Hip Hop & Islam: The Sacred Nexus

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Sheikh Lupe Fiasco calling the Ummah to prayer

by BubbleMami

Hip-hop & Islam: two righteous forces, long-misunderstood in the United States. However, as hip-hop has slowly staked its claim as the number one musical genre in the country, Islam has only suffered further misunderstanding and marginalization. The saying II Tru comes to mind, but in this case, ‘mo publicity, less listening’ seems more appropriate (that’s original- don’t steal it!)

But why fight for the top spot as the most hated in America? Hip-hop and Islam are — at the root — focused on preaching love.

As a rap-loving American Muslim — and keeping in mind that Islam translates to ‘peace’ — I felt an urge to use Rap Genius to explore the hip-hop / Islam nexus. And what better time than the sacred month of Ramadan?

In celebration of Islam’s sacred month of fasting, or the month of “y'all won’t eat” (according to Cam'Ron), below you will find a breakdown of commonly asked questions about Islam, answered by mining the Rap Genius database for signs of the hip-hop/Islamic nexus. I call it:

[Hip Hop & Islam for Dummies]

Q: Who is Allah and why do people like “Kanye”, Styles P, and Rakim make reference to him?

A: Allah is Arabic for “The God” (whereas “La” is the word for any random old God..) — RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan explains Allah’s true significance in the track “Sunlight”:

ALLAH’s the most gracious,
He made the universe the most spacious
Seen and heard in all places, but still appear faceless
Embraces all races, all caste and all cases
In every spec of life he’s the substance of all traces

In contrast to uninformed belief, Islam is grounded upon the goal of love and peace.

Q: Why does Jim Jones want to smack the kufi from Nas’ head? — also, what’s a Kufi?

A: A kufi is a male headcovering, a sign of religious devotion. To quote Lupe Fiasco from his track Muhammad Walks:

Hijabs, Sunday clothes, yarmulke, kufi, same mission beneath
We all tryin' to get to where the sufferin' ends

Lupe supports all religious garb, whether it be the Jewish Yamulke, the Muslim Hijab or the Christian’s Sunday best. Smacking the kufi from Nas’ head is the ultimate sign of disrespect. Sort of like saying “I dont give a damn if you think you gon' make it to the afterlife or not, you gon' respect me first!”… Sort of.

Q: Why do Islamic women cover all their beautiful assets? I don’t get any sneak peeks!

A: I understand your plight. I think Lupe can help you with this one too:

And to the sisters and the mothers of ours
Who cover their selves cause they’re lovers of God
The Creator of the worlds, Sculptor of the stars
During Hajj we walk, through Ramadan we starve
Though you not eatin', there’s a feedin of the mind

Most Muslim women who dress according to Islamic laws do so voluntarily, out of respect to the faith. Yet in the West, everyone assumes it’s a sign of sexism and subordination.

Indeed, Islamic men have guidelines for dress, as well. Although Nas' apparel won’t catapult him to the status of Prince Akeem (as some have dubbed him), I guess the nickname would be some-what fitting seeing as he refers to himself as God’s Son.

Are “God’s Son” belly tattoos allowed in Islam??

Q: I thought Muslims only believe in one God — but rappers are always calling one another “God” — what gives??

A: For starters, you may be mixing the beliefs of The Nation of Gods and Earths (who do not consider themselves Muslims) with The Nation of Islam (who do)… The Brand Nubians put it like this in their track [[Brand Nubian “Wake Up Reprise”]]:

This asiatic black man is a “dog” spelled backwards
The maker, the owner, the cream of the planet Earth
Father of civilization, God of the universe
Manifestin thought with my infinite styles
Making sure this travels, twenty-three million miles

As 5 Percenters — also known as believers in the Nation of Gods and Earths — the Brand Nubians are distinct from the doctrine of the Nation of Islam. Even so, many Nation of Islam Muslims have grown to refer to themselves as “Gods” too. It refers moreso to the belief that woman (and man) are created in the likeness of God and therefore possess the same abilities to achieve greatness as a kind of demi-god, if you will.

Q: What’s wrong with pork? Bacon, porkchops, pigs feet… soo yummy..

*A: For Muslims it is written in the Islamic Holy Qur'an that pork is forbidden (such as Al-Qur’an sura 5:3)

Busta Rhymes gives a “Hallal shock therapy” explanation of Islamic dietary laws on Nas‘ track*:

Confused over the feeling, impatiently eating you
Trichina worm chewing on the wall of my intestine
I’m-a eat you until there’s nothing left
Until my very last breath, you gonna be a nigga death
Despite I prepare it the best specialize in cooking swine as a chef
You gonna be a nigga death
Who cares if the swine is mixed with rat, cat and dog combined
Yes, I’m a eat the shit to death

In Nas’ “Fried Chicken,” he and Busta take on the pros and cons of traditional Southern African-American foods. While fried foods aren’t favored in Islam for causing high cholesterol, they aren’t forbidden. Swine, on the other hand, is forbidden as the 2nd-most-unHallal food (next to blood..)

In any case, after reading Busta’s flow — do you really have a hankering for bacon? I didn’t think so.

Q: What actually makes a good Muslim? I’m guessing they’re nothing like the way Eminem depicted Osama Bin Laden….

A: Indeed, you are right. Devoted Muslims strive to love all of humanity — while there may be some bumpy roads along the way, the last thing you’ll want to do is be judgmental… unless you want to be the victim of a rant similar to this one by Beanie Sigel in “This Can’t Be Life”:

Passing judgment, you niggas second-guessing Beans
Cause you don’t eat swine don’t make you Mu'min
Dog you know a couple suras, out the Qur'an
I guess you are on your din and I ain’t on mine
Stop that Akki, ‘fore I send shots though your body
Make 'em feel hell on earth before Allah drop me

In this song from Roc-A-Fella’s classic album, The Dynasty Roc La Familia 2000 Beans depicts his struggles growing up fatherless, and his struggle with fame and faith. He reminds other Muslims that judgment and spiritual hierarchy amongst each other is looked down upon. “Akki” — or “brother” — speaks to his respect for the naysayers, though he follows up with a violent threat. He humbly reminds himself that as fast as he could drop the other’s body for talking reckless, he’ll choose to chill because of the threat of God’s wrath afterwards.

Q: Being Muslim seems pretty hard these days, how does one cope?

A: I’ll speak for myself here when I say it’s really not that bad. But when Islamaphobia starts getting in the way of everyday ugh…. necessities.. that’s when I get the most pressed… for example: Freddie Gibbs in How We Do (‘93 Til) describes this one situation:

I know I ain’t her one and only, but I’m hoping I ain’t one of many
Baby pretty, but try to play me silly, cause she really
Wasn’t think ‘bout religion when she told me the dick bomb
But then she up and left me cause I practice Islam
I guess Mom told her that the boy ain’t right
And she gon’ pray to Jesus Christ to take me out of her life

Certainly, Muslims have been put in far worse situations, (like how they tried to beat down my boo Evan Ross in Mooz-Lum), but it becomes troubling when it becomes detrimental to one’s… errm… physical health… don’t you agree?

Q: Can you tell me a bit about the different sects? Sunni, Shiite and the Nation of Islam?

A: Hmmm.. well for starters, the easiest way to begin to distinguish between three is with Muslims of the Nation of Islam. Erykah Badu describes them as follows in Soldier:

You get the wake up call
When you saw the buildings fall
Bow ties with the Final Call
Get ya money dollar bill yall
Bow ties with the Final Calls
Get ya money dollar bill yall

Nation Of Islam Muslims are primarily Black men and women. The men are known to sport a black suit, a bow tie, and some clean shoes with their weekly newspaper, The Final Call. Their spiritual leader is Minister Louis Farrakhan, who you can get to know a bit more about in Nas' Untitled..

He’s actually more of a G than you might think..

As for Sunnis and Shias… Talib Kweli briefly described it as follows:

Saying “nigga” just to keep our teeth white, like Paul Mooney
Fightin spiritual wars, like the Shi'ite or the Sunni

The spiritual war he refers to is the difference that came about from the two following political disputes. Due to these political disputes, it came to transfer into their individual spirituality. While they both practice the same fundamental beliefs, Shia Muslims believe in the system of hierarchical systems within religion, while Sunni Muslims do not. Sunnis believe Imams become who they are due to a method of trust as their equals, while Shias venerate their Imams as saints and treat them as divine upon their death.


The sacred month of Ramadan is a great time for exploring the nexus of Islam and hip-hop — please, don’t stop here! Searching “Ramadan” on Rap Genius yields a whopping 54 songs with a discussion of the Holy Month — but that, my friends, is another post altogether..