Art

Muslim Artists Celebrate Mother’s Day, Diversity, and Family In America

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Mothering is a blessedly diverse thing, and nowhere more so than in America: There are single mothers, queer and trans mothers, grandparents who mother, low-income mothers, and more.

Forward Together, an Oakland, California–based nonprofit that works to “ensure that women, youth, and families have the power and resources they need to reach their full potential,” is celebrating that fact. As part of the organization’s annual “Mamas Day” initiative, 28 nonprofits across America are coming together to honor the many types of mothers out there. This year, given the current virulently anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant political climate, the project’s push for visibility has a special focus on honoring Muslim and immigrant mothers. Ten artists were commissioned to create art for cards that senders can personalize and give to their mothers. The cards depict Muslim mothers of all races, immigrant and refugee mothers, Earth as mother, mothers crossing borders and protesting injustice, and mothers speaking languages not English, all handcrafted by Muslim artists, many of them queer.

One of the artists, Ayqa Khan, a first-generation immigrant and Pakistani Muslim woman, spoke briefly with me about the power of visibility for families like hers, mine (I’m Somali American), and so many others. Her card depicts a mother and child lying on a Pakistani carpet and drinking traditional tea in a quietly intimate moment at home; the child is purposefully ambiguous in its gender presentation. “Our political climate, today and historically, is one that seems to never allow Muslims to stand still. Documenting and depicting moments of love is radical. It is necessary for all kinds of identities to be nourished,” says Khan. “It is important to learn about the differences we each carry, and to allow these differences to widen our understandings and perspectives.”

Another of the cards, drawn by artist Mohammed Fayaz, resident illustrator at Papi Juice, a collective celebrating queer and trans people of color, depicts a Somali family. Somalis, many of whom fled the country after its civil war, are refugees, immigrants, and black Muslims. “There was a specific and necessary call for black Muslim representation that I wanted to help be a part of. I called on my friend Ifrah Ahmed to collaborate with on this piece. We spoke about the Somali civil war, diasporic communities, and family, and this piece was the outcome,” Fayaz told Forward Together. “There is no Muslim community and ummah without our black brothers and sisters, and it’s key we include, affirm, and uplift them, and that includes major holidays like Eid but also days like Mama’s Day.”

The project, while political in many ways, is also just a love letter to the mothers in our lives that deserve to be honored for their labor. It is a way for the artists and the thousands that have used their visual messages to tell their mothers that they are seen and supported, and that their love is reciprocated. “I hope that many see themselves in this card and in doing so, feel whole and listened to in some sort of way,” says Khan. “That we understand that motherhood looks like many different things, and I hope the world can understand this too.”