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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Parenting in America

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

There is a lot of uncertainty within the Muslim community about how to raise righteous children, given all the choices available within American society. How do we raise children who are honest, responsible, well mannered, never use bad language, are faithful friends, get good grades, and are not only polite but helpful with authority? Is it possible to raise children without any emotional problems and without any interest in drugs or alcohol or sex?

Sometimes immigrant parents try to be too strict, and then when that doesn’t work out, they simply give up and let their children be free like an adults. But did they even try to give clear guidance?

Children learn mostly through observation. The most important time to give a child a sense of moral responsibility is before the age of 5. After that, it’s all talk.

The “attachment parenting” philosophy of parenting gives babies their full Islamic rights. Two years or more of breastfeeding, and sleeping with the mother until weaning time. It is a huge personal sacrifice for the adults involved, but this will give children the foundation of confidence. No matter what else we did wrong, we can know that our children had plenty of skin contact with their mother at the most important time in their lives. They never have to doubt whether or not they are loved.

Skin contact with the mother at an early age will help prevent promiscuity in preteens and teens. I believe that most young (and older) people who irresponsibly search for a “friend” to give them comfort were denied a sense of comfort within their home life. If their parents’ love was conditional, they will search for unconditional love anywhere they hope they can find it. But if they don’t have a healthy example, they will likely never find true love.

Feelings do matter. If we cross the boundary of respect with our children (yelling at them), it is vital to always apologize and make friends again. It is emotional abuse to let children go to sleep feeling hurt and angry. Never expect them to just cheer up and accept abuse. Never call names.

Some children have strong fears of death due to emotional isolation and deep thinking. It is scary to imagine not existing anymore. Studying religion can just make them even more afraid of death and hell. Yet, it is so easy to help a child overcome this fear. If a child is having panic attacks, give him a hug!!! There is only one cure for fear. LOVE.

Truth matters. Never lie to your children. Don’t promise them things you don’t deliver, and that includes threats. Don’t make empty threats. When you promise something good, do it. If you cannot do it, apologize and explain. Be consistent. Don’t create surprises.

If we don’t give our children clear rules, it will be hard for them to take us seriously. We cannot leave our children alone to deal with this total emotional crisis of living in this world! If the child is seriously confused and then breaks the rule, he won’t understand the punishment. After that, we still have to protect the child in every way! We have to talk to our children about how to behave appropriately, and why.

If you want your children to be different from most children, never allow any TV station in your home. They will be exposed to TV programs at other people’s homes and this will help them keep in touch with what other people are thinking, but if they are not exposed to the continuous advertising and moral corruption of the TV at home, they will possess freedom of thought. They won’t have this need to be “sexy” or buy certain things, that young people usually learn they need to attain in order to be acceptable to society.

Above all, be home. Make huge personal sacrifices in order to be at home despite all odds. Being home makes a huge difference in children’s lives. If you are simply there, but teach them that you are not always available to serve them, they will have to learn how to cook and clean in reasonable amounts in order to help you get your work done. Any work they do adds to the strength of their family and home. This gives them a sense of accomplishment. The family must operate as a team effort!

This is so much more important than making huge demands on children that are often not moral or practical demands. Many parents waste huge amounts of money and energy forcing their children to learn how to ice skate (for example) instead of giving them the choice about whether or not they even want to ice skate.

Structured activities are not always necessary. Children really need time to do whatever they want to do. One must to steer them away from computer games and cartoons, of course; but once we deny them those options, they start being creative. They start making things with Lego’s or planting seeds in the garden or reading books. Sometimes they choose to do chores for small amounts of money.

Children suffer a lot when their parents are always driving them from this place to that place for all these structured activities. They need time to be left alone to do what they want in the home. Many children become exhausted from all these activities that are based on giving parents more free time without them.

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