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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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:

Are You Hip?

Are You Hip?

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

When I mention those words to people these days they often wonder, as I did when I encountered the phrase, “Who said that?” in the back of their minds, with an inquisitive countenance.  The answers that float to one’s head differ from person to person but carry the same common thread.  Some wonder if it’s Gandhi, Plato or perhaps Einstein.  The beauty of the quote lies in the answer to that query.  One way to approach it is to ask them have they truly listened to “Purple Haze” by Jimi HendrixHendrix would not be considered by the masses to be a “thinking person” of the highest quality, but this simple fact belies the great lesson taught here.  If one’s mind is open to truly listening, then and only then can wisdom be gained by it.

Wisdom is needed more than ever in our time.  We live at a time where the whole world seems polarized in a black and white construct replete with a new age good guy “cowboys” and the dark skinned bad guys, or “Injuns”.  More than any other time in history we need dialogue, but most leaders instead speak these days with hands over their ears, never listening what the “other” side has to say.  People claim to have knowledge, what the world seems to need more than anything else is wisdom.  Wisdom to prevent wars and genocides from occurring unnoticed by mass media, wisdom to stop discrimination of all forms, and wisdom to help us to learn to truly understand each other.

Growing up in secular America, I came to accept two lies passed off as universal truths as true statements just like everyone else.  I accepted them as true knowledge, and dismissed any voice that said otherwise (yes with hands over my ears).  However something happened in two decades, I started to listen (my hands got tired) to the voices around me as incident after incident showcased to me that I really didn’t know anything; rather I was just good at memorizing the lies I was taught from a very young age.  I struggle now to scrutinize everything, to get at the truth behind what is presented, and that process begins just as Jimi so eloquently puts it with listening.

So I listened.  And perhaps I listened with the ear of a musician, or a person who yearns for the story to be more complex than a simple black and white explanation.  Either way, overtime as I listened, those two truths became elucidated as the lies they truly were.  The first universal truth of secular America is the following:  Religion is bad and is the root of all wars and suffering humanity has faced.  The number one case example that is often given to us is that of the Crusades.  ‘The Crusades’, my state stamped history teachers argued could have been prevented had it not been for one factor: religion.  This was corroborated by liberal media and conservatives who accepted the polarized worldview, and swallowed whole-heartedly by the masses around.  Liberals denounced religion. Conservatives on the other hand embraced religion as a truth that helped them identify their side in an ‘us against the’ world constructed as a Clash of Nations.

The oxymoronic nature of this is that there is more in common between the three Abrahamic traditions than they have different and the Crusades itself is not about religion inasmuch as it is about economics. I understood finally after pouring over primary source after primary source as a student of history and an instructor of it, listening to what the voices of the past that lived the Crusades were truly saying.   There were schisms in the Church, anti-Semitism in Europe, and a speech by Pope Urban of Claremont which for the first time seemed to justify violence via Christian religious argument, yet all the players in the grand game to follow were motivated by the universal evil, money.  The wisdom I received from these voices was that even this iconic event that the pundits blame on religion was more about the basic human evil of greed and economics than it ever was about faith.  Religion in many ways tempered what could have been even more horrendous of slaughter in instances.

Read Anna’s voice in the Alexiad, Solomon Bar Simson, the Fulchre of Chartes, and keep reading until you find Ibn Athir.  There are accounts upon accounts of atrocities, but it goes further back than the even the Battle of Manzikert, into Western Europe, where there simply was too much in fighting amongst the Franks and Normans because of one simple fact:  there was not enough land to go around.  The Crusades were about conquest and religion became the excuse and instead of challenging that notion throughout the ages, we have accepted it.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying the flip side isn’t true, that religion cannot be distorted as a truth without dialogue and used to justify in the minds of mindless adherents that violence is the key… but it’s not religion that is the problem, it’s the interpretation that people put upon it.  Religion itself would dismiss those arguments of those same interpreters, if people listened to the voices around them… for example; just take this universal truth in all religions: killing an innocent person is wrong.

The problem lies in the fact that we don’t listen to each other, the voices from the past or critically ask questions anymore.  In addition it’s difficult to engage in a conversation with those who had not read the same material, travelled to the same places, and only know what they’ve been told and believe it to be true because a state sponsored system of simplistic education which seeks to explain the world as one of opposition.  This black and white, polarized model certainly makes it easier for taxpayers to shell out money in support of cowboy like policies around our planet.  No Child Left Behind, unless of course it’s an “Injun”.

What I’m seeking to pose from this stream of consciousness is not an answer but the need for us to question.  This can often come across as an antagonistic approach so I turned to a means of communication that speaks to the human heart that explores these commonalities through sounds that human beings have embraced throughout the ages, in music.

More simply put I turned to Hip-Hop, the subaltern voice of the streets and language of the backpacks, basements and shadows.  I called up Shabazz the Disciple of the Sunz of Man, known for being able to take what was Biblical and put it to the mic, and gave him a beat that we birthed, with my man Ian Heung on the horns.  Our goal was to keep the song Abrahamic and showcase to the world that these traditions have more in common than they have differences.  So we came up with “Basic Instructions” which can be seen here:


This brings us to the second universal truth taught to us, which ultimately was just another lie; the lie that science and religion were/are mutually exclusive.  This is the greatest farce of the two lies.  Considering that all of the greatest thinkers, scientists and mathematicians have been people of faith, and have found their creator in the study of the creation around them is all too often missed by those who do not study their scholarship in context.  What has happened instead is their works have been simplified into highlighter versions and then those statements have been further repackaged for the masses to create a simplistic understanding of the world.  An understanding where a higher power is marginalized and the highest power/or supreme law of the land is manmade.  Isn’t it in the interest of a secular government to be the supreme authority in the minds of its citizens, instead of a higher being who they cannot control?

The song “Metaphysics” was the result of my process of engaging in that dialogue by bringing forth from the same subaltern lens, using boom-bap language that is hip-hop to the core and to delve into the minds of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes and great thinkers, mathematicians and scholars.  I meet them at the intersection of science and faith, exploring their mathematical proofs for the divine.  The video can be seen here:


I hope that in these efforts to use the language that speaks to listening and by inviting dialogue that we can at a grassroots level grow and cultivate true wisdom.  So let me end with the following consideration:  please listen and share, and by listening I hope you find wisdom in the process of questioning in a world which presents false truths as ultimate answers and subsequently as real knowledge.  I welcome dialogue with any and every one on both the issues here and beyond in hopes that by truly listening to each other we become wiser and the world around us becomes a better place for it.  RIP Jimi, and thanks for inspiring us, we’re still listening!

— Professor A.L.I.