"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Thursday, August 31, 2006,10:19 AM
Let Us Be Moors Pt 2
Keepin' It Halal

Hip-hop's changed, ain't a black thing anymore G

Young kids in Baghdad showing 2 on 3

HollaWest Coast? Nah, West Bank for life

Upside down, holla for my Moros alright

Spit rhymes in Arabic on the same level like Jada

You wouldn't know if you should head bang or belly dance playa

I'm that type of sand nigga type of Johnny Cochran yaw dig

Ya stereotype me, I knock you out like Prince Naseem.

-- 8/19/03 Outlandish, "El Moro"

The hip-hop movement has a powerful oppositional streak that makes it both attractive and troubling to political actors. Hip-hop's ability to jangle the hegemonic discourse was recently seen with Jay-Z's "Leave Iraq Alone" verse and Outkast's anti-war hit "Bombs Over Baghdad," denouncing the first Gulf War, which was yanked off the air by MTV and Clear Channel when bombs began raining on Baghdad in March 2003. [44] Hip-hop artists have strongly opposed the war, without fear of the social opprobrium visited upon the Dixie Chicks and other white pop stars. As hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons put it, "Rappers don't have to worry about anything. No one likes what they have to say anyway, so they're not afraid to speak up." But when hip-hop is infused with Islamic themes and political allusions, the Establishment press has found it particularly unsettling. Hence the outrage over rapper Paris' recently released -- and rapidly selling -- Sonic Jihad, the cover of which features an airplane flying toward the White House, and the alleged purging of Arabic terms and references to Hussein from Tupac Shakur's recently released Better Dayz (though the slain rapper was referring not to the missing Iraqi dictator, but to Hussein Fatal, a member of his Outlawz posse, which also includes Khadafi, Kastro and Komani). [45]

In the fall of 2002, accused sniper John Muhammad, formerly of the Nation of Islam, sent notes to the police that referenced lyrics from rappers who are Five Percenters -- a heterodox black Muslim sect. The subsequent media frenzy triggered a soul-searching conversation within the Islamic hip-hop community that was rendered particularly urgent when Muslim hip-hoppers found themselves linked to the war on terror by Niger Innis, chairman of the conservative Congress of Racial Equality. Shortly after the arrest of John Muhammad, Innis met with Department of Justice officials to express concern over "domestic black Muslims as a national security issue" and launched a campaign to counter Islamic recruitment efforts in the nation's prisons and colleges. [46] Muslim rappers asked themselves:should we be expected to "represent" Islam positively, and avoid the misogynist and materialistic excesses of mainstream hip-hop artists? Or should the aim be to "get paid" and gain wide success even if it means "playing with the haram (illicit)"? Of the US-based Muslim hip-hop crews, Native Deen and Sons of Hagar have been praised for their positive political and religious messages. Native Deen, made up of three African-American rappers who won't perform in venues that allow mixed dancing or serve alcohol, have been profiled in The New Yorker and even received praise from the State Department, but have yet to garner airtime on mainstream radio stations. The Des Moines-based Sons of Hagar, made up of Allahz Sword (Ahmad) and Ramadan Conchus (Abdul), both Arab-Americans, and Keen Intellect (Kareem) and Musa, Irish-American and Korean-American converts to Islam, respectively, have also been praised for socially conscious lyrics. Their poignant single "Insurrection" ("It's the Arab hunting season, and I ain't leavin'/I'm pushin' the conscience button on you people/Where is the reason?"), and their track "Sisterssss" in support of polygamy, [47] are popular in the underground Muslim-Arab hip-hop scene. But Sons of Hagar have also not achieved mainstream exposure.

The Muslim rap crew that is gaining worldwide notoriety for its lyrical dexterity, stylistic appeal and explicitly positive portrayal of Islam is the Denmark-based trio Outlandish. Made up of a Moroccan, a Pakistani and a Honduran, Outlandish has topped the charts with hits including "Guantanamo" (the chorus: "And I got all my Moros here, Guantanamo") and "Aicha," a remake of Cheb Khaled's 1995 hit. The latter track, which saw heavy rotation on MTV Europe and climbed to fourth on the charts in Germany, has been hailed as the most positive depiction of Muslim women in a music video, with shots of pre-prayer ablution and veiled and unveiled Arab, South Asian and African women. Rather than playing with the haram, Outlandish is about "keepin' it halal (licit)."

American hip-hop commentators note that political, cerebral rap may be popular in Europe, but if it cannot be "bling-blinged," or sexed up, it will not sell in the US. A recent dispute between Simmons and a segment of the African-American Sunni community is illustrative. Though not a Muslim, Simmons has frequently declared his respect for Islam, and the Nation of Islam (NOI) in particular. "I grew up on Farrakhan," he said in one interview. "Where I grew up, there were dope fiends and black Muslims. If Muslims came by, you stood up straight." [48] He also tried to broker talks between the NOI and American Jewish organizations, denounced the invasion of Iraq, helped organize Musicians United to Win Without War and is currently planning a Middle East youth peace summit. But when a recent issue of his OneWorld magazine ran a cover with female rapper Li'l Kim wearing a "burka-like garment over her face" and "lingerie from the neck down" -- and in the same issue saying, "F--- Afghanistan" -- Najee Ali, director of the civil rights group Project Islamic Hope, demanded an apology to America's Muslims.As someone active in brokering truces in the hip-hop world, Ali cited his Islamic duty "to the people of hip-hop and humanity," and called on Simmons to apologize for the magazine cover and for the "pornographic female rapper" Foxy Brown, who in her song "Hot Spot," produced by the Simmons-founded Def Jam, says "MCs wanna eat me but it's Ramadan."

The Li'l Kim incident instigated a discussion over other not-so-halal trends in Islamic hip-hop. The cover of XXL magazine showing rapper Nas holding a glass of cognac and wearing prayer beads around his neck outraged many Muslims. "Why he imitatin' the kufar (unbelievers, in Arabic) with the Hail Mary beads?!" fumed one blogger. Many Sunni Muslims have also criticized the style of some female Muslim hip-hoppers of wearing a headscarf (hijab), and then a midriff top and the low-riding jeans popularized by Jennifer Lopez. These sartorially adventurous young Muslim women, known variously as "noochies" (Nubian hoochies), "halal honies" and "bodacious bints"(girls, in Arabic) -- have provoked heated cyber-debates about freedom of expression, female modesty and the future of Islam in America. "Our deen (religion, in Arabic) is not meant to be rocked!" says hip-hop journalist Adisa Banjoko, author of the forthcoming The Light From the East on Islamic influence in hip-hop. "I see these so-called Muslim sistas wearing a hijab and then a bustier, or a hijab with their belly button sticking out. You don't put on a hijab and try to rock it! Or these brothers wearing Allah tattoos, or big medallions with Allah's name -- Allah is not to be bling-blinged!" [49]

Just as controversial are the Arabic calligraphy tattoos that women, even outside the hip-hop community, have taken to wearing. The words halal, haram and sharmuta (whore in Arabic, but a term of endearment in certain circles these days) are tattooed on shoulders, thighs or lower backs, and worn with bathing suit tops or hip-hugging jeans. Some of these haram trends in Islamic hip-hop are deliberate responses to orthodox or fundamentalist Islamic dress, like the "high-water pants" or "total hijabs" seen in some inner city areas.Among young Muslim males, equally provocative are black T-shirts worn by some Shiite youth, which read in crimson, "Every Day Is Ashura, Every Day Is Karbala" -- references to Shiite rituals commemorating the death of Imam Hussein in the seventh century and the Iraqi plain where he died in battle. Also troubling to some is the growing popularity of martial arts among urban Muslim youth, who say self-defense skills are necessary against gangsters and violent police. If many black Muslims in the 1960s were practicing syncretic forms of martial arts like "Kushite boxing," many of today's young male hip-hoppers are learning "Islamic wrestling." "The Prophet was a grappler," one enthusiast told Middle East Report. "The hadith (saying of the Prophet) teaches us to never hit the face of our opponent and that [Islamic] grappling allows you to win over an opponent without punching them and risking brain damage."

Russell Simmons has said that "the coolest stuff about American culture, be it language, dress or attitude, comes from the underclass -- always has and always will." [50] If so, then as Islam seeps into the American underclass and as Muslims populate the underclass in Europe, Islamic cultural elements will percolate upward into mainstream culture and society. For many American youth, Islamic hip-hop is their first encounter with Islam, and often leads them to struggle with issues of race, identity and Western imperialism. In Europe, many North African youth are rediscovering Islam and becoming race-conscious through Five Percenter and NOI rap lyrics. For many white hip-hoppers in the US, the sought-after "ghetto pass" -- acceptance in the hip-hop community -- comes only with conversion to Islam, which is seen as a rejection of being white. The white rapper Everlast, formerly Eric Schrody of House of Pain, claims that conversion to Islam and mosque attendance allow him to visit ghetto neighborhoods he could never enter as a non-Muslim white. [51] Curiously, Everlast's espousal of Islam caused static with the white rapper Eminem who accused him of becoming Muslim to deny that he is a "homosexual white rappin' Irish." One young white Latino youth explained the link between Islam and his street credibility as follows: "In the Bronx, looking like me, you don't get much respect. When I took the shihada (professed Islam), the brothers gave me respect, the white folk got nervous, even the police paid attention." [52]

Efforts are being made to direct the energy of Islamic hip-hop. In late July 2003, the First Annual Islamic Family Reunion and Muslims in Hip-Hop Conference and Concert was held in Orlando, Florida, with prominent imams from across the country leading three days of workshops on Muslim youth and stressing the importance of deen, family, schooling and organizing. Activities included Islamic spelling bees, Islamic knowledge competitions and performances by "positive lyricists" like Native Deen. The conference also established Hallal Entertainment, Inc. and helped launch the Islamic Crisis Emergency Response System, a Philadelphia-based organization which provides services to needy Muslim and non-Muslim families. [53] Fusing Islamic themes with the preeminent global youth culture, Islamic hip-hop has emerged as a powerful internationalist subculture for disaffected youth around the world.

"Roaring from the East"

"The specter of a storm is haunting the Western world," wrote the black power poet Askia Muhammad Touré in 1965. "The Great Storm, the coming Black Revolution, is rolling like a tornado; roaring from the East; shaking the moorings of the earth as it passes through countries ruled by oppressive regimes.... Yes, all over this sullen planet, the multi-colored 'hordes' of undernourished millions are on the move like never before in human history." [54] Touréé was pondering the appeal of "the East" to African-American youth in the aftermath of the 1955 Bandung conference. There President Sukarno of Indonesia had told the representatives of 29 African and Asian nations that they were united "by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism."Those were the days when Malcolm X met with Fidel Castro at the famed Teresa Hotel in Harlem, and when Malcolm, from his perspective of "Islamic internationalism," came to understand the civil rights movement as an instance of the struggle against imperialism, seeing the Vietnam war and the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya as uprisings of the "darker races" and, like the African-American struggle, part of the "tidal wave" against Western imperialism.

Some commentators, pointing to the current anti-war and anti-globalization movement, have suggested that a new era of Afro-Asian-Latin solidarity may be in the offing. In the US, the past two years has seen a political ferment and coalition-building between progressive groups -- in particular between Arab and Muslim American groups and African-American groups -- not seen since the 1960s when the Black Panthers and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee declared solidarity with the PLO, which in turn declared solidarity with Native Americans. September 11 and the subsequent backlash has led many African-American leaders to stand with Muslim and Arab-Americans, not least because African-American Muslims are also targeted in the post-September 11 profiling and detention campaigns. Activists like Al Sharpton are mobilizing against the USA PATRIOT Act "because it is used to profile people of color" and "impacting Muslims everywhere, including Brooklyn and Harlem." [55]

Given the centrality of Islam and the Arab world to the war on terror, and the presence of kaffiyyas and (regrettably) Bin Laden T-shirts at protests from Porto Alegre to Barcelona, it appears that the new Bandung may have a distinct Arab or Islamic cast. In the past two years, a number of Latin American leaders have called for "concrete action" to establish a Palestinian state. Castro has signed agreements of bilateral cooperation with Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, and continues to rail against "global apartheid" in general and "Israeli apartheid" in particular. Castro has also been accused of building ties with Iran and selling biotechnology in exchange for cheap oil. When he visited Iran in 2001, Castro spoke of his rapport with President Mohammad Khatami and reported that he "had the longest sleep of his life in Tehran." Most recently, he has been accused by the US of jamming the satellite broadcasts of US-based Iranian opposition groups. [56] Recent articles in right-leaningAmerican newsmagazines claim to have discovered evidence that Venezuela is providing identity papers to suspicious numbers of people from Arab and South Asian "countries of interest" (as well as Colombians and Cubans). One article also features the claim of the former Venezuelan ambassador to Libya, Julio Cesar Pineda, to possess correspondence from Hugo Chavez stating his desire to "solidify" ties between Latin America and the Middle East -- including use of the oil weapon. [57] Chavez challenged the reporters in question to produce "one single shred of evidence" for their claims. [58]

These stories of Cuban and Venezuelan ties to Middle Eastern radicals may be little more than partisan puffery, and Chavez's repeated calls for solidarity with the Arab world may be nothing more than petroleum diplomacy or an embattled leader's desperate plea for allies. Yet the Venezuelan leader's appeal to "Arab roots" is indicative of a trend in the West. Among Western subordinate groups and opposition movements that feel victimized or neglected by globalization, the Arabs are seen as bearing the brunt of the worldwide imperial assault in the era of the war on terror. As Western nationalists portray Islam as a threat to freedom and security, and launch wars to bring democracy to the Muslim world, "the multi-colored hordes" of the West are reaching for teachings and precedents (like Moorish Spain) in Islam that they hope will make the West more compassionate and free.

Islam is leaking into the West through conversion, migration and media-driven cultural flows, and to many, the Islamic world is presenting a repertoire of alternative identities. As marginalized Westerners are finding inspiration in Islam, Muslims in the diaspora are inspired by the African-American experience. The cross-fertilization taking place between Islamic, black and Latin cultures is creating fascinating trends and art forms. Many would argue that the fashion for Arabic tattoos, Allah chains, Orientalist soap operas, belly dancing and hip scarves is just that -- fashion. But as the Arab pride movement in Europe and Islamic hip-hop demonstrate, the vibrant cultural intermingling can have significant political implications. Cultural flows can spark forceful challenges to state policies, state-imposed identities and the claims of Western nationalism.

For many of the minority convert communities and the diaspora Muslim communities, Islamic Spain has emerged as an anchor for their identity. Moorish Spain was a place where Islam was in and of the West, and inhabited a Golden Age before the rise of the genocidal, imperial West, a historical moment that disenchanted Westerners can share with Muslims. Neither Muslim nostalgia for nor Western Orientalist romanticism about Andalusia is new, but it is new for different subordinate groups in the West to be yearning for "return" to Moorish Spain's multiracialism. In this worldview, the year 1492 is a historical turning point. On Columbus Day in October, Chavez urged Latin Americans to boycott celebrations of the "discovery," saying that Columbus was "worse than Hitler." That the longing for pre-1492 history is shared by many minorities throughout the West is an indication of their lasting exclusion, and how the stridency of Western nationalism since September 11 has revived memories of centuries-old trauma. As one African-American activist put it recently, "The profiling and brutalizing of African-Americans didn't begin after September 11. It began in 1492." [59] In a similar spirit, after Moussaoui was arrested in the US and granted the right to represent himself in court, one of his first demands was "the return of Spain to the Moors."

With African-American and Latino converts speaking of the tragedy of 1492, and with Muslim minorities in the West becoming increasingly race-conscious and inspired by black America, the world is witnessing a new fusion between Islam and pan-Africanism. Today, however, this racialized Islamic internationalism contains elements of other cultures and diasporas as well. Islam is at the heart of an emerging global anti-hegemonic culture, which post-colonial critic Robert Young would say incarnates a "tricontinental counter-modernity" that combines diasporic and local cultural elements, and blends Arab, Islamic, black and Hispanic factors to generate "a revolutionary black, Asian and Hispanic globalization, with its own dynamic counter-modernity...constructed in order to fight global imperialism." [60]


[1] José Martí, "Espana en Melilla," in Cuba: Letras, vol. 2 (Havana: Edicion Trópico, 1938), p. 201.

[2] Quoted in René Dépestre, "Carta de Cuba sobre el imperialismo de la mala fé," Por la revolución, por la poesia (Havana: Instituto del Libro, 1969), p. 93

[3] El País, April 17, 2002.

[4] Latin American Weekly Report, October 4, 2003.

[5] CUT National Plenary, Conjuntura Internacional e Nacional, Resolution 10, "Cresce a polaizaçáo politica a social em todo o mundo." Accessible online at http://cutnac-web.cut.org.br/10plencut/conjtex5.htm.

[6] Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 3, 2003.

[7] New York Times, October 22, 2001; The Economist, October 26, 2001. Imams and converts also made this claim in interviews carried out by Columbia University's Muslim Communities in New York Project on June 4 and June 16, 2003.

[8] Times (London), January 7, 2002.

[9] Evening Standard, March 15, 2002.

[10] Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 2002. See also Yusuf Fernandez, "Spain Returning to Islam," Islamic Horizons (July-August 2002).

[11] Olivier Roy, "Euro-Islam: The Jihad Within?" The National Interest (Spring 2003).

[12] Cox News Service, August 11, 2002; see also Knight-Ridder News Service, June 28, 2003.

[13] El Diario-La Prensa, October 6, 2001. See also Islamic Horizons (July-August 2002).

[14] Interview with Rahim Ocasio, April 16, 1999.

[15] Rahim Ocasio, "Latinos, The Invisible: Islam's Forgotten Multitude," The Message (August 1997).

[16] Kimi Eisele, "The Multicultural Power of Soap Operas," Pacific News Service, November 25, 2002.

[17] Interview with Rosa Margarita ofEl Diario-La Prensa, August 8, 2003. El Clon-inspired fashion can be viewed online at http://www.laoriginal.com/especiales.htm.

[18] Independent, July 19, 2002.

[19] Agence­France Presse, May 28, 2003.

[20] Eisele, op cit.

[21] Interview with Fernando Casado Caneque, September 8, 2003. Casado was referring to the conservative Aznar's effort to insert a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the EU's constitution, a measure that has provoked the Spanish left and the regions of Andalusia and Cataluna who resent how the Aznar government has made Catholicism so central to the state's identity. See El País, July 28, 2003.

[22] James Baldwin, No Name in the Street (New York: Dial Press 1972), p. 41.

[23] See, for instance, the interview with Ferida Belghoul in Alec Hargreaves, Voices from the North African Community in France: Immigration and Identity in Beur Fiction (Providence, RI: Berg Publishers, 1991), p. 126.

[24] Le Monde, February 12, 2003.

[25] Jerusalem Report, May 6, 2002.

[26] See Loïc Wacquant, "Red Belt, Black Belt: Racial Division, Class Inequality and the State in the French Urban Periphery and the American Ghetto," in Enzo Mingione, ed. Urban Poverty and the Underclass (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).

[27] New York Times, October 16, 2001.

[28] Weekly Standard, July 15, 2002.

[29] Times (London), September 29, 2001.

[30] Abd al-Samad Moussaoui, Zacarias, My Brother: The Making of a Terrorist (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003), p. 129.

[31] Independent, April 3, 2003.

[32] See Paul Silverstein, "Why Are We Waiting to Start the Fire? French Gangsta Rap and the Critique of State Capitalism," in Alain-Philippe Durand, ed. Black, Blanc, Beur: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the Francophone World (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002).

[33] Le Figaro, June 17, 2003; Le Monde, March 11, 2003.

[34] Le Monde, September 27, 2001.

[35] L'Expansion, June 11, 2003.

[36] Independent Race and Refugee News Network, April 1, 2001.

[37] The group's manifesto is online at http://infosuds.free.fr/082001/enquete_bc.htm. I am grateful to Paul Silverstein for this point.

[38] Interview with 3eme Oeil and DJ Rebel, Bronx, New York, July 24, 2003.

[39] Jerusalem Report, May 6, 2002.

[40] L'Express, March 27, 2003.

[41] David Lepoutre, Coeur de banlieue: Codes, rites et languages (Paris : O. Jacob, 1997).

[42] Le Figaro, June 3, 2000.

[43] The Spanish slur Moro has long been a term of endearment in Morocco and in the Moroccan diaspora -- the Arabic adaptation is moro khal al-ras (black-headed Moor).

[44] I am grateful to Zaheer Ali for this point.

[45] Tupac Shakur's former companion Napoleon, a Muslim convert, speaks about this allegation in an interview with the Tupac fan site HitEmUp.com, published on April 16, 2003. Accessible online at http://www.hitemup.com/interviews/napoleon-part1.html#Bush.

[46] Washington Times, November 13, 2002.

[47] When told that polygamy is illegal in the US, Allahz Sword responded, "A lot of rappers out there talk about pimpin' -- is that good?...I'm just talking about part of my religion." Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 17, 2003.

[48] Hisham Aidi, "'Building A New America': A Conversation with Russell Simmons," Africana.com, February 5, 2002.

[49] Personal communication, August 4, 2003.

[50] Quoted in John McWhorter, "How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back," City Journal (Summer 2003).

[51] Interview with Adisa Banjoko, "Everlast: Taking Islam One Day at a Time," July 12, 1999. The interview is accessible online at http://thetruereligion.org/everlast.htm.

[52] Interview with Columbia's Muslim Communities of New York Project, June 16, 2003.

[53] Sister Kalima A-Quddus, "Verily This Is a Single Ummah," MuslimsInHipHop Newsletter, August 7, 2003.

[54] Quoted in Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), p. 60.

[55] Village Voice, December 24, 2002.

[56] Financial Times, July 21, 2003.

[57] See Martin Arostegui, "From Venezuela, a Counterplot," Insight on the News, March 4, 2003 and "Terror Close to Home," US News and World Report, October 6, 2003.

[58] Agence France Presse, October 2, 2003.

[59] Interview with Columbia's Muslim Communities of New York Project, July 21, 2003.

[60] Robert Young, Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction (London: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), p. 2.

Hisham Aidi is a research fellow at Columbia University's Middle East Institute, and works on the university's Muslim Communities in New York Project, sponsored by the Ford Foundation
posted by R J Noriega
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