Art, Music Paint Positive Bay Area Muslim Sentiment

Waving her arms in the air and twisting her hands together, Nabila Mango, co-founder and director of Zawaya, explains how she wants the music to sound.

“I want them to hear the adhaan [Muslim call to prayer] and the Ave Maria [Catholic prayer] at the same time,” she says to the four artists in the room. “I want them to co-mingle.”

She is celebrating two years of being cancer-free by running a music rehearsal for her latest project. Mango, two singers, a violinist and an “oud” (Middle Eastern guitar) player are gathered in the Oakland home of Tanya Strum, one of the singers. They are trying to harmonize prayers from two different religions in preparation of an upcoming performance this weekend at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland. Zawaya, literally “aspects” in Arabic, a Bay Area non-profit focused on developing multicultural programs and the Arab arts, is organizing “Doorway to Islamic Civilization,” a series of hands-on arts and culture workshops that will be held from Nov. 9-11.

This year, Zawaya got a small grant from One Nation Foundation, a Washington-based organization that partners with local groups in different cities to develop cultural programs that combat Islamophobia through the arts. Mango is using the money from this grant to develop the program, which will include workshops on calligraphy, music, pottery and informative sessions about Islamophobia, among many other workshops for kids and adults.

“What’s becoming a reality for the Muslim community in the last few years is that there is a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment. There is hate and misinformation.” Mango said. “But we want this to be fun. We want people to come, drink some chai, talk to a muhajjabah [hijab-wearing] lady, a non-muhajjabah lady and say, ‘These guys are okay.’”

The “Doorway to Islamic Civilization” event will start Friday evening with a panel discussion and screening of “Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World,” a film by Michael Wolfe, founder of Unity Productions Foundation. The workshops will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday and end at 7:30 p.m. with a Sufi “dhikr,” a meditation by the Mevlevi Order of America. Sunday’s workshops will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A schedule and registration instructions can be found on Zawaya’s website.

Additional reporting by Steve Fisher and Mark Anderson.