The Evolution of Muslims in America

With yet another PBS documentary under its belt, American Islam would seem to be on the up and up. There are a number of hip-hop artists affiliated with Islam to lesser and greater degrees, thus, many see this as the “coming of age” of Islam in America. Seen as giving the American Muslim youth something to identify with, many seem to be reluctant to call out and name hip-hop for what it is. Two isles have formed where individuals either decry hip-hop as a spiritually bankrupt and corrupting enterprise while others say it has positive messages at its root. I will clearly state that I find hip-hop as it is expressed to be incompatible with a healthy Muslim practice but I am not using this opportunity to roast but rather make this one addendum: while we may denounce hip-hop as not being conducive to a healthy Muslim experience we must allow for the evolutionary process of people as they try and make moves towards understanding and living their Islam.

This idea of evolution may seem an awkward expression, especially given the word’s [ma sha’Allah] unfortunate or highly charged history in the English speaking world. I am not speaking of that flawed theory presented by Charles Darwin but rather the aspect that while people may start at point [A], and hope to arrive at point [C], there is a wide swath of [B], the evolutionary path that all of us tread on in one form or another. If we can come to understand and appreciate this we have a greater chance of actually allowing more people to make it to point [C] without being waylaid or ambushed along the path.

Part of what may help to make this idea better known to Muslims is that, one, it is a type of pedagogical technique practiced by the Prophet [s], where he allowed people to grow into their Islam, all the while not sacrificing one iota of the transcendent values of the religion he sought to teach. It is not wholly necessary here to delve into excessive examples but we are all familiar with the many examples where the Prophet [s] withheld punishment or judgment on persons who had character flaws or issues because he saw it as a progress [another highly charged and misused word] of their Islam, that they would eventually get to point [C] if given an opportunity to develop.

One of the ways in which we as Muslims [and especially as those in leadership positions] can help to bring this to fruition is to walk that solid line between understanding and condoning. Extend a hand but a firm one – one that is not afraid to give sincere nasihah [keeping it real in the modern vernacular] to those who are still in that early stage. Along with this comes the need to give people the education and tools to realize the true nature of Reality – for when people unveil [kashf] the inner nuances of what it is we object to, they will have, God willing, the toolset to come to similar conclusions. What is happening currently, is that people who do not have that spiritual training and maturity, are often demonized to such an extent that they are banish from any thought of coming to terms with what they do [their mu’amalat] and how they can come to realize its detriment to their health as Muslims [mukashafah]. If we, as both leaders and as a community claim to be inheritors of the Prophet [s], then we must examine our kulliyat and question if we’re letting the kullu shay [every little thing] get in the way of the big picture.

Two small pieces caught my eye regarding this topic. One, was rapper Lupe Fiasco reciting al-Fatihah at a concert.  For many Muslims this causes two reactions: [a]: total dismay, as the Qur’an is something Holy and should not be used for such purposes – that Its Message would be lost amongst the din a crowd enthralled at the performance of a star. [b]: total enchantment, for this is what some see as finally an opportunity to blend their personal or secular likes with the transcendent. The other piece was Suhaib Webb’s response to the proposition of hip-hop, where he stated,

“I was brought into Islam through the Hip-Hop world. That being said, once I became Muslim and started studying, I realized that in order for me to develop and grow as a Muslim I would have to amputate my relations with Hip-Hop and its community. I realized that the Qur’an and Hip Hop simply don’t mix.”

Webb articulates the difficulty that he has had in trying to sign off on hip-hop, but, as a sign of his own maturation as a Muslim and future leader, is that he had to make a tough decision and label hip-hop for what it is. But for me, the more important lesson here is that while Suhaib Webb was able to call hip-hop out for what it is he never gave the impression that those that do still engage in it [particularly here I assume he means listeners but perhaps performers as well] would be “amputated” from the community. In other words, stand firm on recognizing hip-hop, the “thing” and not the people, is corrupt at its core, whereas people can always be reformed, God willing.

To summarize, we have to do a better job of lending a helping hand while not compromising our core principles. We have to start to offer real, sincere, and alternate solutions, solutions with efficacy, not simply sloganized dogma. I think more Muslims who have a genuine love of their religion, if given the proper tools, God willing, will come to unveil hip-hop for what it is, and work to salvage their souls. Something all of us, hip-hop connoisseurs or not, strive to do.