Can Muslims Be Cool?

Hipsters. Muslim Hipsters. Mipsters. Hipslims. Hipjabis (I just made that up). G’s. OG’s. Thugs. YOLO, selfies and carefully crafted profile descriptions like “Life is full of scars” and “It’s never been the same without you” in lower caps font, a mysterious tumblr account and BAM! There you go. Coolness. Just like that. It can’t be more complicated, right?

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What is “Cool”?

To the everyday person, the common definition of cool is someone who participates in the freshest trends in popular culture, technology and more recently fashion. Right now, that means rocketing rates of smartphone usage, skinnier and brighter apparel and of course as usual for every generation is an increasing sense of rebellion, asserted independence and all that comes with raging hormones and a super-fast smartphone. But when you add Islam and Muslims to the picture…well it becomes less of a picture and more like an over-scripted Bollywood movie with super-drama and inconvenient intermissions. But no worries, I’ll make it super simple for you to understand. Based on my experience, insight, and research, I have categorized the general patterns of the Muslim Cool experience into the following:

Pop Cool

Goes with the flow of popular culture and technology with little or effective public and private integration of deen (faith)

Muslim Cool

Combines the flow of popular culture and technology with deen

  • Hijabi bloggers using Youtube and Instagram to increase reach of content

  • Muslim apparel companies using e-commerce to globalize products

  • Activist organizations using Facebook and Twitter as vehicles for change

Ihsan Cool

Creates the fusion of popular culture and technology with deen

  • El Seed – Pioneer in the art of Arabic graffiti calligraphy

  • Peter Gould – Leader in creating brands and designs for Muslim audiences

  • Abdelrahman Murphy, Usama Canon – Revolutionizing youth daw’ah with safe spaces for productive spiritual growth

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Was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his Companions (RA) “Cool”?

A devout Muslim would immediately bring up the legitimate point of whether coolness was a trait of the Prophet (PBUH) and his respective companions. It’s not an easy question to answer, but I will do my best to look at both sides of the coin because our conversation is useless if we have no reference to our Prophetic tradition.

Yes, they were Cool in their own authentic, genuine way:

Relevance

Their message, community, and behaviours were relevant to the Makkans, hence the conversions of Abu Bakr, Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Uthman bin Affan; including relentless enemies such as Khalid ibn Waleed and Abu Sufiyan.

Inspiring

Despite the many haters, even from his own family – he was still known as Al-Amin (The Trustworthy). He was able to maintain this reputation despite all the hate, discrimination and ill-will expressed against him.

Innovative

During very deadly and intense situations in encounters with the Makkans that made it seem like there was no way out, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) continuously outwitted his opponents socially, emotionally, psychologically, and spirituallly often resulting in his opponents being awe-struck and amazed, sometimes to the point of conversion.

No, they were not cool because they were above that:

Less is More – Lack of Materialism

Today, coolness is often marked and associated with expressions of materialism. Coolness within that time was marked by tendencies of aestheticism. For them, less was more. Then again, they did want materials, but not of this life – they wanted the materials of Jannah – milk, honey, dates, immortality, etc. To get there, they knew that they would have to sacrifice the materialism of this life. Hey, at least they were real with themselves. Pretty dope deal if you ask me.

Lead and Follow – Neither Sheep Nor Shepherd

There was neither extreme of absolute leadership or fellowship – which distinguished Islam from other religions. Despite Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) being the last and final Prophet of Islam, he too at times would set aside his leadership to take advice from Allah when he ignored the man who was blind who wished to speak to him or when he delegated the leadership of a military operation to a very young man, Usama bin Zaid. While coolness today is often seen as either leadership or fellowship, our tradition expresses a healthy combination of both.

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How does being “Cool” exist inside of spirituality and religion? 

Niyyah (intention)

Why are you trying to be cool? Is your sole purpose to simply impress and show up others? Do you want to be the coolest person in the room to feed your ego? Or does being cool mean being yourself, and being yourself is expressing your faith in the way that you know best? Maybe it’s just a language you use to communicate with other people?

Ibadah (worship)

If you believe being cool has a productive and positive impact on yourself, your family, your community, and your relationship with Allah SWT, does it count as worship if you’ve made the intention? Or is being cool having a negative impact on yourself, your family, your community, and your relationship with Allah? How do you know where to begin and end “coolness”?

Sharia (sacred law)

Does being cool have a place in the sacred law and tradition of Islam? Or does it already have or not have a place in the shariah and we just don’t know because of our limited understanding of the Islamic intellectual radition? Do we need to do more research or are we wasting our time dealing with something that isn’t really important? Will this be an issue for our future generations and children in North America? Are we going to wait before it’s too late or do we have more important issues to worry about?

Reality Check

In 2008-2010, I was not much of a Muslim. At the time, I thought coolness was woven into the threads of clothing that the cool kids wore: jerseys, fitted hats, and basketball shoes. I thought coolness was exhaled through the smoke from a blunt of marijuana. I thought coolness was poured out of an expensive alcoholic drink into a red cup. I thought coolness survived by hurting those who cared the most around you and shoving them aside. I looked and searched for coolness everywhere, except in my self. I didn’t know the whole time, the coolest thing I could do was just to be my self.

Now I’ve set myself on a journey that appears to be dark, lonely, and strange to the world of “coolness” but is perhaps full of light, togetherness,  warmth and maybe, just maybe….that’s the coolest thing I’ve got. We always look outside for an understanding of what is cool, but maybe the answer has been under our noses the whole time. So go ahead, look inside. Find your cool.

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