Work That: To my Sisters (for reals) in their Beautiful Struggle

I’ve always been a fan of Mary J. Blige. I think she’s a beautiful woman, strong and vulnerable, open, yet private. I mean, she’s really up there for me in my list of top female vocalists. Her music reaches me in a way that Beyonce never can. She sings with a soul that struggle that Christina Aguilera can only imitate without the depth and feeling. Alicia Keyes may have range, but to me it doesn’t compare with that real experience. MJB defeated some real demons. Even when we defeat our demons they can still haunt us. I’m proud of what she has achieved and glad she could share her world with us. For many of us, it is life affirming. Thanks for sharing your message and keep working that queen!!

Work your thing out
Work your thing out
Work your thing out
Work your thing out

Theres so many-a girls
I hear you been running
From the beautiful queen
That you could be becoming
You can look at my palm
And see the storm coming
Read the book of my life
And see I’ve overcome it
Just because the length of your hair ain’t long
And they often criticize you for your skin tone
Wanna hold your head high
Cause you’re a pretty woman
Get your runway stride home
And keep going
Girl live ya life

I just wanna be myself
Don’t sweat girl be yourself
Follow me
Follow me
Follow me
Girl be yourself
That’s why I be myself
And I’m gonna love it

Let em get mad
They gonna hate anyway
Don’t you get that?
Doesn’t matter if you’re going on with their plan
They’ll never be happy
Cause they’re not happy with themselves

Na na work what you got
I’m talking bout things that I know
Na na work what you got
It’s okay show yourself some love
Na na work what you got
Don’t worry bout who’s saying what
It’s gonna be fine
Work what you got

Feelin great because the light’s on me
Celebrating the things that everyone told me
Would never happen but God has put his hands on me
And aint a man alive could ever take it from me
Working with what I got I gotta keep on
Taking care of myself I wanna live long
Aint never ashamed what life did to me

Wasn’t afraid to change cause it was good for me
I wanna…

I just wanna be myself
Don’t sweat girl be yourself
Follow me
Follow me
Follow me
Girl be yourself
That’s why I be myself
And I’m gonna love it

Let em get mad
They gonna hate anyway
Don’t you get that?
Doesn’t matter if you’re going on with their plan
They’ll never be happy
Cause they’re not happy with themselves

Na na work what you got
I’m talking bout things that I know
Na na work what you got
It’s okay show yourself some love
Na na work what you got
Don’t worry bout who’s saying what
It’s gonna be fine
Work what you got

Work that
Work that
Work that
Girl don’t hold back
You just be yourself

Na na work what you got
I’m talking bout things that I know
Na na work what you got
It’s okay show yourself some love
Na na work what you got
Don’t worry bout who’s saying what
It’s gonna be fine
Work what you got

Work that
Work that
Work that
Girl don’t hold back
You just be yourself

Work that thing out
Work that thing out
Work what you got

Aftershocks: Benazir Bhutto

abhutto1.jpg

BBC’s Benazir Bhutto obituary

Many of us Muslims who are not deeply involved in politics have been following what’s going on in Pakistan. I shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news of Bhutto’s assassination. To me, this is a sign of the madness that we ae facing in the Muslim world. Bhutto had barely escaped an terrorist bomb, but she wasn’t able to dodge the bullets this time. One friend noted that Muslims have not learned how to peacefully transfer power. This is an ominous sign (as if we didn’t have enough already), that there are Muslims who deal with political opposition using murder, terrorism, and violence. We really need to go back to the drawing board, to get back to basics. This is why we need Muslim scholars and thinkers to begin to address political and social issues. Otherwise, we are headed into chaos.

Liberation

How many of us are complicit in our own oppression? How many of us have undermined all that we aspired to be? betraying our very own souls? Some of us take part in building our own prisons. I can only look to the past to draw lessons and inspiration. I can recognizing how far I’ve come. I can acknowledge the hurt that I’ve struggled through. At the same time I have to learn to let go of the pain and eventually drop the burdens that I carry. Then I can rise by removing those fetters. Now that’s liberation and baby I want it….

And there’s a, and there’s a
And there’s a, and there’s a, finnne.. linnne
Too late to pray that I’m on it..
Ya, yeah, yeahhhh
[OutKast]
Y’all, uh-huh, y’all
[Andre Benjamin]
And there’s a fine line between love and hate you see
Came way too late, but baby I’m on it..
And there’s a fine line between love and hate you see
Came way too late, but baby I’m on it..
Can’t worry bout, what a nigga think now see
That’s Liberation and baby I want it..
Can’t worry bout, what anotha nigga think
Now that’s Liberation and baby I want it..
[Big Boi]
(Let me hear it, let me hear it, let me hear those, let me hear those)
How many times I, sit back and contemplate
I’m fresh off the dank, but I’m tellin my story..
My relationship, with my folks is give and take
And I done took so much, not givin my glory
Now have a choice to be who you wants to be
It’s left uppa to me, and my momma n’em told me (yes she did)
I said I have a choice to be who you wants to be
It’s left uppa to me, and my momma n’em told me
[Cee-Lo]
No, nooo, noooooooo
I’m so tired, it’s been so long – struggling, hopelessly
Seven and forty days.. heyyy
Ohhhh, I sacrifice every breath I breathe
To make you believe, I’d give my life awayyyy
Oh lord, I’m so tired, I’m so tired
My feet feel like I walked most of the road on my owwwwn
All on my owwwwn, weeeeeee..
We alive or we ain’t livin, that’s why I’m givin until it’s gone
Cause I don’t wanna be alone (I don’t wanna be alone)
I don’t wanna be alone.. yeahhhheeeeee
If there’s anything I can say, to help you find your way
Touch your soul, make it whole, the same for you and I..
There’s not a minute that goes by that I don’t believe
that you die.. but I can feel it in the wind
The beginning or the end
But people keep your head to the skyyyyy
[singers in background over interlude]
Shake that load off, shake that load off (16X)
[Erykah Badu]
Folk in your face, you’re a superstar
Niggaz hang around cause of who you are
You get a lot of love cause of what you got
Say they happy for you but they really not
Sell a lot of records and you roll a benz
Swoll up in the spot, now you losin friends
All you wanna do is give the world your heart
Record label tried to make you compromise your art
You make a million dollars, make a million mo’
First class broad treat you like a nigga po’
You wanna say Wait! but you’re scared to ask
as your world starts spinning and it’s moving fast
Tryin’ to stay sane is the price of fame
Spending your life trying to numb the pain
You shake that load off and sing your song
Liberate the minds, then you go on home..
[Big Rube]
I must admit, they planted a lot of things
in the brains and the veins of my strain
Makes it hard to refrain, from the host of cocaine
From them whores, from the flame
From a post in the game
Makes it hard to maintain focus
They’re from the glock rounds, and lockdowns, and berries
The seeds that sow, get devoured by the same locusts
Cause it’s a hard row to hoe
if your ass don’t move, and the rain don’t fall
And the ground just dry
But the roots are strong, so some survive
So you’re surprised, now I’m bustin cries
You got more juice than Zeus
Slangin lightnin tryin to frighten
Plains dwellers, of the Serengeti
But get beheaded when you falsely dreaded
Melanin silicon and collagen injected
Dissectin my pride, fool I don’t wanna get it started
We be the lionhearted, without a fantasy
It’s like that red sprite, you can’t imagine it
unless you lookin at the canvas of life
and not through the peephole of mortality
Single minded mentality
Gettin over on loopholes
Gettin paid two-fold on technicalities
Clickin your heels, scared to bust how you feel
Pack the steel
Pickin cotton from the killing fields with no toe
I don’t we in Kansas no mo’ though
Midwest or Dirty South
Clean dressed or dirty mouth
Whether robbin preachers or killin Poor Righteous Teachers
You a scared demon
Shouldn’t be allowed to spread semen
And your cowardly lies never defyin the jackals who babble
Runnin with they pack, tail between your legs
Though the man on your head say the story
As you downplay your glory
Cacklin, helpin the shacklin of your brethern happen
Just by rappin..
LIBERTAD..

OutKast Liberation lyrics

The Black Knight: ‘Antar and the Arab Epic

antar-document-4a.jpg
I was doing a little research on a course I’m trying to develop on Muslim societies, slavery and race when I came across an intriguing story. As I was looking for some pre-Islamic literature I stumbled across a familiar, but long overlooked historical character–‘Antar Ibn Shadad. Because I tend to be rather long winded, I thought this brief bio would suffice:

Antara (äntär’ä) [key], fl. 600, Arab warrior and poet, celebrated in his own day as a hero because he rose from slave birth to be a tribal chief. His poetry is represented by one poem in the Muallaqat. His greatness gave rise to many legends over the centuries, and he became the hero of the popular Arabic epic Sirat Antar. In it he represents the ideal of a Bedouin chief, rich, generous, brave, and kind. His name also appears as Antar.

There I found this very thorough book by Peter Heath, analyzing Antar’s epic, Thirsty Sword : Sirat Antar & the Arabic Popular Epic. And H.T. Norris has a translation of the epic itself. I love classic epics, but his story was significant because both race and slavery overlapped. His mother was a Black slavewoman and his father a Bedouin who refused to acknowledge him. Since I have long been interested in Afro-Arabs, this rediscovery of Antar really excited me. I haven’t really found the epic in Arabic literature in Africa, but then again I haven’t looked too hard. But what I found so interesting is the fact that his story resonated for so many Muslims over the centuries. ‘Antar’s was told and retold in Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu.

I became intrigued. While being careful not to insert my own projections, I began to think about the meaning of a mixed race young man, the son of a Black slave woman and Bedouin chieftain raising to become the model of Arab masculinity. It raised so many questions for me, many of them I will continue to explore in my own studies. Here is a translation of his poetry. Reminder for the readers, the English does it no justice

MOALLAKA

The poets have muddied all the little fountains.

Yet do not my strong eyes know you, far house?

O dwelling of Abla in the valley of Gawa,
Speak to me, for my camel and I salute you.

My camel is as tall as a tower, and I make him stand
And give my aching heart to the wind of the desert.

O erstwhile dwelling of Abla in the valley of Gawa;
And my tribe in the valleys of Hazn and Samna
And in the valley of Motethalem!

Salute to the old ruins, the lonely ruins
Since Oum El Aythan gathered and went away.

Now is the dwelling of Abla
In a valley of men who roar like lions.
It will be hard to come to you, O daughter of Makhram.

* * * * *

Abla is a green rush
That feeds beside the water.

But they have taken her to Oneiza
And my tribe feeds in lazy Ghailam valley.

They fixed the going, and the camels
Waked in the night and evilly prepared.

I was afraid when I saw the camels
Standing ready among the tents
And eating grain to make them swift.

I counted forty-two milk camels,
Black as the wings of a black crow.

White and purple are the lilies of the valley,
But Abla is a branch of flowers.

Who will guide me to the dwelling of Abla?
Grayson, David One Hundred and Twenty Asiatic Love Poems

As I read the poems and more and more of Antar’s life and the prolific renderings of his epic, I began to wonder why his story was largely ignored by many Muslims in the West. I have some idea, but I’ll refrain for now. I spoke with a few Muslims and none of them had heard of him. Many Black American Muslims had heard of Jahiz, but why not ‘Antar? Sure he was born in the Jahiliyya time, but there were many stories from ancient times that were retold. I began to wonder if it was some vast conspiracy. Was I thinking along the lines of a renegade Cheikh Anta Diop student? I began to conjure up some grand Arab conspiracy to conceal their African influences in Arab culture, at least by making sure none of us heard of ‘Antar? But then again, translations of the epic have been around, as well as his verses in the Mu’allaqat.

But last week something happened to further dismiss my conspiratorial hypothesis. After I watched the second half of the Arabic version of “The Message” couldn’t bring myself to sleep. So I flipped through the channels at 1:30 in the morning. I stumbled across a few characters who were surprisingly brown. Some were clearly Arab in brown make-up. But one was a man of clear African descent and dignified bearing.

antar-actor-sans-makeup.jpg

As I watched, it dawned on me that this was THE story. I saw ‘Antar and ‘Ablah’s romance unfold. I was so excited. It was was serious production with a number of Arab Ramadan serial heavy hitters. And this was the first time I had seen Faisal Ahmad as the lead character, ‘Antar.

Kuwaiti Times reported:

KUWAIT: Historical TV soap operas are popular and have many audiences as they are valuable pieces of art work. These TV soaps are carried out by more than one country, hence making these show multinational shows. Two of the most popular historical TV soaps broadcasted during this Ramadan were ‘Khalid Bin Al-Waleed’ and ‘Antara Bin Shadad’.

Ghassan Zakariya wrote the serial and Rami Hanna directed it. I’ve been trying to catch the show, to watch it unfold. I’m not saying that it is perfect. I have my own critiques. I’ve been researching the show, trying to find out more about the lead actor, trying to get a sense of the mainstream reaction. So far, the reviews in Arab speaking message boards have been favorable. People in general like Faisal Ahmad.

For me, it is a first time seeing an Afro-Arab take center stage. Earlier productions in the Middle East used Arab actors in Blackface, like these pictured below:
1116596174.jpg

3anter_ebn_shdad.jpg
As Umm Adam warned, we should not impose our western categories on other people. But clearly, the serial demonstrates a construction of blackness and slave status. IAt the same time, it shows how ‘Antar heroic journey was about overcoming anyone’s negative opinion of his slave heritage to become the model of chivalry and courage. I am going to continue to watch this show. Despite its shortcomings–especially the unfortunate Blackface Arabs (knowing that they could have found more Afro Arabs–such as Sudanese actors) and the unnatural make-up for the Black characters, I think the series is worthwhile viewing. For those who don’t have satellite television and can’t get the Algerian station, the epic is still available. It is part of the literary heritage of the Arab and Muslim world after all. And to me seeing someone like ‘Antar as an archetype is important for many of us who are descendants of slaves. There is nothing to be ashamed about, through courage and and good character we become noble. For that, we should continue to tell his story.

What Black American Muslim Women Are Reading, Isn’t it Fascinating?

It’s not just Black American Muslim women, but a number of college educated Muslim women are reading this book. No, they are not reading some Muslim feminist manifesto outlining the steps to unreading patriarchal interpretations of proper gender relations. They are not forming study groups to closely read Nawal Sadawi or Fatima Mernissi. They’re not even studying Amina Wadud or Asma Barlas. No, the are reading a book written in the 60s by a Mormon woman–Fascinating Womanhood. I’ve met half a dozen Muslim women who personally swear by it. FW is their marriage manual.

It has been nearly a decade since I went through my phase of reading popular psychology and self-help relationship books. I had read several books, including John Gray’s Men are from Mars Women are from Venus and Deborah Tannen’s You Just don’t Understand, Women and Men in Conversation, to try to get a grasp on the different ways men and women interact. My quest for understanding reflected my desire to improve myself, as well as my relationships. My life circumstances changed, and I focused on myself. I wanted to improve my condition by finding a purposeful life and pursuing my dreams. But that’s another story. Needless to say, I’ve am skeptical of any book or program that makes broad sweeping guarantees of transforming your life.

In the 90s, I was really into understanding relationships. I even took a Fiqh of marriage class. Those classes agitated some brothers. They were taught by traditional scholars who taught women their traditional rights in Islam. As any of us Muslim know and one of my Muslim professors affirmed, Muslim women are not even granted their rights accorded to them in Shari’ah. So, when women would march home demanding their rights and telling their husbands that they were not obligated to do housework, some husbands tried to ban their wives from attending classes. Back then I devoured the gender equity in Islam literature, along with fiqh books. It was all about my pursuit of the Islamic ideals of marriage and gender relations. But I also wanted to break the cycle in the Black community, raise a healthy family by beginning with a solid marriage.

In my peer group, I was one of the first waves to get married. So, relationships were new for many of them. And for many of us coverts, serious relationships were just as new. Marriage was a whole new territory. At the same time, it was an exciting and new topic. We were full of ideals and we talked about relationships constantly. I think one friend had ordered a whole series of relationship tapes. I knew she was trying to gain the upper hand in that engagement, to be able to get what she wanted without direct confrontation. After that engagement failed, we never really talked about the self-help literature after that. So years passed by and all that men are from another planet stuff went by the way side.

This past year I began mingling in my old Muslim circles and finding myself in new ones, I found that FW was a hot topic of discussion. Most of my friends are married, some for almost a decade and others more recently. A few of my friends are divorced, some within the past few months and others have remained single for almost a decade. You get women together and we are going to talk about relationships. So, this book came up. I first heard of it from a friend who hated it. But just last night, a young woman swore by it. So I asked my friend what did she think. She said that even though she was unable to apply the principles, she believed that’s how things worked. I began to look it up, to see what other Muslims thought of it. It looks like a number of Sheikh Nuh Keller’s female students were reading this book.
The website, “Marriage the Fascinating Way” states:

Muslim women, for example, claim that the teachings of FW are fundamental to their religion, and found in their book of instruction, the Koran. Women of the ancient Shinto and Buddha faiths make similar claims and Jewish women rely on teachings found in the Old Testament. The Mennonite and Amish women also claim that FW is supported by their strict Christian doctrine.

One well read Muslim woman blogger wrote:

fascinating womanhood by Helen Adeline , ok this book taught me all about men , it beats men are from mars and woman are from Venus , this book I would recommend it to anyone if they want to know how to win their husbands heart . It totally destroyed my feminist ideas and views. Oh and it actually works.

Surprising I found a number of Black American Muslim who read the book did not dismiss it outright. These sisters believed in the principles and they were applying it to their lives. What makes it so interesting is that their views on femininity contrasts with the negative perception that Black women are these independent, domineering, emasculating, ball busting hell on wheels types. I know dozens of Black American Muslim women who are the Martha Stewart types. They are baking, doing crafts, sewing, educating children in the home. They are articulate, charming, soulful, and beautiful. They are smart dynamic women with a wide range of skill sets, from business to engineering as well as cooking. Almost all these women keep immaculate homes and devote a great deal of attention to rearing their children. The second wave feminists dismiss their contributions. But I read one Black woman intellectual write that the form of feminism dominated pitted Black women against Black men. It undermined the solidarity of the Black nationalist movement. But these women are beyond the nationalism phase. They are trying to find a way to rebuild families and healthy relationships. These women are trying to do something that we have seen fail in those earlier movements. They are promoting a revolutionary agenda by being conservative and maintaining traditional values. Now, that’s a fascinating read.

Slice of American Muslim History


Hat tip to Zaynab Aden for writing me the following email:

There is an African American sister here in the area who entered a mini documentary about the Bean Pie into a contest geared towards Muslims. I think you will like it, if you do could you vote for it? I think what is refreshing about her take about the Muslim American experience is that unlike many of the others, it does not center around 9/11, how Muslims are patriotic or setting out to prove we are people too. It is just about the bean pie-simple.

You can see documentary here.
Umar Lee, Tariq Nelson, and AbdurRahman have also spread word about this delightful documentary. I am really excited about this type of work and I’m proud of Hassannah Tauhidi for pulling this together. She’s been working it out in DC. It is about time that we start to give our sisters like her their due props and support.

On of my friends who went to University of Chicago pointed out that many of the academics were really into “exotic” Islam. They enjoyed going to concerts with Middle Eastern music, eating Middle Eastern or South Asian food, wearing “Eastern clothes.” But when the students organized an event that was rooted in American Muslim culture, few of the academics showed up. Muslim hip hop didn’t do it for them, nor did the fusion of traditional Moroccan and jazz. Sadly, both academia and the media overlook African American Muslims and our cultural production. This is why this documentary is so important. It really touches upon the contours of Black American Muslim life. Sure, in the 90s many Black American Muslims began to distance themselves from Black nationalistic movements and Afrocentricism. Some brothers and sisters pushed aside the bean pie (and other American deserts) and turned towards baklava and Gulab Jani. But this documentary does remind us that there is a Black American Muslim culture and that we are a salient and dynamic community.

The film’s description states:

Bean Pie is an authentic American Muslim experience! Hailing from the Blackamerican Muslim community, Bean Pie has taken on iconic proportions. It has been the butt of many jokes, and dare we say, may even have been a catalyst for the proliferation of the Islamic faith, as we have come to learn while filming this documentary that many connoisseurs of this delectable confection have been introduced to Islam and have developed deep affections toward the Muslim community. So please, watch and learn and see if you don’t get a hankering for some Bean Pie!

Tariq Nelson pointed out that Hassanah and Imam Johari are working on a television series called, “Living Islam in America. Please support these projects by any means necessary. In the meantime, you can support sister Hassanah by voting here (I can’t cause I’m out of the US). So check it out and vote!!

🙂

Race and the Flip Side of Sex Tourism

While visiting the Tafilelt, Morocco in 2004, I passed by an odd couple in a resort hotel. The woman looked old enough to be the young man’s grandmother. But they weren’t related. He was clearly Moroccan, a beautiful bronze complexioned twenty year old with large doe eyes, and a head full of big dark curls. She was clearly a European woman, her pale liver spotted skin loosely draped on her thin frame. The woman made a romantic gesture towards him, making it clear that he was not merely a tour guide. The young man had a new set of designer shades and a crisp new outfit. The woman seemed self satisfied as if she defeated something. He was her brown prize, even if only for that moment. That air about her made her almost radiant, even through her sun damaged skin. The man seemed slightly annoyed, impatient, as if anticipating something more.

I think that was the closest I’ve come to Female Sex Tourism (see wiki entry here). But I’ve heard that it is popular in several locations where there are large numbers of unemployed brown men. In fact, someone told me that making out with a Moroccan was part of the travel experience. From the wiki article, it looks like Morocco ranks up there in the female tourism industry. I’m also familiar with stories about female sex tourism in the Caribbean. A close friend of mine, a guy originally from Guyana but grew up in the Virgin Islands told me stories about his friends. Many of the local guys hung around the docks waiting for the cruise ships to unload white girls. It was an easy hook up, no strings attached, and sometimes they’d get something out of the deal. It was especially the case if the woman was less than attractive. They might receive more than free drinks, but clothes, watches, and even money.

In November Reuters featured a story Older White women enjoy Kenya’s Sex Tourism . I found it interesting because the year before I was in an ongoing debate about Black men and Sex tourism.
During that time, there was a flurry of articles and commentary responding to William Jelani Cobb’s expose. like this and a One brother pointed out that Terry McMillan’s When Stella got her Groove Back opened doors for professional Black women to travel to the Caribbean for a little bit of relaxation and hook-up

Sex Tourism by Annan Boodram

Annan Boodram wrote an interesting <a href=”http://www.caribvoice.org/Travel&Tourism/sextourism.html”>piece</a&gt;.

Dr. Phillips emphasized that sex tourism, a product of slavery, was not new to the Caribbean. White women always wanted to sample black men, while the latter saw them as their hope of financial and social boost, she added.
American sociologist Klaus de Albuquerque agrees with the erotic element to sex tourism. He believes that for the white woman who flock to the Caribbean for sea, sun and mostly sex, it’s a ‘phallic sojourn’ in search of the ‘big bamboo’.
If an ‘escort’ plays his cards right, being with a tourist sexually can raise him a pretty penny. Most of the women are into oral sex, largely taboo among Jamaican males; for this act, some of the women are reportedly willing to pay as much as US$100. According to a Jamaican beach bum ‘Jim’, this is normally played out in their hotel room.
The success of the Terry McMillan’s book and film ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ added a fillip to sex tourism as many successful American women flocked to the Caribbean beaches to find sex and romance.
Indeed the majority of these adventurous tourists travel to Jamaica in the winter season. They are single women in their mid-forties and are from major cities in the United States. They are not necessarily into long-term relationships, but Jim says they return regularly to their island boy, bringing gifts like jewellery,designer sneakers and clothing.
But while they like the gifts the ‘escorts’ ultimate hope is to be like Winston, Terry MacMillan’s lover – marrying and migrating, preferably to the United States. It gives them an opportunit for a new life and better days for their children. But to Dr Anthony Bryan, a prominent Caribbean scholar and professor of international relations at the North-South Centre of the University of Miami, the desire of white women and men to pay for sex can be traced, in part, to “The racist stereotype of the exotic and erotic black or mixed-race woman or man”.

I find this whole trend disturbing. I actually didn’t know it had been going on as long as it did. I really find the apologetic tone troubling. But clearly, from the media representations, Female Sex Tourism captures a lot of people’s imagination. There have even been a film about Female Sex Tourism, “Going South”and a play. While people have argued nobody had a problem with the film “When Stella Got Her Groove Back” people critique Black men who travel to exotic locales to hook up. I take pride in not ever having read a Terry McMillan book, but I have been subjected to several of her films including Stella. From what I remember, Stella did not go to Jamaica to hook up. But she did find her groove an other things. This story was loosely based off of McMillan’s life. And if you want to see how that story ends read here.