Saturday, June 17, 2017

Muslim in America

©David Sorcher 2007

It was just over 10 years ago that i was offered an opportunity to photograph Nur and her daughter Aaliya. This image above is certainly one of my favorite portraits in my portfolio and actually won me a Cleveland Press Club Award for 2007. I was on assignment for an feature article about local bloggers. At the time Nur was journaling about her experiences living as a Muslim woman in Northern Kentucky. She was so kind as to invite me into her home where she does her blogging work while raising her young daughter.

Nur was hesitant about revealing her physical identity in the photos for fear of being recognized and discriminated against in her own community. While she doesn't hide her religion she rarely wears a niqab (face veil) in public, but publishing her face in connection with her outspoken writing about a controversial topic seemed unwise to both of us. Her decision to wear one for these photographs served the dual purpose of protecting her identity while at the same time making the image instantly recognizable as a Muslim woman. When I asked if she would also sit with her daughter Aaliya she was also hesitant for similar reasons. Then I noticed the book, "Horton Hears a Who", which she had been reading with her daughter, sitting in the living room and suggested that we could conceal her daughter's identity with the book if she held it up and covered part of her face.

This seems to created a number of interesting and conflicting connections. We have a Muslim woman who is proud of her religion and culture, yet does not feel completely safe revealing her identity to the public for fear of retribution. So she chooses to wear a niqab to cover her face, not because of the demands of her own religion or culture, but rather out of fear of persecution from her American, non-Muslim neighbors. Fearing also for the safety of her child she feels the need to hide her identity as well and so we came up with the book, one which is known and adored by countless children in our Western, non-Muslim culture, and that book acts a a veil for Aaliya in much the same way as her mother's niqab. But for me at least, the book normalizes them as a typical American mother and daughter who do many of the same kind of things that all mothers and daughters do everywhere. So the image seems to defy stereotypes of Muslim women and families while at the same time using them to make a point about cultural clashes, misconceptions and intolerance.

Unfortunately, even 10 years later, very little has changed regarding our fear and suspicion of Muslims living among us. In fact I would say the situation has only intensified over the years as both government and media agencies continue to depict Islam as the enemy of Western societies and the world at large. The truth remains that homegrown radical Islamic terrorism is a relative rarity in this country despite continual hyperbole and fear-mongering, especially when one compares it to attacks perpetrated by those from the extremist Christian Right. Islamic Americans are just that, Americans, and despite all claims to the contrary from certain segments of our population, i believe we have always been made a stronger union through our acceptance and tolerance of the many colors, cultures and traditions the make up this vast melting pot that is our society today.
Muslim; Islam;
©David Sorcher 2007

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