Blasphemy within Art
Forcing artists to choose between inclusion within their faiths and performing in their chosen fields is the sign of a decaying society.
Zaira Wasim’s post regarding her departure from Bollywood on grounds of religion and God has kicked up a storm in India. Social media and mainstream news outlets have all scrambled for a piece of the action and have thus, attracted a large number of politicians, activists and ‘well wishers’ into the fray.
So, while the mainstream media of India runs around maniacally like a headless chicken we must take a deeper look at not only this particular case but also the general clash between conservative elements of society and art.
The current situation would perhaps not have arisen if Zaira’s post had not included the incompatibility of Islam with Bollywood as a justification. This invited the politicisation of her departure with party line’s being drawn almost immediately.
The BJP has had one of its members alleging that Zaira has been cowed down due to external pressure from ‘radical elements’. The SP has had Azam Khan welcoming the move and agreeing with Zaira on the clash between her faith and her involvement in Bollywood.
In such a time one must remember that Zaira as a private individual has the complete right to withdraw herself from the industry. Allegations of external pressures are at best mere speculation. That being said however, the reason given for her departure is alarming.
Bollywood, Hollywood, theatre and all other forms of art have hosted individuals from all shapes and forms of life. The standards are however rapidly changing thanks to the social media explosion and artists...especially female ones find themselves to be a punching bag for the conservative section of whichever sub-group of society they belong to.
The accusation that performing in movies, songs and theatre pieces ruins an individual’s journey on the ‘path to salvation’ is not only regressive but fails to take historical precedent into mind.
Let us not forget the musical and poetic styles of Islamic artists all the way from Toledo to Baghdad. Theatre has been a central characteristic of Persian and Arabic civilisation. The Opera house of Muscat is a clear standing monument to the acceptance of such art in Islam. Music too has found a place in Islamic civilisation under Seljuk and Turkic rule.
The problem of this perceived clash between religion and art is not limited to the followers of Islam. Hinduism and Christianity have had their fair amount of controversy along the same lines. Be it the recent protests against films thought to be ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-Rajput’ or Christian reactionary groups labelling certain forms of music as ‘satanic’.
Adding fuel to fire is the ‘jump the gun’ functioning of social media influencers and politicians who only radicalise these conservative groups and either support their current behaviour or isolate them, further preventing any form of actual constructive conversation.
The solution lies in an introspective look at the role that religion, and its subsequent cultures, has had in shaping the various distinct forms of art that are found around the world.
India is perhaps the best example of the harmonious blending of various cultures and religions into newer, more complex and nuanced hybrids. This melting pot has influenced art styles, theatre, music, storytelling and much more and so by asking individuals to choose between their God and their art we are only chaining down the human spirit of creation and experimentation.
One actor quitting is not the issue but building a wall between a person’s spiritual needs and his artistic ambitions is a dangerous trend that either threatens the status quo of the religion in question or puts into danger free expression under the wrongful garb of ‘protecting our faith’.