There has been a cross-cultural migration of sorts in the past few years. The first is the migration of Muslim youth towards hip hop (aka the hippity and the hoppity for you uncles and fobs out there), and then a migration of rappers and entertainers embracing Islam as their deen and way of life. I want to take a look at both phenomenon in some detail, and end with a semi-comprehensive list of the more famous from the hip-hop crowd who have accepted Islam, and it's ramifications.
Muslim Youth Getting Jiggy With It
I know nobody says that anymore, but I use it with this point in mind: Most people who try to address Muslim youth getting involved in hip-hop culture often use phrases and slang like this to appear 'cool' when in fact all they are doing is destroying whatever semblance of credibility they had with the youth. This is in fact, a subject that does not receive it's due attention. I have only seen a handful of Imams such as Siraj Wahaj (if even that many) addressing these issues with a real force, but in all reality, this isn't hitting a lot of the young Muslim crowd (such as uppity Desi and Arab kids).
A big problem facing the youth is a lack of people they respect to address these issues for them. Hip Hop culture permeates every facet of someones life from the type of girls they desire, to their clothes, cars, rims, brand preferences, attitude, how they talk, how they walk (literally), and moreover what they aspire to. If you're wondering about how pervasive it is, think about if you had ever heard of Louis Vuitton until rappers made it popular? Or ever thought about buying Timberland boots for anything other than hiking?
Unfortunately the only Muslim figures who try to address these issues with them lose every last ounce of credibility the very second they open their mouths and say things like “why our youth are having the jiggy?!” or my personal favorite, “the 50 cents is corrupting our youth by talking about the sex in his music!”
There's a lack of understanding of what draws Muslim kids into this, and how to properly address it. First and foremost it must be understood that the hip hop lifestyle is cool in every sense of the word. I thought the best way to do this would be to take stories of Muslim kids and talk about how they got drawn into it (using fictional names obviously).
Jay ibn Z is a normal Muslim kid. Abu is a doctor, and Ami stays at home to take care of the kids. Ami knows enough English to get by but wouldn't know a gat from a cat or a cat from the actual animal much less weeds from, well, weed. He went to high school in the 90′s and found an affinity for Tupac. He heard California Love and found a new way to party (unlike his previous party experience which was limited to grown men shaking themselves around in a circle slapping sticks together). He heard Hit em up and saw someone who stood up for himself and didn't take any crap from anyone. This was a sharp contrast to others aroud him who were walked all over on a regular basis. He saw something real, and entertaining. It was cool, so he started imitating it. Ibn Z once did try to become more religious. It was the type of religiosity preached by his parents, and when he began getting into rap they yelled at him like he was a 5 year old child. This further reinforced his fall back away from the true Muslim community.
Meem'n'Meem was a disenchanted youth who was fired up by speeches of a certain Dhaal Meem X. He was a minority, and therefore identified with this newfound minority movement. It gave him a newfound identity and culture that he could adopt as his own. He finally felt acceptance from a peer group when he started dressing, talking, speaking, and listening to this culture. This acceptance was especially important to him. At one point in time Meem'n'Meem too tried to attend the masjid and come closer to Allāh, however, because of his appearance he was yelled at and alienated by the masjid crowd. They treated him like a straight up thug and did not welcome him in with open arms, and thus he returned back to his 'crew.'
Khamseen Dinar is another average Muslim kid. Everyone around him was listening to rap music, and dressing hip-hop so he started doing it too. He did not have any real goals in life. Islam was a cultural thing that he didn't really get, and all his parents cared about was him getting a degree in something that didn't interest him. But now he had something to aspire to. He got himself some Timbs, some Sean John shirts, and he slowly turned himself into a make believe thug. He wanted to make money, not to support a family or anything like that, but because he needed some dough to get a new car, and 22 inch rims. That is the bare 'minimum level of emaan' after all, anything less than Emmit Smiths is just plain embarassing – you may as well have hubcaps.
While these stories are not exhaustive, they do give a small glimpse into the direction our youth are heading. The main theme here is that they obviously lack Islamic education, but they also lack a real identity. Hip Hop is something that gives them a shared set of values, and a lifestyle that is enjoyable. Who wouldn't want easy women and nice things? It's a glorified lifestyle of satisfying all the urges man has to excess. On top of this it is not just people involved in the music industry, but this can be seen carried over into sports and other industries. Success is defined by the attainment of these objectives.
And even those who say they are not looking at those objects in this sense – then why do they still adopt the culture? It is easy to say the Sahabah are your role models, but what does that statement mean if you are walking aroud wearing a Lebron James jersey with your Carmelo Anthony endorsed shoes.
Young Muslim kids act like wanna-be thugs because they think its cool. It gives them an identity, they fit in, they feel manly. They have not had adequate exposure to real Islamic values, and real Islamic role models.
It is often joked that these rappers convince these kids into acting like this while they are laughing on their way to the bank.
One point not mentioned in the stories above though, is the double standards set by the parents of many of these children. The same parents who discourage their children from listening to things like rap or looking up to these people as role models are the same ones who listen and dance to Bollywood and Arabic music. They are the same ones who live their lives as if they are a hindu family from an Indian movie.
Thus, these role models and parental figures are in no position to then address the haram aspects of hip-hop culture, such as the vile lyrics and music found therein. They do not have a proper foundation of Islamic values to teach the true meaning of Islamic identity and the pride and self-respect that a Muslim has. They have not fostered relationships with others so that their children can have a solid foundational peer group of friends who are practicing Muslims. Instead, we find them indulging in the same vices, but from a different culture, and instead of addressing issues with hikmah, they yell like immature children.
These kids have not been given the proper knowledge to be comfortable taking Islam as their true way of life, and have thus adopted the way of life of those around them instead.
If this phenomenon was not strange enough, there is not a flip side to this phenomenon.
Rappers and Entertainers Embracing Islam
This is a huge phenomenon that has gone somewhat under the radar. People know about it, but it does not receive the due attention it deserves. What is causing all these famous people to accept Islam?? I wish that we could somehow sit down and talk to them.
Just a quick list of people who are Muslim – Everlast, Mos Def, Common (you know him from this ad), Ghostface Killah, Napoleon from Tupac's Outlawz, Lupe Fiasco, Akon (who by the way admitted to having 3 wives since it's allowed in Islam), Jermaine Jackson, Taleb Kweli, Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, T Pain, Dave Chappelle, and many many others.
Alḥamdulillāh that so many of these influential people are accepting Islam. It remains to be seen though that their Islam is more publicised. I strongly believe that by being looked up to by so many people (especially non-Muslims) would be a good push to get some good publicity about Islam. These are the role models for many people. Unfortunately, our Muslim youth are falling behind and being 2 steps back when in reality they should be 2 steps ahead of the game.
They are quickly running from the lifestyle our youth are embracing, and embracing the lifestyle our youth should already have.
I must give a very big jazakAllahu khayr to MR for helping with this post.