The Emergence of Muslim American Gospel

The ever-postive DJ Khaled has “another one” up his sleeve. With the release of “GOD DID” in August, Khaled leaned into his Muslim faith and identity to further pioneer the emerging Muslim American gospel scene.

Khaled, perhaps the most prominent Asian American musician not named Bruno Mars, brings together tons of big name artists from across hip-hop, R&B, and rap in the album in a celebration of faith. The lyrics in songs like “BEAUTIFUL,” “GOD DID,” and “USE THIS GOSPEL” feature an emphasis on spirituality across religions. The album represents a unity across Christians, Muslims, and non-religious folks producing music together.

Muslim American gospel takes the foundations of gospel music and tweaks it for the diverse present day. The genre recasts the spirituality and religious fervor present in white Christian gospel into an Islamic context. This kind of gospel samples from established sounds such as R&B and hip-hop, which originated in the United States (particularly within the Black American community).

Photo credit: Haley Rivera

Khaled has experimented with this new sound over his past few albums. He samples from soul, gospel, rap, R&B, and hip-hop. Soul and gospel vocals emerge from featured artists on like John Legend, and that emphasis on religion continues in the lyrics and up-tempo rhythms established in rap choruses on other songs. Regardless of the genre Khaled draws from, the spirituality in the songs remains consistent through the album.

Muslim American faith is hidden but not forgotten

The emergence of modern Muslim American gospel speaks to the prominence of the community in the arts and an acceptance not two decades prior. The genre reflects decades-long relationships between the Asian diaspora and the Black community in North America.

Religion has always been central to Khaled, son of Palenstinian immigrants to America, but the perception of Muslims in American society caused him to bury parts of his identity. After 9/11, the musician dropped his early stage name “Arab Attack” and toned down specific references to Islam.

With the release of 2021 album KHALED KHALED, his music stepped back into his Muslim faith. Before, Khaled’s references to God and spirituality blended in with the trend of rappers referencing Christianity. The album cover pictures him praying on a janamaz, a prayer mat commonly associated with Islam.

It’s hard to imagine such an album cover in the years following 9/11. But twenty years later, the album cover—and Khaled’s faith—received little discussion.

The forgotten Asian Americans?

Modern Muslim gospel owes part of its creation to the isolation of certain groups of Asians in America.

After 9/11, many folks with roots in Southwest Asia and North African–prominent Muslim regions of the world–became disassociated with racial categories like Asian American. Instead they were “Middle Eastern.” This cultural isolation caused Muslims in America to become distant in the public’s mind from Asian Americans.

Today, there is renewed discussion about the race of Southwest Asian and North African Americans. The U.S. census marks the group as white, which has sparked pushback from the community. The music of the population shows a relationship with communities of color.

Khaled stands among other artists who are developing their Muslim gospel. Anik Khan, a Bangladeshi American musician, blend genres to create this up-tempo and soulful Muslim gospel, too. Hereferences to his immigrant stories, Muslim identity, and multicultural hometown of Queens, New York. French Montana, a Moroccan immigrant raised in America, leaned into his Muslim identity more as well. Montana’s recent songs like Salam and Salam Alaykum represent a decisive maneuver to gesture back to his roots.

Montana, like Khaled, is part of Middle Eastern group that slides between Asian American and Black. The collaborations by both artists with Black artists through a shared Islamic faith showcases that connection.

Strengthening the Muslim American identity

Photo Credit: Monstera

All these artists are becoming more open about their identity. The Muslim diaspora is continuing to drown out the anti-Islamic sentiments of the post-9/11 world. With their art and collaborations with Black artists, these Muslim American artists created their own genre.

For Muslim American, being able to now see more of themselves in music represents a point of healing and restoration. The inclusion and experimentation represent an exciting starting point for musicians from the margins to come into the spotlight and showcase how their identity informs the art they release.

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