Aqib Anwar documents 'hugs, handshakes and smiles' at Friday prayers

The fashion photographer captures candid moments at weekly prayers in Dubai

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Head to the Instagram Stories of Aqib Anwar on a Friday, and you’ll see a series of snapshots taken in the few moments after the jummah prayer: a close-up of a traditional red prayer mat held by a man wearing Wrangler jeans and contemporary, colourful crocs, or a father and son walking hand-in-hand from the mosque to their car against a rare, cloud-filled, blue-sky background. You’ll see intimate photos of worshippers with their heads bowed in prayer, enjoying moments of peace in spite of the scorching sun, images of the lucky ones who have found shady spots under the palm trees and those even luckier, who came earlier enough to find space inside.

Anwar, 32, was born and raised in Dubai, studied economics and worked in marketing before taking up photography as a hobby in 2015 and then becoming a full-time freelance photographer and videographer. Since 2018, capturing candid moments after Friday prayers has become a weekly hobby for Anwar.

Documenting Friday prayers in Dubai has become a weekly hobby for Aqib Anwar. Photo: Aqib Anwar

“This was at a point where I had doubts about religion, I was finding my own way, and it was only Friday prayers that brought me back to my religion,” he tells The National. “I started going every week and was reminded of the beauty, simplicity and peace of Friday prayers that I experienced while growing up here.”

Anwar says that there are also lots of global misconceptions about Muslims and violence, and that he hopes these photos help to show the peaceful reality of the faith.

“There’s such a brotherly community feel to those moments after Friday prayer,” he says. “With the way the world is now, we don’t see that show of compassion towards strangers, and towards family, a lot, but every Friday I see it, whether it’s the dad hugging the son after prayer, or neighbours meeting, or relatives catching up ― there are always hugs, handshakes and smiles.”

Dubai-born photographer Aqib Anwar. Photo: Mashael Al Saie

Many of Anwar’s Friday prayer photographs are from Al Farooq Omar bin Al Khattab mosque, located in the heart of Jumeirah. They are captured directly after the prayer, and because of time constraints, Anwar says that he rarely has a chance to ask permission before each photo is taken. But he says he "would never take or post a picture of someone in any position that I wouldn’t want myself to be seen in”.

He compares this method of photography to shooting outside fashion weeks, such as those he travelled to in London and New York in 2017 and 2018.

“I don’t think I would have been able to capture these moments had I not experienced street-style photography,” he says. “It was such a rush, you don’t have time to shoot, you have to position yourself 10 seconds before something happens, and it really made me learn to think on my feet.”

Fashion after all, is Anwar’s forte when it comes to photography, with campaigns for brands such as Nike, Gucci, Adidas and regional perfume brand Ghawali under his belt. He is known in the creative scene for his cinematic aesthetic, and every project Anwar has photographed for the past five years was shot purely on his Canon 5D Mark IV. “One camera one lens,” he says.

He was also the photographer behind the lens of the now-viral photos taken of the recent Adidas x Ravi collaboration for Esquire magazine, where the Ravi founder and family were photographed in their home, along with the exclusive green and white Superstar trainers that sold out hours after launching.

The fashion industry is facing a surge in demand for more authentic representation, and Anwar believes that more brands should hire local photographers for their campaigns in order to do justice to this culture and city.

“There are still other photographers, western white foreigners, being flown out to document or take photographs or do campaigns here despite the fact that we have so much local talent,” Anwar says.

Instagram, as a platform, is invaluable for raising awareness and appreciation for Anwar’s work. “If there was no Instagram, I don’t think I’d be a photographer," he says.

To catch a glimpse of Anwar’s Friday prayer photo series, you’ll need to tune into his Story every Friday. He hasn’t made a highlight for them on his Instagram profile just yet, in the anticipation of using them for a project off-screen, later.

“I don’t know exactly what ― but if the opportunity comes, I might want to exhibit them, in a way that makes sense to all parties involved, or create a coffee-table book,” he says. “I’m documenting and saving them for something bigger.”

Updated: July 18, 2022, 5:17 AM