To Finish My Book I Need a Muslim Woman With a Story to Tell

Berkeley CA  artist Salma-Arastu with her painting Expansion of the universe. Photo by BF Newhall

Berkeley CA artist Salma Arastu with her painting “Expansion of the Universe.” Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

My book is pretty much done. But I still need to find myself a few more people to interview. A nice, talkative Muslim woman with lots of thoughts and stories, for one.

I’ve interviewed dozens of people for my book. It’s working title is Wrestling With God: True Stories of Religion and Spirituality, as Told to a Hopeful Skeptic. I’ve heard the stories of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and even an atheist or two.

“Night and Day’ by Mohammad Saeed, age 11. Acrylic on canvas. Day unzips to reveal night.

But there are still a few religious traditions that are underrepresented in my book. I could use a Taoist, for example. Also another Jew. And a Muslim. And more women.

Soooo. When I found out that an Islamic art exhibit was being held starting yesterday at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland — I thought, yes, here’s my chance to find myself a Muslim to interview. A Muslim  woman. An artist.

The exhibit hall was crowded with artists and their fans when I arrived. Some artists, it turned out, were as young as 11. Others had been painting professionally for decades.

I found several works that I admired — paintings and drawings by Nabeela Raza Sajjad, Fatima Ozgun and Salma Arastu caught my eye.

But the art work I enjoyed the most was the handiwork of an 11-year-boy, Mohammad Saeed. Mohammad’s “Day and Night” features the darkness of night disappearing behind, get this — a zipper. Genius!

“Oneness of God” by Nabeela Raza Sajjad. Inspired by Quran verses 112:1-3.

I met at least two artists — Nabeela and Salma — who seemed to have what I need in an interviewee: they’re both intelligent, articulate, charming and passionate about their tradition. We’ll see if they have stories they want to tell — or know some people who do.

The exhibit is sponsored by Islamic Art Exhibit, a non-profit group Nabeela founded in 2009. The theme of this year’s show is “The Miracle of Quran;” the artists took verses from the Quran as their inspiration.

Most of the artists represented here are amateurs. Salma told me about another exhibit — strictly professional — currently at the Marin Community Foundation called “Muslim Eyes.”

Enjoy the pictures. I loved taking them. And I loved meeting the artists.

Photos by Barbara Falconer Newhall


Salma Arastu’s “Creation of the Universe.” Inspired by Quran verse 21:30.

Nabeela Raza Sajjad founded Islamic Art Exhibit in 2009. Here, with her drawing “Creation of Heavens and Earth.”


Islamic Art Exhibit , “The Miracle of the Quran,” April 1-28, 2012, Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, 1433 Madison Street, Oakland, CA 94612. For details contact  510-832-7600.

“Muslim Eyes,” Marin Community Foundation, Novato, through May 31, 2012.

Fatima Ozgun works in the tradition art of illuminating Quranic text. She painted the delicate border around the calligraphy. I arrived too late to meet her. Too bad for me.




  1. Such an interesting person and beautiful artwork!

  2. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    I enjoyed my time at the art show.


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