and roll scene, capturing now legendary music icons in a collection that is considered a classic by collectors. Towards the end of the 1970s, Sanders' attention turned inward which set him on a spiritual search that took him to India and led him in the end to the Muslim world.
"My photography has always been an extension of my life," says Sanders, who converted to Islam before his journey to Mecca in early 1970s. "Photography is a wonderful process - a gift from God - that has allowed me to learn so much about myself and the world around me. It's like chasing a moment, trying to capture a beautiful bird in flight."
The photographs speak about the Muslim roots in British soil depicting archaeological finds that trace back to over 1000 years. The discovery of a ninth century brooch bearing the "Basamala" an Islamic inscription meaning "In the name of God - the most Merciful, the most Beneficent", in south-east Ireland and of eighth century coins from the reign of King Offa stamped with the Muslim declaration of faith, offer glimpses of this little know Muslim history of Britain.
Peter Sanders then takes the visitors through the first mosque in the UK (December 25, 1889), British Muslim personalities including pop singer-turned charity activist Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), scholar Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din) and fashion designer Alia Khan, Muslim charities before winding up with Islamic finance institutions and Islamia schools.

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