In his exhibition entitled ‘Sira el-Nabawia’ (Life of the Prophet Mohamed), Taher Abdel-Azeem tries to delve into Islam’s values in a modern way by using art – a language that all can understand.
One of his oil paintings is inspired by something that happened in the Year of the Elephant, the name in Islamic history for the year approximating to 570 AD.
That year, Abraha, the Christian ruler of the principality of Sheba in Yemen, marched on the Kaaba at Mecca with a large army, including elephants, intending to demolish it. However, the elephants are said to have stopped on the outskirts of Mecca, and refused to go any further, being beaten for refusing to do so.
Another painting shows Abraha preparing to enter the city, while a flock of small birds fly overhead, carrying rocks in their beaks, with which they bombard the Ethiopian forces, who flee in panic.
The Mawlid (Birthday) of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), which occurs in Rabi' al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar, is also described in a painting, which depicts the joy of people celebrating his birthday in Mecca.
Another painting is about the Prophet Mohamed's first revelation, when it is said he was visited by the Angel Gabriel who revealed to him a verse from the Holy Qur'an. It was after this that Mohamed was proclaimed a Prophet of God.
The next painting depicts the Cave of Hira, a small cave 3.5m long and 1.6m wide on Jabal al-Nur, 3km from Mecca. When Mohamed was nearly 40 years old, he spent long hours meditating and speculating over the creation around him; this meditative temperament is said to have helped to widen the mental gap between him and his compatriots.
There is another painting imagining the Prophet’s room after receiving the revelation from Gabriel. In Ramadan, the Qur'an began to be revealed to him in several parts. When the Prophet Mohamed said he was instructed by God to spread the message of Islam openly, he was told by the Qur'an to warn his kinsfolk about the punishment of God. He was attacked by Abu Lahab, one of the enemies of Islam.
Another painting shows how the people who followed Islam were persecuted in every possible way to try and make them abandon their religion.
“I try to explore our rich Islamic history and Islam’s values, using various modernist forms and techniques,” said Abdel-Azeem.
“Foreigners may not understand the sequence of the events and the story behind every painting. However, art is a common language, which we can all understand. The paintings make people want to know more about the stories behind them,” he told The Egyptian Gazette in an interview.
The exhibition, opened by Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, shows how art and religion can complement each other.
“This exhibition presents ‘Sira el-Nabawia’ in a way that is acceptable according to the Shari’a [Islamic Law], awakening people’s emotional and intellectual interest in Islam,” the Grand Mufti said. “May God bless this project and its creator, and may it benefit the people.”
Taher Abdel-Azeem, who graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Cairo University in 1990, wrote his Master’s thesis in 1997 on the visual effects in Steven Spielberg's films. He later completed his PhD in 2001 on costume design in historical films, especially concentrating on those about Cleopatra and ancient Egypt.
He has held many individual and group exhibitions. The ‘Sira el-Nabawia’ exhibition has previously been held twice, in Tunisia and Turkey.
Another thing which has prompted Abdel-Azeem to do these paintings is his reaction to the cartoons lampooning the Prophet, which were published in a number of European newspapers.
“I was angered by such cartoons. But our reaction didn’t go far enough. I feel that it’s the Muslims’ fault. Muslims should know more about their Islamic values,” he said.
“I want them all to draw inspiration from our Islamic tradition. It’s very rich in good values and morals.”
(The Egyptian Gazette)