"Being Muslim One Day at a Time": an interview with Everlast,
by Adisa Banjoko
Rap music has seen
more than its share influence from the religion of
Islam. With groups such as Public Enemy rapping about their respect for
the Nation of Islam, to people such as Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest
embracing mainstream Islam, the religion seems to be a recurrent theme
in the genre, both impacting lyrics and lives. One artist more recently
touched by Islam is Eric Schrody, better known in music circles as
While Everlast began
his musical career as a rap artist, he has
recently shown himself to have much greater depth and diversity. His
current album, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues (currently ranked #49 on
billboard's charts after peaking at #9) exhibits this in its reflective
and somewhat philosophical tone, showing glimpses of the influence Islam
has had on his life.
What follows is an
interview in which Everlast discusses his journey to
Islam and the challenges he faces as a new Muslim.
AB: Tell me about the first time you learned about Islam?
E: It was probably around the late 80's. I was hangin' out with Divine
Styler (a popular Los Angeles rap artist). He was
basically at the end
of his 5% period (referring to the pseudo-Islamic "Nation of Gods and
Earths" sect). He was starting to come into Islam. He lived with the
Bashir family. Abdullah Bashir was sort of his teacher; and mine it
wound up later. As he was making the transition from 5% into Islam I
would just be around and hear things.
I'm trying to think
of the first time I recognized it as Islam. I think
it was when one of Divine's friends took Shahada (the Muslim profession
of faith) and I was there. I heard him say, "I bear witness that there
is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the servant and messenger." And I
remember me being like, "What is this? I'm white. Can I be here?" It was
outta ignorance, you know? 'Cause here in America, Islam is considered a
"Black thing." And that's when someone pointed out to me, "You have no
idea how many white Muslims there are in the world." I was like,
"Really," and somebody broke it down. I said, "That's crazy. I had no
AB: Do you feel any extra pressure being a white Muslim in America?
E: I don't think of
it on the grand scale. To me, Islam is mine. Allah
is the God of all the worlds, and all mankind and all the Al-Amin
(worlds/universe). Islam is my personal relationship with God. So,
nobody can put any more pressure on me than I can put on myself. But as
far as the mosque where I pray, I have never felt more at home or more
welcome. And it's not just mine. The few mosques that i've gone to
around the country, i've never ever been made to feel uncomfortable.
Like in New York, the mosque is big and there's so many people that
nobody is lookin' to notice you. There were Chinese, Korean, Spanish --
everything, which was a good thing for me because at my mosque I'm the
only white male, [although] there are some white females.
I think at first, I
thought about it more than anybody else the first
couple times I went to Jumma (the Friday congregational prayer). The
first time I went to Jumma, I was taken by a friend of mine in New York.
It was in Brooklyn in Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvestant). I was nervous
about the neighborhood I was in, not the mosque. But I was just so at
ease once I was there. I was like, "This is great." I didn't feel any
different than anybody else in the mosque.
AB: How did your
family take your turning to Islam? Because you were
raised Catholic, right?
E: Well, you know my
mom is very open minded, very progressive. My
mother lives with me. And i've been raised all my life with not a belief
in God, but a knowledge that he exists. I was taught [that] if [I were
to know] anything in the world, [I should] know there's a God. And my
mom, even though she was Catholic she was the first person to point out
hypocrisy in the church. My mom really hasn't attended church in a long
time. But as far as me, my mom is just happy that I have God in my life.
She sees me making
prayers. And Divine is one of her favorite people in
the world. She knows how much different we are than when she first knew
us as kids. When me and Divine first hooked up, we were wild. We were
out partyin', fightin', doin' whatever we had to do. We thought, "Yeah,
that's what being a man is about. We're gonna go out here and be
[But] she has seen
how much it's changed me and him; and how much peace
it's brought me since i've started to really accomplish something with
it. I actually had a long talk with my mother the other day and we were
on the topic of religion. We were actually talking about life and death,
and the future and when she might go (die, pass away). That won't be for
a long time, inshallah (God willing). But I asked her to do me one
favor. I said, "Mom, when you die there might be some angels who ask you
a question, and I want you to answer it; and I'm not sure exactly how it
goes, 'cause I ain't died yet. Remember that there's only one God, and
he's never been a man."
She said, "I
know what you are trying to tell me." [And] I said, "Jesus
wasn't God, Ma".
Some of what I know
has definitely shown up in my mother. She's no
Muslim, but she knows there's only one God. And that makes me very
happy. I know guys that have turned towards Islam and their families
have turned them out (i.e. Rejected them).
AB: My family tried
to. I just can't understand that. But you know what?
That's a trial. Although i've changed my name for like 8 years now, they
still run up calling me by my birth name. Then it's, "Oh I forgot that
you're Muslim." Then it's the pork jokes. It never stops.
E: It's one of those
things where people laugh at what they don't
understand. Or they fear what they can't grasp. The thing is that nobody
can pretend that they don't understand it. Because i've never come
across anything more simple in my life.
Like I remember that
when I sat down and asked, "So, what does a Muslim
believe," and I got the list run down to me. I was like, "You don't put
up the wall between Christianity and Judaism." They were like, "Nah,
it's all the same story."
If when you finally
get down to reading the Qur'an, the Bible and the
Torah, which is pretty much just the Old Testament, you find that the
Qur'an is just an affirmation of what is correct and isn't correct
within those books (the Bible and the Torah). And then you say to
yourself, "How did that go down when these cats were all from different
parts of the world?" But they are all confirming each other's story.
I'm reading a book right now called Muhammad: The Life of the Prophet,
by Karen Armstrong. It was written by a non-Muslim. So far, I'm only
about a quarter of the way through; but it starts out telling you how they
originally tried to make Muhammad look like the most evil man on the earth;
that he established Islam under the sword. But then
you learn that Muhammad only fought when he had to. Muhammad only fought
to defend Islam. It's a very good book about the man. It just lets you
know that this cat was a man. We ain't trying to tell you that he was
anything else but a man. We're telling you as Muslims that he was the
most perfect example of a man to walk the earth so far. And from what
i've read he is the last one to come of his kind.
When you get beyond being scared of Farrakhan and what he's sayin' --
and here as a white person I'm speaking -- when you get beyond the
ignorance of believing that Islam has anything to do with just people
that are blowing up things, that doesn't have anything to do with Islam.
They might do it in the name of Islam. But it has nothing to do with
Islam. You can't argue with it.
When I explain Jesus
to a Christian, he can't argue with me. And I don't
mean argue, saying, "Jesus isn't God!" I mean, how much more sense does
it make that he's a man? If I was Christian, which to me means to be
Christ-like, and God asks me, "Hey how come you weren't more like
Jesus?" i'll say, I wasn't more like Jesus because you made him half of
a God [and] I'm only a man?" That doesn't make any sense.
God doesn't want
things hard on us. God wants things easy as possible.
Allah is going to make it as easy as possible. If you ask and you are
sincere, Allah will bring it to you. He might throw some rocks on your
path, to make you trip and stumble. But it's gonna come to you.
AB: Talk to me about
the first and second time you took your Shahada
(profession of faith).
E: Well the first
time, it was right after I had heard a tape from
Warith Deen Muhammad (son of Nation of Islam founder, Elijah Muhammad,
who took most of the Nation of Islam into mainstream Islam). That just
kinda broke down the whole Jesus thing. He explained that we (Muslims)
do Christians a great favor by bringing Jesus down to the level of a
man. Why would God create a man who is half a God and compare us to him?
And it just sent off a bomb in my head. So I took Shahada. And then the
initial high wore off.
It was almost like a
Christian who says that they accept Jesus. Then
they say, "No matter what I do now I'm saved." 'Cause I was raised with
that kinda mentality. Like, "OK, I accept the truth so let me just go
out here and sin my butt off and I'm saved."
I didn't really
claim to be Muslim though at that time. I picked and
chose what I wanted to believe. Allah gave me leeway for a time. But
eventually it was time to fish or cut the line. I was coming to a point
where I was unsatisfied emotionally, and spiritually. I had money in the
bank and a $100,000 car, women left and right -- everything that you
think you want. And then just sitting there being like, "Why am I
unhappy?" Finally that voice that talks to you -- not the whisper (of
Satan) -- the voice said, "Well, basically you're unhappy because you're
living foul and you're not trying to do anything about it."
My stubbornness at
that time wouldn't allow me to talk about it at that
time. You get in that state of mind where you're like, "I can figure
this out all by myself."
I finally got humble
enough to talk to Divine and Abdullah about it.
They asked me, "How do you feel? What do you think it is?" So finally
I'm sittin' there taking Shahada again. From that point on i've made a
commitment where I'm going to try my best. I'm gonna do my best to make
my prayers, let's start there. Let's not beat ourselves up because we
went out last night and had a drink. Let's make our prayers and pray for
the strength to stop doing one thing at a time. That's what I'm still
You know, once you
get over the big things, it becomes very subtle. It
can be as subtle as looking [at] a man, and not even speaking bad about him,
but back-biting him in your mind. The easy ones to beat -- well I
shouldn't say easy -- the big ones are easy to notice. It's the subtle
psychological stuff that helps you get into who really you are. You
gotta be able to face the truth of who you are. If you are not able to
face that truth of who you are, you're gonna crumble, man.
People question me and go, "You're Muslim?" And I'm like, "Yeah i'm
Muslim, but I'm also a professional sinner." I'm tryin' to get over it,
tryin' to retire. I won't front and say I'm better than you. I just
believe that i've been shown the truth and hopefully that will save me."
Adisa Banjoko is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.