Picture 019(August 3, 2009) – MuslimFest 2009 held an Open Discussion Forum on the role of Arts and Culture in a Muslim’s life during the festival that took place at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga this past weekend.

The question up for discussion was ‘Arts, Culture and Religion – Friends or Foe?’

“The goal of the forum was to foster understanding and promote dialogue on this important topic,” said Afaun Mandol, an organizer of MuslimFest.

A small group of attendees took time out from the numerous events at the festival to join the forum which was skillfully moderated by educator, Michael Cassidy.

Cassidy began the forum by suggesting to the participants that the gathering should be an open circle for discussion instead of the traditional format of presentations followed by questions and answers

“The Forum should be a symbolic place within a gathering – a place to centre the experience and perception within each of us and a place to listen to our own questions” he said.

The participants actively engaged with the question and expressed the opinion that the ‘Friend or Foe’ description was far too simplistic – artistic and cultural expressions can be either a friend or foe depending on the intention and ethics behind the activity or product.

“We need to ask ourselves about the meaning of art, the objectives invested in it and what it offers us,” said panelist, Muneeb Nasir. “Arts imbued with purposefulness and ethics should bring us closer to God.

All participants agreed to challenge one another to remove the prefix, ‘Islamic’, from art or music to see how joining the larger arena feels- does Islamic art stand up with other art or music?

The creation of an ‘Islamic niche’ with the Arts and Culture field was also debated.

“It sounds comforting to those using it, like a safety, a protecting feature, keeping the wrong or bad out of the box – like a walled city,” said moderator, Michael Cassidy, challenging the group.

After the forum, panelist, Hind Al-Abadleh, commented that “one could see that people in our community are hungry for these healthy debates where one speaks their mind without hostility or intimidation.”