Sajid Tarar, the founder of “Muslims for Trump,” was booed with chants of “No Islam!” emanating from the audience as he spoke at the Republican National convention. Tarar received what should have been a harsh wake up call, despite his sincere efforts to be palatable to the notoriously bigoted republican constituency; however, the very fact that he was associated with Islam rendered such efforts null a void. After all, Tarar was campaigning for Trump, a man who declared, “I think Islam hates us” and proposed policy proposals to ban Muslim immigration.
Even among democrats, Muslims are only spoken of in the context of national security. With former president Bill Clinton problematic issuing statements such as,”If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here.” With consistent negative portrayals of Muslims circulating throughout news media, Muslim families have been kicked off airplanes for using common Islamic expressions such as ”InshAllah” and have been subjected to myriad hate crimes and discrimination.
This leads to many Muslim communities wondering: Is there a place where being Muslim is “cool?” Where Muslim expressions are lauded and not criminalized? Such a place does in fact exist, but it exists in a place outside of the confines of mainstream society. It exists in a place that many Muslims would be least likely to find it: hip-hop.
The socially and politically conscious underground hip-hop artist Immortal Technique expressed, “Islam to me is a powerful religion that is based on a mental strength… it gives people inner strength that have nothing.” The content of Immoral Technique’s song, which routinely indicts U.S. imperialism and critiques the ravages of global capitalism, speaks of Islam as “the most powerful weapon poor people have” in the struggle for justice. The uncanny ability of Islam to grant inner strength to people who have nothing was what Obama also observed as a community organizer.
In the South Side of Chicago’s Altgeld Garden neighborhood, one of the most impoverished communities in America, Obama reflects on his community organizing work, working alongside a young African-American Muslim named Rafiq. Obama stated, “He confirmed that he had been a gang leader growing up in Altgeld… ’If it hadn’t been for Islam, man, I’d be dead,’ he told me one day.” While the United States is often romanticized as a great land of freedom and opportunity, for masses of black Americans confined to ghettoes such as Altgeld, daily life consist of excruciating poverty, a predominant drug economy, and gang warfare. The situation was so chaotic that, for Rafiq, he sincerely believed he would have been dead had it not been for Islam.
Among oppressed blacks in America’s most dangerous and oppressed areas,-Islam is portrayed as a life-giving force as opposed to a death-inducing force, as it is portrayed within media. It is this reality that is seen as a self-evident truth within hip-hop and has come to portray the faith in a completely opposite manner than it is in the broader society. Islam’s reputation as a faith that works to uplift the oppressed connects it with hip-hop an art form that emerged among people who had nothing, or very little, materially speaking.Hip-hop enabled ostracized and largely impoverished black youth to have a voice and articulate social grievances in their community. Hip-hop is an inherently counter-hegemonic art form developing outside the courtiers of mainstream society within the confines of black ghettoes; as such, it is free of the elitist prejudices that plague the dominant society these ghettoes exist within.
Tupac Shakur was renowned for expressing the plight of America’s unwanted black male, and he expressed this same respect for Islam by not only refusing to turn down an acting role which he believed portrayed Islam in a negative light, but even almost fighting the director for suggesting that he do so.
Hip-hop is not simply devoid of the Islamophobia that plagues the broader society, but Islam is actually portrayed in a positive light with even non-Muslim artists routinely use both Islamic sayings and symbols with beneficial connotation. From Rick Ross who expresses his goal of “chasing a hundred million, that’s insAllah” to Lauryn who sings to black communities, “Don’t forget about the deen, Sirat al-Mustaqeem.”
While open declarations of “AllahuAkbar” in public would result in one being looked upon with immense suspicion, hip-hop artist Rick Ross continuously uses the phrase in his songs and even issues the warning “With everything to gain only fear Allah” , and in the video for his song “By Any Means” Ross raps in front of a graffiti image of Malcolm X.
Even Trump began his campaign of demonizing Muslims, hip-hop star Waka Flocka took to Twitter to state, “F*ck Donald J. Trump,” And “Muslims are good people f*ck [what the] media say I personally know.” Dissatisfied with the presidential candidates, he launched his own campaign to become president, borrowing from Abu Bakr’s (RA) (the Prophet’s companion) inaugural speech after becoming caliph: “O people, I have been elected a leader, but I am no better then you. If I do good then help me with that, but if I do bad then straighten me.” Waka Flocka’s political campaign’s usage of Islamic quotes speaks to the need for non-elitist leadership that resonates with everyday people who are responsive to the needs of the oppressed.
In many ways, the Hip-Hop community is immune from perpetuating the islamophobia that characterized the dominant media. Within hip-hop, Islam is positively portrayed due to its ability to uplift the oppressed and inspire the masses for social justice. According to Dr. Sherman Jackson, the role of black Muslims in morally transforming their communities “had earned Islam a place of respect in the collective black American psyche.” The affirmative portrayal Islam in hip-hop is a reflection of this legacy. It is then no surprise that the Muslim community can find some of its strongest allies against Islamophobia within the hip-hop community.