Photographer Robert Gerhardt is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From his project ‘Muslims/American, American/Muslims‘. To see Robert’s portfolio click on any image.
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. Even with the passing 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 in 2010 after reading about a controversy over converting an unused convent on Staten 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.
However, this backlash on Staten Island is only one example of this type of conduct. Muslim communities all over the United States have also experienced public outcry over attempts to 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 in some extreme cases with violence.
Now, in light of the recent events in Paris and Brussels, the rhetoric in the presidential campaign on both Islam and immigration, the resulting backlash against immigrants coming to the US, and threats that have been made to Mosques and Muslim individuals around the country since the attacks in Europe, anti-Muslim sentiment in the US is growing and getting worse rather then better. And again, the many are taking the blame for the actions of but a few.
My goal for this project, then, is to try to understand and document the intersection between “Muslim” and “American,” since the latter part of this community’s identity is often forgotten. I began photographing for this project on the first night of Ramadan in 2010, and I continue to make photographs through the present day. 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.” I know that my photographs on their own are not going to lead anyone to an epiphany, but if they start a conversation that could lead to greater understanding, then they have been successful.
By Robert Gerhardt