Mario El Khoury is a young, 16-year-old Lebanese Christian photographer who was born in Saudi Arabia and has since lived in the “heart of Islam”.
He tells me that people tend to fear the unknown, which is why he set out on a project to help non-Muslims understand the enriching spiritual journey millions of the faithful from around the world undertake to Makkah.
“As a Lebanese Christian living in Saudi Arabia and studying at an international school, I enjoy a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-religious environment. I am surrounded by non-Muslim friends who do not really know the essence and aim of the Haj pilgrimage. Through the media we can help Muslims and especially non-Muslims to better understand this journey. My aim is to show that through the arts, it’s always possible to share an idea or a message,” gushed the young photographer.
His inspiration was initiated when Edge of Arabia launched their “Create and Inspire” competition last year. Lucky to have had the opportunity of travel, he set out to Lebanon, where he shot the image of a non-descript black rock in the middle of the sea near a port in Byblos.
The photograph was chosen to be part of the “Haj: journey to the heart of Islam” exhibition hosted at the British Museum in early January.
He is currently continuing to work on a project linked to the Haj experience, and wanted to share his message and work of spiritual significance with our readers.
According to El Khoury, the photograph represents the “sense of community” that pilgrims experience when they circumambulate the Kaaba regardless of color, language or the nation they belong to – much akin to the drops of water around a rock.
“Water droplets that come from every ocean are like the pilgrims who unite in a common belief. Together, there is strength. Like water, the pilgrims will eventually disperse spreading their goodwill back into their communities,” he further drew the metaphor.
Speaking of the artistic process while having shot the photograph, he confessed to deliberately not using any filters in order to retain the natural darkness and dullness of the image, which according to him highlights the metaphoric ritual of life’s continuous “ups and downs”.
Quoting Malcolm X on Islam’s treatment of all races and colors as equals – an idea then foreign to West’s provincial tastes of bigotry and sectarianism – El Khoury adopts a more serene disposition. “Not all things on earth are bright and colorful. Pollution exists around and within us. This is why the cleansing power of water also represents the cleansing power of the Haj – a spiritual journey that helps Muslims to clear their mind and calm their heart as they ask God (who is solid and strong, represented by the formidable rock) to remove pollution from their daily life as to emerge better humans,” he added.
“I am fortunate to have been surrounded by Muslims who, as my friends, have taught me the importance of Haj. In turn, I hope that my photograph will speak to non-Muslims in a way that will help them appreciate the beauty of the pilgrimage,” he said.
You can check his work at: mariokphotography.com.