There are over 2 billion Muslims in the world.
You can meet 19 of them who live and work in the Triangle and Charlotte in a dynamic and captivating photography and video exhibit, “Passion in Practice: Muslims of the Carolinas,” through May 10 at UNC’s Carolina Union Gallery.
UNC senior Layla Quran shot the video, and junior Aisha Anwar took the photographs. Both are practicing Muslims.
“We wanted to capture as many different personalities and proof that being a Muslim isn’t just about reading text and praying,” Anwar said.
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In 17 photographs and an accompanying 30-minute video, the exhibit shows how these community members’ faith helps shape their professional and personal lives.
“There are certain things we do in Islam, called the Five Pillars,” Quran said, “But we wanted to show, that like the 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote, ‘there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’”
The pair invited all of the participants to write their own bios.
There is Carrboro’s Emily Mae White, raised as a Protestant in Northern Michigan, whose “heart found its spiritual home in Islam in 2006.”
“She talked a lot about how Islam gives her a recipe to follow, and she likes the structure,” said Anwar, who photographed white in her kitchen making the bars she produces for nursing mothers. “Islam gives mothers a space to be mothers.”
There are photographs of scientists, activists and a domestic-abuse counselor, among others, as well as an artist, Saba Taj, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Studio Art from UNC. Taj’s portrait shows her painting. She shares that, “her artistic perspective draws from her experience growing up Pakistani and Muslim in the American South.”
Another photograph highlights a book, “Memories of Muhammad,” (Harper Collins), its author professor Omid Safi, director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, in the background, a little blurred. A wall of books behind him provides another layer in the photograph and in Safi’s life.
“I was delighted to see Layla and Aisha take on this project,” Safi said recently. “One of the common challenges facing marginalized communities is that they are often spoken for, and their own voice, their own stories, their own songs become silenced and sidelined. What Layla and Aisha are doing is empowering and revolutionary in this way. They are simply shining a bright light on the poetry of ordinary lives that many of us are living.”
Anwar and Quran began the interviews and photo shoots for this exhibit at the end of January.
Then on Feb. 10 UNC dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, all practicing Muslims, were shot and killed in Chapel Hill.
Anwar and Quran were in disbelief.
“We did hit the pause button,” Anwar said. “We didn’t know if we were going to try and finish.”
Quran said, “We used the art we were creating as a way to deal with everything.”
The show is dedicated to the three young people who were killed, “but it also shows that Islam is multi-faceted,” Quran said, “and is not just the view we are seeing in the media.”
One wall of the exhibit shows art created for the three shooting victims. Anwar and Quran said that the three were the embodiment of the passion they are exploring through their art.
The video and photos will be housed at passioninpractice.wordpress.com/. The photographs from the prior show are there now.
Someday, more may appear. Quran and Anwar hope to use this model to interview and photograph Muslims in the Deep South, perhaps even doing a show of young children who are growing up in the faith.
Scrapbook pages are stacked by one of the exhibit’s doorways for people to write their thoughts. One sentiment jumps off the page.
“I wish this world was ready for what you all have to offer.”
The Carolina Union Gallery is at 209 South Road on the UNC campus. It is open 7:30 a.m.-1 a.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday; and , 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday.