Samples of Black American Muslim identity

Patience Kayira '20
Assistant Arts Editor

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer and Miss Undastood are challenging representations of Black Muslim identity in the United States. 

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is a scholar and activist dedicated to exploring pop-culture and race through performance and anthropology. Miss Undastood, Tavasha Shannon, is a Muslim Hip-Hop and Rap artist. 

As part of the Contemporary Women in Islam conference, from Feb. 9 to Feb. 10, both women performed in Sage Hall on Friday. 

Miss Undastood opened the evening with two songs, while Dr. Su’ad performed her ethnographic piece, “Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life.” Each performance addressed the layers and overlaps of the black Muslim identity in the U. S.

The night began with a rap performance by Miss Undastood. Her first song created a positive mood by stressing the importance of a strong work ethic. Although a rather hesitant crowd, the audience responded well to Miss Undastood and her lyrics.

Many chuckled when Miss Undastood said, “Who cares about sleep when you’re dead.” The second song riffed off of Biz Markie’s 1989 hit, “Just a Friend.” 

Miss Undastood had recorded her rendition of this track with her daughter — a fact she shared with the audience who cooed in response. This song addressed the tragedy and reality of gun-violence while promoting the message of “love being all that we need.”

The positivity generated by Miss Undastood’s performance worked as a good segue to the main event, “Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life.” 

After doing research in Chicago, California, New York and the United Kingdom, Dr. Su’ad compiled all of this into a series of stories. 

“I like the idea of vignettes that are connected but individual,” Khabeer said. She was also inspired by George C. Wolfe’s “Colored Museum” which explores racism and oppression through 11 vignettes.

Khabeer’s piece places Islamic practice in the context of Hip-Hop culture. The performance began with Khabeer kneeling as the music track recited a prayer. Once the prayer ended, rhythmic beats started playing.

Khabeer rotated between a range of characters: a young man who encountered his “first impressions of Islam through style,” a mother concerned about her daughter’s understanding of Islamic identity, media personnel instructed to raise suspicions about Muslim communities and many more. 

The entire performance left me sitting at the edge of my seat and taking furious notes of the many profound statements. 

In the first vignette, Khabeer embodies the character of a young man who expresses his Muslim identity through clothing. At the middle of the monologue, Khabeer says, “He knows how to be Muslim without losing his soul.”

In the second scene, where Khabeer speaks from the perspective of a mother. Her character says: “This rich soil with deep Islamic roots. She can’t see that she is a branch of this tree?” With this scene, Khabeer wanted to give credit to parents who are often criticised by their children.

Based on her research, Khabeer said, “Once young people develop consciousness, they become very critical of their parents.”

“Sampled” ended with a rhythmic track playing in the background and Khabeer asking the audience, “Can you hear it?”

Although the performance was captivating, it did not run on  a smooth course. Technical difficulties postponed the performances by roughly three minutes, and these hiccups occured throughout the performance. 

Yet, this was beyond anyone’s control. Miss Undastood and Su’uad Abdul Khabeer took these interruptions with humor and artistry with Miss Undastood cracking jokes about the unrelenting weather, and Dr. Su’ad staying in character throughout her piece.

Overall, “Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life” sparked interest and discussion amongst the audience members. At the end of the Q & A session, a long line formed around Miss Undastood and Suad Abdul Khabeer — a testament to the impact of the performance. 

“Sampled: Beats of Muslim Life” was sponsored by Professor Mehammed Mack, Sara Lark, Professor Janie Vanpée and the Lewis Global Studies Center.