Muslim Wire

Native Deen… When Rap Meets Islam

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — For Joshua Salaam, the name of his American Muslim rap band, Native Deen, tells it all about how music is never in contrast with being a devout Muslim.

“The thing we talk about is that the deen (religion in Arabic) of Islam is native to every person,” Salaam told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.

He asserts that from the beginning the band, which also groups Naeem Muhammad and Abdul-Malik Ahmad, wanted a name that reflects their rap music’s Islamic nature.

“We wanted something with Arabic in it but not too hard to pronounce,” he recalls.

“We wanted something with English in it so we came up with the name Native Deen.”

The band formation began with the three young Muslims, then in their early teens, performing, individually, in the Muslim Youth of North America (MYNA) camps.

They later got together with a shared a passion for music and spreading the uplifting message of Islam.

“At the end of the camps, there was always entertainment,” Salaam recalls.

When their talents caught the attention of people in the camps, they were advised to put the music on CDs for people to listen to it around the world.

“For five years, we toured as Native Deen but without an album, because we sang songs related to MYNA Raps,” Salaam remembered with a smile.

“So when people invited us to the stage they used to say ‘ladies and gentlemen, here is Naeem, Abdul-Malik and Joshua, or here is MYNA Raps.”

It was only in 2000, after Salaam moved from the Midwest to Washington DC area that they got together and set out on their own to record.

“Then in 2005 we had the first Native Deen album, and in 2007 we had the second… but we still sing songs for MYNA Raps.”

Over the past years, the hip-hop trio group has been breaking new ground in America’s Muslim community, estimated at nearly seven millions.

They took a new measure of fame thanks to a radio show, “On The Scene with Native Deen,” that was broadcast worldwide via the Islamic Broadcasting Network (IBN) Website.

Message

Native Deen music does not only seek to deliver a purely Islamic message, but a social one too.

Many of their songs speak about the problems and challenges American Muslim youth face in their daily life.

“The number one challenge is dating or having a girlfriend or the opposite gender relations,” says Salaam.

“American youth always have girlfriends and they date and this is all acceptable in the American culture. Muslim youth are expected to go through childhood and into college and get a degree, without even touching another boy or girl.”

He contends that most of the time young Muslims are not offered solutions to this problem.

“It becomes almost impossible amid all this culture supported by the internet and the TV. We as a community did not find a solution for our youth to help them through that.”

Salaam cites drugs and gangs as other challenges, noting they are not related to being in America or the West.

“This happens even in Muslim countries. In the West, a lot of these pressures come from non-Muslims. The difficulty is that when you are in a community and these pressures come from Muslims. That’s even harder.”

Native Deen enjoys an international fan base thanks to its clear message of life while being a straight, pious Muslim.

In addition to performing across the US, Native Deen traveled to Turkey, Dubai, the Palestinian Territories and Egypt.

In Dubai, they won the 2006 Mahabba Award at an event celebrating musicians and artists inspired to spread Islam through art.

Salaam believes that his band symbolizes that fact that music, and arts in general, reflects people’s thoughts and life experiences.

“Arts take on the form of the person’s experience, so people who draw, sometimes they draw emotions of how they feel or draw things they have seen in the world. People who sing, they sing about love, about happiness, about hurt,” he contends.

“When we make music, it is just an expression of being Muslim in America.”

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