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)
  1. Lordberg

    You say dhikr, I say dkihr.

    June 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  2. Todd

    Were there chicks?

    June 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • HUMINT

      Yep...but you weren't allowed to look, talk or recognize them as human. Most of them were cooking or picking up after the men.

      June 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm |

    I'm sure the Feds had a field day taking pic's and notes.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  4. Hubbub

    For those whose comments have indicated that Jews were not welcome at "Takin' It to the Streets." You are sorely uninformed. There were Hebrews and Orthodox Jews participating as speakers and venders. Rabbi Joshua Salter and others have been working in coalition with the Inner-city Muslim Action Network in interfaith alliances for social justice on a broad agenda, and many of the Muslims present were also from sub-Saharan Africa.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      Thanks for the update and correction.

      June 21, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  5. seasea

    islam has always been peace and will always be that..

    June 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
    • joeb

      yeah, a 'peace' of $#!%

      June 21, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Lordberg

    Muslim Woodstock. Boy that sounds fun.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Abd al-Latif

    It's called dhikr, not dkihr. Diaspora, not diapora.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  8. Surthurfurd

    I see that there are those who would prefer to promote hatred than peace. They clamor about killing people who are of the other group because they assume the others are innately evil. Seems like all cultures have people who think like al Queda.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  9. joeb

    hey CNN, I missed the part where we refer to people according to their religion even though we're a church-seperated-from state society. so since you like to call them muslim-americans, i'd like to see an article on christian-americans and jewish-americans, and hell, why not hindu-americans. of course, if you did that, then you'd probably just tell about all of our 'shinnanigans' instead of calling us a 'fresh, spiritual experience'. u guys are clueless

    June 21, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  10. Cohen

    Islam is the same as NAZISM


    June 21, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  11. axe'em

    a day of fun, learn to fly a 747 into a building, and for the kids we have bomb making 101.free ak clips for the frist 100 to bring in a American ear.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  12. Reality

    Putting the topic concert in its proper perspective:

    Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the massacre in Mumbai, the assassinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  13. WinterClover

    It is a religion based upon hatred, fear and jihad...while it is nice that there muslim song lyrics about love and happiness, just like all religious music it is simply a cover for brainwashing youth.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  14. Dby1100

    Not once have I ever heard an Imam or any other Muslim for that matter SAY ANYTHING TO CONDEMN TERRORISM. NEVER. Why is that? Why are most Muslims SILENT? That is the question. Either adapt to modern living or stay in the Dark Ages. I have nothing against the religion per se, but I don't see any real widespread movement to reform and come to terms with interpreting the Koran and traditions to modern life and not the 7th century. Never heard any major condemnation whatsoever. By being silent you either are too afraid or in cahoots with the terrorists.

    Also do not attack Israel without any basis whatsoever. No one is going to take these so called "war crimes" by Israel seriously because obviously all these idiots butcher the English language and do not understand the meanings of those words whatsoever.
    To those who compare the Holocaust to the Arab "philistines" BIG LIE, you should be deprogrammed from your jihadi training and brainwashing. Israel has bent over backwards trying to bring peace, to the point of treason to give these Arabs Jewish land in Israel. The traitor and spineless coward Ehud Barak offered AraFAT 99% of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and even some of Jerusalem, a disgusting appeasement to Arabs who murder and brainwash themselves with anti-Semitism of the most virulent kind. Arafat would not take it because he and the "Philistines" want ALL OF ISRAEL. There will never be peace until their is a Gandhi or Martin Luther King to actually advocate and teach non violent approaches. Which will never happen probably so right now Israel should expel all hostile Arabs back to Egypt (which occupied Gaza 1948-67) and Jordan (which occupied Judea and Samaria 1948-67)and eradicate Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, etc.

    Israel's very justified responses to the illegal Arab terrorism and occupation of Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, all rightfully and historically Israel's the Arabs just complain about a self-created situation that they perpetuate to divert themselves from modernizing and true democracy.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • TheTruthTeller

      Since when did you start considering yourself Shakespeare by stating "That is the question"? The thing is, it doesn't actually do wonders after saying such narcissistic, ego-centric statements, followed by the stupidest two question, contextually; "Not once have I ever heard an Imam or any other Muslim for that matter SAY ANYTHING TO CONDEMN TERRORISM. NEVER. Why is that? Why are most Muslims SILENT?". Maybe, if you stopped believing that life experiences of the masses are limited to YOUR life experiences and encounters, you can probably gain a more truthful exposure of the situation in the world. Just because YOU can't hear the cries of Muslims against terrorism, wrong-doing, and oppression, does NOT mean it doesn't exist in the U.S., or even globally for that matter. And without saying much, just because YOU think Israel is right, doesn't mean it's right, and just because YOU can't hear the cries of Palestinian children, mothers, and fathers as a result of the atrocities done to them, doesn't mean they don't exist. Learn some empathy sir/madam, and work to attain some exposure to the realities of the world instead of sitting behind a computer screen, or in front a television set, and letting the bias media feed you a one-sided opinion on a matter.

      June 22, 2010 at 6:30 am |
  15. dee


    June 21, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • judithjudith

      preforming and rocking out...follow the event's link to see FEMALE performers and photos
      that post is about as ignorant as you can get lol

      June 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  16. yesnoyesno

    There are good and bad people. The good make efforts to improve the quality of life. The bad hate on everyone and everything and tear down any attempt to make things better for all ( not just there own clique) . The people here dumping on Muslim US citizens are an example of bad, hateful people. Just the fact that they're so ignorant as to lump all Muslims into one category, is proof enough. These are citizens of our country and are FREE to express themselves in any way they choose. Just like I'm free to say this and then logoff so that I don't need to read all the stupid responses sure to come. After all none of you are actually real. These are only words I'm reading.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  17. Jessica

    WOW i cant beleive such a nice story has such horrible comments. If you hate Muslims so much why did you even take the time to read this whole article? Or do you just scan for anything that involves Muslims so you can go off on your tangent?

    June 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
    • HUMINT

      To know your enemy.

      June 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  18. alberto

    Muslims and americans does not make sence

    June 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Jessica

      really alberto? where r ur ancestors from ALBERTOOOOO?

      June 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  19. judithjudith

    Considering the biggest Muslim conference in north America, ISNA, held yearly in the US, has Jewish speakers in their programs and none end up lynched leads one to believe they would have been just fine at the show. And did you poll the audience? Not only Muslims like these artists and bands like outlandish who were scheduled to appear, has a christian member and he's still alive and still christian.
    The ignorance of people is astounding. You think anytime a Muslim in on close contacts with a Jew or christian they will be converted or killed, open your eyes. Seminaries around the US teach Muslims together with Christians. On top of that entertainment like stand up for peace with Jewish and Palestinian comedians bring Jews and Muslim together in the same room and no one has died.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  20. Music is Haraam

    How ironic that they're having a "music and arts" festival, considering that nearly all Islamic scholars agree that music is haraam (forbidden). I can guarantee you that, if the Muslim population continues to grow (as it is doing in Europe), it will become increasingly more conservative and politicized. The first step is that Muslims will be pressured not to listen to "un-Islamic" music, and they will start protesting the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. As Muslims become more politicized, their ideology will harden, and eventually they will agree that all music is haraam. More fundamentalist imams will come to the U.S. from the Europe and the Middle East, and you will begin to see more Muslim-Americans participating in terrorist acts both at home and abroad. They will begin to call for Shari'a Law for the Muslim-American community, and many will get caught up in the dream of a new Islamic khilafah (caliphate). These are the changes that are already happening in Europe due to the expanding Muslim population.

    June 21, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      Many people assume that the Hadith and Sunna which include references to restricting music use are proper Islamic law. For many Muslims this is a problem since they were written long after the Quran. For many Muslims the reliance on the Hadith or Sunna is a problem since the Quran is the "only source" and the Hadith and Sunnah are human laws and restrictions made subsequent to the Quran. For other Muslims they respond as if they are additions to the Quran. This has been an aspect of extreme contention between sects in Islam for a very long time.

      June 21, 2010 at 6:47 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.