Today’s guest blogger is Rachel Foran, a summer intern at Interfaith Youth Core. She is a rising junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and is majoring in Religion.
For Christmas my junior year of high school, my boyfriend gave me a mix CD that included the rapper Brother Ali. It was my first introduction to underground rap, and as I listened to the lyrics, I quickly understood that Brother Ali was not your conventional hip hop artist.
Muslim, Albino, and legally blind- it is not only these traits that set Brother Ali apart from mainstream rappers today. The content of his raps and rhymes also send a different message. Instead of glorifying money, drugs, and women, Brother Ali blends critical social commentary with personal stories and humor. His witty rhymes challenge the notion that our differences must necessarily divide us. Indeed, Brother Ali is shaping a new discourse in hip hop.
This was evident earlier this summer when Brother Ali preformed with other Muslim artists, such as Mos Def, at Takin’ It to the Streets in Chicago. The Muslim-led festival, aimed to empower social change through artistic and spiritual expression, was a physical manifestation of the world Brother Ali depicts in his song, “Us“. “You see what remains/ just a human being at the end of the day/ don’t matter to me what name you gave your spiritual plane/ close your eyes and you’ll see what I’m saying.”
Brother Ali and I come from different faith traditions. He is a Muslim; I am a Christian. However, I relate to the message of his music because it has been informed and shaped by his faith. Our stories may seem contrary, but we share a common vision and a common understanding. Religion should not be confined to media reports of extremism and violence. It can be a powerful force for good. For Brother Ali, his faith gave him an excuse to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and fights. It allowed him to endure discrimination and intolerance and still look at humanity with hope.
Brother Ali does not deny the conflict in the world today- the pervasive social inequality, the blatant challenges that present themselves to people on the fringes of society. Instead, he envisions a future where these realities do not define us. A future where there is “no me and no you, it’s just us” and we put each other’s humanity first. We can do so by engaging in conversation, by welcoming the initial discomfort of approaching someone different, and by realizing common values.
This summer, I am interning with Interfaith Youth Core, working to change the conversation about religion from one of conflict to one of cooperation. Brother Ali’s music resonates much more with me now than it did in high school. In his music, I hear the stories of the people I work with, whose job it is to make Brother Ali’s vision a reality. I am inspired and hopeful because of them and because of individuals across the globe who work to make interfaith cooperation a social norm.
Although we may each hold different beliefs, we must learn to live and to interact with each other in peaceful and positive ways. A cooperative future depends on our actions and choices today. After all, as Brother Ali tells us, “the world’s getting too small to stand in one place.”
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.