Koran by Heart: A Documentary

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather, TMO

movie_11594_posterIsn’t it amazing when you see s small child reciting the Koran (Qur’an)? Isn’t it even more amazing when young children memorize the entire Koran? What if there was a competition with the best young reciters from around the world? What if someone made a film out of it? Done.

Koran by Heart is an HBO documentary directed by Greg Barker that premiered August 1st, 2011. Koran by Heart is a film about the journey of a few participants chosen for the world youth Koran competition in Cairo, Egypt. Simply put, it is the Olympics of Koran recitation.  There are from everywhere; the main characters in the documentary are from Tajikistan, Maldives, and Senegal. The international Koran competition takes place in Ramadan, so this is the perfect holiday-film to watch. 

In a documentary film, in a sense God is the director. It is natural. It is real. That is why it is beautiful. Koran by Heart is a family friendly film, ideal to view during Ramadan. The film is laced with beautiful recitations of the Koran mixed with top-notch cinematography and covered in a deep and moving storyline.  

It is a story about the competitors just as much as it is about the competition. Questions are raised regarding the political and religious states surrounding the competition and the competitors. Who decides what Islam is the ideal Islam. In every nation people breathe in Islam, and breathe out culture.  Different countries have different ways of conducting similar Islamic practices. Analogous to the cultural medley, there are also mixed views as to the degree of traditionalism practiced with varying Muslim countries, and subdivisions within those countries.

Factors such as economic situation, culture, and history all affect the story of these young individuals. You may laugh, cry, or just happen to fall off the edge of your seat in anticipation during the final scene.  Characters like Nabiollah, Rifdah, and Djemal are lively, determined, and in the end, just kids. Each character has his/her own story, and challenges.

The one story that I feel was the most powerful was that of Rifdah, a girl and also one of the younger participants in the competition. She is a bright child, excelling in all subjects, with loads of energy and sparks of genuine curiosity that you can’t help but smile at. However, she is growing up in a household with mixed views regarding women working. Nabiollah, another young competitor, has different challenges; his father wasn’t able to finish his education because of political turmoil that erupted in the region, and the area they live in at the moment does not have a certified school that teaches secular studies.  Nabiollah and his father both want him to have an education.

Koran By Heart is the film to watch this Ramadan. It is an amazing film that may even inspire you to pick up the Koran and read a few chapters. 

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Ramadan-Wear 2011: What Are You Wearing this Season?

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather, TMO

thobes 4We have been blessed to be this close to the holy month of Ramadan, a great month of brotherhood, sisterhood, and spiritual advancement. Everyone is getting their Ramadan-wear ready. Lines of e’thr are arrayed on tables, and thobes (robes) and shalwar kameeses (long shirts) are dug out from the closet. But, there is some conflict.

One man looking at the one Saudi thobe he got as a gift a year ago realizes it’s a bit worn. He thinks in urdu,” Kash mera paas aik neya thobe tha ( I wish I had a new thobe).” Another looks at his Friday thobe sequestered between his stylish array of dress shirts and sweaters and thinks, “Man, I wish thobes had a bit more variety.” A third comes back from work, and upon seeing his thobe back from the dry cleaners thinks, “I wish I had a thobe with enough presence to wear at a business meeting.” A sister, after running around the mall all afternoon, stops for a breath of air, and thinks, “All that looking, and I still haven’t found one proper outfit I can wear to the masjid.”

Brothers and Sisters, look no further. There are options out there. First, I would suggest looking up your local Muslim all-in-one stores, or indian pakistani clothing store. If you still can’t find what you are looking for, there is still hope. If you attended the recent ISNA convention of 2011 in Chicago you probably could not help but notice the two Muslim-wear powerhouses, Kamani Clothing and Lawung Ltd. On their two websites, www.kamanionline.com and www.lawungdirect.com , respectively, they have taken Muslim-wear to a whole new level. Kamani clothing has a variety of thobe styles: Legacy, Prime, Ideal, and Classic. Lawung has a nice variety of children’s thobes along with their adult collections

They have integrated styles reminiscent of brand name formal and casual wear into the thobe. They have re-invented the thobe as we know it. Their items are modern, sleek , and affordable. Prices range from about thirty five dollars to eighty dollars, depending on what style you choose; shipping and handling is an additional cost. However, these items would be ideal for Ramadan-wear for you or as a gift. Lawung is based in the United Kingdom, and Kamani Clothing is run by the young Midwestern scholar Mufti Hussain Kamani.

From ’Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood (R) who said that the Prophet (s) said, “No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.” (Muslim) Muslims should try their best to be clean, neat, and nice, especially during Ramadan; this allows the environment in the masjid to continue to be inviting, even with the higher number of attendees.

Many sisters try wearing hijab for the first time during the holy month. Be supportive of such sisters, instead of ruthlessly criticizing there slight hijabesque blunders. If you are such a sister or are just looking for tutorial on how to wear the hijab in different styles, search “stylecoveredvideo” on youtube. Stylecoveredvideo is the Youtube channel by the Muslim designer Hana Tajima-Simpson, and her tutorials may make the transition to wearing hijab a bit easier. 

Hopefully, you all find the Ramadanwear you are looking for, locally, online, or elsewhere.

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Interview: Omar Offendum, Bilingual MC/Producer

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather

Omar Chakaki, better known by the name Omar Offendum, is Syrian American emcee and producer who was born in Saudi Arabia but was raised in the United States. He raps in both English and Arabic comfortably about a vast range of issues and ideas. He has been featured on BBC, ABC news, Aljazeera, and other news sources. His most recent album is titled SyrianamericanA. He has performed around the world with a variety of famous artists. Occasionally, he starts his performances with an Arabic rendition of a work by the poet Langston Hughes

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1. Do Hip Hop and Islam fit well with each other, or is there a clash?

I never saw a clash between the two. In Islam innamal a’amaalu biniyaat, actions are based on intentions. So if you have good intentions to affect positive change through Hip Hop, another art form, or whatever, then, I believe insha’allah, it is compatible. If you have intentions of spread negativity, promiscuity, or misogyny etc, then, obviously, that is not compatible.
I understand there is a scholarly debate as far as music in Islam. I tend to fall in line with those do not believe it is haraam, citing the importance of intentions. If it doesn’t distract you from the demands of the Muslim faith, like praying, then, there isn’t anything wrong with it, especially if it is positive. I understand that it does distract a lot of people, and Hip Hop in particular can be a tool to spread negativity. But it’s a tool like anything else, so it’s how you use it.

I know a lot of spoken word artists, and I don’t see how you could ever say something like that is haraam.  At times I perform without music. I have been at events were people are uncomfortable with music, so I performed without it. I’m sensitive to that. I take time with my lyrics and make sure it is something I can do with or without music. That’s where I kind of stand on it.
Some people may say kaafir, haraam, judge, and use apocalyptic language after they hear a Muslim performing with music, but I question the intentions of those people. In the end of the day, there are haters out there and haters gon’ hate. I do this with positive intentions Insha’Allah.

2. There are a lot of Muslim performers: emcees, poets, rappers, singers, b-girls, beat boxers, and others. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon? As far as Muslim culture, and Arab culture, goes, there is a hesitation and apprehension surrounding even the idea of Muslim females on stage.

Well, I think it is a beautiful thing, and I encourage it, especially if they’re doing it positively. I welcome it, I embrace it, and I hope to see more of it because they’re inspiring to other women who think there is something wrong with that, when I, personally, don’t think there is.  Many good friends of mine are Muslim female Emcees. The best example that comes to mind is Poetic Pilgrimage: two very confident sisters from the UK of African-Caribbean decent.  They wear hijab and practice Islam to the best of their ability, and you can see it reflected in their lyrics. I think what they’re doing is very positive, and I encourage it.

As far as Arab culture, Shaadia Mansour, she is not Muslim; she’s Arab, but faces similar sentiment. Our community looks down on woman who are on stage, performing. In my opinion her heart is in the right place and has the best intentions. I think, especially with her, as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned, she’s such an important voice to put out there; it’s a different faith for the world to see, that it’s not just a bunch of angry men that are rapping about something. It really changes the dynamic.

3. A lot of your lyrics carry a heavy weight, since they have some political or historical background. Do you think music and lyrics have to have something behind them, some motive, or can it just be open expression?

I think it has to be honest self expression at the end of the day. In hip-hop we have the saying “keepin’ it real.” If you’re not “keepin’ it real”; If you’re not being true to yourself, true to your history, true to your background, then, I, personally, am not that into it. But, that doesn’t mean it has to be political, it can be anything. If you’re skillful with your art, I have to respect that.  I don’t go out of my way to be political. We live in a politicized world. Being a young Arab American Muslim, it happens to affect me deeply, and so I speak about it. I also used to translate Arabic poetry to English and English poetry to Arabic. That is a more relevant to my experience.

4.  How much of a difference can hip hop make without actual political change, or do you think this is the medium through which political change can occur?

I think it is a tool. It can spark dialogue, debate and awareness about issues in communities where there is none: locally, nationally, and internationally. When an artist is as successful as Lupe Fiasco (Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) says what he said about Gaza getting bombed in a particular song, it is a really really big deal. That album sold hundreds of thousands in the first week. It is extremely important. However, it is not going to stop the bombing in Gaza. No, it’s not going to fix the issue. In my case, I see the medium as the message. People see a young Muslim American Arab rapping on stage, comfortable in both languages. There’s a lot behind that, that I don’t’ even need to say. They can infer from it.

5. There are a variety of sheikhs out there, maybe you’ve heard names like Suhaib Webb and Hamza Yusuf. There are also many books, so are there any inspirational books you’ve read or scholars you really look up to?

I have actually met Sheikh Suhaib several times. He’s a great inspiration, masha’allah. I grew into my Muslim American Identity. I went to an Islamic School growing up, it was a Saudi Islamic School based in Alexandria, Virginia, mostly set up for students with family back in the Middle East who worked in the embassy. We had the Saudi Arabian curriculum coupled with the local county curriculum. It essentially for people intending to move back to the Middle East, and so they didn’t really establish the Muslim-American identity, and that was something that took me years to understand and really, kind of, be at peace with.

Hearing people like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Suhaib Webb, and Zaid Shakir speak are very inspirational to me. Sheikh Yassir Fazaga is also from southern California. I really, really, really enjoy his khutbahs. Some of the most inspirational one I have ever heard were from him. But Islam aside, reading books by authors like Edward Said, and novels by men like Amin Maalouf have greatly influenced me. Also included are emcees and reggae singers of all sorts. A number of old Arabic singers and poets: Khalil jibran, and darwish. All of this influences me, and I think you can see it in my music because I try to make it an honest reflection of me.

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Interview with Graffiti Artist Mohammed Ali

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather, TMO

Mohammed Ali also known as Aerosol Arabic is a Muslim Graffiti artist who has gained attention worldwide, painting murals and conducting shows for peace, justice, and humanity. He was born and raised in Birmingham, England. He was involved with graffiti art during the eighties when it was spreading like wildfire across the U.K. His work has been displayed in a variety of exhibitions, and he has spoken at various artistic and academic venues. 

ma1ma2ma3ma4ma5writing on the walls2

Do you think the attitude towards graffiti has changed since the eighties?

They have and haven’t. You still hear the questions of whether graffiti is just vandalism or art. People like Banksy have targeted a whole different audience and shown the power of street art. The attitudes toward the art form have not evolved enough, but the art form hasn’t either.  Many of the artists from this movement are not like Banksy. They are not trying to communicate to the mainstream.

Do you think art needs a purpose?

For me, it has to communicate something. Initially, I was just expressing myself: one’s identity, your name, or your tag. What’s the point of that? If I am painting a public space why should it just be a selfish expression? Why should I be expressing my name? Communication is paramount for me.

What is the value of graffiti art in society?

Who owns the public space? I suppose it’s the people.  So, when I’m painting, I’m painting for the people. I need to be communicating something of value. In big cities we are bombarded by visuals and imagery by different useless commercial products.

For me, it is about taking ownership of the public space and offering, to the public domain, ideas that are beneficial for a progressive and positive society. In our lifetime we have seen the breakdown of certain values. I want to bring something back that will be of benefit to the people, me, as a Muslim, me, as an artist, and me, as human being.

How much of your art is for you and how much is for the audience?

For me, it’s for the audience. I paint for the people, really me getting any personal fulfillment from painting is like a bonus for me. I’m an artist, but I don’t do art for art’s sake, so art for the sake of mankind, I suppose. Art I hope will bring some good to society. It’s a channel for me to release my thoughts and ideas so people may benefit personally, spiritually, or otherwise.

Is art only meant for adding positivity to the world, and for the betterment of society?

Each to their own really. It’s fine that people want to express their color, art, and composition for their own personal benefit; I’m not going to criticize that. Certainly art has some therapeutic properties for personal benefit. There’s a space and need for that.

But I feel, as a Muslim, I also have a strong social responsibility. What did I do in this world if I leave, not if, when I leave I feel I am accountable. What did I do for my community and society at large? What would be the point if I left this world and didn’t do anything to benefit it?

How does being Muslim affect your art?

As a visual artist, graffiti and the Islamic art of written word were interesting. In graffiti art it was man. In the Alhambra Mosque in Spain, it was the word of God. When I rediscovered my identity as a Muslim, as a graffiti artist, I was blown away by the marriage and melding of the two art forms. I felt I could take the best of both worlds without conflict.

There are issues of drawing figurative forms. I do a lot of shadowesque silhouette forms of people. So I have found different ways of expressing things. It has made me think outside the box.
How has your outlook on art changed since you started?

I wasn’t one of those people mindlessly vandalizing property: painting an eyesore, with something of color. I have a social responsibility now. What kind of example would I be if I was painting walls illegally? So I’ll see a wall that’s ugly screaming to be painted, that’s someone else’s wall, anyone can tell you about painting someone’s wall without permission.
Before there wasn’t really a message, just a name, now the focus is on the message rather than selfish expression.

What keeps you going?

Feedback from people, whether it’s to know kids in Palestine were joyously talking about some wall painted in an English city, or seeing an old woman emotionally passing her hand over a load of painted bricks. Art has the power to change the world. I’ve seen how it can.

What is one of the most difficult moments as an artist?

Well the event with the Chicago mural was a challenge, being unable to complete it. Difficulties I face are a blessing. They give me encouragement to come back and do something bigger and better.  I’m planning an event similar to”Writing on the Wall” with IMAN in Chicago, insha’Allah.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

Engaging with the people and traveling my travels. Historical figures: Malcolm X and Salahuddin, leaders who fought for justice. The prophets would be the best examples of course. What we are doing as artists and activists is a continuation  of these people who fought and struggled, fought for justice, fought for bringing back values.

One of my favorite quotes is from the author George Orwell, he once said, “In a time of universal deceit, speaking the truth will become a revolutionary act.”

How do you see yourself advancing in the future professionally, personally?

I established an organization called Soul City Arts, and have been programming and directing theatrical events with other artists. My arts organization in my city is called the Hubb Arts Centre. I want to continue collaborating with groups like IMAN. The scene of arts for social change is very small and people who work in this arena need to connect so they can effectively bring about social change.  We have to think strategically and think where we want to be in ten years.

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The First Fast

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Usman Ather

Once upon a Ramadan day when it was time to pray
I walked by my refrigerator and had hunger pains
While I ignored the potatoes, I suddenly noticed some tomatoes
Rows and rows of nuts and grains
I felt the blood slowing in my veins
Oh the hunger, just  patience remains

Again I remember, that Ramadan in December
It seemed as if the only thing in the world was food
I wanted to eat, vegetables, nuts, especially meat
Stomping my feet, across the street, this hunger ruined my mood
Little children are eating in front of me. How rude!
Oh the hunger, I desire food

Then came the time for Zuhr
The four, four, two, took forever
It was only Zuhr and I was thinking of Iftar. Why did it have to be so far?
I didn’t have a car, so I walked home on the tar and thought taking a nap would be clever
Shaitan advised me to sneak some food. Nay I say. Not now not ever!
Oh the hunger, only for His pleasure is this endeavor

I awoke from my slumber, with a craving for a cucumber
I finished Salat-ul-Asr, God be praised
Before Iftar I sliced an orange, the juice splashed onto my door hinge
Me and the team went to Krispy Kreme to get some donuts. Glazed.
But for now I envied every cattle that grazed
Oh the hunger, I’m completely phased

It was but an hour left for me to wait, until then, safe was my plate
The clock’s second hand froze, or have my eyes lied
I stare and stare. Yet, the second hand remains right there
My head was hurting, my throat was dried, this anomaly of time left me mystified
My sister laughs, “The clock’s battery died!”
Oh the hunger, I almost cried

I felt like a car impounded, but to my delight, the Athan had sounded
To food, my mouth was an open door
Food and drink, down my throat would sink
I ate and ate until the Ramadan weight gain mystery was a myth no more
A sated beast was I, lying there on the floor
This hunger tormented me, Nevermore