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. misterwalrus

    One way or another all religions cause to our collective social brain what drugs do to our own biological brain. We need to get rid of all religions and replace them for reasoning if we really want to have a future of peace and understanding.

    June 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • Logan9773


      June 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  2. Ali CoolGuy

    As the Lead Designer for Takin' it to the Streets it sure is uncanny to see your work come to life. The unity, the beauty, and the love that spread throughout the entire festival was completely surreal due to the racially and financially divided environment we live in now. From the steps of Martin Luther King Jr. to the steps of those who attended the festival, not one person can say that what happened on Saturday is truly something for the books! God Willing the energy and passion for unity and brotherhood continues in the streets of Chicago.

    June 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  3. spm

    here's a thought about religion...... maybe none of us are right? ever crossed anyones mind?

    June 21, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  4. oscar

    Yikes. You mean like the holocaust the Israelis do on a daily basis to Palestinians?

    June 21, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  5. TD

    Muslims must keep religion at home. Either they accept to be a citizen of a open world or stay in those evil countries. Don't bother us.

    June 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  6. ReagansaDemNow

    That guy from Tuscon was HILARIOUS! I wonder if he punched the computer screen in a fit of roid rage after posting his comment. As a Muslim, he doesnt scare me- and I doubt he scares anyone else for that matter. But I like the attempt of to act tough towards Muslims, that was funny. He's obviously scared of us. Perhaps I should move my family to Tuscon so that we can, oh I dont know, eat his babies and steal his soul. Apparently thats what he thinks we do. I cant get mad at that- his comments, much like many others on this post critical of Islam, are like childish name calling. "My name is Blah Blah, from Blah Blah"....dork, lol.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  7. Real American

    "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."

    That's hilarious. Israel has been terrorizing the people in Gaza for decades. You know...since right around the time it forced itself onto that land which already belonged to people. Bombing, shooting, raping, torturing all the Palestinian inhabitants, and then complaining when they (usually unsuccessfully) try to retaliate. No one talks about all the innocent Palestinians killed at the hands of the Israeli army. They've done way more damage, and killed way more innocents than any checkpoint bomb (and wait...why do the Palestinians have to pass through checkpoints like animals when the Israeli's don't? right...) could ever do. I suppose the Palestinians were just supposed to be tortured and killed, huh? Better question: Why don't more Israeli's stand up against their Nazi-like regime? You people are so ignorant, and clearly have no grasp on reality. It's sad. Very sad. Learn your OWN history. Everyone else seems to know it.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  8. JLP

    What about Hadith? I am right in presuming that the Koran gives this instruction to all Muslims no matter where they are?

    June 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  9. Paul

    You people are very good at ruining something beautiful. Selfish.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  10. Paul

    Hey Dby1100, just type in the words "imams denounce terrorism" and view a couple of the 79,000 results that come up, including videos!

    June 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  11. Rob

    I found this article helpful and enlightening except for the part where the Muslims sought to abuse Arizona's fine Immigration Law. If you truly support the United States then you would truly support our Immigration Laws and want the illegal criminal aliens to leave and come back legally. Other than than one element I found the festival interesting. I am sure there were no illegal aliens among the celebrants. So long as all immigrants come here legally and adhere to our laws and customs I fully support them.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  12. Duh

    Cant you all just let people be people. Come on what a bunch of shallow idiots you are all. Maybe if you all worried less about other and more about yourselves there would not be stupid comments flooding the internet.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  13. SouthJerseyMatt

    Are you serious Maytha Alhassen? Your artice would have been fine if you were just reporting on the little muslim rap concert. But you failed hard when you tried to compare this little show to the legendary Woodstock, which was attended by five hundred thousand humans, thats 500,000. And if you think it was all about drugs you are very wrong. It was about peace, and peace there was. Personally, I'd rather be around half a million people having a good time without labels or borders, than around a few people talking to themselves(praying) in public.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  14. Osiris

    There was a multifaith discussion going on all day! Jews were there! Jehovah witnesses were talking to people at the event! More southwest side chicagoans were there than Muslims. I saw people of every ethnic group there, and although Chicago festivals are often known for violence (see fiesta del sol or pr parade, taste of Chicago ect... There was a beautiful and harmonious peace amongst everyone there ( and one of Mos Defs best shows ever). I see the isfake Internet defense league is all over this. If you were not there, you have no credibility! Btw I'm a Taoist, with Buddhist tendencies. Don't believe the hype people, and to you idf agents on here, I'm laughing out loud seeing your panic that your propaganda pr machine is failing miserably against people seeing the truth for themselves. Freedom all !

    June 21, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  15. JihadJoe

    Ummmmmm, I can build a 6 story mosque blocks from 911 site, demand religious freedom in the USA. Demand that our schools adopt Islamic education curriculum yet Christians and Jews are martyred in Islamic countries and it is forbidden for a Jew to set foot in Saudi Arabia. Does anyone see a bit of hypocrisy in this? Islam in nothing more than a counterfeit religion that is intolerant of all other religions. Just wait for Iran (Shiites)to attack their loving brothers in Saudi (Sunnis, hypocrites...

    June 21, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  16. kevin

    Rap is bad enough, but muslim rappers? Bag of Chronic and gold chains? Or bag of ammo and an AK?

    June 21, 2010 at 7:31 pm |

    i really enjoyed reading this. its a movement and me as an Arab RADIO HOST supports this to the fullest.
    gr8 job

    June 21, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  18. james tiger

    i don't understand the confusion; the basis is written:
    Jesus walked through the desert and when confronted by the devil, he denied him...
    Muhammed walked the desert and when confronted by the devil, bought it...

    interpreted any other way defies the admitted, hole-in-the-ground/cave/ never-seen source of the entire religion. it's THAT simple.

    June 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  19. Machughs

    Mohammed was a warrior, a man who liked ypoung women and a politican. He was the opposite of Jesus. Nothing more nothing less.

    June 21, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      I would hope you are following Jesus' example. It is hard to do and many think they can get away with going to Church and picking up a "Get out of Hell Free" card because they claim to believe Jesus is their savior. Jesus' way is hard and can be quite risky, even when living among the many who believe that they follow him yet condemn the actions of those who do try to follow.

      June 21, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Muhammad (PBUH) and Jesus (PBUH) were both really different Prophets. Muhammad (PBUH) brought Shariah from Allah and became the ruler of the Arab world. Jesus on the other hand was to fulfill the shariah of Moses (PBUH). His own people disbelieved him and even tried to assissinate him. Muhammad (PBUH) was more like Moses (PBUH) Moses became the ruler of his people (Children of israel ) he had his own Shariah. The only difference is that Quran is still the unchanged word of Allah and it will always stay that.

      June 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  20. Machughs

    What about the decapitation bit? Not avilable for the media? Private audience only? Left wing media trash...God bless.

    June 21, 2010 at 7:07 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.