On September 11, 2001, there were innumerable casualties: lives claimed both among the towers and in the aircraft, loved ones shattered by grief, and an iconic city skyline, forever altered. On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, a certain casualty of this tragedy still struggles to even be acknowledged. Muslim Americans have faced the brunt of serious cultural misunderstanding, discrimination, and acts of violence due to their perceived relation to the attackers.
I first became interested in a reportage about Muslim Americans in2010 after reading about a controversy over converting an unused convent onStaten Island in New York into a mosque and community center. Many local residents vehemently protested the intended repurposing at various community board meetings, including the shouting-down of a US Army officer who simply asked if people would be willing to be good neighbors with the mosque.
The backlash on Staten Island is only one example, however, of the intensely un-neighborly conduct that has been shown to this group of Americans, especially in the wake of 9/11. Muslim communities in places such as San Diego, California; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Jacksonville, Florida; Joplin, Missouri; Murfreesboro, Tennessee have also experienced public outcry and outrage over attempts to either build new mosques or to expand existing ones.
As American citizens merely looking for space to observe their religious beliefs, they have often been greeted with protests and marches, and in some extreme cases with vandalism and violence. And these threats are very real. For example, three men were convicted in 2019 of plotting to blow up an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas that housed Muslim refugees from Somali and the Mosque where they pray.
I realized that those railing against the Mosques didn't seem to know any Muslims themselves or have spent any time within a Mosque to see what was truly going on. So I decided to document life within the walls of the mosques and in Muslim American communities.
I first began by spending a year photographing a Mosque and Community Center run by the Muslim American Society in Bath Beach, Brooklyn starting on the first night of Ramadan in 2010. But the series grew to includeMosques and Community Centers both in other parts of New York City and around the United States.
Large scale tragedies have occurred worldwide when people suddenly perceive their neighbors as something apart from and other than themselves. My hope is that this photo series can encourage a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in America that attempts to erase the boundaries that engender a sense of “them”and begin to foster a sense of “us.”