Two years ago, a graduate student at MIT called Ammar Asfour launched a crowdfunding campaign for a project called The Eye in Islam. It would be a journey of discovery, one that would see him travel to six countries over the month of Ramadan. The goal was for Ammar to learn more about Muslims who all shared the same faith, but were culturally very different.
As someone who had live in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United States, the blurring of culture and faith was something Ammar was keen to explore, and he knew the only way to do it was through the personal stories of the Muslims he would meet.
As he writes on his website: ‘Those stories are important to me personally. I want to show that Islam as a religion is not exclusive to or defined by Arab ethnicity. I also want to explore how faith in Islam translates into a spectrum of individual experiences.’
When all was said and done, Ammar had visited Brazil, Senegal, Bosnia, China, Malaysia, and Japan. His blog is a trove of brilliant photos, evocative writing and personal tales of resilience, joy, hardship, faith and tradition. It’s a shame it isn’t better known, as it feels really vital when you read it.
During his time in China, Ammar visited the city of Xi’an with Jumuah, a Hui Muslim he had originally met in Boston. The Hui are a Chinese ethnic group who are predominantly Muslim, and Jumuah took Ammar to an area of the city where they could sample some local halal cuisine.
Credit: The Eye in Islam.
The blog about the trip is a great read, but try to avoid it if you’re jonesing for something spicy, or salty, or shredded and meaty and packed tightly into a bun so full it’s on the brink of breaking open. Because this blog is full of pictures of all those things. Halal food, in case you needed reminding, encompasses all sorts of delicious cuisine.
Another standout blog recalls his visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia. In it, Ammar interviews around a dozen Muslims he met in the city, who share their experiences of Islamic life in a country possessing a unique blend of culture and religion, as well as a traumatic history of secularism and ethno-nationalism.
Farooq. Credit: The Eye in Islam.
Despite this, each person he meets seems to hold a true sense of contentment about their religious and ethnic identity, and a happiness with their location. One man, Farooq, offers Ammar this comforting sentiment about his faith: ‘His favorite thing about Islam is that wherever he goes and it is time for prayer, he lines up next to other Muslims and they pray the same way, anywhere.’
Amar also has a memorable stand-off with a goat in Senegal, but we’ll let you learn more about that for yourself over on The Eye in Islam website.
Faith and culture, and the dissonance this can create between communities, is often a controversial issue in Islam. By travelling to these six distinct countries, Ammar revealed that our differences are largely superficial, whereas the deeper aspects of our faith – with all the joy and peace they bring – are shared by Muslims the world over.
Head to his blog and have a look around. At the very least, it’s bound to lift your mood.