Building the Bridge Exhibition

An exciting and innovative exhibition is being launched in Bristol to build understanding between the city’s Muslims and the wider community.

The Building the Bridge Exhibition, which celebrates ‘ordinary Muslims living in Bristol’ is being launched at Bristol Central Library on Monday 15th February. It then moves to Easton Community Centre on 1st March, where it will remain for at least another two weeks.

With a central aim to dispel negative stereotypes so often imposed on Muslim communities, the exhibition will display a series of twelve beautiful portraits featuring local people accompanied by moving interviews which offer an insight into what being Muslim and being Bristolian means to them.

A strong theme running through the exhibition is a conviction that Islam is a religion of peace and that acts of terrorists are abhorrent.

Involved in the project are two inspirational women from Bradley Stoke, as well as nine other people from across the city.

Lara Almasri

Civil Engineer, Bradley Stoke

Lara Almasri pictured at home in Bradley Stoke

I feel very proud to be a Muslim. I believe that it has enabled me to be more understanding of others. Islam accepts and is very welcoming to other faiths. We are encouraged to study Christianity and Judaism and respect and understand them.

My family comes from Palestine. My father left his family to study in Egypt – but then the war broke out and he couldn’t return home. So he stayed in Egypt until he finished his university degree – becoming an agricultural engineer – before joining his family in Jordan. He married and I was born.

My father was a very devout man. He built our house close to the mosque so that he could attend all the prayers. But, despite being very religious, he was also open-minded. He believed that we needed to be allowed to make our own choices. This view was shared by my mother, who was also highly educated. My parents felt that it was important that we were aware of everything around us and that we had a complete view of the world. To understand a different culture and faith, they sent us to a Roman Catholic school in Jordan.

I am very grateful to my parents for the important choices that they made for me when I was young. It has prepared me to understand and feel at home in a different culture and environment.

I studied civil engineering, which in Jordan is not an unusual career choice for girls – as many women as men studied engineering in my university. In fact, in some years they had to cap the number of women on my course to ensure that there were enough guys.

It was while we were students that I met my husband, who was also studying civil engineering, although at a different university. We married and moved to the United States, where my husband studied for a Masters Degree and then won a scholarship to study for a PhD. But, with the outbreak of the Iraq war, scholarships were reduced and he had to look for work, joining an engineering firm in Chicago.

Once we were married our plan had been to return to our homeland in Palestine, where my husband still has strong family links. He had even bought a flat there for us to move to. But, with the outbreak of the uprising, again our plans were disrupted.

My husband looked for a post to begin a career with an international engineering firm. He chose a global firm based in the UK and was given the choice to work in either Bristol or Epsom.

We googled Bristol and thought that it looked like a lovely city to bring up our family. We moved here and have been very happy. It’s a really good size – small enough to be familiar and yet it has everything that you need and could expect to find in a major city. I find a peace and tranquillity in Bristol that I don’t associate with big cities. The people here are very friendly.

Being a Muslim is an important part of who I am – it’s part of my identity and something that I would like my daughters to be aware of. They are just beginning to understand that they are part of this faith. Simple things define this identity for them. For example, at school, the choices that they have to make for their school dinners. Initially, we did consider giving them packed lunches. But, we decided early on that they need to be aware of who they are – and telling the dinner lady what they can and cannot eat is part of this.

Majida Islam Khan

Student, Bradley Stoke

Majida Khan photographed at the Council House Bristol

My faith is the centre of my life. I would put it as simply as that. That doesn’t mean that I have to wear a huge label and carry around baggage everywhere letting people know just how Muslim I am and how amazing that is – it’s nothing like that at all. It’s a very internal thing. It’s something that affects my everyday decisions, the way I try to live my life, the way I treat my city, the way I treat the people around me.

I am proud that peace is such a fundamental part of the Muslim faith. When we greet each other we say Salaam, which means peace. When I grew up in the 90s, as a Muslim, I didn’t have to give my views on peace a second thought. To me it was a universal principle. But I was in the US during 9/11 and things have changed. Now, whether we like it or not, every Muslim needs to act as an ambassador of their faith. Rather than getting offended by all the stereotypes or questions, I now consider it my responsibility to represent Islam’s peaceful nature and to educate others about the misconceptions.

My faith tells me that that I need to be part of the community. In fact, it is my religious duty to be a positive and active citizen; to look after my neighbours and give to charity – not just Muslim citizens and neighbours but all people, be they any colour, any faith, or no faith.

Islam is by no means an isolationist religion. For me it means going out and participating in community organisations, going to Council House meetings and saying what I believe to be the truth. It is due to Islam’s teachings on society that I consider it my duty to be involved for the betterment of Bristol, which is now my home and its residents, who are now my people.

As a Muslim wanting to make a difference, I believe Bristol as a city has helped me to flourish. This city truly has a lot to offer, it’s simply buzzing with multicultural opportunities. If you genuinely want to contribute, participate and make a difference, Bristol has all the resources available to make that a reality. But ultimately, as citizens it’s our responsibility to get out there, find these opportunities and make them work for us.

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