I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting as I quietly entered the Art of Creative Expression workshop at the ICNA Convention this year. I was expecting to meet Zain Bhikha, of course, as he was coordinating the session; my little sister and her friends were expecting to have some good old-fashioned creative fun, and a part of me was expecting cute little rhymes that would make my Sunday. I was not expecting, however, to have to rework my whole theory regarding the power of prompts, pens and a pack of children.
The Art of Creative Expression is a workshop geared towards children between the ages of 12 and 18. It consists of a series of activities that challenge the children to express themselves in ways they aren’t normally accustomed to. The kids were first randomly divided into groups of 7-10 and introduced to Zain Bhikha, Idris Phillips, Omar Abdullah and Khalil Ismail, all of whom are extremely talented musicians touring the US with Helping Hand over the next 4 weeks. After setting the stage with the first creative task, the groups were told they’d be competing to see who could conjure up the most creative ideas and express themselves in the best way. Points would be tallied and each member of the winning team would return home with a prize.
First task: concoct and sketch a hybrid animal—a team mascot, of sorts. Shortly after this seemingly absurd prompt was issued I found myself surprisingly, albeit eagerly, immersed in a group of crossbred, impeccably illustrated animals—a world of ligers and sheraffes, chigers and monkflys, cowls and towls. These were no longer the children I’d been busy rearranging chairs with or handing out crayons to. It was as if we had collectively stepped into an exciting and new world—a world of confident, creative young adults pushing the borders and proving that, if given the chance, they had much to share.
Over the course of the next 2 hours, the room was filled with sounds of children speaking. Sharing experiences, sharing words, sharing thoughts. I walked around the room and learned about how some of these children would describe themselves in 20 seconds, how their minds linked one media (words) with the next (photography), and what they aspired to in life. I was fascinated by the varying responses and admired not only the dynamic approach of this workshop, but also its relevance.
The Art of Creative Expression tackles a constantly recurring issue in the modern world. We live in a time where there is a disconnect between generations that widens by the day. Across America parents are battling “teenaging,” a phenomenon that can best be defined as one in which you ask your teen discussion-oriented questions and are met with monosyllabic responses. Not only is communication something so incredibly lacking in the Muslim community, it is also something that is desperately needed for its success. The transition from immigrant Muslim to American Muslim is a rocky one, and communication and effective expression are key to a fluid movement between the two. This workshop illustrates the potential of Muslim youth and the possibilities that arise from expressive communication.
As I write this piece, listening to Zain’s latest album celebrating 15 years of creative expression, I am reminded of the words with which he opened the session. “There are two types of people in this world—poets and cynics.” Let us, you and I, be those poets that will propel the voice of Muslim generations to come. Let us resist the cynic, and, when faced with a challenge, let’s take a lesson from these children and be those that think, express and create without limit. ■ Rida Bint Fozi