by Mustafa Davis
I am the producer and director of the film DEEN TIGHT which is a documentary film about this very subject. http://deentight.com/
The Deen Tight film tells this story from the perspective of the artists and ex-artists (those for hip hop and those against it). We give a platform for both sides of this debate to express themselves.
Some people have asked why we did not include the scholars in this film. This was a calculated decision and our main intention behind this was to protect the sanctity of our teachers due to the fact there is not a consensus amongst them concerning this issue. Some scholars have not only expressed acceptance of Muslim Hip Hop, they have actually advocated it and attended concerts themselves. Others have adamantly condemned it and those who participate in it. This can be very confusing for the Muslim masses who rely on the opinion of the scholars to navigate through the murky waters of modern life.
For example: The rap group ‘Native Deen’ won the award for Best Nasheed Artists at the Mahabba Awards in Abu Dhabi in 2006 and 2008. Several of our most renowned teachers of the tradition reside on the Scholars Counsel for this awards show. I am not claiming that this means that any of these scholars advocate Muslim Hip Hop in any way, however; one can see how this could be misleading to someone who goes to these men for religious counsel to then hear another teacher from the tradition condemn a group who performs Muslim hip hop. The Deen Tight film was funded by some of these very scholars for the purpose of gaining a thorough understanding of the issue so they could then get together and discuss it with full knowledge of all the variables.
As someone who has been studying this closely for the past 3 years, speaking with artists, ex artists, teachers and scholars on the subject… I recommend a Muslim Hip Hop Summit where qualified scholarship and the artists sit together and discuss the issues from A – Z. I know that several of the artists have private sanctions from scholars to perform Muslim Hip Hop. I have spent time with other artists who are simply doing it because they want to, sanction or not. I have spent time with scholars who say its something that needs to stop and have discussed the issue with scholars who say its not only ok to do.. but that its absolutely needed. I’m certain that if we are to label something as “Muslim” then there needs to be qualifying prerequisites in place for it to be sound, however; I’m not personally interested in either promoting or condemning Muslim Hip Hop at this time. I’m interested in finding a solution for what is clearly a very real issue in our community. I’m interested in a consensus amongst the scholars so that the masses will know exactly what Islam says about these issues. If that consensus is not reached, then I fear that this problem will only worsen over time as people begin to lose faith in our scholarship for not being able to properly guide them through these trying times. Right or wrong, we can see this trend already happening. I pray that Allah protect us from this because without the guidance of our rightly guided scholars, we will surely falter.
My main point is that if even our scholars are differing about this subject how can we expect the masses to agree on a single course of action?
I would advise people to keep Adab when engaging in this discourse. It is a sensitive issue for many and thus should be handled carefully so that there is no room for Shaytan and the lower self to come into play. I advise our artists to be respectful of our scholarship and dialogue with them in an appropriate manner. I offer advice to our scholars not to fall victim to name calling and arguing. Mentioning specific names in these posts is distasteful and if one is not careful could fall under the category of slander.
Prophet Muhammad said :”Do you know what backbiting is?” They said, “God and His Messenger know best.” He then said, “It is to say something about your brother that he would dislike.” Someone asked him, “But what if what I say is true?” The Messenger of God said, “If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true then you have slandered him.” (Muslim)
Culture and Islam (in the West) and how it fits within the context of our Deen is something our scholars are still figuring out for themselves. During this process it is imperative that we remain one Ummah and if we disagree… that we do so as brothers who love one another and desire good for each other. The goal isn’t to win a debate… the goal is to do that which is most pleasing to Allah… and Allah knows best.
Musa I found your response enlightening. I live in the Bay and plan to attend the screening of this movie here in the masjid on the 26th. I think you bring up some very relevant questions and hope to spend some time with you when you come.
This seems to be an “issue” on the horizon what Muslims should and should not do in the name or art, entertainment and “dawah?”…
I have read most of the remarks by brothers and sisters. Here is what I have been pondering:
1- Islam is a very simple religion and we are trying to make it complicated day-in and day-out.
2- Whenever we have a religious masalah (issue), we should do as we would in any other matter, viz., ask the experts of religion. Just as we would try to consult the best doctor, the top lawyer or the most experienced architect.
3- Most importantly all of us need to learn the basics of deen and madhab. It is fardh (obligatory) upon every Muslim.
4- I have been a student of deen for some time and this is what I have learned from my teachers, which I would apply in this scenario:
a. Objective of this life is the make our afterlife better and acceptable in the Court of Allah SWT.
b. Purpose of life is to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.
c. Sunnah of the Prophet is that he refrained and advised from imitating or following the non-Muslims even in good deeds. One of the examples is that Prophet used to fast on 10th of Muharram and so did the Jews, so the Prophet said next year InshaAllah I will fast either the 9th or the 11th along with the 10th.
Don’t we pray 5x a day and recite these verses (meaning, not translation, of which is), Oh Allah guide us all to the right path, path of those who you bestowed with your bounty, Not the path of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray.
Finally, I would like to ask brothers and sisters, if you want to use a medium to do dawah, why not do what the Prophet and his Companions did to make dawah. Why do we need to invent (or adopt) “other” ways to do dawah. The best dawah is your own actions and personality, if it is 100% (or close) Islamic then Allah will make it easier for others to see your point. He is Hadi, the One who guides, us and everyone else.
May Allah save us from any sort of invention “modernization” of deen.
On some level I have been following this discussion of ‘Muslim Hip Hop.’ I don’t have any answers, and I’ve been a bit confused about the direction of the conversation. For myself, I tried to clarify a bit and thought I would share my thoughts with you. I believe there are a few different issues that are being convoluted which I am attempting to clarify when figuring what are are referencing when use the term ‘Muslim Hip Hop.’
So, what is a Muslim Hip Hop?
A red herring in this conversation I often hear is that the link of the hip hop and its roots to black cultural form and expression cannot be dismissed, as Islam has been integral to the Black experience in the US. Although I believe these points are true, this does not make Muslim hip hop distinct or unique. There are obviously other aspects of hip hop music that make it distinct, but to argue that religion, spirituality or theology were are deeply intertwined within the genre does not make this musical form unique. I am clearly stepping outside my area of expertise right now, but I would contend that musical forms historically have been expressions of and attempts to communicate with the Divine. I might argue that the foundations of rock, reggae, or any other popular genre have roots in divinity. The relationship between popular music and social (within which I am including spiritual or cultural) movements is complex and must be examined within each individual context.
Second, hip-hop challenges dominant narratives that make it unique. There have been and continue to be iterations of other genres of music which speak to an epistemological perspective that counters the dominant capitalist paradigm. We can look to the punk movements from late 70’s in England and the protest music both through popular rock and folk music in the US in the 1960 and 70s for examples of this. This is to say that a Muslim Hip Hop is not necessarily unique in its link to a history of protest music.
There is a counter point to be made. Hip pop music has historically rejected the dominant narrative of popular society in the US. It has been music of protest and music of attacking capitalist inequality. While Howard (1992) notes that the Contemporary Christian Music movement blatantly rejects the dominant narrative of popular rock music (I might argue the dominant narrative of American Protestantism), Muslim Hip Hop never had to make this split. Muslim Hip Hop artists are essentially continuing the narrative of political hip hop which has roots in the foundations of the genre. Nonetheless, a similarity with Howard’s analysis of the Christian Rock Movement is the challenge to a religious narrative from within the community—I would argue that Muslim Hip Hop is telling a narrative of Islam that challenges a theological position stating Muslims should not engage in dominant (non Muslim) society. This narrative (in the US context) I would contend is driven by African American and second generation immigrant Americans who are arguing that hip hop (or any other genre) are fundamentally part of their cultural repertoire as Americans and Muslims. They (myself included) contend that Islam does not connote that they are fundamentally outside the American narrative. I believe there is an iteration of a scholarly Islamic textual argument toward cultural engagement and participation within this musical perspective. I recognize this, but do not have the ability to engage this conversation.
Similar to what Gordon (1974) referred to when exploring the birth of ‘Jesus People’ as a community in the United States, I believe this iteration of Muslim Hip Hop represents an attempt to “synthesize and reconcile otherwise contradictory aspects of a young person’s life.” As Gordon saw with the ‘Jesus People’ I see Muslim Hip Hop (among other aspects of Muslim life in the US) bringing together elements of popular youth culture (which individuals participate in) into conversion with elements of religious or spiritual moral codes in a newly emerging way.
So, if Muslim Hip Hop is not unique in these ways, what does this term point toward?
Although many may argue that the term Muslim Hip Hop is problematic, un-descriptive, or foundationally flawed (which I have not yet come to a position on), I believe the term does point to something (although nebulous).
Like it has been stated in this discussion thread, there are hip hop artists who are Muslim who do not fall within what is referenced when people speak of the genre although their lyrics, public ‘Musilmness’ etc… are no less than those who are generally thought of as Muslim Hip Hop artists (I’m taking the artists and genre as Mustafa Davis depicted in his film). Are these ‘other’ artists any less ‘Muslim?’
At this point, I think I believe that Muslim Hip Hop as a term speaks less to the artists than it speaks to the marketing of the music. I would contend that when we are speaking of Muslim Hip Hop, whether it be Native Deen, the Remarkable Current collective, or any of their contemporaries, we are speaking not of a subgenre of hip hop lyrically or musically, but rather we are speaking of the intended audience, marketing, and promotion of the Muslim. Lots of music has Islamic themes or is made by Muslims, but it does not fall within this label. The defining element when talking about Muslim Hip Hop is none of these, but rather the economy of the music. Might Muslim Hip Hop be about marketing and promoting music to Muslim communities (possibly not exclusively, but primarily). Might Muslim Hip Hop not be about the religiosity of the performers, the public ‘Muslimness’ of the artists, the lyrical style or topics, but rather about speaking primarily to Muslim communities as an internal community dialogue? I would argue that there are many artists who exist between or on the margins of both, speaking to Muslims a broader audience. These are not hard lines, but soft. (The obvious reubutal here is that Muslims are part of a broader public audience, which I do not deny, but there is a reality of spe aking within a specific community (of Muslims) versus speaking to broad public which Muslims are part of).
Nonetheless, the question of defining who is allowed within the genre still arises. I contend there is an iteration of Islam which Muslim Hip Hop engages aside from the discussion above. This is another example of the slipperiness of this term. Where do the ‘jihadi hip hop’ artists fall? The most potent example of this comes from the 2004 British song Dirty Kuffar which spawned worldwide condemnation by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This raises the question, does Muslim Hip Hop only allow certain iterations of Islam to be present? If so, which ones? This may be similar concern within the world of Christian rock in which elements of white racism might find affinity with Christianity (as historically present iterations of US Christianity). A reading of Howard & Streck’s 1999 book Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music might shed some light on how this community had engaged these debates.
I believe the contention in this conversation is two fold:
A) Is there a benefit in having a music made for and distributed through primarily Muslim channels? Is Muslim Hip Hop (and I would contend other genres which are directed toward the same audience) unique not in its artists, but in engaging a conversation primarily within and for Muslim communities?
B) What are the core values which serve as the foundation of Muslim Hip Hop (and are the compatible with Islamic theology)? Can there be such a thing as an Islamic Hip Hop (I am consciously not using the term Muslim here) which conforms to the theological definitions of scholars of Islam (and if so, which ones)?
I believe similar to Christian rock, the term Muslim Hip Hop refers not to only to marketing, but also to a definition of Islam that is still being contested both within scholarly circles and within the practices of Muslim communities.
I don’t contend to be a scholar or even knowledgeable in this field. I am not solid in any of the positions I stated and need help in understanding and thinking about these issues in greater depth. I think we need to read deeply in both Islamic scholarship as well as in analysis of contemporary social forms to discuss the issues within this conversation. Like others have pointed out, this is an important issue within Muslim communities and I believe it deserves conversation, thought and analysis.
Howard, J.R. (1992). Contemporary Christian Music: Where Rock Meets Religion. Journal of Popular Culture. 26(1): 123-130.
Gordon, D. (1974). The Jesus People: An Identity Synthesis. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 3(2) 159-178.
When I think about music and its affect on the heart, I compare it to that of a sponge soaked in water. When you soak a sponge in a bucket of water, the sponge becomes heavy and dense. Similarly, music’s affect on the heart is that it causes the heart to be weighed down, in the sense that it holds it back from getting closer to Allah (SWT).
It doesn’t matter whether the lyrics are good or bad. Water is element necessary for human survival, yet it causes the sponge to be heavy. Same case with music and the heart. The lyrics may evoke a positive message, however, that doesn’t stop from weighing the heart down from traveling towards Allah (SWT).
I don’t know. Just a way of looking at it.
I need to correct one of my sentence:
I wrote in 4-c:
“c. Sunnah of the Prophet is that he refrained and advised from imitating or following the non-Muslims even in ”
I meant to write:
“c. Sunnah of the Prophet is that he refrained and advised – against – imitating or following the non-Muslims even in”
what about this:
in the end, even if a consensus was found on whether something is haram or halal to a degree…what’s to stop it?
it’ll happen regardless, people do what they do…
folks already know alcohol is blatantly haram, yet they do it, and for some it is an affliction…
in someways, it seems the best option is for folks to seek their own private advice, and then PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
ignorance is ignorance, and just as dope is dope, and wrong is wrong…
so at all times, proceed with caution…