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Picturing the Diversity of the Muslim World

31 March 2011

U.S. photographer Derek Brown, whose work has been featured in The Economist and other major publications, traveled to 28 countries for more than 18 months to photograph the diversity of the Muslim world.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Man prays in Indian mosque

Caption: U.S. photographer Derek Brown, whose work has been featured in The Economist and other major publications, traveled to 28 countries for more than 18 months to photograph the diversity of the Muslim world. He made this image during a visit to a mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, India. An exhibit in Washington D.C. of his images from 20 countries drew raves, with the exhibitor noting, “It makes people realize the Muslim world is beyond the Middle East – it’s far beyond that.”

See: Snapshots of a Muslim World  

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Boy with large globe

Caption: Brown came across this scene in Esfahan, Iran, outside the city’s Natural History Museum. He says the people he met on his journey in Iran had a “pretty impressive” knowledge about the U.S. and the rest of the world – he wanted to illustrate that. “It’s showing that the people of Iran still look outward,” he says. “They still know what’s going on in the world.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Man sits outside Chinese mosque

Caption: Along the Silk Road in China, Brown sought out the Great Mosque in Xian, Shaanxi Province. “For most intents and purposes it looked like a pretty standard historic temple – but it was not, it was a mosque,” he says. The Great Mosque in Xian, which dates to the 14th century and remains one of the best preserved mosques in China, has the layout of a Chinese temple – a series of courtyards, pavilions and pagodas on a single axis – but, unlike a temple, is aligned from east to west to face Mecca.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Girl in a parade

Caption: Brown especially likes showing images of ordinary Muslim women and girls, such as this all-girl band leading a parade in Rantepao on Sulawesi in Indonesia, “because they’re one of the larger catalysts and focuses of misunderstanding,” he says. “The idea is a Muslim girl could never run and have fun in public. She could never have her headscarf off. Or have a headscarf on and do flips. I want to show all these things.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Man naps inside a mosque

Caption: One of the main reasons Brown and his traveling companion wanted to visit countries with significant Muslim populations was “because it’s a huge part of the world and it’s very poorly understood. ... We were part of those who poorly understand, so we wanted to change that in ourselves first.” He photographed this quiet moment in a mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Men pray in the desert

Caption: In Timbuktu, Mali, during Eid al-Adha, known in West Africa as Tabaski, people pray outside in the desert. “It’s where they live, it’s where they’re from – and for them, that’s kind of their mosque,” Brown says. As he walked through town that morning, strangers stopped him and told him to go for the prayers and take pictures. “They really wanted me to come and they really wanted me to share,” Brown says.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Three girls in India

Caption: Brown uses a vibrant mix of colors in his work, and says that as a photographer, “I got pretty good at determining when someone shy and coy would look back." These three girls had just left their madrassa near the Jama Masjid mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, India, which is one of the largest mosques in India and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Mother holding a baby

Caption: In Bangladesh, while riding on a paddle wheel boat, Brown looked over at the river front and spotted this Bangladeshi mother and child. “I just thought it was gorgeous,” he says. “It’s an intimate moment…the look in her eyes is very moving.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Mosque in Senossa

Caption: After visiting the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali, Brown walked 45 minutes to the village of Senossa to visit this mosque. “I like the architecture of the mosque,” he says. “I just like how different it is from anything else I’d ever seen.”

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Man prays on boat

Caption: Being able to depict ordinary moments throughout the Muslim world was one of Brown’s goals along his journey. Here he captured a Bangladeshi water taxi driver performing midday prayers amidst a sea of waiting taxis. “This is his mosque,” Brown says. Brown’s photographs from his travels in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Indonesia serve as reminders that nearly 62 percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Man looks at skyscrapers

Caption: The explosion of new construction and growth throughout the United Arab Emirates is illustrated in this image from Doha, Qatar, where Brown says he liked the juxtaposition of modern and traditional. Brown’s journey, which lasted from 2008 to 2010, included the Middle East, Central Asia, North and West Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Europe in addition to South Asia.

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Credit: Courtesy of Derek Brown

Alt tag: Islamic Center interior

Caption: One of the mosques that most surprised Brown was right in Washington D.C., where he now lives: The Islamic Center of Washington. “I thought that mosques that ornate you had to travel far to see them,” he says. “I was surprised to find that same scenery here in D.C. that we had gone all these distances to see.” Brown says a photography trip exploring Muslim culture in the U.S. could be a future project.