Iftar on Campus…Ushpizin

I fell ill with my asthma in VA and had a lot to do so I have had a delay in my postings. It was nice to see so many brothers I hadn’t seen in so long and I also enjoy being in the DC area. It is a pleasant place to live, like NYC, that can make one justify the outrageous cost of living.

This was a piece that I wrote after attending an iftar program the other night at Northern Virginia Community College….

Last night I attended a special Ramadan event and iftar at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, VA. The event was attended by over 300 Muslim students and a number of interested non-Muslim onlookers.

The school itself is perhaps 40% Muslim and the MSA is by far the largest campus organization. One can find a mixture of skin-tight low-rider jeans and complete jilbabs and hijabs on campus and sometimes you can even find both on the same sister such as on young lady last night who appeared to have on a mixture of tight-jeans, a belly-dancer shirt decorated with what I can only describe as silver shingles, and a hijab.

Amongst the brothers you also had a mix of those who seemed more overly observant and those who looked like they were auditioning for the next Jadakiss video. Ethnically there were a lot of Somalis, all sorts of Arabs and a handful of South Asian Muslims along with several African-American Muslims. I was one of two white Muslims and I had a chance to meet a Bolivian woman who just became Muslim two-weeks ago masha’Allah.

The speaker was a brother named Kamal Makee whom I have known for years. He is a brother originally from Sudan but has lived in VA since he was a young teenager. For years he has been a student of the eminent Sudanese scholar Jaffar Sheikh Idris (May Allah reward him and his family) and Sheikh Ali al-Timimi and began teaching classes at Dar al-Arqam in Virginia which is now closed.

Kamal gave a wonderful lecture entitled “Why Islam” which I will try and get an audio of Insh’Allah. In this lecture he discussed the basic principals of belief in Islam and of the two extreme positions in Islam; one position is extremism in religious observance and the exaggeration of certain aspects of the deen and the other extreme position is to not observe Allah while still remaining in Islam or being sinful. Kamal stated that in America the only one that is considered an extremist is the one who is extreme in religious practice and the one who is extreme in the secular or sin is not an extremist. Islam is the middle-path, and what is the middle-path; is it the so-called modernist moderates today or does the Prophet (s) represent the middle-path?

The crowd was generally receptive, but more than a few were more concentrated on intermingling with the opposite sex, and in addressing this issue Kamal said “you know brothers think of the wisdom of brothers praying in the front at the Masjid. If the women prayed in front and bent over in front of the men the Masjid would be full all day and every day with brothers” which brought laughter from the crowd.

It is also amusing to note that almost all of the brothers, and many of the sisters, dressed in a hip-hop style and walked the hall as if they were walking towards mainline in a maximum security prison. These are immigrant brothers and sisters that come from middle-class (and even wealthy) suburban families who have never even seen the streets much less spent any time in the streets. However, one cannot be judgmental, because hip-hop has given these young people a message they can relate to and identify with as opposed to the voices they hear in mainstream American society. Islam is nothing strange in the world of hip-hop and Muslims can be found at all levels of the industry. Imagine a practicing Muslim like Mos Def being accepted in Country Music or modern rock.


I also had the chance to seen an outstanding Israeli film last night titled Ushpizin. It is about the holiday of Succoth, where Jews build ritual huts to live in outside of their homes to remind themselves that they are only guests in this world, and it is traditional to have guests for such an event. The story centers around an observant couple who come from a rebellious background and their prayerful desire to have a son while they are interrupted in Succoth by guests from the main characters past who have escaped from an Israeli prison. It is an excellent film and I highly recommend it. One reason I like this film so much is that it does not seek to demonize religion, rather creates an understanding of the lives of observant Jews, and it has powerful messages of forgiveness and transformation.


8 thoughts on “Iftar on Campus…Ushpizin

  1. I think young immigrant kids need to forge a style and a way of their own rather than piggy-backing on others. Nothing wrong with taking elements of other people’s trends and styles, but to hijack the whole thing?

    Why not create a style of your own? Why not at least add your own elements to existing style? This has always bugged me. My experience is mostly with young Arab kids, but it would seem since 9/11 they seem to want to completely ignore where they come from and what they are. Often they fail to speak their own language, they fail to know their own culture and history. They dont know their own music. It is sad, many of these kids have ceased having any cultural identity of their own.

    I partially blame this on their parents. Their parents are to blame for them growing up not knowing their own language. There is a young Palestinian who just started at my job “Mo” is his name. Never mind that he seems ashamed to use his real name, Mohammed, he was born in Jordan and moved with his family here as a kid. He doesnt speak, read or write Arabic at all. This is common for young Arabs here in the USA. There is a sort of perverse enjoyment I get, I guess, when they see that I can speak THEIR language. They get so embarrased. But it isnt THEIR language really, it is the language of Islam, yet they remain ignorant of it when they have ZERO excuses.

    I guess maybe I was different as a kid, and I guess most converts to Islam where. We didnt care what people thought and wouldnt think of changing who we were or what we liked to suit others.

    I am dealing with these sorts of issues myself with a 13 year old daughter and a 14 year old son. There really seems to be massive pressure to conform. I hate that.

    I also like that you point out that these kids, often rich, as many are in this area, are trying to act ghetto. Drop these kids off in SE in DC and they would be crying in minutes on their new $300 razor flip phone to have mommy send the driver to pick them up. What is it about people that make them want to act like people they are not?

    I converted to Islam, doesnt mean I feel I have to wear a thob, a gruta, and speak in Arabic all of the time. I am an American Muslim, period. These kids are American Arabs……American Pakistanis, what have you. Sad thing is, their cultural identity means little to them.

  2. You make some very good points Abu Sinan. I think that, to a large extent, these young Muslims do put their own flavor into their hip-hopishness, and I mean they are fasting and such so they haven’t completely lost their Islamic identity. Let us also not forget that it goes both ways, Islam and Muslims have influenced hip-hop. Arabic words such as akh, ukhtee, falus, dunya, deen and miswak can be heard in rhythms by New York MC’s.

    One of my favorite MC’s Beanie Siegel, an MC from Philly who is Muslim, says on his latest CD:

    “I spit gangsta, I think Muslim and I act kafir”

    Many of these young Muslims can relate to lyrics such as this. Now, for sure, most of the hip-hop these young Muslims are listening to is complete garbage, stuff like 50 Cent, but you know if they were listening to Elton John and watching Friends people would juts say they are integrating nicely into American society.

    There is a new vision in young America from the hip-hop generation and part of that is being almost as the opposition party to modern American culture and norms. Many young Muslims fit nicely into this vision. You also have Muslims MC’s such as Napoleon, Sons of Hagar, Jurassic 5 and Saja P who have tried to illuminate issues for Muslims in their lyrics.

    Now the issue of young Muslims here forsaking their culture is a real issue. I think one of the main reasons for this is that Muslims are not clustering here like Muslims do in Europe and like Jews have done here in the US. Population clustering and creating Muslim neighborhoods is a good thing and too many Muslims live too remote from other Muslims and then wonder why their kids wanna act like their neighbors and classmates. The parents have to be blamed for a lot of this; they have inferiority complexes and make Americanization the priority. If you go to places like Brooklyn and Paterson, NJ you will see good identities and cultural awareness for young Muslims and I feel that is because they live in Muslim neighborhoods.

    You are right; people who converted to Islam don’t give a damn about what other people think or we wouldn’t be Muslims and most people just aren’t like that. As far as the thobe and gutra I wear that every now and then. It is not because I want to be an Arab but more or less a Muslim identity issue. In New York people wear the Palestinian kefiyah to symbolize their solidarity with Palestine.

  3. I am not a fan of these rappers and such who talk about Islam or claim to be Muslim. If you are Muslim, try to act Muslim, or at least have some “sitra”. I realise that Arabic is a fad in some of the R&B and rap circles. I have heard of women getting “shermoota”(slut) tattooed in Arabic and other such stuff, but it would seem they are trying to “ghetto-ize” Arabic culture. For many of these “Muslims” it is nothing more than a title, a phase. They are not “Muslim” in any other way except for the fact that it is what they choose to call themselves for the moment. Kind of like Mike Tyson making a mockery of the whole thing, saying he converted, then talking about how he blows all of his money on women and drink. I dont think these types do Islam anything positive.

    As to thiab, I wear them at home. Pretty comfortable.

  4. Yea there is a ghettoization to an extent but go to the ghetto and Islam is in the ghetto. Walk down Fulton Street in Brooklyn and you will see second and third generation Muslims walking around wearing full niqab and beards. Islam is a part of the hood culture on the East Coast and many of these people are serious Muslims. Queen Latifah said that she has a Muslim name because she grew-up in an area where half the kids were Muslim (East Orange, NJ). Hip-hop is the youth culture for young Arabs, Latinos and many others.

    The Muslim MC’s I mentioned are serious and committed Muslims and others such as Mos Def who I used to see at the Masjid all the time are serious Muslims. Their lyrics stimulate the mind and are not un-Islamic in nature. Hip-hop gets grief from Muslims but hip-hop is the one place that is almost universally accepting of religion and in opposition to the war amongst other things.

    I work in boxing so I know a little about Mike Tyson. He had serious Muslims around him but he has serious problems. There are a lot of serious Muslim boxers like Hasim Rahman, Ameer Khan, Omar Sheika and Kassim Ouma.

  5. Ever heard of Native Deen? I have heard that Mos Def sings about some pretty unIslamic stuff. I have to say I dont know first hand, I dont listen to rap music. An African American brother in the area, well known, told me this. Guys name is Hud, you might know him.

    Seems to me based on what I have seen, and what you have said yourself, that a lot of what goes in the hood tends to be a part of the lives of the Muslims that live there as well, like the weed smoking you talked about or the phone number passing and the like. Not to suggest this doesnt happen in the upper class areas, I just dont think it is as open.

  6. The deen is stronger in the inner-cities and it gets weaker the farther into suburbia you go; that has been my experience. This is the case with the immigrant and African-American communities. At a place like ADAMS there is often open inter-mingling and it may not be hood but it can resemble a halal cocktail party at times.

    Some Muslims have those problems in the hood but I think the level of acceptance of the Sunnah is far higher in the hood. Go to the universities in Medina and Mecca and they are full of Americans and the vast majority come from the hood. Don’t think all Muslims in the hood are running around smoking weed in the hood, that is far from the case, but when they live in the hood they have hood problems just like those who live in middle to upper class areas get the problems of those around them such as arrogance, secularism, a love of the non-Muslim academia, greed, etc. No one is paying attention to Harvard studies on Islam or calling for a Progressive Islam in the hood they are accepting Islam for what it is and there neighbors aren’t calling them ragheads and making them grow trees around their Masjid or trying to shut them down.

    Mos Def may not be completely Islamic but he is very soulful and has a lot of positive messages in his music and deals a lot with political subject matter. The only thing un-Islamic is he occasionally raps about sex; but even then it is not in a crude way. He does not allow alcohol to be served at his shows. I wonder how far he would make it in rock?

  7. One more thing Abu Sinan. You live in the DC area and in that area all the rules change because it is so unique. In that area the deen is stronger in suburbia.

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