Music

The Muslim influence in the American music heritage is diverse and crosses several genres that include but is not limited to blues, jazz, rap/hip-hop, and rock. The rhythmic value of blues in the early African Muslim slave community in the United States, argues Sylviane Diouf in her book Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, reflected musical elements of the Muslim culture in Senegambia. Recitation of the Qur'an (tilawa) and the call to prayer (azan) entailed solo performance marked by lengthened notes, chanting, and wavy intonations. These characteristics are commonly found in the “field holler,” a type of southern vocal music sung by field laborers across southern plantations. Diouf locates a match of the famous holler “Tangle Eye” in Senegal. The impact of such melodious tones outlived an era that has uprooted much of the slaves’ Islamic identity. Listening to Alabama songster and harmonica player Horace Sprott’s blues bears echoes of such an early Muslim influence.

Perhaps it was not until the 20th century when American Muslim musicians have gained recognition for their art. The African American sociopolitical resurrection of their Islamic identity (e.g. Moorish Science Temple of America, Nation of Islam) produced conditions for a generation of Jazz musicians and rappers deeply invested in communicating their critique of racism, prejudice, and injustice. The post-1965 influx of Muslim immigrants into the United States and the tragic attacks of September 11, 2011 have forged spaces for American Muslims (Middle Easterners and South Asians) to utilize their artistic creativity and enrich the American music repertoire. The transnational flow of music from the Muslim world (e.g. Qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Passion - The Last Temptation of Christ) presents a serious challenge in drawing boundaries around what constitutes Islamic in American music.

For a thorough reading of the American Muslim contributions, you may refer to the following scholarship:

  • Ahmad, Salman. Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution. New York: Free Press, 2010.
  • Aidi, Hisham. Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture. New York: Doubleday, 2014.
  • Aidi, Hisham. “’Verily, There is Only One Hip-hop Umma’: Islam, Cultural Protest and Urban Marginality.” Socialism and Democracy 18, no. 2 (2004): 107-126.
  • Bayoumi, Moustafa. “East of the Sun (West of the Moon): Islam, the Ahmadis, and African America.” Journal of Asian American Studies 4, no. 3 (Oct. 2001): 251-263.
  • Khan, Adviya. “Muslim Women in Hop-Hop: An Ethnographic Study of “Poetic Pilgrimage.” Master’s Dissertation, Cardiff University, Center for the Study of Islam in the UK, 2011.
  • Knight, Michael Muhammad. The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-hop and the Gods of New York. Oneworld, 2007.
  • Knight, Michael Muhammad. Why I Am a Five Percenter. Penguin, 2011.
  • Miller, Monica and Anthony B. Pinn. The Hip-hop and Religion Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2014.
  • Miyakawa, Felicia M. Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message, and Black Muslim Mission. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005.
  • Eure, Joseph D. and James G. Spady. Nation Conscious Rap. PC International Press, 1991.
  • Khabeer, Suad Abdul. “Rep that Islam: the Rhyme and Reason of American Islamic Hip-hop.” The Muslim World 97, no. 1 (2007): 125-141.
  • McMurray, Anaya. “Hotep and Hip-hop: Can Black Muslim Women be down with Hip-hop?” Meridians 8, no. 1 (2007): 74-92.
  • Miyakawa, Felicia M. "'The Duty of the Civilized is to Civilize the Uncivilized': Tropes of Black Nationalism in the Messages of Five Percent Rappers." In Understanding African American Rhetoric: Classical Origins to Contemporary Innovations, edited by Ronald Jackson II and Elaine Richardson. New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Miyakawa, Felicia M. “Poetic Protest: Women, Hip-hop, and Islam.” The Avid Listener. http://www.theavidlistener.com/2015/09/poetic-protest-women-hip-hop-and-islam.html. September 28, 2015.
  • Miyakawa, Felicia M. “Receiving, Embodying, and Sharing ‘Divine Wisdom’: Women in the Nation of Gods and Earths.” In Women and Religion in the World, volume 7, Women and New Africana Religions, edited by Lillian Ashcroft-Eason and Darnise Martin. New York: Praeger Press, 2009.

You may also refer to the following electronic projects:

The following list does not intend to offer a comprehensive reading of American Muslim artists/works, but rather pays tribute to the community’s symbolic contribution:

Jazz

The most recognized influence of Muslims in jazz is carried through the “Jazz Messengers,” a group of African American Muslim Jazz musicians founded in the early 1950s. The group included high profile artists like Ahmad Jamal, Yusef Lateef, Talib Dawud, Sahib Shihab, and McCoy Tyner. The Messengers produced works of lasting significance in the world of jazz. Their mission transcended the 1950s and reverberated through 1980s.

Ahmad Jamal
Born as a Baptist in Pittsburgh, PA in 1930, the soon to be recognized as a highly influential jazz pianist and composer Fritz Jones converted, or rather “reverted,” to Islam in 1950 and embraced the name Ahmad Jamal. His decision to change his name was in part a response, as he once stated, to his desire to embrace his original Muslim name. His music style reflects his classical music sensibility and traditional jazz appreciation. His best hits include Ahmad’s Blues and most of the tracks in At the Pershing: But Not for Me.
#AfAmExp #WhoAre?

Yusef Lateef
William Emanuel Huddleston converted to Islam in 1950 and embraced Yusef Lateef as the name associated with a reputable life in the world of Jazz. He is Grammy Award-winner whose exceptional musical talent earned him the title “American Jazz Master for the year 2010” by the National Endowment for the Arts. Some of his best albums include Eastern Sounds, Psychicemotus, Other Sounds, Jazz Mood, The Golden Flute, Live at Pep's, Before Dawn, and The Sounds of Yusef.
#AfAmExp #WhoAre?

Rap/Hip-Hop

Many African American Muslim rappers and Hip-Hop performers have emerged from the civil rights era with a vivid consciousness about their sense of belonging, and engaged with a number of issues relevant to their personal and social lives. The Five-Percent Nation (aka, Nation of Gods and Earths) has exhibited influence from the Nation of Islam in prescribing a sense of pride to the black identity. Examples of the movement’s search for a sense of identity that relies on conflicting references to Islamic symbols rejecting white sociocultural hierarchy include Lakim Shabazz The Lost Tribe Of Shabazz, Brand Nubian’s Meaning Of The 5% and Allah and Justice, Wu-Tang Clan’s Wu-Revolution, and Lord Jamar’s I.S.L.A.M. Rap/Hip-Hop has been used a medium to voice dissent against institutional racism in the United States. The long list of American Muslim contributors includes Ice Cube, Ghostface Killah, Busta Rhymes, Rhymefest, Freeway, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Beanie Sigel, Napolean, Q-Tip, Akon, Jurassic 5, MC Ren, Cilvaringz, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Malik B, Young Noble, DJ Khaled, and E.D.I. Mean. In staging their Islamic personas, the artists display their diverse interpretations of the religion, which offer a background to their critique of the system.

The following rappers/hip-hop artists reflect the above-highlighted trajectory in this genre:

Brother Ali
Brother Ali was born in Wisconsin in 1977 as Jason Douglas Newman. He converted to Islam at age 15 and changed his first name to Ali. A follower of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and influenced by the music of Public Enemy, Brother Ali has emerged as a popular critic of U.S. foreign and domestic politics. His single "Uncle Sam Goddamn" earned him both appreciation and criticism for his uncompromising commitment to voice his activist concerns about the wellbeing of his society. Some of his popular albums include Rites of Passage, Shadows on the Sun, The Undisputed Truth, Us, and Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.
#WhoAre? #Politics #WarOnTerror

Native Deen
Native Deen is a three-member band of African American Muslim artists, who have developed a unique musical style that combines hip-hop with R&B. The trio is made up of Joshua Salaam, Abdul-Malik Ahmad, and Naeem Muhammad. Their music is influenced by the element of Nasheed styled after popular Muslim singers Sami Yusuf, Yusuf Islam, and Maher Zain. Most of their music reflects a stylish religious reading of identity, faith, and belonging, and serves as an educational resource to Muslim families. Some of their hits include “I Am Near,” “Not Afraid to Stand Alone,” “My Faith My Voice,” and “Mercy to Mankind.”
#AfAmExp #WhoAre?

Hamza Perez
Hamza Perez is a Puerto Rican American rapper whose conversion to Islam marked a serious departure from a past in drug dealing. He is featured in the documentary New Muslim Cool, which introduces the audiences to a more contemporary reading of the American Muslim rap/hip-hop scene. In the documentary, someone addresses him as follows: “You are a single dad, now you're married, so you're a married man, you're Muslim, you're American, you're Puerto Rican, you're from the hood, you're an artist, you're a rapper... sounds like America's worst nightmare!" Perez is deeply committed to addressing issues of relevance to his Hispanic community with an interest in inspiring the youth to take an active role in shaping their future.
#WhoAre?

Omar Offendum
Omar Offendum is a Syrian American Hip-Hop artist. He likes to describe himself in transnational terms. He was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Washington DC, and lives in Los Angeles. Offendum is increasingly earning recognition by media for his interest in bridging the existing division between East and West. In his album SyrianamericanA, he delves deep into the geopolitical history of the Middle East and its impact on contemporary Arabs, Muslims, including their diaspora in the United States.
#WhoAre? #ImmigrantExp #Politics #WarOnTerror #Global

Alia Sharrief
Alia Sharrief is an emerging African American rapper/Hip-Hop artist who describes herself as a “Muslimah demanding respect on the mic while combatting stereotypes through her music.” Sharrief’s insistence in projecting her Muslim identity through lyrics and visuals forges a space for American Muslim women to claim their voice in music. Some of her famous songs include Who Ready, That’s All I Do, Tough Love, Girl Like Me, and Mental. Together with another African American Muslim female rapper Aminah Bell, she appropriates Iggy Azalea’s Black Widow song with a catchy one titled Black Hero.
#AfAmExp #WhoAre?

Rock

The American Muslim influence in rock is mostly a manifestation of the post-1965 Muslim migration experience. Bands crossed a number of traditional boundaries in rock music and incorporated elements of their cultural background into their styles. Three names often stand as representative of the American Muslim rock presence.

Junoon
Junoon (an Arabic term that roughly translates as obsession/madness) is a band put together by Pakistani American professor of music Salman Ahmad. Junoon could be classified as a “sufi rock” band that originated and initially developed in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan during 1990s. Their album records, mostly produced in South Asia, include Junoon, Talaash, Inquilaab, Azadi, Parvaaz, Andaz and Dewaar. When Ahmad moved to the United States to pursue an academic career, he operated solo while retaining the rights to use the band’s name. His soundtrack album, produced in 2010, carried the title Rock & Roll Jihad. It captures the essence of his growth and contribution to this sub-genre. For more about his work, refer to his book Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution.
#WhoAre? #ImmigrantExp #Global

Acrassicauda
Acrassicauda (Latin for black scorpion) is a heavy metal rock band originating in Iraq in 2000. The band gained both positive recognition and notoriety for the type of their music and the nature of their critical lyrics. They initially were forced to compose music in support of Saddam Hussein’s regime, but eventually solidified a more critical voice. The documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad (2007) sheds lights on the controversial reception of their work. Four members of the group re-united in the United States: drummer Marwan Hussein, vocalist–guitarist Faisal Talal, bassist Firas Al-Lateef, and guitarist Tony Aziz. They resurrected the band with support from the crowdfunding platform, kickstarter. Their recently released album, Gilgamesh, bears their critique of dictatorship.
#WhoAre? #ImmigrantExp #Politics #Global

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (2009)
Taqwacore (taqwa means piety in Arabic), aka The Kominas, is a Boston-based punk rock band consisting of Pakistani Americans Basim Usmani (bass, vocals), Shahjehan Khan (guitar, vocals) and Imran Malik (drums), and a Bengali American Arjun Ray (guitar). For the band, music is a way to express their frustration with their conservative upbringing, and their growing up experience as Muslims in America. Their style is a hybrid of South Asian rhythms and rock beats. The band came into existence as a translation of Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel The Taqwacores (2003) in which he entertained an imagined punk rock band at the intersection of America and Islam. The documentary Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (2009) provides an account of the band’s contributions.
#WhoAre? #ImmigrantExp #Politics