As the current political climate in the United States becomes increasingly hostile towards Islam, and as stereotypes about the religion and its adherents continue to be rampant, many Muslims are attempting to highlight the diversity of Islam in America through their activism, art, and other educational initiatives in their communities. My San Francisco Bay Area band is doing its parts to contribute to this mission through a rather unusual medium that even some Muslims consider controversial: rock music. Loud distorted guitars, Metallica-esque rhythms and tones, and traditional Arabic poetry about Allah and the Prophet Muhammad? The fusion may seem confusing, but we think it works well.
Our band goes by a very simple, but memorable name: 7 Stations. It is made up of two founding members, neither of whom are Arab or from places typically associated with “the Muslim world.” In fact, we are ethnically white. I am a second-generation Muslim of Irish heritage, and my co-founding member, Meek, comes from a Jewish background and converted to Islam.
Given the generally negative and rigid image mainstream American culture has of the Muslim faith, many Americans may feel perplexed by (and curious about) the notion of “white Muslims” in a “spiritually-conscious rock band” like 7 Stations. This certainly includes the greater American Muslim community, which tends to have a difficult time understanding (and in some cases even relating to) white Muslims, despite the fact that we are not, by any means, a new phenomenon.
Even though Muslims have been part and parcel of the mainstream Western music scene for decades, many Muslims also remain uncomfortable with the notion of “Muslim rock music.” As far as many of our coreligionists are concerned, this music is completely antithetical to the tenets of the religion. It is important to note, however, that Muslims who have issues with modern popular music are often focused on its, at times, harmful and negative lyrical content. While Muslims are right to be cautious about the dangers of music, this attitude has nonetheless resulted in a number of unfair biases associated with genres like rock and punk music, which are seen as exclusively and ubiquitously “dark” and “angry.” Indeed, for the American Muslim community, a Muslim rock band may perhaps seem out of place.
For our group, however, fusing music with Islam is very much an organic process. While many Muslim musical artists incorporate lyrics about their experience as Muslims into their songs, 7 Stations is notably different in its approach. The band’s lyrics are sung in Arabic, and the content is traditionally Islamic in nature. In effect, we use a modern medium to present traditional, Islamic songs to our audience. This fusion was a natural extension of our shared interests and experiences. Meek and I both have a history of listening to and performing rock music, and are both devout Muslims committed to our religion. After meeting in 2010, we began writing and performing songs together, leading to the development of the 7 Stations project.
7 Stations’ first music video illustrates the unique direction of our art. The video, which is for the song “QAD BADA,” focuses on the loving relationship between an elderly man and his disabled son. Filmed in the New Mexico desert around the famous Dar al-Islam mosque, the man’s devotion to both his son and religion shine through the imagery. Rather than suffocating this experience, the forceful sound of the rock music helps to elevate the feelings and themes in the video. While neither Meek nor myself are actually in the video, we were its producers and cameramen, and edited the video together.
While 7 Stations is certainly pushing boundaries, it remains a wonder that it has taken so long for an American Muslim rock band to appear on the scene.
The band’s debut album, “Electric Diwan,” consists of nine tracks and is available at http://www.the7stations.com.