"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Sunday, November 06, 2005
ignorance is so far from bliss
By Adisa Banjoko 26/02/2002

Today, Hip Hop culture has, by most measures, reached its zenith. People on virtually all continents engage in all the elements of Hip Hop culture, with rap being at the forefront. Hip Hop culture sells clothes, cars, fast food, kids’ toys and all kinds of things most people never thought would have any relationship to the art form.

The African oral traditions that were the roots of rap music have spawned arguably some of the most prolific, most original and most soul stirring albums of all times. Yet under the surface of Hip Hop’s “success” runs a thread of ignorance that, if continued upon, could potentially fracture the entire framework of the life-affirming qualities of this art. This thread can be described as jahiliyyah (jah-hill-ee-yah), the Arabic word for “ignorance”.

In Hip Hop, many artists give lip service to knowledge and the importance of holding onto it. But the truth is that many people involved in the art embrace ignorance more readily.

When most people use the term jahiliyyah, they are talking about the pre-Islamic “age of ignorance”, when the Prophet Muhammad (saaws) fought against during his time as a messenger of Allah (swt). During that time, the people of Arabia were very courageous. They were acknowledged as some of the most trustworthy people of their time. If a jahili Arab took and oath – for better or worse – one knew it would be kept. This same concept of oath-taking is not lost on the culture of Hip Hop where one of the most common sayings heard is “word”. It’s used as an affirmation that one has spoken the truth. People always say things such as “my word is my bond”, or “that’s my word ya’ll”, etc. The power of one’s word in Hip Hop is unmatched.

On the other hand, there were many things about the jahiliyyah age that were not so positive. The men of that time were very territorial - all of one’s dealings were based on which area of Arabia they were from and their blood ties to various individuals.

Relating this back to Hip Hop culture, one can see how much territorialism and clan affiliations permeate the art. One of the earliest (early-mid 1980s) and most popular reflections of this mindset is seen in the Boogie Down Production song “South Bronx” as well as in the MC Shan track entitled “The Bridge”, which champions the Queens area of New York.

Other records that express jahili territorialism include NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton”, Tha Dogg Pound’s “New York, New York”, Mob Deep’s “LA, LA”, Ludadris’ “Welcome to Atlanta” and almost any song by West Coast rap artists.

Many years later this poetic battle of territorialism would have deadly impact as the East/West rhyme “war” escalated, leading to the shooting deaths of rappers 2Pac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. But despite the shock of these deaths, the jahiliyyah mindset continues to permeate the Black ghettoes of America. And in the world of Hip Hop today we see it continue in the ongoing battle between rappers Jay-Z and Nas.

Ask any Black man you know about the stress of strolling into an unfamiliar neighborhood. The first question asked by locals is often: “Ni**a where are you from?” The wrong answer to that query could have painful and sometimes deadly consequences. The only thing that can save a man in this situation is strong clan ties to someone of that territory. Answers like: “Oh, me? Man, I’m from Frisco but do any of ya’ll know T-Money? That my cousin!” are often the only thing to save the day.

Another facet of jahili culture in Hip Hop is the prevalence of disrespect towards women. During the age prior to the Prophet Muhammad (saaws), male children were highly preferred over female children. People were prone to bury their newborn daughters alive rather than carry the “burden” of having a daughter. In the world of Hip Hop, women are not buried alive physically, but rather given verbal and visual burials that reflect the same ignorant value system.

Every time these rap songs, with profane words directed at women, get rotation on the radio waves and TV screens they burn away the self-esteem of women world wide. This leads some men to believe that slapping a woman is “keeping it real”, because of how a lot of rappers act.

Additionally, a lot of rap music encourages women not to think, not to educate themselves, not to put God’s word above man’s, not love themselves and to not expect respect from their men. Much of Hip Hop music suggests that women should prefer being a physical play toy. Unfortunately, more and more women are embracing these negative philosophies, believing that being sexually loose somehow equates to being a “strong” or “powerful” woman. Female rappers such as Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and countless others reflect the female jahili mindset.

Materialism was another big issue for pre-Islamic Arabs. People were consumed with having gold trinkets, showing them off in public to signify their financial clout and status. The same is true of Hip Hop culture where the “bling bling” era has arrived – “bling bling” referring to the glimmer of the expensive jewels many artists wear. It’s about the cars, the gold teeth the clothing brands – all jahili traditions.

In truth, Hip Hop is so materialistic that it borders idol worship. It reminds one of a passage in the Bible that says “Some boast of horses and of chariots, but we boast the name of the Lord.” Materialism is another deadly trend many in Hip Hop culture celebrate or silently champion by remaining quiet about its dangers. This is not to say that people should not seek success. They certainly should. But showing-off to degrade others is not needed, and it makes the entire community look foolish to the outside world.

Poetry is another area in which there are commonalities between the present and Arab antiquity. During the jahiliyyah era, some of the most powerful people in Arabia were the poets. The poets of every clan would make songs of pleasure, love, war and hate at will. Tribal leaders even sought favor with the poets, for if a bard ridiculed you in those days, your integrity as a leader could be compromised.

Our poets of today have power as well. However, while in years gone by groups such as Public Enemy used their voice to encourage people to “Fight the Power”, many of today's rappers use their pulpits to inspire the young to pursue frivolous paths of materialism, mindless violence and sexual conquests. And very few champion loving God and respecting and helping one’s neighbor.

There is a serious imbalance in the kind of Hip Hop that is not just played on radio and TV, but even a lot of the “underground” Hip Hop has lost its consciousness and brought in some of the detrimental jahili elements. It is therefore time for a change, lest this beautiful art be lost altogether.

Once the Prophet Muhammad (saaws) said, "[Religious] knowledge will be taken away [by the death of religious scholars], ignorance [in religion] and afflictions will appear; and Harj will increase." It was asked of the Prophet (saaws), "What is Harj, O Allah's Apostle?" He replied by beckoning with his hand indicating "killing”.

Our religious scholars are not all dead in a literal sense. However, for many of us they might as well be; for we no longer think of them and look to them as we should. And still other scholars have been killed off by haters of the truth.

By the time the Prophet Muhammad (saaws) finished his time on earth, he had unified the Arabs. The age of ignorance was gone and the status of women had been redeemed. The people’s quest for materialism, tribalism and frivolous entertainment was erased. It was replaced with a new faith in God and respect for humankind.

After reaching the ghettoes of American, Islam reformed some of their worst citizens and turned them into some of its best. Malcolm X is a perfect example of this transformation. But there are countless others who changed their lives as well. If people in Hip Hop truly want to grow, they might think about following Malcolm’s lead by emulating his actions, rather than just buying a t-shirt with his words or face on it.

Unless we rid Hip Hop of the jahiliyyah elements, we can only expect more sharp minded but misguided youth to perish over territorialism, materialism and the pursuit of the sensual path. I pray that Allah (swt) guide us better.
posted by R J Noriega at 11:10 AM | Permalink |


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