Morocco Refuses To Normalize Ties With Israel

The Prime Minister issued a rejection of any relations with Israel.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani has rejected any normalization of relations with Israel, Reuters reports.

El Otmani told his Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) that “we refuse any normalization with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people.”

This follows the recent announcement of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel’s deal to normalize ties. Following this announcement there was speculation as to whether or not any other Arab countries would do the same. 

Morocco, however, has made it clear they will not normalize ties with Israel. 

According to Reuters Morocco has been in support of a “two-state solution” with East Jerusalem as a capital of a Palestinian state. 

In 1993, Morocco and Israel commenced low level ties after a peace deal called the Oslo Records was reached. However in 2000, Rabat, the capital of Morocco, suspended relations with Israel after the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising.

READ MORE: Meet Free Palestine, The Palestinian Ranked Top 100 In Super Smash Bros. Melee

A Drive With RIZ LA VIE: Meet The Lebanese-American Artist Behind The Hit ‘Napkins’

Meet RIZ LA VIE, the Lebanese-American artist that is making everyone in tune with their spirituality.

A Drive With RIZ LA VIE: Meet The Lebanese-American Artist Behind The Hit ‘Napkins’

Meet RIZ LA VIE, the Lebanese-American artist that is making everyone in tune with their spirituality.

By

Ameena Qobrtay
Photo - Felix Francisco / Art - Tasneem Sarkez & Shayma Al-shiri

 

It’s rare that music can seep into every aspect of my life as quickly as RIZ LA VIE’s work did. The last time I was this obsessed with a single artist was when I was 14 and exclusively listened to any song by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys (I mean, come on, how can you listen to “Love Is A Laserquest” without thinking it’s the pinnacle of good music?). 

But after the persistent nags from my best friend, the love I had for LA VIE started with a single song – Saturn– and meandered into a whole ocean of obsession. Yes, maybe there’s still some unshakeable residue from my 2014 I’m-not-like-the-other-girls Arctic Monkeys craze. Or maybe I’m just really picky. But I found myself streaming LA VIE despite my best efforts to listen to literally anything else. Doing the dishes, going on my pensive pandemic-induced bike rides, hanging out with the people I was quarantined with – every activity somehow felt less complete without LA VIE’s coos, shouts, screams, and transient voice accompanying me. 

Riz’s music is addictive because of its undeniable authenticity. Streaming Riz is like listening to a roadmap of his soul, and while the exciting beats and different sounds he explores is one of the reasons many of his fans love to stream his work, it’s his lyrics that truly make him one of the most exciting voices of our time. LA VIE’s words reflect the intimacy with which he sees his world, and he conveys this with a noticeable tenderness. 

Ironically – or perhaps completely by fate, as LA VIE’s outlook might suggest –  the Nitetime in Atlanta singer and I spoke as he was driving to Georgia to create more music and at-home videos with friends.

 

Photo - Felix Francisco

 

In between soft curses due to car-merging incidents and cheers after finally reaching Virginia (“Virginia is for lovers, it says on the sign, that’s beautiful!”) the Lebanese Jersey-native spoke about his latest E.P. “Feed.,” activism, and spirituality.

“Feed.” is LA VIE’s latest project, consisting of five glorious songs that span from melancholy to upbeat to even melancholy-er. The sound, which is entirely different from his previous work, acts as a backdrop for a level of lyricism that Riz hasn’t achieved before. 

His She Said music video eerily predicted the future. Complete with a table and chair, tea set, and bustling street, outside dining couldn’t have been better foreshadowed in the video. But the fortune-telling didn’t actually start there. LA VIE talked about how he has been thinking about undergoing a “personal revolution” for months, and that the COVID-19 pandemic and BLM protests show that he was right to think that this year would be a reset. 

Riz wrote “Feed.” about an “internal revolution” and about changes on the personal level. But he said that he was, “blessed and thankful” to release his music while “the world is also going through a much-needed revolution, to make the changes that it needs to make as it is a living organism.” 

While the “She Said” video may or may not have predicted the future, an overall exciting aspect about LA VIE is his carefully-conducted music videos. When asked about them, he said, “I think music videos in general are a completely superfluous art form. I don’t think they need to exist whatsoever. Because music, as an art form, is whole and complete and often elicits a visual response in your mind. But I do think videos are perfect in their ability to add an entire new layer of art on top of art.” 

LA VIE’s obsession with day-to-day life is intoxicating – he described how earlier that morning, while renting a car for the road trip to Atlanta, the rental man gave him a 5% discount and how that example of impact-per-person makes all the difference in life. 

 

Outside of his art, LA VIE is also an agent for change. In addition to donating to different causes, with proceeds from “Feed.” going to the Loveland Foundation, he also encourages people to “speak out if that’s something they felt they had to do.” LA VIE stressed the importance of doing other things outside of donating if you don’t have the means to do so. In addition to sharing information, as he discussed many young people are doing right now, he also suggested that people should, “Spend 20 minutes (every day) educating yourself. I don’t mean to say this facetiously whatsoever, I mean, seriously, go read a book,” noting the importance and gratification of “tactile reading.” 

LA VIE spoke about the horrific August 4 Beirut explosion in a somber follow-up interview. After speaking about donating and wishing peace for all of those affected, LA VIE said, “Our people in Lebanon come from the Phoenicians and we were called Phoenicians because we rise again and again. For centuries and centuries and centuries we’ve been doing this, and we fall to ashes, again and again but we’re known to rebuild and come back stronger than ever before. I feel like that’s our ethos as Phoenicians and as Lebanese people. And I think that’s what we’ll do. I hope that we build a stronger and a more well-rounded, just society.” 

LA VIE is also concerned about an injustice that is rarely discussed but occurs in many Middle Eastern countries: the mistreatment of migrant workers. He made the connection to how although many are rightfully speaking about police brutality and Black Lives Matter, migrant workers from countries in Africa, South Asia, and the Far East are being exploited in Muslim-majority and Arab countries. He spoke about how atrocities like the Beirut explosion are just one of the ways that migrant workers are made even more vulnerable. 

 

Photo - Felix Francisco

 

But it’s impossible to talk about LA VIE without mentioning his connection to spirituality. He described how from when he was younger, his Mom had always informed him about the moon, chakras, and the importance of acknowledging and caring for the “essence” that exists in everyone. He joked about how when he was younger, his pockets heavy with the stones his mom gave him, he would tell his friends about the law of attraction whenever they would complain about wanting something. 

LA VIE thinks it’s exciting to see the increased popularity of a lot of the things he appreciated when he was younger that have gained popularity now, from hummus to horoscopes. (BTW: I had to ask. He’s a Pisces sun, Aquarius moon, Scorpio rising. After two conversations and binge-listening to his music, I can say with confidence that it definitely shows).

LA VIE’s interview ended with me feeling something entirely unfamiliar: hope. Talking to someone that was so in-tune with life and choosing to spread positivity and love was entirely refreshing. If you want to support an artist that is in pursuit of goodness, start by basking in the poetry that is RIZ LA VIE’s discography, or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

 

First Two Muslim-American Women Elected To Congress Won Their Re-Election Primaries

Congratulations to Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar!

Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to the United States Congress, have won their primaries for re-election — both of them by a landslide. 

This past Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar won her primary in Minnesota’s historically Democratic 5th Congressional District, which includes the entire city of Minneapolis. Omar is the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen of African birth and the first woman of color from Minnesota to be elected to Congress. Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, defeated Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones in the Democratic 13th District primary in a closely watched race. The first-term incumbent scored 66% of the vote against Jones’ 33%. The last time the two campaigned against each other in 2018, Tlaib won by a tiny margin, beating Jones by only about 900 votes out of roughly 89,000 cast.

Omar and Tlaib both received endorsements from fellow progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Each of the women will move on to the general election, which takes place on November 3, 2020. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as 35 of 100 senate seats, and the office of President of the United States will be voted on. 

This year’s general election is generating much concern due to a lack of federal funding for USPS, which carries the burden of processing most of the country’s ballots this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We found a handy guide with voting information specific to each state here. Find out if you’re registered and how to get a mail-in ballot in your area as soon as possible, as significant delays are expected

The Stigma Of Menstruation In Muslim Households

We spoke with the chair of the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, Atiya Aftab, about the stigma of menstruation in Muslim households.

The Stigma Of Menstruation In Muslim Households

We spoke with the chair of the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, Atiya Aftab, about the stigma of menstruation in Muslim households.

By

Syeda Khaula Saad
Art - Ameena Muhammad

 

There is a lot of shame embedded into the upbringing of Muslim women. Through patriarchal cultural practices that have been passed down and mistaken for “words of Allah,” we are raised to be shrunken. And oftentimes it isn’t until we’re sitting in the midst of our adulthood desperately trying to unlearn the feelings of disgust we feel toward ourselves that we realize how heavy the weight of misogyny has become. And it starts off young. 

We are often taught that the foremost “confirmation” of our womanhood is the first red droplets we see on our underwear at the beginning of puberty — this moment, known as menarche, signals the start of menstruation. At meager ages of 11, 12, 13, we are told “You’re a woman now!” and the first reasoning? Your body has the ability to bear children. But rather than celebrate it, it’s met with secrecy. We are told to disguise cramps as “stomachaches,” to sneak pads into our pockets as we go to restrooms, and to do anything to avoid letting men in our homes become even slightly conscious that we are menstruating. In Muslim households we are drilled with the idea that we are “impure” in the eyes of Allah and that we should steer clear of the men in the house entirely. But Middle Eastern Studies Program and Political Science adjunct professor and chair of the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University Atiya Aftab says these views come from culture, not religion. 

“A menstruating woman is not seen as dirty or lesser due her menstruating status,” Aftab tells Muslim.co. “In Islam, menstruation is not seen in any way as a divine punishment.” She explains that these interpretations have been morphed from religious traditions surrounding the status of a menstruating woman. For example, a woman on her period is exempted from fasting during the month of Ramadan (though she is expected to make up the fasts at a later time) and she is also exempted from the obligatory five daily prayers. While this is often pointed at as a justification to regard menstruating women as “impure” or “dirty,” Aftab feels differently. 

“In the case of fasting, it is a hardship for a menstruating woman to abstain from food and water from dawn to dusk,” she says. “Hydration, nutrition, and possibly medication [is] needed.” Therefore, the same mercy that is given to those who are sick is extended to menstruating women. “With respect to prayer, it is required that a person who is engaged in the daily formal prayer must be in a state of ritual purity (wudu/ghusl),” Aftab explains. “A person who is bleeding — male or female — is not a ritual state of purity.” So, it is not the fact that the blood is coming out from the vagina that makes a woman unable to pray, but the fact that she is bleeding at all. 

So why are menstruating women so taboo in many Muslim households?  Most of the feelings in regard to menstruating women date back to pre-Islamic culture, Aftab explains. “Men would refuse to go near their wives, eat or drink with their wives, or sleep in the same bed when they were menstruating,” she says. And it wasn’t just Muslim households where this was occurring.

Negative feelings toward menstruation exist in Jewish households as well, where followers believed that even those who touched a menstruating woman would be deemed unclean. These same stigmas persist even today in many Asian cultures including in India, Pakistan, Japan, and Indonesia. 

But despite these negative generalizations about menstruation, many of the ones that exist in regard to Islam are more cultural than they are religious. In fact, Aftab says it is reported that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told his companions that, regarding their wives, husbands should “Do everything with her except for sexual intercourse.” (Muslim; ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari). 

In fact, Aftab recalls a beautiful story regarding the Prophet (PBUH) and his wife, Aisha.

Aisha related that: “The Prophet would recline on my lap while I was menstruating and he would read the Quran.” (Bukhari). And the Prophet and his wife Aisha shared the same drinking vessel while she was menstruating. Aisha stated: “I would drink while menstruating, then pass the vessel to the Prophet. He would place his mouth on the (same) place as my mouth and drink…” 

“The actions of the Prophet demonstrated that a menstruating woman was not impure or dirty and was fully capable of engaging in aspects of normal life in the following tradition,” Aftab says. In the same story, Aisha reported that: “The Messenger of God said to me, ‘Get me the prayer mat from the prayer area.’ I replied, ‘I am menstruating.’ He said, ‘Verily, your menstruation is not in your hand.’” (Muslim). If the wife of the Prophet had no issues expressing that she was menstruating, why do we encourage girls to hide their periods from their fathers, brothers, and eventually husbands?

The Prophet (PBUH) has laid a foundation to regard women with utmost respect — and a state of menstruation does not warrant a change in that. The perpetuation of menstruation stigma is hurting Muslim women in irreversible ways. Years after the fact, feelings of anxiousness and shame surrounding our bodies remain. It is up to both women and men to recognize where they might be perpetuating misogynistic practices surrounding women’s bodies and work to fix these mistakes. Menstruating is one of the most natural things that can happen to a woman. By shunning it and teaching girls to keep it a secret, we are teaching them that there is something biologically wrong with them. The outside world is already bent on bringing down the Muslim woman — there is no need to do the same within their own households. 

“Menarche should not be hidden, but celebrated,” Aftab says. 

What The ‘Peace Deal’ Really Means For Palestinians

Israel will halt annexation of Palestinian territories in exchange for establishing diplomatic ties with the UAE. Here's what this 'peace deal' means for Palestinians.

What The ‘Peace Deal’ Really Means For Palestinians

Israel will halt annexation of Palestinian territories in exchange for establishing diplomatic ties with the UAE. Here’s what this ‘peace deal’ means for Palestinians.

By

Samer Hassan
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

The leaders of the Zionist government of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a deal that would normalize relations between the two governments. While the UAE has long maintained quiet relations with Israel, this public deal sets a dangerous precedence for the Middle East: one that says, we don’t care about your human rights track record, because profit and strategic cooperation trumps all.

Israel has shown the world that its efforts to annex Palestinian land in the Occupied West Bank were not only met with impunity but ultimately rewarded by a public treaty. One that establishes friendly relations between an autocracy that purports to have Palestinians’ best interest at heart, and a Zionist government that has referred to Palestinians as barbarians and vermin.

Israel has codified its unequal treatment of Palestinians. By building Jewish-only roads in the occupied territories, encircling whole villages inside a net of concrete walls, and systematically imprisoning hundreds of Palestinian children, the Zionist state hammers down all efforts to build a viable Palestinian future. 

According to the United Nations, illegal Israeli settler violence towards Palestinians has skyrocketed by over 70% in 2020 alone. This is a government that has bulldozed Palestinian attempts to build a hospital for COVID-19 patients, maintains over 147 heavily armed checkpoints, and continues to expand its separation wall deep inside Palestinian land. 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised this new deal by saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov.” There is no peace in the Middle East because governments that ally themselves with the West are allowed to murder their inhabitants with impunity while pointing the finger at others that dare to seek justice. 

“During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” said Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, strategically adding, “The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”

Netanyahu, Bin Zayed, and Donald Trump released a joint statement saying they hoped the “historic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East.”

To a Palestinian like me, this treaty has unequivocally ignored the calls of my people — a call that demands the world hold Israel accountable for its rampant destruction of Palestinian homes, murder of Palestinians who dare to organize, and efforts to label us terrorists and anti-semites when we call out Israel’s racist laws designed to keep us in perpetual poverty and dependency. By using the false narrative that this agreement will bring peace, the UAE signals to the world that it truly does not have the interest of Palestinians at heart. Crown Prince Bin Zayed is now officially complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. 

Middle Eastern governments need to show Israel that its efforts to apply sovereignty over the Occupied West-Bank comes with international consequences like sanctions, not treaties.


Samer Hassan is Palestinian activist who graduated with a degree in Political Science from Columbia University.

Meet Free Palestine, The Palestinian Ranked Top 100 In Super Smash Bros. Melee

Meet 21-year-old Anees Assaf, the man behind the iconic tag Free Palestine.

Meet Free Palestine, The Palestinian Ranked Top 100 In Super Smash Bros. Melee

Meet 21-year-old Anees Assaf, the man behind the iconic tag Free Palestine.

By

Ameena Qobrtay
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh

There it was, posted online in 2019 for all of the gaming community to see: Gamer Free Palestine ranked 72nd in the world for Super Smash Bros. Melee 

The man behind the controversial tag is Anees Assaf, a 21-year-old geography student at the Ohio State University who doubles as a Smash Bros. global champion. Assaf is more than just some gamer with a few wins – his tag makes him a unique figure in the not-so-political gaming spaces.

Assaf’s video game journey began at a young age, and as the internet age shaped his adolescence, he became more involved in the gaming community. In late 2015, Assaf started playing games competitively, finding a niche in Smash Bros. Melee, an older version of the video game. Assaf described his love for the early 2k video game as stemming from the game being more fast-paced and fun than the game’s newer versions. 

Assaf created his first gaming tag when he was 15, opting for a name that has nothing to do with Palestine: Milhous. 

If you aren’t a history buff or into specifically strange facts, you should know that “Milhous” was the middle name of President Nixon. 

Wondering how a Palestinian activist could possibly ever stan Nixon? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

Assaf laughed when discussing his old tag. “I really dislike Richard Nixon as a president and as a person, I just thought it was funny that (Milhous) was his middle name.” 

About a year later, the self-titled Milhous witnessed a Twitter trend that asked gamers to explain the meaning behind their tag, and Assaf decided to rethink his own. Suddenly the idea of having a joke as a tag didn’t seem very appealing – especially considering the reputation of President Nixon. 

Therefore in some sort of self-correcting Twitter-induced instant rebrand, Free Palestine was born out of the ashes that once was Milhous. Talk about a major switch-up (I’m sure good ol’ Mr. Richard Milhous Nixon is especially pleased about the change).

Tags are ways that gamers see each other digitally and often competitively. As a gamer, you’re somewhat obligated to say other gamers’ tag names, whether you like it or not. Assaf making his tag Free Palestine forces people to confront an issue that’s simply not usually discussed in his community of gamers. People began to quickly notice how badass it was for Assaf to change his tag, which unquestionably forces the situation in Palestine on people’s lips. 

Assaf described his community of fellow competitors as a group willing to listen to why he decided to change his tag to Free Palestine. Although some may have expected that many would be upset, Assaf stressed that his friends and members of his community were there for him. 

“It helps that we’re such a kind of tight-knit and small community that when you go to travel, you can just kind of talk to these people,” Assaf explained.

He highlighted that there’s far more to his tag than just making people uncomfortable, discussing how his tag brought Palestinian struggle to a space where this issue is never discussed.

“… As you can expect, people in the US kind of don’t really understand the overall issue (of Palestine) that well. And especially you know gamers who are like 18 to 25 don’t really have any stake in these issues,” Assaf said. “So they really come from a background of not knowing as much. A lot of times it’s just me explaining a lot of, you know, why I have (the tag) and why it’s needed and why it’s stuff I believe in.” 

It’s also about changing Palestinian representation for Assaf. “Whether for a political purpose or not, it’s just sharing my perspective,” Assaf said. “Which I think is the most important part to  understanding why these issues happen, and why or how I can explain where we’re coming from as Palestinians, so that we’re not painted in a bad light as we normally are.” 

READ MORE: Ramy Youssef: Millennial Muslims’ Favorite Conversation-Starter Is Back

But it’s not always acceptance. Assaf described how despite the “overall positive” acceptance and community dialogue, digital players can express annoyance at his tag. 

Assaf spoke about some of the backlash he’s received due to his tag. Some people refuse to say his tag or shorten it, which bothers him – what does “Free Pal” even mean? – but he says that most of the time, people just don’t understand why he chose to make a political statement using his gamer tag. 

Assaf stressed how the people who say things like “keep politics out of video games” can afford to say these things because they’re not in the same position as him or others. 

“People who come from a more privileged background, can separate politics from their regular lives, which a lot of people can’t do,” Assaf said. He explained that often, he responds to people who are offended by his tag by discussing how he doesn’t have the privilege to keep political discourse out of his life. 

“Palestine matters to me a lot more than gaming does,” Assaf said. He detailed his Palestinian heritage, explaining that both of his parents are Palestinian and that he visits the West Bank fairly often to see his family there. 

Assaf detailed how he’s in a kind of “sweet spot”: the game he plays isn’t as competitive as say League of Legends. On such a larger scale, Assaf says his tag would never have been allowed. 

If shows like Ramy are conversation-starters within Muslim communities and beyond, Assaf changing his tag name is a discussion-demander. Changing his tag to a subject that’s as fully-loaded and heated as the question of Palestine makes Assaf demand his gaming community to confront this issue. 

One thing’s for sure about Free Palestine’s story, it’s that small acts of resistance can make impacts in very niche spaces.

UK Police Aggressively Drag Muslim Father From His Dying Daughter’s Hospital Bed

Disturbing footage filmed in September 2019 of police officers mistreating the mother and father of a young patient, after they refused to leave their severely ill child, was recently obtained by the Mail.

UK Police Aggressively Drag Muslim Father From His Dying Daughter’s Hospital Bed

Disturbing footage filmed in September 2019 of police officers mistreating the mother and father of a young patient, after they refused to leave their severely ill child, was recently obtained by the Mail.

By

Maryam Zaynah
Images from Dailymail

Zainab Abbasi, a six-year-old daughter of two former doctors, died in September 2019, days after her parents were mistreated at the hospital their daughter was being treated at. What happened? 

With Zainab’s condition worsening quickly, her parents panicked and asked to leave the room. Not long after they were asked to leave the room but refused to, a complaint was made because of Rashid Abbasi’s lack of cooperation. The police were called to the room, asking the couple to leave. The footage also shows Aliya Abbasi desperately begging a police officer to empathize with her situation. “Do you have children, police officer?” she asked.

The very upsetting footage shows a police officer violently removing Mr. Abbasi from the room, by holding his neck. They strapped his legs and ankles together and forcefully wheeled him away on a bed, as the 59-year-old man attempted to break free. A female police officer can be seen shouting at him in a condescending tone, “You’re acting like an animal it’s disgusting. Get him out of here.”

The video shows Mr. Abbasi repeatedly demanding they allow him to have his medicine as he had severe chest pains from the stress and intensity of the situation.

Later he was told he had suffered from a heart attack. The next day he underwent a heart procedure.

Meanwhile his wife Aliya was screaming at the scene before her, hopelessly urging the police to let go of her struggling husband who had become quite worked up. She was pulled by the back onto the hospital floor screaming, “They’re going to take the tube out of our daughter and she’s going to die.”

Mrs. Abbasi did admit that her husband can sometimes become animated and bad tempered, but that is only because of his health conditions and Zainab’s situation which he felt was not receiving enough attention and care. The couple were both former doctors and knew that enough wasn’t being done. She said, “Because we were both doctors we knew exactly what should be happening and we could point out when our daughter was being failed. If this could happen to us, what about other people?”

Despite this distressing experience they continued to try and save their daughter in any way possible, who had little time left to live. They pleaded for her to be given high doses of steroids which was again denied. The following morning she died, with her mother and father silently watching.

The loss of their young daughter has left the helpless parents traumatized and heartbroken. Mr Abbasi has now began proceedings to sue police for their behavior. A petition is going around which you can sign to help which can be found here.

Aint Afraid Ain’t Your Average Rap Duo

Meet the twins who are absolutely killing it.

Aint Afraid Ain’t Your Average Rap Duo

Meet the twins who are absolutely killing it.

By

Elizabeth Aziz
Photo self shot by Aint Afraid / Art - Shayma Al-shiri

On a hot, sunny Wednesday morning in Los Angeles, I woke up bright and early at 7:45 a.m. to hit the streets for my signature drink – an oat milk mocha with an extra shot of espresso – ready for my 9 a.m. call with Aint Afraid, a pair of Black hijabi musical artists, that just so happen to be twins. I’d spent the few days before listening to all of their songs and watching a bubbly Q&A they’d just recently dropped. When the time came, I got back in the house, turned the A/C wayyyy up, and got situated. At 9:01 on the dot, I answered my phone to the sound of not one, but two refreshingly enthusiastic voices. 

It was already afternoon for Straingth and Wizdumb, who were already a few hours ahead of me time zone-wise. Their exuberant energy and joyful laughter quickly shook any bit of sleep out of me that might have survived the mocha I’d just downed. Although they prefer to keep personal details private, I had to at LEAST know their sign. “LEO!!” they yelled into the phone simultaneously with the correct amount of pride one would expect from the sign of the lioness. It’s only right.

When asked about their main musical influences, the first person who comes up is their mother, also an artist, who they say taught them the importance of artistic expression, whether musically or visually, from a young age. They pointed out that more than anything, their daily lives and the emotions they experience are the true source of inspiration for their music – but how long it takes to create differs each time.

Aint Afraid recording at the studio. / Photo - Aint Afraid for Muslim

Art has always been all our life, so we don’t have a process, it just kind of happens. A line will come in our heads and boom we’ll start making a piece. Once we get a piece or a line, it just flows, it just falls out, one after the other. Like literally, God is inspiring the piece through us. Most times, it’s not like let me sit down and write something about this. So we’ll have a conversation about something. Let’s say perhaps we’re talking about the Black Panthers, which is a real life example – we’re learning more about the Black Panther movement at the moment. As we have conversations, we’ll say a line or a sentence or something, and it’ll start something in us, and then from that it’s like oooh, this could be a piece. A lot of people are like oh my god you guys come out with something like every week, you’re just so talented, I’m like yo, this is something I’ve been working on for three years or sometimes three minutes. It’s always different.” 


One of the girls’ latest singles, the beautifully powerful anthem “We Will Breathe”, is a perfect example of how their musical influences and artistic process play off of each other. The chorus incorporates the line “by any means necessary,” a nod to the sentiment popularized by Malcolm X and the Black Panthers about Black liberation in the United States.

I asked the duo if there were any specific artists they look up to, to which they replied, “Just good music. Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston … one of the highlight songs growing up was ‘We Are The World’ (a charity single from 1985 written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie featuring some of the biggest stars of the time).”

 

Having had various artistic personas over the years and performing locally all over the girls were already used to being spotted out by fans in their community. Now with over 125k followers on Instagram, I was curious to find out what it’s been like for them being in the spotlight and sharing it as twin sisters.

The girls said, “Allah has blessed us with a well-known reputation, people know us for the good work that we do, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah. All of our life we’ve kind of shared that. It’s always been that way. It feels like a team. For us, it’s not fame, it’s impact, you know? I don’t ever want to put myself in a place of feeling self-important, I never want to do that. But what I will say is that success is  really good, because I’m reaching so many people with my good messages.”

Despite their wide reach and impact, like so many young Black Muslim women in the United States and around the world, they’ve endured a lifetime of pushback simply for being who they are. Whether it be from members of the Muslim community for being Black, from the Black community for being Muslim, or either one for being women, their layered identities leave them on the fringe of each group: 

“The religion is not anti-Black… Some people choose to be anti-Black, and we’ve lived this all our lives. For me, it’s really hard being a Black Muslim woman, and a Black Muslim person, but especially a Black Muslim woman because all the communities you identify with end up not supporting you totally, or they’re against you in some way and you never find acceptance. Just as a child in elementary school, people were telling us we couldn’t be Muslim because we were Black… or they would ask are we converts. The only reason they would do that is because we were Black. Even the Black community, when they see me, they first see me as a Muslim, they don’t even see me as a Black person. I can keep going… even in the women’s community, they’re like ‘if you’re about women’s rights, take the scarf off!!’”

Photo self shot by Aint Afraid for Muslim / Art - Shayma Al-shiri

Thankfully, the stress of being pressured to fit in a box has not dimmed the light of these incredible young women in the slightest. “We’ve always been pushed out but that has not made us bitter people, as you can see. I love the world. I love the people. Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, Allah has given us a space, a platform, where now we can educate the world and open people’s minds. There are even people in Africa and other places now that feel represented because of our platform.” 

In fact, Aint Afraid now has an additional connection to Africa that goes beyond having fans in the continent – the twins are spearheading an effort to build a school in Gambia. In collaboration with the SPOT Project, they are currently raising funds between now and September 4, 2020 to build an academy that will provide free education to local girls aged 6-15 years old. This instance of activism is just one of many ways the girls seek to make an impact. Much of their work offline centers around building community, addressing local gentrification, and helping make connections between the arts and political strategy.

What else are the girls up to when they’re not making anthems and learning? Lately, they’ve been trying to cultivate a more sustainable diet. They said, “We were already exposed to corruption in the food industry and whatever ’cause our mother taught us about it growing up, but we decided to take our own journey to understanding more about what’s in our food, and what the human body needs.” Although they’re not totally vegan and don’t say they necessarily want to pressure others to take it on, they spoke about the power of implementing more whole, plant-based foods into one’s diet – especially for vulnerable people. “Just starting from changing our diet in the Black community, our community can thrive,” they said.

 

 

Aint Afraid’s latest release, “When I Praise Him,” honors Allah through carefully crafted raps and beautiful vocals. Between their thoughtful songs and amazing projects, the duo is an unstoppable force.  

It’s so hard to sit and talk to these girls without walking away feeling like, okay, there’s hope. We’ve all encountered people who know exactly what they’re worth and are very sure of themselves and it can be intimidating. The twins, however, are so grounded in their purpose as artists and leaders, you can’t help but think mashallah. The girls of Aint Afraid are very, very impressive and we here at Muslim can’t wait to see what lies in store for them in the coming years.

Aint Afraid’s latest song “When I Praise Him” is available to download and stream on all online music services. Watch their video here, and follow the sisters’ fresh come up on Instagram and Twitter.

Here’s A Guide On What Not To Say To Your Neighborhood Hijabi Athlete

Yes, hijabi athletes do exist.

Here’s A Guide On What Not To Say To Your Neighborhood Hijabi Athlete

Yes, hijabi athletes do exist.

By

Amirah Ahmed
Art - Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh / Photo courtesy of Nike

Hijabi athletes aren’t new. While mainstream media and big sporting leagues are just catching on, hijabis have been kicking butt in sports forever. However, exercising and competing while dressed in full sleeves and scarves comes with some pretty unique experiences. 

We’ve compiled a quick guide for you with do’s, don’ts, and reminders for interacting with your friendly hijabi athlete without sounding ignorant as heck:

 

1. Do not, under any circumstances, ask her if she’s hot. This is the most commonly asked question that hijabi athletes get, and it never gets less annoying. I promise you, 99.8% of the time, the answer is yes. If you feel the urge to ask this question, take a look at your nearest weather forecast. Would that temperature be hot to you? If so, it’s probably the same for your slightly sweaty hijabi friend.

 

 

2. Yes, she can breathe in that. How else could she have kicked your butt in that game or your last race? I think this is the most ridiculous of all the questions hijabi athletes get. It sounds silly, but the amount of times I’ve received this one is incredible. Do people ask you if you can breathe when you wear a scarf in the winter? No! 

 

3. Just because you won’t tell anyone, probably isn’t a good enough reason for her to take it off. No, not even “just for a little bit.” Every time someone makes this suggestion, I am actually astounded by the sheer audacity. This question has the same energy as a friend suggesting you break your fast during Ramadan because they won’t tell anyone. Just a little pointer, this is super rude, never do this.

 

4. Listen, I completely understand how hijabi athletes might seem like superheroes to you if you’ve never exercised in more than shorts and a t-shirt, but your constant exclamations over how amazing it is that we “wear so much clothing” do, in fact, get annoying. It was cute the first time, but you’ve said the same thing every day this season, Sharon. Please stop.

 

5. This one should be pretty straightforward if you have any manners at all, but stop staring. Seriously, stop. If you’re going to insist on gawking, at least introduce yourself or say salaam or something. Otherwise, it’s just creepy.

 

6. We really do appreciate the hype, but turning every single one of our athletic achievements into news stories and articles isn’t helping our case. My personal record is the same as 100 other girls in the region, it’s not some phenomena just because I did it with a hijab on.

 

7. Your little efforts to help a gal out don’t go unnoticed. Becoming a human shield when the sweaty hijab situation needs fixing in public is appreciated. We see you. Thank you. P.S. Always remember to keep your hands to yourself! While your impromptu shield is helpful, we’d prefer that you didn’t try to tuck loose strands of hair into our hijabs yourself!

 

8. Lastly, remember that we’re just fellow athletes. Our choice of attire does not make us an anomaly. We’re all here just trying to be the best at whatever sport we do.

 

Next time a hijabi joins your sports team, or befriends you at the gym, keep these pointers in mind, or else you might just get left on read next time you try to schedule a gym sesh.

U.S. Citizen Shot In Pakistani Courtroom While Facing Blasphemy Charges

Tahir Naseem, a U.S. citizen, was shot in a courtroom at the Peshawar Judicial Complex by a local 19-year-old resident.

Tahir Ahmad Naseem, 47, was accused of blasphemy in 2018 in Pakistan for allegedly claiming to be a prophet, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Mr. Naseem, a U.S. citizen, was shot in a courtroom at the Peshawar Judicial Complex by a local 19-year-old resident. It is not clear how he managed to bring a weapon into the court premises.

A video of the gunman was shared widely on social media. While being held by police he is heard saying that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told him in a dream to kill Mr. Naseem. Police officer Ijaz Ahmed has given a statement to clarify the progress of the case. 

“The culprit accepts responsibility for killing him and says that he killed him for having committed blasphemy,” said police official Ahmed. “[The suspect] has been arrested from the scene.”

Mr. Naseem was born into the Ahmadiyya sect, according to a community spokesperson. Following the Second Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution in 1974, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are declared non-Muslims by the Government of Pakistan. They are no strangers to persecution. 

The community spokesperson however added that Mr. Naseem had left the sect and had been exhibiting signs of being mentally ill. In YouTube videos uploaded by Mr. Naseem, he claimed to be a messiah. 

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, with rumors of the crime spurring vigilantes and mobs to take lethal action against supposed perpetrators. 

Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores. While prominent politicians have acknowledged the harm that blasphemy laws have done, hard-line religious parties continue to mount pressure against any that aim to repeal them. 

In 2011, a Punjabi governor was murdered by his own guard for defending a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. In 2018 Bibi was acquitted after spending nine years on death row and subsequently fled the country. Islamic extremists send her death threats to this day. 

A prominent Islamic scholar, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, publicly attacked the laws during the Bibi case, warning that a failure to repeal them will only strengthen extremists in the country. 

“The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema [council of clerics] are just telling lies to the people.” 

An ally of Mr. Ghamidi, Dr. Farooq Khan, was assassinated for speaking out publicly on the same issue. 

Mr. Ghamidi himself had to flee the country following a foiled bomb plot against his home. Speaking to the Guardian in Malaysia, he expressed worries over how mob killings embolden the religious right and thus enable future vigilantism against those who speak out.

“It became impossible to live there,” he said.