Everyday Muslim Symposium: Islamic Design in Wartime Britain

    Everyday Muslim Symposium: Islamic Design in Wartime Britain

Dr. Nazneen Ahmed

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Writing my paper for Everyday Muslim way back in January was an interesting experience. While the material I was drawing on was related to East London, and based on work I did for my previous role researching Muslim histories of East London for “Religion, Space and Migration in East London, 1880-present”, it seemed in the writing of the presentation that I was looking at this material anew, with my Making Suburban Faith eyes. For the archival issues I chose to present, and the material I spoke about from the East London Mosque Archives, were all relevant and spoke to themes on Making Suburban Faith. In the first half of my paper, I considered the problems we face when approaching formal archival repositories in order to recuperate British Muslim histories, a challenge we face in West London too, to an even greater extent. In the second half of my paper I did what I love to do best – show archival treasures and tell their stories. In particular, ideas of everyday vernacular makings, creativity, and design were foremount in my mind when I was putting my presentation together and these ideas really transformed the way I was looking at the material I had found.

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I showed one example of a war time Eid card produced by Jamiat ul Muslimin, but here I can show a few. These cards were sent to ambassadors, politicians and donors, as well as soldiers and congregants of the mosque. Looking through them all I continue to wonder at how organised and assertive an organisation Jamiat ul Muslimin was in East London during the war, with sufficient resources to produce these cards, with foresight to get them made for all significant Islamic events during the year, including two Eids, Ashura and Milad ul Nawbi, not to mention the hospitality and efforts to organise the events themselves – regularly hosting and feeding hundreds of guests at the mosque. These cards paint a vivid picture of buzzing Islamic activity in wartime London, and they’re beautiful too. We can see the designs change over time rather than sticking to one template that is reused over and over again. The changes in themselves are evidence of a series of aesthetic decision-makings by whoever at JuM was responsible for their production. We can see that the cards both reflect popular graphical styles of their period, but are also definitely marked as “Muslim” in distinct ways. They have been designed to be attractive, to be keepsakes, and to impress the dignitaries to whom they were sent with the import and influence of the East London Mosque and of the occasion of Eid.

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We often don’t think of everyday objects being crafted or designed with love, but the labour, thought, and indeed, devotion that go into religious makings is considerable and only requires us to look at those objects with a different, more attentive eye to become aware of them. I’m glad that on the Making Faith project, the “Making” is such a key focus and that we can bring much needed attention to the creative processes that are involved in making religious space.

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