Can't Take It With You - A Landmark Muslims in America Photo Exhibit

Bassam Tariq is a Boing Boing guestblogger who is the co-author of 30 Mosques. A blog that celebrated the NYC mosques during the Islamic month of Ramadan. He lives in Harlem, NY.

Never before have I seen my community photographed with such dignity and hope . Omar Mullick, an award winning photographer who shoots for National Geographic, NY Times, etc., has traveled all across America for 7 years documenting the elusive Muslim American community.

The photography will be on display at GalleryFCB Thursday, October 8th at 6:00 pm. The gallery runs for the entire month, but please join us at the opening of this historic exhibit. RSVP on the Facebook Event if you can.

Omar has given me the permission to showcase a handful of photos here at Boing Boing.

More images and info after the jump.

The first time I saw the photos I wondered why Omar chose black and white. Looking through the gallery statement on the site, I found my answer:
At a time when President Obama used the example of American Muslims in his Cairo address to indicate that Islam had "always been a part of America's story..." the exhibit presents a culmination of one photographers deliberate effort to take the visual language of black and white 35mm photography, through which 20th Century America has often looked at itself, and open up that narrative to include the latest birth pang in American cultural life. To that end, Can't Take It With You, which was pursued with singular purpose by a photographer deeply engaged with the idea of what it means to be American, promises to be one of the more important visual documents of the young 21st Century.

The photo I leave you with is of a Muslim women's shelter in Philadelphia, PA. It was the children's first day at the shelter. I wonder where they are now.

I will be doing a tiny interview with Omar Mullick at the end of the week, if anyone has a question they feel compelled to ask please write it in the comments and I'll try my best to get it answered.

Visit the Can't Take It With You site -

See more of Omar's work on his personal site -


  1. This is why the greatest human culture in the history of humanity, western civilization of the last 500 years is going to vanish. A soft surrender to our enemies, by accepting and embracing their belief systems, tolerating their belief systems, while giving the middle finger to Christianity that has brought us to this point.

    Thank you Boingboing for reminding me why soon enough the United States that I grew up and loved will soon disappear, what made it unique in all the history of humanity.

    peace out.

    the fotos rock though.

    1. the greatest human culture in the history of humanity, western civilization of the last 500 years

      Could you possibly be more chauvinistic?

  2. I am a creature of first impressions, and I try to look at photos first without reading accompanying text, either captional and explanatory or even merely as flavor and context.

    Having said that, I don’t note anything particularly striking about the framing, composition, or even apparant subjects in the above handful of photos. The photographer clearly is skilled, but not strikingly so. The people in the photos do not seem to be immediately engaged in anything more striking than common and ordinary activities. And of course, lacking color, the photos do not draw the eye with intensity and chroma, only contrast.

    That said, I think photography of American muslims is an important aspect of teaching average Americans to understand their own neighbors and the culture of Islam within their own context. However, I feel that these photos are only exceptional for the fact that they depict American muslims. These images just as easily could have been captured anywhere in dar al Islam, where it is common and banal to see burqas and hijabs, or seating on floors, or non-western dress and grooming, etc.

    ~D. Walker

  3. @Dhalgren why the xenophobia? Muslims have helped build America since the first slave ship docked its shores.

  4. The pictures are extraordinary. But what I find even more interesting is the choice of pics by the Mr Bassam Tariq. Once again, whether it is his intent or not, his post serves to reinforce the meme “Muslim woman” = “woman with islamic veil”.

    Oh, and what we can see of the exposition, on the gallery’s website and Omar Mullick’s own, is consistent with what Signy and some other Muslim or ex-Muslim commenters posted yesterday, about the de facto men-women segregation in mosques and social occasions, and the need for all women (and even girls, apparently, see the shelter pic) to wear a hidjab, niqab or at least headscarf, anytime they go outside or there is a stranger in their home.

    So, no, it’s not only in the head of the islamophobics, apparently.

  5. I’m assuming @Dhalgren is being sarcastic.

    In the off chance that it wasn’t sarcasm, I ought to remind readers that Middle/Dark Ages lasted 1000 years and Christianity reigned supreme.

    America was founded on secular grounds. Remember that the Pilgrims fled Britain due to religious persecution possible only with the marriage of Church and State. The separation of Church and State is one of the key pieces of American democracy. America became what it did because it embraced all without imposing. I live in Minnesota, and there are people still speaking Norwegian in parts of the state.

    Inclusion and openness leads to growth. Unfortunate that radical (xyz)ists are all convinced otherwise, and are in fact convinced that theirs is the ‘original’ brand.

  6. soon enough the United States that I grew up and loved will soon disappear

    Really? No more Eurocentric kleptocracy? No more foreign wars? No more slow erosion of our civil liberties, our natural world, our souls? The Muslims stopped all of these things? Damn, Muslims are better than the Founding Fathers!!!


    Seriously, go Muslims. Peace, and funk the haters!

  7. @ dhalgren:

    Because we all know there are no positive images of Christianity to be found anywhere in the US. Not at all. Not like, on the money or anything or on the TV or on billboards across just about every highway or anywhere.

    If you’re worried about atheists here’s news for you. They aren’t muslim either! That’s right. Some of them may find your religion stupid, but they find it so only because they find everyone else’s religions stupid too.

    Oh one more thing. None of the other great western civilizations were Christian, and none of the non-Western great civilizations were either. Guess Christianity didn’t do much for any of them.

  8. @Irene I think you bring up a great point. I’m conducting a short interview with Omar and will try to ask him if he included any unveiled women in the exhibit and if not, why?


  9. I went to a bar Mitzvah and the congregation was segregated by gender. And the men all were forced to wear a funny round cloth over their heads. I didn’t really want to wear a cloth over my head, but social pressures made me afraid of the consequences of not doing so. The singing was very beautiful.

    Wonderful pictures. Thank you for posting them, Mr. Tariq!

  10. Very nice pics…

    The U.S. has repeatedly seen xenophobic, exclusive, and racist ideas take root and repeatedly rejected them, and too often it took violence and social upheaval to do so. It seems to me that to reject those with any religious belief as enemies, especially when many of its adherents have lived as law abiding citizens of the country for a very long time is not only profoundly unjust, it is a rejection of the values on which the country was founded.

    Have you read the constitution, FFS?

    Most of us are proud that “American culture” is a melting pot, and have recognized that a large part of what makes us strong is a kind of cultural hybrid vigor that does not exist in other places. It is assumed that we can incorporate the positive aspects of the cultures from which our citizens come, and reject the negative. Why is this any different?

  11. For someone who declares himself a ‘Pagan Rhino’, dhalgren is sure touchy about Christianity. And the America I grew up in and love never had any room or much patience for pouting xenophobes, so, sucks for him, I guess.

    Great photos, Bassam. Thanks for posting.

  12. I’m looking forward to the upcoming BB photoessay on practicing Christians in Saudi Arabia.

    Not to be chauvinistic, a photoessay on practicing Jews, Sikhs, or Sunnis in Saudi Arabia would serve equally as well……

    1. I’m looking forward to the upcoming BB photoessay on practicing Christians in Saudi Arabia. Not to be chauvinistic, a photoessay on practicing Jews, Sikhs, or Sunnis in Saudi Arabia would serve equally as well……

      How long ago did you submit those suggestions to Suggest A Link?

  13. Hmm – these photos do seem to re-enforce cultural stereotypes. To pick the topic du jour, something like 85% of the muslim girls I know don’t wear a headscarf, but the percentages here don’t seem to reflect that. Quite a narrow definition of Islam being reflected here, I feel.

    Was that deliberate? Or just a consequence of the people the photographer happens to know?

    Nonetheless, the pics are, in themselves, very nice.

  14. Could you possibly be more chauvinistic?

    Not without music.

    Notary, you’re being silly. Saudi Arabia is a brutally repressive semi-theocracy. They suck out loud. I don’t think anyone here disagrees with that.

    America is (or used to be) a place people came to when they got tired, poor, and massively huddled, yearning to breathe free. Escaping from brutally repressive semi-theocracies is part of that.

    Your comment is essentially characterizing America as a brutally repressive Christian semi-theocracy. Much as there are those trying to turn it into one (Google “Christian Dominionists”), it’s not there yet, and won’t ever be if I and other Constitutional Patriots have our way.

    America does not belong to Christianity. And to hell (or back to civics class would do, I guess) with anyone who says it does, or should.

    American Moslems are Americans. Say that over and over until you believe it. And get over yourself.

  15. Jere7my: Wow, Dhalgren, you really turned into a square after leaving Bellona.

    Yeah, he sure has brass orchids coming here and posting like that. What a peculiar prism, mirror, or lens he must view the world through. I hope there’ll be a long delany before he does that again. I’m just Kidding!

  16. I’m so glad you’re here, TDawwg. I’ve been meaning to ask someone where in this great Lanya think Bellona might be. But maybe that’s a Tak-y question.

    All right, that should be enough art to choke you.

  17. what can i do…i’ll be in los angeles. any suggestions? this is a Must-Go for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

  18. Great photos! The “ordinary” quality is what attracts me to these. Quick glimpses capturing what we see as mundane in person, becoming something precious once on film. Sometimes we write these moments off as mediocre, so it’s nice to have a reminder of the small things that make daily life very beautiful. But as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which should serve as a springboard for progressive dialogue. Its a real shame some comments on this post aren’t constructive. Plain ignorance aside, what gets accomplished by calling that woman a “ninja”? Really? The fact that “Lolcats” has more enlightened dialogue than some of the comments on post is the true reason why “the United States that you grew up and loved will soon disappear”!

  19. @IndigoVapour: The pictures do not reinforce cultural stereotypes. Quite the opposite in fact. The females appear empowered. The normal picture of a Muslim woman is that of oppression, a strange “crazy” choice, separated from the rest of American Culture. In these pictures, women are seen integrating with the rest of society. What an interesting concept. Very common and yet not shown in the media. A very much needed portrayal of this normalcy is overdue. Perhaps you know many Muslim women that don’t cover, however what is interesting or important about that? Women that cover and are photographed practicing and living among the “normal” American society, now those are images that I think that should be seen.

  20. hey hooeezit,

    do you have anything to say about the freakin’ subject of the blog post, namely omar’s work? why are all these suckers jumpin on here to blow off some political steam. by the way, i loved the pictures. but i, unlike the first lonely dude d.walker to post, would like to hear more about the images, that is, more commentary, since im not sure i can make it tothe show since ill be driving from out of town.


  21. @IndigoVapour and to all the lonely bloggers on here:
    there is a world of difference between ISLAM and muslims. do some research, no, not on wikipedia silly but with some serious texts. dont goto barnes or noble or the public library, they only sell islam hater books there goto your practicing muslim friend or your pakistani doctor or your teacher, or whomever, that is muslim, and ask him/her for a book on islam and then think harder about your assumptions.
    peace be with you girl.

  22. I love these photographs and their subjects!

    I do feel that the comments warrant a response, even though I’m not a member of this site.

    Discrimination is very apparent from some of the comments here by Irene Delse and IndigoVapour.

    If Muslim women who don’t cover their hair are a dime a dozen, as you suggest, then why bother photographing them. They’re nothing special! And a photography exhibition doesn’t have to define Islam, I think God has already done that for those who choose to read, contemplate and understand.

    Women who have a sincere belief in their faith and their God’s and Prophet’s teaching should not be ridiculed. I am proud of Omar Mullick for daring to show Muslim women and girls who live ordinary American lives while choosing to cover their hair. These women are bold, bright, smart, faithful, and not afraid to look different. Muslim women who don’t cover their hair have fallen into the trap of letting others define them, so I don’t feel that Mullick is missing anything by not showing them. I’d rather see pictures of these bold and beautiful women than women who just want to look like the rest of society. The real freedom is when a woman controls her own body and when she (not society or so-called progressives) decides, in conjunction with her creator, who can see what! The pictures are very empowering for Muslim women who face discrimination on a daily basis, sadly, even from fellow Muslims!

    Barack Obama and the court of law in the United States will uphold a woman’s right to cover but so-called progressive or modern Muslims have a problem with it? Where is the logic? Let people dress how they want to dress. Just because you want to flaunt your body, doesn’t mean others want the same. Freedom and peace for everyone!

  23. Hmm.

    These photos have been described as ‘documenting’ the ‘elusive Musilim American community’.

    They are certainly great pictures of an oft-misunderstood part of America’s great cultural tapestry.

    I merely point out that they are not particularly representative of the Muslim American community as I have experienced it. Admittedly I’m blogging from foreign shores these days, but I’ll be back in the US soon – with my 1st-gen Iranian friends in San Diego, no doubt, or my 2nd-gen Pakistani and Bangladeshi friends in New York.

    Given that the most common depiction of Muslims women in America is of devout women who choose to cover their hair (and this is certainly not the only issue, but it seems to be the one people grapple with most readily), it seems strange that something that claims to ‘document’ our ‘elusive’ group should go along with that, and not show the wider community. Instead there’s an unannounced focus on a narrow spectrum of the American Muslim community.

    And when that gets pointed out, people say there’s “no point” in photographing any of those other Muslims. I strongly disagree – if you’re going to document a group, document us all. Or announce you’re only depicting a subset.

    It’s sad that anyone expecting a fuller or wider depiction of modern Muslim life in all its glorious variety gets called dicriminatory. And it’s a shame women who choose not to cover their hair get labelled “a dime a dozen”. I’m trying not to throw bombs, but that is really quite disrespectful.

    I hope the moderator passes this comment through, as I do find the attacks on me above quite wounding, though I accept they are made by my sisters who have been conditioned through the years to expect discrimination, and are smarting from past experiences.

    Yours in peace and good spirits.

  24. Oops! My apologies. I think from my comments above (referencing attacks on me, etc) you can see I didn’t realise I was back in Anonymous mode… the perils of switching back and forth between computers.

    Thanks for your good work moderating a lively discussion on a potentionally loaded topic, Antinous.

  25. indigo:

    you make an interesting point but no collection of photography will depict an entire community. indeed this is a subset as will all collections of any depiction of any people will be. only God (i believe) reigns supreme on viewing all, not our seriously messed up view of what is a so-called fair depiction of a community.

    i think, i dont even know umar, but i think that he’s just showing a side of Muslims often stereotyped without even trying to do that. he justwent around to these amazingly rare communities that we dont get to hear about everyday let alone see, and when we do, theyre criticized in the media as terror suspects. we all know that there’s half naked Muslim women walking around the US in abundance…just goto your local stores or hospitals or anywhere else for that matter, since muslims dont come in colours, and that’ll be proof.

    i have respect for your approach in commenting and enjoy the dialogue youve created. peace be with you too, sis.

  26. I think this represents the Muslim American Community and many times a subset of the community that is overlooked. The African American Muslim community has been here and part of the American narrative since slave ships. I came across a work that discussed the writings of slaves in arabic in the 17th century. The work was a book on islamic jurisprudence.

    The African American Muslim experience and immigrant experience started at the same time. Read Jerald Dirk (from Columbia University) work on the laws of Jamestown Virginia regarding the high number of Muslim traders.

    All in all, Muslims are part of the evolving american narrative.

  27. thanks #41
    I do think the pics are great!
    On reflection it’s the use of the words ‘document’, ‘all over America’ and ‘Muslim-American community’ that was the true sticking point. Combined with the scope of the photos, it really felt like an attempt to define Muslim-ness in a way that excluded so many people I know and love. But I’m sure that wasn’t the intention of the Photographer. Peace be with you 2 :-)

  28. I think this is a great moment for Muslims and I look forward to seeing your work. But I’m left to wonder, what about adult Muslim women who don’t cover? Maybe your exhibit has pictures of them and they’re not on this site. But the other pics only show bearded men, nonbearded men and hijabi women. Are nonhijabis not considered “Muslim” enough”

    Azizah H.

    1. i would highly recommend you get in touch with omar about this. this is an excellent question and the answer is clearly NO, but for further clarity, i’m sure he could explain himself better, as he did at the opening to a few of us.

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