Los Angeles was the scene of The Code: Spoken Word Poetry night held this February, 2009 at the IMAN Cultural Center where Muslim Americans came together to express their creativity in the form of art, poetry, journal readings and song. "The Code, All forms of communication are code," promotes the talent of not only Muslim Americans but also seeks to create a connection between people of all faiths and backgrounds in an effort to convey the concept of love and self-empowerment. "Spoken word is a culmination of people taking charge of what happens in the community including social, grassroots and community agendas, "said Nathan Richardson. "It is an open place to express opinions without any barriers." Spoken Word Poetry night raised over $2000 dollars to benefit the humanitarian effort held in Gaza by KinderUSA.
The night featured talents from all across Southern California culminating in a message of love and self respect for people in America and abroad. Nearly 300 Muslim Americans pact the IMAN Cultural Center enjoying exotic sounds of groups such as Elephant's with Guns who featured a song called "Walk, "starting it off with chanting "Peace Peace, Peace. "When ten thousand bricks come falling down on you, you should have the courage to get up again and walk and the song was appropriate for what is happening in the Gaza strip; it is a song of hope," said band member Omar Kazmi.
Kazmi plays percussions with a South Asian style beat and drum called the Dhol, which is a double-sided barrel drum that dates back to 15th century India. Andy Bower of Elephants with Guns played a Central Asian instrument called the Ghirjek, which is a type of fiddle. "The song Walk is about people staying true to their convictions and doing something to persevere and walk forward towards their beliefs," Bower explained. "We feel good about serving the community and creating dialogue through inter-ethnic art and humbly feel that music and performance is about standing up for what is right."
Themes addressed included negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims were apart of many performers lyrics including Hip Hop artists Manifest One and Futuristic who performed a beat called Gaza Backlash. "This goes out to Israel; it's a love letter," the artist Futuristic rapped. The night also featured artists of the non-Muslim faith who presented the theme of humanity and a message of peace to Palestinians and Israelis. One, a Palestinian Christian named Deema Dabis and Saria Idana, a half- Jewish girl, sang about the plight of all those being hurt in the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Several T-shirts featuring a multi-colored gold foil with a revolutionary women wearing a beret and reading "To Exist Is To Resist," by designer artist Ramsey who runs a clothing line called "Trey Q," were also raffled off during the show in an effort to share with the audience.
Nathan Richardson originally from the Mid-West and a convert to Islam served as MC for the night and provided many positive messages including love for all people of all faiths and all walks of life. "Look around you and spread the love people; it's better to love than to hate," Richardson shared with the audience. "We wanted to bring people together in love and to raise each other with love," said Richardson. The theme on the flyer designed by Yasmin Bhombal of Los Angeles featured a fist holding a heart and represented what Richardson called a code of love for those who don't have a voice in the community. " We are targeting a group of people who want to express their creativity and Code is a place where anyone can express their opinions without any barriers," Richardson said. "It could be as simple as someone making up a poem or song about ones hair." At the last Code gathering, Richardson said that one young lady shared a poem about how it took her 45 minutes to do her hair. "The more we do Code, the more I associate it as a living breathing organism spreading the concept of love," said Richardson.
According to Richardson, Code began approximately three years ago amongst a group of young Muslim American artists in Los Angeles and only had nearly 20 people in attendance and this year grew to more than 300 people. "No one doubted we could get more than 200 people this year," said Richardson.
Another colorful project shared with the audience included a documentary about a group of Israelis and Americans who deliver surf boards to the Gaza strip. The short clip told a story about Palestinian men who began surfing on make shift surfboards in 2007 during a rising conflict. In the spring of 2008, a group of Americans from the Los Angeles area began collecting surfboards and sending them out to surfers in Gaza.
Amina Shafi an international rights worker provided the audience with a glimpse of what it was like to work with refugee survivors in Central Africa. She described the horrible conditions that a refugee must endure while living in a refugee camp regardless of where it is. "Experiences of refugees no matter where they are carry a perspective that is universal," said Shafi.
Ameena Mirza, a civil rights attorney and writer provided the audience with a poem about what it felt like to be a Muslim American post 9/11. The poem entitled "Seeds and Soil," she read include the following lines,
...And as our integrity joined the conflagration-
Of every value held close to the heart of our nation
We stood hand in hand,
and together cried before the flames
Hell no! Not in our name.
We beat as one, we beat as one... By Ameena Qazi Mirza.
"The poem is a reflection about things I went through like feeling betrayed by my own, being the American community, " said Mirza. Mirza is half Caucasian and half Pakistani and said that she felt like a stranger in her own country being the U.S. post 9/11. "It's about overcoming your own inner-demons and also working for the cause," she said.
The last performance of the night was by Omar Offendum, a Syrian American notable Hip Hop artist who featured a song called the Damascus Poem from his up and coming solo album entitled SyrianamericanA. "It is my own hip-hop translation of the great Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani's famous poem "Al-Qaseedah Al-Dimashqiyah," which means "The Damascene Poem," in which he describes life in the old-city of Damascus ... one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities on planet earth, Said Offendum. "Whenever I visit, which, fortunately is at least once a year, I feel as though time stands still there ... it retains something special that many Arab cities/societies have lost ... and he is describing it from the perspective of someone who left; he was an ambassador for many years, which is something I can definitely relate to. The simple beauty of jasmine trees & the sweet smell of cardamom are just a few of the aspects of the sensory experience he describes with a poetic nostalgia. "
"I have a family-friend connection with him that makes the process of translating his poetry that much deeper & more meaningful for me. His younger brother is like a grandfather to me . I have translated several of his poems for my upcoming album," Offendum explained.
"During my last visit a Palestinian friend of mine was with me & told me he was envious ... because when he travels to the old city of Jerusalem, he is forced to maneuver between Israeli soldiers & Hebrew signs ... making him feel like a foreigner in his own land.
The message I was basically trying to send out was one of hope, solidarity, and peace thru justice. As a Syrian with many Palestinian family members & relatives; their welfare is very important to me and as a Muslim, I was taught to respect the "people of the book (Christians/Jews)" equally, so it pains me to see what is happening there between the Abrahamic faiths ... finally, as an American, I feel it is against my nation's ideals of liberty & justice and especially when billions of US tax dollars are being used to facilitate the carnage. But I am optimistic & hopeful that things will change for the better InshAllah (God Willing) ... as long as people can be open & honest about their intentions," said Offendum.
Nathan Richardson shared that Code was an awareness for us to serve a higher mission as human beings, creations of God, and as Muslim Americans. "It is that elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, but Code provides that platform to speak out, " said Richardson. Richardson reinforced the idea that the event symbolized the mission of love for all people and that love is the best attribute to live by. The Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California Jihad Turk said "Code is a great venue to encourage local Muslim artists to express their creativity in the important and necessary process of the formation of an American Muslim identity and culture."
Faisal Ansari writes about social issues that affect the Muslim American Community.