During Halal Metropolis’ stop in Detroit earlier this summer, Isra Daraiseh attended a panel discussion by Muslim artists at the Muslim Center in Detroit, a mosque neighborhood off of the Davison Freeway, followed by a tour of the exhibition at Indus Detroit.
The exhibit is an overdue excellent idea, she says. “I think the concept fits perfectly with the makeup of the Muslim community in Michigan. It is a halal metropolis, in key cities, and I think that’s beautiful.”
It also helped her reflect on sharing Muslim stories.
“I immediately thought of my nephews when I visited because having something interactive and visual to share with them about our presence in the region is vital to their confidence and involvement,” she says. “Young people don’t usually have a lot of ways to be proud of their religion outside of the Muslim circles. … I also thought of my non-Muslim friends, and how cool it would be to invite them to visit one of the touring exhibits.”
Daraiseh says the exhibition informs people about Islam in America, which began with enslaved African Americans, who are often mistaken to be converts. She says, “Deconstructing this myth is very important for both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences.”
Such is the birth of a project called Halal Metropolis, a traveling exhibition in Metro Detroit featuring Muslims from the early 1900s and onward. The exhibit officially opens in Hamtramck on Sept. 6 and runs until Sept. 28 at Bank Suey, with a sneak preview during the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival Aug 31-Sept. 1.
The idea stemmed from a book in the works, “Halal Metropolis: Mosques, Markets, and Neighborhood Development,” by Sally Howell, associate professor of history and director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, whose work focuses on Muslims and their contributions across socioeconomic and political spheres. She says she began documenting Muslim neighborhood trends about five years ago.
Howell estimates there are 350,000 Muslims in Metro Detroit. She says no one is talking about the positive economic cultural impact of Muslim population growth, such as low-income families moving into affordable opportunity neighborhoods, which impacts school districts and businesses, and stabilize rental properties. She says they have had a better survival rate than Midtown and downtown Detroit during the housing crisis.
“Detroit’s news headlines stories of Muslims are often about Islamophobia, mosques getting attacked, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib told to go back to where she’s from … it’s not really covering the accomplishments of the populations,” she says.
The project is an effort to showcase Michigan Muslims as everyday people who have oftentimes been left out of the dialogue or are portrayed negatively in the media and political spheres. Sites were chosen based on a combination of approaching cities with little or no Muslim visibility, to a lot of visibility.
Hamtramck, where tensions flared between the City Council and neighbors over the controversial request to broadcast the call to prayer in 2004, is now majority home to large populations of Bangladeshis, Yemenis, Bosnians, and other Muslim communities. Today there are several mosques in the 2.2-square-mile city.
Photographer and documentarian Razi Jafri says unique artwork such as the Yemeni community plastering “Allahu Akbar” meaning “God is Great” to their cars as a form of expression, and Bangladeshi clothing stores displays of sarees and other South Asian outfits on storefronts to attract customers, can be found in the city.
Detroit was the first top on Halal Metropolis’ journey, where African Americans Muslims first came and built institutions.
The Muslim Center neighborhood consists of six Muslim-led organizations on one block: The Muslim Center, an African American mosque that began in 1985, which encompasses community, service and ministry services, Dream of Detroit, a community-based housing and land development group aimed at improving and empowering the Westside of Detroit; HUDA Clinic, a free clinic for underserved and uninsured communities, HUDA Urban Garden, a community garden stemming from the work at HUDA Clinic to provide healthy food for those in need; Indus Detroit, an exhibition space by Dream of Detroit; and MuslimArc, a human rights education organization aimed to train Muslims about racial justice.
Jafri says the exhibitions examine visibility in public spaces and mainstream culture with a focus on architecture, streetscapes, storefronts, and other forms of displays.
He says, “A lot of people want to see and are craving this content,” as a catalyst for non-Muslims to ask questions in a safe space about Muslims. It also serves as an opportunity for Muslims to see themselves and pursue arts and culture as careers.
Osman Khan is an associate professor and director of the MFA program at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan and is the curator of Halal Metropolis. He says themes of past, present, future, and fact, fiction, and imaginary are explored.
Taking place during Detroit’s Month of Design, a monthlong celebration of the city’s role as a national and global design capital, the Hamtramck exhibition focuses on design. It will feature politics, photographs of Eid celebrations, clothing, and local artists.
“(It’s an) interplay between different elements of contemporary history and artistic expressions,” Khan says. The exhibit will also feature an interactive 3D map of local mosques and where their congregations have moved.
Artists will include Zarinah El-Amin Naeem, founder of Beautifully Wrapped & The Headwrap Expo; graphic novelists Maamoul Press; choreographer and founder of Hardcore Detroit Haleem “Stringz” Rasul; visual artist Endi Poskovic, Noura Ballout, photographer and founder of Habibi House; and others. Artists and pieces will be added during the exhibit as they come up to span across a wide representation of Muslim communities and voices.
The exhibition will be traveling through Hamtramck, Howell, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, and Mt. Clemens throughout fall 2020. Follow halalmetropolis.org and @halalmetropolis on Facebook or Instagram for updated information.