There are certain points in life when it seems like there’s a divine tap on the brain calling someone to do something. Some may decline the call, but there is a special group of people that accepts it and creates something beautiful.
Talib Ul Hikmah Karriem is one of those people.
Many know him as an educator with Muhammad University of Islam and a student minister at the Nation of Islam’s Mosque Maryam.
We want you to get to know him as the person who accepted that divine call.
The person who manifested a singular vision into reality.
The person that took a leap of faith and never looked back.
Meet Talib Karriem.
Joshua’s Truth (JT): How did you come into the Nation of Islam?
Talib Karriem (TK): I came into the NOI in May of 1999. Two of my cousins, who were registered members of the Nation and had registered years before me, brought me into the Nation. I really paid them no mind for a while. It wasn’t until we went to see the movie The Matrix one evening that I began this journey. At that time, I was heavily into martial arts and eastern philosophy. While I was viewing the movie for the action-packed martial arts scenes, they seemed to have a lot to say regarding the deep dialogue from the movie. After the movie was over, I began to ask them questions about what they saw in the movie that I could not see. When they began to break it down, I began to wonder how they could see so much. They began to feed me bits and pieces of the Teachings. They invited me to the mosque and it just so happened that Brother Ishmael was teaching on the subject, ‘The Matrix.’ He broke that movie all the way down with the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I accepted that day and haven’t looked back.
JT: What childhood experiences, if any, led you to doing the work you do today with photography?
TK: I can’t say there were any direct experiences or exposures to photography during my childhood. I had two family members who were photographers, but I had no interest in it at that time. I was always creative. My mom was/is super creative. I inclined more to being a school teacher in which I later received my degree in education. While most little boys were into sports, which I played a little with friends as well as martial arts in my teens and twenties, but as a child I was in my backyard playing school, teaching. Again, probably heavily influenced by my mother who was a teacher for many years before retiring. Photography was never in my thoughts at that time.
JT: How did you go from being an educator to a photographer? How did that vision first come?
TK: I’ve been in the field and practice of education or teaching for nearly 22 years now. I love seeing students REALLY enjoy learning, and I love to be in the learning process with students where the learning is relative, authentic and exciting. After 22 years of teaching, I started to think of what’s next. Do I want to do this until I die? Am I really happy with teaching? I just started to re-evaluate if I was bringing enough value to my work of teaching and evaluating my level of happiness and fulfillment. In short, I was just a little worn down with the whole teaching thing, but I just kept pushing forward. Just as a point of context, I had been snapping pictures of school events and daily school stuff. Nothing major or any different than what we do with our cell phones. I had no knowledge of photography as an art or science. I was just documenting spelling bees, graduations, doing a little video editing here and there.
On February 26, 2019, 43 years old, I woke up one morning. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I got the thought and said to my wife that I think I’m gonna start a photography business. It was just out of the blue. As a point of context, this came on the heels of the 2019 Saviours’ Day address whereas, to me, it was like the Honorable Minister Farrakhan turned a key in my mind and unlocked something in me. Not being spooky, but that’s the only way that I can describe it. Just like that, I started the journey of photography, which in turn rewarded me with a level of personal joy that helped revive my energy for teaching.
So, in essence, I just started studying photography, watching videos online, mostly YouTube, and began to make small investments in my own equipment. I had a camera already. I called one of my friends, Brother Wazir, and shared my idea and asked him to stand in as a model for my first photography session outside of practice sessions with my wife and daughter. Once I took that first photo and looked at it, I knew I could do this photography thing. I just absorbed all I could about photography from lighting, posing, processing, photoshop editing, retouching, color grading and so much more. I’d stay up late practicing, so much so that I had to purchase a mannequin so I could stop bugging my family when practicing lighting and other things. The next thing I wanted to do is get as much practice as possible, so I started doing free portraits for people in my immediate circle. I asked anyone who would be willing to participate. 80% of my first year was free work, because I had to prove that I was good at photography and no one wants to pay a photographer with no work. My other aim was to make myself known in my immediate circle of people or community, so the first year was about branding and to put out as much content as I could on social media. I wanted everyone who thought of taking a photo or picture to think J KARRIEM. My whole photo journey is on IG. The first photos are the most recent, so everyone can see my growth. I believe I have had success in bringing awareness on a small scale; now, I feel ready for another level of growth, so I’m back in the shop growing during this time of “shelter-in”.
JT: How did you mentally and spiritually prepare to take the leap to start your photography business and carry out your vision?
TK: Firstly, I recognize that this is a gift from Allah, especially since most of my creative work is just gut feeling or by the spirit of the image. I also believe this was given to balance out my 22 years of WORK-LIFE imbalance. It was like Allah heard my moaning and gave me something to help me. The biggest leap is making the decision to really be good at the skill and craft which takes time and practice. The other is the crippling effect of self-doubt and worry of people’s judgement of me doing this kind of work. I had to suspend what I believe other people’s opinion may be or what they would feel about MY personal choice to develop a photography business.
JT: What advice do you have for people who may have an idea, but are afraid to take that leap?
TK: My advice is to leap. What do you have to lose? There’s risk in doing anything of value or not doing. What’s worse is REGRET. Trust in the gift or talent Allah has blessed you with and do something with it. The greatest roadblock is self-doubt often rooted in the fear of inordinate opinions of people. We are often afraid of what others will think of our talent or skill. We create these unreal, false conversations in our minds and end up doing nothing. I still struggle with this, but I have gained more confidence in doing things with as much integrity as I can. And accepting my little mistakes as learning lessons to move forward, not quit. The biggest thing is not over-judging myself, because I’m just starting a journey and a process. If you do your work with integrity and goodness, move out. Stop waiting for the best time. There is no best time. Start where you are with what you have, work hard and be patient. Be ok with small setbacks, and learn from them. Be yourself, be authentic, find your voice in whatever you are doing, but for God’s sake, just START!
JT: What is your advice to people that want to break out of the box they may have put themselves in, when it comes to their career? Was that a challenge for you?
TK: Again, the box is their own mental self-construct based upon the inordinate value of others’ opinions. That is not to say there is not good guidance, especially from people doing the thing you are trying to do. You have to be open to learn, and be humble. The fact remains, most of us have a voice of someone in our heads that is often a voice of double, stopping you. If the voice is God and His Messenger, that’s the best voice. But you have to weigh other people’s opinions who just don’t have enough information about you. Just facts! You break out the box by breaking out the box, doing the thing. The box is often an excuse that they don’t have this or that. Most want everything fast, so they quit fast. No one wants to struggle or mess up or look a certain way to their friends (again opinions of people). You learn from mistakes, if you are a student and respect the process of everything. I cringe at some of my earlier pictures compared to now. People praised my images, but I try not to listen to them, because then that will become my next box… Thinking I’m something I have not achieved yet. You break out the box by putting in the WORK and by proving who you are and the value of what you have to offer. At the end of the day, are you happy with the results, and are you working within the parameter of righteousness and integrity.
Also, I hope it inspires people to understand you can start over, start again, or do something new whenever you like if you are still alive. Doesn’t matter the age. What matters is the will.
JT: How did your experience in Mecca impact the work you do with MUI and with your photography?
TK: The trip to Mecca and Mexico last year opened me up on many levels that I am still discovering today. That experience was so overwhelming, I cannot put into word right now outside of feeling so grateful and honored for that experience with my (our) teacher. I thank Allah and I thank The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. It will take time for me to really understand what it really means on a deeper level, so I don’t speak much on meaning at this time.
JT: How did you feel when the Minister gave you a new name? Can you describe the meaning and how it relates to how you see yourself?
TK: I felt humbled, excited, confused, unworthy, thankful and a whole lot of other emotions. Mostly thankful. It was so unexpected. I received it in an airport while on layover in Jeddah. The Minister is just so kind and loving. I just hugged and thanked him. Again, another one of those surreal experiences that will take time to really understand its meaning. The full name given is TALIB UL HIKMAH KARRIEM which means STUDENT OF THE WISDOM OF ALLAH, THE GENEROUS. He did tell us that our names are who we are. That’s BIG too! I’m just trying to live up to the name day by day. It really is humbling and overwhelming when I think on it. I have to be patient to really understand it.
JT: What’s next? Do you have anything upcoming or anything big planned?
TK: In light of what’s happening in the country and the world, the last thing people may be thinking of is photography services. But I’m not worried; I just plan to find a way to innovate with the skills that I have. My immediate plans are to use this time to study and grow and to continue to build my business based upon the current reality and how my service can bring value to people going forward. At the end of the day, I wanted to produce images of our people that presented us in a beautiful and positive light. I’ll keep doing that. I hope to expand my circle of service and do more with my skill and talent.