Hip hop, Afro-Latinx and Afro-Arab identities
“Rap is something you do. Hip Hop is something you live.” KRS-One
I am of Haitian-Cuban heritage, and Maram is of Sudani heritage. We both grew up in America and have viewed our identity as black Muslims through the lens of hip-hop.
On any given day Maram and I talk about race, hair politics, gender, sexuality, class, relationships, music, and more. We talk about different Muslim communities and why it is sometimes difficult to exist within them and be connected to them. We go over the number of times people have touched our hair without permission and the funny questions non-Muslims ask about fasting during the month of Ramadan (yes, not even water!) While it’s mostly laughs, last night was a little different. We were up late going over what things we have encountered at the intersection of our identities: black, Muslim, female.
“One of my family members says he wants marry a South Asian because he thinks if he marries within his culture they’ll be ‘backwards’ thinking… He wants someone who is dainty and does ‘dainty’ things.” – Maram
“Being from the Caribbean, much of my family is Catholic, so for years I didn’t tell them about reverting to Islam… Eating pork is a big thing too, so whenever they would ask me why I wouldn’t eat it, I told them I was Pescatarian for health reasons.” – Patricia
“When travel restrictions were set on Sudan this year, none of my black American friends asked how I was doing or if my family was okay. Everyone was shocked and posted articles, but no one checked in on me.” – Maram
“When I was younger I thought I would be more attractive if I had straighter and longer hair. Kids would make fun of me when my mom pressed and curled my hair. They would call me names because my hair didn’t blow in the wind.” – Patricia
Later on in the night we listened to rappers Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli’s Astronomy (8th Light) and thought about ‘black Islam’ – more specifically black and latinx Muslim communities that help us to exist as we are. We spoke about scholar-artist-activist Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer and the deep connection Islam and hip hop have that has been concerned with the struggles of black and latinx communities.
For us, hip hop is a source of political and social empowerment in the face of injustice, it is not only something we listen to because it is sonically pleasing or a ‘cool’ thing to do, but because it is one of the many things we do that keeps us alive and reminds us of our faith. However, it is not viewed this way.
We are still chastised for our choices because: 1) according to Islamic teachings, “if the music is for entertainment and pastime, it is prohibited”, 2) anti-black racism renders all the ways black people practice Islam illegitimate, regardless of its proximity to orthodox Islam (i.e. because black people do it, it is always religiously suspect)
Music grounds us. Our Muslim friends often ask us why were are listening to hip hop when we should really be listening to a nasheed (Islamic song). What they didn’t hear was the whisper of Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim (“In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful”) at the beginning of Yasiin Bey’s Black on Both Sides nor the mention of fasting and deen (religion) in Jasiri X’s New Nat Turner.
Maram and I are uniquely and intimately a part of a movement that is Muslim, that is black, that is latinx, and that is female – among many other things. So when people stereotype us as ‘mad black women’ for addressing an issue in our community, or rate our ‘Muslimness’ by our skin tone or by the music we listen to, we are inclined to remind them of the ways in which they consume our blackness and our ‘Muslimness’. From the ‘Hoodjabi’ to the ‘adoption’ of black hairstyles into mainstream culture.
Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer names this the Muslim Cool movement: a movement that says one’s artistic life, political life, ancestral life, and spiritual life matters. And that those lives live inter-connectedly: ‘those who are black don’t stop being black to pray, and none of them stop being Muslim to drop some knowledge on the beat.’
This post was also co-authored by Maram Elnagheeb. Maram Elnagheeb is a rising sophomore at Duke University. Her research interests include Islam and student activism.