'We are all human': Australian Atheist met with Muslim neighbours to create 'Faces of Islam'

Natasha Christian

An Australian Atheist has sat down with 40 of his Muslim neighbours in an attempt to show the world that no matter your beliefs, everyone is human.

After watching Australia react to the Paris terror attacks, Matt Palmer was left frustrated by misinformation and inspired to make a change.

Photo: Matt Palmer
Matt Palmer's latest photography project 'The Faces of Islam' aims to share stories of Australia's Muslim community.

“The attacks last year were a horrible event, but a lot of information came out after that was inaccurate and unfair,” he told Yahoo7.

“I think a big problem is that people take so much of what they see online at face value when there’s a lot out there from sources that aren’t credible”.

The award winning Brisbane photographer contacted 40 people in the city’s Muslim community and by taking the time to listen, he heard stories of bravery, grief, illness, mental health and happiness.

Photo: Matt Palmer

The result was turned into a photo series ‘The Faces of Islam’ which shows each participant, from children to elderly, sharing something personal.

Hassen, a 49-year-old accountant, spoke of his battle with depression and building up the courage to admit he was struggling with mental illness.

Photo: Matt Palmer

“The greatest risk I have taken is to actually acknowledge that depression is real,” he told Mr Palmer.

“And I have the courage to actually do something about it”.

Clothing retailer Aliya, 25, spoke about dealing with the sudden loss of her father.

“When my father died I actually felt it,” she told Mr Palmer.

Photo: Matt Palmer

“He was in another city, and our aunty called from the hospital and she said ‘your father has died’… we were in denial, I couldn’t fathom it for a very long time”.

“That accident has changed my perspective a lot towards life.”

Mr Palmer said he didn’t ask his participants any specific questions about religion.

“It was an opportunity to talk about different things – the risks they had taken in life and what makes them the happiest,” Mr Palmer said.

Photo: Matt Palmer

He spent most of April speaking with and photographing the participants before the project was released to the world.

“Once I explained why we were doing what we were doing, everyone I had approached wanted to be involved.

“The Muslim community has been really happy with it, (those involved) felt empowered to have a voice put out in this way”.

While Mr Palmer said not everyone had supported the project, he said it was part of the reason he wanted to do it.

Photo: Matt Palmer

“I think the reaction has been quite positive, there’s about 20 percent of people who haven’t been as open to it but I think it’s a slow burner and people might need to go back and look at it more than once.

“I’m an atheist and I’m fairly skeptical of most religions but I found it to be a very practical religion. There’s all these things that might appear a little quirky, but there are practical reasons for it”.

Photo: Matt Palmer

Mr Palmer said one of his goals was to see the project presented in a public space to encourage discussion.

“My dream is for it to be displayed in a space such as Queen St Mall or Southbank (Brisbane), so people can choose to come and have a look at it, read the quotes and have a discussion about it,” he said.

“We want to spark conversations that will challenge people’s beliefs and give them information they may not have known before”.

Check out Matt Palmer's 'Faces of Islam' here.

News break – May 3