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From the “Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop” exhibition curated by Sohail Daulatzai (courtesy of Wessam Nassar).

In May 2001, a collaboration of Los Angeles and Bay Area Black and non-Black Muslims put on a benefit concert for Imam Jamil Al Amin called “Hip Hop for Consciousness.” The concert took place a little over a year after Imam Jamil was arrested for the murder of a police officer, charges which many believe are fraudulent. Critically, the concert also preceded  September 11th by five months. According to Sohail Daulatzai, who helped organize the concert and is now a professor, the Muslim event organizers were working outside the mainstream Muslim political sensibilities of the time. Instead, they were following the footsteps of their predecessors in the Black Radical Tradition who used the arts to promote awareness. This tradition embodied by Imam Jamil, from his days at SNCC and the Black Panther Party to his work as a Muslim leader, was the target of intense state surveillance and repression, through programs such as COINTELPRO. These actions prefigure, as Daulatzai has argued, the targeting of Muslims by the state today.

The video below is footage of a performance that day by Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Talib Kweli. Around minute 52 Bey reminds the audience why they had gathered, stating “we not just here singing songs, this is serious stuff, it’s a man’s life and his freedom.” The set concludes with a solo performance by Bey of his song, Umi Says, which is included in our Black Muslim Political “anthems” here.  Toward the end of the song, the crowd joins Bey in the chant “I want my people to be free,” echoing a rally cry of the Black Radical Tradition: Free ’em All!

Free Imam Jamil Al-Amin!

Free All Political Prisoners!

Free ’em All!