Youssef Ismail’s photographs of vibrant and sometimes ethereal landscapes hold a deeper meaning. He says he uses his camera’s shutter to reflect his spirituality as a Muslim.

“I have hope that people will understand the spiritual side of the religion of Islam,” he said. “It has a deep, rich and spiritual connection. It helps you look at the world, look at the sights that are there to guide you and to make you understand where you came from, where you’re going and who you are.

“When you stop and reflect on it, it’s eye-opening, and sometimes, it’s frightening,” Ismail added.

The photographer, whose studio, Organic Light, is based in Campbell, believes he has the ability to change some people’s perceptions of Islam.

“Some people get it 100 percent,” he said. “People come to my shows, see a photograph and literally start crying. It made me feel wonderful. I don’t like doing things without intention, without a purpose. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Supporting Ismail’s mission to share Muslim life with the world and dispel stereotypes pertaining to American Muslims, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is collecting powerful photographs in its American Muslim Legacy Photo Project. The initiative would finally prove that Muslims are like everyone else, said Imam Abdurrahman Anwar of the Muslim Community Association of the Peninsula in Belmont.

“It’s important for people to know that Muslims have been living in America for a long time,” he said. “We are a part of the country and a part of the American history and its legacy.”

Based in Washington D.C., the council is the country’s largest Islamic civil liberties group. The nonprofit group decided to document the American Muslim experience after it realized the lack of photographs that accurately depicted Muslim life.

On Tuesday, the council began the call for professional and amateur digital photographs that depict American Muslim history, the diversity of the American Muslim community, Muslims making a difference and their daily lives and religious practices.

After they’re documented, the images will be showcased on the council’s Web site and other publications this summer, said Rabiah Ahmed, council spokeswoman.

“These creative initiatives are often the best way to change public perception of Islam and Muslims, because it’s non-confrontational and non-political,” she said. “Photos are visually stimulating so we think by showcasing the diversity, positive contributions and the history, people will be surprised with what they will see and what they will learn.”


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