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Aashiq al-Rasul - Aa'shiq Blog

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Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow - Melodie Beattie
Aa'shiq Blog
A small part on a big day PDF Print E-mail
Written by Amran Ellahi   
Tuesday, 26 January 2010 21:53

Allah, the Exalted, says:

"Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those whom your right hands possess.'' (Al-Quran 4:36)

Ibn `Umar(ra) and `Aishah (ra) reported: Messenger of Allah (s) said, "Jibril kept recommending treating neighbours with kindness until I thought he would assign a share of inheritance".[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Rasulullah (s) said:

"Let him not harm anyone. This too is charity for him."[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Rasulullah (s) said:

"There is blessings in (rendering service to) every living creature." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Abu Hurairah (ra) narrates that Rasulullah (s) said:

"Every joint (in the human body) is liable for one act of charity daily. Justice meted out between two persons is also charity. Assisting someone to mount a vehicle or helping in loading his luggage are also acts of charity. A good word (which benefits others) is also charity. Removing a harmful object (e.g. thorn, peel, etc.) from the road is also charity." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Our Guide Muhammad (s), was very sensitive to the needs of others to the extent that he (s) empathized with the pain and suffering of all God’s creation. As shown by quotes from the Divine revelation (the Qur’an) that he (s) received and by his (s) own counsel, being sensitive to the needs of others and acting in a manner to prevent or alleviate any harm suffered, are highly regarded, blessed and rewarded ethical conduct.

Sunday 24th January 2010 presented me with such an opportunity to express empathy for those who have suffered from acts of genocides. Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27th) is the international day of remembrance as designated by the United Nations. It commemorates victims and survivors of the Holocaust, as well as other worldwide genocides such as Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

The ceremony took place in the beautiful neo-classical Birmingham, Town Hall, and was inspired by the theme from the Holocaust Memorial Trust for 2010 – The Legacy of Hope.

The afternoon included speeches, music, readings and a special performance of Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace with more than 200 singers and musicians including the Phoenix Singers, and the OneSound Youth Orchestra and Choir. The ceremony enabled all those affected by genocides, either directly or indirectly, to reflect on these experiences and issues.

The event was a moving experience for both audience and performers. Phoenix Singers and members from OneSound Orchestra and choir, along with support from other choirs and members of the Birmingham Conservatoire performed another wonderful performance of Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. The work as a whole is an hour long, set within Christian Mass, but brings together text from Mahabarata, Kipling, Tennyson and various other sources... the overall idea is to bring together people of all backgrounds, races and religions, seeking peace. The second movement of this work is the solo 'Muezzin' part - which is a call to prayer 'Adhaan'. It is for one solo male to sing un-accompanied this was my role of the day.

The Phoenix Singers are a mixed voice choir performing a variety of choral works. Based in South Birmingham the choir was formed in 2001 and currently has 90+ strong performing members. As well as performing regularly in and around Birmingham, they have established an international reputation through a series of European tours.

OneSound is the UK's leading Christian Orchestra & Choir for under 26's. As a concert orchestra and a versatile choir, the group has performed and recorded with the likes of Matt Redman throughout the country in national and regional venues. OneSound is delighted to welcome both practising Christians, and those who are currently exploring their faith.

Speakers included a survivor of the Holocaust, local journalist Adrian Goldberg and Cllr Mike Whitby, the Leader of Birmingham City Council.

However, it was disappointing to see the lack of my fellow Muslim participants at the service neither as speakers, performers nor as part of the audience.  I don’t remember seeing a single Muslim back stage or in the audience whilst I was performing.

We need to hold on to the universal abhorrence against harm done to all human beings and other of God’s creation. To do so does not negate the harm and suffering being inflicted on those of whom we share the same faith particularly in Palestine or Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Guantánamo or anywhere else. It just adds to the authenticity of our protest against such vile behaviour.

As human beings we need to have genuine concern for one another as our Holy Prophet (s) has emphasized, taught and himself demonstrated love and care for your neighbours, weak and the poor and this was regardless of religious belief, ethnicity, caste etc. May the blessings of Allah be upon him in abundance and all the Messengers and Prophets.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 August 2010 20:35
 
Sharing each other's faith experience down under. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Imam Abdul Hai Patel   
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 20:25

The year 2009 will be remembered for number of international gatherings and conferences. A year when G8 summit is changed to G20 summit, an Environment conference in Copenhagen and host of other political, social and religious conferences. But in my opinion, the most significant gathering of the year 2009 took place in Melbourne, Australia from December 3rd to December 8th, 2009.

This southern most city of Australia played host to some 6000 people from around the World, representing almost every faith, for what I observed was the largest multifaith gathering of this decade. Speakers, participants and volunteers, all came at their own expense.

This was the Conference of Parliament of World Religions, held every five years. It is an idea that originated in 1893 in Chicago, espousing the message of uniting all faiths on one platform to share and promote understanding and respect for all religions of the World.

In 1893, the Parliament marked the first formal gathering of representatives of eastern and western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the birth of first formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.

The Council of World Parliament of World Religions (CPWR), officially dates from 1988, when two Swamis (monks) from Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, suggested organizing a centennial celebration of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition

Its Mission Statement reads:

    The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions was created to cultivate harmony among the world's religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world. To accomplish this, we invite individuals and communities who are equally invested in attaining this goal.

Choice of Melbourne for 2009 conference was just right, as the Australian public, from faith groups to politicians and law enforcement welcomed us with open arms. It’s newly built; state of the art convention centre in the heart of the business district was ideally suited for this gathering.

In late Winter of 2009, I received an e-mail from Dr. Patricia Blundell, a Campus Chaplain from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, asking me if I would be interested in co-presenting a workshop on “Being a University Chaplain in 21st Century”, at the Parliament in Melbourne. We have known each other since 2004, when I attended 2nd quadrennial conference of International Campus Chaplains at Griffith University.

I agreed and our abstract was submitted. I couldn’t submit my own abstract in time, for another topic, dealing with Human Rights and Religions. In August, when I returned to Toronto after visiting four countries in Asia, I got an e-mail from Dr. Blundell that our proposal is accepted and now I have to make my way to Melbourne.

So on November 30th, I boarded the flight to Melbourne, arriving there on December 2nd, losing a day by crossing the International Date Line. Alhamdu Lillah, this was the seventh time I have crossed this date line in the last four years.

Accommodation was at primium for such a large gathering, so Melbourne residents were asked to open their doors to host a number of delegates, both as cost saving measure and to encourage inter faith relations. I was hosted by a Pakistani Muslim family, whose hospitality was overwhelming.

My host Mr. Manzoor Ahmed Mian, an engineer by profession, is very active in the Muslim community especially as a volunteer Chaplain for prisons and hospitals. On the second day of my arrival, I was informed that he has to go to visit a newly established Remand Centre to celebrate Eid ul Adha barbecue with Muslim Inmates.

I told him about my position as President of Ontario Multifaith Council, an Ontario Government funded agency to ensure access to religious and spiritual care in Correctional facilities, Senior Homes and Hospitals. I expressed my desire to accompany him, hoping for access without prior security clearance. There, we were met with Muslim Chaplain Mr. Aziz Cooper, who is hired as full time Chaplain by Islamic Council of Victoria for Chaplaincy work in State of Victoria.

I was introduced with my Passport and York regional Police Chaplain ID and requested access. Normally it takes three weeks for clearance; however, within fifteen minutes I got the clearance and was able to visit the inmates, ate lunch, prayed Zuhr with them and give a lecture about significance of Eid-ul-Adha.

That evening was the opening Plenary session, which began with a word of welcome by the Australian Aboriginal Speaker, followed by one minute prayer by a dozen faith representatives. Then the usual welcome speeches from the Organizers and the Mayor of Melbourne and other State Government officials. It is a custom in Australia, that in all public gatherings, speakers acknowledge the ownership and pay tribute to the Aboroginal people at the beginning of the speech.

Each day the conference began at 8 a.m. with a prayer session of various faiths. My presentation was scheduled right after the Friday prayers at midday, . My co-presenters were Dr. Patricia Blundell form Griffith University and Dr. Sharon Kugler form Yale University in USA. About 50 people attended the 2 hours workshop.

Friday evening was designated as Community night, where the local faith communities in Melbourne hosted receptions in their places of worship or other Banquet Halls for delegates. I chose to go to the reception hosted by Islamic Council of Victoria, attended by 200 people. The Governor of Victoria, Deputy Chair of the Multi Cultural Council of Victoria and Dr. Anwar Ibrahim, Leader of the Opposition in Malaysia were among the guests in attendance.

My host, informed me about some of the interfaith activities in Victoria and one was a request form a Church in a small town called Ararat, about 200 kms out of Melbourne. They could not find any one to go there. So I offered to go, by train, as my host had to volunteer at the conference. As we were coming home, at 11 p.m., my host received a timely call from Dr. Muhammad Imad Khan, a young Muslim; if there was any opportunity for volunteer work. He was asked to drive me to Ararat next morning and he agreed. He provided good companionship, as we shared lots of common interest.

Next morning, we drove to Ararat, admiring the beautiful country side. There are six Muslim families in this town, where the Mayor has given them a building to be used as an Islamic Center/Mosque. These six brothers work in the local Abattoir, doing the Halal slaughter of lambs, which are exported all over the world, with ICCV Halal seal. The Muslims had held Iftar dinner last Ramadan for all local Churches and one of these Churches invited them to present Islam to its congregation.

We were warmly greeted by Pastor Rev. Townson of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and about 40 members of the congregation. I presented Islam 101 using my power point presentation, followed by a lengthy question and answer session. Many said that they were now better informed and lot of misunderstandings were cleared up.

We then visited the local Islamic Center/Mosque and prayed Zuhr and departed for Melbourne to attend Eid Dinner organized by a Pakistani Association called UMMA -United Muslim Migrant Association Inc. It was a typical community event with entertainment for Children and a sumptuous dinner.

The next three days I attended a number of sessions in the conference. Some of the noon time sessions were carried live on Australian ABC TV on their show called Compass. In one of these sessions, dealing with "Creating Social Cohesion in Village and City;” the Swiss Minaret issue dominated the discussion. Among the six Panellists was Prof. Qurashi, her remarks caught my attention very much, as she asked:

    “Never mind the Minaret, it is a non issue, but since 9-11, every few months something on Islam or Muslim is being picked to stir debate and controversy, thereby fuelling more Islamophobia. What is the agenda and how this is going to create social cohesion?”

In a similar session next day, Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Professor Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, strongly criticized the attitude of the West towards Islam, as they made it in to an enemy after the collapse of communism, "an unprovoked war on Islam", fuelled by western hegemony.

There were many prominent Muslim Scholars male and female, in the Conference. Among them was Imam Dr. Faisal Abdul Rauf from New York, son of late famous Imam and pioneer Dr. Abdul Rauf in Washington, well known to some of us old timers.

I attended a couple of sessions dealing with women issues, relating to women’s contribution in the development of the World. In one session, a female Speaker Dr. Suhair Al Qurashi, CEO of Darul Al-Hekma College for Women in Saudi Arabia, gave a very informative presentation about Muslim Women Scientist contribution, which is not to be found in most of the books. In fact, even the regular books of science hardly mention about women scientists of any faith or culture.

A female Muslim Lawyer from Chicago, Janan Hashim, enlightened the audience in the session on Hijab, that in USA, first and fifth amendments protect the women's right to choose to   wear the hijab. However, one antiquated law enacted 120 years ago for Irish Catholics, targeting dress code of nuns, is now being invoked for Muslims. Janan Hashim is the Founder of the first, all Muslim women law firm Amal Law Group LLC, with five Muslim women lawyers.

There were a number of sessions on the environment. Deep concerns were expressed over losing arable lands to industry, urbanization and  tourism. Hotels and golf courses are replacing agricultural lands in many island nations for tourism.

The Toronto office of the Turkish Inter Cultural Association contacted the local office in Melbourne about my presence in their city, so on 8th December; I was invited by the local office Selemiya Foundation for a visit to the local Mosque, a High School for Boys and its office. The Association runs about 45 well organized schools in Australia. Their graduates receiving a high level of acceptance in universities. It is also very active in inter-faith work.

In the evening Victoria Police had organized a reception for selected delegates at Eitihad Stadium. I was one of the invitees based on my involvement with Toronto and York Regional Police. I took letters of greetings from both Toronto and York Police along with a bag full of pins, flags, key chains and pens from York Regional Police. They were well received by the local Police. I also had a chance to meet first Australian female Police officer in Hijab Senior Constable Maha Sukkar, as well as the Dr. Helen Szoke, CEO of Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Council.

On the final day, the closing ceremony was also spectacular. The Dalai Lama delivered the key note address. There was one minute prayer by a dozen faith representatives. As the conference was winding down, there was an atmosphere of gloom evident in the convention centre. Eight days of joy, suddenly changed to sadness, smile turn in to tears, as the delegates said goodbye to one another. The degree of sadness was so profound as if members of the family were being separated. True in its sense, the eight days of bonding produced a truly Multifaith family that transcended all barriers of religion, race ethnicity and nationalism. It was time to say AU REVOIR until 2014, when we shall meet again. Parliament’s newly elected Chair Abdul Malik Mujahid from Chicago, appealed for a new vision of unity and harmony for all religions in the world.

On the last day, I was invited by my host to attend an Award ceremony for Muslims trained to be lay Chaplains at the local Hospital. This was another milestone in the community, where Muslim volunteers stepped forward for a very worthy obligation to provide religious and spiritual care in all Hospitals. It provided an opportunity for me to meet Rev. Cheryl Holmes, CEO of Healthcare Chaplaincy Council of Victoria.

As an avid fan and follower of the game of cricket, the city of Melbourne has always fascinated me, for its historic significance in the cricketing world. The Ashes series, a symbol of rivalry between England and Australia was born here in 1882. Every year, Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), perhaps the largest in the world, is always host to a Boxing Day Test match for any touring team. I have always wanted to see the famous and legendary MCG. I had indicated to my host, that I would very much like to see MCG, however, the hectic conference schedule prevented me from any free time to see it, although it was just few kilometres away.

So on the afternoon of the last day, my host, interrupting his schedule to take me to see it from the outside, as we had the above event to attend. And this ziyara [visit] of MCG from the outside was stunning. It was quite a sight, even from outside. It was a dream half fulfilled, which begs a return visit.

At the hospital graduation event, my friend Dr. Muhammad Imad Khan, asked me if I had a chance to see a kangaroo?  He said an Australian visit will not be complete if I have not seen kangaroos. To which I said no and there is no time left as my flight leaves at noon the next day. So a few hours before the flight in the morning, he interrupted his schedule of his wife’s medical appointment to take me to see the Aussie’s national animal in the suburb.

And what a sight to see so many of them roaming in grassy lands. I was lucky to see a baby kangaroo in a mother kangaroo’s pouch, which is a rare sight. I was a reminded of the following verses in the Quran:

    “O people, we have created you in to different tribes and nations, so that you may know each other, by expressing love not hate” (Ch49:V13)

    “And so amongst men and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colours”  (Ch 35:V28)

Just as human race is distributed all over the globe, other creatures and animals are also distributed all over the globe and fixed their habitation. What a way to complete this historic visit, saying hello and bye to the loving peaceful kangaroos of Victoria.  

Last Updated on Friday, 13 August 2010 20:38
 
Wootten Bassett: A call to action to all British Muslims PDF Print E-mail
Written by Amran Ellahi   
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 16:44

Peace and Blessings to all.

Anjem Choudary and his cohorts does not represent me or my faith, does he represent you and yours?   If not then let us stand together to convey this very message.   The opportunity is presented now, to reach out to our fellow citizens with respect and in the spirit of societal harmony.  Enough is enough.

Our collective voice has been stolen by a caricature talking on behalf of us. Standing by is not an option, we must stand up for ourselves.  This militant activism breeds hatred which will have huge impacts on us and our future generations.  Don’t complain tomorrow when you find that Muslim graves are dug up, or ignorant people on their part are offending our sisters and children, when you encounter hostility and resistance on every step, when your children say that it is too hard to be a Muslim.  Let’s wake up and make the most of this opportunity by demonstrating against Anjem Choudary and what he stands for.

We are British Muslims who follow mainstream Islam and our fellow citizens should get to know that people like Mr Choudary do not represent us.  He and his organisation is not our voice. We respect all life and acknowledge the tragedy of innocent lives lost around the world.  At home we seek to build a plural society living in peaceful coexistence of each other with respect for differences and diversity in society.   But in order to have a sustainable faith based community it is necessary to live in harmony with people of all faiths or none. Anjem represents the opposite, rebellion and provocation.   Our mandate as Muslims is to live and die in peace that is in a state of Islam not in an Islamic state. Should the majority not speak up Anjem becomes the Muslim voice.

Writing press releases, letters, posting on forums are all good but not enough because it’s not necessarily reaching the grassroots level.   At this moment we need to be visible and collective as one mass.  All Muslims to stand together.  This man is rallying for hatred and we can change that and teach people about what Islam and Muslims really stand for and that is love, peace and harmony.  But we have to do this in an open and a demonstrable manner.    We need collective ACTION not only words.

By standing up for OURSELVES and letting people like Choudary and the mass public know that we won’t just hide and type away silently but we will demonstrate vocally that we will not be misrepresented.

We propose to hold a rally in Wootton Bassett.   We will affirm that we are British and Muslim with love while seeking to contribute to building a society based on justice for all and ill will to none.  And yes why not parade with British flags to celebrate our British nationality and our British Soldiers. They do their job for us also as we are a part of this Country.

The mass majority of British Muslims do not support this distasteful and provocative action. It demonstrates a lack of gratitude to fellow citizens who voluntarily give themselves up to serve and protect. Charity should always begin at home, our troops sacrifice should be honoured and the shared burden of that sacrifice by their loved ones must be honoured. The troops do not decide upon which battlefield to engage in, that is the role of its civilian command. Any anti-war protest should be directed at Downing Street not in Wootton Bassett or "High Street". The service and sacrifice of our troops must be honoured independent of views about their command. As a British Muslim Group we join with our fellow citizens of all faiths or none, to ask those in authority to put a stop to this misguided effrontery.

I urge you to lend your support and ask you to climb aboard our peace train with peace and love.

Amran Ellahi

(Aashiq al-Rasul)

For further information please visit www.aashiqalrasul.com, or email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated on Friday, 13 August 2010 20:38
 
The debate beyond Wootton Bassett PDF Print E-mail
Written by Salma Yaqoob   
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 16:28

When I was invited to appear on Question Time at Wootton Bassett, I did feel a hesitation because of the programme's location. I was very mindful of the fact that this is where every soldier who has been killed is honoured and where respects are paid. Regardless of where you stand politically, their loss is a very real and human tragedy for their families.

But these are more than personal tragedies. Our soldiers and military families put their trust in the politicians who send them into battle. They trust them to tell the truth. The political tragedy is that, once again, we are fighting a war that is based on lies and that will not make us safe.

So it is necessary to hold our politicians to account for their decisions. And that debate should not be silenced. There is a subtext that if you support our troops, then you have to support the war itself; because if you question the purpose of the occupation, then you are accused not only of being unpatriotic, but also even of endangering the troops by undermining morale. That silencing of debate leaves a huge vacuum in our politics, because all three parties back the line that we have to get behind the troops and "finish the job".

There is also a double standard also about deaths in Afghanistan. On the one hand, with the parades in Wootton Bassett we congratulate ourselves that we're so civilised that no loss goes unmourned; yet, if you're Afghan, no one even counts your death. From British politicians there's absolutely no acknowledgment of Afghan people's suffering, or the fact that their lives are not better-off because of the west's intervention – although that is the lie that continues to be told. Thousands have been killed and seven million made refugees, but that's not on anybody's radar.

This dignified and serious debate is the last thing on the mind of Anjem Choudary and Islam4UK. He is a bigot whose goal in life is to provoke division. He engages in these provocations because he is deeply hostile to any coming together of Muslims and non-Muslims. For him, the fact that a majority of the British people – Muslim and non-Muslim – oppose the war in Afghanistan is not something to be celebrated, but is something to be feared.

If we are genuinely concerned about the troops, as we are about the Afghan people, we must have an open debate about why we are in Afghanistan and whether we should pull out. Instead, the airwaves are dominated by the rantings of a marginal provocateur.

My experience on Question Time confirms to me the need for a genuinely open political debate, conducted with seriousness and sensitivity. I wasn't surprised to be received at first in silence, given the programme's pro-war bias, but by the end, people were saying that the majority was behind me. I do trust the conscience of ordinary British people, even if I am cynical about our political leadership.

This piece was originally published in the UK Guardian {link}, it's republished here with the authors permission.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 August 2010 20:38
 
Muslim Entertainment: An Insider’s Perspective PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dasham Brookins   
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 16:40

 

Some Background

I started to become serious about Arts and Culture just after I turned 16. I got bit by the acting bug in high school and changed my career goal from being a lawyer. Not a huge stretch. I quickly became known in high school as “the actor”. I decided to go to New York University to major in theatre. I auditioned and got accepted into their highly competitive Tisch School of the Arts. But I couldn’t afford 20G’s a year.  Anyway I also auditioned for and was accepted into Rutgers University’s school of the Arts program, Mason Gross. Based on my academic record I qualified for a “minority” scholarship from Rutgers which served me quite well as eventually I left off acting (my degree is in English and Sociology). There are only a few accomplishments I have done in life that I actually take pride in (Pride can be a negative trait as well) but my scholarship to Rutgers is one of them. But this isn’t an autobiography of Brother Dash. My point is to show that I’ve been involved in The Arts over ½ my life which is longer than I’ve even been Muslim. I’ve been an extra in two movies (Lean on Me and Juice-Tupac’s 1st film), done TV interviews, radio, had the first independent spoken word record label in the country with national distribution, performed for over 60,000 people in one year alone, and my performances have been seen by millions on television throughout much of the world. So I have extensive experience in the entertainment world. I am an “insider” so to speak. I know what goes on backstage because I am there both as an artist and I have been there as an organizer. But as a practicing Muslim (hopefully The Creator sees it that way) am I an entertainer? Do I want to simply entertain? Is that the point of a Muslim in the Arts? I would argue that it isn’t. And that is part of the problem with Muslim Entertainment today. It’s full of…well…entertainers! Do we need a bunch of Muslim entertainers? Or do we need Islamically oriented ARTISTS?

A Little History

Muslim Entertainment as far as those living in the West are concerned had its beginnings in the early 1990’s. While there have always been Muslims in Entertainment dating back to Jazz and Be Bop, Rock and Soul and even the very beginnings of Hip-Hop there was still no Western Muslim equivalent to American gospel i.e. “devotional” music.  Whilst not the focus of this essay (I love saying “whilst”) the main reason for this can be seen in Muslim attitudes towards the permissibility of music and also a general eschewing of all things “cultural” (as if Islam and culture are inherently at odds). As such much of Arts and Culture in the West have mainly been de facto Arab cultural expressions of Islam even when the creators are non-Arab!

But in the early 90’s with people like the American convert Mustaqeem Dean Muslims began to sing a westernized version of “Nasheeds” (traditional devotional odes sung a capella or with minimal percussion). From this nasheed movement came other genres such as Muslim hip-hop. Other forms of artistic expression have begun to emerge including what I would argue is the most Islamic of performance art which is Islamic poetry or Spoken Word. When I re-entered The Arts world in the early 2000’s (I was largely absent after my Shahada up until then) Spoken Word is the medium that I chose. It more closely fit my emerging Islamic identity. The subject for another essay however.

Art vs. Entertainment

Entertainment’s job is to pass away the hours; art should make profound, eloquent and affecting statements about the human condition.
-Mitchell Krieger, former director of Opera Pacific

What I have always felt about Muslims in the Arts is that we should be artists and not entertainers.  Art touches the soul and can captivate hearts and minds. Art speaks to the human condition or helps with a spiritual connection. Entertainment has its place. I am a consumer of entertainment myself. But it has its place in moderation. As Muslims in The Arts why do we need to contribute to Entertainment? There’s not enough entertainment out there already? We don’t have choices? We need “alternatives” to mainstream entertainment? If I want Kanye or Nas or Jay-Z then I will watch them not Muslim amateurs imitating their style and behavior on stage. When I think of Muslims in The Arts I think of a kind of artistic and cultural contribution that takes me a little higher or at least attempts to. Today I see a lot of artists who are calling themselves Muslim but there is little that is Islamic or uniquely “Muslim” about what they do. Case in point is a recent hip-hop tour in England featuring several Muslim artists. While some of the lyrics may have the customary “Allahu Akbar” thrown in the packaging was all typical mainstream. Apparently things started to get a bit out of hand and a virtual party atmosphere was created. Now for a non-Muslim reading this you may be saying “What’s the big deal?” But we are talking about a religious audience where the atmosphere is supposed to uphold a particular standard of Islamic etiquette. And let me state for the record. I am not raising this mantle of Islamic holier than thouness. I ain’t holier than anybody else. In fact Allah has chosen to cover my sins, my faults and inappropriateness from most of you reading this. There is a hadith that says and I will paraphrase “If Allah chose to uncover what you do in private the stench would be so bad that no one would bury you.” But we are not talking about the private realm we are talking about the public sphere and we are talking about an Islamic trust that we as artists AND organizers have with the public. A Muslim parent doesn’t expect to see an artist on stage at a Muslim event who doesn’t uphold certain basic standards of Islamic decorum. But when you book an artist who has a picture of himself with strippers and a pole publicly displayed on his website what do you expect?

And this is not a commentary on where someone is in their spiritual development. I am all for gently supporting people “where they are at”. I am all for having compassion and understanding and helping people along but NOT at the expense of someone’s child. Grow on your “own dime” as they say.

Artists

As artists we have been given a gift from Allah. Some of us have the gift of speech. We can captivate an audience with our words, cadence, and ideas. Some of us are gifted visual artists turning a dirty brick wall in Birmingham, UK into a masterpiece of artistic and social relevance. Some of us are gifted musicians adding beautiful sound to a world full of strife. We can use these gifts to better Muslims who are looking for Islamically oriented “entertainment” or rather as I prefer Arts and Culture or we can just ape around. I can’t tell you how many events I’ve been a part of where the talent just wasn’t up to snuff. Most nasheed artists would never make it in mainstream. Most guys doing hip-hop would be relegated to talent showcases. I don’t know how seriously people take their craft but with the exception of some individuals like Preacher Moss or Mo Amer or my fellow spoken word artist Amir Sulaiman (and there are others) not too many have spent years honing their craft in front of more sophisticated crowds. I have heard nasheed artists at major events struggling to hit notes, singing off key, and having very amateurish stage presence. Now it’s wonderful that you are praising your Lord. That’s great. But you can do that in your living room. Once people pay their ticket they should be given a quality performance.

As artists we also need to “check our nafs” at the door. Why EXACTLY are you doing this? Are you trying to be a star? I am an avid consumer and producer of the culture of my society. But my society doesn’t need for me to be the next pop star.

The Dawah Fallacy

Let’s put an end to this “I’m doing this as dawah” fantasy. Will rapping or singing about Allah have an effect on a Non-Muslim to the point where it opens their mind to discovering more about Islam? Possibly but is that likely to happen for more than a handful of people? Is the medium of hip-hop and pop music conducive to spirituality? I don’t think so. I think at best it can spark an interest. In 80’s and early 90’s hip-hop we have many examples of rappers saying: “Hold up the peace sign A Salaam Alaikum” (Big Daddy Kane) or “My way of life is that of Islam” (Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers). These tracks did perhaps point people in a particular direction. But it wasn’t religious rap. These were not tracks entirely about Islam and they were in a context of mainly positive, sometimes party, or conscious hip-hop. So the consumer in this regard was someone primarily interested in conscious rap and the Islam was along for the ride. Now this may have opened the door for some people to become Muslim but it wasn’t “dawah rap”.  So we must be honest with ourselves and the medium that we choose.

Organizers

Part of the problem is that almost all Muslim Entertainment events are organized by charities and non-profits. They are not organized by people with an artistic or even entertainment mission. As such their priorities and skill sets are different. These organizations are notorious for not paying artists properly if at all, haggling over travel expenses, and treating some artists like God’s gift and others like servants. I myself have done performances that I got stiffed on. But because I do what I do for reasons other than money or fame I don’t continue to go after these organizers for my dough. Many of these organizations use entertainment simply as a means to fundraise. To add insult to injury they refuse to even pay the artists after these artists have largely been responsible for providing the motivation for the audience to donate in the first place. Why can’t you pay artists a percentage of the fundraising if you are going to be so cheap as to not compensate them properly? Even further these organizations tend to go to the same well of artists over and over again effectively shutting out new talent. This talent inevitably becomes discouraged and some have left Muslim Entertainment altogether to pursue fame and ‘mis‘fortune(ha ha cute I know) in the mainstream. Unfortunately they will do more harm in my opinion to themselves. But that’s another article. I know of a Muslim artist who told me that he was no longer promoting himself as a Muslim rapper but as a rapper. He would not shy away from being known as Muslim of course but that he would no longer market himself to the Muslim community. He grew weary of the lack of opportunities to perform, the paltry payment, the favoritism and unfortunately the racism behind-the-scenes. Yes this is the unknown side of Muslim Entertainment. Take a look at the line up of the last few years of Muslim concerts and you will see what I mean. In fact if it weren’t for the events that I and brother Hasan Johnson have organized ourselves the percentage of Non-Arab, Non-South Asian performers in the last few years would be even less! And this is not to even mention the utter lack of organization and ineptitude behind-the-scenes. And people are starting to become weary of these events. The 2008 Evening of Inspiration tour was very poorly attended. The show in New York City (with its estimated 1 million greater NY area Muslim population) barely had 200 people in a venue for over 1,000. The MAS Youth tour featuring the rap (sort of) group Outlandish came nowhere near recovering their $600,000 investement most of which was in the costs associated with booking Outlandish a Denmark based group.

Has the novelty of Muslim Entertainment worn off? Have people come to these events expecting an Islamic concert but instead get a concert that has the look and feel of a Non-Muslim event?

No Girls Allowed

Another problem with Muslim Entertainment is the lack of sisters. Sisters are represented behind-the-scenes to a certain extent (and when they are the events actually run smoother than when brothers are in charge) but not on stage. Muslim women will rarely if ever get bookings to sing for a mixed audience and it’s tough for them to get bookings to rap. One artist, Miss Undastood, mentioned in an interview with the podcast program The ChaiPod that female artists don’t get the requests to perform at certain events like the brothers do. They are shut out of the process. Where Muslim Women are represented seems to be in Spoken Word. Now some of this is due to religious views on Women singing (to mixed audiences) but alot of it is just chauvinism if we want to keep it real.

The Good

So whilst the tone and tenor of this article is highly critical (told you I liked that word) there is much good. As I alluded to there are some wonderful brothers and sisters involved in the Nasheed, Hip-Hop and Spoken Word scene. There are visual artists like Aerosol Arabic and Salma Arastu doing wonderful work. Calligraphers like Hajji Noor and actors like the Progress Theater group out of Baltimore. Poets like Pearls of Islam, Warsan Shire, Gaith Adhami and others who are really trying to incorporate a holistic Islam with both conscious and spiritual elements. There are artists who are truly interested in promoting Muslim cultural expression and are not trying to be pop stars. There are even some like Khaleel Muhammad who will “check” other artists. Khaleel and I did an event together and I recall Khaleel admonishing another artist behind-the-scenes on some really unsavory comments this artist made regarding a certain group of people. Khaleel immediately, and without hesitation, said “hold on bro…what you said was wrong and inappropriate and this is why”. The next morning the artist in question apologized publicly to all of us and his identity I will continue to keep to myself.

I have also seen artists stop and give time to their supporters. I have seen artists like Baba Ali go out of his way to include a group of sisters in the experience of having dinner with us. The organizers, all male, hadn’t really included these sisters who had won the chance to eat dinner with the artists (yes we can argue having such a contest in the first place another day). Baba Ali made a concerted effort to introduce himself to them and ask them some questions so that they weren’t totally left out due to someone else’s interpretation of gender etiquette. Another artist Rakin Fetuga from Mecca2Medina opened up his home to me when no hotel was available at the last minute. He also personally escorted me to the airport via train even though he had work to do because I had never taken the tube to the airport before. These are stories that are not well known to the public. But Mecca2Medina doesn’t get the support that some other artists get whose purpose is not necessarily Islamic propagation while M2M’s is.

So in conclusion let us re-examine Muslim Entertainment before we go so far down the “lizard’s hole” that there is no return. Each progressive mistake, slip-up, etiquette faux paus, issue that we allow to pass by becomes acceptable and the bar becomes lowered to the point where it resembles nothing of Islam whatsoever. We should be supporting and championing Artistic expression that speaks from our cultural identities and social realities. We should be exploring all sorts of genres. I am not against hip-hop, nasheeds or even rock and country. But we need to understand the limitations of these genres as well. I am a big proponent of Spoken Word obviously. But I know the limitations of even my genre.  We have so much benefit and beauty to offer as artists, organizers and supporters. So let’s do it. Allah is the most beautiful and he loves beauty so let’s just be beautiful people shall we?

About the Author

Brother Dash is a Spoken Word Poet and Writer. He has performed throughout the United States and the United Kingdom to over 100,000 in live audiences. He has been seen by over 2 million on television and over 4 million have heard him on radio. He has 2 Spoken Word Poetry albums to his credit, is a published poet most recently published in Lyrics of Lament by Fortress Press and has penned several articles on society, music culture and how it intersects with religion. He is currently working on his next album project and has started work on his first novel. He resides in New Jersey, USA and is proud of his three girls. Visit him at http://brotherdash.com/

Last Updated on Friday, 13 August 2010 20:37
 
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Strict Standards: Non-static method JModuleHelper::getModules() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/document/html/html.php on line 272

Strict Standards: Non-static method JModuleHelper::_load() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/application/module/helper.php on line 88

Strict Standards: Non-static method JRequest::getBool() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/application/module/helper.php on line 97

Strict Standards: Non-static method JRequest::getVar() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/environment/request.php on line 217

Strict Standards: Non-static method JRequest::_cleanVar() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/environment/request.php on line 151

Strict Standards: Non-static method JFilterInput::getInstance() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/environment/request.php on line 577

Strict Standards: Non-static method JModuleHelper::getModules() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/document/html/html.php on line 272

Strict Standards: Non-static method JModuleHelper::_load() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/application/module/helper.php on line 88

Strict Standards: Non-static method JRequest::getBool() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/application/module/helper.php on line 97

Strict Standards: Non-static method JRequest::getVar() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/environment/request.php on line 217

Strict Standards: Non-static method JRequest::_cleanVar() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/environment/request.php on line 151

Strict Standards: Non-static method JFilterInput::getInstance() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /homepages/28/d224269129/htdocs/aashiq/libraries/joomla/environment/request.php on line 577