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STOLEN: Iconoclasm, Restitution & Redistributing Power, Dialectic

Dialectic is an American born hip hop artist of Pakistani descent who has grown up and lived in Toronto, Canada ever since immigrating there at the age of 4. A rapper and poet, Dialectic commentates about current affairs and empire in his work.

We talk to Dialectic about his new work Stolen, reflecting on icolonoclasm, reparations, restitution and redistributing power.

What does Spoken Word mean to you and how did you build a connection to this artform?

My introduction to spoken word is interwoven with my earliest memories of Hip Hop. Obviously I came across mainstream rap music at an early age and it struck a chord immediately. But I do remember seeing a lot of def jam poetry session videos on Youtube around the time I was entering my teens and being absolutely taken aback by the different styles of poetry and the command that the likes of Saul Williams had over the audience with just the tone of his voice. It made me look at rap music differently yet opened my eyes to the similarities too. Knowing the likes of Kanye or Erykah Badu as musicians first was intriguing because I often wondered what differentiates them reading out poetry from a verse done acapella with no beat live on stage versus the studio releases they did?

There was absolutely a time where spoken word poetry and rap music were seen as two distinguishable artforms but particularly within the past few years it seems that with a lot more variance in mainstream rap music where by you see free-verse styles becoming an acceptable mode of delivery. I think of someone like Dave who is very poetic in his freestyle, longer verse songs. But having been heavily influenced by Omar Offendum, his use of Arabic poetry in his music especially helped me to normalize the use of poetry, particularly that which is distinctly from our own culture, to be incorporated into my musical forays.

Reading and listening to spoken word poets like Mark Gonzales or Anthony Anaxagoru gave me a healthy perception of the artform, leading me on to the likes of traditional poets such as Khalil Gibran or Nizar Qabbani and Allama Iqbal. I liked that contemporary spoken word artists were able to speak about basically anything that they wanted; because of what constitutes mainstream hip hop as a young artist you almost feel compelled to stay within certain lanes and subject matter in your lyrics. Although this is something which is beginning to change now perhaps. It's easier for artists to talk about their feelings too; growing up rap music didn't really have much of a space for this because it was viewed as feminine, weak or associated with traditional poetry.Yet when you go even further back, you see this wasn’t the case with rap music from the late 80s or early 90s; it was something that occurred as the music became an industry and was heavily corporatized with label execs determining the scope and direction musicians work would take.

Yet personally, to me rap music has always been deeply poetic and were it not for a simple boom bap beat much of my favorite artists' work would not be distinguishable from what we perceive as traditional poetry. The likes of Nas or Tupac were phenomenal because they routinely pushed the boundaries not just in terms of creating a compelling persona that stood out adjacent to their generational peers but particularly because of the topics they chose to address. Rhyming patterns aside or breadth of vocabulary, the way in which words in spoken form evoke feeling is consistent with the effect they have on a reader engaging with written poetry, right? So then why is one considered a superior art form and the other not?

I remember the rapper Akala making this point quite eloquently; as to why don't we see young artists, who're often berated and looked down upon, as Shakespeare's of their time? It's classist and frankly racist that rap music has been stripped of being held in the same regard because of it's heavy use of not just slang but overwhelming connection to Black culture and history in the United States. Yes, the language may be derogatory in instances but does that really take away from the breadth of emotion/ pain transmitted through music let alone it being a vehicle for communal self-empowerment against systematic violence as Black people in America have endured for centuries? Absolutely not. So for me, spoken word poetry as a byproduct of poetry and hip hop were still akin. Hip Hop is a radical literary movement against structural white supremacy if anything. I also wanted to create something as different to what constitutes a mainstream hit as could be; so I really delved into the poetic aspect for this piece. I didn’t restrict myself in any way when it comes to writing 16 bar verses or being confined to the traditional industry standard of needing to have a chorus for example. I wanted this to be a piece that freed me from any expectation as to what we view as normal and contemporary or that gives you ‘success’ within the industry.

We ourselves as Muslims or South Asians especially, come out of a culture where poetry was an intrinsically vital part of social and intellectual life for over a millenia. Coming into Urdu from Persian, the term for poet, shayar and shayari for poetry, are borrowed from Arabic where the root of the word itself means that which is felt; so if we perceive all art through this lens how could Hip Hop not be considered poetic too when it resonates so deeply and brings out so much from inside of people. I always strive to tap into that- to convey feelings and to help you catch a sense of what I feel inside.

In pre Islamic Arabian folklore the poet was considered a mythical figure who possessed great magical power and thus their influence was highly regarded as greatly impactful to those who heard their words- which is almost symbolic of the quite literal effect words can have. It's unquantifiable by any measure yet immensely powerful. That potential to inspire and imagine is infinite. We’re constantly tapping into this reservoir where the limits are endless to what we can construct collectively when it comes to imagination and the potential of what we can invoke in a person.

This makes it far more of a responsibility in terms of what we allow to pass through to those who engage with our work. It isn’t just for me to find meaning or fulfillment through but doing so knowing that I can have an everlasting and incalculable effect on how someone sees themselves or engages with the world around them because of my words. The relationship between artist and consumer is becoming more and more intimate in this age of social media; music particularly leaves an imprint on us. That we cry when we listen to certain verses or depend on listening to certain songs to pull us through certain moments in our day says a lot about that role it plays and what it can be for someone. I try to remember that and stay true to my responsibility as an artist to uplift and educate at every opportunity I get when creating.

Why did you create Stolen and how does it relate to the Muslim experience in the USA?

It was definitely written as a reflective piece in the aftermath of the uproar that occured across the summer of 2020 and the horrific murder of George Floyd. I didn't just want to tap into the revolutionary fervour that was sweeping across the world in that moment and calling into question police brutality; I wanted to attempt to convey why these instances of police violence kept (and keep on) reoccurring in an almost identical fashion in the United States namely but actually across Canada or the UK and Europe. And when we discuss policing as a set of discriminatory practices or the over-policing of Black and Brown people in white majority countries we cannot do so without speaking about white supremacy. So my intention was to provide a historical analysis in poetry form but in doing so to help others understand why these murders are the byproduct of historical phenomenons, of systemic oppression, that is definitely in continuation. That we have structures in place which uphold this violence culturally, politically and economically. That particularly when we look at the US we see a codified, structural ideology that not only permits cops to harass, brutalize and kill Black men, women and children but actually necessitates it. That these instances don't exist within a vacuum but have historical precedence and are a norm in such a culture and society that championed bigotry and normalized the most grotesque forms of racial hierarchies to the point where it once considered Black people who as slaves chose to run away from their enslavement- as being mentally ill. If we cannot see the interdependence and overlapping nature of this systemic violence historically and today, if we cannot understand what forces it- we cannot end it let alone contend with why it happens. So my main motivation was to trace this violence back to the origins of these societies like the US or Canada which were settler-colonial projects primarily built to preserve and maintain the dominance of whiteness in every facet of their functionality. That we cannot speak about the modern prison without understanding it's roots within the institution of slavery and what necessitated the constant monitoring, control and suppression of Black and Indigenous people within the US. That we have to understand how slavery never really ended but was sustained through the reformed prison system and so branched into a far more diversified mechanism of regulating and dominating Black life. That we cannot inquire about why Black and Indigenous people are still the most likeliest to be locked up or killed by the police across North America when these institutions and practices exist within the paradigm of states created upon a brutal expansionism that was permeated on clearing the land and ethnically cleansing it of these population groups if not repressing and exploiting them.

The title itself, Stolen, refers to this idea that I had. When I think of that video, of making the mistake of watching it, of seeing what George Floyd went through as the officer refused to lift his knee despite the pleas; of hearing him call out for his mother and then that painful final moment where his body gives way. I really thought about that final moment because it stayed with me. As if his whole body collapsed one final time. There is something absolutely haunting about this fact that he was suffocated to death. It's excruciating. The thought makes the hairs on my neck stand up; that someone had the life choked out of them quite literally. The expansion of the chest and the relaxing of the lungs; that's all that life really is. And in our tradition we believe there is a significance beyond the symbolic as to what that breath means. It's the most basic yet intense expression of human hood.

We watched George Floyd struggle with every dying breath. And so I recalled how in our Islamic tradition we're told of a time before we came into this world when every soul found themselves in the presence of God in the sea of souls; where Allah breathed a part of his Ruh into us- Nafas Ar Rahman- the Breath of the All Merciful. It was said that we were in distress in our state of non-existence and the Breath of the Divine brought us relief by bringing us into this dunya. By giving us life itself. Bearing witness to his Oneness as we were entrusted with that part of Him inside of us. Thus kickstarting the process towards birth and our coming into this realm- where we ourselves take that first breath still sustained, suspended and dependent on what was breathed into us- which is renewed with every breath we ourselves take. That very breath takes us through this life towards our ultimate return to Him.

But it was this moment in which I just couldn't understand how someone could do that, watching that officer and the way he kept his knee pressed against George Floyd's neck. What sickness of the heart blinds you, that you can't hear a man's gasps or pleas? That you can't see the excruciating pain you're subjugating another life to; stifling him out of every breath without even an ounce of compassion? How much hatred do you have inside of you that you can just rob another life like that? And so I really wanted to explore that. I wanted to question and understand how and why someone can just do that and feel nothing in that moment; and once we look at that moment as part of a greater historical process and a psychological indoctrination which human beings are subject to as part of these cultures and systems- it makes it easier to understand as mortifying as it is. It was George Floyd's breath, that breath of the all merciful, which was taken from him that day. That same breath that exists inside of all our spirits and connects us to each other and the divine.

But I think the overarching theme I wanted to introduce audiences to was the concept of abolition. It's just tidbits that I cover in the song and it does make it difficult to encapsulate such a complex historical analysis into one piece but especially as non-Black people living within these societies the onus is so much greater, to upend and dismantle these systems of harm, to not just be vocal allies in a certain moment but to adopt a new and completely different way of viewing and interacting with others, ourselves and society. And when we speak of abolition it isn't just about abolishing a destructive practice and that's all. That it's done and dusted when we say no to policing in a certain way; because what would it achieve? Wouldn't it leave the door open for those practices to be reinforced? Prisons you have to understand, themselves, are a reform to capital punishment- so we can't allow any of it to just continue. So abolition calls on us to reorient the ways in which we engage with each other. Do we want to build a world based on punishment or one rooted in compassion and care? Do we want to continue living in a world where we abandon one another and allow for these destructive profiteers to ruin lives or do we envision a new world where we prioritize human welfare not war or devastation at the expense of human life?

Abolition is as much about imagining and creating a new world completely divorced and different from our contemporary one as it is about tearing that old one down. It's about reprioritizing resources away from harmful practices and towards communal safety and upliftment; it's about building a new world no longer shackled by the legacies of western colonialism and capitalism. It's for each and everyone of us to ask how can I be a better person? How do I incorporate the traits of divine mercy into how I interact with others every day? What do I prioritize when I do so? How is my function or employment harming others? As a politician, as a policeman, as a member of this society what do I enable or allow to happen? What does it mean in today's world when the Prophet said "He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while his neighbor goes hungry". So then how can we even begin to argue that the inequality that capitalist exploitation or the cruelty these socio-political structures produce is coherent with Islam? What does it mean to help others when the whole system is rigged? It's these questions we have to ask ourselves as we step into the world and begin to do the work towards creating a better one. There is definitely a duty and an obligation on each and every one of us when it comes to upholding the sanctity of life. This society and these super structures we see, from prisons, immigrant detention centers to police to military occupation forces or mining companies even for that matter, do not regard the sanctity of life- they aren’t built to protect it; they’re built to exploit and destroy it. Because within capitalist logic every material and living thing exists to be ultimately transformed into a source of or for profit. So when Allah places this obligation upon us as believers not to partake in harm but to protect life, both human and natural- the abolition of these systems becomes our haqq. We can’t just sit back and watch.

Furthermore it's vital for us as Muslims living in the West to remember that as we contend with Islamophobia and the rising tide of white supremacy, that it was Black Muslims commodified and brutalized, brought here through the Middle Passage who were the first victims of Islamophobia. Islamophobia began with them here. The settler colonial project and it's expansionism depended on slavery; on bringing them over from predominantly Muslim regions in Africa - to strip them of their identity and police their belief systems so they could aid in building these soceities and the economic successes it had. They weren't allowed to be Muslim. They weren't allowed to be themselves. That right was stolen from them. And in part that's what this song also refers to; the act of stealing- of denying a person their humanhood. The slave trade was the backbone that built capitalism as an economic system. The surplus that first produced profit in the West was made possible through the fact that slaves did not have to be paid anything for the labor they were forced to do. That was the primary capital that built and sustained these various modes and systems we now live through. So we owe it to ourselves as part of this Muslim ummah to remember them when we confront these mecahnisms of violence today.

And I do think especially as those living in relative privilege in the West that a responsibility falls upon us. I wholeheartedly believe that modern day, late-stage capitalism is antithetical to what we are taught as Muslims. There exists a culture in the west that not only pornographizes wealth and power but asks us to worship it; where we’re on this endless journey for insatiable joy and pleasure and that’s it. Stuck in this sort of decaying state of spiritual death because we can’t actually attain what we need. And we feel hopeless and powerless. If we really truly do submit our will to Allah as our faith asks us to, then how can we conceivably not be at odds with a society that has no place for the infinite or the soul but just ceaseless consumption, that preys on the vulnerable, that exploits death and pain, that has so egregiously systemitized the murder of poor people to service the privilege and dominance of a wealthy few? If anything we have a responsibility to question why things have been constructed the way they are, where we just choose to accept it as normalcy. You have to ask yourself why do we accept death and destruction of human life as secondary to property or why we aren’t concerned that half of humanity combined have less wealth than ten of the world’s richest men; where we see houseless people not only being pushed onto the streets due to rising living costs here in Toronto, but then brutally beaten by the police because the city wouldn’t let them live in encampments either. How as Muslims do we concern ourselves with systemic issues locally? You saw something similar with the Grenfell Fire travesty in London that is nothing short of corporate manslaughter the way in which so many state and private for profit institutions came together to not only let people live in precarious conditions, in buildings wrapped in inflammable cladding but the way in which they were able to shirk responsibility. Where we see massive deregulation, companies subsidized with taxpayer money and in bed with those same state institutions we expect to regulate and hold them accountable. When your government is subservient to corporate power, how will it ever be able to serve the interests of the most vulnerable in our society? It can’t. It cannot prioritize care when wealth is only made by punishing people for being poor. We exist within these networks and just layers upon layers of the most sophisticated structural violence that we are no longer upset by what we see- we’ve become desensitized and indifferent to much of the plight we witness. We watch as the US defense budget increases by $25 billion each year, knowing the arms companies whose pockets it lines and the weapons they manufacture - what does this mean to us? What are we trying to do about it? Do we look at the American imperial apparatus and think to ourselves it’s tentacles are so long it will never be defeated or do we look back at history, do we study those whose collectivized efforts time and time again defeated the behemoths of their time irregardless of how all consuming their power seemed.

One of my favorite rappers Lowkey had a lyric that says “....never think that you’re no one, remember a rope is strong because of strings interwoven”. And I think that beautifully captures not just the dilemma of this moment where we have been indoctrinated with this belief that we’re powerless against these domineering forces or taught that our words or actions do not mean anything. But they do. Because of what’s possible when we think and act together collectively. History not only shows this but it’s that very idea that pushes me to create the art that I do and to educate; that if it’s not me along with others then for someone somewhere I may be able to plant that seed, that kernel of belief and hope that will empower them to take a stand or do what’s necessary. Because we do live in a time where we’re bombarded by information and this sensory overload and I feel that that’s by design. Our attention is constantly drawn towards anything and everything we lose sight of what’s important let alone ourselves or humanity. We’re conditioned to neglect and ignore subsets of humanity or particular issues; choosing to instead drown them out with our own self-centeredness. That’s primarily a vital component of this society; that we forget and neglect certain people and histories because they don’t matter, because to acknowledge them means to stand in the way of profitability, to have to ask ourselves difficult questions about our condition as a society and the systems we enable and live through. How they feed and gorge on these people and their resources. So, it’s as much political as it is conscious or spiritual- what we’re dealing with. When we speak of mindfulness or God-consciousness I think it’s one in the same; to remember where we came from, to remember those and all that God created; of our sacred duty as part of that creation to honor and protect all life. So it’s about looking inwards and confronting yourself when it’s just you but also confronting the uneasy truths and discomforting aspects of our lived reality that sows harm and destruction societally. It means understanding metaphysics or pondering philosophical questions just as much as it means understanding economics and politics. We have to constantly go back and forth, we have to revisit and be willing to make that effort when it comes to remembrance of who we are, of where we come from, of what our ultimate purpose is. Reminders. Reminders. Reminders. We focus on all sorts of things to pass the time, to not have to look inwards, to not revisit and rekindle with the source of our humanity- to then see others through that same light. I don’t want people to forget not only about the important things but of what we all as individuals possess that connects us to each other. Whether you see that as a soul in which fragments of the same divine light exists or if that’s our ability to feel empathy and love each other as human beings - I want us to reconnect and harness that source. To protect and nourish it. And that’s what it’s all about for me.

Statues are ideological powerhouses that compress whole systems of authority into bodies of bronze or marble. With the wave of statue-felling sweeping across the United States and United Kingdom, it is clearer than ever that we are living at a time of iconoclasm. Stolen begins with the toppling of a statue, why did you choose to use this image and moment to reference a redistribution of power?

Well I think it's a part of human nature to look for if not build embodiments of ideology. We worship at their altars but we also destroy them when they outlive their worth. There is a metaphorical symbolism to destroying a statue, definitely. But we also live in a period of time where it's increasingly becoming more difficult to identify the idols of our times. Those moments of watching the statues being toppled or defaced was empowering as a result because of the violent legacies they represented. To one set of people they represented everything they disdained, to another they were their pride and legacy. And then there were those who passed them by every day not knowing what they represented or who those figures were. Choosing to topple or destroy a statue radicalized many, even those without prior knowledge of what has been going on or the significance of needing to do so- a literal breaking with the past. What will they build in their places? Who will they now glorify in stone and marble? It again harkens back to that question of what sort of world do we want to live in? Do we want to live in one where we memorialize and glorify enslavers and the most brutal of colonizers or one where every day people let alone those who triumphed against the evils of this world are remembered? Because there is a reason we choose to build statues and iconize individuals; it’s absolutely consistent with the ideals and principles we uphold as a society. So that’s why it was so triggering to those on the Right that there are people who no longer want to live in a world where we just accept white supremacy as historical normalcy. I wanted to symbolize that breaking away from the past because it’s such a powerful and literal action; to destroy a statue of a Confederate Army general represents something beyond just the property that’s being demolished - you’re emancipating yourself from a past as well as refusing to accept a certain view of the world that’s being enforced upon you. I wanted to pay homage to those who had been in the streets, resisting and taking part in such powerful actions.

How did you select the visuals for Stolen including film and photography?

I very much so wanted to establish a cross reference to historical and contemporary histories. So there’s a lot of footage we dug through to not just showcase what was happening in cities across the US but how much of it wasn’t so different to the actions and protests that were occurring in these same places only decades before. I constantly refer back to the Black Panthers and their actions, to celebrated figures within the Black Power movement during the 60s and 70s because I wanted to evoke this memory. To showcase not only the fact that for many, we’ve been here before, but that perhaps the same forms of resistance and same brand of radical politics that prioritizes that sense of community, is what we need to tap into once again.

You used the timeless poetry of the acclaimed Pakistani poet Habib Jalib as part of Stolen. What do you hope to evoke through his words?

Again, the intention with including Habib Jalib on this track was to bridge these gaps that exist within our shared struggles and communal efforts to build a better world. His Dastoor, a poem which speaks of a system; of the time under the dictatorship of General Ayub Khan in Pakistan, was something that students protesting the draconian anti-Muslim citizenship bill in India two years ago were reciting. It’s a piece that talks of oppression but also of hope; of defiance. And listening to his words in this nazam, he speaks of this force that takes its strength from others, from weakening them. When I saw that horrifying video of George Floyd being brutalized as he was, I remembered these exact words. But also this idea of what is lost and what is stolen in any instance of oppression. So my intention was to evoke that same feeling within the listener, for those in my community, that when I spoke of the systemic and literal violence so grotesquely targeting Black people in America, Urdu speakers would be able to grasp at this scenario of what was going on. Those in the South Asian community, more often than not are indifferent to such plight that they feel far removed from, which seems usually to be a byproduct of our own racism and anti-Black sentiments- so I wanted to use Habib’s poetry to bridge that lapse by communicating ways in which our elders particularly could understand what’s been happening.

Do you think you can relate Stolen to public collecting institutions and the artefacts in Museums and Galleries related to Islamic art? Do you ever consider how they were acquired and why they are there?

I think when any of us visit such institutions and places the first question we should be asking is “how did that get there?” or “why is that here?”. Because wherever we look in the Western world, wherever you have exhibits and displays of artifacts and artwork from different parts of the world you have to realize none of it is where it should be because it’s right here in front of us. By being here, it means it was taken in one way or another. Not to mention that what actual purpose do such museums serve in a wider context? So to answer your question, I have to wonder why I’m staring at something that originates from the Muslim world here in the West? This very concept of hoarding items and attaching value to them because of their exoticness, because of the great distances they’ve traveled or the histories of those otherized by the West, that they hold - is a product of not just orientalist perceptions of us and our homelands but this twisted need to take and then showcase that Western culture seems to have normalized. I find it odd and strange to be quite honest. It’s one thing to want to learn and remember our histories, but this very act of viewing these items is unsettling. You have to remember it wasn’t too long ago that in the United States amongst other places such as in Belgium or the UK you have human beings brought over from Africa and Asia also housed up and put in place to be viewed in similar spaces. So I’m always reserved when it comes to expressing my enthusiasm. I love history, I daresay I love the idea of going to a museum like the Aga Khan to learn about our own cultures and histories through art and artifacts, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a power dynamic at play within these institutions because back home we rarely have the resources to sustain, keep or house these priceless items. Why do they have to travel halfway across the world in the first place? You can’t help but ask this question.

Which artists inspire you?

That's a tough one to answer when there's so many. The beautiful thing about being an artist, and something you come to understand really is seeing yourself as part of a long chain of artists, creators, musicians and visionaries. I used a jazz beat on this Stolen track for a reason. I wanted to connect all these different identities in this one body of work; where I’m speaking of mainly Black suffering and I’m speaking to my own community, and Jazz music coming out of the Blues and vice versa, if you look at it, as Dr. Cornel West spoke about it- there’s a lot of grief in it but also courage because there’s that soul. Slaves would sing in the fields as an act of defiance. Any sort of oral tradition, just as you have scholars in Islam who uphold traditions and keep scholarly and intellectual legacies alive, within Hip Hop you see yourself as part of something far greater and bigger than yourself. It’s as much a chain as it is a community. It’s not just about this responsibility to speak truth to power which I alluded to earlier but seeing yourself as someone carrying forward this musical tradition that spans centuries and continents. What morphed into rap music came out of the blues, which incidentally also inspired rock and roll music as well, and jazz before that- all strong Black artforms borne out of the pain and strife that they experienced through enslavement. It’s part of that legacy of soul music. That legacy of spirituals they’d sing in the fields, god centric spiritual music that spoke of determination and overcoming adversity can be stretched back to what many carried over through the Middle Passage from places like West Africa where you had Griots, who were court poets but namely Muslim and would recite long forms of poetry over wind instruments as well as drum beats they’d memorized. They were these vessels and custodians really of history and culture which they relayed through their poetry; passing through each generation and carrying it forwards. And I can’t just make this music and not pay homage let alone understand or realize that legacy which precedes me. So coming of age in the West, especially during the War on Terror era, rap music spoke to me because you have these artists talking about feeling alienated or hardship, as a Muslim kid with few people in mainstream settings I could relate with the likes of Nas and Tupac or Rakim or Mos Def or Wu Tang were the ones I bonded with. But more so discovering Muslim artists like Lupe Fiasco who was absolutely huge by the time I was entering my teens and then later on Immortal Technique, Lowkey, Narcy and Omar Offendum- they really inspired me to be unapologetic in my politics as a Muslim. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, I wouldn’t be the man I am, I wouldn’t have discovered Malcolm or have the principles or vision I have today had it not been for these artists in particular. They definitely instilled me with this motivation to not just create music but they were proof that if they could do this for me, how could I not do the same for countless others out there too. So I have huge respect for them and the doorways they’ve opened up for a whole generation of young Muslims in diaspora who really didn’t have any platform to navigate creative spaces yet they did that for us. They gave us this belief and essentially for me it was that I didn’t have to conform or be something I didn’t want to be just because I should be afraid of how I’ll be perceived.

What do you imagine is the potential for the future of Islamic art and spoken word, through reflecting on the past?

This is something that is important to address. I don't think there is any future if we don't constantly engage with our past. We're living through a time where we have such potential as a collective. We see it within a lot of the great content Muslims create online in all sorts of varying spaces and disciplines; we gain a lot of attention and respect in these fields too. But it also seems like we’re living through a time where there is a great deal of overarching despair and hopelessness that carries a permanence to it too. We find it across so much of our lives and it may just be a downside of being so interconnected and overstimulated. But I feel a lot of it has to do with these identities we juggle, especially in the West, where, as cliche as it may sound, we really struggle to find ourselves. And I think in order for us to really overcome that we have to remember and engage with the places and histories we come from. We have to recognize our place in this world and again, evoking this idea of a chain- where we fall in place within it. The Poet Amir Suliman once said, “You’re going to be someone’s ancestor one day, so act accordingly”, and that’s it right there for me. There’s a world to come after us, there’s generations to come after us. We don’t know what’s going to happen next and that’s a scary thought but for me it’s a liberating one too- you let go of all expectation and you put your trust and faith by submitting yourself to Allah and do what you have to. You still plant those seeds for tomorrow. We’re just a drop in the ocean and another footprint in the sand, like so many who came before us and we’re carrying forward a legacy. You have to go back, you have to remind yourself and remind others of who you are. That’s the only way you’ll know how to move forwards. And I think creating something, something which will outlast us whilst striving for excellence through that discipline- that’s what we should be striving to do. We have doctors and engineers and we’ll always need those as a society; but there’s a dearth of poets and writers; of artists and imagineers. And that’s what we really need; to tap into what’s deep inside of all of us. Spiritually and collectively that’s what keeps us going as a community; remembrance creates and solidifies permanence or you’re forgotten. And we can’t allow ourselves to forget, let alone others.

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