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  Summer 2012
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Sufi Rapper: The Spiritual Journey of Abd al Malik

Jeffery Beam

  Sufi Rapper: The Spiritual Journey of Abd al Malik.
Abd al Malik.
Jon E. Graham, translator.
Inner Traditions, 2004.
163 pages, $16.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1594772789

Sufism has often found its teachers and saints among the outcast and the heretical. French rapper Abd al Malik, 36, of Congolese descent, grew up in a Parisian banlieue (ghetto), destined, seemingly, to a life of drugs and crime. Instead he eventually formed the rap group New African Poets in the 1990s, and then followed with three solo recordings, one of the most recent being Dante. He became an international star, winning numerous awards, including the Prix Constantin, a Victoires de la Musique and the French government's Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for contributions to the arts. He married the R&B singer, Wallen, and has one child.

Sufi Rapper tells his story beginning with the birth of his younger brother and this sentence, "I was already three years old when I was born in the fourteenth arrondissement of Paris." At the age of two, Abd (baptized Regis) and his family moved to the Congo so that his father could enter a high level job in the Congolese government. Malik's younger brother, Fayette, was born there, and this period gave birth to Malik's first memories—"the happiest time of my life." But soon they returned to Paris so his father could attend journalism school and thus Malik's world became the world of ghettoized immigrants, "one of destitution and ostracism."

Luckily, despite his early involvement as a pick-pocket in the routine crime surrounding him, and the temptations of the drug culture, his studiousness and intelligence won his admission to prominent schools in Strasbourg. At first, this didn't inhibit his criminal pursuits but as he watched his peers become addicts, end up in prison, or even worse, murdered, he found himself drawn to Islam. This too presented a dilemma. It was easy to enter fundamentalist circles and be brain-washed into hatred. But again his innate sensitivity and wisdom, and his love of music, led him to Moroccan Sufi master Sidi Hamza al-Qadiri al-Butchichi, whose message of universal love eventually transformed Mailk's life and music.

Malik's honesty and spirituality shine through Sufi Rapper. Luminous insights lay bare the struggles of the spiritual path: "The intuition of something beyond the immediate reality, the wings behind the stage here the meaning of the world was in play, had, until this time [when he discovered the Tariqa brotherhood in Morocco of Amadou Hampete Ba] remained purely an act of faith for me, and this only fed my dissatisfaction. Expanding the field of my religious education had been in vain: the source of being still remained hidden away there without my ceasing to believe in its meaning. My actions, my attitudes, and my frustrations only definitely formulated one major question out of all those posed to me by life: who did this meaning veil from me?"

Traveling to Morocco Malik meets Faouzi Skali, an anthropologist and teacher at the Fez Ecole Normal. "A Muslim practicing in pure orthodoxy, this man placed his entire teaching on a universal plane that dissolved, as if by magic, the black-and-white vision of the world that I had been taught." "Adam," he told Malik, "received the 'Mind of God' within." By virtue of his repentance after the fall, as told in the Muslim tradition, he is the First Prophet. "He is the mirror in which divine Reality manifests. It so happens that whatever can be said about Adam is also valid for all of his descendants, for all the individuals of the human race inherited his holy spirit, whatever their sex, race, or tradition."

This transformative lesson went beyond changing Malik as a man, but also transformed him as an artist—one with purpose and meaning—and an understanding of the power that his music, rap music, had in translating Sufic principles into the popular culture. He ends his narrative with "Globalization is not a plague but a gift; provided that it permits humanity to raise itself into a modernity capable of feeding on this legacy we call spiritual traditions, this universal light that I call God." An appendix offers extracts from lyrics to Malik's songs. "Today the color of my skin is no longer a flag / Just a rainbow reflecting the universal . . . If stupidity divides wisdom makes one . . . Cultures offer riches so that we may meet one another . . . Black and White it's the same thing as I've already told you."

. . .