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New Muslim Cool


By Abu Noor Al-Irlandee


Jason Perez had two dreams when he was growing up: that he would either end up dead before he was 21 or in prison. According to Perez, both dreams came true, but neither in the way he might have expected. This is how the powerful new documentary, The New Muslim Cool, begins. The director of this film, which will air on PBS stations as the premiere for the new season of P.O.V. (a series which features acclaimed ‘Point of View’ documentaries), Jennifer Maytorena-Taylor originally set out to explore the culture of Muslims engaged in hip hop which has been developing over the last several years. Eventually, she decided to focus more specifically on the spiritual journey of Jason “Hamza” Perez, a Puerto Rican rapper from the East Coast who is part of the M-Team rap group.

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While the film does show scenes of Perez rapping and features music as part of the soundtrack, there is also a lot of silence and stillness in the movie. The movie is not about Muslim hip hop, although you can obviously learn some things about Muslim hip hop from watching it, but the film is about one man’s spiritual journey. It is deeply effective and moving in communicating that journey and letting the viewer in on scenes that are both particular and specific but at the same time deeply universal.

As a convert myself (although one with a different background than brother Hamza) who has spent most of my fifteen years as a Muslim in inner city masajid, this film is by far the most accurate and sympathetic portrayal of the Muslim convert experience in the American inner city that I have ever seen in the media. It is especially effective at capturing the warmth, closeness, and diversity of those small potluck gatherings of Muslims in the inner city that are among the fondest memories and deepest spiritual experiences that I have had as a Muslim. The film effectively captures both the social closeness and profound worship experiences that make it easy to see why someone would be attracted to such communities. Many will recognize the the warmth and truth in the many scenes of Hamza interacting with his non-Muslim family members, who are for the most part accepting and supportive, but who are also confused and a bit perplexed by their family member’s new lifestyle, about which they do not have that much background.

At the same time, the film does not shy away from the harsh realities of life as a new Muslim, especially in the inner city communities. Like many converts, Hamza was drawn to Islam by a burning desire to work for justice and to find a spirituality that could truly bring him peace and help him in that struggle.

As Hamza matures and deals with the responsibilities of marriage and raising his children, he has to balance his idealistic zeal and global vision with the responsibilities and hassles of day to day life. He has to deal with law enforcement that is suspicious of almost everyone that comes from his background and whose wariness is only increased by the fact that he is now a politically outspoken and very obviously observant Muslim in the post 9/11 reality. Hamza has to grow and mature as he deals not only with the struggles of his personal and family life, but grows to interact with a variety of people from different religious backgrounds and viewpoints. Issues surrounding finding an appropriate spouse, integrating families and children from prior relationships, interracial relationships among Muslims, and dealing with people’s past lives before Islam are all issues which are constants in family and community life amongst American converts and are dealt with in a very real and affectionate way in this film.

Like any great film, the story told here is very particular to brother Hamza’s experience: to his Latino background, to his participation in a particular jam’aat, to his inner city east coast environment, yet at the same time so many of the issues are universally recognizable across boundaries of different religions and ethnic backgrounds.


Hamza Perez with his brother Suliman Perez, also known as En Sabah Noor and Doc Zhivago respectively.

From the perspective of a Muslim viewer, the film was tremendously uplifting. It wasn’t uplifting because there was a happy ending where all of the conflicts and struggles were resolved and life became easy. In fact the film is tremendously effective in communicating the continuous nature of struggle that Hamza has gone through and which will continue to await him in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, the film has many moments of quiet and silence, of Hamza walking to the masjid, or walking to his house, that pulls the viewer in to his experience and allows you to really feel you are participating in the spiritual journey depicted in the film. It was, in the end uplifting, because it was incredibly clear that Hamza found the spiritual tools to deal with the struggles he was going through in the Islamic tradition. Hamza does not mature through walking away from the tradition, but he develops new perspectives on relationships with others through studying the life of the Prophet (saw). Woven throughout the film are clear indications that Hamza draws upon the spiritual sustenance of daily prayer, study of the religion, and obedience to the commandments of Allaah in order to navigate through the practical struggles that surround him.

I hope that this is the first of many different media works that can effectively communicate the positive role that the way of life of Islam plays in so many lives in America today. I can’t imagine a better form of da’wah or of promoting simple human understanding and empathy among people of different backgrounds.

DISCLAIMER: There is music in the film and Hamza Perez is part of a musical group. The film shows these aspects of his life but shows many other aspects as well. The issue of music in Islam is not dealt with at any length in the film. Hamza Perez is part of an Islamic Jama’at that is serious about studying and following Islamic fiqh, but he mentions in the film that one of his teachers approved the idea of using rap music as a form of da’wah and he proceeds based on that understanding. I truly believe that one can believe that music is clearly haraam and would still benefit from seeing this film. However, of course, one should be warned that there is music in the film and therefore one should only watch it knowing that ahead of time. I should also mention that I have met Hamza Perez on several occasions and also know some other people who were involved in advising on this film but I had nothing to do with the film myself nor have I met the primary filmmakers….I’m not claiming to be objective anyway.

You can get more information on the film here. Look out for screenings in your area and the PBS premiere broadcast will be June 23.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.



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  2. Abu

    June 5, 2009 at 3:15 AM

    May Allaah continue to guide him and us all on His path. Thanks for the exposition.

    • Farhan

      June 5, 2009 at 10:26 AM


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  4. MR

    June 5, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    Trailer here.

  5. Sarrah B.

    June 5, 2009 at 11:46 AM

    I had the opportunity to watch a live screening in Ann Arbor and Hamza was there answering questions afterwards and it was amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! I really enjoyed the film, the audience, and the discussion afterwards.

    This article definitely captured the essence of the film and why I enjoyed it so much.

  6. unlissted

    June 5, 2009 at 8:52 PM

    When did music become halaal?

    • moobi

      June 5, 2009 at 10:58 PM

      there are two opinions – one, that allows it and the other doesn’t. So get over it.

  7. request

    June 6, 2009 at 12:28 AM

    PLEASE don’t make this music halal or haram debate! FOR ONCE be humble and like one scholar states, Be certain about your deen but it’s good to be uncertain about fiqh, differences in opinion are rahmah.

    Take the positive from the brother’s experience and make dua for his shortcomings instead of jumping him for choosing the opinion where music is allowed.

    • sincethestorm

      June 6, 2009 at 12:58 AM

      ameen. Insha-Allah, people will heed your advice. I can’t wait to watch the movie. The trailer looks amazing.

    • unlissted

      June 6, 2009 at 6:26 PM

      Shaykh Albani in his muqadima(introduction of his book “The Prophets prayer) he rips to shreds the FALSE statement……”differences in opinion are rahmah”…. firstly the hadeeth is FABRICATED many muhaddithoon agreed on it’ being FABRICATED… and Al Allaamah Shaykh Albani proved it contradicts the noble Quran…..Allah in many verses PROHIBITS differing and dividing …..The deen is NOT based on diffferring!!!!!!!! unlizzzted2009

    • S

      June 20, 2009 at 3:41 PM

      That “hadith” is FABRICATED! Please don’t quote from scholars who cite MAWDOO statements……may those who ascribe statements to the Prophet, salallahu alayhi wassallam, that he DID NOT SAY have their seat in the Hellfire……ameen

  8. Azeem

    June 6, 2009 at 12:33 AM

    Now that we have learned “when did music become halal” my follow up question is What is the hukm on Hiphop? Is East Coast Rap halaler than West Coast Rap? When one is performing on stage, can they bop their head to the beat? What if its acapella? Can they bop their head to the imaginary beat? What about getting the sisters involved with some crowd participation? What about scratches on a non-music record? Would that mean the turn-table is a musical instrument even if the record spinning has no music on it?

    I am just playing no need to answer any of these questions. Good Day.

    PS I don’t mean to antagonize anyone in particular, I want to antagonize you all (for the fun of it).

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  10. unlissted

    June 6, 2009 at 2:34 PM

    Moobi….bring your proof since you say their is 2 opinions ……….and @azeem for Rap music which is attached to a whole disgusting culture like demeaning women,foul language, glorifying drug usage and drug sales, fornication, imitation of the kuffar and a whole host of filth……Name your scholars from the SUNNAH….Or I will relax for a statement from “Yasir Qadhi” since he is the most knowledge person HERE on islamic issues..Unlizzted2009…..These are all the scholars they say music is HARAAM…Shaykhul islam ibn taymeeyah,Shaykh Albani says him al 4 matha-hib say music is haraam, Shaykh Ibn Qayum,imam malik,Imam Shafi’ee,Shaykh Ibn Abdul Barr,Imam Tabari,ibn abi shaybah,Imam bagawi,Shayuke Fawzaan,uthaymeen,bin bazz,saadi,rabia,jaami……Unlizzted2009 Balls in your court MOOBI…

  11. unlissted

    June 6, 2009 at 2:48 PM

    The hip-hop culture ….dress and all has nothing to do with islam……when people become muslim they leave ALL that behind or at least they’re suppose to….I saw clips of women in hijab in crowded halls with men and intermingling with men whom they arent married to or halaal to marry……so a lot revert muslims who were disbelievers previously might have experienced or saw these places and know what goes on in them……….so what happens at rap concerts and events…..there is a lot open fornication sometimes…definitely open drug use…fresh smells of marijuana and pcp and other illicit drugs…so what does a muslim have any reason for being in a place like that…..getting intoxicated right along with the crowd??????….excuse me I’m muslim can you please put that out ????…Yeah really….any so called artist not hardcore whatever all of them are united on drugs usage is no problem……because their backwards thinking is it’s from the earth…..Brother napoleon does lectures explaining the harms of music and why he has left …..just like badboy records artist who RECENTLY left..”THE LOON” inspired by napoleon who was along side with tupac shakur……unlizzted2009.

  12. unlissted

    June 6, 2009 at 7:39 PM

  13. Stranger

    June 6, 2009 at 9:17 PM

    Looks interesting mashallah. I didn’t know that there were over 50 Muslims who reverted and then they all moved together to Pittsburg to form their community. Mashallah may Allah guide them and lead them to the straight path. I should tell my friend about this who once told me of her vision to have close tight-knit Muslim communities in the U.S. like the Amish do. This will definitely appeal to her!

    Does anyone know what time on the 23rd the PBS premiere is broadcasting? I didn’t see it in the link that MR posted. Jazakumullah khayr.

  14. zaynab

    June 6, 2009 at 10:59 PM

    Seeing the beautiful community around brother Hamza was so heart warming, masha’Allah.

    It’s sad, most communities either get too caught up in fiqh and end up constantly forbidding the evil (FORGETTING to encourage people to do good), or get all “interfaith” crazy forgo the social/adab guidelines of the Deen.

    This community seems to be closer to the middle ground – whatever faults they have, they seem to be really focusing on the spirit of Islam while still making a serious effort to stay within Allah’s boundaries.

    May Allah ta’ala protect us all and guide us the most pleasing of decision. Ameen!

  15. Musa Franco

    June 7, 2009 at 1:02 PM

    Nobody unequivocally stated that music is halal. In fact the scholars who allowed “music” put various conditions on it. To read a scholarly book on the topic refer to Slippery Stone by Khalid Baig.

  16. Khadijah

    June 8, 2009 at 12:03 AM

    Unlissted- If you want to start a halal/haram debate on music, please don’t do it here.

    • unlissted

      June 8, 2009 at 7:44 AM

      Yes I will leave you to your ignorance and self denial….but as for the religion then it must be clarified that music is haraam…..and the imitation of the kufaar(fitted baseball caps and the whole street mentality) ALL of it HARAAM…..unlizzted2009

  17. Sarrah B.

    June 8, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    One of the questions Br. Hamza was asked in the live preview was what is the response to the movie? He said, he has been getting an overwhelmingly positive response by non-muslims, while he is getting mixed responses from the Muslims. While there are Muslim supporters, he has faced a lot of criticism and oppositition to the film from Muslims. SubhanAllah, nowadays, when I think of the word Muslim, I think of the word HATER. There are too many of us caught up in hating on each other, on each others methods, organizations, even teachers! If we continue to occupy our time working against each other, in the end, we’ll have nothing left.

    This film is not about music and whether it is haram or halal. And while you may not agree with everything in it 100%, how about focusing on what is good? While we sit behind our computer screens arguing over relatively small issues, Br. Hamza partook in a movie that is and will be getting national attention, potentially positively impacting thousands, showing thousands the human side of Islam = MASSIVE dawah. I challenge anyone who has issues with the film, or who like to spend their time nitpicking, to take a step back and 1) support the people who are actually doing action and not just talk and 2) find something constructive to partake in that can also = massive dawah. Trust me, even if you sincerely want to give people dawah or remind people of what is haram or halal, doing so by writing angry posts won’t guide anyone.

    The movie will be playing at 10pm EST on Tuesday, June, 23rd.

    • Amatullah

      June 8, 2009 at 11:36 PM

      Jazaaki Allahu khayran Sarrah for that awesome reminder. I’m always amazed at how much someone can hate on a Muslim who is doing so much good, while they are doing nothing themselves. SubhanAllah. This brother, not even a born Muslim, has done more than many of us who were born into Islam have done in our whole lives.

      اعْمَلُوا فَسَيَرَى اللَّهُ عَمَلَكُمْ وَرَسُولُهُ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ

      “Work! Soon Allah and His Messenger and the Believers shall see your deeds.” (surah Tawbah:105)

  18. Stranger

    June 8, 2009 at 11:22 PM

    In light of Sarrah’s comment I think those who have said words of encouragement here should contact brother Hamza and show him that he has our support and prayers inshallah. Like Sarrah said, it’s time to start building instead of knocking each other down. Allah will judge him, us and everyone; we should only look at one’s apparent intentions and deeds, and since it looks like brother Hamza’s film is definitely a potential means of having people understand Muslims in the U.S. in light of our beliefs as well as the diversity we have here, I feel we should encourage him in his efforts inshallah.

    • unlissted

      June 9, 2009 at 12:46 AM

      Yes his apparent actions is…. that he is involved with music which is haraam and calling his family and other muslims to music which is haraam….and he makes muslims and non muslims feel that music has some legitimacy in islam and he also makes it seem… also that filthy,vile culture attached to music which is hiphop can co exist in a muslim who is supposed to be upright…….like a muslim can still be involved with that nonsense and throwback mentality of the street….and be considered a good upright muslim or caller to islam ……..this documentary is misleading and can misguide or mislead…….unlizzted2009 wAllahu Musta-aaan(and Allah’s assistance is sought)

  19. Abu

    June 9, 2009 at 3:24 AM

    Do you know I actually found some non muslims posting on muslim websites pretending to be puritanical muslims. Sometimes, when we see people “hating” and the rest, don’t always assume thay are muslims, they maybe non muslims trying to create hatred and distrust amongst the muslims. My advise is, “Wahjur hum ajran jaamiilan – Leave them in a manner that is welcoming”
    Rather than engaging in war of words, you can easily educate and if it continues, then abandon the argument. May Allaah forgive us all.

  20. Miako

    June 10, 2009 at 4:26 PM

    I read an awesome article about this in the Pittsburgh CityPaper! Truly positive and interesting.

    However, in my heart I struggle…
    For this is a man who (as quoted in the article) sings of “Zionists control America, Crack controls America” and other things like that. Obviously he is exaggerating –it is obvious, isn’t it? And yet, that rhetoric is the same as that of that white supremacist who killed someone today, in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

    From the article, I read that Hamza attends seders, and other interfaith things that are quite laudable (working on a book of Jewish and Muslim poetry!). And so my head understands what my heart does not.

    My heart aches.

    I feel like I am writing again what I wrote to Amad ages ago, on how the use of the word Zionist as a completely derogatory or negative term is hurtful and counterproductive. Perhaps more people will read my meanderings this time?

  21. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 24, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    The movie was broadcast around the country on PBS last night. Did anyone see it and have some comments/reaction?

  22. yasin al latiniyah ibn cotto

    May 28, 2016 at 3:28 PM

    assalamu alaikum my brothers in islam alhamdulillah i had the great pleasure of meeting and spending time with hamza and jason perez in middletown Hartford Connecticut thru a brother named mustafa and elmar shakir alhamdulilallah i was very blessed and please with ur short film new muslim cool i am also from puerto rico from a town called caguas i am cusin of the famous bóxer and world champion miguel cotto the reason am writing to you is to see if we can be able to comunícate for the sole purpose of making this great dawah work much bigger inshallah since there is a lot of us here latino muslims here in caracas Venezuela who have talents of rapping about islam in spanish and spreding islam in our área in caracas my phone number is 0058-416-722-7952

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