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Somali Sideways is Sharing Unheard Stories from the Diaspora

Featured image credit: Somali Sideways.

Every so often we find a Muslim photographer who is not only unfairly talented, but also determined to dismantle misconceptions around Islam through their work. Remember when we showed you that trio of incredible female Muslim photographers the other month? They all cast Muslim women in an entirely new light and it was great.

Somali Sideways is a photo project that is looking to do something similar. However, it focuses on repositioning perceptions of Somalis and the diaspora – a people who often suffer from negative stereotypes.

The project was started by Mohamed Mohamud, a 24-year-old graduate of Brunel University in London. It originally began with Mohamed taking all of the photos himself, but soon enough he was receiving submissions from all over the world. Each photo featured a Somali, standing side-on to the camera. As the portraits rolled in, Somali Sideways grew into a platform-slash-community where Somalis and the diaspora could share their stories.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Mohamed explained the reasoning behind the sideways pose: ‘On one side it’s about sharing stories [you] wish to share … and the other side remains a mystery.’

When you think about how limited depictions of Somalis in popular culture are, the clarity of the side-on symbolism feels really vital. The photos are posted on the Somali Sideways website and Instagram, accompanied by a caption that reveals the subject’s story. They come from all over the world, but many of the more recent ones emanate from the United States, probably due to Mohamed’s recent travels to Minnesota – a state with a large Somali community.

The subjects’ stories cover issues as complex and diverse as immigration and identity, while others deal in the normal flow of everyday lives. But without a doubt, they all reflect the words Mohamed wrote on the Somali Sideways website about starting the project: ‘I started it because whenever I’m around Somalis, whether it be in cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, social gatherings they seem to always have many stories to share with their friends and family.’

We have chosen some of our favourite stories and posted them below.

Here we have Marawa, who holds the world record for 180 hoops, in #LosAngeles, #USA. "I grew up a nomad – My Father is Somali and my Mother is Australian. As a child I lived in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Middle East. We never stopped travelling. My childhood hero was (and forever will be) Olga Korbut. She was a gymnast who’s raw emotions, originality and huge smiles wowed the judges and won her medals and fans everywhere. Such a huge inspiration. I saw Starlight Express when I was 8 and for the next 10 years dreamt of playing the character ‘Pearl’ from the rollerskating musical. Delores Van Cartier (from Sister Act), Josephine Baker, Esther Williams, Tandi Iman Dupree and Perez Prado are all LEGENDS I look up to. I played drums all through high school (strictly James Brown classics) and music was my life. After graduating I went on a tour of circus schools in China which blew my mind. Running away with the circus had also become a legit degree and so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Circus Arts—which I didn't get into – but it seemed like the only degree that made sense to me – so I reapplied the next year and thankfully they let me in. I’ve performed and taught hoola hooping in Nepal, New York, North Korea, Melbourne, Zagreb, Spain, London, Paris, Poland, Mexico, Somalia and LA. I feel really lucky to have done this and to have made great friends all over the world. Along the way I have done a lot of cheesy tv, including a Japanese game show filmed in Paris by an Italian production company. Ha. But I think this is my fav tv moment, Big Up Dizzee. Through a series of workshops in 2012 Marawa’s Majorettes was launched, a glittering team of adorable hoop performers that amazed crowds just like me and also teach! An army of Hoopers yeah ! Check out the Majorette’s page if you’d like to get involved". #SomaliSideways.

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Here we have Abdirachid Fidow at #FelthamStation, #London. "An Islamophobic man verbally attacked me on the South West train this mourning from Twickenham to Richmond whilst I was standing in the busy train minding my own business & asked me stupidly ‘’ was i going to blow myself up on the train’’. To my utter amazement but not surprised I disgustedly replied ‘’I don’t talk to bigots”, to which he simply moved closer to me in a threatening manner. Seeing that he wanted to start a fight I decided to defend my honor and humanity by simply fighting back using my head instead of my hands which would be the easy option. ‘’I bet your ignorance & small mindedness insults everyone on this train, you’re a fool who only watches and listens to news that fuels and divides communities, your an example of what gives the extremists more excuses for their horrible actions ’’. At this stage I thought the situation would only escalate into a train brawl, luckily I had several true Brits who could not tolerate this bigot anymore and decided to step in and pushed him away and a sat on my designated seat proudly. I wish to thank all those strangers but true brothers and sisters of mine for their kind and thoughtful help towards me today. I never thought it would happen to me, but I finally understand what many of my Muslim peers are going through everyday on public transport faced with harassment and threats to their lives. Islamophobia is rife and living on these shores, it is high time we all prepare for this inevitable outcome by simply showing the true Islam we have all been taught. And that is to respect show love, tolerance and compassion faced with threats to our lives. It is what my religion teaches and entrusts me to convey everyday to my fellow tenants of this planet. I take this time to send a message to all those reading this who share the same ideals of hate and bigotry, I determined to defeat you, I am ready to show you what true ISLAM teaches, and if you decide to continue your ways. Don’t worry there are millions like me walking past you where you get your milk, jump on the motorway or maybe your neighbour….". Click on our website. Link in bio. #SomaliSideways

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Here we have Anisa from #Ontario #Canada. "My family was fortunate enough to flee Somalia just before the civil war broke out. Alhamdullilah for being raised in a Somali household; my thick skin is credited to my parents and six brothers. With Trump becoming the next President, I fear for my Muslim brothers and sisters as well as any other minority group who'll have to face any such discrimination as a result of his presidency. However, we should all remember to stay strong and 'make racists scared again.' Anywhere a racist rears their head, we will combat them. It's that simple! I'm also thankful to Allah that my family was able to make Canada our second home and wouldn't have it any other way. Even though I still have yet to visit Somalia it's a country that will always run deep through my veins and will forever be a place I can call home". #SomaliSideways.

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Here we have Said from #Buran, a small village in the #Sanaag region, #Somalia. "When the civil war in Somalia broke out, youth fled to other parts of the country. I was lucky to get educated because of the young men who volunteer to teach us. But 13 years ago, I was forced to leave my village and I ended up first in Ethiopia and then to the Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya. I later got accept to Jomma Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to study Media and Communications. I went back to my village last year. The school opened a secondary school and one of their students was awarded a scholarship from the International University of Africa in Sudan last year. The community did not only achieve that milestone. They also fundraised and built 16 new classrooms. I sat at one of the classroom desks to contemplate the journey I made when I first arrived and my life now. I dare you to come home to see how people are making Somalia better not because of the donor funding from companies and NGOs but because of the hard work and determination Somalis are doing in the region". #SomaliSideways. The whole concept of this project will change, stay tuned for some creative pictures!

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Here we have Adil Ali in #Aarhus, #Denmark. "November this year, I had an epiphany and I have been trying to dissect ever since. What has made sense so far is the topic of Love, I feel as though for Muslims in the western world (including myself) we have parted ways with our roots on many levels. Does It takes a holiday like "Mother's Day" or a birthday… To remember to tell your mother you love her? It's like we only care when ever we are influenced to care! Or when it's convenient. It's a sad reality, but I promised myself it wasn't going to be mine anymore. I have since created the video "Dear Hooyo" (where I had the same discussion with my mother). I realised that the effort was worth every second. The point of this story is to remember your parents. Show them you care, don't just tell them. Insha'Allah it inspires you to make the effort, daily! (For those who are already doing it, Masha'allah don't stop)". #SomaliSideways.

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Here we have Amina Hassan in #Corvallis, #Oregon, #USA. "Growing up I was always the token black/Muslim friend (my family & I were the only Somalis in my small town) and I felt the high pressure of painting my people in a positive light. As I grew older and was exposed to more Somalis (through social media) I realized how important representation really was. While my social media accounts (insta, YouTube & a blog) are mostly for personal enjoyment, I am passionate about my online presence because of the fact that black Muslimahs lack representation in the blogging world. 9 times out of 10 the influencers and bloggers we have access to are Arab/South Asian, making it difficult for black Muslimahs to feel included. I hope to use my blog/channel as a way to both shed light on issues within the Somali community & also highlight the fact that not all successful, stylish Muslim women are Arab/ South Asian! I'm starting a Masters of Education program in Minnesota this winter (inshallah) and hope to use my career as a tool for the next generation of Somali- Americans". #SomaliSideways.

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Make sure you follow Somali Sideways on Instagram and don’t forget to check out the website.

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