Just inside the entrance of Brixton masjid is an undiscovered sneakerhead’s paradise: racks and racks of the latest adidas and Nikes where worshippers leave their shoes before entering the sacred space. It’s here that photographer Toufic Beyhum has been documenting footwear fans at Friday prayers for a year, in a series that debuted on Dazed. Beyhum’s project caused a stir in the Muslim community – after the images found their way around the mosque, he had people coming up to him saying how much they loved them (the imam even declared himself a fan).
Wearing your kicks to prayer is a way for people to “beautify themselves for Allah”, says Shaheed, a worshipper Beyhum introduces me to outside the mosque on a weekday afternoon. Over his 12 months shooting, Beyhum has snapped more than a few obsessives. The footwear in his original story was so boxfresh that one Twitter user joked, “but man couldn’t iron his khamees”.
The high trainer count isn’t a mystery when you consider that many of the Masjid’s welcoming crowd of young worshippers grew up in the area. According to Beyhum, who was born in Beirut and raised in London, it gets so packed on Fridays that people just pray out on the street. “Most of them are converts (or re-verts, as they prefer to be called). Before becoming Muslim, they had another life filled with street culture. The trainers go back to their teenage lives.”
“When you’re talking to God, you have to look your best. It's more important than a job interview” – Toufic Beyhum
Later that day in south London’s Gypsy Hill, 23-year-old Yaseen is giving us a lesson in how to accessorise traditional garms with the right footwear. “You always wanna have a new look,” he says, replacing his white thobe with a black one, with Air Max BWs to match. Yaseen traces his trainer obsession back to his teen days as a junior professional boxer, when he listened to Tupac, Biggie and grime. “I was wearing Air Force 1s, Nike Dunks, New Eras… I feel like that culture is something that stays with you.”
But it’s his wife, Amal, who is the real trainer fan in the relationship. “I have over 60 pairs of trainers,” she laughs. “When I was younger, I always wanted to have the newest editions. Now I know lots of people who wear Muslim dress with trainers because they want to describe who they are.” Today, the 22-year-old has decked out her jilbaab with Air Max 90s – later slipping on a pair of white Air Force 1s – and a quilted Chanel purse. But the pair insist their styles aren’t only about culture-clash – rather, they’re defining their identity through their look. “When you’re talking to God, you have to look your best”, chips in Beyhum. “It’s more important than a job interview.”