RELIGION

Photographer Combats Trump's Islamophobia With Stunning Portrait Series

These young Muslims offer a vibrant portrait of America's future.

22/11/2016 11:42 PM IST | Updated 28/11/2016 9:58 PM IST
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Mark Bennington
Hanan, 24, NYU Dental student.

You could turn on the television and watch President-elect Donald Trump or one of his right-hand men tell you about Islam. Or, as photographer Mark Bennington did, you could sit down with some of the three million Muslims in America and get to know them that way, instead.

In a new series entitled “America 2.0,” Bennington features photos and stories of Muslim young adults in New York City. These young people, he said, are a crucial contingent of the next generation of American leaders ― and their stories need to be heard.

“Now more than ever, we, as the American public, are faced with images and propaganda of ‘the other’ – be it Muslims, Mexican immigrants, the African-American community, the LGBTQ community, the list goes on,” Bennington said in an email to The Huffington Post. “I found this to be a crucial time to start a project that focused on the everyday – what do ordinary lives and aspirations look like?”

Mark Bennington
Abdelrazaq, 25, NYU Dental student.

Bennington shot the series between July and October, asking each of the subjects questions about their daily lives ― topics like school, friends, dating, music and more. The conversations frequently veered to the subject of identity formation, he said, including what’s been going on in the political arena over the last year’s election cycle.

“I love life, but as an American citizen, I have never been so disappointed in America,” Mosammet, a 17-year-old who participated in the series, told Bennington.

Muslim Americans were confronted with various narratives about themselves over the course of the election, usually filtered through the perceptions of white, non-Muslim men. Many found themselves having to actively push back on these negative depictions.

“When you are deprived of a chance to share your voice, you have to yell louder. And not just yell louder for yourself but for the several others who feel the same sentiments as you do,” Sadaf, another one of the subjects, is quoted as saying in the series. 

Mark Bennington
Rayan, 23, student at New Jersey City University.

Whenever the topic of the election arose, Bennington said he asked the young people about their voting plans ― and he quickly discovered that they were largely disappointed with both candidates.

“Almost everyone passionately wanted Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic candidate. Between Trump and Hillary however, there seemed to be this tacit feeling that Hillary was going to win, so not to worry too much,” he said.

As he’s been in touch with them since election day, Bennington said, many have expressed that they are “not only disappointed but fearful of what a Trump presidency will bring.”

In Trump’s America, being Muslim may become even more of a liability than it’s already been in an increasing climate of Islamophobia. But if that’s the only story we ever hear about Muslim Americans’ experiences, then we’re missing the bigger picture.

Scroll down to see a sampling from America 2.0:

  • Mark Bennington
    Mosammet, 17, Brooklyn Tech High School: "We are a nation of immigrants. I do not accept someone who calls my fellow brothers and sisters of color 'murderers and thieves'. I do not accept someone who utilizes fear mongering to turn half the country against the rest. I will not stand my mother or my sisters being forced to remove their hijab and I will not stand my father and brother being called 'terrorists.' I LOVE LIFE, but as an American citizen, I have never been so disappointed in America."
  • Mark Bennington
    Mohammed, 22, Environmental engineering major at City College of New York: "I'm trying to push myself into doing things that I'm not really comfortable with- like getting my photo taken!! I'€™m not really a social person, but I'm pushing myself to getting involved socially."
  • Mark Bennington
    Ariba, 24, applying for Masters in Public Health: "I remember the first time it happened... I was super new to the subway -- commuting to Hunter College in the city. And I saw this old man, who looks so sweet, and he said, 'Can I sit next to you?' And I said 'Sure.' He sat down next to me -- mind you the whole train was empty. I thought, he looks so sweet and he was old. He said, 'Can ask your question?' I said 'Yes.' He said, 'Who invited you?'... I didn'€™t understand. I was so shocked. And then I didn't or couldn't say anything! It bugged me for months and months. Why didn't I say anything? I don'€™t know, still."
  • Mark Bennington
    Najwa, 16, Miraj Islamic High School: "My all time favorite subject is science! Learning about the different elements that make us think or act in certain ways fascinate me, that's the main reason why I want to study medicine once I graduate."
  • Mark Bennington
    Shahid & Hanzalah, 18 & 20, College students (Information Security & Android Development): "€œSo, we met initially back in Brooklyn Tech High School at the MIST Club (Muslim Interscholastic Tournament -- a state/national-level tournament where Muslim high school students compete in 40 different competitions ranging from debate and improv, to spoken word). We were talking about software engineering and complaining about teachers, term projects, etc. At first I was thinking, 'Ahhh, a mini me! I'€™ll take him under my wing!'€™, but then the more we hung out, the more it became clear that I was usually the one who needed more help between the two of us. Nowadays, Shahid is the kind of guy I'€™ll message at 2 a.m. with some strange insomnia induced epiphany, and he'€™ll take two seconds to tell me the massively obvious hole in my logic and tell me to go to sleep. I'm amazed we'€™ve known each other for so many years because in many ways it still feels like we only recently met -- there's a timelessness to it and honestly, it feels more like family."
  • Mark Bennington
    Jannah, 19, student at Hunter Community College: "I did wear a hijab a long time ago when I was little, but people would tell me to take it off because I was too young (pre-puberty) Now I've just have gotten used to not wearing it. But, I still try to dress as modest as I can. Modest means not showing too much skin, no cleavage, not too tight... if it's hot though, it's a different story. I'€™ll wear a tank top but it would show too much. I won'€™t wear very short shorts... In my house, of course, I wear whatever I want."
  • Mark Bennington
    Rayan, 23, student at New Jersey City University: "We went to an Islamic school here in Jersey City. We learned Arabic, we had Islamic studies, and then we had regular classes. We would always try to go against the uniform. Try to wear different shoes, anything to get us into trouble, basically -- like any other rebellious teenager."
  • Mark Bennington
    Syeda, 21, Math & Physics major at Hunter College: "I'd love to teach. It'™s been my dream for the past couple of years to open a school actually, for [young] kids. I feel there is this huge stigma towards math and physics or just math and science. Especially in math! Where a lot of kids feel like they can'€™t do it and the steer away from it because they don'€™t think they are capable of doing it. For starters, to give kids earlier exposure to things like fundamental concepts. I took chemistry when I was in high school, in 10th grade, and that's when I learned what an atom was. That is something I could have easily learned when I was a kid. When I was in bio I learned what a cell was, when I was in physics I learned what vectors were and it wasn'€™t till I went to college that I really learnt what all that meant. I think the older we get the more we question things, the more we need rationales to explain things. But as kids, we'€™re willing to just take things and run with it and let our imaginations play."
  • Mark Bennington
    Abdelrazaq, 25, NYU Dental student: "I believe my individual vote for the President doesn't matter. New York State is a blue state and is going to Hillary no matter who I select. I'm of the opinion that voting for local positions is more important, and that the Muslim community like any minority community should show up and vote, not in the hopes of determining the winner, but to show our presence. We are part of this country, part of this community -- a large part -- and voting is a way for us to show those who run for governmental positions that 'Hey, we are here. We matter, we carry weight and you can't make a political career out of marginalizing us and communities like us because you will not succeed.'"
  • Mark Bennington
    Hagar, 22, Health & Science major at New Jersey City University: "My dad watches the news like 24/7. He watches Al Jazeera. He's from Egypt. I think it'€™s important to vote, but our options this year are -- we didn't have much choice! I'd have preferred not to vote but I don'€™t think that'€™s a better option either. I wanted Bernie, he just seemed kind of down to earth unlike the other two."
  • Mark Bennington
    Helda, 29, full time student at Rutgers University majoring in Public Health and works full time as a Healthcare coordinator: "€œSo you have Muslim religion and Muslim culture. The thing with our religion and culture is that they are so intertwined. People mistake a lot of culture things to be religious and they'€™re not."
  • Mark Bennington
    Hanan, 24, NYU Dental student: "€œI have a pretty positive personality -- my nickname is Happy Panda. I try not to think too much, because sometimes I have a tendency to do just that. I always tell everybody, there'€™s not just two parties [so] why don't you break the system a little bit? So I'm going to vote for any other random person on the list and not just go for a Republican or Democrat, cause honestly they are both horrible people -- one is fake and the other one is pretty 'out there'€™ and blunt and his mind set is pretty bad, and hers is conniving. Sometimes I'€™m surprised at people, at who they're voting for but I don't push my views on anyone else."
  • Mark Bennington
    Anika, 21, student in International Business/Finance, Accounting, Economics & Fashion, works at Marymount Manhattan college as an SAT coordinator: "When I was a kid I wanted to be a medical scientist. My fiancee is studying at Harvard Law, we're getting court married in December but having the official wedding next year. I believe in [my] religion -- I pray my five prayers a day and understand my existence. So I would say, in that spectrum I'm fairly religious. If you fit with that realm of thinking in terms of whatever has been ordained for the religion -- whether it'€™s praying five times or believing in one God, if you can accept those two things, then yeah, you can consider yourself religious. But, in terms of truly believing your existence, that would be another question to ask."
  • Mark Bennington
    Hany, 27, General Manager at Cairo Dental in Queens: "€œTo be honest, I was for Trump. I'm excited about him. I love his passion to change the country because it needs a lot of changing. If I were him, I would let in visitors but put a tracking device on them because so many immigrants overstay and don't pay tax. Believe in the magic!"
  • Mark Bennington
    Makinoon, 17, Student at Brooklyn Tech High School: "Sometimes, you kind of feel scared with all this Islamophobia going on. Like, what if my friends, not close friends, but acquaintances turn their back on me just because I'€™m a Muslim? There was a time when I actually thought about not following my faith because of social pressure. But, I identify as Muslim and want to show that Islam is a beautiful religion."
  • Mark Bennington
    Jenan, 25, brand manager at a law firm and creator of the blog MissMuslim.com: "As a Muslim woman there were a lot of things that we were told we cannot talk about... Things that were seen as inappropriate like dating, going to college, traveling on your own, starting your own career... the stereotypical notion that you grow up, you get married, you have children, and that's your life -- you don'€™t have sex before marriage, etc. I appreciate my religion and it is a huge part of my identity, but, I think I have found a really good balance between my American identity and my Arab Muslim identity. Plus with this blog, I found that there are [many] girls who are at the same level of religiosity as I am and it's so nice to connect with them."
  • Mark Bennington
    Sadaf, 18, College student and Co-founder/CEO of media company REV 21: "You have to have a seat at the table to make a real difference in society. We cannot expect change unless we are directly involved in making it happen. Unfortunately, regardless of America's promise of equality, several groups of people feel cheated for their chance of achieving the American dream -- of their chance to simply survive in America. With these thoughts and realizations in my mind, I decided to create my own chair and place myself at the table through my media company, REV 21 Media. Because when you are deprived of a chance to share your voice, you have to yell louder. And not just yell louder for yourself but for the several others who feel the same sentiments as you do. I pray that one day, I achieve my goals, and the platform I am creating with REV 21 rings true to its words and becomes a place for change and a means for creating an 'America 2.0' with the values of what America was always intended to be."
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