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German rap with a Muslim message

picture of SayfoudinSayfoudin, source: private

Sayfoudin tells his story: as a young man he took drugs and was involved in all sorts of trouble. "But at some point I realised that things could not go on like that. Something had to change," he explains. "Then I started to become more involved with Islam again and noticed that it gave me peace and strength." The 31-year-old describes his experience in his song "This is my testimony."

Back on the right path

In his early songs, Ammar114 also relates how he fell into delinquency and how he found his way back on to the right path through Islam. The number 114 in his stage name represents the 114 suras which make up the Koran. Ammar actually comes from a Christian family. He was born in Ethiopia but grew up in Frankfurt am Main, which is where Sayfoudin and Ammar met in 1994 and, since then, they have made music together.

Whereas Sayfoudin, son of an Italian mother and a Moroccan father, returned to his Islamic roots, Ammar was a convert to Islam. Their lyrics sound authentic because they relate what they themselves have experienced.

Above all, with their music, the pair want to reach today’s youth who come from Muslim families but who do not know what Islam actually means. "There are so many criminal sorts who proudly assert that they are Muslims but know nothing about the religion. Our initial objective is to make clear to them that Islam also means peace and respect," says Ammar. In his song, "Five32", for example, he criticises the youths who last year beat a man so badly in the Munich underground that he had to be hospitalised. In this way, criticism comes from their own ranks.

Islam means peace and respect

The lyrics also reflect the self-awareness of many young Muslims in Germany. Ammar114 has recorded a song with the title "We are Germany." In it, he deals with his experiences of having grown up here but not being accepted as German. Above all, he says, Muslims repeatedly have to justify themselves in Germany.

Sayfoudin sees himself as a dyed-in-the-wool native of Hesse – and he sounds like one too. "I love “Handkäs mit Musik", a local speciality dish we have," he says, explaining the marinated cheese dish in detail. "I am just a German rapper who has a message and is also a Muslim."

Ammar's repertoire also includes songs with particularly militant lyrics – typical of the rap genre. Some of his lyrics are political and often taken to extremes. For example, in the song "In the name of democracy", Ammar clearly criticises American foreign policy during George W. Bush's presidency. But his work also deals with negative experiences with the media and German politics. Other lyrics such as "Dear sisters", praising the perseverance of women in wearing headscarves, and "I live for Allah" seem to have more of a missionary undertone. It is precisely these lyrics and Ammar's appearances at controversial Islamic organisations, such as the Islamische Gemeinschaft Deutschlands [Islamic Community of Germany], that make the German security authorities prick up their ears. At the same time, this mixture makes him a star amongst the "pop Muslims", . which is how the Islamic scholar and author Julia Gerlach describes young Muslims, who combine fashion, music and social involvement with a distinct form of religion.

Pigeon-holing is not possible

Sahira is one of the few women involved in the German rap scene. The daughter of Palestinian parents, she grew up in Berlin and has been very successful in the music business for some time. In her song "Dit Tuch" [This scarf] she explains in her idiosyncratic way why she wears the headscarf. Ever since the release of the song, the 27-year-old artiste has been repeatedly quoted in the media whenever the topic of young, self-aware Muslim women comes up. She, however, says she wants to be appreciated for her music and not merely because of her headscarf. Her management examines interview requests closely. If a feature on her is likely to carry the label of Islam, Sahira regrets that she is not available. The management explains that Sahira simply does not wish to be pigeonholed like this anymore.

The music is currently spreading primarily via the internet. "We are working on getting better and becoming more professional," asserts Sayfoudin. But he says the aim is also to network more effectively with other musicians in Germany and Europe. At the moment, this young man from Frankfurt is concentrating first and foremost on a very specific project – his first solo album which is due to be released soon. It’s all systems go.

Silke Brandt, 27.08.2009

About the author: Silke Brandt studied Political Science and Islamic Studies in Hamburg, lived in Cairo for a considerable period and since 2005 has been on the editorial staff at Zenith, a journal reporting on Middle East affairs.

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