The Power of an Image

Big  beards, burning flags, women donning niqabs on a dusty road. I think we’re all a bit underwhelmed by the pathetic variety of images that we’re bombarded with on television related to Muslims and Islam. The saturation of media in all of its forms, from youtube to twitter to 24-hour cable news, has doused us with an unimaginable amount of imagery and information. And yet, only a very slim percentage of that content related to Muslims and Islam is positive.

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Can Rap Help Yemen?

Nowadays, Yemen is often associated with a growing Al-Qaeda movement and seen to be a breeding ground for terrorism. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric, has become an example not only of the growing terrorist influence in Yemen but also in America. However, this is obviously not all there is to Yemen, just as it is not all there is to Islam. Many Muslims artists have used hip-hop and rap to relay messages of change and peace. While one may not think of rap in the context of Yemen,  this needs to change. Yemeni-American Hagage “AJ” Masaed, has been rapping for many years and is using this medium to reach the younger generation and to counter extremist messages. Continue reading

Muslim MTV?

Can you imagine what an Islamic MTV would look like? Well, Ahmed Abu Haiba did when he launched a new music channel called 4Shbab TV. (“Shbab” means “young people” in Arabic.) The idea behind 4Shbab TV is to offer an Islamic alternative to the other 800+ satellite channels. 4Shbab TV began broadcasting in February 2009 from Bahrain, and according to Abu Haiba now has viewers from all over the Middle East.

For Abu Haiba, mainstream music videos do not reflect Arab and Islamic cultural values nor do they represent the realities of the youth in the Middle East so he decided to launch a channel that would do just that. Abu Haiba also wanted to make  religion more appealing to youth. 4Shbab broadcasts music videos that do not have backup singers, revealing clothing, or anything else that one would associate with mainstream music videos, but that does not mean that musical instruments are not used or that all the songs are about religion. It also features talk shows, variety shows, news, and an American Idol-like program called  “Sotak Wasel,” which translates as “Your Voice is Heard.”

4Shbab TV is part of a growing trend around the Muslim world of Islamically themed projects, like Amr Khaled’s show “Mujaddidun”–The Reformers in Arabic– based on “The Apprentice.” These projects not only offer alternative means of entertainment but also demonstrate the diverse experiences of Islam not only across regions but across the generations. Many of these projects specifically target a younger audience and promote a picture of Islam that is compatible with modern sensibilities.

What do you think about 4Shbab and other religiously themed entertainment? Do you think they have an impact? What do projects like 4Shbab indicate about the diversity of the Muslim experience? Would you watch this channel? Please share your thoughts below.

Al-Andalus: A Meeting of Cultures

Alhambra in Spain

Alhambra in Spain

Yesterday, I attended a lecture put on by Dialogue International about the musical tradition of Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain. Ethnomusicology professor Dwight Reynolds talked about the history of what is now called Andalusian classical music and how it is preserved in the present day.

Performance played in the lecture

According to Prof. Reynolds,  the period of Al-Andalus was defined by tolerance, diversity, intercultural exchange, and innovation. One clear example was the music in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims all contributed. While this music was Arab in that the songs were sung in Arabic, there was a move away from regional traditions in the Arab world to a cosmopolitan tradition where a new class of professional musicians, from numerous backgrounds, came together and produced a new style  of courtly music.  Eventually, the people of Al-Andalus started to think of themselves as an important cultural center that rivaled Baghdad in the East. Continue reading

Music and Islam

SuttonThe complicated relationship between music and Islam has been something which has interested Inside Islam from the very beginning. Even though religious chanting is allowed–even encouraged–in Islam, there is an ongoing debate whether other music is permitted. Some Muslim communities ban non-chanting music all together, while others allow it as long as it doesn’t contain messages (e.g. sex, alcohol) that go against the teachings of Islam.

The Muslims in Indonesia adopt the latter attitude. As Prof. Anderson Sutton told Inside Islam, Islamic music is not only allowed but is also a huge part of the popular culture in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. You can listen to the whole interview  by clicking on the player below.

(11:20) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/andySutton.mp3]

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Review of “Reclaiming Islam”

Mosque in Duisberg, Germany. Photo from Archi Press

Mosque in Duisberg, Germany. Photo from Archi Press

I recently listened to a show from “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” a sister program to Inside Islam’s Here on Earth on Wisconsin Public Radio. The show titled “Reclaiming Islam” aired on June 12th, 2009, and featured a number of interesting guests: Reza Aslan, Tissa Hami, Christopher Caldwell, Youssou N’Dour & Chai Vasarhelyi, and Kamran Pasha (who will be joining Inside Islam on July 21st). I was impressed by both the vastness of the content and the coherence of the idea that underlay all of the guests’ contributions: the diversity of how Muslims relate to Islam. Echoing our message here on Inside Islam, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” nicely showed that there is no one manifestation of Islam and no one medium to explore what it means to be Muslim. Continue reading

“Meet the Taqwacores” on MSNBC

A couple of weeks ago, Inside Islam aired a radio show on “The Taqwacores” and we posted a series of blog entries on the punk movement in the US. You can listen to the broadcast and browse all of the posts about Taqwacores on Inside Islam by clicking here.

The following video from NBC Nightly News features our guests from that radio show — author of The Taqwacores Michael Muhammad Knight and drummer for the Kominas Imran Malik. The video highlights other individuals and bands who are also struggling to articulate this new Muslim punk genre of music and what it means to a mainstream audience.

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Michael Muhammad Knight’s “The Taqwacores”

taqwacores

The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight

Identity and belonging are funny things. They never mean the same thing to everyone. Growing up as a Muslim American, I was exposed to a myriad of experiences, but I definitely cannot say I was exposed to every kind of Muslim or every interpretation of Islam. We are talking about over 1.3 billion people! What I have learned is that there are Muslims everywhere who have grown up claiming more than one identity marker and they are finding numerous ways to think about their faith, question, negotiate, and locate a space within it that they feel as their own.

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The Taqwacores Movement

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A Kominas Poster at SWSC by graphic designer Toufic El Rassi

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about punk Islam in response to the LA Times’Islam, the Koran, and Lots of Questions.” Michael Muhammad Knight’s book about Muslim youth and the American punk music scene, The Taqwacores, as well as a band called The Kominas were mentioned in the last post. Today, I return to these subjects because The Taqwacores will also be the focus of the next Inside Islam radio show, airing this Thursday.

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Hip-Hop Documentaries

An emerging trend is the appearance of films about Muslim hip-hop. Today on Inside Islam: Dialogues and Debates, we quickly outline three of them and include their trailers below. First, the upcoming Deen Tight is a film about how hip-hop has influenced the lives of Muslims around the world, starting in the United States. Second, Slingshot Hip-Hop follows Palestinian rappers as they examine their experiences of being discriminated in the region and their Arab roots. Rather than follow a group of musicians, the last documentary New Muslim Cool, focuses on the story of Puerto Rican American rapper Hamza Perez who stopped using drugs twelve years ago, converted to Islam, and now is part of the rap duo M-team.

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