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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Muslim American Faces project uses social media to tell 'real stories' of US Muslims

'We are so much more than just the fact that we are Muslims,' says photographer and filmmaker Heidi Naguib, who has launched a photo project on Instagram and Facebook

One of the women featured in Heidi Naguib's 'Muslim American Faces' project, who spoke about her struggle with her hijab and the difficulty of always having to explain herself. Naguib never names those featured in the project though their photos are accompanied by captions that often share very personal details about their lives. Courtesy Heidi Naguib / Muslim American Faces
One of the women featured in Heidi Naguib's 'Muslim American Faces' project, who spoke about her struggle with her hijab and the difficulty of always having to explain herself. Naguib never names those featured in the project though their photos are accompanied by captions that often share very personal details about their lives. Courtesy Heidi Naguib / Muslim American Faces

US photographer and filmmaker Heidi Naguib had been wanting to create a project sharing “the authentic stories” of Muslim Americans for some time. But it was the election of president Donald Trump in November last year that eventually prompted her to launch “Muslim American Faces”.

On Instagram and Facebook accounts, Naguib - herself a Muslim - posts photos of American Muslims from all backgrounds, along with a caption sharing a little of their life story.

The first portrait appeared on March 16, timed to coincide with Mr Trump’s second attempt at implementing a travel ban on visitors from several mainly Muslim countries in the United States.

“The reason I wanted to launch a project like this is that Muslims are more than just [their] religion,” said Naguib, 32, who believes that Mr Trump’s travel ban has made it more difficult to be a Muslim in the US.

“We are [also] our hopes and our fears and our experiences and our dreams."

With this in mind, many of the captions do not mention Islam at all. Instead, they discuss issues that affect Americans from all walks of life: love, loss, ambition, illness, work, death, family.

One portrait of a man who looks to be in his 30s, wearing a shirt and suit jacket and staring straight into the lens of the camera, is simply captioned: "My fear is that I don’t have any depth anymore.”

Read more: How the video series 'Secret Life of Muslims' took on rising Islamophobia in the US

Some of the captions touch on the faith of the portraits’ subjects, but the individual – rather than Islam – is always the main focus. For example, one woman talks about her struggle with her hijab and the difficulty of always having to explain herself.

"Sometimes I do want to disappear,” she says. “I’m not in an identity crisis, I’m just tired.”

Naguib, who is based in Washington, said she also wanted to counter the portrayal of Muslims as either bad or good and nothing in between.

On the Instagram account, she says the project is “Introducing you to Muslim Americans, the young & the old; those who contribute & those who are finding their way”.

“There’s people who haven’t gotten their education yet, or perhaps won’t be. There’s people who have PhDs. There’s people who are struggling to pay the rent, there’s people who live in mansions. And there’s everyone in between,” Naguib said. “So I don’t strive to show just the perfect stories, I strive to show the real stories.”

Asked whether she fears she is simply posting to a social media “echo chamber”, Naguib said the thought had crossed her mind before but she did not believe it was necessarily true.

“Yes, I’m reaching towards an echo chamber, I’m preaching to the choir, if you will, I’m sharing these stories with the Muslim American community. But I’m also sharing it with the American community,” she said.

“I’ve had people I don’t know comment on the Facebook page, in particular, saying, ‘I’m not Muslim but thank you so much for educating me and this is stuff we all should know’.”

Naguib believes she will only reach more people as the project – which currently has over 800 followers on Instagram and nearly 2,500 likes on Facebook – grows.

“As long as Muslim Americans will continue to share their stories with me, I will continue to share their stories with the world,” she said. “That is my objective.”