When New York based photographer Carlos Khalil Guzman thought of what he could do to help change the existing negative media narrative on Islam and Muslims, he put his talent, skills, and ideas into work to create a groundbreaking photo series.
Speaking to Stepfeed, Guzman told us more about his photo series, the inspiration behind it all and his plans for the future.
Changing an existing negative narrative through art
When asked about what inspired him to create the "Muslims in America" photo series, Guzman explained:
"I started Muslims of America out of the need to reclaim our narrative and also as a way to give our community a voice.
To be totally honest, someone else, often times non-Muslims are always the ones speaking on our behalf. You see it on the news, you hear it on the radio. Our voices and stories are never taken into account and I knew I needed to come up with a way to use my talents to amplify the voices in our community," he added.
Launched over a year and a half ago, Guzman's series aims to slowly help change the existing misconstrued narrative on Muslims by giving them a platform to share their own stories.
"As a revert to Islam, I know very well that Islam is the complete opposite of what mainstream media tries to make it out to be. On top of that we as a community have become reactionary and only act and play into the media's game whenever there is a terrorist attack," he said.
"This is what prompted me to use my craft to tell the real side of Islam, one that is grounded in justice, understanding, compassion, tolerance and love for all beings," he added.
Each photo shared as part of the series is accompanied by its subject's favorite verse from the Qur’an or a hadith (recorded saying of the Prophet Muhammad), along with a short statement explaining how Islam has helped them become better human beings.
Guzman goes on to explain that the series is also focused on educating people about Islam and helping them understand the true meaning of the the faith.
In a world where Islam has been misinterpreted by people in both the East and the West, he hopes his series will make a difference by building bridges between communities around the world.
"Islamophobia is at an all time high. In the West, trump and his administration have normalized it and hate crimes against Muslims have risen exponentially. In the Middle East, ISIS has hijacked Islam and continues to kill anyone that does not support their agenda (one that has nothing to do with Islam at all)," he explained.
"Ignorance fuels hate and intolerance and the only way to combat it is through education," the young photographer added.
Plans to expand the series are already in full swing
Guzman told us that he is still adding to the series, taking photographs of Muslims he comes across in the U.S. and shedding light on how diverse the community is.
When asked how he plans to expand his work in the future, he said:
"'Muslims of America' is actually only the first part of a bigger series I hope to finish in the coming years and the details will be revealed in due time. Once completed, I plan to turn the series into a book and an interactive art exhibit allowing us to reach a lot more people."
During our interview, the talented photographer explained that he focuses his personal projects on social issues that are often neglected because he believes that art is tied to struggle.
Other than his work on "Muslims of America," he's also currently working on two separate photo series - one is a public art display that features poems by various poets of color, the other is a project focused on oppressed communities.
"Read through our stories and get to know us"
When asked to share a message with readers Guzman said:
"I invite people to check out the series with an open mind and an open heart, to read through our stories and get to know us for who we are, your friends, your neighbors and colleagues. We live in times where intolerance is all around us, where ignorance is bliss. There is no 'us' and 'them,' only 'we'."