The Test of the American Muslim

TheTestOfTheAmericanMuslimDear Daughter,

I have something I want to share with you, which I have never explained to you before.  When I was a young man, I made a decision that would change the course of my life and ultimately yours as well.  The skeleton in the closet of our lives is that as a wide-eyed, peach-fuzz lipped, knuckleheaded, eighteen-year-old, in the middle of one brisk March night, I said the following words that would change who I was forever: “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his last prophet.”

It was long before the frenzied age of rampant Islamophobia and nearly a decade before hijacked airplanes would slice into our hearts, like rusty blades that leave wounded tissue gangrenous with infection, claiming thousands of American lives along with our innocence, in a cacophony of death.  There was no Muslim “Kaiser Soze” (boogeyman) yet; Bin Laden was not in the public conscious and most people in our nation associated Islam with the eloquence and dignity of Muhammad Ali, and not the straggly bearded, turban clad foreign accents that terrorized us from faraway lands.

My two friends, the lanky and tall Abbas and the pudgy faced Osama, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” in unison to affirm the pledge I spoke that night that made me a Muslim, and the sound of their cry ricocheted through the air like a lost memory echoing in the back of my skull, for I too was a victim, spoon-fed imagery of explosive Middle Eastern tropes.  The hidden truth is that in the eyes of America, my brown skin and my unique heritage already categorized me as “other” in the eyes of xenophobic America.   America was already Islamophobic, it just hadn’t learned the vocabulary yet.  I grew up through the hostage crisis, embassy bombings, plane hijackings, and the Gulf War; I’d been the victim of school yard bullying and the default Iranian, Arab, Libyan, and Iraqi in all those instances, and ostensibly a Muslim, because of my brown skin.  The same lovely hued skin you have.

America had already considered me “the other” in many ways, long before I became one, and back then I always had a cowardly way to retreat from the otherness they asserted upon me.  I could say with conviction that I wasn’t Muslim or an Arab, or anything else other than what I was.  Or take it a step further, become strategic and grow to hate and then bully the Muslims around me. The venom inside me had burgeoned into racial and ethnic slurs that I found myself using under my breath, and eventually I’m loathe to admit, at the top of my lungs in order to distance myself from those who had distanced me from my identity as an American.

I became the bully that I despised by targeted the false-identity they ascribed to me, in others and challenging their othering with self-hate.  In that clouded time, Chuck D and Lord Jamar cut through my mental fog and spoke directly to me through cassette tapes stuffed in Walkman’s while the Poor Righteous Teachers taught me like no other teacher had in school and collectively, these Hip-Hop artists introduced me to a man named Malcolm X.  It was ultimately Malcolm who began the process of healing me, and by the time I met your uncle Abbas as an eighteen-year-old college kid, I was enamored with the discipline in the faith of Islam.

Abbas, now a successful surgeon, was the first practicing Muslim I had ever met, and in him, I saw a Muslim who was emblematic of what Islam taught, as manifest in the example set by Malcolm; in our friendship, I discovered the essence of Islam, is love. This was a far outcry from the Muslims I had met through Hollywood, showcased in the media, or those whom I’d previously interacted with. Our brotherhood helped introduce me to Islam, but my decision to become Muslim was a choice to become what the world already thought I was—it was ultimately a resolution to embrace my otherness.

From that day to this one, I have survived by living in the hyphen; as a Muslim-American, in a nation that devolved rapidly from President Bush making a distinction between American Muslims and those who committed the atrocities on 9/11, to a president calling for a Muslim registry and travel ban. The otherness I’d embraced in my youth now encircles me like the serpentine wrappings of the pariah I’ve become—but one I would have been regardless of my choice to become a Muslim or not. The Qur’an foresaw the test we’d face as Muslims in America when in Chapter 29, it states, “Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and God will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.”

The great secret that I have kept from you is that I didn’t choose this life for you—but that it was chosen for us, by the ignoramuses that have equated brownness with otherness and have hung hyphens around all of our necks.  The fact is whether you choose Islam or not, you will be inextricably related to it, and you can deny it at every turn, join the bullies, or choose to follow this path and thereby control the hyphen.  This is the test.

Whether you choose to wear a scarf on your head or not, you will be a default ambassador for Islam.  You will be forced to explain it and its practices at every turn and stupid people will question your nationality because of it; they will question your loyalty and they will typecast you into the role of other, so they can define themselves as civilized citizens while they demonize you. This is your test.

What may seem like a vice grip akin to a being trapped between a rock, or in this case Iraq, and a hard place, is truly a special place to be, because like the Quranic promise of a test of faith, there is a test of what it means to be American too.  Ostensibly America is just a promise.  It is a dream deferred until it is tested and realized for those collecting on its promissory notes.  For example, it takes a person like Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to test the promise of the freedom of expression by sitting during the national anthem, just as it takes a conscientious objector like the late Muhammad Ali to test freedom of religion.  It will take someone like you embracing the otherness they cursed you with in order to litmus test the promise of America for yourself, by walking this path, donning a scarf, and ultimately living in the hyphen, until America accepts you for what you are and who you choose to be.  This is America’s test, not yours.

Love,

Dad

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Islam and America

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Islam and America by Professor A.L.I.

When you silence me, you ignite the Bill of Rights,

When you stop me from practicing my faith,

You set the document aflame.

 

When you ban me, you shred the legends,

That this nation was once a haven,

For refugees of religion.

 

The ink of the pen of Jefferson,

Was enthused with his reading of my Holy Book,

As he framed the documents you prize.

 

The blood of Muslims deprived;

Chained souls in cargo holds,

Are tethered to this nation’s success.

 

Moorish treaties made this a country,

Through formal recognition,

Yet now their children are enslaved in prisons.

 

Ask the carcass of Hi Joly,

Or the remnants of Alexander Russell Webb,

Reminders of the American Islamic web.

 

Two sides, polarized, engage in civil warfare,

Like the 292 Muslims who fought,

In the Civil War, so we could be here.

 

Sadly, their names forgotten,

Like the Union porter Max Hassan,

Or Moses Osman, a ranking Captain.

 

A century old Muslim cemetery,

Look to Biddeford Maine,

Where the tombstones face Mecca.

 

The oldest mosque is rooted in Cedar Rapids,

Targets for bigotry, graffiti and fires,

Equal parts peace and tragic.

 

You honored Malcolm with a stamp,

But the stamp you gave on my passport,

Is a promise you’ve broken.

 

You shed tears for Muhammad Ali,

Yet you deny me,

For having the same beliefs.

 

No matter how you reclassify me,

I remain an American,

Who wishes you only PEACE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mama: Remembering Afeni and 2pac

Afeni2pacThis piece is dedicated to the Shakur tribe, on this occasion, which would have been Tupac Shakur’s birthday, we commemorate his soul and that of his recently departed mother, Afeni Shakur as well.

The news of Afeni Shakur’s passing was abrupt and sudden, just days before Mother’s Day, Dear Mama had left us and as a product of the Bay, an extension of the Panther legacy and a cultivator of Hip-Hop, I felt personally affected, even though I had never been blessed to have met Afeni in life.  I immediately contacted Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen, who had known 2pac, and had seen Afeni before, to share the heartbreaking news; and when he, who is usually loquacious, had no words save remorse, it furthered my heartbreak.  We were both dumbstruck and I didn’t know what else to do but to pray for her soul, and the soul of Tupac, as I also prayed for Sekyiwa and her children, Mopreme, Mutulu, Zayd, Assata and Jasmine Guy, who had purposefully helped me connect with Afeni through her writing.  To all those to whom Afeni was linked and to everyone she touched via her impact on social justice and through her children, I say and said inna lillahi inna ilayhi rajioon, “we are created and unto the creator do we return.”  Peace and Blessings.

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Motherhood Besieged

Mother’s Day in America has many narratives, though all are of struggle; this is due to the fact that all mothers in America are born under the yolk of patriarchy, and the fact that there is no physical or metaphysical equivalent comparison for carrying a human being to term for up to nine months.  However, there is one matriarchal narrative that is so steeped in oppression that it stands apart from the others; this is of the mother whose child is stripped away from them as chattel and sold.  This narrative is of the captive mother, and it echoes from the skeleton closet of our nation’s history and it continues to reverberate in recent times.  The two most infamous examples of this oppression is manifest in the wombs of two women, held in captivity, who navigated their motherhood while they fought for their freedom; both women took on the surname Shakur.

Shakur in Arabic means to be thankful, which seems a word at odds with the adopted surname of a mother who was imprisoned for a crime for which she was eventually acquitted while she was pregnant—and the name seems especially ironic in that the Shakur tribe bore this oppression because America feared what was in their wombs, far more than any other force.  Sadly, this is not hyperbole, but the sad truth regarding the maneuverings of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which fought actively to prevent any Black Messiah figure from emerging and that included being born; COINTELPRO was directly utilized under Hoover’s guidance to snuff out any leadership of this type.  The irrational fear of a black messiah directly led to circumstances that found the government involved with or having knowledge of the assassinations of Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  So it is unsurprising that this gripping phobia also led to the scrutiny of the wombs of black activists since the goal of phobic was to prevent a Black Superman from uplifting “the people” a.k.a black folk and pulling a modern day Moses routine on the machinations of a modern day Pharaoh.

Assata Shakur explicates this fear in her Autobiography, which shows in her descriptive prose capturing the reactions of the prison guards and government officials when they come to learn that she became pregnant while they held her captive in gross violation of numerous rights she should have been afforded.  She perfectly breaks down the state of oppression that consumed her being, as one that was so complete that those imprisoned didn’t realize that their perceptions of freedom were but a façade; Assata stated that “in AmeriKKKa she [had] always been in prison” and the only difference then, when she had been placed in a cell was that now she could see and feel the bars.  This is a type of consciousness that was born in the teachings of Malcolm X and both members of the Shakur tribe, Afeni and Assata would argue that their motherhood pales in comparison to that of Betty Shabazz, who carried her twins to term, while held captive to the assassination of their father, Malcolm X.  It was Malcolm’s inspiration that birthed the Black Panther Party and it was this organization that helped awaken consciousness in both Afeni and Assata, though they both would transcend its socialist construction and find spirituality in Islam and in New Afrikan identity.

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The Tribe of Shabazz and the Tribe of Shakur

Sheikh Hashim likes to tell the story of when he was with Tupac and ‘Pac was using a label maker to punch labels out on sticky tape and place them underneath pictures he had pinned to his bedroom wall.  One of the photos was of Malcolm X, and under it Tupac had labeled “Original Gangsta.”  It makes me chuckle inside when people label Tupac a Gangsta Rapper, since they are unaware to which “Gang”, Tupac truly belonged.  Tupac was a member of the Shakur tribe, and learned lessons that shaped his consciousness under the tutelage of Mutulu Shakur, and took inspiration from Assata and his mother Afeni.  Young Tupac Shakur, renamed after the Incan emperor and revolutionary, spent his gestation in limbo, as his mother Afeni stood trial as part of the Panther 21.  She was acquitted and Tupac would be born a free child—however Assata, another member of the Shakur tribe did not fare as well and gestated her daughter in prison.  So his cousin Kikuya (Assata’s daughter) came into this world with the unenviable circumstance of being born in captivity—a circumstance that hearkens back to the matriarchal narrative of so called slaves.

Afeni passed away on May 2nd, one week before the third anniversary of the passing young Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was our close friend and whose death and funeral consumed much of our spirit and community energy.  I was one of the few brothers called on to wash his body, as per Islamic ritual, and the memory of the lukewarm water running over the cold skin of his empty shell, the smell of camphor and the circumstances of the murder that put the lifeless form of my brother in front of me will haunt me till the day of my own death.  Afeni’s passing, was another blow to the tribe of Shakur, just as Malcolm’s was to the tribe of Shabazz.  These two families while distinct, remain connected in my mind via the conduits of affinity they had with Islam, celebratory blackness and an unapologetic adherence to social justice; and because of these things, there was a fourth connection, which was of trial—where members of both tribes experienced the inner workings of criminal “justice” system and domestic intelligence organizations for challenging the status quo on issues of faith, race and social justice and for having the tribal capacity to birth and train and black messianic figure.

2pac

2pac in Tamil pays homage to Afeni directly with the lines “reincarnated in Afeni’s womb”, and references to the Panther 21 case.  The song pays homage to Afeni as the conscious matriarch of Hip-Hop, which is to take nothing away from the contributions of other powerful women in Hip-Hop, but to give credit Afeni because she imbued one of the greatest, if not greatest M.C. in Hip-Hop history with the legacy of the Panthers, which in and of itself was a legacy of Malcolm, thereby inextricably linking Hip-Hop with the two tribes, Shabazz and Shakur.

2pac would have been 45 today, but we will be forever deprived of the wisdom he would impart as his experience grew.  In his later years, some have critiqued that 2pac was a slave to the music industry, and that the more popular he became the stronger the shackles did as well.  Yet these shackles, which came with a related shift in this self-professed feminist and socialist’s lyrics to misogynistic themes and capitalist lyrical content, seem to show a dramatic shift in an artist, who was perhaps Hip-Hop’s first male feminist lyricist up until he was shackled this way.  Songs like Brenda, Keep Ya Head Up and Dear Mama dedicated to Afeni Shakur, stand in sharp contrast to Wonder Why Bitch, but 2pac remained astute enough, Panther enough and truly hip enough to insert coded lyrics, like the captives of old did when they sang codes into negro spirituals, so that even songs with seemingly sexist lyrics carry secret messages to those in the know, see Me and My Girlfriend as an example—a song which deep sexual imagery that is constructed as an ode to libertarian values and the ownership of a gun.

2pac was a panther cub, and for those who don’t know Afeni or the Panther 21, understand that, it was as if Assata or Angela Davis had a child and that child retained the consciousness of the mother in his voice to/for the people.  Tupac was a conscious artist, and even when his music was not conscious, and constructed for popular construction it was still coded with consciousness for the people.  “The people” are the global black community and it is why 2pac is an icon for the continent of Africa, along with Bob Marley and Lucky Dube; it is why 2pac t-shirts sell in the bazaars of the Middle East and why in Latin America and South East Asia his visage is an icon reminiscent of Che or Ho Chi Minh.  2pac Shakur brought the voice of the tribe of Shakur to join with that of Shabazz, by the enduring connection elucidated earlier to speak to global issue of injustice.  He was taken from us, long before many knew what he represented and with the recent death of Afeni, it would seem that the strength of the tribe is waning—but like Malcolm’s words, Tupac’s songs live on and like Malcolm continue to inspire each generation that stands up to oppression everywhere on this planet!

2pac_Is_A_Global_IconShout out to the City of Oakland (#BayPride) for making today Tupac Shakur Day.

 

 

Terror In Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

TerrorOrlando

Terror in Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

I was prepared to continue mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali in private, with my family and local community, and then this morning I awoke to the the horror in Orlando, and I just wanted to scream.

I am a Muslim.  I am a Muslim in large part due to Muhammad Ali, who was a childhood hero of mine, long before I knew anything about the faith.  He remained a hero into young adulthood and into this present day, because he represented many of the things I also rep for, such as Islam, blackness, social justice, humanity and love.  He took two holy names and made them a part of global lexicon, so much so that people throughout the world scream Muhammad and Ali in unison, just as they had once had in Ghadeer Khum in the middle of the desert for only the faithful and historians to hear.

Muhammad Ali represented many things.  Those who outcry the participation of many at his funeral, who they feel are incongruent with the politics of Muhammad Ali, have themselves “flattened” Muhammad Ali to a sliver of his robust and intricate persona.  He was many things and his funeral was attended by many people, and his Islam was a global Islam, evolving beyond the backwards fatawa (plural of fatwa) of Saudi clerics who label anything new an innovation and associate it with shirk (polytheism), in order to destroy it, so that they can further manipulate and control the faith.  Muhammad Ali also represented Islam, better than anyone without the surname Shabazz in the West and like Malcolm X, who was his mentor, Muhammad Ali continued to evolve and grow, becoming a better human being day by day.  This is what I know of Islam and why I became a Muslim, and this is why I hate what happened in Orlando and mourn it doubly.

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What happened in Orlando is sick and it has no faith, let alone Islam.  If you think it has something to do with Islam, then check your own timeline for posts about Muhammad Ali and have fun trying to reconcile those two very disparate things.  Muhammad Ali represented Islam, what Orlando represents is faithlessness.  Today the community in Orlando is mourning, and I mourn with them.  The LQBTQIQ community is reeling, and I too reel.  Gun owners feel they are being homogenized with terror and I too feel the same.  Yet there is a sliver of hope and it is named Muhammad Ali, for even in death his memory destroys the argument that this is Islam—it knocks out bigoted polemics and stands victorious, so that we all can chant “Ali Bomaye!” while facing terror with the poise of this unique and singularly powerful soul.

Muhammad Ali walked away at his prime, because he did not want to kill.  His stance, which cost him dearly, represents Islam greater than any singular bomb blast or mentally unstable individual with an Islamic name.  No one has ever done that in my memory.  Imagine Lebron James  Steph Curry stepping away from the sport of basketball, or Joe Cool walking away from the field in the late 80’s because he did not agree with the Gulf War.  My Bay Area pride aside, no one has ever come close.  Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf, whom I had the opportunity to meet in 1996 at a Muslim Unity Conference, came the closest in my opinion, but even he never walked away from sport for his beliefs—and as ill as he was with the rock back then (check tape if you are Steph Curry fan), he was never the G.O.A.T.

I never got to meet Muhammad Ali and it will remain an unrequited item on the bucket list.  I was lucky to go to Louisville last year and visit his museum, walk through a street named after him and imagine as a squinted the segregation of the city in which he was bred.  Last year as I visited his city, I was mourning Paris, events in Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen.  This year I add Orlando to the list—as we as a human population try to heal, while we are baited into a never-ending conflict of us versus them.  Like Ali versus Frazier, one side versus the other, where victory can only come when bodies hit the floor—and yet, if we understood Ali, we would know what Ali versus Frazier truly was.  Frazier supported Ali as he took his moral stand and walked away from boxing, financially and stood by his side—these weren’t enemies caught in a never ending cycle, but two human beings who stood beyond the sport of boxing and became friends.  This is the Islam that Muhammad Ali represented and this is the Islam I know.

17822_837194406315646_7409196219918621380_nSo I ask you, if you have been reading this to invoke Muhammad Ali in your mind.  Let him fill your consciousness and allow his memory to knock out the media fabricated mythology of the Islamic terrorist.  Islam is about justice, peace and the evolution of the human being to become a better human being; that is why you love Muhammad Ali and why in that love we have to have to battle bigotry and hatred as he once did, in order to rise.  It is why we have to build bridges and not walls, to paraphrase Billie Crystal, and why we have to stand for justice, instead of giving into the easy path of hatred and indiscriminate blame.  Let us mourn those who we have lost and let us stop this cycle of hatred, by reminding those who would terrorize us that we will no longer give into their greatest strength, which is bullying us into conflating our hatred of them with a billion innocent Muslims—because these Muslims are represented by Muhammad Ali and nobody can’t beat the GOAT.

***

Professor A.L.I. is a spoken word and Hip-Hop artist and educator; in his piece “The Pen” he immortalizes Muhammad Ali with these words, “or channel Sonny Liston with devil intuition and fight Muhammad, then, pen becomes a prison.”

Professor A.L.I. has also written the book “A Muslim Trapped In Donald Trump’s America”, which speaks to the issues outlined above.

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Herstory

ValliammaHerstory by Professor A.L.I.

I have been duped; both my career and my education have been farcical parts of a grand lie that is perpetrated by an insidious system, which perpetually emboldens itself through the enforced inequity and disenfranchisement of its binary opposites.  Patriarchy is this evil, as it remains rooted in maintaining an illusion of male superiority in order to tip the scales in the favor of power structure and systems of knowledge that favor its interpretation of the world.  Like an overgrown and incessant vine, it chokes out the life of our mother earth, with the very umbilical cord that gave those who would champion its cause relevance in the first place.  Its branches can be seen in pronouns replicated by misogynists throughout time, the presumptions of normalcy of gendered language where words like MANkind means human being and HEroes are almost always “he’s”.  It manifests itself in the strange fruit of a gender wage gap and power imbalance.  The leaves of this evil plant spread from west to east, north and south, and the privilege of shade that it gives men is the strongest form of privilege globally, period.  This is why, under the weight of the realization of this, I find myself, as a man looking into the mirror and seeing the lie of my career choice to be an educator of history stare back at me—I was trained to be a HIStorian, meaning that I was actually trained to focus the light upon men, at the expense or at the absence of the feminine.  Herstory is therefore my attempt to not only make amends, but to help focus the light on those that deserve it and elucidate truths that are shrouded from the masses who unknowingly perpetuate a mirage of masculine superiority when they invariably participate in the systems manufactured by patriarchy for this purpose.  Herstory is a refocusing of the lens upon those who gave so much, never to be acknowledged for their contribution.  It is a challenged to “his” story, and a conscious attempt to rebalance the scales in favor of a just exposition of our collective human story.

Valliamma

Let us begin with the tale of Thillaiyadi Valliammai, who died, over a hundred years ago on February 22nd, 1914.  Known as Valliamma, she sparked a movement that had an impact upon the planet, yet her name is unknown to most.  She remains a footnote in the history of men who take credit for the inspiration she gave humanity and her profound impression upon the herstory of our planet is dismissed by pseudo-academics as unworthy of study.  She is hidden behind the aggrandized icon of a racist and shrewdly evil politician, who was also a sexual abuser of young women, yet is refashioned by HIStory as a wise sage and pundit, one to be revered and considered great, and a role model for all of huMANity.

This is her story:

Valliamma was a young Tamil woman and a daughter of Tamil migrants (who were part of an early Tamil diaspora, which saw slavery re-legalized in a new system called coolie labor and which led to the spread of Tamil people throughout the planet) who found themselves in the apartheid regime of South Africa and here is where her story begins.  Valliamma did not realize she lived in an apartheid state when she was young.  In the early 1900’s women could not even vote in America, let alone feel they had power in the colonial world, or within an apartheid regime at that—and yet as a teen, Valliamma found herself protesting laws that were directed, ultimately at her womb, and those of other women.  Anti-marriage laws (promoting Christian marriages) and anti-miscegenation laws were designed to reaffirm patriarchal power structures.  Valliamma’s Tamil community was disproportionately affected by the former and in a patriarchal society, where women were already powerless in so many ways, by creating a law that makes marriages null and void, women are doubly targeted since “unmarried” women, especially those who have children or are pregnant could be classified as prostitutes and thereby be abused, imprisoned and/or expelled from the country and the only way out of this predicament by subjecting oneself to a marriage in the church meant that women had to endure another layer of subjugation under the masculine power structure and iconography of the Christian church in South Africa.

Valliamma was a teenager who, along with her mother Mangalam, decided to march from Transvaal to Natal, with women protesting the apartheid state.  This march was illegal, as workers needed passes to even leave certain areas, and she was arrested.  It was here that Valliamma started to develop a conviction for the idea of non-violent resistance and begin hunger fasts.   This was long before Mandela, Bobby Sands, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas K. Gandhi ever engaged in such practices.  Even Gandhi had to acknowledge the inspiration he took from Valliamma, who he’d consider the first satyagrahi (a practitioner of satyagraha, or “the force of truth”, aka non-violent resistance).

In subsequent protests she was arrested, sentenced to three months hard labor, and spent her last days in Martizburg prison.  She was offered clemency, but refused.  It was this conviction that compelled, Gandhi, a young lawyer in South Africa at the time to visit her.  He writes in his Satyagraha in South Africa:

“Valliamma R. Munuswami Mudaliar was a young girl of Johannesburg only sixteen years of age. She was confined to bed when I saw her. As she was a tall girl, her emaciated body was a terrible thing to behold.

‘Valliamma, you do not repent of your having gone to jail?’ I asked.

‘Repent? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested,’ said Valliamma.

“But what if it results in your death?’ I pursued.

‘I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one’s motherland?’ was the reply.

“Within a few days after this conversation Valliamma was no more with us in the flesh, but she left us the heritage of an immortal name…. And the name of Valliamma will live in the history of South African Satyagraha as long as India lives.”

Some assert that Gandhi’s input in the creation of the modern flag of India, was designed with the color scheme of Valliamma’s sari, which she held up, not having a flag of her own during one of her non-violent protests.

Valliamma StampClearly Valliamma has had a profound impact in the way human beings could change the world—and her impact on South Africa, South Asia, and movements all over the world including our own Civil Rights movement have manifest in ending colonialism, segregation and ultimately apartheid, yet her simple grave is shadowed by the monoliths erected for the champions of those other movements, but none more so than Gandhi, who has become its symbol.

In this past century when the human being who had the greatest impact on those last hundred years was posed by TIME magazine, the finalists were Einstein and Gandhi and I found myself both incredulous and overwhelmed by the sheer weight of ignorance the world had about this man.

Gandhi was far from being the embodiment of truth that HIStory would have you believe—if you ever sat with my father, he would give you an earful on how Gandhi single-handedly destroyed any hopes for Tamil and Dravidian peoples for having their own state, lied to them and re-imposed an Indian (Hindi) based hegemonic structure over them—this of course is my personal bias towards the man, although it is bolstered by my detailed reading of his writings, which belie his shrewdness as a politician.  He was a lawyer by training and the great irony of him being called the founder of satyagraha is that he frequently spun lies to effectuate his desired effect on the concept of India.

Racist Gandhi

Gandhi is championed as a symbol for equality when he actually fought for the enforcement of inequity in South Africa and later in South Asia.  If you read his South African writings you will find a man who was clearly prejudiced towards blacks, and racist, in that he emboldened the systemic framing of the African in the eyes of the European colonial masters with whom he was “educated”.  He states in a writing dated Sept. 26th 1896 that “ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”  The term “kaffir” is akin to the n-word in the American context.  Yet even though Gandhi’s clear prejudice has come to light in his prolific writings, he remains a symbol for champion for a quality that he truly did not embody in mind or action.

For those of you who may feel my critique harsh and cite examples of how Gandhi championed the cause of the “untouchable” only further the argument.  It was Gandhi who first labeled this community as harijan, or “children of God” and many in the west clouded by white liberalism have praised this as an attempt to uplift a community that was downtrodden in South Asia.  The term harijan itself is highly problematic, at best it is a term that sweeps all Dalits (yes this is the proper term) in a Hindu hegemonic framing and at worst it is linked to an earlier term of devadasi/a, which ultimately means bastard.  It referred to the illegitimate children of the priestly class that often lingered near Hindu temples according to Dr. Velu Annamalai.  Gandhi was not interested in equity nor equality inasmuch as he was interested in the creation of an “India” that merely shifted control from European elites to Indian ones—a light brown patriarchy in exchange for a purely white one.

Finally there is Gandhi the saint—(trigger warning) who held a practice of sleeping with young, nude women often teenagers in his bed, which Gandhi argued increased his spiritual energies.  Gandhi did not engage in sexual intercourse with these women and some dismiss this as tantric practice but there are several expositions about these girls, who experienced all the after effects into adulthood of sexual abuse and molestation.

“Gandhi was married at age 13 to a girl about his own age and at age 37 took a vow of sexual abstinence. In spite of this vow, he found a need to fondle prepubescent and early adolescent girls. He took such girls to bed with him to overcome, he said, his “shivering fits” in the night. His female companions, who came from his inner circle — all certified virgins or young brides — entered his bed naked in order to warm him with their bodies. Some of them also administered enemas to him. Among the young girls, there was rivalry as to who would sleep with him, and one of his girl disciples reported that his bed companions had a difficult time in restraining their sexual impulses since he often rubbed against them and touched them in erotic places. Although his closemouthed house guardians were fearful of public reaction if news of these “pedophilic” sexual interactions were publicized, Gandhi continued to engage in them until his death. Gandhi did not have sexual intercourse with them, but obviously the touching and feeling were very important to him. If he had lived in the United States, he would have been sentenced as a child molester” (Bullough, 1981).

For those probing their minds for culturally relativist arguments, please re-holster your white liberalism for a moment and ask any person from South Asia if this behavior seems appropriate—and if you find no one from South Asia to ask, perhaps you should cut down on your chai lattes and references to yoga till you sort it out—Gandhi was a pedophile and sexual abuser, as well as a racist and political opportunist and so the real question is to ask yourself why he has been championed as a role model for the opposition of all these things?

Gandhi PedophileWhy Gandhi?

Gandhi represented patriarchy under the veil of inclusion and equity—and this, I argue is the very reason why he has been championed as a symbol, while Valliamma has been relegated to the annals of HIStory.  The Guardian, in an expose of his sexual abuse outlines his real relationship to femininity and feminine power:

“Gandhi believed Indian women who were raped lost their value as human beings. He argued that fathers could be justified in killing daughters who had been sexually assaulted for the sake of family and community [honor]. He moderated his views towards the end of his life. But the damage was done, and the legacy lingers in every present-day Indian press report of a rape victim who commits suicide out of “shame”. Gandhi also waged a war against contraceptives, [labeling] Indian women who used them as whores.”

From victim blaming to the divestment of power holistically, Gandhi envisioned a world that was the most palatable to his male privilege.  One in which his own abuse of young girls would go unquestioned by his masses of followers for decades.  This is not his erudite narrative, but it is the effect of his influence that finds India, a country he helped to found, one of the lowest on global gender equity indices where rape culture runs through the fabric of social norms and behavior.  While Gandhi did not create the patriarchy he clearly benefits from, he reinforces its fervor and strength.

Now try and imagine a different world.  Imagine it is Valliamma, who is the symbol for equity, equality and justice that Gandhi is now.  Imagine she is the saint to be revered and cast as a role model.  Imagine it is her visage that appears on Indian money, just as her sari waves on the flags above its governmental buildings.  And imagine her words as the inspirational quotes that adorn trendy t-shirts worn by hipsters and are used by organizations like Challenge Day to effectuate change in the world.  What you have imagined is a world stripped of over-arching male privilege where honesty is championed and the mirage of masculine dominance fades away like the false illusion it is.

Herstorian

Story of Valliamma

No longer insult my intelligence by calling me a historian, a student of history or a history instructor—I no longer wish to sit within my male privilege and passively continue to advance a farce upon others through the usage of this nomenclature.  Instead, honor academics of this social science who step away from the subtleties of patriarchal exposition with a new title: herstorian.

In my effort to be a better herstorian, the first song off of my soon to be released Tamilmatic album is dedicated to the story of Valliamma, and it follows in my tradition as an artist of telling the stories of the women who never get credit for the impact they’ve made on the planet like Fatima bint Muhammad, Zaynab bint Ali, Assata Shakur and Nana Asmau, to name a few.

Herstory is Valliamma’s story but it is also to story of so many other women, relegated to the footnotes of HIStory– if they are ever mentioned at all. The lyrics track her narrative and rightfully dismiss those who would usurp her impact, as their own. The refrain extends beyond her singular narrative and poses question to the patriarchal hegemons, asking the following questions:

“Why does her name not in history?

Why does she threaten?

Why is she scary?

The power of her spirit, why do your fear it?”

And then goes onto predict emphatically, invoking both Abrahamic & eastern apocalyptic imagery, that “Your leadership [patriarchy] lost, for she [the feminine] shall inherit!”

Tamilmatic is an album that explores the contributions of Tamil people, and is slated for an April 14th, 2016 release date, which coincides with Tamil New Year 2016.

Professor A.L.I. is a socio-political Hip-Hop artist and educator from the Bay Area. His previous works include the following full-length albums: Carbon Cycle Diaries, Emerald Manifesto, Das Ka Rebel, X Factor and now, Tamilmatic.

Special thanks to Lauren Santo Domingo for editing.

 

 

I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream

Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an event

I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream

A modern interpretation of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” by artist and educator, Professor A.L.I.

I have seen and heard “I Have a Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. countless times and yet it still gives me the same spine tingly chills that I had when I first heard his soulful voice as a snotty-nosed, wide-eyed youngster in the third grade. For the longest time I thought those involuntary goose bumps came each time his bass filled voice echoed in my skull because I knew that I was listening to a martyr speaking passionately not too long before his inevitable assassination. I even postulated that when the fine hairs on my skin bristled that it was surely due to his eloquent oratory and the way in which he delivered his words, from his pulsating heart into the chambers of mine. Perhaps, the historian in me wondered at times if my reaction was not due to the context of his era; one I knew from the grainy black and white images on fast-clicking filmstrips that captured the brutality of bombed churches, fire hosed marchers and the viciousness of Billy clubs and rabid police dogs. While all those things continue to make MLK’s speech one that enthralls every fiber of my being, I have found that I still shiver when I hear his words, because I know that MLK is dreaming, and that his dream is an aspiration for the future, but in the words of Langston Hughes, Dr. King’s dream today, remains a dream deferred.

A Dream Deferred

There are those who will read that last line and automatically respond in their minds with pseudo-intellectual arguments, which are textbook examples of deflection like “but Obama is president” or “look how much Lebron James makes” or “how about Beats by Dre or the financial success of Jay-Z?” or simply, “Oprah!” As much as I would like to believe that we have advanced towards MLK’s dream, these perceptions are far from the truth of our times. The numbers don’t lie; holistically the Black community is worse off than it was at the time the speech was given, as exemplified by facts like blacks are at a greater risk than whites to suffer due to poverty from homelessness, illness, malnutrition and disease and as recent as 2012, Black men and women still earned less than their White counterparts with the same education, and they are more likely to lose their jobs during economic downturns. Even when you consider improvements, like the prior emblematic examples of Obama, Lebron, Jay-Z and Oprah, you realize these are exceptions to the rule and that the disparity between Blacks and Whites has only grown in the United States since MLK’s dream, and that furthermore the statistics that enumerate the divide are nightmarish—the exact opposite of the dream. The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander outlines this nicely, outlining how amongst other policies the so-called “War on Drugs” was a direct war on the Black community—and systematically undermined the dream. When MLK spoke his words students in America were segregated by race, however soon thereafter, it seemed that with the passage of the Civil Rights Act students would soon be integrated. This certainly seemed like a step towards the dream, but even here re-districting, the aforementioned wealth disparity and school board politics nullified what should have been great gains, and is shown in the fact that in 1968, 76.6 percent of Black children attended segregated schools and in 2012, it was still 74 percent!

Insomnia

I find it hard to sleep in these times, and my sister and fellow educator Dr. Heidi Mirza knows why, as she lamented last year in a piece on how MLK’s dream of a world free from “discrimination, intolerance, prejudice and extremism” has been replaced with one that is seriously considering candidates like Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen in the so-called-West while remaining silent on genocides perpetrated by extremism and carried out in Burma, Bahrain and Yemen, to name a few places in the ‘Orientalist’ East. How can I sleep, let alone dream in this reality as a global Black man or a Muslim, or even a conscious human being? Shall I give into the fear that fuels ignorance or try to fight an ever-inclining uphill battle? I’ve diagnosed myself of having some form of spiritual insomnia—I am incredulous as I watch the news media unquestioningly giving airtime rhetoric that seems to echo Mein Kampf verbatim, save for Tavis Smiley who was lampooned by Trumpites on Twitter for his recent attempt to challenge their apathetic ranting, which seems to increasingly pass as normal reporting amongst the sheeple. I look to my brothers Deray Mckesson and Ameer aka Left of the University Of Left, who have become more authentic voices for the happenings of our time and try to make sense of it, as our cognizance of MLK’s dream continues to unravel. The dream seems dead. The dreamers lay bleeding on the concrete, their last act in life is usually raising their hands in the air, and when those that notice and care, like Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza and state that these innocent lives had value, and try to create a movement to highlight this fact, the naysayers come forth and mis-hear a phrase like Black Lives Matter as “Only Black Lives Matter” and thereby impugn attempts for solidarity and ultimately change. If only these dream-killers would’ve championed “All Lives Matter” when they heard of the countless extra-judicial murders in this country carried out by police officers—then perhaps little White and Black children could be found playing together as in the hopeful imaginings of Dr. King, but instead we are living in a nightmare in which teenagers are murdered in cold-blood and people seem to be able to stomach the justification given for their murders. It is a world where even the dream is slaughtered—where bullets can snuff out the life of a sleeping seven-year old girl (Aiyana Jones) by officers during a police search and there is no (official) national outcry.

Nas postulated on NY State of Mind off of his Illmatic album that “sleep is the cousin of death.” Yet we find the converse to be true, for in order to dream in the literal sense, one must sleep—however I find myself unable to sleep these days, with a deluge of death on ones newsfeed, hence my play on Dr. King’s words, “I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream.”

martin-luther-king-jr

I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream

I’m a light sleeper to begin with, so even a mere gasp–

A last breath, by one being choked upon the asphalt,

For selling cigarettes illegally, keeps me awake; let alone,

News of twelve year olds, shot dead, playing with toy guns.

The firearms echo inside the memory folds of my brain.

They awaken screams of Louima, and even Diallo’s pain!

Gone are sounds of chains, replaced by the din of skittles,

As they bounce off the concrete. Black life is now riddled,

With bullets from pistols (legal for white privilege to wield).

The NRA sponsored the Mulford Act, just ask Bobby Seale.

Dr. King, its hard to dream when one cannot fall asleep.

For even sleeping fauns like Aiyana Jones are targeted when they dream.

Hard to scream with broken neck, the sky seems Freddie Gray;

Will I dream in a Walmart coffin like John Crawford one day?

If I fake like I’m asleep, they’d Grant me an Oscar in fact,

Which I’d refuse, and instead ask for justice for Oscar Grant!

#BlackLivesMatter is a phrase for the nightmare to which we wake;

Does the dream of children holding hands involve a police state?

When one’s hands are up in the air, how can they join other hands?

Its hard to sleep, to dream when the days are Sandra Bland.

How can freedom ring, when injustice is protected by false justice?

And Dr. King, how can it be just when its set prey upon just us”

How can the imprisoned sing “free at last!?”—I cannot fall asleep.

This is why I have insomnia and have lost the opportunity to dream.

The dreamers are dead, and the dream is a nightmare, so I how can I sleep—even as I find myself tossing and turning, wondering as a law-abiding educator, who will try to break in and steal me away? It is a provocative thought, and yet, it’s so rooted in the reality of our time that it doesn’t seem like something unlikely for one of my faith or complexion. Guantanamo is just one notable example and while it is an ugly one, the ugliest is our domestic prison industrial complex. MLK spent time behind bars—many freedom fighters have, but fifty years later even his dream is imprisoned. When Dr. King dreamed back then, I don’t believe he could’ve fathomed that the incarceration rate amongst Black folk would be three times higher when I would write these words.

<Click for free download>

The Pen or the Pen(itentiary)

I wrote and recorded “The Pen” to introduce my audience and students of Hip-Hop in general to the concept of the double entendre and coded language in our (Hip-Hop) culture, while at the same time provide them with a critique of ignorance, which I believe to be the antithesis of Hip-Hop, which is defined by our community as “intelligent movement”, because one must be “Hip” or “in the know” to understand it and “hop” or move in order to live it, and ignorance is unintelligent and unmoving, and as a Hip-Hop artist and cultivator of this culture, I see ignorance as a tangible prison that diminishes our humanity and snuffs out our light as potential learned beings of this universe.

“The Pen” is a piece that asks the listener to stand in-between a sense of hope and a cloud of cynicism, hinging on how one perceives the word “pen”; it can either be a writing instrument representing knowledge or a slang-abbreviation for penitentiary, which is a prison. So the pen respectively represents the freedom of speech on one hand, and on the other it is confinement to a cage, which hinders both movement and speech.

I wrote this piece lamenting the existence of this very fork in the road for youth in America, and as an educator and artist I have seen too many young people from amongst my own peers in public schools situated in gang infested ‘hoods to my own students attempting to navigate this fork, two decades later, only to choose the path of the pen that is clouded by cynicism, which ends with them in prison as opposed to the path of the pen, which leads to wisdom and knowledge; at the same time the piece represents a larger historical conversation and a clash that our world is experiencing right now—an actual battle of survival between the people of knowledge and the people of ignorance.

Those who know me know that I abhor violence and increasingly as of late senseless violence born of ignorance have besieged my newsfeeds and timelines, filling them with egregious, gory examples of sick depravity. This plague has a common thread and it is that violence is constantly being aimed at sources of knowledge or legitimacy, whether it be those who hold the narrative truths or those that pose questions, and that these acts are carried out by the ignorant, willfully or otherwise.

Ironically, those that escape the actual prison, make it out of confinement through knowledge and those that avoid it altogether are those that embrace/ed the pen as a tool for wisdom. Old cliché’s inform us that this pen is mightier than the sword, but it is the sword that is being used as a blunt instrument throughout the world to write a modern narrative using innocent blood, seemingly pitting East against West, but in reality its inviting all the “crazies” or extremists to sully forth and use it to write their own narrative, and as the hemoglobin of innocence flows, so does our own faith in each other, polarizing our world into an endless clash of the “uncivilized”.

The Pen performed Live with Jazz Horizons in Oakland, California

In the end to paraphrase the words of Assata Shakur, the only difference between those in prison and those on the outside is that those inside can see the bars, while we operate under the illusion that we are free, as evidence by our inability to dream. We are not free to dream—but like Dr. King I do long for a day where I can say, at the top of my lungs, with my children that we are indeed free at last—and until then, I’ll remain awake.

With Peace & Love.

professoralimlk

Fear the Fear Itself

shout

Fear the Fear Itself by Professor A.L.I.

By the time the second plane hit, I had shaved my beard and almost didn’t recognize the face that stared back at me in the mirror, save for the eyes. My countenance showed the familiar fear I’d grown up seeing in my rippled reflection off of muddy puddles shortly before being pushed in, atop pot-holed, elementary school blacktops, or in the afternoons as the school bus window caught a reflection of my face, while the kids behind me brutally flicked my ears, snatched my hat, or pulled my collar ‘till I choked on my asthmatic breath. I grew up being “the other” so when I walked back into my apartment after attending my intellectual property law class early that morning at King Hall, at U.C. Davis, to find my Persian-American roommate glued to the television, weakly holding a soggy bowl of fruit loops precariously over his precious Tabrizi rug, uncaring that I knew that the “othering” had already begun.

I sat down and watched the horrific scenes, wondering if this was life imitating a Hollywood movie, vaguely remembering a scene from the X-Files Lone Gunman series on precisely this type of attack: a plane used as a weapon against the World Trade Center to terrorize our nation. I didn’t have to wait for proof that “Muslims” were behind this since that perception was already in the air. My thoughts ran to the Jordanian-American man, who had been the prime suspect after the Oklahoma City bombing, which was masterminded and carried out by domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh. I remembered the bullying of my youth, being perceived as a Muslim ever before I became Muslim because of my brown skin; I was an American who was never truly seen as an American, due to my strange name and therefore I was constantly the other, only ever embraced by the black community.

I shuddered as I shaved my lengthy beard, which people jokingly said made me look like a black Rasputin (this was after all years before Rick Ross & James Harden made the look popular) and halfway through the process, I heard both commotion on the news playing and the audible gasp of my roommate, followed by the sound of a cereal bowl spilling; the second plane had hit. At this point, talks of an accident had been replaced by language of a coordinated attack; we then heard about the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and also in Pennsylvania. We heard of the flight plan for the two Boston flights, which were headed to California, and in that moment I couldn’t even wonder if people I knew were on those planes. I was so self-absorbed, so afraid, that I finished shaving before the buildings had fallen and returned, clean shaven, to watch in horror as they did. My thoughts went to my cousin in New York, my friends at NYU law school, that I had lost touch with in recent years, and others I cared about who lived in Manhattan and I was completely dumbstruck.

I thought about Oklahoma again, but this time it was Black Wall Street, and I remembered reading of its economic success and how a series of events set into motion whites to try and destroy it and reports of how planes may have been used to terrorize, by shooting and dropping incendiary devices on the black citizens of Tulsa in an event referred to in history as the Tulsa Race Riots. It was the first aerial attack on U.S. soil and could only topped in scope of aerial terror by the infamous bombing at Pearl Harbor and subsequent, yet failed Japanese attempts to bomb the west coast using weather balloon. I am what many would call a historical nerd, and as a student of the detailed minutia of U.S. history I was overwhelmed. The history of our nation is filled with reactions based on fear and actions that induce it. My mind naturally flooded with all of these images but in that moment they were overwhelmed by the din of the pen held by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he signed Executive Order 5066, which called for the internment of Japanese-Americans living on the lower 48 states. This was from the man who famously said that all we had “to fear was fear itself.” I could feel the sweat form on my brow as I began to imagine President Bush doing the same, I turned to my roommate, with whom I frequently debated on nearly every issue, and told him what I felt from my heart, just as the news firmly pointed fingers at Muslims as the perpetrators; in whispered tones I said, “they’re going to come for us!” and he surprisingly didn’t argue, instead he and I, silently barricaded the front door with the furniture in our living room.

Islamophobia

A Muslim in American Clothing

I converted to Islam in 1995, inspired by Malcolm X and Islamic references in Hip-Hop. The discipline of the faith attracted me – and as I became a Muslim, I became an instant demagogue amongst my social circle. People felt I betrayed them or that they no longer really knew who I was, or where my loyalties lay. My friends felt this “dramatic shift” in their opinion, was duplicitous; they saw it as a betrayal of our common values and a judgment of the friendship we shared. It also led to brutal arguments with my folks; arguments that were compounded by years of issues beyond choice of religious practice, and it eventually led to me becoming unwelcome for a time in their home. My father argued then that he didn’t mind that I had become Muslim, but asked me to stay away from the mosque and in my heated mind-state I wasn’t hearing his concern or what he was truly saying and adamantly refused. Years later, after both he and my mom died that I pondered their concern and have had to acknowledge in hindsight that it was perhaps their collective parenting that helped me stay guarded around the sheikhs (old-timers, taken as scholars) at various Bay Area masajid (mosques) who would encircle new Muslims and over time suggest to us that we needed to make hijra, or migration to Muslim countries. I balked back then at the idea of leaving the Bay, let alone California, and many years later, and again in hindsight when I heard news about the American Taliban I realized some of these same people were in the circles that likely hoodwinked a young John Walker Lindh.

In the short time between my conversion and law school, I’d become a known quantity in the Bay Area Islamic community. My work with the U.C. Berkeley MSA to leadership at a Sacramento mosque, led me to be the sometimes imam or prayer during Friday congregational prayer and khatib or lecturer for weekly programs. I wore a long beard on my face, covered my then long hair in a scarf that I wrapped like a pseudo-turban, and spent many days in spiritual fasting and nights in supplication. I was visibly Muslim and everyone on and around campus knew it. This was why, as those buildings fell that I felt so exposed. My roommate was a Muslim too, but he was white, and his Persian heritage manifested itself solely in his name. He had the privilege to blend in and even he was frightened—so it was unsurprising how fear gave me a precise to-do list in that moment. I’d taken care of the beard, and so next I sat and prayed. I prayed for my safety and that of my family. I prayed for the people in New York, my cousin, and my friends. I prayed for the families of the victims and then I called the one person who I knew would have something to say to make me feel better: my mom.

“Son, why did they do it?” she asked in a voice filled with a crackling fire’s warmth and empathy but it was question that I couldn’t answer. If I told her that they are not real Muslims, she would say that is what they claimed to be, and furthermore that in her eyes I wasn’t a real Muslim. If I told her nothing, she would use the opening to ask about why I had converted to such a faith and I didn’t want to cycle through my reasons in that moment, nor did I possess the words, to help her see the distinctions. So I said, “I don’t know.” I can’t recall how the conversation proceeded from there, but I remember how it ended, she told me my grandmother was taken to the hospital because she was sick and that I should stay safe.

I stayed in that apartment two days—and it took another horrible event, the death of my grandmother in New Jersey on 9/13 to bring me out into the sunlight, and it blinded me. The news jolted me from the encompassing fear; it was a shock that I wasn’t braced for, and provided a brief moment of clarity amidst the uncertainty that loomed throughout our nation. My tears fell will certainty and the sun warmed my face, as I walked passed our apartment complex towards the open grassy fields that lay beyond it. I wondered how this could happen to her, a woman who I had seemed Herculean in her strength. She had what I considered superhuman constitution; she had jet-black hair that had never been dyed and not a single strand of white. She gave birth to seven sons, six who survived to adulthood in British ruled Tamil lands and managed to overcome the withdrawal of the British, navigated post-colonial realties and migrated out of necessity to the North while being the primary caregiver for my father and uncles. My grandma gave birth to my dad when she was thirteen—let the weight of that sink in, and you begin to realize, if you haven’t done so already that this was one tough and resilient woman. I remain convinced that the reason she became sick in the first place was due to her worry over her favorite grandchild, my cousin, who looked a lot like her and lived in New York at the time. Her death was a shocker; everyone came for the funeral, travelling at one of the most arduous times in our nation’s history. My parents, uncles and aunts, cousins and friends all attended but there was one person who couldn’t get on a flight: me.

I would love to tell you the reason that I couldn’t board was due to the TSA, or some incident—but the reason I couldn’t attend was that I was still gripped with the fear of being victimized just like being bullied on the playgrounds of old, and I wasn’t in an emotional state—one that mourned the loss of a loved one and family matriarch, while I was trying to navigate how people would treat me for being Muslim. The clarity I had felt in my sorrow was being overcome by new waves of hate and violence, which rippled towards me, overwhelming me in a deluge of fear inducing imagery and pain. News of a Pakistani-American kid shot, walking on his way to another nearby campus didn’t help, nor did the news of altercations that singled out Sikhs and Muslims for their look, or the numerous attacks on mosques, Gurdwaras and Islamic Centers.

I couldn’t even visualize myself boarding a plane, exposing myself to being “othered” and so I hid. My uncle offered to fly me out, thinking it was a monetary issue, but it wasn’t. The combination of pain and fear paralyzed me and I found myself hiding, like I used to from the bullies on the playground. I hid under the weight of homework and papers and my general work as a student. I hid in my art, writing poetry and entries in long lost diaries. I hid in the act of lengthy prayer and recitation of supplications, and ultimately I hid within myself. The reflection in the mirror that stared back at me in those days looks more like the frightened kid on the blacktop than the man who writes these words now. I share these vignettes from my life shortly after 9/11 so you can understand how familiar the emotions were that governed my mental state and that in spite of my Muslim identity I acted as any human being would when gripped with fear.   

911footage

America No More

9/11 affected all Americans and many people throughout the world. It became the impetus for a new wave of military actions in the Middle East, new rules that changed the way we Americans could feel about our personal freedom, it pulled us into tough moral questions that we have yet to answer, like how we enabled what happened at Abu Ghuraib, the use of torture, such as water boarding, extra-judicial killings carried out by drones and the very existence of Guantanamo. 9/11 changed our nation in ways that made our country seem like the one envisioned by dystopian writers of yesteryear and we did so in fear. We feared for our safety and these were efforts taken to ensure that America would be safe. However in our effort to secure America, a significant group of Americans were locked out of the safe house we had constructed. American Muslims and Sikhs and anyone with skin-color and “a foreign Islamic or Arab look” fell prey to the machinations of the fear that encircled our nation like vultures, to find themselves not only barred from the safe house, but know that they are the reason for the construction of its construction in the first place.

Our nation did the things it felt it needed to protect itself, just like my roommate and I did, the first few days, worried about what would happen next. The difference was that for us the fear was doubled. I feared the Al-Qaeda’s, Taliban’s, and the ISIS/ISIL’s of the world too. To me they represent such backwards ignorance that it is hard for me to find a place for them in “Islam” though that is what they claim to follow. My study of Islam was in-depth and thorough. I’ve read the Qur’an in both literal, and phrase-by-phrase translations, in Arabic and various exegesis or tafaseers written by the pre-eminent scholars like Tabatabai, who help to contextualize verses to help the reader gain the most from the depth of the text. I’ve read the classic Arabic historians, cover-to-cover, Ibn-Kathir, Juvaini, and At-Tabari. I’ve picked apart Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, the Muwatta, along with Usul-E-Kafi, Bihar-Ul-Anwar and texts like Hiyat-Ul-Quloob while scrutinizing both their chain of narration as well as their content and measuring it up to the language and messaging in the Qur’an. I’ve studied the history of the Prophet Muhammad and his family, and looked at their example to help understand the Qur’an. I’ve done all of this under the tutelage of true academics like Dr. Hamid Algar, and by doing all of this I feel armed with the knowledge needed to say that ISIS/ISIL aka DAESH does not represent anything to do with Islam, and if one must be exact and precise, what they represent is Wahhabism.

This is why I continue to teach Middle Eastern History, Early-Islamic History in the academic setting and utilize art to educate, exemplified by this recent live performance of “An Ode To Zaynab” with Stephen Herrick of Jazz Horizons and Ian Heung, recounting the story of the family of Muhammad, and his granddaughter Zaynab, and how her shrine was recently attacked by ISIS/ISIL aka DAESH, and why her narrative, which represents the true Islam, remains a threat for these extremists to target:

However, despite all of this I understand, in my heart the fear my fellow Americans feel when they hear phrases like “sharia law” or “jihad” because Islamophobia is not a new thing, it is just a new name for a particular type of xenophobia that people who looked like Muslims had to deal with long before 9/11 ever happened—I mean just look at my life!

Hate Muslims, Love Islam

I was a Muslim kid throughout the 1980’s, post-hostage crisis, Libya, the wars we were involved in the Middle East and the Gulf War. People perceived me to be Muslim because of my dark brown skin hue, and the fact my parents and I spoke another language. They could not differentiate Tamil from Arabic through their xenophobic lenses and I found myself the victim of abuse as a result. If you ever look at my hands you’ll know that I’m product of public school since I have the callouses on my knuckles to prove it; I grew up hating Muslims because of all those battles I felt forced to fight and I believed then that they were the reason why I was getting bullied. The influx of Afghan refugees did not help, in the early 1990’s as this only exacerbated the tensions that had already existed. However a funny thing happened, even as I found myself hating Muslims, I began to fall in love with Islam. Malcolm X’s Autobiography wooed me, and as a Hip-Hop head Paris, Ice Cube and Public Enemy were doing dawah (inviting) with their lyrics.

I became Muslim as an eighteen year-old college student and if one person should be blamed for my conversion it should be Dr. Abbas Rana. I met Abbas at the Clark Kerr Campus Dorms at U.C. Berkeley on the first day of welcome week and we got into a huge debate about Muslims that lasted three hours. It would be the first of many debates, discussions and dialogue as our relationship would evolve from acquaintances to friends to eventually brothers. However that first meeting, when I was introduced to him by a mutual friend should’ve never have begun. I said something to Abbas, which was in my estimation, the most offensive thing I’ve ever said to another human being in my life, “…That name sounds Muslim, are you Muslim, because I (expletive) hate Muslims!” He was visibly taken aback by my words but thankfully didn’t let me off the hook, he challenged me for what I said, which was the first time I ever said something like that out loud and I became defensive. I spouted out every argument and half-truth I’d heard, used the idiosyncrasies of the Muslims I had known in my life, who were probably bad practitioners of the faith to continue my arguments, and he responded with empathy and intellect. I was attracted to his compassion and soon we’d become fast friends, transforming as I learned more about the faith, into brothers.

It’s when I divorced Islam from Muslims in my mind that I felt comfortable making the transition to becoming Muslim myself. In Abbas I saw a Muslim who was emblematic of what Islam taught, but the Muslims I had met through Hollywood, or were showcased in the media, or that I had met up until then were far outcries from the values of the faith. This was all before 9/11, when the ignorant tropes were magnified and the familiar image of a Muslim was that of a violent, gun or bomb-wielding villain who targeted innocent people. 9/11 merely helped America pull back the curtain, pun intended, on our assumptions of Islam. They gave Jack Shaheen more than he ever dreamed of in the stereotypical Arab in cinema. The media depictions and caricatures were Edward Said’s Orientalism on steroids. And yet the truth is that 9/11 only removed the façade, and that the bullying was always there. 9/11 merely transformed existing xenophobia into Islamophobia. Our efforts had transformed what had been existing xenophobia, and transformed it, with our reasoning behind those questionable decisions outlined above, into Islamophobia, the irrational fear of Islam. Islamophobia is equal parts fear of Islam and ignorance of Islam. It didn’t just bring down buildings it brought down our sense of what our values are and should be.

The world we live in one which is set up to doubly terrorize those with any affinity with Islam. We are terrorized by the act of terror, like our fellow citizens and then terrorized by our own because of their indiscriminant fear. Clarity only comes in moments when we are faced with a new tragedy and are forced to respond. For me after 9/11 it was the sudden death of my grandmother, for all of us it’ll be the death of an American Muslim, who we see as an American, more than as a Muslim whose inevitable victimization and God-forbid death will shake us to our senses. Today my social networking timeline is filled with abuse. I see a pig’s head on a mosque doorstep, bullied six graders, hijabis (scarf wearing) shot at and attacked. I see innocent Muslims and Sikhs illegally strip-searched, abused verbally and physically, and taken off of flights. I think about my kids and my wife. I think about my sister, niece and nephews. The fear I feel is real and it’s the same as I used to feel on the playground because it’s the same catalyst, it’s bullying plain and simple and we should not stand for it.

Fear

Fear “Fear Itself”

In the so called East, the combination of ignorance and fear has created Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Sepa-E-Sahaba, ISIS/ISIL aka DAESH, otherwise known as the tentacles of the same Wahhabi-Salafi Kraken that we support in Saudi Arabia, and we are being suffocated by their grip on our sense of safety. To put it more simply, they are the bullies of the Islamic world and their bullying, which terrorizes our planet has given birth to our own bullies like Marine La Pen, the English Defense League and Donald Trump. They gave birth to the new America we live in, one unrecognizable from the one I grew up in, when there was no NDAA, no TSA, no Guantanamo. It is a new America where book deals that homogenize over a billion people because of the gross violation of rights of a human being by a few, see Ayaan Hirse Ali. It gives Bill Maher fodder for his anti-religious views, which overly simplify the issue for lowbrow comedic effect. I am arguing that terrorists have created “Donald Trump for President”. His relevance is birthed by the fear caused by ISIS and the many tentacled beast described above. Every gunshot and explosion makes his candidacy more likely—his rhetoric is the protection that America is seeking—and it is not unlike the barricade I put up in that apartment on 9/11.

When I ran into that field of golden grass, out of my apartment for the first time in two days, I looked into the horizon and let the sun dry my tears and that is when I heard the siren. I saw a fire truck driving slowly through the neighborhood and saw people coming out toward the truck. I approached cautiously, pulled by the strings of my curiosity, fear replaced by a thirst for knowing. I walked closer to the street and what was happening became clear, the Fire Department of the City of Davis was collecting money for the first responders to 9/11. I dug in my pockets and without looking walked over to the truck, past my neighbors and others, and I gave. I remember the fireman smiled at me and I can’t remember if I smiled back, but I do remember that I didn’t feel the stares in that moment, in that moment I felt so American, and so at one with the sensation of sorrow stemming from the tragedy we all were reeling from.

While the clarity of that moment would diminish, because of the unchecked hate targeting people like me that followed it. It reminds me that the line between hope and despair is thin. While many of my social media associates have been busy “un-friending” Trump supporters, it’s given me pause to consider his candidacy in the context of world history. People keep comparing Trump to Hitler, but what makes Trump more compelling is that his rise is happening at a time where our nation is economically strong. In order to understand this one must understand the debilitating power that fear can have. Those that make the comparison, do so to make a compelling argument against Trump and ironically it’s seems the comparison itself is motivated by fear? I’ve lived through bullying, the ‘phobia after 9/11 and since then, and I do not find myself afraid like others do. I don’t fear Trump himself. I don’t fear his supporters or their reasons to support him. I do fear that which makes good people do bad things. I fear the “fear itself,” because it’s real and it is the culprit. F.D.R. was a hypocrite for signing Executive Order 5066, because the sole reason for signing it was for the fear of “fear itself.” Pearl Harbor was the catalyst, just as the Reichstag was for Hitler. 9/11 created this New America, but what will it take to put Trump into office? What is the fear to come? What is the fear itself? I’d argue that Trump is not Hitler, at least not yet.   What we should fear isn’t him, his rhetoric or his candidacy, but what his Reichstag might be.

History tells us that crazy things happen in times of fear. Executive order 5066 was a departure from American values and so are the NDAA, Guantanamo and the other changes we’ve made that walk the fine line of feeling pragmatically correct to safeguard against fear but ideologically wrong. We’ve created a world that is afraid of “too much toothpaste on flights”, belts and bottled water. We’ve given into fear wholeheartedly and it shows in the sheer ignorance that fuels it—like the analogy of targeting any snake for fear of a potentially venomous one seems an apt example to characterize Islamophobia, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of its madness. Half-truths, out-right lies and fabrications now circle around the life of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam and what Muslims believe. These then fuel the poison spit by bigots during these times of crisis and furthermore provide rationale for the Wahhabi-Salafi octopus, its tentacles, constituents and supporters for their crimes. There was a time, where I feared Islam too, because of the actions of Muslims, but that fear was dispelled by knowledge and I believe that feel that knowledge can help our nation, to discern what type of snake we should be afraid of and where its coil comes from.

Follow The Fear

My belief that knowledge reigns supreme was born from a Hip-Hop upbringing, a mom who put knowledge and the pursuit of it as the primary value she imbued me with, and a lifetime of welts and bruises given by the clenched fists of ignorance and stupidity. Knowledge was kryptonite to ignorance and this belief fueled my path in education. I started the City of Knowledge after-school intervention with the support of Principal Mireya Casarez at Cesar Chavez for students who were navigating post-9/11 realities as Muslim, Sikh or other students who had that look on playgrounds and buses on their way to and from school. It was an intervention, replete with coaching and advisory for students who were traversing the minefield of hate that had become America; I shared with them my narrative and how I had to code switch and assimilate to survive, and how those sacrifices made my people like me, were so we could be in a place of support for them so that they never had to shroud who they were in order to survive. It was a program that began with eight or nine kids then burgeoned to over forty students and then I went on to develop a multi-lingual inclusive program as an administrator in charter schools.

I believe in the phrase each-one-teach-one and truly believe that each of us can make a difference if we share our stories and the truths they hold. I continue to do this work as an educator and as an artist, through Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop Ed (#HipHopEd). Most of the work I’ve released speaks to the truth of the disenfranchised human being living in the shadows—In this moment its Muslims, and the story of our disenfranchisement fuels my craft. I leave you with a metaphor for our times, an-older piece, written to speak to core Islamic beliefs in the post-9/11 context. I recorded it and entitled it as a play on the Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri; the following piece is called the Divina Comedia: Part 2: Purge Story, and it is the middle part of a spoken word piece recorded in three parts on my first full-length solo album Carbon Cycle Diaries. This piece touched the creative mind of my colleague, and fellow artist, director and educator Stacey Goodman, who saw in it an even deeper narrative. The question I pose in the piece of “Who Do You Follow?” in repetition had another meaning in the times we lived in. It no longer is a question of faith, but a question of who follows you because of your faith. Stacey created a script that spoke to this intersection and worked with me to tell a multi-layered visual story of our fear-induced world, which questions not only “[whom] you follow,” but also as a result, “who follows you?”

 

 

Black Superman

Black Superman cover art  by Jibola Fagbamiye

Black Superman cover art by Jibola Fagbamiye

BLACK SUPERMAN by Professor A.L.I. 

An Introduction

As a student of history trained by Eugene Irschick and Hamid Algar, I’ve been cognizant of the fact that human civilization may shift from various empires but that the behaviors inherent in our species remain the same throughout time. Therefore history is at its core, a study of these cycles and a historian is adept at pattern recognition. One such pattern has consumed my interest as of late and was the impetus for the creation of the song Black Superman, which pays homage to a multiplicity of social justice movements while also acknowledging the point at which we are in a historical cycle and based on recognition of patterns of behavior, ultimately predicts what has to come next.

As a disclaimer, I must state, that I am making no prophetic claims in the analysis to follow, but the argument that will be elucidated below is one that has been prophesized by others in the past, while even becoming a part of modern human mythos. I also don’t need to make a spoiler alert because that which I flesh out below should come as no surprise to anyone.

The Argument

Throughout human history when one group has oppressed another for a length of time, ultimately the oppressors eventually face resistance in the form of a leader from amongst the oppressed who unifies them in opposition to the hegemonic structures that bind them. If this leader cannot be turned then they are killed, as in being murdered by stealth or publicly assassinated and transformed into a martyr. If the oppressor group is even more exact, they will try to eliminate the leader in such a way that they do not become a symbol for future resistance movements like an Emiliano Zapata became for the Zapatista movement and struggle in modern times despite his martyrdom nearly a century prior.   However there are moments in history when the oppression becomes so obtuse and engorged by its own abuse that a leader emerges from amongst the downtrodden to successfully liberate the people. Figures such as these are seen as a necessary means to an end; they are the antibodies by which the aforementioned societal sickness is cured and the need for them is manifest in the consciousness of the oppressed and therefore they are logically foretold to come into being by elders, diviners and prophets amongst the people. These individuals are messianic in nature, promised deliverers of the people and their historic/legendary archetypes are manifest in figures like Moses and Krishna.

Truth be told, we live in such times that the people demand deliverance from oppression on systemic level in the form of a mis-education system, a prison industrial complex, a privileged system of justice and rampant police brutality—and in this day and age the people look to a special person to help deliver them from this state; perhaps they look for a Black Superman?

A Black Messiah To Deliver People From Bondage

The Black Messiah

Black Superman is a song, which acknowledges a cold fact. Throughout the modern era, in the West, intelligence agencies whose purpose was to monitor and gather information had also sought out potential Black Messiah figures and attempted to eliminate them. This is because in the Western context, and in the United States in particular, one of the foremost oppressed groups is the Black population; these were the descendants of the brutality of chattel slavery, the façade of emancipation, Black Codes and Jim Crow, lynching’s leading to the Civil Rights Act (which, on its surface may seem to have had the right intentions, but ultimately leads to policy and actions that further disenfranchise the black community, exampled by this de-segregation leading to ghettoization of the urban black centers and the creation of habitual norms that make the government the sole community provider ostensibly eliminating the community network and framework that had existed prior), and the New Jim Crow, which takes us up to the world we live in. Throughout this time many leaders have emerged to lead the black community such as Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey P. Newton and Assata Shakur and all of them proved targets for their potential to galvanize the masses. Ultimately, while all of the aforementioned figures were influential their potential was either marginalized by policy, prison or through assassination and murder.

These women and men are synonymous with the concept of a Black Messiah or “Black Superman”, in that their intentioned goal was to deliver black folk from the bondage imposed upon them ever since their captivity began, through the policies that have kept the majority of the black community disenfranchised and ensnared in a web of oppression.

Thus its no wonder that the FBI and to a lesser extent the CIA utilized their information gathering mechanisms to try and stop a Black Messiah figure from ever emerging—J. Edgar Hoover, in particular was obsessed at finding and preventing this very thing from happening and directed the agency to utilized the very means of murder and assassination outlined above in order to effectuate this goal.

One could go further and make the argument that like the historic Pharaoh and Kans, who tried to slaughter children to prevent a prophecy of a messianic figure from emerging, modern day policies target young black men and women, effectively killing those who are resistant minded—and ultimately potential Black Messiahs. While this may seem like a stretch, its hard to deny the logic since history would dictate that it doesn’t matter if it’s a despotic or a pseudo-democratic system in place, since human behavior necessitates that those who inherit the privileges of power, which is born from oppression will not want to give it up and the most sinister amongst these will utilize any means to prevent that from happening.

Black Lives Matter to Black Superman

#BlackLivesMatter

So when the #BlackLivesMatter movement came into being as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and the incredulity of the black community to the events that transpired after the young man’s death, such as the lack of an arrest for well over a month of the murderer, to the a sham trial and a verdict that left Zimmerman free to live his life—there was a need for it to be said, that black lives mattered because it looked a lot like they didn’t.

Soon thereafter the hashtag started to link other murders and extrajudicial killings by police officers and pseudo-law-enforcement personal of young black men and women. Names like Aiyana Jones, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice linked with those that sparked larger outrage and movements like Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.

However while the hashtag marked a special moment in history, in that social media was linking seemingly disparate events throughout the country and by doing so were elucidating a pattern everyone could recognize. And while additionally, #SayHerName reminded us that even within this pattern that patriarchy reigned supreme—these were not new things.

Any student of history would know that what was being reported was not new. It wasn’t new when Rodney King was caught on tape being beat and it even wasn’t new when the Black Panthers championed the case of Denzel Dodd. The sad truth is that these events had been happening ever since the first human being from Africa was monetized as chattel and brought to Western shores. The dehumanization was necessary in order to carry on economics of that nature and to maintain this structure, all potential rabble-rousers had to be eliminated.

While I would agree that it’s clearly not as simple as this—I mean, who knows what goes on in the mind of a police officer in a heated moment and not all police officers are the same, just as not all young black women and men are, yet, we all belong to a system of conditioning with those in positions of power in whose self interest it is to create a system that programs us to behave in a manner that forwards their aims. If the aim is to maintain the status quo of inequity then its clear that any figure that would attempt to lead a paradigm shift, let alone a full blown revolution would be a threat.

Earlier this year in Louisville, I met the first protestors in Ferguson and along with my brother, and fellow activist and artist Jasiri X and was inspired by them. What was clear was that Al Sharpton was not the leader of this movement, nor was it the Reverend Jesse Jackson—there was leadership but no clear leader. Even those who advance the movement like brother Deray Mckesson (Twitter: @deray), who has been tapped by the news media to speak on the protests and is prolific on social media and eloquent in his narrative, is not the leader of this movement. If a clear cut leader had emerged that leader like a Malcolm or a Martin would be a target and according to historical patterns eliminated because the powers that be have too much at stake and ultimately too much to lose.

What is clear in social media, to me, as a historian is that there are patterns and what people tweet and status update on this issue, is reminiscent of the prayers of the children of Israel. The demand for swift change is coupled with one for a messiah figure to emerge (both for the religious and irreligious) and deliver people from the bondage of the prison industrial complex, an injustice system and of these so called law enforcement agencies that break more laws than they enforce.

Superman by Professor A.L.I.

Superman by Professor A.L.I.

Superman

Superman was a modern myth created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster; some historians argue that Siegel and Shuster, both from a Jewish background, created the character in response to a Nazi perversion of a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche had his character Zarathustra posit the Übermensch as a goal for human beings to aspire to. The concept of the Übermensch or the Superman was one that the Nazi party would build upon and argue about Aryan superiority.

The Superman mythos created by Siegel and Shuster, which found early opponents of Superman to be the Nazis themselves, follows very closely the Hebrew narrative of Moses. Moses is taken as a child as calamity befalls the children of Israel and is sent in a small vessel via the Nile and is found by the family of the Pharaoh and later imbued with great powers, which he utilizes to liberate his people. Moses is a messiah, foretold by the Prophets and elders of the Hebrew nation living in bondage in Egypt—a messiah that is synonymous with the idea of Superman as envisioned and re-imagined by Siegel and Shuster.

Siegel and Shuster made their character Superman an alien, born on the planet Krypton, and as calamity befalls the children of Krypton, his family sends him on a small vessel via space and is found by a family on Smallville, Kansas, on the distant planet earth. He later is imbued with great powers, due to the radiation of the yellow sun and his unique Kryptonian biology and uses this to enforce justice. Why must he enforce justice—not because his Uncle Ben is murdered and he feels great power must come from great responsibility, not because he watches his parents being murdered and promises to dispense justice so that no other children have to go through what he did, but as originally envisioned, Superman enforces justice because there is far too much injustice for law enforcement and the justice system on the planet to handle—in other words they are incapable of doing their jobs and there is a need for justice by the people who are victims of injustice and therefore a messiah is needed. Enter Superman.

The Prophecy of The Mahdi

The Prophecy of The Mahdi

The Mahdi

Messiah stories are not new—there are as many prophecies of messiah as there are prophetic traditions.   The return of Jesus Christ (Christianity) and the Kalki Avatar (Hinduism) are two well-known examples—in the Islamic world and amongst Muslims there is also the tradition of Al-Mahdi or Imam Mahdi, the awaited savior.

The narrative of the Mahdi has two branches. The Sunni Muslim (those who follow the life of the Prophet through narratives of people who lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and subsequent generations) perspective postulates that the Mahdi will be born and there isn’t an agreed upon emphasis or specification of what the family lineage of the Mahdi will be. Sunni Muslims may, like other groups look forward to the birth and rise of the Mahdi—but the mysterious nature of the Sunni narrations about who the Mahdi will be has also given rise to many false messianic figures like Usman Dan Fodio & Mirza Ghulam Ahmed to name a few (their positive impacts, if any, notwithstanding, my usage of the word false as an adjective lies in the fact that their titles were imposed by followers because they were waiting for such a figure to emerge—and later abandoned by the same followers after their demise or a shift in the movement they had sparked.) A title that can make a person an instant leader of the Sunni Muslim community, of hundreds of millions of people and perhaps even a billion, is certainly a great motivation for any human being and its not hard to imagine with so many problems in the Middle East and Islamic lands that many have gravitated towards usurping that title for themselves. I myself, as a young student of Islam, while a student at U.C. Berkeley encountered two men who claimed to be Al Mahdi and ironically both suffered from mental illness. The most egregious visual example of what I refer to can be as ‘the fervor to be Al-Mahdi’ can be seen on this live television clip of a man claiming to be the Mahdi on camera:

The 12th Prince

In the other Islamic tradition, Shia Muslims, or those who follow the family of the Prophet and some Sufi orders believe the Mahdi has been born and they rely on narrations from the family of the Prophet and the Qur’anic chapter “Al-Kawthar” or “The Abundance”, which is all about the Fatima bint Muhammad and prophesizes the abundance in her bloodline and legacy. Shia Muslims believe that the 12th Imam or 12th Prince, and foretold messiah figure would be born from the bloodline of Fatima, be named Muhammad, and look like the Prophet.

Imam Mahdi, as he is respectfully referred to was born and Shia Muslims believe him to be in occultation and that he will return with Jesus Christ (a belief they share with Christians); it positions Shia Muslims and Sufis differently that Sunni Muslims in that the former group believes they have to ready themselves for the return of Al-Mahdi while the latter are awaiting the birth and rise of the figure entirely. This may seem a subtle distinction but it gives rise to global movements like the ascendancy of scholars from cities like Najaf and Qom to worldwide leaders.

And there is one thing that makes this even more poignant and brings all the threads together in my mind, from #BlackLivesMatter to the Superman figure; Imam Mahdi based on historic records and narrations is a black man.

Black Messiah = Black Superman

Black Superman

The bloodline of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, is from the second branch of the Abraham, through Ishmael, and therefore through his second wife Hajar (Hagar), who was from Abyssinia (Africa). Hajar is African, which makes the bloodline of her descendants, in part African as well—while we are ultimately all from Africa and this was long before Muhammad himself was born, I wanted to start here to effectually diminish post-colonial angst by any Muslim readers, who I know may be conditioned to believe that “black” is an offensive term and may find my last statement that Imam Mahdi is a black man to be offensive. My hope is to remind readers that the woman who is buried next to the Kaaba, and through whom many of the acts of the Hajj/pilgrimage were based and whose grave must not be crossed during circumambulation of the structure during Hajj, lest one must repeat the circle, is Hajar, a black woman.

The bloodline of Muhammad, which survives solely through his one biological daughter (not his step-daughters, or adopted children), namely Fatima bint Muhammad is one that becomes increasingly African in subsequent generations—and less Arab. A habit of the household of Fatima bint Muhammad was to marry and ostensibly free women who were slaves, and many of these women came from Africa. In fact the latter Imams, from the 8th onward to the 11th all had African mothers from Nubia. The 9th Imam was so black, that the Arabs at the time claimed that he had “defective skin”.   The parentage of the 12th Imam rests on two different narrative chains, one claiming his mother was from Rome (Byzantium, which was Rome at the time, was a diverse space—and she could still very well be African) and the second narration is that his mother was also African. Imam Mahdi therefore is a black man, and that truly problematizes notions of how people believe the Prophet Muhammad looked like (since they are supposed to, according to Prophetic traditions, look like each other).

A black messiah figure, that Shia Muslims are waiting for, at a time where black men and women are being slaughtered systematically—a slaughter that began with enslavement, followed by emancipation and modern policies that incarcerate or murder fathers and watch mothers and grandmothers raise orphans is oddly similar to the life of Imam Mahdi. Imam Mahdi’s grandmothers and mother were all slaves who were emancipated, his father spent his entire life incarcerated under the Abbasid regime and he was raised an orphan after his father was assassinated shortly after he was born. A black messiah with a narrative echoing the black experience at a time we are touting the fact that black lives matter in the New Jim Crow America we live in is serendipitous—and furthermore, the irony is that the only global Islamic leadership that even commented on #blacklivesmatter has been Shia.

The Song: Black Superman

So the artist in me saw the various patterns come together and I wondered, what if a black messiah figure emerged, what if it was Imam Mahdi, who helped lead those disenfranchised in the United States to find justice and usher in a new age built on empathy and peace… a real Black Superman—and this is how the piece was born—a tribute to lost lives, of various social movements and the idea that we are all connected in the struggle. My global blackness, was an obvious bias and as a West Coast based Hip-Hop artist, I used the beat from Above The Law’s, Black Superman to tell this story—this wasn’t intended to be commercial and this isn’t promotion for a new album, etc.; it is a reflection on the world as I see it and its imbued with hope for a better future, which I hope my children inherit –one that won’t find them waking to nightmares, or having to bury their friends to acts of murder and police brutality.

Black Superman by Professor A.L.I.

VERSE 1

Moses from krypton, the twelfth son Babylon

The Panther’s song champion, so he battles on

Sabotage hegemons, as they brandish arms,

Fifteen Shabaan born to a banished mom,

Her anguish birthed son who vanquish cops,

Camaflouged messiah of the black Holocaust

Pigs fear he inspires so they cap us all

In our backs like Oscar Grant or Walter Scott

Kill at will, Its Emmitt Still, and Denzel Dodd

Aiyana and Tamir, even kids are shot!

Pop, pop like the spine of Freddie Gray,

And A.L.I. can’t wait till the DOJ

He don’t play and we pray, pigs burns slow

You can’t breathe hellfire fills torso

Pain eternal, this inferno, universal

Black Superman global, full circle

VERSE 2

His grandmothers were enslaved then emancipated

His father spent his whole life incarcerated

His mother birthed an orphan, haters hated

‘Cuz he communicated, that their days were dated

Forsaken, His face impersonated by racists

They perpetrate desecration of the sacred like Satan

The fated prince who faded, we’re separated

Ever since then, false leaders speculated

While the meek have waited, to be liberated

From injustice like child with throat lacerated

Eric Garner chokes, and Louima’s broken

50 shots smoke, (Sean) Bell’s life stolen

Walmart coffin offered for John Crawford,

A plea bargain, for offing Trayvon Martin

Black Lives Matter, to the 12 Imam

A Crip suit, Blood cape, Black Superman

Malcolm Smiles On

Malcolm and Me

Malcolm Smiles On by Professor A.L.I.

It was a warm afternoon in the East Bay and I was at work walking from a class I had just taught to a meeting I was late for because I had lingered after class to respond to student questions about the upcoming final exam and I was distracted as I hurried on the path by my phone, which kept buzzing – rather than turn it off, something compelled me to look and I saw it was a call from my close friend and brother Muneer Ali. I stopped a few feet short of the door of the conference room that my colleagues had just entered and I answered the phone to tell Muneer that I would call him back—but what I heard in the tone of his voice gave me great pause. You see I’ve heard Muneer cry before when we shared an intense spiritual experience together on pilgrimage in Mashad and the fluctuation in his voice harkened me back to that memory, and at the same time it was different, melancholy, heavy and devoid of warmth.

Muneer told me in a broken voice, which I imagined later must have reflected a broken spirit, that our friend and brother Malcolm Shabazz was dead, and that he had been murdered. I stumbled for words as my brain and heart froze trying to process the news. “Malcolm? Not young Malcolm? Did he say Malcolm?” all these were the questions that went through my mind in rapid succession and as I answered them I found myself on the edge of a pit of despair that was growing in my stomach. He repeated the news and this time it struck me like a head-on collision on the freeway and immediately stole the air out of my lungs and left me gasping, dumbstruck in confusion. Muneer spoke again, and in a measured phrase said, “He’s gone akh.”

There was no exclamation point, no question, just a period. The statement lingered in the air as I clamored to an empty building nearby, and walked into a room on legs that had lost their spring and began to fight back tears as I asked him for more information, about his sources, and if indeed this news had confirmation. He told me what he knew, that Malcolm was in Mexico City and that he’d been murdered.

I was shocked because last I heard Malcolm was with his fam, and last I spoke with him he was in New York and the last I saw him was a few months back in the Bay—Mexico City didn’t compute and I just couldn’t believe the news. I hurriedly checked Facebook and saw his most recent status update, which was an image of what now appeared to be an ominous recreation of the Last Supper, but replacing Jesus and the Apostles were images of the activists of our generation, Malcolm X was there and Young Malcolm was there—it was ominous because when he had posted the image he was one of the only people alive in the picture; in it, he was surrounded by martyrs—and now I wondered if he had truly become one?

Muneer told me not to share that information with anyone that no one in the U.S. knew yet and that the news would come out soon. He told me that Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen (our mutual spiritual advisor) would call and just as he said, shortly thereafter I was speaking with Hashim, and he was confirming my worst fears and the nightmare I was imagining was becoming tangible, just as my insides felt like they were being sucked further inward by a mysterious vacuum at the center of the abyss that was seeking to consume bme and I had lost my balance under the weight of what I was hearing and finally beginning to process.

The truth is to this day I am still processing that news and I still feel broken from the loss of my friend and dear brother Malcolm Shabazz. Its one of the reasons I dedicated my last XFactor project to him & his family because Malcolm was one of my most avid supporters and did for me as an artist and brother much more than I could have ever expected in the ways he would promote my craft and tried to connect me to his networks in order to push what I was trying to do—He believed in me as an artist when I truly didn’t believe in my own artistry and as our bond grew, it was clear that it went beyond a normal friendship, into what I would call brotherhood and this is why it wounds me to my soul’s core that I have no way of thanking him for all he did and what he meant to me because he was callously murdered and the light of his beautiful smile was stolen from us.

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I still remember vividly the moment when I was talking to him on the phone after he came back to the US from Syria, where near the shrine of Zainab he was studying Islam in a seminary and had shortly thereafter moved to Miami to stay with our mutual spiritual guide Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen. I asked him if I could ask questions and recorded the conversation via Skype and my hope was the interview would intertwine his narrative into a future project of mine and what you see on the XFactor release is that interview in two parts with Malcolm & Me, Part 1 and 2.

It pains me that Malcolm wasn’t alive to hear the project come to fruition. These questions were unplanned and the ones that popped into my mind as we spoke, but his answers, full of wisdom inspired me as an artist to take the Hip-Hop & the teaching and merge them together and this entire album and the course attached to it are inspired by my quest to use my artistry to inspire others in the same way that Malcolm and his grandfather and family have inspired me.

Shortly after our conversation through Skype we’d get a chance to meet face to face in Miami where Hashim would organize a special event before another conference in the area that many, including I were attending. It was as this conference that I first met Malcolm face to face and it was all love. During our meeting, I was immediately struck by Malcolm’s humility and felt the physical warmth of his smile. He was so poised when he spoke, so unassuming and so vibrant at the same time.

It was clear that he had a powerful energy about him and that aura was like a lantern drawing like-minded souls towards the flame of his being—but with this truth Malcolm wasn’t satisfied, and it became clear that he wouldn’t be, until he used the force of his personality to truly connect everyone in his growing circle to each other in brotherhood/sisterhood. Some of my closest friends in life, i.e. those whom I call my brothers; we became connected through Malcolm.

Malcolm & Friends Miami

For example, without Malcolm’s intervention, I’d never have met the director Justin Mashouf, the venture capitalist Hassan Golzari, Yusuf Abdul Mateen of the rap group Blak Madeen or social activist Hajji Jason Sharif. We all became interconnected through Malcolm’s efforts and remained loyal brothers within Malcolm’s network and remain inclined to his work and vision, which was for advocating for and actively building a just and peaceful society, through our work today.

The irony is that we are effective in this work now because of Malcolm and yet at the same time our efficacy has been greatly diminished through his loss. I shudder to think what Malcolm would be feeling seeing the continuation of the brutality of law enforcement that he actively worked against. What would Malcolm do viewing the footage of the murders of Freddie Gray or Walter Scott? How would he process the killing of Tamir Rice? What would he say to us? Just thinking about these events, disparate, yet connected by a thread of injustice that ensnares the fabric of this nation like the Biblical serpent of lore leaves me utterly disgusted knowing how these events would twist the beautiful smile of our brother Malcolm into a scowl.

Whenever we talked on the phone our conversations always gravitated towards our daughters. When he spoke of his daughter, even on the phone, I could see him smiling. His heart was filled with such love and he saw the same reflection in me. He met my daughter Husna at Muneer’s home in Richmond, and he smiled, and my daughter, too young to remember the exchange, smiled back. That was Malcolm’s strength, his ability to move anyone, young or old, just like his grandfather, with the power of his smile.

At Muneer’s home that day Malcolm pulled him aside and gave him a small hastily wrapped package. He opened to find a ruby ring—and was surprised. I told him it was my late father’s and I wanted him to have it, and I prayed that it would bring him sustenance and fortune so he could continue to do his work. I never saw him wear it, but giving it to him meant something to me, in a poetic sense. In many ways it was his family, his grandfather, Malcolm X, who had also raised me to become a Muslim and it seemed fitting to give a small token of my appreciation to the family and in Malcolm, I found the namesake & heir to that legacy.

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I tried to spend as much time as I could with Malcolm in the Bay. I invited him to speak to my summer class for PCA at U.C. Berkeley and he obliged on a whim, I helped provide security at the Black Dot Café when he first came to the Bay and then later was present when he met our ustad/teacher, Professor Hamid Algar and dialogued about Islamic spirituality. I took him to some of my favorite eateries and I even arranged for him to come to Athenian to speak, but unfortunately at the last minute a scheduling conflict prevented his appearance.

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And he would reciprocate, inviting me to the radio station, bridging connections to help my music get airplay, advocating on my behalf and giving me the push I needed as an artist. Malcolm then connected with my brother-in-law Muhammad Ali and they went to Hajj together and he returned with even more light on his face, and a wider smile. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, Malcolm was making connections on my behalf—he talked to Ras Ceylon, an educator and artist in the Bay Area, and at the time a practitioner of the Rastafarian faith in order to connect with me specifically and I was struck by this, because Malcolm hadn’t told me, and it was at his funeral, when I met Ras for the first time and he communicated this tale and when I looked into Ras’s eyes and he into mine, we both saw a broken part of ourselves and connected in a brotherhood born of our mutual love of Malcolm.

It was hard to sleep the night after I heard of his passing—so many questions lingered and I really wanted to know who was responsible. My phone kept ringing. I would answer calls from Jason or Yusuf and not know what to say. Sheikh Hashim was broken, Malcolm stayed in his home and was basically a member of his family and on top of that our community had gone through a severe and traumatic death not too long ago and this murder revisited that pain and added to it, like a fire burning away at your flesh from the inside. Unfortunately the pain would get worse in subsequent days as the news would spin half-truths and spread lies about our brother.

The next afternoon, Sheikh Hashim called me and told me of a fundraiser, asked me to contact my networks and told me of funeral plans in the Bay. I started making arrangements and when I called back, Sheikh Hashim informed me that we would be washing Malcolm’s body as per Islamic custom and ritual and while I was honored, I was anxious—I knew my brother had been murdered and yet nothing could have prepared me for what I would see that day on the slab at the mortuary.

I think till the day we die, my brothers who were with me on that day will remain connected in our service to the family of Malcolm X, to our brother Malcolm Shabazz, having washed and shrouded his form so that his mother, Qubilah could view her son & recite a prayer. Brother Hussain, Ameer Rashad, Malik Emir, brother Zayd, Raymond King, Sheikh Hashim and myself bore witness to the lies in the media first hand on that day. Sheikh Hashim would say later at the funeral, that looking upon Malcolm’s form reminded him of Emmitt Till. The weight of that statement would send shivers down the very spine of the community at large.

Malcolm Funeral

At his funeral, I read a poetic elegy I had written on his behalf, but the rapper in me couldn’t process the tragedy to write any bars of consequence to commemorate him in song—it was not until I began to reflect on the idea of eulogizing and how to best tell the story, in a brief and heartfelt way that inspiration began to come.

I knew that of my songs with featured artists that Malcolm loved the joint I had done with Raekwon, and so I took the song and remixed it in his honor, and what follows below is a video dedicated to souls we lost too early to violence. First is the narrative of my childhood friend James Cowlings, following that is Raekwon’s own reflection on a cab driver he knew named Ed and finally there are eight bars dedicated to my brother Malcolm. After that a soulful guitar is plucked away by Khalil Abdullah, a brother and admirer of Malcolm who I met ironically through an Islamic wake held in Malcolm’s honor, attended by his mother in the Bay Area at Sheikh Hashim’s home.   I smile at this fact because Malcolm is still connecting us through the light of that smile and I hope you feel a sense of connection to him and his message through this:

Hip-Hoperation Earth

by Professor A.L.I.

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“The earth in revolution, returnin’ to a point before the humans’ devilution” –these are the last words off of Hip-Hop-E, in which the E, if you haven’t figured it out yet, stands for the Earth. My solo career as an artist (which began with the Carbon Cycle Diaries LP, and was followed by the Emerald Manifesto LP) has consistently been inspired by our planet; Mother Earth and her fate remains my muse because this is the narrative that most perplexes me. Carbon Cycle Diaries was “a call to planetary arms” and Emerald Manifesto laid out a plan for permaculture, noting that hope for our planet was possible if we followed a path of regeneration.

Regeneration requires the engagement of an entire generation. Currently this type of action happens sparingly, in pockets, localized in particular regions—yet it isn’t a global call. The planet is not engaged in this, because every step we take, corporate interests to maximize profits, or political parties focused on trying to maintain a semblance of governmental control have undermined the scale of the larger movement and while we have days like Earth Day to remind us of our duty to the planet or drought induced policy changes (at least in California), these are drops in an ever diminishing bucket and the hope of Emerald Manifesto led to the creation of Hip-Hop-E.

The Emerald Manifesto lays out a plan – in the face of our wasteful ways… 

On Hip-Hop-E, I engaged with the idea that we are the problem and that ultimately, it is not the earth that must evolve but that we must be cleansed, so that the earth can hit the reset button. I remixed a feature from Sadat X to use for a hook, and engaged with the idea of the planet returning to a point before we destroyed it, using its own mechanisms to cleanse the disaster we’ve made during our stewardship of it.

This is a shift from “Eco-Rap” that KPFA labeled my music as back in 2011 and it’s a huge shift from songs like Earthsong featuring Blue Scholars. It isn’t invoked by cynicism but an epiphany from study of various texts, religious, spiritual, predictive and scientific and the theme that emerged to me is our insignificance and our hubris to believe otherwise as a species.

By hubris, I mean the belief that we have the ability to damage our mother irreparably and to further believe that her fate is with a savior that is also us. It was this second point that made me pause wholly and reconsider the dominant narrative. What if we were not caretakers, but germs, that needed to be cleansed? Yes some of us were like good bacteria, helping the host body, but the vast majority of us were like laboratory-produced strains of Ebola—hence the metaphor of an inevitable apocalypse.

Is it so hard to believe? We send so much junk into the universe, inject it into the veins of our mother and subject the very life essence of this planet, the water to waste that makes panacea turn poison and we expect that “Chickens won’t come home to roost”? This was the mental frame of mind in which this song was written… and it contains a quote from my late brother, Malcolm Shabazz, quoting his own grandfather, Malcolm X—and I agree with him—and of course I am frightened. I am fearful for my family and friends and our entire race, because of the inevitable karmic Armageddon we have invoked. My hope is that we somehow come to our senses and engage in a planetary paradigm shift, perhaps its not too late… yet here we are & here it is:

I’m not the only planetary Hip-Hop “Raptivist” or artist—nor did I create this genre but like my brothers from Earth Amplified or Sustainable John, I’ve definitely put my voice behind it—for this Bhooma Devi is our mother, and we are being held hostage by her other rebellious sons and daughters, along with her and this is how we voice our frustration. Peace to my fellow Hip-Hop Eco-Raptivists and Green Hip Hoppas… Peace to the Earth and those who cultivate her, hoping to regenerate what others have destroyed and Peace to all the Shamans, Priests, Imams who congregated and lead their congregation in planetary healing prayers and paradigm shifts in action. PEACE.