Amplifying Narratives of Liberation

Muslim Student Association organizes a night of spoken word

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In just two hours, three spoken word artists took an audience on a trip from Palestine to the U.S., Canada to Syria, for “Words of Resistance” on April 26. This event is the first of five in this year’s Islamic Awareness Month (IAM).

IAM, hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA), is designed as an intersectional introduction to the Islamic faith and each of its events serve as spaces for members of the UC Santa Cruz community to engage with MSA members.

The MSA kicked off Islamic Awareness Month with “Words of Resistance,” featuring professional poets Remi Kanazi, Ifrah Hussein and Omar Offendum. The common thread between all three speakers was their experiences as Muslims, but they focused on range of topics from colonization to liberation.

After the 2016 presidential election and the campus protests that followed, Talha Adil, vice president of MSA, spoke to MSA’s board about creating a space for solidarity between communities of color.

“I went to the board and asked them what we were doing, as an organization, to allow people who are underrepresented feel welcomed not only by their own communities but by ours as well,” Adil said.

After months of planning, MSA decided on a night of spoken word artists for their event, sponsored by Cultural Arts and Diversity and the critical race and ethnic studies department, among others.

Although the structure of their event was continuously evolving, MSA was steadfast in their vision of creating a platform to not only voice their experiences, but the experiences of others as well.

“This is a chance for us to show the world […] that we have these voices and we have these stories that aren’t amplified in the arts,” said MSA member Huzaifa Shahbaz. “This is a chance to represent those stories that go untold.”

Remi Kanazi

Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian American organizer and poet based in New York City, was the first to perform. Using humor and raw emotion, Kanazi advocated for the liberation of the Palestinian people and action in the face of injustice.

“It’s important for us to educate and advocate but it’s critical that we take action,” Kanazi said in his performance.

Influenced by a legacy of occupation, Kanazi pieced together a narrative of anger and purposeful action, like participating in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. His poems, informed by his family who fled Palestine before the state of Israel was formed in 1948, made a lasting impression on audience members.

He spoke about the BDS movement and called attention to the various ways U.S. corporations contribute to the forces behind the occupation of Palestinian land.

“Everybody has the right to free speech,” Kanazi said. “Nobody has the right to profit off of death.”

Ifrah Hussein

Alternating between Somali and English, poet Ifrah Hussein juxtaposed the trauma and grief her community endured due to police brutality and militarism with the tenacity of those who commit themselves to a life of resistance. With an emotional performance, Hussein used the strength of her words to convey how the world sees Black Muslims in a negative way.

Hussein, a Somali Canadian based in Toronto, spoke of her experiences growing up in a community of Black Muslims, which often involves anti-Blackness. Hussein also called attention to the lack of intersectionality in the Muslim community when considering race and religion and the prevalence of colorism.

“The world only sees Black when no other hues are in service,” Hussein said in her performance.

Students roared with applause as Ifrah Hussein finished her 30-minute set to a standing ovation.

Omar Offendum

Omar Offendum, a rapper and spoken word artist, used his quirky personality and melodic voice to connect with the audience. Offendum, a Syrian American based in Los Angeles, performed songs and rapped about the consequences of war.

“Brutality, the likes of which a child should never see, let alone be subjected to, are realities,” Offendum said in his performance. “Our voices are never free.”

Accompanied by music that blended Arabic and English, Offendum invited audience members to engage with his music through call and response as he conveyed the pain of those who had been displaced.

“Freedom walks across the marsh of seas only to be rejected, too,” Offendum said.

Islamic Awareness Month continues with History of Black Muslims in the U.S. and Ramadan 101. It culminates in an Iftar at the Quarry Amphitheater on May 24.