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 • Music • Muslim

soundoff (162 Responses)


    June 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      You are painting with an awful broad brush there.

      June 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • joeb

      Ok Darth Atheist...Since you've obviously come up with better ideas than all religions combined. I hope the asteroids don't hit while your drinking a chalice full of dog blood u LARPING freak

      June 21, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  2. dorsano

    Israel borders, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. It is at peace with Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. It anexes land from Palestine.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  3. Surthurfurd

    There are many great people of all beliefs; but, we are so easily swayed by those who claim to be with us who promote hatred of others. It is the haters who are our enemy no matter who they choose to hate. It is those who promote peace who are our allies no matter what beliefs they have.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • Sarah

      To Surthurfurd – thanks for your several comments on this post reminding us that hatred of the 'other' has worked its way into every religion and every national identity. Religion, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, etc, is a mirror: a message of love when spoken by those with loving hearts and a tool of violence when used by those consumed by hatred.

      As for the mutual hatred between Israel and Palestine (not to mention between the US and the Muslim Middle East), I can't improve on the last lines of the poem 'Ceasefire' by Michael Longley: "I get down on my knees and do what must be done, and kiss Achilles' hand, the killer of my son." There will never be peace until we care more about forging a future together than we do about who's suffered more, whether our wrongs have been avenged, and who deserves the blame for what happened.

      June 21, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  4. Edmundburkeson

    Perfect example of the blind leading the blind! Marx called them useful idiots! In the Sixties they had drugs to create good candidates for social control. Now they are using religion! Classic!!!

    June 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  5. toomanywe

    Am I the only one that sees allah as Satan?

    June 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  6. tony

    Listen all you muslims living in USA, first of all you should be ashamed of what muslims have done, and are doing in this world. If you are not ashamed and you are a muslim, and believe that islam is peace loving, tolerant and all that, go to saudi arabia and live your peaceful islam, and if you cannot do it there, which is the birth place of islam, then stop trying to fool others, cause as of today, you muslims are marked forever. The fact of the matter is, western civilisation can absorb islam, but islam cannot absorb western civilization. Christianity is the north pole and islam the south pole. most views and belieft are totally opposite. The easiest proof of all this is, firstly let christians build a church in mecca and medina, secondly, if you believe in abraham, mohamad and the prophets, then the jews are your fathers. If these two are unacceptable to you, then u are wasting your time, you believe nothing and will go to only one place, Jhannam.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  7. Linda

    Do you ever attend Islamic conventions and conferences? Do you ever listen to our conversations in our homes and mosques. We do most certainly condemn terrorist acts, publicly and privately. Please open your ears so you can hear us.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Saudin

      You are right!

      June 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  8. Iconoclast

    Paratrooper: I know you have difficulty understanding this concept but their festival "was not about the jews". You seem to think everything comes down to jews and Israel. Frankly one doesn't have to read into the Talmud very far to understand how jews view the non jews. Talmudic racism and hate is far more prevalent in our modern world than anything I have read in the Quran or seen demonstrated by my Muslim friends. As to who is hijacking America for it's own benefit once again you are the wily one. Please stop wrapping yourself and Israel in the American flag I find it extremely offensive and I believe the rest of America is beginning to wake up to this. If you were a true American you would be wearing Army Airborne wings, not Israeli.
    Viet Nam Vet and not a "duel" citizen

    June 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  9. Attendee 6 19 2010

    Wow! I can't believe the comments here.

    I attended the event as a community member. It was beautiful. There were music and muslims from all over the world, USA and Illinois. The vendors were great...family activities fun. The Faith and Justice tent forums were well attended. Healthcare was provided to local residents. There was a celebration of cultures and yes there were hippies dancing barefoot in the mud like at "Woodstock" only this time there were no drugs...Just love!!

    June 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  10. Edmundburkeson

    I would have never seen a connection between the two until now. Both are an attempt to woo the grassroots into submission to a muslim state which is a theocracy and an American socialist state – a wannabe mouthpiece for God.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  11. Blog reader

    I like how Rep. Keith Ellison explained the optimism and positivity that is part of Islamic belief and practice and that Islam is not just a list of don't's. I also like how Imam Zaid Shakir discussed the "oversaturation of Muslim-owned liquor stores in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods."

    As for readers calling Islam evil and what not, ummm, I honestly feel sorry for you. I don't know how you can bear the burden of thinking that over one billion people want to you to either convert you or slay you.

    As for asking Muslims to go back to "their countries", where would African American and second generation Muslims go? Back to...the U.S.?

    Look, there are at least several million Muslims living in the US. Some are doctors, police officers, firemen, computer engineers, teachers, and all of them tax payers in one way or another. And some are 9/11 victims as well. We're all Americans. Let us not let the terrorists divide us.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  12. Mr. Fairness

    "But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence."

    Every religion has its share of crime and also when the Jewish were getting massacred in Spain it was done by Christian fundamentalist.... Stop the bs and like someone siad earlier "pick a history history" This is why our schools need real reform.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • mohamad burjak

      i dont think that'll ever happen since apparently everyone is getting their textbooks for the conservative state of texas

      June 26, 2010 at 7:55 am |
  13. Thoughts

    In response to abu ibrahim'scomment on Jews/Israel:

    I'll start by saying that I am an american and I have nothing against Islam as a religion. While it is true that there have been examples in the history of Islam in which Muslims and Non-Muslims have coexisted relatively peacefully in an Islamic state, the truth is that currently, many Islamic states are governed by leaders that manipulate religion to achieve political ends. I am not attempting to single Islam out. Almost any religion, that governed their territory as a religious state has demonstrated such behavior (note: the crusades and the Jews in the time of Judea etc.). That said, it is true that most Jews could not safely live in the majority of middle eastern territories. Christians have it terribly as well (note: Lebanon). The fact is, whether it's due to the actual tennants of the religion, or political manipulation, the quran is manipulated to encourage violence.

    You spoke of Israel and the Palestinians: I think that it is terrible that a lot of innocent Palestinians have been forced to live in refugee camps and not granted acces to a home, but this is not Israel's fault. Arguements about the land, whether it's British Palestine or the transjordan area can go back to the biblical era. I don't want to go there. But it should be noted that, while most of the "Palestinians" (not all) came from Jordan and other surrounding countries, NONE of those countries let these people into their land. They decided to leave their own brethren in camps. When the Jews inhabited Israel, the surrounding nations attempted to retake the land (which by the way was swamp and desert and undevloped before Israel came about) unsuccessfully, and then were upset when Israel moved into territories and defended its own existence. Not to argue history, I'll move forward. If you want to talk about Gaza, have you ever stopped to think that perhaps Israel is not the problem? Hamas controls the west bank. It's a known fact. Their charter includes the destruction of Israel as a main tennant. During Oslow in the 90's Arafat was offered the original UN charter and an international Jerusalem and rejected it. Hamas leaders meet in schools and hospitals and known public places and then it's Israels fault when they attempt to defend themselves. Israel does not want to expand through out the middle east. Israel wants to peacefully go about life.

    Something to think about: What do you think would happen if factions in control of Tijuana(alikened to Hezbola and Hamas which practically completely control their territories) was shelling Los Angeles? How do you think the US would respond? How would the world view that?

    June 21, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  14. Kirk

    So, at this "Muslim Woodstock" will there be mass beheadings of Westeners? Burning of flags? Performing marriage with 9 year olds?

    June 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  15. Skeptical

    Yes, but I would much rather see "well-meaning" Muslims serve to eradicate the extreme element of murderers that claim the same Allah. To imply that this event is this generation's Woodstock is hooey. Come to think of it, Woodstock – although well intentioned – was the beginning of the "me" generation of extreme self-satisfaction, you know, the "if it feels good, then do it" self-absorbed crowd.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  16. CATOm

    Not fooled

    June 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
    • Abd al-Latif

      ...except in the sense that you've just made a fool of yourself.

      June 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  17. Jim Bob

    Islam would be acceptable in society if it excommunicated the 'jihad'.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Abd al-Latif

      Jihad = muslims fighting back against those who oppress and kill us. In fact it's pretty much the same thing any human group would do–fighting back in self-defense. The difference is that jihad includes a number of clear rules, such as not killing non-combatants. Yes, I know that many Muslims have done just that "in the name of Islam," but that does not change the age-old rules of jihad. They cannot redefine it all by themselves. Or are the terrorists your only source of "information" about Islam?

      June 21, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
    • Al

      Jihad is simply just one's personal effort. Your jihad could be resisting to eat a donut that is sitting in front of you.

      June 21, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  18. anti religion

    yeah,I totally agree.....plus...high on prayer??hmmm...I'm thinking...not the same. Prayer "highs" are usually the tools of cults and such...a total turnoff....

    June 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Ron

      You would better serve the world finding something you love rather than a life filled with hate.

      June 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  19. The Buddha

    Thinking in terms of I am a muslim or I am a jew is an illusion. There are no jews, there are no muslims...there is just humans. Spirits with an outer covering....so try stop hurting each other? Can you try that? Are you all "men" enough to try? Can you? Huh? Do I have to speak to you all as if your pets? C'mon....grow the eff up already People of the Book.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  20. T. Philip

    Don't you all be decieved. The only agenda of Islam is to promote their religion by force and view non-muslims with haterad and call them the infedels.

    June 21, 2010 at 5:23 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.