Islam Today: Husayn’s Legacy

The story of what happened on Ashura, in Karbala, so long ago, reverberates today, not because it is singularly unique.  Mass murder is a common occurrence and so too is the disenfranchisement of women and children is a part of our global status quo—so why is what happened to Husayn ibn Ali so unique and important that millions continue to commemorate what happened to the children of Fatima in the sands of Karbala.

Truth be told, what happened to Husayn, the son of Fatima and Ali, and the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, his family, sisters, daughters, sons, and loved ones, was a precedent for the violence that would be done in the name of Islam, for eons after, and into this modern day.  Islam was hijacked when Husayn was killed, and it was one of three tragedies visited upon the faith by the evil Caliph Yazeed, alongside the mass rape of the women of Medina (the Prophet Muhammad’s city) and the destruction of a portion of the Kaaba in a failed raid.

We remember Husayn so that we don’t forget the rest of the story.  We remember Husayn to remember his family, his parents, and his legacy.

Our lamentation comes in various languages and in different media.  The song above is one such example and it is comprised of four M.C.’s (Yusuf Abdul-Mateen of Blak Madeen, Young Skitz, Professor A.L.I. and Left, in order of appearance) coming together to create a piece of art about Husayn ibn Ali and the authenticity of real Islam; as such, it stands in sharp contrast in the light of what passes as Islamic practice in our modern day.

In addition, here is one more example by Professor A.L.I. featuring Shareef Nasir, about  the love people have for Husayn and what he represents.  Please share these songs and let us all pray for a world of peace, where oppression has no place and no excuse to justify its existence.

PEACE

Professor A.L.I.

Please Share!

HusaynsLegacy

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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.

 

 

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?”

 

 

Islamophobia: An irrational fear for the religion I hold dear

They Kill MeIslamophobia: An irrational fear for the religion I hold dear

by Professor A.L.I.

 

As a Muslim educator and artist, times like this past week, which included terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris and Nigeria are especially challenging. I find solace in the fact that I can be there for young people, who are still navigating their identity while that identity is being stereotyped by these events, homogenized with its perpetrators, then marginalized and attacked. I rather I be the face of Islam in these moments than them and I rather I be the target of hate, then them. However, I know it is a burden, that all Muslims have to share—especially those who live in the West.

Recently, Donald Trump who campaigning for in the Republican primaries made the assertion that Muslims should wear identification badges. Sadly, in the xenophobic reality that is present day America, ones American identity is questioned by ones head covering or facial hair. Ask any practicing adherent of the Sikh faith and they will affirm this truth. The assertion made by Trump was made in an effort to connect with voters, since it is a feeling held by many. People in America look at Paris and they don’t feel safe. They look at Paris and remember the Boston Marathon and 9/11. I know this because when I look at the events of Baghdad, Beirut, Paris and Nigeria, I remember Boston, New York and D.C. I remember how I felt, violated as an American and how I felt doubly violated, when, my fellow Americans began to associate me with those who had carried out these disgusting acts.

If you are not a Muslim or Sikh or can pass for not being one due to your ability to blend in, then you may not know the fear we feel in these moments. It’s caught in the eyes of Alia Ansari, a 37-year old mother of six, in between the flashes of gunshots, as she was gunned down in front of her home in Fremont, California, in 2006. imgres

Her only distinguishing quality, the headscarf she wore. I live in the Fremont area, an area known for a large Muslim population and I feel the fear. I live here with my wife and children, and the fear is real, everyday and its heightened after global tragedies.

The fear I feel is responsive. It’s fear in response to the irrational fear, i.e. phobia that grips my nation in times like this. It isn’t the irrational fear of the stranger (i.e. Xenophobia) alone, but the irrational fear of Islam and Muslims, known as Islamophobia. I use the term irrational to juxtapose it with rational, in order for people to distinguish between groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and Al Qaeda versus people like me. You should fear ISIS and their ilk. I fear them. This is a rational fear. They’re stated goal is to create fear through terror. They want to kill you and me and they have carried out gruesome acts of violence to showcase their resolve. This fear is like the fear of a venomous snake. It makes sense. When you combine this fear with ignorance, however you get phobia, or irrational fear. Irrational fear is the fear of any Muslim or of Islam in general. It’s the fear mongering of presidential hopeful Donald Trump. It’s the motivation behind the profiling of Sikhs and Muslims. It’s the compounded tragedy found the tragic death of Alia Ansari.

Fear of “any old Muslim” is like fear of “any old snake” and not just the venomous ones. It is irrational fear and its irrationality holds me hostage in my own country for my constitutionally protected beliefs. The only way to combat irrational fear and hate is by diminishing the ignorance that fuels it with knowledge so one can discern between the ISIS’s of the world from the vast majority of Muslims who are just peace-loving average citizens and by washing away hate with love—loving those who are doubly impacted by these tragedies and who have to fear for their lives because of the way they are perceived in times of fear.

Islamophobia Article

This is a challenging thing to do. The challenge is that ISIS and its ilk claim to do what they are doing in the name of Islam emboldened by their interpretations of the faith. People ask me all the time, how they can tell the difference between these extremist groups and the average Muslim. I can respond to this question by breaking down a movement that began in the latter half of the 18th century called Wahhabism and how it morphed into Salafism in the 20th century and how its from this octopus that the tentacles of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. have come. I can break down the motivations and the global realities that have created these groups and even take it further to analyze mental illness, the lack of education, poverty and unemployment that helps fuel the zeal of its adherents. I can break down how such an interpretation of Islam ever truly began and breakdown the event of Karbala, which is a clear delineation between the Islam (characterized as a religion of peace) and the Islam of ISIS, which is clearly one of war and conquest. However the simplest way to discern is to know that Islam is an Abrahamic faith and that the killing of innocent people is a fundamental no-no—“Thou shalt not kill” is a universal belief shared amongst the majority of Muslims—and not of ISIS.

ISIS isn’t even a logical extension of faith. It is faithless. I find the best description of this false consciousness in the words of my brother Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “For me, religion—no matter which one—is ultimately about people wanting to live humble, moral lives that create a harmonious community and promote tolerance and friendship with those outside the religious community. Any religious rules should be in service of this goal. The Islam I learned and practice does just that.”

I hope the people who need to read this read this and I invite you to share it. I need my fellow Americans to understand it for the sake of young people growing up in a world filled with fear, who share “my look”, if not my faith. I pray that my children can grow up in a world filled with love and knowledge, so that hearts and minds can stay connected in moments of tragedies as opposed to divided at odds with each other

I leave you with two spoken word pieces I wrote to be read at the Athenian School, for students and colleagues in my role as an educator there. I read the first part, which I wrote during and shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings. I never intended to publish it and it is provided here, unedited—capturing the angst I felt at the time. I was moved to tears as I read it in front of the entire school and I have not edited since. I didn’t intend to write a second part, but after this last week, I felt the need to do so again. Perhaps it’s the spirit of Kurt Hahn that pervades the Athenian Campus that compelled me to do so, to speak out against terror again—or maybe its my way of engaging in therapy to set myself whole, but I shared it the second part with my colleagues and students and I share it with you for I truly believe that I am you and you are me and that only together are we PEACE.

BostonMarathon

Who Am I?

By Professor A.L.I.

(Unedited and written less than 24 hours, after the Boston Marathon bombings)

I am an American as the news flashes:

“Boston Marathon, Bomb blasts!!!”

Cell phone in hand, I call and text,

My friends in Boston; slow, cold sweat.

Are you ok? Is everything all right?

Fingers twitch nervously as I type.

Sadness and anger grip the nation:

Social Media, Twitter Feed speculation.

I am a Muslim, that’s all the world sees.

A news correspondent tweets:

“Yes they’re evil, Kill them all!”

I scroll up, he says Muslims, kill them all?!

140 characters of vitriolic hate.

Muslim is trending. My insides ache.

I am not the Muslim runner or the Muslim spectator.

I am not the Muslim imam who opened his door for those affected.

Boston PD on the look out for dark skin and an accent.

A tweeter tells me to go back to the desert.

Expletives, and expressions of anger;

Yesterday, I was an American; today I’m a stranger?

The sun reflects off of my iPhone screen,

But instead of my own reflection I see,

The image of the words defining me;

I am the terrorist they want me to be,

For “they” cannot see me;

I am a just a human being.

And our humanity cries for those innocent souls;

But should our creed be a reason for our innocence sold?

I am the Sikh or Hindu mistaken for a Muslim during these times.

I am the Pakistani-American kid killed for foreign crimes.

I am you,

And you are me.

And together, we are PEACE.

 

Who Am I? (Part II)

By Professor A.L.I.

(Written 2 days after the ISIS terrorist attacks carried out on Paris, Beirut and Baghdad)

Refugees on rough seas, with smugglers rolling dices;

Irrelevant in our newsfeed, do we only care about oil prices?

When reflecting on the Middle East, the riddle of social media.

Muslim is trending again, for Paris lays bleeding and

Beirut the day before; Baghdad on previous weekend.

The news chooses its stories, as broken families are weeping.

All attacked, innocents killed and the culprit signals crisis,

Practicing a fundamentalist interpretation and called ISIS.

Like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the Taliban,

These organizations, attack the image of Islam,

So now every Muslim, of a billion, is seen as a threat,

And yet, these groups also mark innocent Muslims for death.

They kill them in the Middle East and then they kill them here.

They kill me, by filling my children’s future with fear.

The weight of labels and prejudice create Islamophobia.

And what is the definition of a phobia?

It’s an irrational fear.

Islamophobia is an irrational fear of a religion I hold dear.

Yes, I am a Muslim; it is the faith I practice.

So I look upon bomb blasts as doubly tragic:

The loss of innocent lives; where innocence dies.

I also brace myself for impact of a stereotype.

This is why, like my colleagues, I became an educator.

To end the debate between “us” and ignorance and hate.

By extinguishing ignorance with knowledge,

And washing away hate with affection and love.

That’s why we teach, so we can live in a world full of light and hope.

We are like Kurt Hahn facing Hitler, like David facing Goliath;

And we will only survive as people, if we can stay United.

I am you,

And you are me.

And together we are PEACE.

Hussein Fatal, RIP… another Invisible Man?

Hussein Fatal RIP

INVISIBLE MAN was a track off of my first solo album, entitled Carbon Cycle Diaries… I feel like I’ve grown a lot as an artist & educator since, yet it was this album that helped launch my solo/independent artist career and it was through the encouragement of well-established artists like Lord Jamar, Killah Priest and the late Hussein Fatal that the project garnered steam and I felt both supported and validated as an M.C. & griot of our Hip-Hop kulture.

The track Invisible Man is multi-layered, it both hearkens to Ralph Ellison’s seminal work and that of H.G. Wells.  It also weaves in the idea of being invisible as an artist–paraphrasing the words of Hussein Fatal on the track and that of being invisible within a nation.  It weaves in a 2pac sample is probably the most upbeat track I’ve ever done.  Yet there is another layer to the track and its about being erased– and at a time in America where the world is finally noticing the erasing of black men and women from this plane of existence through police violence, the Hip-Hop community has to say goodbye to another icon and pillar of our kulture.

RIP Hussein Fatal aka brother Bruce Washington, Jr.  The news of your passing, caught me by surprise and I truly could not believe it.  We are both the same age, not only was I a fan of your work but you helped move along my artistic career, collaborated with me and helped brew within me a sense of confidence through your humility and kind words during our brief interaction.  After having to say goodbye to the Jack (the Jacka aka Shaheed Akbar) who was murdered earlier this year, to hear of a car accident that snuffed out your vibrancy is hard to bear.  My prayers and thoughts are with your spirit and your family and close friends, to whom my family offers our deepest condolences–you will rest in power & peace–and your words and your legacy will make it impossible for you to be “erased”… no in truth you will be more visible than ever.

I’m re-releasing & re-dedicating the song Invisible Man to you and yours. Stay blessed in heaven as you were in this life my dear brother and send my salaams to ‘Pac & Yaki in the heavenly abode.

Invisible no more.

#WestCoastHipHop #HusseinFatalRIP #HusseinFatal #Hussein #Fatal #Outlawz #2pac #RIP #InvisibleMan #blacklivesmatter

Malcolm X by Stormshadowz ft. Professor A.L.I.

This song dedicated to the late Malcolm X by the underground rap group Stormshadowz (comprised of Young Skitz/Malik and Professor A.L.I.) also features the now late grandson of Malcolm X, Malcolm Shabazz, from his first visit to the Bay Area. The late Malcolm Shabazz helped heavily promote this song and this album and helped lay the groundwork for Professor A.L.I.’s breakout solo career.

The video was directed and shot by Jessie Rosenberg and won several film festival categories in music video. It also features live footage caught by Jessie from the Oscar Grant protests in Oakland and the now dismantled Oscar Grant mural in downtown Oakland.

Class Is Back In Session – DAS KA REBEL

 

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ali@professorali.com

“The Professor is back! A.L.I. has released another album packed with brilliant lyrics and incisive social commentary. Wonderful.” — iTunes

www.professorali.com

SF BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA.  March 13, 2013.  Class is back in session on Professor A.L.I.’s Das Ka Rebel, an album that isn’t an album, but instead its lyrical curriculum.  Following up his work on the star-studded Carbon Cycle Diaries and Emerald Manifesto, Professor A.L.I. has met Hip-Hop at the intersection of education and has merged his lyrical content to match the socio-economics curriculum he teaches.  Das Ka Rebel featuring artists like Dead Prez, Prodigal Sunn and Chino XL; and the album will be a part of an innovative summer lit course taught at U.C. Berkeley by Professor A.L.I. himself.

Professor A.L.I. skillfully uses wordplay to point out the predatory economic systems that take advantage of our youth.  In ‘Wordsmyths’ the Professor critiques religious institutions and how they play off of the faith of their parishioners to gain economic benefits.  On ‘PenmanshipProfessor A.L.I. uses the allusion of the pen, which can refer to both a writing instrument or to the penal institution, to critique society and how both meanings play off of each other; how not utilizing the pen can increase ones chances of ending up in the Pen.

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The album is not without controversy.  The Professor draws inspiration from a chance summer meeting with Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas for the ‘Book of Isiah’ a song which tells the story of three Bay Area basketball legends, who highlight the problematic and predatory nature of NCAA Basketball, where colleges make money off of players without truly investing in their education.  Isiah loved the track and found it captures the essence of the problems facing inner-city youth within athletics.

The album also features stellar work by West Coast M.C.’s Planet Asia, T-KASH and Kam, who seem due to the heavy lyrical content to be more like guest lecturers than traditional album features.  Planet Asia encourages youth to stay in school, while Kam helps Professor A.L.I. deliver the message of how Hip-Hop has been co-opted by corporate interests and independent artistry is besieged as well.  Das Ka Rebel is a unique album and has already received great critical review by local, alternative and college radio stations.  It will be a part of U.C. summer curriculum and reviewed by independent Hip-Hop magazines as well as regional media.

For more information or to contact Professor A.L.I. for promo requests or to set up an interview, please contact Black Steven at blacksteven@blacksteven.comwww.professorali.com.

 

Native Sun

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Native Sun by Professor A.L.I.

I remember when I first met Carter, five years ago; it was hard to miss him, since he stood out as much as I did amidst our new peers.  I see him in my mind vividly, standing awkwardly in the sunlight upon a beach as part of an in-coming student orientation; and I’m sure he visualizes me in similar fashion.  He a freshman and I the new teacher on campus at a unfamiliar school clearly feeling nervous about the community we were being enveloped in and showing it through our uncomfortable body language.  We clearly felt, then, like outsiders, like shadows cast in the light of the sun.

Four years later as the June sun beamed down upon our heads, Carter would walk across the stage; and in the Athenian School tradition he picked an instructor to give a one-minute graduation speech on his behalf.   Carter chose me and I chose to deliver the speech as a rap, sans beat; it seemed appropriate since Carter’s alter ego was the young, up and coming rapper “Captaincy” and I was, Professor A.L.I.

As Carter was nearing his impending graduation the elephant in the room, was a potential collaboration between the teacher and student, between a Professor and a young Captain.  Carter had joked with me about the possibility in years past, but, I had shook it off with banter for I rarely admitted to anyone on campus that I was ‘Professor A.L.I.’ and knew such a collab would’ve blown my identity out in into the sunlight.  For so long I’d kept my artistry hidden in the shadows of my professional world and seeing the two worlds collide was, at the time, unsettling.

Yet at the same time Carter represented everything I strove to be an educator for.  He was a brilliant young man with deep inner-reflections who also thought out of the box.  He was the laid back freshman who’d emerged from the shadows of obscurity to embrace the lamp of learning.  And to top it off, unlike many young people he possessed both knowledge and reverence for the true pioneers and “teachers” of Hip-Hop like Brand Nubian, Public Enemy & KRS-One.

So motivated by that realization, I showed Carter a song in which I sought to promote Hip-Hop as it once was, the art of expression of social/political issues that were relevant to the community at large.  The song had a natural intersection in the realm of equity and inclusion, a theme that was central to both Captaincy and Professor A.L.I.; it also spoke to our time at Athenian together, to community building and education.  We had embraced the light of our true selves on this campus, let down our guards, and allowed what we do as artists respectively to become a part of the landscape like the sun in the sky. It was the most appropriate intersection for a collab, and Captaincy laid the second verse on the song, and lo and behold, ‘Native Sun’ was born.

The song was born of a reverence for Richard Wright’s seminal work, Native Son, and the language of Hip-Hop with the elevation of self in the speak of the ‘Nation of Gods & Earths’ community; the same NGE community that gave Hip-Hop its slang and cadence.  Imbued with both “science & math”, the track is a metaphor of the passing of a torch; of a Professor taking his own light to elevate another, a student to become a “Sun”, to give off his own light, to embrace the highest expression of self, one that is celestial in nature.

The song’s journey is one that begins in the classroom, through the lecture of a Professor, sparking the imagination of students, and of one student in particular, Carter (Captaincy) who presents his own reality.  This should be the nature of any art, to spark more creativity, and to create more artists.  So like a sun that shines upon all and gives life meaning, by the light of the moon, its warmth and radiation, so too do the lyrics of the song, give life meaning by shedding light upon the importance of equity and point out societal inequities that we live and breath in on a daily basis.

Native Sun is a song off of the Emerald Manifesto album, and the beginning of a new movement for me as an artist.  Up until now, as Carter, my peers and many students will attest to, I’ve kept my artistic life and life as an educator separate.  However I now see the empowering role that Hip-Hop artistry and lyricism can play in education and also vice versa.   Merged together, Hip-Hop & Education shed light on issues that are not touched upon by popular media or given attention because they do not further the status quo.  It is the unexplored realm of voice, the subaltern, and as an educator I see the importance of the voice of the M.C.  After all, as I’ve said in the past, ‘a Professor has knowledge, but an M.C. has the audience.’

To that end, on Emerald Manifesto, I created songs that spoke to issues that didn’t see the light of day.  I spit verses about the social inequities of the Caste system still in practice in South Asia, the movement of permaculture, the genocide in Bahrain, the importance of localized spending and the similarities rather than the difference between people living in the Middle East.  All of these issues are rarely addressed, yet are issues relevant to our world and more importantly the world inherited by our children.  The sun diminishes darkness, vanishes obscurity, and makes all things erudite.  I was seeking to do the same as an artist; in the end I was seeking to become a sun.

At Athenian, both Carter and I had become suns; we found a supportive community, one that encouraged artistic expression and explored ways in which educators and students could be learners outside of the traditional classroom setting.  In four years the icy wall I had created between my artistry and role as educator had slowly melted.  The Google searches that easily reveal the presence of my alter ego and calls to recite spoken word and acapella poetry had blown my carefully constructed cover as a mild mannered educator along with my icy wall to bits.

When this happened I saw an immense swell of support and love from a community that stood by its own.  Carter saw that too, and as he started to take the lyrics from his notepad to the mic, he too found his strongest support coming from the Athenian campus family.  Artistry thrives when it is cultivated with love, and we both found that from our respective peers.  So we too began to shine in our own right.

We also discovered after five years at Athenian, that our initial reaction to being on the other side of the tunnel, in a city (Danville) that was really different from our respective homes of Union City & Oakland, was not what we expected.  In our time on campus we discovered we were not outsiders, but integral parts of the community as if we had always been there.  We felt like we were natives of that Mt. Diablo setting and at communicated in our body language that we had ascended to become part of what makes Athenian shine as a community, that we were “suns” in the NGE sense of the word. We were Native Suns.

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I am currently working on my new project entitled Das Ka Rebel, taking the exploration of Hip-Hop & Education to another level.  I will explore themes that make education truly innovative and experiential—while at the same time discovering all of what Hip-Hop could be.  Hip-Hop after all was born in the West African Griot, so I will seek to imbue the sprit of that oral historian as I weave the tales of our world as a testament to later generations, and like the griot, impart lessons that will help them preserve our values, while avoiding our mistakes.

I seek to shine like the Native Sun and give light to the ‘earths’ and their seeds–so that they flower with knowledge and grow to regenerate this planet and allow it to flourish with love.  In the words of Tupac Shakur, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”  I feel the same way, and I will seek to move through this world with Ollin Tonatiuh, with the movement of the Sun, riding the chariot in the sky of life like Apollo, facing its demons like Surya, for I am Ra in Kemet, I am the Native Sun.

Lamentation of the Hip-Hop Poet: Occupy Oakland & Free Bahrain

Lamentation of the Hip-Hop Poet: Occupy Oakland & Free Bahrain by Professor A.L.I.

The lamentation of the B-Boy, the MC, DJ, and Graffiti artist seem like they are now, at this moment, one in the same.  They lament in spite of and amidst the crocodile tears of mainstream media that Hip-Hop is dead.  The forefathers of Hip-Hop turn in their graves, while those who helped make it erudite become vengeful ghosts, not holograms.  “Hip Hop Is Dead” becomes an old slogan at a time where every minute there is a new trend.  Social media heads, the spinsters and tweeters prey upon that phrase like its a tired old saying, like it was printed on the back of faded stickers on rusty bumpers of dated hoopties and try to come up with even wittier new phrases like Hip-Hop has reincarnated or Hip-Hop has emigrated… to get a retweet or a like, to validate their egos, all the while, Hip-Hop lives.  Thats the lamentation.

The term Hip-Hop has been co-opted.  One can emulate and market the clothes, the beats, the samples, emulate the moves, and even instagram ones way into the latest trend with a picture of graffiti, but its all form, no substance.  The substance of hip-hop cannot be misappropriated because Hip-Hop is the shadow, it lives in basements and exists as an impression left by those who are voiceless in a world where oppression exists.  The independent artist, not the sensationalized “unsigned hype” that pays for ad space on Hip-Hop rags… but the true independent artist, the griot, continues to write in their pad, spit rhymes to the beats made in the environment, to the pulse of the earth.

It is my goal, as an artist to cultivate that energy, that genuine love for the art, hearkening back to the lost art of telling real stories–not to be gimmicky but to capture what is happening here and now for our own posterity in a voice that they will understand and with a passion, so that they understand our angst and help them revisit our hope that these events do not continue to cycle forward but that a solutions are presented so that the oppression that we document does not ever happen again in any way shape or form towards any person.

While I was making my latest album Emerald Manifesto, two events shook my life.  One half a world away, the other less than half an hour.  First was the genocide in Bahrain, and second was Occupy Oakland.

The genocide in Bahrain truly shook me, because I was watching live footage (I had to look for it of course, since Western media ignored it), of an actual genocide of a minority in Bahrain, an ally of ours, and all our government had to say the entire time was directed at Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.  Not even a footnote about Bahrain.  This from a nation that condemned the Holocaust.  Then again this was from a nation which perpetrated what many refer to as the Black Holocaust, i.e. the Middle Passage, and tolerated Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynchings and the like, all the while stealing the land from a people we actively exterminated.  Bahrain was Hip-Hop, its people, those being massacred needed to be acknowledged, their lives needed to mean something and like a modern day griot, the story I hoped to capture and disseminate with the help of my Boston based colleague Yusuf Abdul-Mateen, we created the following video and song to capture and spread the news of what was happening to audiences in the west:

The second was Occupy Oakland–I was not an active participant of Occupy Oakland, but I was out there on several occasions, including when the police first decided to round up everyone at 5 A.M. and kick people out of Frank Ogawa Plaza.  I was there when like a parade, officers from districts all the way from Fremont showed up, in new police vehicles, with, batons, tasters, guns, tear gas canisters, and riot gear.  I watched as University of California at Berkeley Police joined the ranks, and I watched and was pushed and prodded to the other side of Broadway.  Making my way on foot to a ride that was waiting for me, reflecting on the incident, I pulled out my iPhone and began to type away.

I began to write without a beat, and contacted Zumbi of Zion-I, a Bay Area based conscious M.C., and he agreed to participate and collar with the idea.  We documented the events of Occupy Oakland which at that time began to resemble a scene out of war torn Iraq.  Sadly, it was happening in the place I call home, the Bay Area.  Sadly, many even in the Bay moved through life like machines, driving past Oakland not realizing what was happening.  Thanks to friends and colleagues who lived in the area, my own visits to the Occupation and live tweets and words of encouragement from Boots Riley of the Coup… I was able to capture in verse my angst over what was happening and Zumbi and I were able to put together the following video of the events that transpired in our home:

I lament that these things are happening like my fellow MC’s, DJ’s, Graffiti artists, and B-Boys in this day and age, and create like they do to capture in art, in the voice that is Hip-Hop the story of what is happening, only to be told that “Hip Hop is Dead”.  Feel what you want about Hip-Hop but the lives of the human beings in Bahrain and Oakland, are connected in a way, because mainstream media did not and does not depict what is truly happening.  You want to be “hip” to what is really going on?  You want to be part of a movement?  Then, please “hop” on this grassroots train as it navigates through the shadows of a tunnel which leads towards the light of equity and equality, in a world of justice, balance and PEACE.

 

The Price We Pay

Price We Pay
by Professor A.L.I. & Yusuf Abdul Mateen

Is the price we pay worth it?

When these innocents die, innocence dies,
Incensed we cry, cuz in a sense WE die…
In tents, on the tenth, it was intense
71 bodies limp, one body tense
“Yaa Hussain!” screamed for generations since
Bahrain, it seems that Yazeed is your prince
Understand what this means: O-ppression
Rape children, slice open midsections
Pull out fetus and start over again
Feel justified, Cuz Obama’s your friend
Oops! Did I hurt your virginal ears
You didn’t know your taxes were making these tears
It’s ok–its the price that Shia’s pay
But beware cuz these same Shia’s pray
Glory to the Most High, You cant stand His wrath
Do the math–the meek shall inherit at last!

This piece was dedicated to the innocents whose blood has been spilt in Bahrain and throughout the world simply because the chose to believe in and model their lives after those who similarly were martyred because they spoke out against oppression.