Peter Sanders(Abdul Azeem) And Islam
“Photographers are attracted by light, they are very sensitive to light — physical light. But, there is also spiritual light — the light within,” Peter Sanders peers expectantly at me as if he wants to know whether I, too, have seen it. “I am especially drawn to this spiritual light that emanates from deep inside,” he smiles faintly.
“There is something in the religion that generates beauty and light.” Sanders is disarmingly genuine and I have no reason to believe his piety is feigned. “I try to capture in camera that spirituality.” His is a career that defies convention.
His works are dedicated to “dispelling stubborn myths.”
“I now use photography as a way to illustrate Islam.” Portraits, architectural studies and the documentation of cultural icons he presents in visually stimulating forms for the glory of Islam. Whether shooting on the streets of Casablanca or of Cairo, Sanders attempts and manages to capture the experience of Islam in a precise way. His style can be intricate but he often resorts to simplest route possible to sketch the rich and varied lives of modern Muslims. He works consistently within the confines of his faith and without compromising his own standards of precision and concision
“Islam is a science,” he says. “Photography is an art.”
“Islam is really a science if you practice it properly.”
“Islam is here to stay in the West. And Muslims must be integrated into Western society.”
“Egypt was one of the first Muslim countries I visited after I became a Muslim. The country provided me with a nice introduction to Islam.”
“Ultimately,” he responds to all praise, “everything is from God.”
“My photography has always been an extension of my life,” he explains. Sanders explored world music while looking into eastern religions for guidance, for certainties. He was searching for spirituality as an alternative to conventional Christianity. He spent seven months in India, and became better acquainted with Islam, Budhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. He delved into different aspects of these religions, but it was Islam that truly touched him. Sanders found a lot of friends through his interest in the music world and religion. He wanted to understand the world around him. He also wanted to make eloquent images. When he became a Muslim in 1971, his life changed beyond recognition. It was then that he discovered Egypt.
Sanders sounds exceptionally excited about being in this part of the world. Egypt, for him, held a special fascination and appeal. Besides, “I love Arabic. It is an amazing language. It is a language of the heart. Arabic is a revealed language. It is important to understand what you are saying in prayer. When I was first introduced to Islam, I had the prayers all written out. It is important not to recite words without understanding,” he cautions. “I knew someone some time ago who was arrested in Morocco on a drugs charge. It was in Ramadan. That man became a Muslim later primarily because of the recitation of the Quran by another inmate, a Moroccan who recited the Quran all day long. Something in the pious recitation touched my friend. I, too, was inspired but more by the blinding light that emanates from pure faith.”
Peter Sanders, also known as Abdul Azeem after his conversion to Islam, will exhibit an impressive collection of photographs at the event, which is to be held on Wednesday and Thursday. Thirty-eight photographs — from Sanders’ collection “In the Shade of the Tree” — will be shown on screen using a projector with the photographer providing his personal commentary to the pictures.
The event, which will be held at the JCCI’s Sheikh Ismail Abu Dawud Hall, has been organized by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). “The exhibition is aimed at projecting Islam in a positive light,” said Dr. Huda Fatani, one of the organizers. “Peter Sanders is a world-acclaimed photographer and has held this exhibition in many countries. His mission is to represent Islam in a better way. It is not everyday that Peter Sanders comes to town,” she added.
The exhibition, which begins at 7 p.m. and ends at around 9 p.m. on both days, is invite-only on Wednesday and open to all members of the public on Thursday. Special arrangements have been made for women. Dr. Muhammad Badahdah, WAMY assistant secretary-general, will open the exhibition.
Peter Sanders is celebrated for capturing the many wondrous and exotic faces of the Muslim world. Born in London, he began his career in the mid-1960s covering many of the pop stars of that era, including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and The Doors. Sanders has documented the Haj on numerous occasions — the first in 1971. These images, in recognition of their rareness, appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine, the Observer color supplement, Paris Match, Stern and Europa magazines.
Between 1989 and 1993, Sanders documented the expansion of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah. He has hosted exhibitions on the Kingdom at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London and has also worked with the Saudi in-flight magazine, Ahlan Wasahlan.
Sanders’ book, “In the Shade of the Tree: A Photographic Odyssey Through the Muslim World,” published in 2002, is a collection of images of Muslim life from around the globe. The book includes shots of mosques — including Beijing’s 1,000-year-old Niujie Mosque and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem — and astonishing portraits of individuals. In 2006, Sanders launched the “Art of Integration” project in Egypt, which then traveled to Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. It is now showing in 25 different countries.
Peter Sanders – Art of Integration
When Muslim Arabs first traveled to China nearly 1300 years ago, they were not in fact introducing an alien religion to an already long-established civilization. Rather, they called their Islam “the Way of the Pure”—a name and an ideal that did not conflict with the Confucian beliefs prevalent in China at that time—and their early mosques looked like Chinese temples and pagodas.
And Shaykh Ba, a West African scholar, said this about Islam:
The river is crystal clear.
Its water remains pure,
Sweet and unpolluted.
It reflects the color of the riverbed.
Thus it is that Islam in China is Chinese, just as in Africa it is African and in here in Britain, it is British.
When I began this project in earnest in early 2005, William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem” came to my mind time and time again, along with memories of singing it, as most British school-children did, at school assemblies in my early years.
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Upon looking carefully at the lyrics, I was sure that Blake was speaking about a spiritual Jerusalem: a place where people of all faiths could live in harmony. This is a vision I believe in.
Like most great visions, it is not something easily achieved, as events in London in July 2005 made all too clear. Yet such is the enthusiasm and sincerity of the Muslims I met during this project that I truly believe it is a possibility. Most were second- and third-generation British Muslims, many of them young, professional and artistic—people who did not have the fears and concerns of previous generations of Muslims in Britain, but were integrated into their country. Within them was a confidence that to be both British and Muslim was not a problem, and that, on the contrary, their lives could contribute to realizing the vision I shared with Blake:
Till we have built Jerusalem In England’s green and pleasant land.
The Art of Integration is a graceful and visually poetic reminder that Muslims have been part of British life for well over a century and have made and continue to make an important contribution to the United Kingdom’s rich cultural diversity. Contrary to the headlines and editorializing, the vast majority of Muslims live peacefully and productively in Britain and many have significantly enriched the intellectual and cultural landscape of this great island nation.
Michael Sugich, London, 2008
Mosaic’s work is overseen by our national Advisory Board, comprising the following inspirational leaders.
One of London’s leading photographers of rock musicians in the 1960s, Peter’s work has since focused on followers of Islam. His first book quickly sold out, and the second work The Art of Integration shows how Muslims have been an integral and important part of Britain for more than a century.