About the book
This paper discusses the concept of purposeful art (al-fann al-hadif), which is ideologically motivated art that caters to Muslim religious sensibilities, in opposition to lowbrow art (al-fann al-habit) that does not. The article compares the Lebanese Shi‘ite resistance movement Hizbullah and its ideologue (early mentor and moral guide) Ayatullah Fadlallah, on the one hand, with Shaykh Gamal al-Banna’s attempt in Egypt to include dance into the concept, on the other. The main question of this article is how purposeful art – particularly dancing as an illustration of the sensitivity of body in public space – is legitimised by the jurisprudential notion of maslaha (interest, advantage) – mafsadah (vice, disadvantage) in the Shi‘ite tradition, and its counterpart hasanat (good deeds) – sayyi’at (bad deeds) in the Sunni tradition. The article begins by explaining the dance debate in the Egyptian Islamic cultural sphere by its initiator al-Banna, and its two main participants in the Lebanese Islamic cultural sphere: Hizbullah and Fadlallah. Viewing itself as a ‘resistance public’ to the hegemony of the state, and considering itself as counter-public to other Islamist movements who confine women to the private sphere, Hizbullah stands out as a progressive Islamic movement that buttresses performing arts, including dancing. This reasoning reflects Hizbullah’s own self-perception and continuous process of self-evaluation, which can result in legitimising artistic practices that were once considered forbidden. Thus, the party allowed gender mixing and dancing on stage, for the ‘noble’ purpose of what it calls ‘resistance art’.
Shami argues, “The emergence of socio-religious movements [e.g. Hizbullah] are important to examine, especially in the ways that they challenge and/or intersect with nation-state projects on identity, justice, welfare and secular modernist notions of body, self and gender” (2009: 37). Bearing this in mind, this article endeavours to convey another face of Hizbullah – how, as a progressive Islamic movement, it can contest the hegemony of the state in public space through artistic cultural productions, including dancing, which leave room for the female body to perform on a stage characterised by gender mixing, for a mixed audience.
1. Introduction: The Debate
2. Ways of Reasoning: Maslaha and Hasanat
3. Hizbullah’s Ideas and Practice