Acknowledgements: I want to thank and recognize the interviewees: Sean Muttaqi, Brent Decker, Tomas Hubbard, Dawud Khuluq, and Daud Scott. I also want to thank Mani Mostofi for helping me think of a way to introduce this piece, and for pointing out some inherent bias in question #2, which remains as I originally wrote it.
Islam and Hardcore
Islam, like all major religions, comes in different varieties. It is not monolithic. There are many schools of thought and differences of opinion within the religion’s billion adherents. The idea of mysticism, which can be found in the Islamic branch of Sufism, is something that has captured my imagination for over half my life. It’s why I attend silent Quaker services and read Rumi verse. I have always been interested in the crossover of spirituality and heavy music. Bands like Stavesacre, 108, Baby Gopal, Captive Nation Rising, Shelter, and many more have made it to my regular playlists. I feel a connection between my longing for spiritual “truth” and the outspoken and introspective manner these bands approach their own journey.
This section of the Drug Free Dad site focuses on members of the greater hardcore scene who find truth within their Muslim faith. It should be noted that this is a small sample set, comprised entirely of Western male converts who have some connection to hardcore and punk music. It is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of modern Islam.
- Hardcore, for the most part, has been atheistic or agnostic. However, proponents of Christian, Krishna-Conscious, Islamic, and other sects have played prominent roles in the history of the scene. Do you find yourself attracted more to the religious and spiritual side of the scene? What bands speak to you on that deep level?
Scott: I would say that I am more attracted to the Spiritual side of hardcore music. I was initially introduced to the hardcore scene in the earlier part of 1993 through fellow friends in Chula Vista (San Diego); the first band was Inside Out. It was very fitting because hearing No Spiritual Surrender for the first time, it felt like it resonated with me right away. I felt this way because I had just reverted to Islam the year before in 1992 in my Senior Year of High School, and was feeling the pressure to abandon my decision. I was only 17 years old at the time I took my Shahadah (declaration and acceptance of Islam). Overall I would say the bands with a Spiritual Tone that have and will most likely always be a part of me will be: Bad Brains, 108, and Inside Out. There are other bands that while they themselves or others won’t consider as ‘Spiritual;’ they felt that way to me and the words from their music shaped a big part of my life and these are: Amenity, Forced Down and Outspoken.
Muttaqi: I’ve never really had much of a connection to the Hardcore scene in regards to the one you’re mentioning. My background was always more the Punk, and Skin movements – and an ever so brief moment in the early days when the harder elements therein created an early subset of bands that were considered ‘Hardcore.’ Bands like Bad Brains, MDC, and then later, the Cro-Mags, etc.
Inasmuch as Bad Brains were or are a Hardcore band, they’re probably the only band from the “hardcore scene” that I found some spiritual inspiration from. So no, for me – I’d say there’s nothing within the modern hardcore scene that I’ve related to in well over two (almost three) decades… and in general, I keep my musical tastes separate from my religious practice, etc.
Khuluq: Bad Brains, Vegan Reich, and Captive Nation Rising are the only bands that really fully inspire me spiritually. VR and CNR are more directly relevant to my experience as a hardcore kid that converted to Islam: both because they have invoked Islamic terms and because they are Sean Muttaqi projects. I would credit Sean’s writings near the turn of the century as the primary influence on my even beginning to think that Islam was a spiritual path that made sense to me. From there I was exposed to Shaykh Muhammad Rahim Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi teacher from Sri Lanka that lived in Philadelphia from the mid-70s to his death in 1986, and Shi’ite spiritual teachings. One of the primary reasons i moved to Philadelphia shortly after my conversion in 2000 was to be near the spiritual blessing (baraka) of Shaykh Muhaiyaddeen (ra), the Fellowship he founded, and his mausoleum.
I never really liked any of the Krishnacore bands, and so never really understood the attraction of ISKCON in the hardcore scene. That came years later, well after my conversion to Islam. I still don’t really like those bands.
I tend to draw out spiritual messages from other hardcore bands, mainly because hardcore lyrics can hit certain themes and be fairly open-ended to interpretation. Terror lyrics aren’t about religion or spirituality, but are often so generic you can apply them as such. Some bands accidently hit on spiritual truth while professing anti-religion, atheism or anti-theism.
As an example, Undying’s first ep, This Day All Gods Die, opens with the title track; the third song is called The Fire of Life. These songs together encapsulate, in many ways, the fundamental statement of faith in Islam: la ilaha il-Allah. No gods, only Allah (The God). This Day All Gods Die is a rejection of man-made deities, while The Fire of Life is an invocation of a singular Source of all things. It is a statement of what is often called “wahdat al-wujud” or the unity of Existence. Existence being none other than Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of All.
Honorable mention: Day of Suffering. There are some very deeply spiritual tracks on The Eternal Jihad. The title track and The Rising of the Tide in particular.
Hubbard: Before I reverted to Islam, I listened to what I considered political punk. I had run away from England and was living in an “Anarcho” commune in Spain at my time of realisation. I came back to England, got myself together, and took my Shahadah. From here I discovered straight edge, veganism, etc. I got into hardcore through political means, and from there I came across bands like Day of Suffering, Vegan Reich, etc, and these bands did resonate with me a lot – it was great to know that other people had arrived (albeit before me) and were walking the same path. So I would say in general I am more attracted to the political side of the scene as opposed to the spiritual.
Decker: I’ve always seen hardcore and punk as cultural resistance ,and I think from the beginning there were many different interpretations of what that meant. For me personally, I have found inspiration from spiritual and atheist bands in about equal measure. I think it is good when hardcore and punk questions the dominant narratives of the oppressive capitalist ideology and its systems of brutality. This includes religious “institutions.” Other than my good friend, Sean Muttaqi (who is also interviewed as part of the roundtable), and the other members of Racetraitor who come from Muslim families, I don’t remember ever interacting with anyone who was specifically Muslim involved in hardcore or punk…it was mostly Krsna Core bands like Shelter and 108 or Rastafarism from Bad Brains. My exposure to spirituality came more from the activist circles and community based organizations I was (am) involved with.
- Islam, writ large, has very conservative tendencies. If we look at all the Abrahamic religions, things tend more conservative the further from the West and the closer to the Middle East one goes. What role do progressive and “Western” ideologies play in today’s internal Islamic dialogues?
Scott: This particular question is now at the forefront of great modern thinkers in Islam today. I won’t consider myself a far conservative, yet at the same time not a fully loose progressive Muslim either; I believe that the core Pillars of Islam are important for a Muslim to practice. With that said while ‘Western’ ideologies may be present in many Muslim countries, the people there are able to distinguish and tell the difference between what is outside of the culture and what is inherently ‘Islamic’. For us as Muslims, we see Islam as neither Western nor Eastern, the same codes and requirements and manners of worship span the globe; even though the cultures of Muslim countries are vastly diverse and different.
Muttaqi: Do you mean what aspects Of western “progressive” ideologies ARE at play or which ones SHOULD be at play? If the latter, I would argue that none should be. With regards to the former, i.e. ones that are – unfortunately some Muslims seem to care more about pop culture and western sensibilities than what their tradition actually teaches and what is contained within The Quran. I’m all for batini (esoteric) aspects within Islam that have arisen inside the tradition and culture – but I definitely do not support the infiltration of western liberalism into Islam, which is nothing more than a nuanced weapon of the imperialists to disrupt traditional societies and their religious beliefs. In fact, I would say such liberal western beliefs are more destructive to Muslims and the Muslim World than any amount of bombs or bullets could ever be.
Khuluq: I’m not an expert on this by any means. Capitalism is arguably the largest, most influential, Western ideology at play in the Muslim world. Then you have Bookchin-inspired near anarchist Kurdish fighters in Syria. But i can’t reasonably speak on what’s at play in the so-called “Muslim world.”
From my perspective, Muslims in the West are at a crossroads and I don’t think the choice is a simple matter of embracing white liberal values or going full reactionary Wahhabi-style fundamentalist.
Islam itself contains “conservative” ideas and “progressive” ideas. I don’t think it is in our best interests to veer fully one way or the other. The more conservative or harsher aspects of Islam are tempered by the compassionate side of Islamic spirituality. Take, for instance, harsh punishments related to forbidden sex acts. Historically, the proof needed for the commission of a forbidden sexual act (four eyewitnesses) meant it essentially had to be done publicly. That said, the perpetrator could bear witness against themselves and it would meet the standard of proof. There are numerous stories in the hadith traditions of an adulterer confessing their sin to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family), and him telling them to leave him and come back after so long. A clear case of him not wanting to punish them, and giving them the opportunity to just drop it. We are also not supposed to look for faults, or expose the sins of another, concerning ourselves with our own failings and flaws.
I fear that veering either toward liberal ideologies or conservative ideologies will erode the faith. As we see clearly, the Salafi–Wahhabi extreme conservative strains are an Islam void of spirituality, thriving almost exclusively on the idea of an angry vengeful god. To such an extent that they have, historically, pursued the extermination of Sufism and Shi’ism in the Muslim world and destroyed the shrines dedicated to their central figures. On the other hand, fully embracing Western liberalism carries the danger of removing crucial characteristics of the Prophetic teaching, and embracing a wishy-washy spirituality that lacks substance. There’s a balance to be found that is both true to the character of Islam, and appropriate to the current time and place(s).
Hubbard: Generally, I believe that the Pillars of Islam are important to a muslim and for at least my part have become as woven into my lifestyle as they can be. I’m a Western gentleman, I live a Western Lifestyle in a Western country and Islam doesn’t conflict with that on a day to day basis as my faith is for myself alone. However, I feel that on a global scale ‘progressive’ and ‘western’ ideas (like Capitalism) hold a great potential threat to Islamic countries and cultures, arguably more than so than “The West” is threatened by “The East.”
Decker: I think the horrific atrocities committed against many people in name of Abrahamic religions are done so first to fit the desires of the ruling class and then are secondarily dressed in religious garb. This has been true for all ideologies be they based on religion or not. In terms of the current situation in West and Middle East, it’s really difficult to untangle to role of colonialism and the current economic systems dependence on oil found in the region from the ideas around “progressive” or “conservative” tendencies.
The most conservative governments in the region have been installed, maintained, and guided by the US and Europe. Or have arisen in the chaos of wars which the US and Europe have been involved in. This is a matter of historical record. That is not to absolve local actors who are stoning people to death or throwing people off buildings, but to put it into a larger context. I have spent a lot of time in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Northern Nigeria, Eastern Kenya, and other places in the “Muslim” world, and people are wrestling with these very ideas. As is the Muslim community here in the US. Most people do not want these repressive institutions.
- There is kind of a natural crossover between straight edge and a clean-living religions like Islam and Mormonism. How does religion, or your religious community, impact your desire to remain drug-free?
Scott: I would say that the tenets of Islam and Straight Edge could have a crossover; it did for me. I found no contradicting issues with being a Muslim and accepting Straight Edge; both emphasize clean and drug free living.
Islam continues to impact me to be drug free because of its focus on being alert and as focused as possible. For example there are 5 daily prayers: one of the first stipulations is to not be in a intoxicated or drunken state while in the prayer.
Muttaqi: For clarification, I’ve never personally been “straight edge” – at least in terms of defining myself as such. Although there is some outward similarity between Islam, and its emphasis on a drug free existence – I actually think many times it’s coming from a very different place than “straight edge,” which is often tied into some Nietzschean ‘will to power’ type thing as opposed to the Muslim perspective of conquering one’s Nafs or ego, and submitting your will to a higher power. In that regard we as Muslims actually have more in common with a Christian who drinks wine or a Rastafarian who smokes marijuana than we do with someone who places themselves at the center of the universe. Of course not saying that everyone who says they are “straight edge” inherently does that, but in general I see no inherent commonality in Islam and Straight Edge beyond surface level similarities.
Khuluq: There’s crossover between Islam and straight edge from a certain point of view, but that’s a very monolithic understanding, I would say. Sufis and other Muslim mystics, like those in other traditions, have at times been known to use hallucinogenic plants and herbs to aid in spiritual visions. Some schools of Islamic jurisprudence(fiqh), which are what contribute to the somewhat nebulous and evolving concept of so-called Shariah law, have even quibbled about what intoxicants are exactly forbidden- all intoxicants, or intoxicants made from only certain things (such as grapes vs. dates and what have you)? Marijuana isn’t even necessarily categorically forbidden. And there’s been disagreement on the permissibility of tobacco products within the 12er Shia tradition. Frequently, whether or not some things are forbidden is related to imperialism and colonialism in the last 200 years.
Prior to straight edge, prior to Islam, I never drank, or used any sort of drug, or smoked. I never really had the desire, and I had some terrible examples within my family. Alcoholic uncles, cousins or friends who did really stupid things when they started using drugs, and quite a few smokers whose habits were gross. Just didn’t ever appeal to me enough to ever give it a go. I’m 37 years old; I can see no reason I’d start now. I certainly have no interest. Sugar and a smartphone screen are vice enough.
Hubbard: Touching back to my previous answer to Question 1, I did a lot of hard drugs at a young age. Although I didn’t ever really drink- I had always thought alcohol was “weak” and an opiate for the masses. I was healing from this lifestyle when Islam became unveiled to me. For me, I considered myself Muslim before I considered myself straight edge. For a long time the two were just common sense and were linked in as far as they both demanded a “clean lifestyle.” I can’t say I’ve known many Muslims in “the scene,” so the two are separate. The impact of my religious community is that they were there when needed.
Decker: So I think there is some crossover between the ideas behind straight edge and the clean living prescribed in Islam (according to many interpretations of it anyway). I would say however, the important idea for me from a Sufi standpoint is that outward manifestations of human behaviors are far more complex than many adherents of “clean living” claim. There are tendencies to be quick to condemn people and in some contexts punish people who don’t follow whatever set of rules are established. From a Sufi perspective this is really problematic; our perspective holds that the guiding principles to engage people- regardless of their outward behaviors- must be compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.
- Do you ascribe to a particular branch or school of Islam? Why or why not?
Scott: Yes. I am a practicing Sunni Muslim within the Hanafi School of thought. When I accepted Islam in my Senior Year of High school in 1992, it was the Hanafi teachers who taught me recitation of the Quran and the methods of the Ritual Prayer. We respect all the remaining schools of Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi’i. In addition to this, I was fortunate to be initiated into the Naqshbandi Sufi Order 7 years later in 1999 to learn the inner mystical sciences related to transcendence and Meditation-Mindfulness and currently hold monthly Dhikr (i.e. Mantra) chanting session here in Los Angeles. This internal dimension of Islam, Sufism, is what brought full balance to my understanding of Islam. From within that search, it led me to spend time in Turkey, Egypt, and Cyprus, where my teachers highlighted the importance of the struggle of trying to maintain purification of the heart. From there I made my pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca in 2003. All of these steps helped bring completed understanding of the goal of Islam; which is to seek truth no matter where you go on the earth.
Muttaqi: I’m an Ithna Ashari Shi’a who follows the Jafari Madhab – with heavy Alevi and Shaykhi type leanings (for those who will have any idea what that even means).
I used to follow Maliki Fiqh (which is one of the Sunni schools of law), but my own studies, both in terms of tassawuf (Sufism), as well as more outer historical occurrences, led me to embrace Shi’ism. That said – I’m a firm believer in Islamic unity (other than with Wahabi/Salafi types) and don’t buy into the sectarian division narrative which is largely fueled by the western power elite in league with their Saudi allies…
Khuluq: I am a Twelver Shi’a Muslim that often takes inspiration from Alevism, Bektashism and Sufism. The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship is my most direct experience of Sufism, both in community and in teaching. I’ve never encountered a formal tariqah (order) that I felt compelled to join.
Twelver (Ithna Ashari) Shi’ism appealed to me on multiple levels. Shi’ism in general has had a revolutionary fervor that initially appealed to that aspect of my politics in my early 20s. I also feel that Shi’ism has a stronger, more consistent, integration of the outer and inner aspects of Islam. By that I mean the outward manifestations and discipline of religion and the inner spiritual teachings found in the Sunni world, in the Sufi brotherhoods. Shi’ism has, as part of the normal devotional life of an adherent, many extra practices similar to those found amongst the Sufis. The Twelver branch, specifically, because I believe the proofs for the imamate of the 12 Imams are stronger than those for the Ismaili imams. That distinction is too complicated to get into here.
My continued interest in Shaykh Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was initially sparked by his vegetarian teaching. To this day the Fellowship he founded only serves vegetarian food at events (Jumuah lunch, Eid feasts, etc) and dinner every night. Moreover, there is a kind of “natural” spirituality in his teaching. His methods of meditation and dhikr (repetition of the Divine Names) are one of the most direct means of transcendent experience, and perhaps more importantly the most direct means of cultivating an awareness of the immanence of the Divine Presence with every breath.
Hubbard: I am a Sunni muslim, as were my “founders” in Spain and my Imam at my local mosque. I would consider myself fairly “open minded” (that seems gross to type) when it comes to the various schools of thought. I have read about Sufism mainly outside of Sunni teachings but am by no ways learned in other schools of thought or teachings.
Decker: Generally I’d say I’m into Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam). I’ve been through many different schools of thought (Sunni and Shia), levels of orthodoxy, and parts of various spiritual communities. I think all spiritual practices and religions are ultimately problematic because they are organized and maintained by human beings which are totally fucked up.
However, I don’t think that negates the spiritual knowledge found within them. I think it becomes a question of how those ideas are applied in your own life and how that manifests itself in your engagement with others (human, animals, and the environment).
I was at a Mosque in Philadelphia and I think I got the best spiritual advice I ever received and perhaps best describes my relationship with the “institutions” of Islam. This dude came up to me and asked what I thought about the mosque, and I was like, “It’s cool,” really just not trying to get into some long conversation and then he told me this…When it comes to spiritual understanding you have to be like the deer drinking water from a river. The deer, he said, quickly goes to the river takes a drink and keeps moving. For if the deer were to stay there and look upstream it may see a factory polluting the water, dead fish floating on top, a person washing their dirty clothes, a rotting corpse in the riverbed, and garbage strewn throughout. If the deer were to focus on that, it would not drink from the river and would die of thirst. He told me to be like the deer when it came to spiritual knowledge-take a quick drink and keep it moving. I think it’s easy to see everything wrong with the historical and/or political context of any religious tradition-I do not think it negates the larger inspiration of them.
- What would you like hardcore kids (and others) in the West to understand about Islam?
Scott: I suppose what I would say to hardcore kids is that, as far as speaking for myself: most Muslims don’t have an agenda plan to revert (convert) everyone they meet. Unfortunately, there can be this stigma that if a kid in the hardcore straight edge scene follows a religious path; that there must be some agenda for conversion behind it. While these things do happen, the most of us just happen to be Muslim and just happen to involved with the movement.
And as far as speaking to the West at large I would say that the presence of Islam in the United States and Europe is nothing new. Many of the nation’s slaves who were brought here to the United States were Muslims from Africa. We could literally say that Muslims had a hand and played a role in the formation of this country; albeit against their will. Now moving forward, Islam is in the news day and night, and is usually not portrayed in the best fashion. Before making sweeping judgements or generalizations based on the actions of some, take time to at least meet a Muslim who lives in your community first and go from there.
Muttaqi: I’m not really on some big mission to proselytize for my religion nor be an apologist for it. So in one regard, I’d almost say I don’t have a desire to talk to anyone about Islam that hasn’t engaged me with a positive interest about it first. I don’t care if people disagree with it. That said, I do find myself occasionally arguing down some insane comments people make, either based off of their own misunderstanding or influenced by some fake history shoved down their throat for as long as they’ve been alive.
I guess without getting in some elaborate theological discussion, the most practical thing non-Muslims should know about Muslims, is there’s no inherent aspect of our faith that makes us believe in world domination, or hate non-Muslims. If that propaganda was true, we’d already rule the planet. Quite the contrary in fact. This quote from Imam Ali (as) sums it up the best:
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.”
That is the heart of how I approach life and my interactions with people.
Khuluq: That Islam is not a monolith. There are one and a half billion Muslims in the world. We have many different attitudes to our faith, more and less devout, and ritual devotion is not a measure of extremism. Often the media presents the situation as if the more devout the Muslim the more likely to be a violent extremist he is, whereas this frequently not the case. Every Muslim is different on an individual level. And there are so many schools of thought and interpretive frameworks in Islam itself, that it’s impossible to be accurately seen as a monolithic force.
Hubbard: I don’t really care that much about people’s perceptions (or lack of) when it comes to Islam. It’s not something I’d ever bring up or talk about unless it was brought up in personal conversation. I think a general public education should at least touch on Islam though in Europe / The West. On a daily basis at work mainly I find it astounding that most people know virtually nothing about it outside of something in a news report.
Decker: The main thing I would like hardcore kids to understand about Islam is that the prevailing concept of Islam or Muslims being the “other” is ultimately a political creation to justify the US and European and their counterparts actions in the region (this predates 9/11-largely involving oil industries). Like any other group of people, there is a complex social, political, and historical context to the Muslim world. Islam and Muslims are not just one thing. I would say other than a few basic concepts (the pillars)-there is not agreement in the Muslim world about much of anything, so whenever you hear someone saying Islam is this or Muslims believe that I would take it with the same grain of salt you would about any group of people (assuming you do that, and if you don’t then you gotta get with that to begin with!). Right now that is important because the “war on terror” has really created an environment of fear about Muslims which has led to insane brutality in terms of foreign policy (drone strikes, endless wars, etc.), as well as laid the groundwork for many western elections to go towards fascism. This must be resisted.
- Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) is a big part of hardcore philosophy. It was espoused by Bad Brains, a religious hardcore band. Do you feel that Islam helps you on your journey toward PMA?
Khuluq: Sure. It aids in having a hopeful outlook when confronted with a world that often seems hopelessly violent, bigoted, or apathetic. Much as I like “Attitude,” PMA isn’t often on my mind though.
Decker: I think the idea of constant struggle to liberate your mind, body, soul, community, and world from the veils of oppression and delusion is the critical aspect of Sufi practice. I think this is very much in line with the PMA the Bad Brains preached as part of a hardcore philosophy…or at least my understanding of it.
Scott: I do believe that the main purpose of why Islam was revealed towards the end of the line of Prophecy was to help the human achieve Tazkiya (complete purification of the heart) for the times we live in. Because of this, a positive attitude must always be sought after. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was constantly talking to his companions and family about the importance of thinking and being a positive individual as much as possible. So yes, because of this I do believe that Islam as a whole pushes me towards a more Positive Mental Attitude. I hope through discussions like this more of this side of the message will come out. Islam doesn’t end with the completion of doing the Hajj; there is also an emphasis on attaining pure faith (Iman) and then there is the moving beyond external forms only through Ihsan (tantamount to complete Nirvana or total Liberation) to taste the pleasure of Islam. None of this is attainable without consistently seeking out positivity in all forms, whenever possible.
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