Saturday, October 13, 2018

Radical Love: Inspiring the Artist in Me

In case you missed it, I shared my first poem on Radical Love at Hagar Lives, the blog by me and my sister Ayisha Karim. Check it out: Coming Out as a Radical Lover: Prayers, Poems, and Passion for Hagar. The post demonstrates my movement between Academia and the Arts. I recently had the opportunity to share my current work and goals as an artist. Here's how I see it:


I presented my first talk on Radical Love at the IMAN Arts Retreat, October 2017. My talk inspired this drawing by multimedia artist Kelly Crosby.

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I see my art fitting in a unique genre that I call creative academic nonfiction. I was trained as an academic, and the goal of my academic publications was to use creative narrative to challenge the stereotypical images of Islam, Muslim women, African Americans, and immigrants.

I was advised to read fiction when writing my first academic book, American Muslim Women, because it would inspire me to write with brilliant color and rhythm. This practice, I believe, made my book award winning. I discovered that people found my narratives of Muslim women highly captivating and compelling. Since storytelling moves people, I decided to strengthen my craft by incorporating artistic practice in my writing as much as possible. Literary devices that I use include imagery and characterization. Characterization in my writing means spending time portraying real people in great depth, including myself. I regularly incorporate personal stories to draw readers in and to convey particular ideas.

I left academia in 2011, and yet I am still invited by colleges and universities to speak about American Muslim women or speak on Islam, gender, and race, my areas of expertise. In this way, I flow in and out of academic spaces, all the while inspired by great literature. My current work reflects this movement. Beautiful storytelling as an art is as important to me as presenting new ideas that challenge negative portrayals of Islam. Creative academic nonfiction is my genre because I use my words to resist and educate, but with style and elegance.

Blogging and public speaking have provided me the space to enhance my craft as an artist, with the goal of moving away from academic forms of presentation. My goals can be defined as publishing creative writing in print and online that tell real stories through literary craft and at the same time challenge people to think in new ways.  

My current goal is to write my first non-academic book, a collection of creative essays on Radical Love, a concept in the Sufi tradition that teaches that the path to God is the path of Love. The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi has provided for most Westerners a window into this tradition of divinely inspired human love, layered with passion, ecstasy, separation, heartbreak, and union. We’ve embraced Rumi because of his timeless sayings like this one: “They say there is a doorway from heart to heart, but what is the use of a door when there are no walls.”

Imagine, though, rediscovering Radical Love from the perspective of an African American Muslim woman from Atlanta, GA. Illuminated by my personal stories of finding love in never expected places, my essays explore love’s vastness, challenging the way we have been conditioned to think of and talk about love in such limited ways. It’s as though we have locks on our hearts. What happens when we free our hearts to meet their true capacity, to reach deep love outside of romantic relationships and familial ties? And what happens to our stereotypical views of Islam when an African American Muslim woman artist explores love with bold and bewildering beauty and honesty?

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