Freeway: An Islamic Reflection

Last week I picked up the CD of the Muslim rapper from Philadelphia named Freeway. Many people probably have not heard of him as he has hovered between fame and obscurity for the last several years as a member of the Roc-a-Fella label often only getting widespread recognition on compilations with other more famous members of the label such as Kanye West, Jay-Z, and the more famous Muslim brother from Philly Beanie Segal.

Freeway is a reflection of the North Philly neighborhood he came from; hard, from the streets, lyrical, astute, and a Muslim brother with a large beard who still battles demons.

There are a lot of Muslims out there who are reading this, or who know of Freeway, and will say that for me to even highlight him as a Muslim artist is foolishness since he often talks about the street life involving drugs, hustlin, violence and women. These things are un-Islamic and people will say that how can a Muslim artist glorify these things?

My response to this is two-fold; first, if you listen to the lyrics of Freeway, he is not glorifying the ghetto lifestyle he came from but rather giving a portrayal of where he came from and to a large extent where he still is both psychically and psychologically, and secondly Freeway is a reflection of where a lot of Muslims in America are. Maybe they should be in a better place, but they are not, and Freeway and the brothers in Philly and other places like them make up a significant number of the Muslims in America. You can not wish them away and you can not put them out of the deen. These are men with rough pasts that do not magically go away upon shahadah and their lyrics often reflect the struggles in their lives of being a Muslim and a product of their very un-Islamic environments.

Islam is becoming the norm in many parts of Philly and young people are growing up in an Islamic culture that is fused with their ghetto surroundings. This is happening in Philly at a higher-rate than anywhere else where big beards and short pants are the norm, but it is happening in most Northern American cities in the African-American community to some level, and these areas are producing the likes of Freeway.

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The Crisis of Muslim Youth and a Call for a Meeting

I was contacted over the weekend by a very thoughtful sister concerned about the issues surrounding Muslims sisters as outlined in my blog who thought it would be a good idea to include some resources for helping sisters and has said she is working on compiling a list of Muslim organizations set-up to counter domestic violence and the like. This weekend I also was moved by the comments of sister Musleema referring to the number of Muslim youth from broken homes who are angry and teetering on the edge of disaster. These comments led me to begin to wonder about practical things we can do to help some of those in our community who are in a state of anger, disillusionment, frustration, and at the doors of apostasy. Of those who are in this group one of the largest would be our Muslim youth especially those whose parents were a part of “movements” that gave them false hopes of an Islamic Utopia that turned into nightmares for their children.

In crafting an effort to help the youth we must first recognize that many are wounded, may have conflicted or negative perceptions towards many aspects of Islam, may not have a great relationship with at least one of their parents, and have heard all of the corny one-liners and catch-phrases of those who do not recognize any problems and have an Islamic Utopian mentality before, namely their parents and those adults they grew-up with.

These young people are from a generation of Muslims in America who have either grown-up in Muslim schools, been home schooled by Muslim parents, have grown up in the masjid and went to public schools, or are the products of parents who made “hijrah”. They read Quran, have memorized a significant number of suras, possibly speak Arabic, have never celebrated a non-Muslim holiday, have never eaten pork, and have a fairly high level of knowledge and understanding of the deen.

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