Written by Agnes Fischer.
I believe our differences strengthen us, not our similarities. We lose our fear of each other when we gain insight into the lives of people unlike us, so I decided to launch The Solidarity 365 Project, where I’m featuring one Muslim a day for 365 days.
This portrait series is intended to be a living body of images — a space of truth and vulnerability where the audience listens and learns with an open heart, as the subjects speak from the same place. The Solidarity 365 Project shares the dignity, intelligence and determination of Muslim men, women and children in their own words while challenging fear and inviting a deeper understanding of community and commonality.
I meet with my subjects for a full biographical interview and portrait session and then I post all of that to social media. I’m working to show the face of Islam by photographing living, breathing, Muslim human beings; my neighbors, my friends, the good people who have taught me so much.
When I was younger, I never thought about why I lived among so many Muslims. In fact, I don’t think I even knew they were Muslim until my teens! I recognized that a good part of my city, Dearborn, M.I., was populated by Arabs, of course, but their religion was never a topic, at least in my household.
The Solidarity 365 Project shares the dignity, intelligence and determination of Muslim men, women and children in their own words while challenging fear and inviting a deeper understanding of community and commonality.
By middle school, my world was full of brown skin, brown eyes and black hair. Different sounding names, different tasting foods, and a language that wasn’t my own but that I was quickly coming to understand. I was in on their jokes, at their lunch tables, in their stores, being taught by them in school and falling in love with them. None of that was odd to me, until we were bussed to the other side of town for 8th grade. We were outsiders, there. East-end kids talked different, carried ourselves different and some of us looked different but we had coping skills, and we didn’t rattle easy.
We didn’t call it Islamophobia at the time, but I really started noticing discrimination when I started dating a Muslim of Egyptian descent in high school. The first Gulf War had just begun and that caused some issues among the students. Kids made up bigoted songs, wore camouflage to school and fights were common. I knew what Islam was, I knew what Arab culture was about, and I didn’t understand why people were unwilling to open their minds and have tolerance.
Fast forward 25 years. Islamophobia is rampant in our country. I am grateful that my childhood experiences inoculated me against the kind of racism and hate we’re seeing so much of today.
Muslims opened their doors to me when I was most alone. Muslims parented me when my own chose not to. Muslims were my family when my biological family ceased to exist. Muslims taught me life lessons and virtue. Muslims set an example of piety, kindness, generosity, humility and loyalty that I try my best to always follow.
They never asked for anything in return, they never asked for favors to be reciprocated, they never gave themselves credit for being righteous people, because they don’t believe in being rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to.
Muslims are my people. They are part of my tribe — woven into the fabric of my being. This project is my small way of saying thank you.