The American Hip-hop Umma

On Friday I had the privilege of teaching at an NEH summer institute called American Muslims: History, Culture, and Politics. The Institute was held at George Washington University in D.C., and was already at the end of week 2 (of 3) by the time I showed up, and I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed when I first saw the syllabus. So many luminaries!    So many ground breaking scholars! (Click here for a full list of faculty.) Last week, for example, Sylviane Diouf was there. (If you don’t know her book Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in America, you should go find a copy right now.)  And Terry Alford shared his work about Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima (you can learn more about this remarkable man in the documentary Prince Among Slaves). One of my scholarly heroes–Richard Brent Turner–talked about the Nation of Islam. Master calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya joined the class the day before I came. The summer scholars and visiting lecturers talked culture, politics, feminism, theology, and art. They wrestled with issues of identity, immigration, and interfaith dialogue. I wish I could have attended the entire institute.

I called my session “The American Hip-hop Umma” and organized it around six guiding questions:

  • Why is there such a deep connection between Islam and Hip-hop culture?
  • How are different interpretations of Islam made manifest in Hip-hop?
  • How is gender represented in Islamic Rap?
  • Who listens to this music and what impact does it have?
  • After a period of intense popularity, why did Islamic rap suddenly lose its appeal?
  • What is the current state of Islamic rap?

I had way to much discuss for a 3 hour session, and I think the scholars were fairly overwhelmed with information. Happily, I’m available for guest lectures. 🙂

We had a great session, and in the afternoon, members of the group Native Deen joined us for Q&A and discussion. One of the pervasive themes of my session and of our conversation with Native Deen centered on the role of music in Islam. In a nutshell: the role of musician Islam is hotly debated. Some Islamic theologians maintain that music is forbidden, and others think music is the best way to praise Allah. But it’s a divisive issue, so Muslim musicians have difficult decisions to make about instrumentation, presentation, etc.

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Group picture. I’m third from the left. The 3 members of Native Deen are front and center.

Want to know more? Here’s a bibliography I compiled for the scholars. I hear they are developing a website for public use as well. Happy reading!

Books

Aidi, Hisham. Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture. Doubleday, 2014.

Khan, Adviya. “Muslim Women in Hop-Hop: An Ethnographic Study of “Poetic Pilgrimage.” Master’s Dissertation, Cardiff University, Center for the Study of Islam in the UK, 2011.

Knight, Michael Muhammad. The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-hop and the Gods of New York. Oneworld, 2007.

_____. Why I Am a Five Percenter. Penguin, 2011.

Miller, Monica and Anthony B. Pinn. The Hip-hop and Religion Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2014.

Miyakawa, Felicia M. Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message, and Black Muslim Mission. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Eure, Joseph D. and James G. Spady, Nation Conscious Rap PC International Press, 1991.

Essays

Aidi, Hisham. “’Verily, There is Only One Hip-hop Umma’: Islam, Cultural Protest and Urban Marginality.” Socialism and Democracy 18, no. 2 (2004): 107-126.

Khabeer, Suad Abdul. “Rep that Islam: the Rhyme and Reason of American Islamic Hip-hop.” The Muslim World 97, no. 1 (2007): 125-141.

McMurray, Anaya. “ Hotep and Hip-hop: Can Black Muslim Women be down with Hip-hop?” Meridians 8, no. 1 (2007): 74-92.

Miyakawa, Felicia M. “‘The Duty of the Civilized is to Civilize the Uncivilized’: Tropes of Black Nationalism in the Messages of Five Percent Rappers,” in Understanding African American Rhetoric: Classical Origins to Contemporary Innovations, Ronald Jackson II and Elaine Richardson, eds. (New York: Routledge, 2003).

_______. “Poetic Protest: Women, Hip-hop, and Islam.” The Avid Listener (theavidlistener.com); forthcoming fall 2015.

_____. “Receiving, Embodying, and Sharing ‘Divine Wisdom’: Women in the Nation of Gods and Earths,” in Women and Religion in the World, volume 7, Women and New Africana Religions, edited by Lillian Ashcroft-Eason and Darnise Martin (New York: Praeger Press, 2009).

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