My Story, My Home was a community photography project designed and produced by World Press Photo Perth in 2016.

The project involved the design and delivery of a two-week photography workshop at the Australian Islamic College by American photographer Tim Matsui, resulting in an exhibition, an interactive website (https://medium.com/my-story-my-home) and a booklet entitled My Story, My Home.

“In conceiving My Story, My Home, we expected stories revealing both the diversity and the commonality within, between and across the Muslim and wider communities. We expected a glimpse into a world we didn’t know. Instead, we found the reality of empowering youth to share and shape their stories.
In our image-saturated world, news and online media can define a group. Millions of images and multiple perspectives are reduced to a dangerous few, leaving us to build stories of unfamiliar people and places from limited narratives.

This is where independent journalists and storytellers come in. We designed the project around 25 Muslim youth who could take the lead, sharing their homes and stories, countering the dominant media narrative.

What quickly came to the fore was both revelatory and pedestrian. They are teenagers before all else: using phones first, often to capture their lives of gaming, snap-chatting, taking selfies. The teens’ stories of home revolved around food, football, and friends — rather universal teen themes. They weren’t telling us a cultural or religious story, but a teenage story where culture and religion parallel the interests and intrigues of the teen years.

What also surprised us was the need for words to go with their images. Teens when asked ‘How was your day?’ often don’t have much to say. Yet present them with a photo of their own making and stories emerge: a personal decision to wear the hijab, a fear of ignorance and a desire for western freedom, a longing for connection with family, the distance of war made real. Their images were not the story but a portal to their stories. This is the power of an image to inspire conversations.

This is the power and the learning from My Story, My Home. Let these photographs be a pathway to sharing stories and starting conversations.”

 

“A group of boys laughing as they make their way to class after pausing from their busy school day to pray at the mosque (masjid). Muslims pray because they believe that they obtain great benefit in doing so. It gives them a chance to reflect on their daily actions — whether good or bad. Whether it be to thank God or to ask for forgiveness.  The prayers are said in Arabic, no matter what the person’s native language. The Islamic holy book, also known as the Quran, is written in Arabic but can be translated.

Muslims are from many different countries and backgrounds from all over the world. Reading the Quran unites us, because we all recite the same holy words of God, no matter the language.”

Zainab Hourani, age 16.

 

“My sister and I Joined Navy Cadets together but for different reasons. She joined to learn about the Navy, to meet new people, and was curious to learn. I was going through a stage in my life where I needed to build self-confidence and come out of my shell. At first, I was fearful of judgment for how people would respond to Muslims joining. My sister and I were the only Muslims at TS PERTH and we were quite anxious about what people would think of us. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

After attending it a couple of times, I saw what it was all about, how friendly the people were, and how much fun they had amongst themselves. At the unit we are taught to have respect for each other’s values and to treat others well.

In Islam, Muslim women wear a hijab or a covering as a form of identification. Because it is so normal for me to be covered, wearing a burqini to the beach feels like wearing a normal hijab. Just like any other journey, every Muslim goes through their own journey in discovering the Hijab. I started wearing the hijab when I was 14 years old. It was a choice I made by myself because I felt like I was ready to become closer to my religion. Being in the Navy goes well with my identity as a Muslim.”

Amina Ali Seedat, age 16

“For many Muslim girls, it is normal to wear a head scarf as it is a sign of identification and a reflection of modesty and humbleness. Depending on the family, the age at which girls start wearing the hijab is different. Some girls start wearing at ages 7 or 8 just because their mum wears it. Other girls start wearing it when they reach puberty. This is most common. Others will wear it at a later age, if they decide to ever wear it all. The journey to wearing a hijab is different for every girl.

In Islam, our holy book the Quran says “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and covered. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful” (Quran 33:59). This verse is a command from God to be modest in our dress and is interpreted differently depending on the person.

For me, I started wearing the hijab at about 8 or 9. At 11 I rebelled, saying I didn’t want to wear it anymore because none of my friends wore it. Most of my friends, at the time, were from Christian and Atheist backgrounds. As I matured and learned the true reason for wearing it, I began to wear it again. I was 13. I came to accept that God commands that women nurture their modesty; it is a necessary part of our religion.

In the Muslim community, there are some people who judge girls who don’t wear the headscarf. Not only is this a kick to someone’s self-esteem, but it also has a negative effect within the community. These people who judge others believe that they are better in their religion and life, even though in Islam, and in general, it is not good to be judgmental or arrogant. Only God can judge you. Only he knows what’s in your heart.

Beyond the judgment within the Muslim community, the headscarf is also judged by some as oppressive. The definition of the word oppression is to have prolonged cruelty against you or unjust treatment from people of authority. In the eyes of many people, Muslim women are oppressed because of the men in their lives, such as their fathers and brothers who may force them to wear scarf or even to be Muslim.

In some cases this is true, as many people interpret the commands of Islam in an extreme way. However, in general, most Muslim families who want their daughters to wear the head scarf and dress modestly simply tell them the reason they should do so: The reason is to please God.

Just like other families, parents know what is good for children. In a non-Islamic family, the parents could tell their daughter to dress modestly and not wear extremely revealing clothes or clothes that don’t fit the occasion. Parents know what is right as they have more experience in life.

If you look into things too hard, you start seeing things aren’t really there. This happens when others look at certain aspects of Islam, such as the hijab. I wear a scarf because I choose to, and because I know and believe it is what God wants me to do. Some Muslims might not wear a scarf, not because they are purposefully trying to disobey God, but because they haven’t gotten there yet. This happens because of many reasons, such as friends or family.

Everyone’s life is their own journey that they should go through happily doing what they believe is right and following their heart.”

Shimma Hamed, age 14

“My mom has a photo of my uncle with me and my brother. We look young. This was before the war, when he visited us in Australia. Before my family came, we lived in a four-story house in Syria. My extended family of 10 lived in the house.

My Syrian cousins living in Jordan receive 10 Australian dollars per week from their jobs.  It’s not enough. My parents send them around $300 dollars whenever they can, to help them survive. They only want the best for me and my siblings, helping us to grow up and be successful. They don’t want us to rely on others to make a living.

My father loves experimenting with cooking, going to new places and giving us new experiences. It makes me feel connected, loved, and inspires me to try new things.  My mother loves to joke, just like my dad, but she is a more serious person who prefers consistency in life.  And in cooking. They balance each other.

One of the new places we went was strawberry picking on the 15th of October. It helped my mum forget about her brother and nephews in Syria, the ones who were killed.

My father was born in Jordan. My mother is Syrian, and as a family we have lived in Australia for 12 years. My parents and I left Syria when I was three. We haven’t visited Syria due to the war. The last time I saw my cousins and grandparents was two years ago in Jordan. One uncle and three cousins returned to Syria to fight against the government. Some were killed by bombs; some were shot. I still have more family in Syria who are unable to leave.

In Jordan, my family says they’re only living to live. They are unable to enjoy life, for they have no freedom. They are refugees. Two years ago, when was 14, we visited Jordan. I hadn’t seen these family members since I was three. Most of the family greeted us at the airport, coming by bus. Some travelled from Karak to the capital city in Amman, a two hour drive.”

Maysoun Tarawneh, age 16

“I snapchat everything and anything that interests me. Whether it’s a family trip somewhere or just a visit to grandmas, if I’ve got myself done up for some reason or just mucking around with my siblings, I love to snapchat everything during the moment. I’ve got my little sister obsessed with the app, particularly for the filters.

Snapchat allows me to communicate with my friends and family daily, as well as relatives and cousins overseas. Using snapchat you can meet all types of people and make friends and personally I love to make new friends.”

Aminah Cicak, age 15

“I was born in a country that left me ignorant. I was naïve of what was happening in other countries or in western societies. I was born in Saudi Arabia, told it is the best, and believed it until I moved to Australia at the age of eleven. I could not speak a single word of English, but when I saw the trees and flowers on the streets and in front of people’s homes in Australia, I started doubting what I had been told. This world was different.”

Hams Almohammed, age 15

 

 

This project was produced by Laura Strentz and Mica Pereira.

This exhibition was supported by the City of Belmont, the Australian Islamic College, the US Consulate, Perth Airport, Mica Exhibitions, World Press Photo Perth and the Office of Multicultural Interests.

All materials are copyright of World Press Photo Perth and photographers Ryan Ammon and Tim Matsui.