The right kind of representation is important. And Carlos Khalil Guzman, a photographer based out of Brooklyn, is using his camera to combat Islamophobia.
Muslims of America is a photo series that I started in September of 2015, and the idea is to highlight the real side of Islam.
Guzman, a Muslim who grew up in Queens, is merging his activism with his love of art through his photo series “Muslims of America.” I had the chance to talk to Guzman about his project and the inspiration behind it.
Muslim Girl: What is “Muslims of America” exactly?
Carlos Khalil Guzman: So basically, Muslims of America is a photo series that I started in September of 2015, and the idea is to highlight the real side of Islam. The way that I do that is by showcasing the diversity of the Muslim community. When you look at the photos, you see the diversity not only in terms of color but in terms of ethnicity, people from every walk of life. I have subjects that belong to the LBGTQ community, people that are first and second generation in the United States. The photos are there to physically show the diversity in the Muslim community.
The second part of it is the educational aspect. There are reflections that every person gives me; I don’t use the same one so everyone has to give me something different. The reflections are based on ayahs from the Quran or hadith, and for non-Muslims, they’re able to read the quotes and see how Islam has helped people in their lives and what it means to them.
How do you choose the people that are featured?
I’ll usually post it on social media and people message me. The Huffington Post actually covered it, which helped a lot because people started reaching out to me. It was really helpful because I’m trying to get Muslims from every state. So usually someone will contact me, and then I’ll fly out to wherever they are and take their photo and then fly back home. I really want to get 114 people featured, one for every chapter of the Quran, so about two or three from every state; right now I have about 62.
Is this what you do full-time then?
No, I work full-time at a photography studio in the city, so I do all of this out of my own pocket and on my own time. There isn’t really funding available for this kind of thing. So I’ll work during the week and save up and find a date that works for whoever I’m shooting, book a flight, take their photo, and come back and save for the next trip.
That requires a lot of dedication, you must be really passionate. Where did the idea for this project come from?
There was a point that I got really into activism, and I went back to school and I started doing a degree in filmmaking, with the idea of merging social justice with the media. I wanted to try and find a way to tell people’s stories. Stories of people in my community, people of color, marginalized communities. So that’s kind of how l got into photography and that sort of evolved into using visual media as a way of talking about social injustice.
The media whitewashes a lot of that stuff, or they focus on marginalized communities when they can profit off of them. they only focus on them when they can make money out of it. So I wanted to change that and let these communities speak for themselves.
So why do you think it’s important to have something like this, especially now?
It’s important because Islamophobia is not going to go away. Just like racism hasn’t gone away, now it’s amplified because we have a white supremacist in the White House. You know, he’s [Trump] outspoken about it. He’s racist, sexist and all the “-isms” that you can think of. But always been here, but it was quieter in the past. Now, having someone like Trump in power, it’s allowing all of the racists in the country to feel like it’s okay to be racist because they know that there will be no consequences.
There are a lot of working class people that don’t have the time to read the Qur’an and they’re trying to understand an entire religion – my project simplifies it for them.
And so, I feel like my project is a way of countering that; it’s a way of fighting it in a creative way. And with the educational side [the quotes] it’s a way for people outside of the Muslim community to learn about Islam. There are a lot of working class people that don’t have the time to read the Qur’an and they’re trying to understand an entire religion – my project simplifies it for them.
When you see the photos, you can easily see yourself in them, Muslim or not. It’s good because it’s not just Arabs that are featured, it’s Latinos, it’s African Americans, it’s everyone.
What’s one thing that you want people to take away from the series?
I would say that…Islam is a way of life. It’s not just religion, it teaches you to be patient. It teaches you to be tolerant, it teaches you to be compassionate and it teaches you to truly look within yourself. Islam is a way of destroying the ego and realizing that your actions don’t only affect you, but the people around you, your community, and the environment. I think that’s important for everyone to know.
You can follow Carlos on Instagram @CarlosKhalilGuzman or go to carloskhalilguzman.com to see the full photo series.