We live in an age where we are inundated with hundreds and thousands of images on a daily basis. More people own cameras today than at any time in history and there are more ways to share our images than ever before. With the advent of digital cameras, social media and online forums, we can now capture an image and share it instantly with friends on the other side of the planet. It’s an exciting time to be a photographer.

We’re starting our photographic journey with images I’ve captured of Muslim scholars who have positively influenced both my religion and my art. I’ve had the honour of spending nearly a decade studying sacred law in Mauritania, Morocco, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. The men in these images helped me understand the purpose of my art, or rather, they helped give my art a purpose. I would not be an artist today if it wasn’t for these individuals who act as beacons of light during my darkest days.

I’m often looked at as a bit of an anomaly. I spent a decade studying the sacred sciences while at the same time pursing my career as a visual artist. My studies didn’t prevent me from doing what I love, instead my time spent studying Islam has become the foundation from which all my work emanates today. In a sense, these are the men that helped shape who I am today. One of my teachers once told me that the light that emanates from the people of God is enough to wipe out the darkness in a land. I photograph these men with the hopes of spreading the light of knowledge to all who gaze upon the images.

The first time I ever heard of Imam al-Ghazali was by reading his works translated by Dr. Abdal Hakim. I ended up studying Imam al-Ghazali’s IhyaUlum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences) during my studies and it has informed my art more than the works of any other scholar I’ve read.

I met Dr. Umar in Jeddah while performing Hajj with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in 1998. Dr. Umar was still living in Saudi Arabia at the time and hadn’t been back to the United States for close to 17 years. He mentioned to me recently that it was this meeting with Shaykh Hamza and his students that made him realise that there was work to do back home. Shortly after this visit he returned to the United States and he is now currently living and teaching in Chicago.

The first time I met Dr. Jackson he told me, “Hit ’em with the left, follow with the right…and we got your back.” It was profound because I had just written him a letter telling him I was considering leaving art and focusing full time on my Islamic studies. He told me that media was the voice of our age and that we needed Muslims to be our voice. He’s been there as a support for me ever since.

Shaykh Hamza was my first teacher in Islam after I converted in 1997. I lived just a few miles from him and would walk to his house several times a week to study Maliki jurisprudence (fiqh). He gave me my name ‘Mustafa’ and is the person who introduced me to every scholar I’ve ever sat with. He remains one of the most influential men in my life.

I first met Imam Zaid in Damascus, Syria, in 1998. He picked me up the first day I arrived and took me all around the city showing me where things were and how to catch the bus to the University etc. He spent the entire day with me and I’ll never forget it. Imam Zaid was the first scholar to encourage me in the arts.

I spent nearly five years studying with Habib Umar in Tarim, Yemen. He saw that I had an inclination to the arts and encouraged it. By his advice I went on to film school and I have created media for him and his students for over a decade.

The image of the bed is of Murabit al-Hajj’s house. He’s sleeping in the tent in this image. I captured this on a disposable camera in 1997. I went to Mauritania just a year after I converted to Islam. It was a profound experience that changed the course of the rest of my life. It was the impetus for me spending a decade studying sacred law.

I met Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah when Shaykh Hamza Yusuf brought him on his first visit to the United States. Being with him was the first time I heard a scholar talk about the importance of establishing vibrant, positive, Muslim communities in the West. He is one of the most intelligent and illuminated men I’ve ever met.

I met Shaykh Ibrahim when I arrived in Damascus. He was completing the last year of his Arabic studies before heading off to Mauritania and Yemen. Ibrahim is a dear friend and teacher and has constantly encouraged me to continue creating art.

I met Shaykh Yahya the week before he embraced Islam. Since then we have journeyed together across the globe many times over. Shaykh Yahya is one of my teachers and a dear friend.

Usama Canon and I have a unique story. We were both the reason each other embraced Islam. I was searching for God and Usama pointed me in the direction of Islam, although he was not yet a Muslim himself. After I embraced Islam, Usama came to me asking about Islam and I took him to the mosque to say his Shahada (declaration of faith). We’ve been connected ever since and we run Ta’leef Collective together, an organisation which caters to the needs of converts and seekers.

YUSUF (Cat Stevens):
Yusuf is the first Muslim artist I had ever heard of. I learned that he left his former self (Cat Stevens) behind and walked away from the fame and fortune to focus on his faith. I met Yusuf in 2002 for the first time and he gave me some amazing advice. He said, “If you’re going to create art then you have to seek to perfect it. Allah loves the acts that are done with perfection…so act well.” I have this written on a piece of paper in my home office to remind myself to strive harder.

Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah and Aftab Malik
Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah and Aftab Malik
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