A multilayered story of the mobilization of Muslim youth through music rather than militancy.
As Muslim youth across the world are beleaguered by the crackdown on terrorism, the economic recession and the rise of the far right, they are either turning to a more conservative form of Islam or tapping into the rich inspiration of the “Black Atlantic.” In this intriguing study, Aidi (School of International and Public Affairs/Columbia Univ.; co-editor: Black Routes to Islam, 2009) demonstrates the immense and widespread appeal to transnational, disgruntled Muslims of black music such as hip-hop, drawing its roots from Muslim influences since the 1970s—e.g., in the form of the Nation of Islam. Indeed, there are many layers to this story, and Aidi has to wear both the scholar’s cap, to trace first the Muslim diaspora from Spain circa 1492, which brought Muslims across the Atlantic to Brazil and elsewhere, where they then mixed with black Africans, as personified in the mythology of the “enchanted mooress” and the mulata; and the journalist’s hat, as he recounts concerts he attended from Copenhagen to Tunis. The author carefully delineates between the converts to Salafism, the Saudi-driven puritanical form of Islam aiming for a “superior moral order,” and the Western-backed assimilationist advocates of Sufism (Gnawa in Morocco, Gülen in Turkey), which tolerates trance and even dance for its mystical reach into the divine, as practiced by most of the American converts. The latter form has been embraced by the U.S. State Department, no less, in promoting American values of diversity and tolerance abroad and as a “counter-narrative” to the rigid views of Salafism. Aidi shows how the Western “soundtrack of struggle” inspires the world in surprising ways.
Moving from jazz to the late Moroccan pop star Salim Halali, Aidi’s wide-ranging, dense work persuades by its passionate accretion of detail.