Muslim Women In The Arts: An Interview With Lubna Shaikh, Arabic Calligrapher

In the name of God, compassionate & merciful بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ | Peace be with you السلام عليكم

Part 1 | Part 2

The second part to our Muslim Women In The Arts series features the MWIA Logo Design Winner and Arabic Calligrapher, sister Lubna Shaikh. Lubna began her business {Revival Arts} a decade ago with intricate hand painted calligraphy and today is a successful Muslim role model for all of us. Dare I say it, she's a bada** Muslimah, yes, I just said it!

I asked Lubna Shaikh about her achievements, what inspires her as a creative person and what top tips she would give to aspiring Muslim women artists. Read on!

Thanks Lubna for taking part, firstly, what type of artwork do you create?

I do several different things. My work in Islamic Art started with carving calligraphy into candles, so I worked with wax, and making lanterns and several different types of luminaries. Not long after I started with Mirror and glass (painting and etching), block printing, woodwork, paint (acrylic, oil, and watercolor), embroidery, and several other mediums. I usually do work with Arabic calligraphy, however, I've done and still do several pieces that don't contain calligraphy.

What sources of inspiration do you turn to? 
My pursuit of the arts, and particularly calligraphy was inspired by the verse, "Without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest". (Qur'an, 13:28)

For so long when I was younger I would seek to find that satisfaction and rest in so many different things - music, friends, etc. The minute I realized where to find it, I wanted to be able to share it with the world. It was the most beautiful inspiration - that I could create work that would be a means to this remembrance.

I'm also inspired by Islam's artistic history - calligraphers of the past who made the connection with their hearts, bodies, and minds, who lifted their pens with the daunting task of creating script beautiful enough to carry the words of Allah. They are so absolutely amazing and awe inspiring.

Most of the time I find my inspiration within the pages of the Qur'an. The verses tend to guide my direction in terms of the painting. However, I find inspiration in many things - nature, people, events, etc.

Do you feel like you've made an impact in your community? Also, what kind of responses do you receive as a Muslim artist?

I started doing work that could be called 'Islamic art' a little over 10 years ago. I hope I've made an impact, but I know the most of it has yet to come inshaAllah.

From doing displays in libraries and at universities, and giving presentations on my art, I feel like I have done a little in presenting the beauty of Islam and Islamic art to people of other faiths.

From my work with the Muslim community, particularly with children, I feel like I've made a greater impact. I partake in presentations and discussions on creativity within my Muslim community that I think are really important to changing people's opinion about the arts.
"I feel as though many don't view the arts to be important, or even to fit within our faith and that's a misconception that really needs to be tackled."
I teach art to young children in our community and I really try to teach it to them in a way that taps into their creativity. It is really important to teach children in a way that engages them entirely. We always talk about Islam being comprehensive, but we don't really impart in our teachings. I teach art to young children, and I also teach Qur'an - and I make it a point to incorporate the two. For me, that is the most important and biggest impact I've made, and the most immediately rewarding.

What has been your greatest achievement to date?

I think one of my greatest achievements was when I began my small business, {Revival Arts}, with my cousin (many years ago). We came up with the idea of placing Arabic calligraphy on candles and various luminaries (many of which we made by hand). It was a big step for us to even start the business.

However, it was definitely a step in the right direction Alhamdulilah. We didn't know how our products would be received, but we carried a vision and went with it. Alhamdulilah, since then we've gained quite a bit of publicity and success.

What are your creative goals for the future? 

Of course I hope to continue to grow my business, but more than that I hope to advance my skills and creativity. I also want to further my studies in traditional Arabic calligraphy. I want to continue to carry my vision and share it with others.

MWIA Logo designed by Lubna Shaikh & Sarah Diab
 One of my biggest goals however is to help encourage the arts within the Muslim community and create a center in my area (the silicon valley, CA) that encourages creative arts and expression. As I currently teach art to young Muslim children, I hope I can not only continue that but expand it to make a difference for the future inshaAllah.

What three top tips would you give to inspiring Muslim women artists? 

     1) Know your religion.
 We're not just women artists, we're Muslim women artists. We can easily take the name 'Muslim', but it is up to us to know and act upon what we claim. We represent something much greater than ourselves, and we should know what we represent. The pursuit of this knowledge is life long and it sometimes gets lost in the work. Make sure you're always doing something, even if it's small, to increase your knowledge of the deen.

     2) Know yourself. 
We shouldn't let other people tell us who we are, or what we think. Define yourself. Be confident in yourself. I think a lot of Muslim women end up living their lives according to what they are told they should be. What they should study, what they should care about, how they should dress, when they should get married, etc. We shouldn't be held back by expectations of others, rather know ourselves well enough to excel beyond.

     3) Make a difference.
Have a purpose. Everyone has gifts and talents, and it’s up to us to find out what they are and use them to do well. Don't lose sight of your vision and goal, and always work with excellence.

Finally, where do you see Muslim American women artists, and Muslim artists around the world, in ten years? 

Muslim American women artists are in a position to create a lot of positive change in the world. Art speaks no heard language - it speaks to the soul. As Muslim American women artists we have a great opportunity to show the true beauty of Islam to the world.

Islamic history is rich with the arts, and with the current rise in encouragement for the arts, there is hope that our future will flourish as well.

In ten years time, I see us recapturing the beauty and life that has escaped from the way many of us practice religion. I see Muslim American women artists cultivating minds and hearts with a sense of identity and spirit, reviving the beauty and serenity that comes from remembrance of the Divine.

Thank you, shukran and jazakallah khairan Lubna. We hope to see great things from you, you're a soulful inspiration for Muslim women everywhere.

For more information on Lubna Shaikh's work check out her {Muslim Women In The Arts artist bio}.

Drop a visit to Lubna Shaikh's portfolio {Revival Arts}

Nadiya El-Khatib; this Washington D.C. based photographer and art teacher with a mixed heritage - Palestinian and Irish - is the motivation for young students to stay in school, studying art!


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