Muhammad’s ‘rap’ honours March 15

Music is haram, unless it’s glorifying muslims.

Quran 5:89. God will not impose blame upon you for what is meaningless*249 in your oaths, *249 i.e., what is sworn to only out of habit of speech or what one utters carelessly without true intent.

66.2 Allah has already ordained for you the dissolution of your oaths…

8:72. Indeed, those who have believed and emigrated and fought with their wealth and lives in the cause of God and those who gave shelter and aided – they are allies of one another.

Quran 3.28 Let not believers take disbelievers as allies…

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Shortly after the March 15 terror attacks, in which 51 people lost their lives during two horrifying mosque shootings in Christchurch, Mohamed Muse decided to do something.

The Auckland rapper, who goes by the nickname “Mo”, had personal connections to the Al Noor Mosque, the first to be targeted on that grim Friday afternoon.

As a pharmacy student at the University of Otago, he’d drive up from Dunedin and pray there during breaks, sometimes playing football with fellow worshippers afterwards.

Muse, who is 26 years old but speaks with the authority of someone much older, knew many of the people targeted, including some of those who were killed.

“I’m so close with the Christchurch community,” he says. One of his friends was shot in the leg, another sent him updates as it was happening.

Muse’s grief was intense, so he turned to Twitter. “I had so much on my mind, so much in my head,” he says. “I ended up being that guy on Twitter, sharing my bulls…”

Quran 3:138. This [Qur?an] is a clear statement to [all] the people and a guidance and instruction for those conscious of God. 139. So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers. 140. If a wound should touch you ?there has already touched the [opposing] people a wound similar to it. And these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people so that God may make evident those who believe and [may] take to Himself from among you martyrs ? and God does not like the wrongdoers
141. And that God may purify the believers [through trials] and destroy the disbelievers. 142. Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while God has not yet made evident those of you who fight in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast? 143. And you had certainly wished for death [i.e., martyrdom] before you encountered it, and you have [now] seen it [before you] while you were looking on.

After a few days of tweeting, Muse decided he was wasting his time. “I’ve got a gift in music,” he said to himself. “Why not channel this energy into my music?”

So Muse, who works at a South Auckland pharmacy, spent his spare time crafting a song that would both honour the victims, and help him deal with his grief.

Initially, he didn’t think anyone would hear the song he called Friday, so he didn’t hold back. “It could have been avoided,” he rapped. “Not a lone wolf, but a known wolf … Friday is a day they can never take from us.”

“That was a scary song,” he says. “I was very unapologetic. I had a lot of things to say. I didn’t want to get it out there. As selfish as it sounds, that song was for me to process the attack.”

But he went ahead and recorded a stark black-and-white video, rapping solemnly into the camera as friends and family members held up cards chalked with the names of those who lost their lives.

At 1.45pm on the four-week anniversary of the attack, something clicked. Muse turned away from his counter, pulled out his phone, pushed publish on the clip he’d pre-loaded to Facebook, then turned it off.

After work, he checked his messages. The response was overwhelming. Social media had lit up. Local and overseas news sites picked up the video.

Not for the first time, Muse had spoken up, and his words had a major impact. “It ended up being something totally bigger than me,” he says, “something shared globally”.

He was asked to give interviews, but Muse turned them all down. He’d said what he needed to say.

Despite the song’s success, the moment was bittersweet. “I should never have had to make a song like that – ever,” he says. “It’s not a song that I can enjoy or appreciate.

“I still feel uncomfortable listening to that song. That’s how powerful it is.”

For weeks afterwards, Muse felt the impact of the attacks. He struggled with writer’s block. He was supposed to be working on his debut album, but words stopped coming.

“It was a blank. I don’t think I wrote any music. I took a break from everything,” he says. “I was at my lowest point. I didn’t get any satisfaction from releasing that video. The only satisfaction was from the responses of the people affected. Nothing else mattered.

“I was like, ‘Man, I just dropped this powerful song. What now?'”

Muse only started performing a few years ago. As a student in Dunedin, he started writing rhymes between lectures, rapping over borrowed beats, then posting the results on YouTube.

He quickly rose through the ranks, performing regularly at small venues like Re:Fuel, then scoring opening slots for Gorillaz and Twista. He got good, fast.

“People are like, ‘You started rap so late, how’d you get this good?'” he says. “You don’t just wake up and be a rapper. There’s decades of listening, being a student. When I started writing, I was trash.”

When he released Friday, Muse thought he might be done with music. The creative block got to him.

Then he got a message from David Dallas, a New Zealand rap veteran, that changed his mind. He wanted Muse to contribute to 64 Bars, a showcase of young, local rappers whose skills are tested over a three-minute drum loop.

“I hadn’t written in a month,” says Muse, “but I was ready for it. That was a lifesaver for me. I wrote the greatest 64 [bars] I’ve ever written in my life.”

Feeling fresh, Muse returned to work. He had snippets of unfinished songs, but nothing cohesive. It was a puzzle that needed to be put together. Muse realised that when he spoke, people were connecting to his story.

So he started to tell it.

Back in 1993, when Mo Muse was just one, his parents fled their home in Somalia, which was in the middle of a Civil War. They arrived in New Zealand as refugees, but the trip here was long and brutal.

“Survival meant a voyage by sea to the neighbouring Yemen,” he told NZME in a rare interview in June.

“That journey was lethal. The voyage had a 50 per cent chance of survival and we were literally sailing over corpses while I was in my mother’s arms.”

Muse hasn’t been back, but his parents have told him about how bad life was back home. “It just turned into a humanitarian crisis … total anarchy and collapse.”

Once he realised he could use his origin story in his music, Muse found his voice. After 64 Bars, words started flowing again. He realised he wasn’t just writing for himself anymore.

“I had to make an album that solidified my identity – and the collective identity – and that is the plight of the first generation,” he says of refugee children who came to New Zealand in the ’90s, just like him.

Muse says he, and others like him, are undervalued.

“I wanted the album to be a checkpoint for all of us first-generation kids. We all have our own voices – and they’re really powerful.”

So Muse called his album The First Generation LP and started rapping about his life. Over a background of soul-drenched samples and summery drum loops, Muse painted his picture.

Everyone who became involved, including the album’s producers and guests, and fellow rappers Raiza Biza? and Abdul Kay, is a first-generation kid, just like him.

The album’s centrepiece, the one Muse says everyone wants to talk to him about, is called Sleep Paralysis Interlude. It’s “a diary entry, a letter to myself”, charting his journey to this moment, told through the prism of sleep paralysis, something he’s suffered from for a long time.

In it, he raps: “Coming to this country was a voyage never planned / In a refugee camp with all their papers in hand / Handed a second-chance at life in a foreign land.”

Mo Muse has, so far, tried to avoid interviews. He’s turned down far more than he’s granted. He didn’t agree to any after the release of Friday and he didn’t do much around the time his album was released.

But, when Muse chooses to talk, they tend to be words worth listening to.

Back in May, Muse contributed to an episode of current affairs show Sunday that criticised a little-known loophole in the government’s immigration policy. That loophole meant New Zealand would only accept refugees from Africa or the Middle East if they had a family link here.

“Who has a family link in New Zealand? It’s ridiculous,” says Muse. “It’s a very smart way of saying, ‘Let’s limit the population of refugees’, and it’s crazy, because they’re the people that are most in need.”

Muse told Sunday, the policy had direct links to what happened in Christchurch. “It’s the same premise that got 50 people killed,” he said. “The policy doesn’t fit with the ‘You are us, we are them’ mantra.”

The story worked, and, in early October, the controversial policy was scrapped after being labelled “discriminatory and racist” by Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon.

Muse was invited to talk after that, too, including a spot with John Campbell on TVNZ’s Breakfast show. He turned it down. “I just let the fireworks go off,” he says. “I’ve done what I can. I’ve given my face and my voice.”

So, when Stuff got in touch, he was reluctant. “There was a hesitancy,” he says. “What’s this about?”

It’s about him. Muse is many things: a pharmacist, a brother, a son, a gifted narrator, someone who isn’t afraid to stand up and use his voice when it’s needed.

He wants to be known for more than that. Now, he wants to let his music do the talking. So far, it seems to be working. Feedback for his album has been positive. Recently, he performed at his album release party in Auckland. Muse hopes to play more shows around the country and has summer shows planned too.

But it’s not easy being a rapper when you can’t talk about your career back home. Muse still lives with his family. His parents know he’s a musician, but he doesn’t talk about it in front of them.

“That is a quintessential first-generation dilemma,” he says, “hiding your passion from your parents.”

The other day, Muse was sitting around the dinner table with his siblings when his parents left the room.

His sister looked at Muse and said: “Man, you being a rapper is the worst kept secret in our house.”

It’s unlikely to be a secret for much longer.