Juxtaposing modern British street art with ancient Islamic creativity, graffiti artist Mohammed Ali and photographer Peter Sanders have chosen the United Arab Emirates for their show Salam in the City. Salam is the Arabic word for peace.

 

It is the first time Ali, 27, from Birmingham has exhibited outside the UK.

 

"Dubai seemed like the perfect venue because of its strange urban mix," says Ali.

 

"There is hi-tech modern architecture, contrasted with traditional beautiful mosques and desert landscapes all around."

 

The urban Islamic artist has collaborated with Sanders, also a Muslim, to show their work in the hi-tech environment of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

 

Ali's colourful words of peace, love and knowledge - the core teachings of the Islamic faith - and Sanders' classical photographs, capture contrasting angles of the Muslim world.

 

Muslim peace

 

"In the hustle and bustle of city life, people need to take time out for religion, for deen. The two are not in opposition but can fit quite comfortably together," Ali told Aljazeera.net.

 

"At the moment, Muslims are dealing with feelings of distress, and salam is what is needed."

 

Ali's work Muhammad, with
writing in Arabic text and English

Ali believes his exhibited artwork is a response to the recent negative portrayal of Muslims in the media.

 

"I am trying to show the other side. We have to remember what Islam is about. The Prophet Muhammad has been vilified, but we have to remember he was a prophet of love," he said.

 

He hopes his artwork is able to convey the message of Islam, the basic teachings of the prophet, of love, peace and knowledge.

 

"The teachings of [the Prophet] have been demonised in the news, but I am trying to remind the world of his true message."

 

Graffiti art

 

But why choose graffiti art to push forward the renaissance of Islamic art?

 

"I use a modern-day spray can to display words that came down 1400 years ago to glorify God."

 

"Islam was imported into the West and now we are exporting it back to its birth place"

Mohammed Ali,
artist

In a previous interview, Ali told Aljazeera.net: "Graffiti is about glorifying yourself by spraying your street names on walls, but the simple words I use are to glorify Allah." 

 

Ali's genre, which he now calls calligraffiti, allows him to merge his graffiti background with his passion for Islam.

 

"The media referred to my work as calligraffiti. I liked it and it stuck.

 

"I wouldn't call myself a calligrapher, because if I said that, then people would expect me to produce classical artwork. Similarly, I am no longer a traditional graffiti artist … the two have merged.

 

"Muslims in Britain are influenced by Western graffiti, so I have a unique British style of Islamic art."

 

Ali explains that artists in the Middle East have not been exposed to graffiti art like their counterparts in the West.

 

"In a way Islamic art has spun right around. Islam was imported into the West and now we are exporting it back to its birth place."

 

Life through a lens

 

Sanders, on the other hand, captures the diversity of Islamic societies through his camera lens.

"There is a saying by an African shaikh. He said, the river is crystal clear … it reflects the colours of the river bed. That is how I see Islam - in Africa Islam is African, in Britain, it is British and in China, it is Chinese. Islam is fluid and adopts the culture of the country," he said.

Sanders' photography focuses
on the Muslim world

Sanders started his career photographing rock bands, including the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.

"Rock stars were my idols, Bob Dylan was a favourite. Through photography, I was able to get closer to my idols."

 

In 1971, when Sanders was 25, he embraced Islam.

 

"My heroes now are people who spend their time devoted to prayer."

 

Sanders has travelled around the world photographing children attending prayer classes in China, Turkey's magnificent mosques, Bedouins in Arabia and forgotten African realms.

 

"Photography is a wonderful process, a gift from God that has allowed me to learn so much about myself and the world around me. It's like chasing a moment, trying to capture a beautiful bird in flight."

 

The exhibition is currently showing at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi until 11 March.