Art Therapy in the Muslim Community
By: Jasiah Latifi
Art therapy has been proven to be effective in reducing stressors, increasing physical and psychological wellness. For those who are facing fatal illness, art therapy has been utilized to help them cope, psychologically and improve their physiology, “there is evidence that art-based interventions are effective in reducing adverse physiological and psychological outcomes… in all 4 areas of creative artistic expression reviewed here, there are clear indications that artistic engagement has significantly positive effects on health.” (Stuckey, Nobel, 2010). For those who are fated to live their life with a medical or mental illness, art therapy has been around to help them maintain themselves, “…People with cancer maintain a positive identity through engaging in art…” (Reynolds and Prior, 2006), and help them remain members of their communities. Kennett reported that a hospice center in London commissioned art murals to the residents of their facility as a method to integrate their residents as healthy enough to be back into society (Kennett, 2000), a method known to be a part of palliative care, an approach that is designed to help reduce pain, symptoms, and stresses such as physical and mental, in patients diagnosed with a serious illness. People who are diagnosed with an illness, whether it be mental or medical, may find it hard to communicate with those who come to visit them, or it could just as easily be the other way around, where people who come to visit the ill are unable to speak to them. Art helps bridge the gap between these people and help them overcome their inability to converse with one another. To have a conversation, words are just an option, a person can tell their loved ones how much they’re hurting through a picture, just like they could with words, but with art, it may be easier to send the message across, and it may be easier for others to receive the message. Communication is important to be a part of a society, or even a smaller-scale group like family and friends, and whatever words a person is struggling to get out, they can definitely utilize art therapy, and art in general, to speak volumes.
These methods of art therapy have been available to Muslims through artistic expressions that have come to be symbolic of Islamic history. The Muslim Community, for generations have found artistic expressions of their faith to have immense healing properties. It doesn’t just have to be a diagnosable disease or even a calamity that you are in need to work through, but rather to help yourself internally and to expand your spiritual wellness. Art has been used traditionally in Islamic history as a method of cathartic processing. It can also be a mode to allow one’s spirit, which contains inherent creativity, to be a mode of inspiration. To date, calligraphists of the Muslim world sit around with their pupils allowing their spirits to radiate inspiration through the choice of Qur’anic scriptures they compose on paper. These selections inspire the writer to approach life through a new lens. The lens that is contained within the messages of the scriptures their hearts select. Incorporating spirituality further into art therapy, can also further our interest in our religion through this process. Inspiring greater adherence to the very spiritual codes that we hold dear to us by internalization of that which we compose. In the book, Using Art Therapy with Diverse Populations, art therapy includes, but isn’t limited to: writing out Quran verses in calligraphy, or creating art of the Ka’ba. The book also mentions that art therapy sessions with members of the Muslim community often include images of the desert, camels, and even dates, all of which we find significant meaning in the stories of Islam, and our experiences with our religion (Prasad, Howie, Kristel, and Kingsley, 2013).
We can take this process of art therapy and help those ourselves and members of our community, by showing them that art isn’t just drawing rainbows and puppies, but rather by incorporating our deen into a process that can be a source of lowering ones inhibitions and anxieties. If conducted according to psychological bases, art therapy can be useful for many who struggle with the challenges of indecision and worries of life. Through their art, one can learn to let one’s spirit, which has a capacity for divine intuition, lead. For the Prophet (saaw) said, “be mindful of the believer, for verily he sees with the Light of God.” Those who are suffering from either physical or psychological stress in the Muslim community can be reintegrated into the community by doing as those mentioned in the hospice center in London. However, for the Muslim there is a focus on creating art surrounding the history of their Muslim predecessors, or creating pieces that revolve around Quranic verses. Those who struggle with worldly troubles can pick up a their wooden piece, soak it up with ink and find an ayah or a hadith that speaks to them thereby putting their inner being onto a sheet of paper. Art Therapy is more than just about finding out what is wrong from a picture that you drew. The actual process of creating a piece of art in itself is therapeutic, and by incorporating our religion and spirituality into our pieces we can develop ourselves to become better Muslims, and improve our spirituality.