Photographers' Blog

The search for a mosque in Athens

Athens, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Some say that to come in contact with “God” is a spiritual matter that has nothing to do with the particular spot or place where such contact takes place. Well, if it were that simple then there would be no need to build churches or mosques.

In the Greek capital Athens, where almost half the country’s 11 million people live, there is a 500,000-strong Muslim community, mostly immigrants from Asia, Africa and eastern Europe. Many of those are faithful and want to express their faith by praying in an appropriate place. Well, there is no such place – there isn’t a single “official” mosque in the wider area of the Greek capital.

Instead, they have to rent flats, basements, old garages and all kinds of warehouses and transform them into makeshift mosques to cover their need for a place to hold religious ceremonies. There are lots of these types of “mosques” around town but they’re not easy to spot and whenever I arrived at one of those addresses I had to double-check it was correct as there was no way to identify these flats or warehouses from the outside. I could not say that they’re miserable places but I could better describe them as hidden places, places that do not want to get noticed. During most of my visits people have been very welcoming and very keen to express their concerns about the lack of a recognizable place of worship as well as their fears about the threats they get from some locals.

“Soon there won’t be a single Muslim in Athens,” joked Egyptian Rabab Hasan when I asked her to comment on the lack of a mosque in Athens, obviously pointing to the rise of extreme-right ideas, mostly expressed by the Golden Dawn party, which won 18 seats in the 300-seat Greek parliament in the second of two thrilling elections last year.

The Greek government recently cleared the funds needed to build a mosque in Athens, even though it will not have a minaret. They have also finally found the place to erect it – in an old naval base, next to a church. But the story of the construction of a mosque in Athens dates back decades and is full of postponements and many changes of location.

Any color, as long as it’s blue

Wiesbaden, Germany

By Ralph Orlowski

It was a cold and blustery winter morning when I arrived at the warm and cozy gallery rooms of the Hesse Nassau Art Club in Wiesbaden to take pictures of the exhibition “Bourquoi”. This was to be my third attempt to take photographs of viewers at the show. So far I had not been successful at finding any willing visitors. I wondered whether this could be because of the compulsory dress code. The title of the exhibition “Bourquoi” by Turkish-German artist Naneci Yurdaguel is a play on the two words ‘pourqui’ — the French word for ‘why’ – and “Burka”.

I took off my big awkward padded winter coat only to be handed an equally, if not more, awkward “Burka” by the gallery assistant. I was told the only way to photograph or view the exhibition was while wearing it. No exceptions – not for male visitors or even for journalists.

Finally two visitors arrived – a man and a woman who were also willing to pull over an original Kabul burka. The organizers of the exhibition had flown in about a dozen original blue Burkas from the Afghan capital. I expected the visitors to be giggling and laughing when they changed to fulfill the dress code. But everyone was surprisingly extremely quiet and respectful.

A convert to Islam

By Danish Siddiqui

London to me, as a photographer, is a uniquely diverse place to capture on camera in terms of its people and their stories. It amalgamates a lot of complexities that make for compelling narratives.

A couple months back I went to London from Mumbai as part of a short assignment, to get some experience out of my usual domain. I worked closely with the Reuters UK team and specifically Andrew Winning on the production of a multimedia piece that would tell the story of young Muslim converts in London.

In an age where there is a lot of skepticism around Islam, empirical evidence has proved otherwise. A study, for instance, has suggested that more than 100,000 people converted to Islam in the last decade. London is one such melting pot. And the city made for an interesting background to follow the life of one such convert.

Religious Imam, reality TV star and dream son-in-law?

When a friend told me about the “Young Imam” reality TV show, I thought it must be just another ‘preaching and nagging’ religious program.

But when another friend of mine jokingly said “the young imams are dream son-in-laws”, I decided I should take a peek into this phenomenon. While I could understand why Mawi became a heartthrob of teenage girls after he won the Malaysian version of American Idol but, a religious TV program doesn’t usually catch on in Malaysia.

After locating “Imam Muda” (“Young Imam” in Malay) on one of the our cable TV channels, I found it to be interesting.

Pilgrimage to Mecca

Coverage of the 2009 Haj pilgrimage was an enlightening experience for me as a photographer. I have covered many religious events in Iran but never anything as enormous as the Haj – this year complete with the added threat of H1N1.

I arrived in Jeddah several days before the start of the Haj and found Saudi Arabia to have all the luxuries and organization of the United States. My picture was taken at passport control and fingerprints scanned.  I was met at the airport by our minder from the Ministry of Information with a driver and a large American SUV. We went straight to the media center to get my press credentials and on to the road leading to Mecca to take pictures of checkpoints and security. Police officers were wearing masks to protect them from flu as were many pilgrims.

The following day we left for Mecca at 3 am to be on top of Noor Mountain at sunrise. It was a long, tiring climb but well worth it as the sun started to rise and light allowed me to make images. In the afternoon we went to a military base to take pictures of security arrangements for the Haj, attended by many Saudi and foreign dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz. It was basically a military parade showing the security hardware for police to deal with any security concerns.