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June 21st, 2010
12:23 PM ET

My Take: How a ‘Muslim Woodstock’ turns crisis into opportunity

Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst and Syrian American rapper Omar Offendum at Takin’ it to the Streets.

Editor's Note: Maytha Alhassen is a Ph.D. student studing Muslim American identity at the University of Southern California.

By Maytha Alhassen, Special to CNN

Some have facetiously referred to it as the Muslim Woodstock.

But for all the differences between 1969’s three days of peace and music and Saturday’s Takin' it to the Streets festival in Chicago—a daylong Muslim-led arts and music festival—there is some truth to the comparison.

The differences: high on drugs vs. high on dkihr—a prayer that involves reciting the names of God—and free love vs. free tai chi lessons.

The similarity: As Woodstock defined the hippie generation, so might Takin' it to the Streets 2010, organized by the Chicago-based group Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), define a generation of Muslim Americans.

For those in attendance it was clear that spiritually fueled, socially concerned and politically minded art aimed at serving and inspiring will be at the center of defining our Muslim American experience.

The event crystallized what our generation is becoming: one that acts locally and thinks globally through politics, the arts, spirituality, community service and social justice organizing.

The festival, a biannual event for the last 13 years, featured health and wellness booths, hip hop and world music stages, live mural painting stations, and rows of halal food.

It showed that Muslim Americans are tied to both the U.S. and our diapora experience, that we acknowledge our transnational connectedness while working with our local communities.

Examples of our domestic and global action include providing free health care clinics—including IMAN’s in Chicago —protesting Arizona’s immigration bill, as the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations did, and praying for a solution to the Gulf oil spill.

At Takin' it to the Streets, the local/global dynamic saw us rocking out to Malian desert blues group Tinariwen after listening to Reverend Jesse Jackson explain the significance of Marquette Park in the history of the civil rights movement (Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march against an all-white house area there in 1966).

As the transnational aspect of the Muslim American experience was celebrated, we were reminded of our domestic ties and internal Muslim American struggles. Imam Zaid Shakir addressed the oversaturation of Muslim-owned liquor stores in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, meanwhile, shared his thoughts about the significance of the day to Muslim Americans. “What this day says to the Muslim community is that Islam is not just a list of ‘don’ts,’—things you can’t do,” he told me. “It is a way of life that includes joy, happiness, love, fun, appreciation and this is what’s going on. This is the safest place in Chicago right now.”

What message would non-Muslims take from the event? “We are your friends, neighbors and family members,” Ellison said. “There is more to these Muslims than not eating mama’s ham.”

A professor of mine once said that crisis is not necessarily a bad thing—it signals an opportunity.

For me, 9/11 was a crisis that signaled an opportunity. As Muslim Americans were catapulted into the center of a new national discourse on terrorism and forcibly removed from cocoons of invisibility to answer questions of “why” and “who,” we were subjected to pointed fingers and heightened profiling.

And yet there was also an opportunity for us to speak with studied precision and heart.

This year’s Takin' it to the Streets signaled an expressive culmination of the response taken by Muslim Americans to transform crisis into opportunity, to make sense of our multi-faceted identities and to deliver to our local communities the wonderful fruits of our faith in action.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maytha Alhassen.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • Faith Now • Music • Muslim

soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. Guest

    Thank you for the nice article. The segment regarding a crisis being an oppertunity really stood out. The positive message of working together to build back up after a crisis is an encouraging, but also a necessary thing to do. The people that suffered through Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and even the recent oil spill refused to simply let their life tumble away. By rebuilding their lives back together, a community can grow their own powerful identity and positive atmosphere. Although these disasters are definately undesirable, once they happen you can either run in fear or stand tall. I am glad that this festival in Chicago continues to encourage that same positive attitude.

    After rebuilding a community as a tea

    June 22, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  2. Jaas

    The festival was an amazing experience and definitely stands out as one of the most incredible cultural events I've attended. Streets 2010 means a lot the Muslim American community and I'm honored that I was invited to participate in such a milestone.

    June 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Reality

    The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops 3,482 killed in action, 912
    in non-comabat, 95,888 – 104,595 Iraqi civilians killed,

    June 22, 2010 at 8:40 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Reality in all your other posts, you were saying that Muslim men are going to take over this world. You should be happy if these Sunnis and Shias are killing each other at this rate. By the time I am finished with this message, half the Muslim male population of this world will be all gone...Right? I think you need to give it a rest. The day before yesterday you were making fun of the Christians who wanted to pray for the state of Lousiana. You also make fun of Holy books (Bible and Quran) and our symbols (Crescent, cross, Jesus and Muhammad , peace of Allah be upon both of them). What is your agenda? Why you want to provoke people into violence and hatred? Instead of fueling our emotions, why don't you press upon President Obama to explore green energy, like he promised us, the citizens of USA, when he was running for Presidentship. While Christians, Muslims, Hindus are praying Allah, giving away funds to fight this oil spill, you want us all to fight with each other. What are you doing to stop the oil spill?

      June 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Reality

      It is all about the real world and pointing out the flaws in the history and theology of the major religions.

      To wit: For Umme Omar and all male Muslims who have not read the koran, a book of mythical revelations made by a mythical angel named Gabriel to one, warmongering Arab named Mohammed:

      Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

      Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa.

      June 22, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      'Umme' is an Arabic word, which is used numerous times in Quran and it means 'mother'. Umme Omar is not a man. A person who does not know the meaning of 'Umme' cannot understand Arabic, how can he/she read Quran? it is almost like saying a person writes a review of Shakespeare's Hemlot althought he does not know what a simple word like 'Mother' means in English. Just like Shakespearian English is very complicated english, Quran's Arabic is also very complicated. You really need to learn the Arabic to be able to comprehend it, or other choice (which does not even get close) is to read translation compiled by a Muslim scholar who not only has excellent knowledge of quran, Arabic, Hadeeth and Sunnah (Traditions of the Prophet) but also practices it. Not somebody who uses his or her own opinion or is racist against Islam or its Prophet in any manner. Reality does not know Arabic nor has he read Quran because he does not know the meaning of 'Umme'. He is only talking racism and prejudice. I rest my case.

      June 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Reality

      And we still await the male or female version of Umme Omar to properly translate the koranic verses Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

      June 23, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  4. Gus

    Kind of an exageration to compare it to Woodstock. I mean no offense, but kind of a little event nobody will remember a few months from now.

    June 22, 2010 at 5:00 am |
  5. dina b.

    wow. people still get all heated in the comments section to self-validate their nonsense? soo 2009. a reminder: people will believe what they want to believe and spew what they want to spew no matter what information you provide. when the intention is to create havoc/fear/anger, reasonable argument is useless because it does not serve the intention of the original post.

    so on to more important stuff. wish i could've been there! history being made. for those struggling in the beautiful struggle, keep it up for positivity and one love for humanity. especially in the face of bitter and ugly defiance and hate as seen below.

    June 22, 2010 at 3:19 am |
  6. Zeus Rocks!

    Religion is the most useless invention in the history of the world. It is not surprising that the most violent parts of the world are among the most religious. I laugh when someone calls land or books holy. Every religion has to make up some silly disease that humans have like "original sin" or "suffering" and claims some special knowledge about how to alleviate them. Why hasn't "god" given us the cure for cancer? What is he waiting for? He just likes to watch people suffer and die from his chair in the "heavens"? Religions have for the most part opposed every advancement in science and knowledge since the beginning of time. Their is not one passage in any so called "holy" book that encourages people to think critically and challenge. Muslims need to answer one question for me. If your religion is really about peace and love why did not one of you ever stand up for Salmon Rushdie after insane meglomaniac clerics issued a death sentence for him because he wrote a book? Why do I read reports on how Muslim women who don't obey your "laws" by shrouding themselves from head to toe get acid thrown in their faces and can't go out in public unless accompanied by a man? To live in an Islamic state for me would be the same as giving me a death sentence. A place where religion and government have combined to form a place that would be worse than any description of any "hell" you could come up with. Sorry but those of you making the claim that Mohhamed was some kind of peaceful hermit are just full of crap. He was a warrior/conqueror who laid a path of destruction across the world who preached incessantly about jihad and killing infidels.

    June 22, 2010 at 1:45 am |
    • Umme Omar

      On the contrary religion if followed properly is the most useful thing. God has created solution to all the problems in the world and He has also guided us in His books. If we don't pay attention, it is our mistake. The solution for proverty is charity. The cure for Cancer is not present in the man made steroids and chemotherapy. It is present in the nature. It is called Alternative medicine. Please listen to Dr. majid Ali (Yeah he is a Muslim from Lahore, pakistan) on his weekly show Science, Health, and Healing, broadcast every every Monday and Tues 12:00 Noon on WBAI-FM (99.5 FM) in New York City. WBAI-FM, It is the Peace and Justice Community Radio Station, is a not-for-profit and relies on the support from listeners who want to learn the truth. You can visit wbai.org to learn more. God has created us and given us the choice. it is our choice if we want to solve problems or create them. We just have to seek His true guidance.

      June 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  7. Sharjeel

    True Islam is very different from what we read in media today. Islamic teachings and values are not just for Muslims, anyone can adapt them and be successful. Many laws, ethics, systems, and values in place in the West, especially United States, is what Islam tought 1400 years ago. Unfortunately through time so called Muslims gradually left those values and teachings and hence the result is clear. Don't see the Islamic teachings in the Muslims countries of today. Just read life of Prophet (PBUH) from original sources (not the biased) and read Qur'an itself completely, that remained unchanged for 1400 years (not just extracts from it), and read Islamic history, and decide yourself. Just seeing many Muslims and reading media today would give you totally oppositve picture of what exactly Islam is. Just type 'converted Muslims' on youtube and listen the experiences of those who actually read and experienced true Islam and accepted it with open hearts and pious emotions.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      I agree brother Sharjeel. Most followers of any Abrhamac faith group (Islam, Christianity, Jews) do not follow their books and ideology properly. The only difference is Quran has not been tempered by humans. There is no inconsistencies in Quran. Quran is the final word of Allah. Please everybody read it yoursef and find out what islam is really about.

      June 22, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • Nona

      My religious frineds in America struggled with the rituals and learned everyday what it means to be a MuslimIndeed, although that last part, what it means to be a Muslims has recently come to the surface as another issues Muslims must face. In that question of what it means lies an ugly fact that many American Muslims suffer from an inferiority complex. Hence, all of this going overseas to study has been to a great degree, not to become more competent Muslims, but rather to get a stamp of validation. Unfortunately, in the process of geting validated, some of our brothers and sisters have been indoctrinated in modes of thinking and behavior that are detrimental to their and their families' Islam. The recent case of Sharif Mobley is a good example. From what I have gathered in conversations with those who knew him, he intended to and Qur'ān, but because of the hostile and unpredictable environment that is Yemen, he fell into a desperate situation.I think a lot of frustration has to do with the conflation of Muslims integration within America, with America’s policies in the Muslim worldAn excellent observation and a commendable one. This is something that is just barely on the tongues of a few Muslim scholars, intellectuals, and leaders, but I hope that it can begin to get a bit more attention. There is indeed a misinformed fusing of moral sensibilities and on-the-ground responsibilities. This fusion has resulted in the imaginative brain drain that continues to distract American Muslims, especially though not exclusively, indigenous Muslims, from prioritizing their own realities first before giving attention to certain political causes abroad. I am saddened to see American Muslims go to any lengths to donate money to certain causes abroad when their own communities are afflicted with poverty, crime, homelessness, domestic abuse, fraud, and the list goes on.Jazakallahu khayran for the comments.Other reads:

      March 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  8. Clarence

    "A professor of mine once said that crisis is not necessarily a bad thing—it signals an opportunity. For me, 9/11 was a crisis that signaled an opportunity."

    This part in particular stuck out to me. I remember thinking the same thing back in 2001. I thought that 9/11 was an opportunity for many things. We could either head down a path of further destruction or increased understanding. What I didn't realize back then, that I see clearly now, is that each and every day we have that opportunity.

    Events like this one are promising as they represent an invitation for the world to see new sides of reality. It was a celebration that everyone was invited to; and opportunity to share in the expression of culture. It would be cool to see this and other similar events by the various religions put on annually so that we can all share and learn together.

    Of course there will always be knuckleheads who make each religion look bad. But I do believe that the truly faithful of the worlds major religions have more in common than they do that is different. Hopefully we will continue to create opportunities to foster this understanding.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • Merc80

      I agree with you Clarence. Wish I could have been at this event. I hope people will take more time to learn about what they don't understand that fearing too.

      June 22, 2010 at 3:22 am |
  9. Marc Seltzer

    The real Muslim Woodstock is in Bangladesh with the Tabligee Jamaat – some 5 million men gather for three days.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  10. Fatima

    This is a beautifully written piece about a beautiful event. Too bad that this web page is only read by the mot ignorant of this country. 99% of the above comments have nothing to do with what Ms. Alhassen discussed – that a beautiful event united several diverse communities of Chicago to celebrate spirituality and service and art.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  11. Logan9773

    Well, these people will be dammed. Muslims aren't supposed to play music or dance.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  12. Ali CoolGuy

    To those who are bashing on others faiths, please with RESPECT to ALL faiths, even the faith of NOT having a faith let's all stay courteous and respectful to the content and message of this article. Yes, the event was lead by Muslims but the festival itself had a core secular direction that allowed all faiths, backgrounds, races and cultures to enjoy one another as a unit. What you guys are talking about is based on misinterpretation on Islam due to a few Muslims who misrepresent Islam.

    June 21, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.