An Australian Muslim Photographer Reflects on Ramadan

Marryam Lum shares some of the inspiration behind her gorgeous artwork.

HuffPost Religion is highlighting the voices of Muslim artists this Ramadan. Every Friday of the holy month, we'll feature artwork and reflections from artists around the world on our Instagram account. You can follow along at @HuffPostRelig.

We're starting off with Marryam Lum (@lifeofmyheart), a photographer from Adelaide, South Australia. She specializes in brush lettering work and uses verses from the Quran as inspiration. Calligraphy is a fundamental element of Islamic artwork. The language most often used in this sacred art form is Arabic. As a non-Arabic speaker herself, Lum wanted a way to read and share Islamic verses and teachings in her own language, English.

Lum took over HuffPost Religion's Instagram account on Friday to share some of her favorite pieces that relate to Ramadan. Read on for an interview with her.

1. Tell us about yourself! How did you come to embrace Islam?

My name is Marryam Lum, I’m 30 years old and I’m from Adelaide, South Australia. My parents came to Australia from Malaysia as young students studying Medicine, and they both went on to build their medical practice here. My mum is Malay and was born as a Muslim, my dad is Chinese and he converted to Islam before I was born. My two siblings and I grew up here in Australia, with strong identities as Aussie Muslims and all that that entails. Growing up, my parents were very involved in the Australian Muslim and wider community as educators and mentors -- their generosity, inclusiveness and kindness to everyone they meet has had a major impact on my life and my values as an Australian Muslim.

2. What's your earliest Ramadan memory? What are some Ramadan traditions that you still cherish in your family today?

My earliest Ramadan memory would be breaking our fast (iftar) at the mosque with many other families from around the world -- each night, the mosque would be full, with a the families each taking turns to cook the Iftar for everyone else so that we would all get to experience food from many different cultures. It was such a beautiful time of closeness and happiness, sharing our food with others, and as kids getting to run around having fun in the mosque with friends was a bonus.

Nowadays my family and I do the same thing -- we now have a little mosque of our own that we open every weekend during Ramadan for others to come and share food together at Iftar time. There are families who come to break fast together, as well as people who don’t have families such as converts to Islam, or travelers who don’t have family nearby to share Ramadan and Iftar with -- we all become a big family ourselves! It’s always a beautiful experience that I’m grateful I can share with my own young children.

3. What is it like to produce art during a time of Islamophobia in Australia? 

This time of Islamophobia directly affected the start of my brush lettering work. Like most Muslims I felt frustrated and saddened at the state of the world and the growing Islamophobia. Islam requires Muslims to be the best type of people that they can be, but it can sometimes be difficult to be the best type of person you can be when you are riddled with growing negativity and feelings of hopelessness as a result from the current negative state of the world. I wanted to cultivate more positivity, more light, more hope.

I wanted to bring light to the importance in Islam of the heart and the importance of journeying into oneself in order to truly grow. I believe that once we are able to gain a greater and truer insight into our hearts and ourselves, we will be in a much better position to improve ourselves, to improve the situations of our communities and of those around the globe, to be the best people we can be and therefore create positive change in the world.

I wanted to curate and share words from the spiritual tradition in Islam in a modern, relatable way, to hopefully inspire and motivate others (and myself!) to start or continue on this journey to getting closer to God and therefore improving ourselves as human beings, and so Life Of My Heart [Lum's printmaking initiative] started.

This current climate has affected my work, but not so much my identity or what clients expect from me. I still feel the same about my faith and my identity as an Australian Muslim, but if anything it has made me more determined to do my best to affect some positive change in the word.  

I wanted to cultivate more positivity, more light, more hope.

4. Is there anything in particular you are praying or thinking about this Ramadan? 

This Ramadan, like always, I’m praying for a more positive outcome for humanity and for the future of my kids living as Aussie Muslims themselves. On a personal level, I really want to use this month to seek more knowledge on the self, the heart, and how to improve myself and further my spiritual journey. I also want to make this Ramadan an enjoyable time for our kids at the same time as reinforcing the importance of giving and helping others, and of course, gratefulness for everything that we already have.

Click through the slideshow below for examples of Lum's brush lettering work.



Muslim Artists Ramadan Series