SHAFAQNA – The lives, ambitions, and beliefs of more than 40 members of Brisbane’s Muslim community have been put under the spotlight in a new project aimed at dispelling misconceptions about Islam and its followers.
Award-winning documentary photographer Matt Palmer interviewed and photographed 41 Muslims living in the Queensland capital for his online project, Faces of Islam.
For three days earlier this month he sat down with children, community workers, a lawyer, a doctor, an Indigenous elder from Thursday Island, and many others.
They shared stories and insights such as their journeys to Australia, the kind of music they listen to, and how they coped with the death of a loved one.
Mr Palmer hopes the project will help demystify Muslim people by breaking down false stereotypes, and sharing common experiences.
“After the Paris attacks last year there was a lot of misinformation going out in the public about Muslims,” the 32-year-old said.
“I just got sick of trying to argue with people or give them the correct information so I thought ‘what can I do as a photographer to help not just the Muslim community but the entire community and maybe show a different side to them that people may not have expected?’.”
From there, the idea was born, but it would take a few more months before it flourished into what it has become today.
“Our goal was to have 20 to 30 people involved … it spread through word-of-mouth. People brought friends along with them [on the day], and the friends saw what was going on and thought the project was a great idea so they ended up getting involved as well,” Mr Palmer said.
Mr Palmer, an atheist, said the project opened his eyes about the virtues of Islam.
“I don’t have any agenda in terms of promoting that [Islam]. But what I want to do is promote the people involved,” he said.
“Most of my questions were around just the everyday lives because I feel the project is about people who happen to be Muslim.
“I learned a lot of things, particularly that the Muslim people I talked to – compared to the rest of the people in my life – they’re very engaged in the community and helping people.”
Mr Palmer said most of his questions were around people’s everyday lives.
“I feel the project is about people who happen to be Muslim,” he said.
“I only asked them one question that was specifically about Islam when I talked to them and that was ‘what do your beliefs mean to you?’ That’s not just an invite to talk about Islam, that could be an invite to talk about how they believe animals should be treated because you have beliefs outside of religion, of course.”
Mr Palmer wants to one day bring his work to life as a physical display somewhere in the city.
‘I’ve had so many non-Muslims telling me how fantastic it is’
Community worker Naseema Mustapha was one of the first people to sign up to the project.
“It’s powerful. It’s really powerful. The messages that are coming through are amazing … I’ve had so many non-Muslims telling me how fantastic it is. I can see the vision has really come through,” the 46-year-old said.
“My belief is that Islam teachers me about peace, harmony and respect of other religions and cultures. Islam talks about people coming together … it’s about bringing societies together, communities together.
“The Islam I know and the Islam the majority of Australians know are two different things.
“I would like Australians to see Islam the way I see it and how I practice it.”
Ms Mustapha said she would love to see the exhibition travel the country.
“We’d hope to do an exhibition in Melbourne in Federation Square,” she said.
“When we finish we’d like it to stay at the Islamic Museum in Melbourne.”