Posted by Muhammad Thompson on 10-01-2003 03:11 AM:

some closing remarks

We would like to thank TurkoTek for providing this opportunity for us to express our views - it has been a generous act to devote this month’s salon to an Islamic topic. Thanks also to all those who then corresponded and shared their opinions and experience.

We have kept aloof from the discussion for the latter part of the month since we have found it difficult to avoid controversy: our apologies to all those who have taken offence or been caused any loss of sobriety by our clumsy provocations!

We hope TurkoTek will continue to extend hospitality to muslims and especially those who produce the textiles we all care for - it is perhaps by improving our dialogue with those who make and sell these things that we will answer the questions we have all so keenly discussed.

If you will allow us to court controversy for one last time, we would like to try to characterise one difference between “east and west” as it has manifested itself upon these pages ........

The west places great importance upon the role of the individual. This is evident in western conceptions and appreciation of “art”; usually the artist’s life, statements and other biographical details have a huge - sometimes disproportionate - value in the interpretation of their work.

When we consider Islamic textiles we usually have no biography to help us. We consequently search for more general, sociological, historical details which will address the questions our minds generate. Our contention would be that this anonymity is an important aspect of the muslim artist’s or craftsman’s life and work; that the artist as hero, rebel or other larger than life personality would be offensive to Islamic society.

How might western art be understood differently today if it functioned under this cloak of anonymity? Impossible to say of course but we would venture that a far greater proportion of its output would then be classified as “applied art” rather than “high art”.

Preserving anonymity is important for a muslim artist because it helps to preserve humility. Art is dangerous in east and west but for different reasons. For a muslim the danger is that they will lose humility and their work consequently any divine sanction.

In our article and in the subsequent discussion we expressed our empathy with the view that anomalies in kilims are evidence of this humility. Another explanation was forwarded by contributors that these anomalies were devices to ward off the “evil eye”. This superstitious device is said to be pre-Islamic and evidence therefore of Islam’s lack of impact upon the minds of kilim makers. As with many things, the truth is likely to be much more complex than either view allows.

We append an exchange of emails between ourselves and Filiberto on this subject which might hint at the complexities our small minds can only stumble towards, God willing (insh’Allah).

Filiberto began (in the thread on anomalies) by saying:

“I have little doubt that the above example is a deliberate anomaly.
I agree that a widespread explanation for these anomalies is of the sort "perfection belongs only to Allah".
My humble opinion is that it looks like a device against the ancient universal superstition of the evil eye - renamed with a new "Islamic politically correct" label.
Syncretism DOES exist in Islam.”

We then wrote to him asking for some scholarly work which would help us understand what the evil eye is/was and how it manifests itself in rug making by muslims. He replied with the following:

“Dear Muhammad,I’m sorry but I’m not aware of any study relating rugs produced in the Muslim world and the superstition of the evil eye.
As far as I remember there are only passing references to that phenomenon
in Hull and Luczyc-Wyhowska "Kilim: The Complete Guide" - but you already
know that one - on Joyce Ware’s "Oriental Rugs" and Uwe Jourdan’s "Turkoman: Oriental Rugs".

Thanks Filiberto,
There certainly seems a widespread use of this idea in various cultures but I am not sure we are all necessarily talking about the same thing or thinking the same thing when we refer to the concept. We need to have a better dialogue with those who use them I guess.

I must admit to feeling awkward with the idea of an "evil eye" and I suppose we all evoke this image of some disembodied, glaring eye and are amused by the idea of deploying signs as protection against it. But we can all be guilty of "rushing to conception" without all the facts and information and thereby missing useful and important lessons ......

I asked Nasima to give us an example of how it might be used among Bangladeshi people. The term evil eye is a straightforward translation in this instance. She described how people will dislike someone complimenting a child without adding "ma'sh Allah" (as Allah wills). A compliment without this attribution could be evil in intent. All good things come from Allah and if this is not recognised the compliment could be motivated by aquisitiveness,greed, jealousy ... Some people may be evil in intent. There are Qu'ranic verses which can be used to seek Allah's protection against such evil, (see below).

This is a usage which is entirely muslim in its concepts and philosophy. It has parallels with the item of shopping which must be wrapped for fear that it will attract the evil eye. In fact, it is the responsibility of a muslim not to tempt an illegal act by, for example, leaving valuable posessions lying around. "Envy" would be an illegal act and to arouse it by flaunting your posessions would be a sin. If the item is stolen you would become partly responsible for the crime.

These may be convenient examples and it might be entirely possible or even likely that an ancient superstition called "evil eye" has been taken up and given a new identity using a new language - Islam. The name remains but people's thinking about it has changed radically.

The final two verses of The Qu'ran (Al Falaq and Al Nas) are of course worth reading in this respect; for a commentary on these Maududi is recommended and there are websites where these can be found, (see below). Al Falaq refers to those who "blow on knots" and the use of knots in the spell cast upon the Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) for example, is probably well known to many weavers. We wonder if the Moroccan women prefer weft substitution because it is the least knot-like method; we note that we have many Berber rugs where the bottom of the rug is "unfinished" - no knots have been tied at the fringe and the weave was still open and even starting to fall out .... !

None of the muslim scholars we have read seem to deny that magic can be employed to harm another; but the cure for the magic is "to seek refuge in Allah"; this is the requirement of all effective medicines. The Prophet is found in some ahadith, to recognise and Islamicize certain practices to ward off magic. Women seem to be attributed with particular skill in magical practices and this is certainly a theme of the accounts we have read of the Berbers.

This is bringing me back to the interpretation we put upon the anomalies: if we recognise that the weaver considers herself to be in danger, to be liable to take too much pride and satisfaction from the creative and skillful work she does instead of attributing that skill and beauty to Allah, we might then look for techniques which guard against this danger, devices which help keep the intention pure. "Warding off the evil eye", is just another way of describing the same thing - in this case it is the evil which might be aroused in the weaver were she to begin to consider herself a "creator" in any way like Allah is a creator.

Perhaps there is no great difference between us. That is not to say we shouldn't seek the truth from the weavers themselves - it is just that we have to formulate the right questions, (insh'Allah) to get the information we want and learn the lessons we desire. We need to understand the religious beliefs of the weavers far better than we appear to at present.

Regards, Muhammad & Nasima

web address for Maududi's commentary on Al Falaq:

Dear Muhammad,
Interesting considerations.
Why do not post them in your Salon Discussion?

Dear Filiberto,

Why not post our thoughts? Because we are mindful of the evident bitterness and rancour which many of our words have elicited on TurkoTek. We have been shocked at some of the responses. We do not wish to be guilty of encouraging such displays. We are mindful of warnings against idle talk and conveying information to those whose intention is to misuse it. As muslims we consider ourselves to be partly responsible for provoking such reactions by our poorly chosen and clumsy phrases and ideas.

We are all susceptible to the evils with which the weaver and the artist struggle. We can all be puffed up with pride and arrogance at the eloquence and power of our arguments and ideas. The muslim tries to avoid such conduct, to resist the temptation to argue.

May Allah guide all those who seek knowledge. (I am reminded that I first took up the Qu'ran (nine Ramadans ago) to refute a muslim. All my arguments were turned against me - alhamdullilah - and within the week I had made a declaration of faith at the mosque.)

Our intention has been to promote understanding amongst people who, we thought, had some reason to respect and value the Islamic religion because they valued its art. We will try to avoid rushing to conclusions about our experience in the last month. We certainly feel that many contributors would gain insight into the art/craft by studying the religion and disarming their preconceived notions of Islam. We have learnt things about our own religion by taking part in the Salon.

Thanks to you and Steve and all the other TurkoTek contributors for opening your doors to an Islamic perspective in this month of September.

Regards, Muhammad and Nasima

(We appreciate the contradiction of now posting an explanation of why we shouldn't post an explanation ; we hope other contributors will understand the often opposing emotions and sensations of taking part in a TurkoTek debate! I am sure we all at times are exasperated by the process and resolve to have no more to do with it ..... "One last time into the breach dear friends".)

Posted by Steve Price on 10-01-2003 05:48 AM:

Hi Everyone

I want to thank Muhammad and Nasima for giving so generously of themselves in helping us to learn more about their religion and their culture. They endured some unpleasantness, and I am grateful to them.

As the authors of the essay, they are entitled to the final word in the debates, and I take their post here as being the final word.

Thanks also to everyone who participated.


Steve Price