A young Muslim man, Adil Mian, got in touch a few months ago with a visually stunning series of work titled ‘Roses For Jihadis’. That was the first thing that captured my eye. The word ‘Jihadi’ screamed out to me. I instantly thought of American news channels, Hollywood action films and anger: not from the Muslim community, but from everyone else.
The images that flashed through my mind quite strongly contradicted what Adil had emailed me, so I spoke to him about why he created them.
Why did you choose the name Roses for Jihadis?
The title came before anything else - the root of the idea. It was to provide an alternate narrative to that of the violence associated with appropriated arabic terminology. Roses = Love, Jihadis = Suicide bombings/Violence right? That contrast is vital, it's like OutKast's 'Bombs over Baghdad', it's a very visceral image, bringing the elegance of a rose and the ugliness of the Jihadi narrative. So what if we could bring some humanity back to that word? Anger begets anger, understanding begets understanding.
Why's it important to dismantle the term Jihadi?
It's very important for any muslim to not be afraid of his/her own religious expression - whether that reside in arabic or not isn't relevant as that nuance isn't afforded to us. There are many things that go into that but how an oppressive political landscape shapes foreign languages into a tool for instilling terror and divisiveness is one old and tested technique. When Linda Sarsour used Jihad to symbolise resistance against the Trump administration, it of course became every white nationalists dream realised: 'every muslim wants to bring down the western way of living' and so on. But in the slew of degrading articles that followed, there was discussion of its true meaning and intent as a struggle of a people to survive under oppression. There needs to be space to breathe for a people, especially in language, otherwise alienation will follow.
What does the word 'Jihad' mean? Is it still not about war?
It was never predominantly about war until the past few decades - that's a predictable answer but in one of the screen grabs in the series it shows that the frequency of 'Jihad' in literature rocketed only post 9-11. Out of all 164 mentions of Jihad in its various forms in the Quran, only one is about punishment and it has it's specific context, and that being one of the most grossly abused passages in recent quranic history (Surah Tawbah).
I don't want to talk too much about specific theology lest the youtube sheikhs have my head nor do I care for proving that Islam is a peaceful religion, it's not my job or any muslims. But it's interesting that one of the earliest form of non-violent protests is the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. It's just about resistance, being liquid you know, in spirit and and physicality, there's the concept of minor and major jihad, and it's the lesser jihad that's concerned with militaristic action for self-defense. The important interpretation is about community, family and self. As an idea of pure violence it has been growing with indirect support from western governments - it didn't start with Daesh - but it did reach a high point. The ideology is a behemoth that's been hand-fed by the very powers that use it to blame and strip muslims psychologically everyday.
Why face it with something that could be considered controversial?
It wouldn't make sense otherwise.
It has to be controversial until it isn't. Take Ai Weiwei, his whole career is one big controversy for the Chinese authoritarian regime but that's the reason why it matters. We can't sit and passively accept stories that are pushed onto us, that degrade our humanity. That's one of the primary interests for me in art, the challenging of dehumanisation I guess.
How do you see yourself continuing this work? Or is this a one-off piece?
As an artist I have a short attention span, and only have energy for projects that I find meaningful. I'm sure I'll do something with it now that it's out. I have ideas for the series in an exhibition with unique elements expanding on the material. Maybe some merchandise!
What should we expect from you in the future?
WATCH A VIDEO ON THE PROJECT
In peach - Tahmid Rahman
In turquoise - Usaama Minhas
In purple - Waleed Mir
Music - Mahir Mistry
BTS video - Antonio Henry