In 2010, writer and producer Javed Mohammed decided to get the ball rolling on World Day of Muslim Culture, Peace, Dialogue and Film. The internationally recognized holiday annually celebrated on March 15 is meant to spotlight the peaceful contributions followers of Islam make to society, and to art especially. In a time when Islam is still viewed very suspiciously by many Americans, this is definitely a good thing to be attempting.
You see, almost all of the Muslims you're going to run into in the course of your life are going to be perfectly normal folks who treat their religion exactly the same as you do. This includes musicians. Especially musicians.
You know how Alice Cooper is a devout born-again Christian but basically spends all his time singing about demons and murder? It's exactly like that in the Muslim world as well.
So today I thought I'd introduce you to some musical Muslims to do my part to spread Mr. Mohammed's dream. Here are five musical genres to which Islam is clearly contributing for the better.
Rap: Rhymefest Kanye West may have been the voice for "Jesus Walks," but the man behind the song was one Che Smith, better known as Rhymefest. He was led to the path of Islam by a member of the Vice Lords gang, and subsequently cleaned up his act to become a successful rapper and ghostwriter.
It might seem weird for him to pen "Jesus Walks," but the lyrics really match up with his solid stance against artists invoking the name of God as a shield.
Goth: Peter Murphy When you think of the pale, vampiric Peter Murphy, Islam doesn't particularly come to mind. But the Irish-Catholic singer became a Muslim in the '90s and now lives in Turkey, where he is well-known in Sufi mysticism circles. [Murphy will be at Numbers April 26 -- ed.]
You can hear a distinctly Turkish flavor in albums like Dust and Holy Smoke, but even in more traditional pop outings like Unshattered, there is plenty of allusion to his faith. "Face the Moon" was inspired by a Muslim analogy that the moon represents the reflected holy light of God, a light too bright to stare at directly.
Metal: Orphaned Land Now, the members of the Israeli prog metal band were all born Jewish, and none of them have converted to Islam. So why the hell are they on this list? Because their awesomeness is one of the very few things that Muslims and Jews in the Middle East seem to universally agree on.
Orphaned Land's inclusion of Muslim influences and teachings from the Koran (to much criticism) as well as singing in English, Hebrew and Arabic has built them a huge unified fan base in the Middle East, where the faithful of many different sects all get together peacefully to revel in band's constant message of light overcoming darkness.
Punk: The Kominas Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a novel called The Taqwacores that was populated with punk-rock Muslims and wound up launching an entire genre of music. The sudden birth of Islamic punk bands enabled a whole segment of American Muslims fed up with negative public perceptions to express that frustration and anger. From Massachussetts, the Kominas are one of the best examples out there. Make sure you pick up a copy of Wild Nights at Guantanamo Bay sometime.
Country: Kareem Salama If there's any genre of music you'd think would be 100 percent Muslim-free, it would be country. After all, it's the sphere where Toby Keith reigns.
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Nonetheless, Keith's fellow Oklahoman Kareem Salama grew up in love with the storytelling nature of country music, and has since become a spokesman for Muslim tolerance as well as a significant rising star. Granted, Salama is country the way Taylor Swift is country, but it's a good start.