In the opening to her new book, Muslim Cool, the Purdue University professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer makes an ambitious declaration of intent: Her research “poses a direct challenge to [the] racialization of Muslims as foreign and as perpetual threats to the United States.” For more than a decade, Khabeer has worked with young Muslims, largely in America, who are interested in art, fashion, and activism—and think about all of these things through the lens of hip hop. While she studied people from a variety of ethnic and national backgrounds, she focuses on the intersections between hip-hop culture, black culture, and Islam, arguing that all of these cultures define what is “cool” in the United States.
Khabeer is a Muslim who defines herself as a “hip-hop head.” She’s arguably a product of “Muslim cool”: “Hip hop is the soundtrack to my life,” she writes. “Growing up in Brooklyn and particularly being a teenager during the golden era of hip hop made my connection with it even more meaningful. I was black and Muslim … and the music and culture of hip hop were replete with Islamic references and pro-black and pan-African messages.”
While Muslim Cool celebrates the spiritual grounding of hip hop and tries to tease apart its complex relationships with race and religion, the context surrounding the book is perhaps what’s most challenging about it. During this election cycle, rhetoric about Islam has been disturbing and violent. Last year, hate crimes against Muslims increased, and at various points, Donald Trump has proposed religion-based bans on all Muslims seeking to enter the United States. The idea that Muslims create “cool” in American culture while also being severely marginalized is dizzying.