I recently watched the “New Muslim Cool” documentary and was pretty impressed. The film directed and produced by Jennifer Maytoerna Taylor, is about a Puerto Rican Muslim convert, Hamza Perez, who as a former drug dealer, struggles to make a new life for himself, his family and his new Muslim community in Pittsburgh, PA.
It is an inspiring story of how a young Muslim, who uses Hip Hop music to express his feelings in a very creative and productive way, is not only able to stay on the straight path of Islam, but also give back to his community by working as a chaplain in the local prison and also helps to form a new Muslim community in the un-friendly environment of the post 9-11 world.
The film makes “born Muslims” like me feel pretty pathetic, after watching it – especially since I have never really given da’wah (invite Non-Muslims to Islam) to people in my neighborhood, but here is this young man, who is just only scratching the surface of his Islamic knowledge, yet he is going out into the streets and tough areas of where he lives and talks to street hustlers and gang-bangers about Islam! And they are succeeding by receiving new Shahahdahs (converts) at their mosque often.
The documentary covers a few years of Hamza’s life, including him raising his two young children from a previous relationship, how he met his wife Rafiah (who also has two young children) off of Naseeb.com, and his relationship with his Roman Catholic family. His mother, who was obviously confused about her son’s conversion to Islam at the beginning, eventually came around once she saw how it had helped to transform him into a better person – one who no longer drinks or lives a criminal life on the streets.
But some of the most interesting parts of the documentary for me was how Hamza speaks at the prison he works at as a chaplain – because he doesnt only talk to the Muslims, but also the Christians and other prisoners (of all ages) who are interested in religion to find redemption for their past sins. Hamza was talking about the universal aspects of Islam and helping the men of the prison understand that after you ask forgiveness from God, you still need to ask forgiveness from those people who have been hurt from the past crimes they have committed. Only then can you find true redemption.
The main part of the film centers about a FBI raid on the new mosque that Hamza and others in the local Muslim community (mainly African-American and Latinos) regularly attend. The FBI have been watching the mosque for several weeks and find an excuse to raid it, while at the same time try to scare Hamza by telling him that they know all about him! A few weeks later Hamza’s security clearance at the prison is revoked and he is no longer allowed to work as an Imam or counselor there. No reason is given by the authorities. Eventually Hamza gathers the help of the ACLU and it is determined that Hamza and his brother Suliman’s rap group “Mujahideen Team” (M-Team)’s anti-government and “militant” lyrics are the reasons for the prison removing his security clearance. Eventually the prison authorities, with the help of another Prison counselor who was impressed with Hamza’s work at the prison, set-up a meeting with Hamza and allowed him to return after discussing their concerns with him. They understood that Hamza has the right to say what he wants to outside of the prison, especially when what he speaks to the prisoners is about trying to make them better people and not to become more radicalized against the government! I was happy to see this part in the film, since Hamza was doing alot of great work in the prison, and as someone who has visited Muslim inmates in prison myself, I know how important it is for them to get to meet and talk to Muslims on the outside! He is also a very talented rapper, and it was good that he is continuing his music, although I’m sure he and his brother will tone down their act a little now (I saw them perform in Oakland a few years back and they came out with swords on fire – which was also featured in the documentary)!
The last part of the film covers how Hamza, after doing some more research and study on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (S), reads how the Prophet (S) made treaties and worked with the Jews and Christians of his time in Medina. Thus, Hamza becomes inspired and comes into contact with a Jewish group who are looking for Muslim poets to create an artistic dialouge between the two communities. We get to see the transformation of Hamza take place before our eyes – from a hard core militant Muslim rapper to an open-minded and thoughtful Muslim poet!
I highly recommend everyone to watch “New Muslim Cool”, even if you are not Muslim, because it shows a part of America, which many people do not normally get to see – that of young American Muslims who are doing positive work in their community and who genuinely care about improving not only their own lives, but the lives of everyone around them for the better!
The documentary will air nationwide on PBS’s P.O.V. series on Tuesday June 23rd at 10pm (check local listings).
For more information go to: www.NewMuslimCool.com
p.s. The soundtrack for the film is pretty good as well. Check out a sample here: http://www.newmuslimcool.com/clips-music