Islam and Hip Hop


 

by Ahmad James

By the grace of Allah, I entered Islam at the age of 20. It is no exaggeration to say that Hip-Hop was my religion before Islam. I was blessed to be brought up in a local underground scene that taught me to love myself and all others as creatures of God, reject blind materialism, respect women, and different cultures, and religious traditions. It also taught me to live naturally and refuse drugs. Often people who didn’t grow up in the culture mistake it for what they see on MTV, which is nothing but the corporate thievery of a culture to serve the interests of the outsider. This is quite similar to how those who aren’t Muslim will definitely be led to think that Islam is a horrible faith if they watch the corporate news which is similarly spun to serve the interests of an outsider. That’s why I was shocked when you completely affirmed the Shaykh who compared Hip-Hop to “Satanism”. And added statements like, “Since the 1970′s hip hop has done nothing to help the hood except throw its women on BET while some self styled Uncle Tom runs a credit card through their cleavage, served to degenerate basic language skills; create a culture of hyper masculinity based on a feeling that one is greater than God!” First of all, you know that isn’t true. That’s not the whole picture. Excluding what is put on corporate controlled television and radio Hip-hop artists have carried the message of Malcolm and the Black Panthers to our generation like no one else. They have also taught people about alternative narratives to history in contrast to the whitewashed versions in our standard textbooks. They have taught not to follow the global monoculture but to think outside the box and rebel against injustice and oppression. I have seen so much beauty from Hip-Hop driven grassroots campaigns, from “stop the violence” to working to free political prisoners, to raising money for breast cancer research. Hip-Hop after school programs have kept kids off the streets and away from crime in neighborhoods where there are few other options. No one is pretending Hip Hop is all positive and it reflects the sometimes “unislamic” realities of poor inner city America but we both know it is far from satanism. It was created by inner city kids who had no artistic outlets – so they created their own. At the very least, Hip-Hop has always been the voice of the voiceless. The Shaykh from overseas probably doesn’t know this because he didn’t grow up in the culture and he only gets the MTV/BET version. But you know better. Would you nod with approval if one of your non-Muslim relatives compared Islam to satanism citing all the evil they see on the TV about it? Of course not!!! But you emphatically support someone describing Hip-Hop based on misinformation. The metaphor is imperfect but the similarities are undeniable.

To me your writing, shows more than anything, that you have not been living in America for quite some time and are out of touch with the realities on the ground.

When I became Muslim I stopped making music, going to shows or even associating with the culture because I didn’t feel I was strong enough in my deen to go into that atmosphere and not be changed. This is because along with the good in the culture there is the alcohol, weed smoke, and mixing of genders etc (standard in any non-Islamic gathering in America). However after three years I started working on music again because I felt strong enough to bring myself to venues and open mics and be the one influencing as opposed to being influenced. The response was positive and so I continued. But I did want to firm up my relationship with Allah and my understanding of the deen so I did what you suggested. I took time off music and my family and I moved to Egypt to study. I had a lot of time to reflect and my time there made me even more certain that I wanted to make music. I had to leave after 6 months because of financial issues. And in fact I stayed until I depleted all my savings. As I am writing this, my family and I are living in a motel. Next to me on one side is a prostitute. On the other side is a drug dealer. These people need Islam. They are not interested in your lectures. They are interested in Hip-Hop.

I don’t make Islamic Hip-Hop, or Muslim Hip Hop and I have never marketed my music as such. I am a Muslim and I make Hip-Hop. Because I am a practicing Muslim I talk about my religion, or more often my relationship with Allah, in most of my songs. If Muslims relate great, but I focus my music toward two groups: one is the non-Muslim hip-hopper I once was. The other is the Muslim who is not in the mosque and who is instead listening to Hip-Hop.

I recommend to anyone interested in this issue to read the article entitled “Islam and the Cultural Imperative” by Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah. I will quote one hadith he relates in that article,

“The story of the ‘sons of Arfida’—a familiar Arabian linguistic reference to Ethiopians—provides a telling illustration of the place of culture (here, of course, Black African culture) within the Prophetic dispensation. In celebration of an annual Islamic religious festival, a group of Black African converts began to beat leather drums and dance with spears in the Prophet’s mosque. Umar ibn al-Khab—one of the chief Companions—felt compelled to interfere and stop them, but the Prophet intervened on their behalf, directing Umar to leave them alone and noting to him that they were ‘the sons of Arfida,’ that is, not his people. The Prophet invited his wife A’isha to watch the dance, took her into the crowd, and lifted her over his back, so that she could watch them clearly as she eagerly leaned forward, her cheek pressing against his. The Prophet made it a point to dispel the Ethiopians’ misgivings about Umar’s intrusion and encouraged them to dance well and, in one account of this authentic story, reassured them to keep up their drumming and dancing, saying: ‘Play your games, sons of Arfida, so the Jews and Christians know there is latitude in our religion.’”

I have been to Hadramawt, with some of the top scholars of Shafi’i fiqh in the world, where they have dhikr sessions with the drum and flute until deep into the night. You mean to tell me that that is fine, but a brother in any city USA can’t play his instrument because he feels it brings him into communion with something greater than himself? I converted to the universal message of Islam. I didn’t convert to a religion that says its ok in Yemen or Mauritania but it’s not ok in South Central, or Oakland, or Kansas. Furthermore, almost every single convert that I know, was either a musician or an artist before Islam. The few exceptions were avid music listeners. That is because true music and art opens one up to the reality that there is something greater than the sensory world and that is the space an artist enters when they master their art. I first knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was more than just flesh and bone during a freestyle session on a street corner, in which the words, rhyme patterns, and meanings that were coming out of me, were not from me alone.

The American Situation

Modern America bases itself on plurality. Few places on earth are as diverse as any city USA. The Muslim community here reflects that diversity. Because of this, if Islam is to remain relevant and spread successfully in America, it must be one that recognizes difference and is open to plurality. Of course this should be within the wide range of scholarly opinion rooted authentically in our tradition. That is why it is a problem when scholars allege, for instance, that music is Haram. The fact is, you know better than me, that it is a much more nuanced discussion. I have had a scholar tell me, “Well you know there is a difference of opinion but if you tell people certain things are permissible then they will start listening to Brittney Spears.” The fact is, Muslim youth are listening to way worse than Brittney Spears. How on earth would keeping us ignorant of our deen benefit us!?

So if music isn’t all out haram, then it must be certain themes within Hip-Hop that are objectionable. Again, I agree. Much of Hip-Hop, especially the pop variety, is horrendous in most of its subject matter. It is basically jahaleeya poetry translated into ebonics. Yet, if we refer to our tradition we have a striking example. RasulAllah (pbuh) did not forbid his companions to recite poetry. Rather he encouraged it as long as it was beautiful and of virtuous subject matter. He made sure the poetry was purified. But he had no problem with the art form itself. Even the art form which had been the most emblematic sign of the jahalleeya and had been one of the greatest weapons of the kufaar to attack our blessed Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

As much as we like to tell people that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. We usually fail to note that Muslim youth (the children of immigrants) are leaving the religion, or at least are leaving the practice of it, in numbers much greater than the highest estimate of new converts. They don’t feel that it is relevant to their situation. They feel at best uninterested and at worst ashamed of their parents’ accents, culture, and religion. They want to be American and they want to fit in badly. But when they see a brother, who is much more authentically American than they feel they are, and who is much more serious about Islam than they have ever been, grab the mic and praise Allah while expressing himself, think about what that does to their minds. I guarantee they will never look at their father’s prayer mat or their mother’s head scarf in the same way again.

What alarmed me most about your short article was the fact that you encouraged Muslims to “avoid these superstars [muslim hip-hoppers and entertianers], inviting them to events…” Subhanallah. The fact is that almost every one of these brothers and sisters (“Muslim hip-hoppers/entertainers”) is a convert to Islam that was involved in music before Islam. Many of them were shunned by their families and alienated from their friends for accepting the religion. Yet their love of Allah led them to stay and grow as Muslims while developing their voices in ways relevant to those they were raised amongst as well as their new co-religionists. They continue to use their art to speak of their experiences as American Muslims in a way that many Muslim youth (convert or not) can relate to. Sure they bring their cultural baggage (not always a bad thing) but most I have met have a deep love for Allah and His messenger and simply use the only art form that they ever related to express that love. Their experiences speak more to the American Muslim youth than the average lecture by “scholar X” who was more often than not brought in from overseas and, for all his knowledge of the deen, has no understanding of the culture and the circumstances these kids face day to day. Or maybe he is a scholar like you who has removed himself from American life for long periods of time for the noble goal of gaining sacred knowledge. However upon return most American scholars have no training or mechanism to make that knowledge relevant in the setting of modern America and many do more harm than good by rigidly imposing opinions, or worse; norms and customs from the place where they studied. Commendable are Abdul Hakim Murad’s efforts with the Cambridge Muslim College to train English students who have studied the deen overseas to make that knowledge applicable in their country. The fact is, if you quarantine Muslim rappers and don’t allow them to be part of the community and express themselves the way they know how in our venues, then the community is going to suffer, much more than the artists.

The Bigger Picture: Immigrant and Indigenous

This conversation could easily be put under the heading of a larger debate regarding the clash between the immigrant community and the indigenous community. Too often this clash has been the result of immigrants (and those indigenous privileged enough to be educated in countries where the immigrants originated from) telling the indigenous Muslims, “you don’t know how to practice true Islam, let me tell you”. But that is a conversation for a different forum. I mention it only because many will read this debate that way and it must be kept in mind.

The point to remember is that many immigrants have long scoffed at indigenous (read black) culture as a form of backward ignorance. They bring with them their deep seated racism. Racism that makes you and me their poster children, but the black brothers we converted because of barely worth a salaam. The biggest clash of our generation as Muslims in America is the one between immigrant and indigenous. Case in point; I was recently in Alexandria at Imam Busiri’s mosque for the recitation of the Burda. During that gathering my white friend and I were treated like royalty and brought to the front. Yet at the end when my son came up near the Shaykh who was leading the recitation he looked at my 5-year old boy (who is part African) who was sporting his hair in a beautiful big curly afro and said in broken English “No! Bad! Animal!. He was saying that my sons air was bad and he looked like an animal and he was telling me that I should make him cut it. Yet he didn’t seem to mind my long straight blonde locks falling to my shoulders under my kufi. I didn’t tell my wife about this for fear of what it would have done to her iman.

Are we to except that black brothers have to cut, not only their hair, but also their ties with hip hop and other musical art forms their peoples originated in order to be welcomed into this religion. Do we make them choose between apostasy from the religion and cultural apostasy?

The fact is, maybe the more scrupulous opinion is to abstain from music altogether. However, everyone isn’t there yet. In fact, most people aren’t there and never will be. That goes for Muslims here in America bumping the newest radio hit about “my girl” as well as Muslims in any Arab country listening to the newest radio hit about “ya habibi”. My point here is that we have to make room for people who aren’t there yet. Islam is for everyone, the scholars and the performers, the garbage man and the lawyer. And we have to be honest about what is permissible and what isn’t. You are not going to have a hard time convincing me that the song on the radio is haraam with its sexual innuendoes and blind materialism. However, you are going to be hard pressed to convince me that for some reason all music is haram, even if it exhorts to righteousness and beauty and calls one to reflect more deeply on the signs of Allah. Or even if it simply tells a story of heartbreak or struggle or an escape from one’s poverty-stricken past. We don’t have to say that “kuli shay halal” but if issuing a fatwa based on a minority opinion seems to be more appropriate for the American Muslim context then, maybe it is the preferable opinion in that case. And I don’t believe Muslims are all stupid and that if you say that there is an opinion that listening to music that calls one to remember Allah is permissible, that everyone will go out to the record store and pick up the new Lil Wayne album and watch the new J-Lo video and say “this right here helps me remember Allah fa sho baby”.

One of the reasons I was drawn to Islam was by the music of Muslim musicians. Especially West African musicians like Yousou N’dour and Ali Farka Toure but also Qawwali singers from the subcontinent and Turkish ney players. Telling a West African brother not to play music is like telling him not to breathe. Africa is the musical continent. And many of those musician are the most mubarak human beings I have ever laid eyes on. Much more than many people who spend their days memorizing fiqh. Playing their drum, their kora, or their guitar and telling the story of their people and their love of God. Please tell me what is wrong with that?

Rap is different. But Hip-Hop like Jazz and R&B, and Rock and Roll came from blues. Ethnomusicologists have traced blues back to West Africa in present day Mali. Mali was then a Muslim country as it is today as I’m sure you know. These African Muslims enslaved in America were some of the founders of blues which has in turn informed all American music up to today. And the African-Americans here today are none other than the descendants of the musical Muslim peoples of West Africa.

I recall having a conversation with a group of students of knowledge in Egypt after a basketball game with you one Thursday night. Someone mentioned that they had became Muslim largely because of Hip-Hop, and immediately everyone present agreed that it had been one of the defining reasons for their having entered Islam. In fact almost every convert I have ever met became interested in Islam because of Hip-Hop (including you, if I’m not mistaken). The reality is that these rappers, many of them from “proto-Islamic” groups like the NOI and the 5%ers spoke of the honor, righteousness, and beauty of Islam. I heard you yourself say that there was always a feeling in the streets, that Islam was right, or something to that effect. If nothing else these rappers made Islam look and sound cool to a generation of kids growing up in the 80′s and 90′s. This may seem trivial but in reality the essence of cool, extracted of its negative stereotypes, is someone or thing that is outstanding, out of the ordinary, relevant, yet cutting edge and original. It is that which is attractive and worthy of emulation and imitation. Indeed the most worthy of imitation (pbuh) was someone that was well dressed, well groomed, eloquent, beautiful inside and out, always smiling and radiant. In a word, rasullAllah (pbuh) was cool. On an interesting side note, I was showing pictures of my travels to Hadramawt to some friends I grew up with. The scholars in Hadramawt dress closer to the sunnah than possibly anyone on earth. Anyway my two friends, one of whom happens to be a graffiti artist and the other a hip hop producer, looked at the pictures and agreed, “Man, they got an ill sense of style”.

Of course we know HabibAllah (pbuh) was much more than cool and it seems almost disrespectful to refer to him in this language however, to most children and teenagers, there isn’t much better one can possibly be than “cool”.

However the view of Islam has changed with the new generation. A convert friend of mine, who is a student of knowledge and a guitarist, with one of the greatest characters of anyone I ever met (so much so that both his parents converted through his da’wa) relayed to me that his teenage brother wasn’t interested in Islam. The reason, he said, was that Islam to him was rigid, uncreative and closed-minded. Basically it was uncool. Unfortunately he is not alone. And the reason is because Muslims say things like “music is haraam”. Like my teacher Usama Canon once told me, “That’s like saying food is haraam.” Of course there are haraam foods but there are also wholesome and nutritious foods alhumdulila. The difference between telling someone interested in Islam that music is forbidden, versus or as opposed to telling them that music that degrades anyone or glorifies negativity or uses foul language etc is haraam, is monumental.

We don’t need to worry about whether Muslim youth are listening to M-Team or Amir Sulaiman, we need to worry if they aren’t. Because if they aren’t, they are gonna be leaning to the side of 50 cent and Eminem not Imam Zaid Shakir and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.

Our People, Our Culture

I refuse to leave my people behind. Who is reaching the people on the streets? I can tell you they aren’t listening to your lectures, or those of any other scholars for that matter. Neither are the people in the club. People ask me if I perform in venues in which alcohol is served. My answer is “of course”. I will never turn away from the people who need the message most. I can’t visit my mother or father if I don’t want to be around alcohol and I can’t go to the grocery store either. The cats I grew up with aren’t interested in the Deen because of the hypocrisy they have seen in Muslims and because of statements like “Music is forbidden”. Yet when I give them my CD they tell me, “Damn bro this is tight.” All the while I am expressing my love for Allah and His messenger. I pray their hearts will be softened to the Deen like mine was by the likes of Chuck D, The Roots, Mos Def, and A Tribe Called Quest.

Nor will I turn my back on my culture and become a pseudo Arab. I feel sorry for sisters like my wife who is a Latina and comes from a strong line of outspoken indigenous freedom fighters who is told by Arab men to shut up or get out when she speaks out about the fact that women are generally treated like second class citizens in this Deen and her ancestors have struggled too hard for her to settle for that. Or the African-American brother who traced his lineage to West Africa and decided to become Muslim to reclaim his roots just to be told by someone who studied in Saudi Arabia that the music that his Muslim grandfather played was forbidden. Is he not from the sons of Arfida?

To close I’d like to quote another passage from Islam and the Cultural Imperative that I urge us all to reflect on.

“The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were not at war with the world’s cultures and ethnicities but entertained an honest, accommodating, and generally positive view of the broad social endowments of other peoples and places. The Prophet and his Companions did not look upon human culture in terms of black and white, nor did they drastically divide human societies into spheres of absolute good and absolute evil. Islam did not impose itself—neither among Arabs or non-Arabs—as an alien, culturally predatory worldview. Rather, the Prophetic message was, from the outset, based on the distinction between what was good, beneficial, and authentically human in other cultures, while seeking to alter only what was clearly detrimental. Prophetic law did not burn and obliterate what was distinctive about other peoples but sought instead to prune, nurture, and nourish, creating a positive Islamic synthesis.

Much of what became the Prophet’s sunna (Prophetic model) was made up of acceptable pre-Islamic Arab cultural norms, and the principle of tolerating and accommodating such practices—among Arabs and non-Arabs alike in all their diversity—may be termed a supreme, overriding Prophetic sunna. In this vein, the noted early jurist, Abu Yusuf understood the recognition of good, local cultural norms as falling under the rubric of the sunna. The fifteenth-century Granadan jurisprudent Ibn al-Mawaq articulated a similar outlook and stressed, for example, that it was not the purpose of Prophetic dress codes to impinge upon the cultural integrity of non-Arab Muslims, who were at liberty to develop or maintain their own distinctive dress within the broad parameters of the sacred law. The Qur’an enjoined the Prophet Muhammad to adhere to people’s sound customs and usages and take them as a fundamental reference in legislation: ‘Accept [from people] what comes naturally [for them]. Command what is customarily [good]. And turn away from the ignorant [without responding in kind].’ Ibn Atiyya, a renowned early Andalusian jurist and Qur’anic commentator, asserted that the verse not only upheld the sanctity of indigenous culture but granted sweeping validity to everything the human heart regards as sound and beneficial, as long as it is not clearly repudiated in the revealed law. For classical Islamic jurists in general, the verse was often cited as a major proof-text for the affirmation of sound cultural usage, and it was noted that what people generally deem as proper tends to be compatible with their nature and environment, serving essential needs and valid aspirations.”

Please forgive me if I offended in any way, this is an issue about which I feel very strongly.

Print Friendly

23 Comments

  1. Muslimah says:

    “…and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allaah knows but you do not know.”
    (Surah Baqarah: 216)

  2. Syed. T says:

    Salaam o ‘Alaykum,

    SubhanAllah that was a very powerful article JazakAllah Khayr Sidi Ahmad for writing that and also Imam Shu’ayb
    for having the humility to post it.

    Keep the brothers in the UK in your prayers we have the same problems except that our leaders are not as charismatic
    or vociferous as many of the ‘ulema in America. We desperately need these sort of ‘ulema to help our youth as much
    as you guys do over there.

    May you attain success in all that you do. Insh’Allah.
    Wsalaam

  3. Zoheb says:

    mashallah a really nice read

  4. SeanRe says:

    May Allah reward you brother Ahmad. Excellent words.

    And may Allah reward Imam Suhaib immensely. His posting this, once again, serves as proof of his excellence as a human being. Of course, he may disagree with some points, but he is not so rigid as to completely ignore and dismiss the experiences and insights of his fellow brothers and sisters. In fact, as I have seen, he makes sure to benefit from them! This is a VERY rare quality amongst people of our community (particularly leaders). I pray that Allah increases Imam Suhaib and the many ways we are able to benefit from him.

  5. kadiatu says:

    MashAllah this was an amazing and well-written piece.
    I found myself nodding and smiling at almost every line. It's as if we were on the same wavelength, which is to say that I think a lot of people would agree with this. Why? Because it is REALITY.
    This is the reason I appreciate Imam Suhaib in our community, because he brings back this perspective and allows a forum for discussion.
    JazakumAllahukhairan for making my day with this!

    :)

  6. JYB says:

    I've stayed quiet during this debate mainly because there were many interesting points made on both sides and I don't know much about the topic to comment. But this was definitely a very thought-provoking article. And it is important because hip-hop doesn't end in America- I have many friends who although they've grown up in an Arab Muslim country (im from the UAE), they are listening to both 'my girl' and 'ya habibi'. This the new generation of the 'western-educated'. They know akon and kanye west, they play their music at parties and get excited when they hear that they are coming here for a concert. Yet they also get even more excited when they hear someone rapping about Islam. My brothers are the same. They will listen to the mainstream hiphop trash but then will be proud when they hear a duet by Outlandish and Sami Yusuf singing about the Ummah. No matter how many lectures I send them, they'll then sit in the car and bop their heads to the latest hiphop beat.

    A friend of mind who converted to Islam and doesn't understand Arabic, will not listen to the offensive music that is played in the radios but would always play songs singing about God because that is what she can relate to at this time. I myself prefer not to listen to music on most occasions… but I will listen to appropriate ones with my friends, and will send inspirational ones by email to friends and family who like music.

    Muslims need to be brought back to the Qur'an, but perhaps songs/hiphop can be one of those ways especially if they are an intrinsic part of one's culture and people relate to it, and they can adhere to islamic principles. Hiphop/music artists who behave in opposition to Islamic etiquette need to be given advice and learn the deen but not shunned. I think it's beautiful when I meet Muslims from different parts of the world, and we all pray the same way and stand in our lines, yet share different food and different sports and different ways of celebrating.

    Thank you for this great piece and thank you Imam Suhaib for posting it. Definitely gives a lot to think about!

  7. tex_idris says:

    Bismillah
    Salaam Alaykum

    This shows an incredible amount of character on Br. Suhaib Webb's part and on Br. Ahmed James' part. May Allah reward you both for keeping this civil.

    I think there is definitely room for both opinions.

    May Allah grant us Forgiveness and the Highest Paradise.

    Salaam

  8. AbulHussein says:

    AS

    Where we have to be on guard is the tendency to fall into the illusion of believing that rational argumentation independent of principled and textual grounding in the Shar'iah is what establishes correct practice and belief for the Muslim. In other words, we can debate without limitation and with sophistication but in the end not all opinions are equal. Rather, there must be a dividing factor for the Muslim and in this and all matters the criterion is the Shariah not sophisticated arguments or experience or social norms and custom or dreams or visions or mystical encounter (experience) or what we feel.

    This is where we need a shift in the Muslim community in the West. The shift needed is one which we come to understand the guiding authority of Shariah in the life of the Muslim. To date in the West we are of the assumption that argumentation is what establishes the legitimacy of practice in Islam so that the Ulema have no importance in education due to all matters returning to intellect in this case opinions. Because we live in democracies everyone feels entitled to an opinion and to voice that opinion regardless of the merit of the opinion or its soundness or groundedness in Shariah. So, we see opinions launched from the intellectual to the rude but in the end they all have little to do with Shariah. It is in this atomosphere of a cacaphony of ideas and a democratic market place of opinions that people are working out their understanding of Islam rather than in an educational context and setting.

    The Qur'an poses this question to us for reflection: -”Is it the case that the person of understanding and knowledge is equal to the person of ignorance?”

    Not all opinions are equal.

    We

  9. SalmanC says:

    asalaam alaykum Sheikh Abul Hussein,

    I'm curious, since I'm not educated on the topic, what role individual understanding can play when discussing topics like this one. I was among those who quoted from Dr. Abdallah's paper on Cultural Imperative. Granted, I'm not a scholar of any of the Islamic sciences, but I do think that I grasped the meaning of that essay. Is more education required of me before I add my voice to a discussion amongst fellow Muslims? Perhaps there are simply some guidelines I could follow to make sure my comments meet a certain standard. I would assume that we are technically permitted to form our own understandings on these issues, and voice them, since that's generally the type of behavior a blog is meant to facilitate. With that assumption in mind (and please correct me if I'm wrong), how should we move forward?

    I agree that you, as a scholar, are deserving of a great deal of respect. I apologize if any of my words added to the offense done to you. I would imagine, though, that much of the fervor ignited by your original post came from a genuine love of our backgrounds, rather than any explicit disdain for you or the teachings of Islam. I pray that you can therefore be patient with us.

  10. SalmanC says:

    Mashallah brother Ahmad, I envy your manners.

  11. N_S says:

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Very well written article mashAllah. I agree with the general idea behind the article, however, I also understand why so many scholars will generalize and say “Music is haraam.” Let me just explain this point briefly, just to show the other side, inshAllah. Unfortunately the scene that music creates is the main problem. I remember going to one event held by the Muslim Student Association that brought Muslim Hip Hop artists, and mashAllah they presented such deep poetry that made you remember Allah (swt). However, when I looked around there were both brothers and sisters swaying around inappropriately, and it simply did not seem like an Islamic environment. Later, the Muslim performer performed a piece that was sexually explicit. I started to wonder, why a strong Muslim brother would perform this piece, my only explanation is that the artist felt the audience would appreciate a piece like this.

    What I noticed from my brief experiences with musical performances is they tend to create a haram environment. Let me analogize this situation with something else to illustrate my point further. At one point during Islamic history, the fuqaha outlawed coffee. It wasn't outlawed because the substance was haram, but because of the type of environment it created. Cafe`s opened up, and it created a culture of Muslims lingering around, wasting time, and chatting about meaningless topics.

    Today, I feel that this is the reason why scholars feel compelled to say “music is haram.” They are is no way trying to offend those artistic people and their beautiful and beneficial culture. Rather, they are forced to put it under the umbrella of haram because of the way the people respond to music. When an artistic is performing a piece about Allah and their are rhythmic beats in the background, the audience begins to dance around to the beat even though the piece is supposed to bring you closer to Allah.

    This is just one point that I thought was worth delving into. I think that the question now is, what is more important, getting these artistic messages out, or attempting to regulate haram environments? What's more important?

  12. AbulHussein says:

    AS

    Salman C, hope your well. There was an attempt on part to address your question if you wish you can refer to it. It is a separate post published on http://www.altranslators.com The reason for answering there is due to space and because the question you posed seemed to demand a worked out answer rather than a sporadic comment.

    Abul-Hussein

    (from the lower tier of the students of knowledge)

  13. SalmanC says:

    Salaams,

    I think we basically agree, Sheikh. In a purely democratic forum, any number of misguided opinions could be mistakenly accepted as shari'i by the sheer force of the number of voices promoting them. Not that these opinions shouldn't be voiced; we should just be clear on where opinion ends and where knowledge begins.

    Here's where I'm confused: have we been talking about shariah this whole time? I'm not so sure that that was understood by everyone in the conversation. Imam Suhaib, for example was mainly concerned with how hip-hop is used for dawa. Many of the commenters were coming at it from a cultural angle. Your original post, which started this conversation, didn't explicitly say anything about shariah or what it would say about hip-hop. It just gave examples of how recent, mainstream hip-hop tends to go against much of what we stand for as Muslims. There was nothing explicitly legal about the text of the post… no quotes from the Quran, Hadith, or fatwas. To me, that says, “Okay, the Sheikh is giving us his opinion and I'm free to agree of disagree with it.”

    Of course, I understand that you probably base your opinions on your knowledge of Shariah. But how are we to understand how you arrived at your conclusions unless we're privy to your train of thought? Explaining what the Shariah says on these issues would be of great benefit to us all. Convincing us of your informed opinion, rather than simply giving it to us, would only strengthen us in our deen.

    I think this is why many of us began quoting Dr. Abdallah — he explains his positions so that we are at least capable of understanding them. This is a core characteristic of the Muslim community in the West: we like to question things until we understand them. In my (normal, non-shari'i) opinion it's a strength, not a weakness.

  14. swarthmoor says:

    Abul Hussein,

    Let me throw this into the mix:

    1. I always felt uncomfortable with the argument: “Islam doesn't force a person to give up his culture”–or–”We can keep the good but discrad the bad.” At face value, the statements are true. But that assumes that a person actually knows what is good and bad to start with. The people who make this argument tend to be those who don't know the difference between the good and the bad.

    2. When Islam spread to the various lands, it was often done so by the higher level people of tasawwuf, and Muslims in general (da`iees/traders) who, as a whole, had a greater degree of knowledge/piety than the average Muslim today. It was these people who help define the various local Muslim cultures around the world (and not perfectly so, for there is still a lot of haraam in many Muslim cultures).

    3. Much of art originally was religiously based and inspired. If it is not, then what are the people doing art for–why do they want to get on stage? I've seen several make a “secular art” argument for hip hop–that is, not every song has to have an educational/or religious theme. The only reason i can think of that a person would want to get on stage and be seen–and it is not for the purpose of guiding people to the Truth–is because they have a lot of riyaa' (insincerity) in their heart.

    Related to that, much of the religious poetry/art was the product of people who spent years learning and taming their nafs (desires). The Muslims who wrote devotional poetry were often inspired by spiritual dreams–or from other spiritual states. These were often people who had considerable status in the Deen. On the other hand, the people making the “cultural art” argument are pointing to people who can't recite Al-Fatihah or have several children out of wedlock as “examples of Muslim artists.” What art can we honestly expect from such people?!?

    4. The impression i get from those making the “culture argument” is that basically they want an American (or modern) “belly-dancing” culture. The argument so goes that since this is part of the culture, then we cannot forbid it.

    5. Whatever happened to the principle of staying away from dubious matters? Even the hip hop advocates admit that A LOT of haraam goes on at hip hop events and the culture itself. And regardless of what one's position is on which instruments, the result is pretty much the same. Also, if the hip hop advocates abandoned hip hop, it would eliminate the hostility and rancor that is often generated around this debate. Crush your nafs, leave out the hip hop, and the Muslims are none the worse. Keep the hip hop, and FOR SURE some haraam (by all accounts) is going to seep in, and the Muslims will continue to argue over something that has little benefit–but causes tremendous harm.

    6. Folks need to keep in mind that rap–FROM ITS ORIGIN–has been filled with haraam and kufr. It's not just the 21st century rap. You can go back to the tracks of Spoonie Gee, Funky Four, Kurtis Blow, Flash and the Furious Five, Treacherous Three, ad nauseum, and see that the root of rap has never been good. When rap became more politically conscious, it was mixed with black nationalism and the outrageous kufr of the 5%ers. After that, is this nihilistic gangsta (c)rap.

    Lastly, i do believe that American Muslims need to develop their own culture, but that is only after American Muslims have gained a certain degree of mastery of the tradtional Islamic sciences and have attained considerably higher levels of spiritual experience and maturity. (Also, i may add–Muslims need an identity separate from the dominate kaafir culture.) We certainly cannot allow people devoid of religious training and dominated by their nafs to define Muslim culture in the West. If we allow that, then we have destroyed ourselves.

  15. SalmanC says:

    Salaams,

    I think we basically agree, Sheikh. In a purely democratic forum, any number of misguided opinions could be mistakenly accepted as shari'i by the sheer force of the number of voices promoting them. Not that these opinions shouldn't be voiced; we should just be clear on where opinion ends and where knowledge begins.

    Here's where I'm confused: have we been talking about shariah this whole time? I'm not so sure that that was understood by everyone in the conversation. Imam Suhaib, for example was mainly concerned with how hip-hop is used for dawa. Many of the commenters were coming at it from a cultural angle. Your original post, which started this conversation, didn't explicitly say anything about shariah or what it would say about hip-hop. It just gave examples of how recent, mainstream hip-hop tends to go against much of what we stand for as Muslims. There were nothing explicitly legal or binding about the text of the post. To me, that says, “Okay, the Sheikh is giving us his opinion and I'm free to agree of disagree with it.”

    Of course, I understand that you probably base your opinions on your knowledge of Shariah. But how are we to understand how you arrived at your conclusions unless we're privy to your train of thought? Explaining what the Shariah says on these issues would be of great benefit to us all. Convincing us of your informed opinion, rather than simply giving it to us, would only strengthen us in our deen.

    I think this is why many of us began quoting Dr. Abdallah — he explains his positions so that we are at least capable of understanding them. This is a core characteristic of the Muslim community in the West. We like to question things until we understand them. In my (normal, non-shari'i) opinion it's a strength, not a weakness.

  16. usman1 says:

    Lots of valid points.

    I can relate to what he says here as an American born Muslim youth who is the son of immigrant parents:

    'They want to be American and they want to fit in badly. But when they see a brother, who is much more authentically American than they feel they are, and who is much more serious about Islam than they have ever been, grab the mic and praise Allah while expressing himself, think about what that does to their minds. I guarantee they will never look at their father’s prayer mat or their mother’s head scarf in the same way again.'

  17. siqbal4 says:

    JazakAllah Khair Brother… I'm particularly happy that you mentioned this immigrant vs. indigenous issue…. many of us have that kind of thought process (and don't even know it!)… there is racism running through our veins that we often times try to justify it through scripture. Astagfirullah, May Allah Forgive Us All. As a 21 yr old sister raised by immigrant parents from the Indian subcontinent, this post resonated with me more than most ever do. Thank you.

    You would benefit greatly from reading this book on the topic of the American Muslim Ummah: http://www.amazon.com/American-Muslim-Women-Neg

    JazakAllah khair again for this, us youth living in America trying to make sense of it all need stuff like this… Wa Alaikum Assalam.

  18. Ayesha says:

    I know the article is about Hip Hop and Islam, but I just read an article about a new movement: Punk rock and Islam!

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/08/11/generation.isl

    Imam Suhaib, any comments on this?

  19. Qas says:

    Just a comment on that. I don't think its a huge new movement really. It seems to be more like a fad at best. I've read quite a few articles on this supposed movement and those kominas and two other groups are all that are mentioned. It seems like those kominas are just using islam as a tool for some publicity. Basically ABCDs trying to put their name out. I think Imam Webb talked about people like them passingly in a recent lecture.

  20. SaqibSaab says:

    One of my friends had this to say about the head of the band:

    I had a run-in with Mr. Knight at the infamous “Muslims for Bush” booth during ISNA 2004. It was an interesting discussion – as we began talking about the hadeeth of the Prophet sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, somewhere in the conversation, he interjected the idea that, “Well Aisha went to war with 'Ali because she wanted the caliphate for her father.”

    I did explain to him the mistake, and he became quite silent. Needless to say, I don't think he knows much, and what he knows is mixed up in jumbles.

  21. Suhaib Webb says:

    Asalamu alaykum,

    Slippery ledge.

    SDW

  22. syedz7 says:

    As-salaamu alaykum,

    lol! Thin ice!.. made my day.

  23. Creamcheese says:

    This is an interesting article and you make some valid points. I started out in 8th and 9th grade listening to a lot of radio garbage. Then, later on, I started listening to underground hip-hop and found it inspiring what a lot of artists had to say. That is not to say I listened to so much that it compromised time for me to listen to the Quran. Everyday, I would try to make it a point to listen to a Quranic recitation. But then, growing up here in a society where the depth of Islamic principles calling for a disciplined society are ignored, where intellectual thought is finely differentiated from fun, it amazed me that there are people in an entertainment scene who make it a point to channel a place where kids can use their brains to think about things, to think about God and religion, purpose in life, etc. I see more kids younger than me engage in depth and intellectualism more so than kids my age and it excites me that these kids seem both genuinely interested in Islam and interested in societal issues deeper than what is presented by the fun in games that mass the entertainment industry.

    At the same time, I know that entertainment and music can carry people away and turn them to addiction and obsessiveness and one must really be careful with that.

    May Allah(SWT) help us all inshAllah and really help us carry the proper character of a Muslim individual inshAllah. Thanks for the insight.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

More in Entertainment (13 of 22 articles)