Tell me about your job.
I just started an apparel company called Inshallah about 4 months ago. I created a line of clothing that I felt, me being Muslim, would bring unity through fashion. I say that because I am an American, I was born Christian, have a lot of Christian friends, I have a lot of Jewish friends, and I see so much going on in the media, and I wanted to create a brand that would speak positively about my religion, but also something that just represents me.
Are there other Muslim apparel companies out there?
Not really, not at all. There are a lot of t-shirt companies, but there is no real line of clothing on the level that Inshallah is. It's hard because it's new and there is so much going on with my faith, but that's a positive because what I'm doing here is something that's a reflection of my faith, but also something that's universal. It's almost like music, it doesn't matter what your race is, you can listen to whatever music you want, I see this as kind of the same thing. It's like an lifestyle brand, like American Apparel, Hollister, American Eagle, it has that type of feel, but with Islamic twists to it. If you look at it it looks cool, or similar, but you see these little bits of Muslim culture within.
Are the clothes available in stores now?
Our website is going up November 1st, and we'll be selling on there. I'm working with a partner who's launched two companies in the past, created multi-million dollar brands, and so he has a lot of connections, so we plan to use that as much as possible and get into retail stores soon.
You're faith seems to play a big role in this, are you very religious?
I've always been very close to God, very spiritual. I didn't always go to church, but I always read the Bible, I always prayed every day. I don't know if I would call it a religious thing, but I was always very close to God. And now, with converting to Islam, like a year ago, it's still the same thing, but I read the Koran and the Bible. I practice my religion more, I pray more, I got to mosque more, I do more things in regards to my faith. Islam means to submit to the will of God. God told Noah to build an arc, he did it. There was no religion, it was God. That's what being Muslim means to me.
Islam has been in the media a bit recently, from Obama being accused of being a Muslim by members of the Tea Party to the controversial Park51 community center in Lower Manhattan, to Juan Williams being fired from NPR after talking about Muslims on Fox News. Is it hard to be Muslim in America in 2010?
I think it's hard but it's not hard for me. It's not hard for me because I have the benefit of understanding both sides of the coin. My dad is a Christian minister. I understand Christianity and I understand the parallels between it and Islam. I'm able to defend it easier then maybe some other Muslims because of my background. When you know the Bible and you know the Koran it helps when people come at you with discussions. There are things that are in the Bible and in the Koran. Some of the things that we teach and based directly off things that are in the Bible. For example, the prophet Mohammad, you read that you can't show his picture. One of the first commandments of the Bible is to not worship any false images of God, we believe that we shouldn't have any likeness of our prophets. That's the path to idolatry. Another thing is the hijab, worn by some Muslim women. Look at the images you see of the Virgin Mary, look at nuns, it's right there in your face, it's the same thing.
Will the public's perception about Islam change?
I think people will learn because of people like me. I have tons of friends of every religion that I can have dialogue with. I think the problem is that people don't read. They listen to whatever they hear, but they won't take the time to seek. The people who take the time seek will learn that what's being shown isn't what's real. I'm not afraid to create dialogue. I have no problems doing that. I don't have to be hostile, I don't have to be aggressive, and the clothing company plays and will continue to play a big part in keeping that positive dialogue moving forward.
Andrew Piccone is a photographer in New York.