In the film, we see Hamza relocate to Pittsburgh’s North Side in order to help build a Muslim community for African-American and Latino Muslims, including a school and the Light of the Age mosque. On June 30, 2006, the FBI raided that mosque just as its members were gathering for the Friday communal prayer. Hamza and several other men were detained on the street for questioning.
About an hour prior to the raid, the FBI had arrested a mosque member outside the building. Several days earlier, the same member had been stopped in Utah and found in illegal possession of firearms, but released. After the Pittsburgh arrest, he pleaded guilty to the firearms charge but no evidence of any criminal activity was ever found in the mosque and no charges were brought against any of the other members. Since the incident, Hamza has continued to perform with his brother and to pursue his outreach work. With the mosque director, Luqmon Abdus Salaam, and many of its members, Hamza has increasingly focused his community work with non-Muslims and people of other faith communities.
» “Mystery Surrounds FBI Raid on North Side Mosque.” Moustafa Ayad. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 1, 2006
» “Mosque members denounce FBI raid as desecration.” Ervin Dyer. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 8, 2006
» “Muslims Call Fed Raid ‘Invasion.'” Jill King Greenwood. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. July 7, 2006
Islam and Hip-Hop
Hamza and Suliman rap as M-Team
There has long been a connection between Islam and aspects of hip hop culture in America — dating at least to the ’80s, when Public Enemy incorporated Malcolm X’s words into their music. One early connection was visible in the affinity between the messages of socially conscious hip-hop and the teachings of the Nation of Islam, which have inspired homage even from secular rappers.
Explicitly Islamic hip-hop, in which devout performers convey a religious message through their work, is a more recent development. As hip-hop grew in popularity and its audience expanded to encompass the whole world, performers of all backgrounds began to embrace it as a means of reaching out, in order to encourage converts, affirm their faith, make political or religious statements or for other purposes.
Hamza and Suliman Pérez, the brothers behind Mujahideen Team, have said that they intend their music to address social and political issues, including poverty, injustice and human rights. The duo cites influences including Hector Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, Afro Boricua, Ruben Blades and Kool G. Rap.
» “Muslim Rappers Combine Beliefs With Hip-hop.” Associated Press. November 24, 2004
» “Making Music With a Message.” Frances Harrison. BBC News. December 27, 2007
» “Hip-Hop’s Islamic Influence.” Marian Liu. San Jose Mercury News. April 23, 2003
» “M-Team Interview.” MuslimHipHop.com
» M-Team blog
Basic Islamic Beliefs and Practices
Islam is the second most common religion in the world, after Christianity, one of the three major Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). There are different denominations within Islam but they all share some fundamental beliefs: that there is only one God (“Allah” means “God” in Arabic), the Qur’an is the word of Allah and Muhammad was the last in a series of prophets — including Moses and Jesus — who were sent to instruct humanity about how to live in accordance with God’s law. Other tenets shared across the sects are the five pillars of the faith, which include the declaration of belief or shahada, five daily prayers, giving to charity, fasting and making a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.
» “Muslims.” Frontline. May 9, 2002
» “Islam at a Glance.” BBC. September 8, 2006
Muslims in the United States
Hamza and his mother sit on stoop reading comics to Ismaelo, Hamza’s son
Worldwide, there are approximately 1.2 billion Muslims, and they comprise 22 percent of the world’s population. Only 15 percent of Muslims are Arab, while 30 percent live in India or Pakistan, 17 percent in southeastern Asia and 10 percent in the former Soviet states. The nation with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia. There are widely varying estimates of how many Muslims live in the United States. The Institute of Islamic Population and Education says there are approximately 7.5 million Muslims in the United States (about 2.5 percent of the population), while the CIA estimates that there are fewer than 2 million. In 2005, the Association of Religion Data Archives cited the number as nearly 4.8 million.
There are significant numbers of Muslims in every region of the United States. Predictably, many large communities are located in urban centers. There is an especially large concentration in southeast Michigan (in the Detroit area).
The Pew Research Center has found that most American Muslims self-identify as middle class and mainstream. About two-thirds are foreign born. As is true in the world at large, the majority of Muslims in the United States identify as Sunni. About 16 percent identify as Shi’a, and approximately 20 percent say they are Muslim without any particular affiliation. A full 77 percent report that they have always been Muslim while 23 percent converted to Islam. Of converts, nine in ten are American born and 59 percent are African-American.
The racial and ethnic composition of American Muslims is diverse. According to Pew, the breakdown is 37 percent Caucasian, 24 percent African-American, 20 percent Asian, 4 percent Latino, and 15 percent other or multiracial.
» “Muslim Population Statistics.”Institute of Islamic Information and Education. September 2, 2006
» “Most Muslim Nations (2005).” The Association of Religion Data Archives.
» “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream.”Pew Research Center. May 22, 2007
» CIA World Factbook. “https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/US.html .” (link no longer available)
The USA PATRIOT Act
The USA PATRIOT Act was passed by Congress in 2001 and reauthorized in 2006. “USA PATRIOT” is an acronym that stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” Originally designed to “deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools and for other purposes,” the law has since garnered much criticism. According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Section 215 of the “Patriot Act,” as it has come to be known, vastly expanded the FBI’s power to spy on ordinary people living in the United States, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The law states:
- The FBI need not show probable cause, nor even reasonable grounds to believe, that the person whose records it seeks is engaged in criminal activity;
- The FBI need not have any suspicion that the subject of the investigation is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power;
- The FBI can investigate United States persons based in part on their exercise of First Amendment rights, including criticizing government policy.
To read the Act in its entirety, please visit the Library of Congress’s website.
» “Reform the Patriot Act-Don’t Expand It.” American Civil Liberties Union