A community gathering of faith and civic leaders was held for the new photo exhibition about the Islamic holy month, on November 21 in the rotunda of Milwaukee City Hall.

“The Spirit of Ramadan” photographic exhibit has toured internationally, with a mission to promote the understanding of Muslim cultures and people, and their diversity.

Featuring images that celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the exhibit arrived in Milwaukee during a time of post-election uncertainty for the local Muslim community.

“I was aware of this particular international photo contest and always considered the possibility of having it come to Milwaukee,” said Janan Najeeb, President of Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition (MMWC). “With the type of election we have all just been through, I thought this was a timely opportunity to bring the exhibit. I felt it was important for people to get to know who the Muslim community really is, and to do it through beautiful photographs as art.”

The initiative began as a way to offer a competitive platform for photographers to share their documentary and fine art photography, while spreading positive imagery of Islam. The crowd-sourced international competition has become the world’s largest modern collection of Islamic themed photographs, from over 60 countries in the categories of culture, architecture, and spirituality.

Founded in 2011 by Dr. Basel Almisshal, an award-winning architect, artist, and United Nations Photographic Council member, the project revolves around the meaning of the holy month of Ramadan. It is a time of gratitude, sharing, charity, good will, and shares the same spirit as the American tradition of Thanksgiving.

Presenting 40 pictures of Muslims from around the world, Najeeb and other supporters hope that the display of art helps stem the tide of Islamophobia that has washed into the political landscape of American culture this year.

“With the enormous and unprecedented rise of hate crimes against Muslims, we’ve realized that the vast majority of people just don’t know who the Muslim community is,” said Najeeb. “We want to be able to offer an opportunity for people to get to know us.”

Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, President of the Milwaukee Common Council, offered a welcome to the attending guests. He also thanked the MMWC for organizing the event as a way to remember Milwaukee’s common humanity within the peoples’ house of City Hall.

“As we gather here today to celebrate our differences in cultures and religion, we have to start to recognize that our diversity benefits our city, and all of us in this society,” said President Hamilton. “It plays a major role in our everyday lives, and is present in our schools and our government. It makes us stronger.”

The opening ceremony also included prayers from Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Sufi, Sikh, and Hindu faith leaders. A musical performance was also given by the African American Children’s Theatre.

Lina Ali, the exhibit’s curator, explained about the history and purpose of the project. She said it was her hope that the photographs would encourage Muslim-Americans to remain strong against harsh attitudes.

“This is our calling. This is the time to stand up with honor and dignity, to speak loud and be heard against bigotry and racism,” said Ali. “Keep performing with loyalty and diligence in your professions, as best as you can. And remember to extend a hand of alliance.”

The photo exhibit is open to the pubic and will remain on display until December 2, at City Hall’s rotunda. The program would not have been possible without the generous support of the Brico Fund and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

“We are living in some very challenging times,” said President Hamilton. “This is an opportunity for us to expand ability to teach others about the importance of who we are and where we want our society to go.”

“Diversity nurtures our curiosity by exposing us to different peoples and cultures. It helps expand our thinking and our minds. And so it is important for us today to stand with our community as we work to help protect each other and stretch our horizons.” – President Ashanti Hamilton

© Photo

Lee Matz