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Since 2014, artist and philanthropist Syed Rahman has created chrome steel artwork and furnishings that includes Islamic designs. In occasions of worldwide disaster over the past decade, Rahman, 39, who owns galleries in Bridgeview and Skokie, has used his sizable social media following to drum up donations for charities in Palestine, Afghanistan and Morocco.
Rahman not too long ago flew to Turkey the place, together with volunteers from the Canadian nonprofit Human Concern Worldwide, he helped ship meals to victims of the catastrophic Feb. 6 earthquake. WBEZ contributor Leigh Giangreco sat down with Rahman and requested him why he organized that journey and what he noticed. This interview was edited for brevity and readability.
Syed Rahman poses along with his spouse, Mehreen Bukhari, on the Skokie location of Trendy Wall Artwork. Leigh Giangreco for WBEZ
Chicago orgs lead efforts to assist Syria, Turkey after devastating earthquake learn extra
How he discovered his calling as an artist
Rahman: We got here to America round 2001. My dad was within the U.S. Military in Saudi Arabia due to the Gulf Warfare after which when the conflict was over, they requested my dad if he wished to return to America. [Rahman was born in India and raised in Saudi Arabia.]
My training is all in well being care; artwork was only a ardour on the aspect. So the primary piece of artwork I made was after I purchased my home in 2005. I made it very good and fashionable, however I couldn’t discover fashionable Islamic calligraphy to go together with it. That’s after I was like, “What if I do one thing that matches my chrome steel home equipment?” So I made that artwork, it stated ‘God bless our house’ in Arabic, for my very own home and with no intentions to promote it. However then folks requested, “The place’d you get that from? Are you able to make me one?”
What I focus on is I take the Quranic verses and I do calligraphy of them. Once I obtained married in 2012, my spouse informed me to make a Fb web page to cater to a wider viewers. That web page we made went viral. Inside per week, we obtained 1,000 followers.
Rahman opened Trendy Wall Artwork galleries in Skokie and Bridgeview. Pictured is his Skokie location. Courtesy of Amna Belal Images
Why he obtained into charity work
Rahman: The primary time we began the charity work was round 2014. It was for a Syrian refugee camp in Greece and I collected $8,000 at the moment. That was my cousin simply going to the refugee camp [to supply food, water, basic necessities]. He wasn’t working with a corporation in any respect. After that, I used to be simply doing one thing on my own. Now I’ve a 501c3, the Muslim Welfare Affiliation.
It’s all due to my dad. Ever since we have been younger, he’s been serving to out folks. I keep in mind our lounge was at all times full of individuals. As a result of my dad spoke Arabic, and [they] have been foreigners, my dad would assist them get their visas. He used to do it the laborious approach as a result of it was door knocking again then, there was no web. Once I began constructing followers with Trendy Wall Artwork, I made a decision, as an alternative of simply donating cash myself, that I might get my followers concerned, too.
It’s my third yr working with Human Concern Worldwide. They’ve a workforce in Turkey and Syria. They have been those that have been keen to work with me the best way I wished, as a result of after I do that charity work I’m very strict. Once I went to Turkey, I used to be on their case, like, “I have to see what’s taking place in Syria proper now, so are you able to produce me the outcomes? Are you able to present me photos?” And so they did. I do know if somebody doesn’t like my artwork, they will return it and get a refund, however charity is a one-way road. It’s all primarily based on belief, and I don’t wish to lose that belief.
The choice to go to Turkey
Rahman: This occurred actually in a single day. The earthquake hit February sixth, we booked the flight February seventh and flew out the eighth. [The brand ambassador from Human Concern International who was going on the trip] flew out from Canada, and I flew from Chicago; we met in Turkey and he was my information just about, in any other case I might have been misplaced. We flew from Istanbul to Gaziantep after which to Islahiya.
It felt like a conflict zone. All of the buildings had collapsed, there have been rescue groups and ambulances in all places. Everybody’s displaced, the wealthy and the poor, they’re out on the road. Even when the buildings didn’t fall, you must evacuate. So everybody’s out on the road, they’re dwelling of their automobiles.
Folks in Gaziantep have cash. You’ll see good BMWs or Mercedes and so they’re sleeping in them. These folks ended up in tents; there have been most likely 6,000 folks in every location. All the homes are empty as a result of the federal government now has to go and examine your constructing and put a inexperienced sticker so that you can return in.
Even the mosque the place we have been staying, they informed us to evacuate. There have been 200 households staying there. There have been extra children than adults — I wasn’t anticipating that. Within the mosque it will be a playground, a whole lot of these children don’t even knowwhat occurred to them. They have been having enjoyable.
However the mother and father have been those that have been struggling as a result of there was one washroom, and it was exterior the mosque and it’s very, very chilly. I assumed Chicago was chilly till I went there. They don’t have heat water so I used to be washing my face with ice-cold water. Males, ladies and children, we’re utilizing the identical washroom so the sanitation was actually dangerous. Folks have been sporting the identical garments for 5 days. They should change, they want diapers. We didn’t have blankets, we’re sleeping on the bottom. It was a really humbling journey for me.
How he helped on the bottom
Rahman: I had an individual come to me and he informed me his mother had Parkinson’s and so they have been operating out of medicine. There aren’t any pharmacies open. What can I do? So we obtained a volunteer who stated, I can get you in a pharmacy and I can get you the medicine.
The kitchens have been one flooring solely. I might assume the buildings have been for, perhaps, nursing properties or one thing the place you could possibly prepare dinner in bulk as a result of the stoves have been enormous. These kitchens have been producing mountains of bread and promoting the meals [including in bulk to relief organizations such as Human Concern International]. We’ll purchase like 100 meals, and HCI distributes them.
Meals assist is what I’m principally taken with: giving meals packages to people who find themselves displaced. The meals was very primary: breakfast could be soup and bread, lunch could be rice and hen. It’s simply sufficient for survival.
Rahman (seated, second from proper) poses with youngsters he met whereas delivering meals and assist in Turkey after the earthquake. Courtesy of Syed Rahman
The function of social media in charity
Rahman: I felt like if I’m going and present folks what I’m doing, it will elevate extra funds and it will assist extra folks.
We’re at $390,000 proper now. That doesn’t embrace the $20,000 that I gave, so I might say about $410,000. We donated [the $20,000] to a special group, [the Chicago-based nonprofit] Islamic Oasis . They’re native, and so they give attention to medical [care].
I’m a enterprise doing charity on the aspect, however individuals are me as a charity, doing enterprise on the aspect. I used to be a day late posting about Turkey as a result of I used to be nonetheless working with HCI. Throughout that day, my DMs have been full with folks like, “The place’s your marketing campaign?”
What motivates him
Rahman: My 5-year-old daughter was my motivation to go to Turkey. When she went to high school, they have been instructing in regards to the earthquakes and explaining how there’s a lot harm. She informed my spouse, “Abu (dad) must go assist them.” Then she gave me her toy Scooby Doo and stated “Give this to somebody.”
So I used to be like, “Man, that is my alternative to set an instance for her.” We didn’t simply give that Scooby Doo. We went out to a Greenback Retailer, purchased 60 stuffed animals and made goodie luggage. We gave these out within the tents as properly.”