Common Word, Common Lord

Common Word, Common Lord

The Rap Album That Made Me Cry

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I am reviving my “Hesham’s iPod” series, which is an occasional about what’s hot, what’s spiritual, and what’s buzzworthy in Muslim music, and about the nature of Muslim artists. 

I have been listening to rap music ever since my teenage years. Indeed, I do admit that some of it was not very pious or religious, and for that, I ask for God’s grace and forgiveness. And Let me insert here that the rap music of then was much better than that of today. I miss the “good old days” of hip hop, quite honestly. But, still, there has never been a rap album that has made me cry.

Until now.

Native Deen, the premier Muslim hip-hop band, just released their new album “The Remedy.” By far, this is their best album yet. I do like and enjoy listening to all of their songs, but on the previous two albums, “Deen You Know” and “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” there were some songs that were nice, but really didn’t move me. The tears, however, stream frequently as I listened to this album.

It is clear – as it should be – that the music of Native Deen has evolved. On the first album, much of the songs talked about Islam, and the Prophets, and such, but the flavor of the songs were very much flat. It also seemed a little “adolescent.” It got better with “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” with more than one inspiring and uplifting song, such as “Life’s Worth” and “Rain Song.” No track on that album, however, compared with “Zamilooni,” which featured South African Muslim singer Zain Bhikha. That song, about the Prophet’s love for his wife Khadjiah, was the best they had at that point.

That is, until they released “The Remedy.” As with every album, they always begin with a song singing God’s praises and thanks, and the song, “Bismillah” is hip, fresh, and makes you move. I am almost moved to tears by “Mercy to Mankind,” which reminds me of the kindness and compassion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “Packed At All,” which talks about preparing for Judgment Day, is quite inspirational as well.

The tears really start, however, at “My Faith, My Voice.” This song talks about not allowing the Islam-bashers and Islamophobes direct the discourse about Islam and Muslims. The lyrics of the song speak for the millions of Muslims all over the world, who have to shudder every time a Muslim commits a crime:

There’s a lunatic, goes on a rampage/Using violence, and I’m outraged/This is senseless, and it’s gruesome/Please don’t let this be a Muslim

How many times have we Muslims all said that? But they always remind us that the discourse belongs to us Muslim, not the haters:

I know what they call us/They’ll try to blame all us/But I know how the Prophet lived/And I know what he taught us/This is my faith, my voice

I can’t help but cry. It uplifts me and keeps me strong: no matter what they say about us, Islam is my faith, and my voice is what counts.

Once this song is through, the next is the title track of the album,”The Remedy.” I thought it would be a typical song about how Islam is the remedy to all of our problems, a sort of “Islam is the solution” mantra put to rap. How wrong I was.

The entire song is nothing but repetition of God’s names and the shahadah, or testimony of faith. And the rhythm of the song is so awesome, that you can’t help but bop your head. But, the sounds of their voices go straight to my heart and make me reach out to the Lord in humility and love. And the tears stream. I have listened to this track a bunch of times, and it is – far and away – the best of the whole album.

This latest Native Deen album has a little of everything for everyone. There is a song about the Companion Bilal, the first Muezzin, or “caller to the prayer,” called “Ahad,” and it also made cry, reminding me of the strength and fortitude of that great companion, who was tortured for his conversion to Islam. Native Deen has also continued in the tradition of Muslim holiday songs with “Ramadan is Here,” and this will instantly become a classic. I will definitely play this one for my kids once Ramadan starts in a few weeks, God willing.

Another tear jerker is “I am Near,” a song with great rhythm and sound along with beautiful supplications to the Lord. The boys of Native Deen also constantly remind us of the poor and needy around the world with songs like “Hungry Ones,” and “Gaza,” which is a homage to the people of Palestine. I really can’t say enough about this album, and Native Deen has truly outdone itself, making an album that appeals both to Muslim children and youth, along with their parents. My daughters and I just finished listening to the album, and we all enjoyed doing so.

Now, it is no secret that the primary audience of Native Deen is Muslims. Yet, that does not mean that this album is not good for people of all faiths. It is, at its core, a great, modern hip hop album, and one that is pure to boot. The beats and the rhythms are fantastic. But, this album also lets listeners in on the internal conversations of the American Muslim community. You want to know what Muslims are saying to each other? Don’t listen to the Islamophobes, who are – by and large – lying to your face. Listen to Native Deen.

Bottom line: Go out and buy this album. You will not regret it.

Celebrating Her Birthday

As families gather all across our country to commemorate the anniversary of our declaration of Independence from the British Crown, I reflect over how important this day is to me as an American Muslim. More than just joining my fellow Americans in the celebration of the birth of his country; more than some time off to relax and enjoy fireworks shows with friends and family; more than just enjoying cookouts and picnics and (if I’m lucky) a round of golf. The independence of the American republic was one of the greatest things for me as a Muslim.

Let me get this out of the way: there have been many things our country has done of which I am not proud. Our foreign policy has – many times – been at odds with the upright principles upon which our country was founded. Our country has not been – and will never be – perfect. Nevertheless, this is still the best country on earth in which to live as a Muslim. I am still in love with our country as she celebrates another birthday and am so very grateful for her independence.

In no other place on earth do I feel more at home as a Muslim. Here in America, I can worship God as I see fit. I am able to worship God freely, without fear of being put in jail for my religious beliefs. Here in America, I can be more of a Muslim than I can be in many – if not most – so-called “Muslim countries.”

Indeed, things are not perfect for Muslims in America. Over the last several years, more than a dozen states have introduced laws prohibiting the non-existent “threat” of Sharia law to our system of government. Some of these laws have seemed to even criminalize the very practice of Islam itself. Some Republican candidates for President seem at ease with singling out Muslims for “loyalty tests” before they join his Administration. Studies have shown a disturbing rise in Islamophobia all across our country.

But this is not the true nature of America. These incidents, while un-becoming of our country, do not represent America any more than the actions of Muslim terrorists represent all Muslims. The true nature of America is present at the fireworks shows, where everyone comes together to watch the “bombs bursting in air” in the night; it is present at the 4th of July picnics and cookouts; it is present at the County Fairs and town festivals. And at each of those venues, American Muslims are – overwhelmingly – welcome and at home.

Get Signed Copy of Noble Brother

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

I will be signing copies of my book, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry, at the Soundvision booth at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America, held in Chicago on July 2nd. Hope to see you there.

Thank God They Were Caught

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Thank God they were caught. Two men – with extensive criminal backgrounds – were arrested on charges of plotting to attack a military processing center in Seattle, Washington. According to the complaint:

Both men are U.S. citizens and converts to Islam, according to the charges. Abdul-Latif is a felon who spent 2 ½ years in prison on robbery and assault charges. Mujahidh had been living in Los Angeles, but came to Seattle as the plan developed, according to the charges. He has no felony criminal history, although he was named in a civil domestic-violence protective order filed in King County in 2007 by his wife.

The men are charged with conspiracy to murder U.S. officers, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (a grenade) and other firearms-related counts. U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler ordered them held pending a detention hearing next Wednesday. The maximum penalty for the crimes is life in prison; however, the firearms-related counts carry 30-year mandatory minimum sentences.

There are a number of important points that must be made.

First, thank God they were caught. If what is alleged against them is actually true, it would have been a heinous crime, such as that in Fort Hood, Texas. This is not the way to change policy, and in no way does Islam sanction such methods. If you disagree with our nation’s foreign policy, then you work peacefully to change that policy – not kill and maim people. Period.

Second, the men are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. While the charges are serious, we must let due process take its course. Third, it is important to point out that the actions of these men are an aberration, the actions of a criminal mind (if what is alleged against them is true). They are not representative of the Muslim community, or Islam, or Muslims in general. As the U.S. Attorney said:

These are the actions of individuals who adhere to a violent and extreme ideology and do not represent and should not reflect on the Muslim community as a whole. We hope there is no backlash here. That would not be fair or what we stand for.

Fourth, and most importantly, the plot was foiled by another Muslim. As reported in the complaint:

The complaint details an escalating plot discovered by police on May 30 after Abdul-Latif approached another man who he believed shared a radical Islamic ideology.

The charges allege that Abdul-Latif had known the man for several years and believed he could help him obtain weapons he wanted to use to attack the U.S. military because of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The man, however, went to Seattle police. The complaint does not identify the informant by name, but describes him as a five-time felon who was paid for his efforts.

True, the informant was not a model citizen. Nevertheless, this shows the fact that – rather than being complicit in terror plots, as Congressman Peter King (R-NY) alleges – the American Muslim community is an active participant in the fight against terror. Many plots, in fact, were foiled by the Muslim community itself.

We love this country, and we are against anyone – Muslim or otherwise – who seeks to harm this country and her people. Thank God these men were caught, and if what is alleged against them is true, may they receive the judgment and justice they deserve.

May God protect our country and protect the Muslim community from barbaric criminals who would do something like this. Amen.

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