ANDOVER - Kneeling by his canvas in a mist of red and orange aerosol paint, British graffiti artist Muhammed Ali tagged Phillips Academy with religious tolerance last week.
His spray-paint creations mix two cultures many consider to be conflicting - Islam and the West. This latest painting tackled the term "not for self," the prep school's motto, infusing a Bible verse with Arabic symbols and a line from the Quran.
Students were amazed how strikingly similar Christianity's "Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself," looked next to Islam's "None of you will have faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself."
"They are quite the same really," Ali said. "There's a similar foundation. Knowledge of that can help some of the problems we have in the world. ... Islam can be so misunderstood."
Ali's paintings, which he calls "aerosol Arabic," are showcased in galleries and on street walls throughout Europe and the Middle East. They're looked at by many as "a bridge of understanding" between faith communities. Phillips faculty plan to hang the art in the library or multicultural center in the coming week.
Senior Hasan Siddiqi, a member of the Muslim Student Union, asked Ali to come, sparking the artist's first U.S. tour. Ali also left his mark in Chicago and New York City last week.
"Hopefully this gets people to learn more and see what Islamic art is all about," said Siddiqi of Salem, N.H.
Ali fit in a dedication to the Virginia Tech shooting victims in the graffiti mural, saying it fit with his message. And he made sure students helped with the painting, giving them a feeling of ownership.
"It's really cool. It's cool to be part of this," said Alli Lyons, of Reading, who got to help Ali paint. "I had no clue what (the Arabic symbols) meant."
To learn more about Ali's graffiti paintings, log on to www.aerosolarabic.com