The messages entertainers send to teens and young adults are essentially sex, drugs, and rock & roll—and in a much more explicit manner than just a few decades ago. Hip-hop and other music venues are essentially a microcosm of larger structural problems in society. The pop culture icon, Nicki Minaj is a textbook case exemplifying this growing problem. In one of her songs, Nicki Minaj states that, “I’m Nicki Minaj. Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki Barbie,” thereby comparing herself to Bill Clinton’s mistress as well as a Barbie doll. Her music also encourages drugs, dependency, and having children outside of marriage. She states that,”If I got weed then im lacing it. I got my welfare check, smoking on that crack. Hell yeah, i’m unemployed, daddy on my back.” While women with more politically-oriented music who dress more modestly are largely ignored and unpopular, Nicki Minaj is a millionaire from promoting such vulgar messages.
How did these problems emerge? Malcolm X provides an important analysis on how women are objectified in society. In his autobiography, Malcolm X states,” Wherever the spiritual values have been submerged, if not destroyed, by an emphasis upon the material things, invariably, the women reflect it. Witness the women, both young and old, in America—where scarcely any moral values are left.” Indeed, centuries before Nicki Minaj, there was another woman who in many ways was similar to Nicki Minaj but who lived in a non-materialistic society. Like Nicki Minaj, she was a poet, a public figure, and a cultural icon. But the views that this she promoted was vastly different to that of Nicki Minaj. Her name was Nana Asmau of Wet Africa; she was a scholar, a poet, an intellectual, professor, and a linguist. In her poem, Nana Asmau states:
As for myself, I taught them the religion of God in order
to turn them from error, and instill in them the knowledge of their obligatory
so they would know how to act.
I said they must distance themselves from sins such as
lying, meanness, hatred and envy,
Adultery, theft and self-esteem. I said they should repent
because these things lead to perdition.
The women students and their children are well known for
their good works and peaceful behavior in the community (vv. 5?13)
While Nicki Minaj openly promotes drug usage, Nana Asma’u as an Islamic Legal scholar issued a fatwa against drugs such as tobacco stating that,” It is a waste of money. It affects a person’s face features. It leads to immodesty. It makes a person look undignified. It not a common sense thing to do. Anyone who smokes is a fool.”
The mainstream media continues to inject their values and morals onto the society at large. In order to foster values that improve the community and purge detrimental ethics, it will be necessary to craft an alternative media. There are many positive poets that teach uplifting messages, but they are not the ones who are played on the radio. One example of this is the duo,”Poetic Pilgrimage”, who in there, “Modern Day Marys” poem, encourage women to emulate the mother of Jesus. Challenging the message of Nicki Minaj, Poetic Pilgrimage states that, “We don’t aspire to life like babies, because we’re part of Allah’s army.” Furthermore, they highlight a common problem that leads this cycle of social break-down. While telling the story of a misguided young woman, Poetic Pilgrimage states,” She wasn’t taught stories of mothers of believers so she started imitating MTV divas.”
The mothers of believers are the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the message promoted by the mainstream media, they are frequently invoked in the poetic tradition of the African Diaspora. In a world in which Eurocentric standards of beauty are ubiquitous, the duo of Mos Def and Talib Kweli state that they are, “Black like the veil that the Muslimah wear.” Furthermore, they state that their love for black people is so strong that, according to Talib Kweli, it is “like the prophet love Khadijah.” In the Islamic tradition, Khadijah is renowned for loyalty, strength, and devoted devotion to her husband’s missions. Khadijah was a wealthy businesswoman and the Prophet’s call to monotheism was controversial, thus enemies put in place economic sanctions on him and his followers; it reached a low-point in which their household was devoid of food. Despite the multiple struggles, calamities, and changes in her lifestyle from a wealthy businesswoman to malnourished persecuted minority, she stood loyally by his side. In comparing his love for black people, with the love the Prophet had for Khadijah, Mos Def and Talib Kweli note that no matter the struggles and trials that they experience as a result of being black, they will continue to love each for that very reason.
Surrounded with peers in a cypher, a common Afro-American tradition, the poet Boona asserts that, “Aisha was a genius, every word was like a thesis, Mother to all believers, pure like that of Isa’s” lauding the wife of the Prophet Muhammad for her scholastic achievements and comparing her purity to the mother of Jesus. Centuries before Boona, the west African poet, Nana Asma’u, born in 1793, also stated, “I bring all women to Aisha; Aisha, the Noble Daughter of Al-Siddiq.”, “She was held in esteem by the Prophet”, “I speak of all the mothers who were wives to the Prophet.” The purpose of such a poem in her education campaign was to call upon her community to study the life of Aisha bint Abu Bakr to foster an attitude of women’s learning and scholarship. Nana Asma’u continues her poem, stating, “She had a mastery of learning.” And ,”Oh Aisha. Oh what a woman!” The academic work entitled, ‘Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge ‘by Professor Asma Sayeed notes:
this work …challenges two opposing views: that Muslim women have been historically marginalized in religious education, and alternately that they have been consistently empowered thanks to early role models such as ‘Ā’isha bint Abī Bakr, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.”
Thus, Boona’s poems fit within the tradition of the African Diaspora, continuing the tradition of Nana Asmau. While highlighting several noteworthy companions of the Prophet Muhammad, Boona states that “It’s a shame, we know more about them monkeys on B.E.T. this is our history, all the sacrifices that they made for me, gave me a legacy, that I could be proud to keep.” Though it is called “Black Entertainment Television,” many would label it “Black Exploitation Television.” The station is owned by white elites from Viacom, and it inculcates values antithetical to black-determination; Boona highlights that these companions of the Prophet are more worthy to be studied and emulated than the entertainers on B.E.T.
During the sixties, many Black Muslims changed their names that were inherited from their white slave masters into Islamic names to form a new identity outside of the confines of white supremacy. Today, Islamic names are heavily popular among African-Americans, even non-Muslims, such as Aaliyah and Rihanna. In “Black Girl Pain”, the artist Talib Kweli seeks to empathize with the plight of black women, stating, “This is for Aisha” and “This is for Khadijah.” He further notes, “She got a black girl name, she living black girl pain.” Black women in America often must cope with seeking to provide for their families as single parents, and it is black women who must deal with the emotional trauma of having the children that they gave birth to often shot down by racist police officers.
The names that Talib Kweli highlights are strongly associated with African-American women, and are also names that have their etymological origins from the wives of the Prophet. Thus, he roots himself in an African tradition of poetic expression that is also found in the works of the West African poet, Nana Asmau. In her poem entitled, “Laminations to Aisha,” she honors a childhood friend who had passed away stating that she, “Shed copious tears for the loss of Aisha, the noblest of my dear ones of my age group, my friend. I praise her for her worship, her modesty, religion, morals, and kindness.” Yet, for Talib Kweli in the 21st century, it is not the physical death of “Aisha” and “Khadijah” that he mourns over, rather it is the social and mental death of women in a white supremacist materialistic society.
With communities facing issues such as the spread of drug addictions, STDs, out-of-wedlock children, and single parenthood, we need to study the mother of the believers and Nana Asma’u’s poetry, and other upright poetry and craft an alternative media that promotes upright values. . Nana Asma’u taught the women in her society to be chaste and upright and to avoid envy and promiscuity – problems which run rampant in our society today.