Group puts Islamic message in language of American youth
A Muslim hip-hop group contends it is breaking new ground in America's black community with its clear Islamic message of straight, pious living, according to Reuters.
Like contemporary Christian music, which was birthed in the 1960s, the 2-year-old trio Native Deen is putting theology and practice into the language of youth.
"It became more apparent, for people to receive the message of Islam, it has to be in a form they can relate to," said group member Naeem Muhammad, a 27-year-old who grew up in Baltimore.
"The Koran came down in the form that people could understand," he said. "I saw that in hip-hop as well. I thought it would be an excellent way to spread the word, and it is something that I enjoy."
More than 85 percent of American converts to Islam come from African-American communities, mostly in the inner city, where many are attracted to a message of black empowerment and clean living.
Native Deen's message includes exhortations to pray five times daily, refrain from smoking and drinking and demonstrate pride in a faith many Americans find hard to understand.
Eschewing stringed and wind instruments, which are considered improper by some Muslim traditions, the group raps to a drumbeat and synthesizer:
"So always be proud, you can say it out loud I am proud to be down with the Muslim crowd!
I'm so blessed to be with them ... ."
Being young and Muslim is the theme of another song, called "Hellfire":
"Slip to bathroom, find an empty classroom, Don't wanna miss a prayer here at school or even at home
Man it was a struggle, trying to be a Muslim and staying out of trouble,
The stress seemed double."
Muslim references are found in the lyrics of many hip-hop artists, and "no other religion has affected hip-hop like Islam," writes Adisa Banjoko in his 2001 book, "The Light from the East: The Story of Islamic Influence in Hip Hop Culture."
"What separates our music from mainstream Muslim hip-hop is the amount – the Islamic message is more in the forefront," said Native Deen's Muhammad.
Instead of mainstream Muslim artists who add a couple of "subtle" lines here and there about their faith, Native Deen is "very public" about their beliefs, he said.
"What's becoming more and more and apparent with Native Deen is that we are, God willing, charting the course for Islamic cultural art form," Muhammad asserted.
Messengers of Allah
But many hip-hop groups have long been influenced by black Muslims, particularly the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan, who has encouraged artists to see themselves as messengers of Allah.
The Nation of Islam's activity in the hip-hop community has included sponsoring peace summits, brokering truces between feuding factions and providing security for artists and events.
Last year, Farrakhan delivered the keynote address at the Hip Hop Summit held at the New York City Hilton on June 13. In a three-hour address, the Nation of Islam leader spoke of hip-hop's global scope and challenged the artists in attendance to recognize their position of leadership among the world's youth.
"Rap has brought the children of the world to you," he said. "What will you do with your leadership?"
Farrakhan told the artists that they were actually raising the world's children because the church, mosque and school had failed. The result, he said, is children in the street being raised by hip-hop and their peers.
Rap artists who are members or sympathizers of the Nation of Islam include MC Ren, Shorty from Da Lench Mob, K-Solo, Daddy O from Stetsasonic, Ice Cube and Jeru the Damaja, according to Hisham Aidi in his article "Hip Hop of the Gods," published by Africana.com.
Others with ties to the Nation of Islam, or splinter groups such as the Five Percent Nation, have included Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, Lakim Shabazz, Paris, KAM, Queen Latifah, Sister Souljah, Prince Akeem, KRS-One, Professor Griff, Big Daddy Kane, Mister Cee, Paris, Skinny Boys and Afrika Bambaataa, according to the research of Dr. Mattias Gardell, a theologian at the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
Aidi said Chicago rapper Common makes frequent reference to the Nation of Islam and Five Percent ideas in his rhymes. In his song "The 6th Sense," for example, he raps: "Some say I'm too deep, I'm in too deep to sleep/Through me, Muhammad will forever speak."
Rap lyrics frequently use metaphors or terms unintelligible to those unfamiliar with black Islamic beliefs, writes Gardell, such as "dead niggaz" (non-Muslim blacks), "cave bitch" (white female) or "Yacub's crew (whites). The Nation of Islam teaches that whites were created 6,000 years ago by an evil black scientist named Yacub.
Native Deen sticks to strict Muslim practices in its performances, appearing at weddings, celebrations, conferences and fund-raisers where there is no dancing or alcohol.
"Deen" is a transliteration of the Arabic word for religion.
The group will perform before an expected audience of 1,000 in New York on Dec. 7, said Reuters. They are preparing for their first five-city tour in the United Kingdom, Dec. 13-17.
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