About 60 students took out their ear buds and learned from the artists on their playlists firsthand about the unique connection between music and the Islamic religion at an event at Rackham Amphitheatre on Monday night.
The Islam & Hip Hop Panel Discussion: The 5 Pillars & The 5 Elements — sponsored by the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and developed by Hip Hop Congress, a University organization that utilizes hip-hop culture to spark social action, and the Muslim Students’ Association —addressed the historical link between hip hop and Islam. The event featured a question and answer session with Muslim hip-hop artists One Be Lo and Langston Luv.
Amer Ahmed, the associate director of MESA, emceed the event, opening with a rap greeting and moving into an in-depth lecture on the interconnectedness of hip hop and the Islamic community throughout history.
The presentation discussed moments of struggle that helped shape hip hop’s creation, including the slave trade involving the Islamic population from West Africa. Ahmed’s presentation highlighted how the Islamic faith was part of the guiding ideals of African-American culture in North America, because both groups spoke against resistance.
“There is a continuation of oral tradition and the delivery of these messages of identity, of reclaiming of identity, of resistance through the use of oral tradition,” Ahmed said.
He explained how the resistance movement fueled the creation of a genre of music that embodied the same ideologies.
“This culture of resistance was very much part of the identity of people connected to Islam-based ideologies, but it was also part of the cultivation of hip-hop culture,” Ahmed said. “Hip-hop culture is a counterculture; it’s a resistance to hegemonic forces and systems of oppression.”
After Ahmed’s introductory presentation, One Be Lo and Langston Luv appeared on a panel to answer questions and demonstrate their rapping talents. Luv addressed how it can be difficult to be a hip-hop artist that also identifies as Muslim.
“I’m almost fearful because I don’t want to become (or) appear as if I’m some poster-boy for Islam,” Luv said. “I would misrepresent it personally; I do things that are maybe against the permissibility of Islam.”
He added that many well-known hip-hop artists such as Lupe Fiasco are associated with Islam and place Islamic references in their music.
“The jewels that these people are sharing are a part of their gift and a part of their faith,” Luv added.
During the question and answer session, One Be Lo described his process of converting from Christianity to Islam, and how he was introduced to Islamic faith during his time in prison. He explained how his original views towards Islamic faith changed during this time.
“I was coming to Islam in stages,” One Be Lo said. “When I first heard about Islam, I thought it was about ‘The white man is the devil,’ and when I started reading the Quran, (I learned) it was nothing like that. It was a real beautiful thing to me.”
In an interview after the event, One Be Lo said music is a universal language that is all encompassing.
“Maybe we don’t speak the same language and totally different backgrounds, but we both like this beat,” he said.
LSA freshman Dakota DeGroot said he attended because of his interests in hip-hop music and Islam.
“I like to write music (and) I write a lot of hip hop,” DeGroot said. “It’s something that I’ve really loved my entire life. On the religious side, I tend to believe in the general beliefs of Islam, so it’s culminating two things that I feel strongly about into one event.”
LSA junior Yazan Kherallah, the MSA social justice and activism committee chair, said the event was important for spreading knowledge about various aspects of Islam.
“(The event) helps to give a greater awareness of what Islam is,” Kherallah said. “It is not really one dimensional. Islam relates to so many things.”
LSA junior Zach Kendall, the president of Hip Hop Congress, said the event was successful in uniting a variety of people from many backgrounds.
“We like to get people in a space, in the name of hip hop,” Kendall said. “We want to bring people together that wouldn’t normally be in the same space … for me, this was an extremely successful event.”