Friday, December 24, 2010

Exclusive Interview with Kareem Salama

The interview you have been waiting for!!!

I'm extremely grateful to Kareem Salama for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer our long questions.

He is educated, talented, and a GREAT role model!  He is a perfect example of how someone can go to great lengths to make a difference in the world!

Here is the interview you will not want to miss!

The one and only, Kareem Salama

Photo courtesy of  Julie Soefer

Where are you originally from?

I was born and raised in a small town in Oklahoma. My parents immigrated to the US in the late 60s, early 70s for school.

You come from a very educated family, could you tell us about your parents?

My father received his doctorate from MIT and my mother received two Masters Degrees from Northeastern University and then later received her doctorate from Oklahoma State.

And what is your educational background?

I received a Bachelors of Science in Chemical Engineering and Jurist Doctorate in Law.

What did you do after graduation?

I have practiced engineering and law. I clerked for a district judge in Houston Texas and also for the Chemical Patents department at ExxonMobil.

Which field are you working in now?

I currently draft all contracts for the media company that releases my work and plan on continuing to practice law in the future.

So you don't sing for a living?

Just a hobby. Never planned on doing what I’m doing and singing/songwriting certainly isn’t all I want to do. But I feel this is the appropriate thing to do at this point in my life.

So how did your singing adventure start?

I liked writing songs and when I was in my late teens I began writing melodies to classical Western poems in order to memorize them (this is a practice used in Arabic poetry). I started becoming a more serious songwriting soon thereafter.

Where does the country flavor to your music come from, and why did you choose country music?

The “country” flavor to my music comes from my upbringing in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is renowned for country music and country music artists. I grew up around it. I also like that country music has an older/traditional feel. It feels reverent and fits my lyrical content best.

Do you sing other genres of music?

My music is a hybrid of country, pop and rock but the country element is probably the most obvious.

Do you write all your songs?

I write all of my songs.

Wow! How long have you been singing professionally?

I’ve been performing for about 6-7 years on and off. But up until recently it remained a hobby. I’ve released 2 albums but we are now releasing a mainstream album and we recently released the first single from this album which is a rewritten and reproduced version of a song called Generous Peace.

Where have you performed?

I have performed all over…Italy, France, the UK, Netherlands, US, Germany.

And you met President Obama!

Yes. I was invited to an Iftar dinner by President Obama. There were a number of governmental officials and dignitaries including ambassadors, congressmen, Defense Secretary Gates, David Axelrod, etc. I did not perform at the event but the President spoke to me about the possibility of having me come to the White House to perform. He was very gracious at the dinner.

Could you tell us a little about your childhood?

My childhood was very ideal. I typically describe it like the movie “The Sandlot.” It was a classic American childhood: playing baseball with the neighborhood kids, toilet papering houses, playing kick the can in the summer time, sitting on the porch with friends drinking lemonade. I have great memories of my childhood. In fact I want our next video to be a reflection of my memories as a child. I was also fortunate enough to be raised by loving, supportive, devout and open minded parents. I see some parents whose idea of devotion actually makes their children rebel against their faith, however my parents were compassionate and patient and as a result I grew to love my faith and see its beauty naturally.

What kind of sports did you participate in growing up?

When I was young I played lots of sport recreationally or on a team: baseball, ping pong, swimming, tennis, wrestling, basketball and boxing.

What do you feel is unique about boxing? What does boxing really teach?

I learned focus. Boxing is a sport that requires an incredible amount of focus. The stakes are too high to lose focus. It teaches the human being how to collect his thoughts and turn away from irrelevant thoughts. The human being must do the same in his/her thikr.

What was the reason behind the boxing scene in the Generous Peace video?

I wanted to illustrate that the desire to respond to ugliness with beauty should be rooted in virtue and not fear. In other words you can forgive someone or make empty calls for “peace” because you are simply afraid of the person in which case the human being is not only insincere but he/she is cowardly. Tolerance should be rooted in principle and a genuine desire to forgive and pardon. So in the video, the boxing scenes were meant to indicate that although, my character can defend himself he chooses to pardon the mockers and in fact later on helps them get their wallet back. It’s a simple and universal idea but again, it seems to have been somewhat forgotten.

You are also a rider, do you ride Western or English?

I ride Western.
Do you compete? 
I ride for pleasure.
You compared boxing to thikr, is one of the reasons you ride because it's the sunnah of our Prophet?
The Prophet ‘alayhi salam had an appreciation for horses and I appreciate what he ‘alayhi salam appreciates. I do think it is important to learn horseback riding because I think there is a connection between taming a horse and taming ones own nafs. You break horse the same way you break your own ego…gradually and firm but gentle. If you push a horse too hard too early it will rebel. If you leave it without any discipline it will remain untamed and unruly. Also, once tamed horses exemplify an incredible amount of devotion. The human ego is similar. Once the ego/nafs of the human being has been tamed he can be truly devoted; devoted to God, family, principles, community, neighbors, etc.

Could you explain to us how "Generous Peace" came about?

Well the song was based on a poem by Imam Al Shafi’i who is not only the founder of one of the four major Islamic schools of thought but was also a poet. The video and the song are about tolerance, patience, and responding to ugliness with beauty. One of the central teachings related to proper conduct (adab or ahlaq) in Islam and really most faiths is learning to respond to ugliness with beauty. Unfortunately, it is becoming less and less important to people. But in truth overlooking ugliness is very liberating for the heart so it results in a sound heart and a sound community.

We love the video, especially the beautiful hijabi in the video. How did you come up with the idea for the clip?

I had the idea for the video a couple years ago. Although it does not happen often I do have friends and family members who have been harassed in the street for wearing the hijab. I think some of this is born out of the fact that some Muslims have done a poor job of representing their tradition in recent times. But some of it is born out of the fact that people don’t actually know women who wear hijab. I think the dominant perception is that women who wear hijab are meek, quiet, perhaps even self righteous women that were duped into wearing the scarf. And the irony is I don’t actually know a single hijab wearing woman that fits that description. So part of my motivation was just to show a woman wearing hijab that reflects my experience with hijab wearing women.

 I should say that I did have some fear that I would appear to be “pushing” the hijab. The truth is I am a little disturbed by the centrality that women’s attire gets in Muslim discourse. In my own life I think the hijab is none of my business. My mother and sister wear it and they did so completely by their own choice I respect women regardless of how they choose to dress and I don’t think anyone should tell a woman to wear it or not wear it. But I was hopeful that my genuine intent would come through and it wouldn’t be perceived as another attempt to tell women what they should or shouldn’t wear.

In this day an age, where the main stream media tries to put a negative image of a Muslim woman out there, it's so nice to see a Muslim young man such as yourself, who tries to change that. Unlike the US, in alot of countries young girls who wear the hijab face painstaking ordeals and take a stand for their beliefs. What are your thoughts on the current hijab/burka bans in other countries? 

 Emerson said, nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. I am always impressed when I see someone that is devoted to their principles even though that devotion may come at a price. Devotion to anything; family, friends, craft, art, faith, etc, is increasingly rare so seeing a woman wearing a hijab reminds me of my own need to be more devoted in all aspect of my life.

I do think, however, that the hijab has found a centrality in Muslim discourse that is unhealthy. It is a woman’s prerogative and doesn’t need to be discussed ad nauseam. I would say the obsession with the hijab in modern times; whether its insisting women wear it or not wear, is a sign of the spiritual decline Muslims are currently facing.

Well, we love your music. What kind of feedback do you receive from your fans? Are they mostly Muslim or do you have fans who are not Muslim as well?
We get a very positive response from people of all faiths (even people that do not prescribe to a particular faith). In fact it was because of the response from non Muslims that motivated us to begin working on a mainstream release that would be widely promoted and widely available. I never intended my music to be for one religious or ethnic group. I like to think my music is relevant to everyone.

What are your plans for the future?
We want to complete the current album and share it with a broad audience around the world. I try not to indulge any grand hopes for my music beyond my desire to make an album that is entertaining, genuine and hopefully uplifting.

Where can our readers purchase your cds?

They can order it from the website,

TURK OKURLARIMIZA (Note for our Turkish Readers)

Bu roportajin turkcesini okumak icin TIKLA

Elif Kavakci for HijabiTopia

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