Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fascinating Person of the Day

[posted by Callimachus]

Kareem Salama

I was born and raised in Ponca City, a small town at the edge of Green Country in Oklahoma, but my parents were born and raised in Egypt. When I was young I loved water painting but I was also an amateur boxer for years. I enjoy classical Western poetry but I enjoy classical Arabic poetry as well. I have a degree in Chemical Engineering but now I’m finishing my last year in law school. I like country and blue grass music but I appreciate good R&B music as well.

Oklahoma, like me, is a place where cultures meet and dance.

OK, "Islamic good ole' boy." Say it till it doesn't feel strange anymore, then go on and read more. Here's an interview. In answering this question, he pulls together the two disparate traditons and finds they're not so far apart after all.

There's some kind of a soul in country music - I don't want to compare it to the Qur'an at all - but the melody... I sang a song a capella to somebody and then I recited the Qur'an to a non-Muslim and they said there's something similar there. They're different in that the Qur'an is not sung, but there's something that comes from deeper down, from the diaphragm or something.

The other thing is, obviously, the lyrical content. People say, "Oh, country music is all about someone singing about his dead dog." I say, "So what?" If you've ever been hunting - and I used to go hunting - you have a dog. The dog rustles up the quail or something like that. If you were living in the 1800's and you had this dog, that's how you got your family's food every day. The dog was there with you all the time, helping you to get your sustenance. If it died, you'd probably be sad too! At night, when you're around a fire, you'd be thinking about it and you'd sing about the dog. It's an old art too. You can still hear something very old and very traditional. You can feel that fire cracklin' and the people sitting around a fire singing about something that at least means something to them. Being rooted in something old still makes me feel more comfortable.

The hunting, the dog or hawk or horse who is your partner, the crackling fire at night ... make it a desert instead of a prairie. You begin to see?

Here's another interesting answer, about one of his songs:

But the thing that bothers me in this war in particular, unlike World War II, is that none of us are suffering. In other words, you have the Iraqi civilians and people generally who suffer tremendously. You have the soldiers who are sent by our commander to fight, and they suffer. And their families suffer. But none of us are suffering, none of us feel it. In World War II, everyone felt it. And I think the problem is if you don't have an altruistic or moral reason to scrutinize your government - and that's what a democracy is, we are a check on the government - if we don't scrutinize our government to follow our civic duty or for some moral altruistic reason, then at least the circumstances can force you to do so. The problem is the circumstances are not forcing us to do so.

I was telling [songwriting partner/guitarist] Aristotle [Mihalopoulos] when we were going to the mall, "Look at us. We're going to the mall. Our soldiers are over there dying. Our Iraqi brothers and sisters are dying. It's just a mess." And then you've got all these sterile words like "civilians" or the "families of the soldiers." No. It's Jessica. It's Tricia. It's Donna. It's even Mustafa, one of the kids that moved to my town - a Muslim - when I was growing up. He actually did a tour of Iraq for a year and a half, he graduated from West Point. And then on the other side, you've got Fatimas, you've got people with stories that are actually dying. And I'm not even trying to take a position. I'm just saying make sure you understand what we're doing, to make sure war is worth fighting for. You only know something is worth doing if you recognize the price that comes with it.

In the end (of the song), I make a plea to the kings and queens. But I think something that was really important to me was that I don't want to disrespect anybody. I'm not big on the whole bashing G.W. thing - I mean, we crack a joke on G.W. here and there - but I think it's asinine. I don't think it really accomplishes anything. You can appeal to someone with respect. My sheikh taught me this, and I know a lot of sheikhs say this all the time in America, the ayat in the Qur'an where Allah said (regarding Pharoah) to Musa (Moses) [recites the verse in Arabic] meaning use "a gentle word." G.W. is not worse than Firaun (Pharoah) and we are not better than Musa (Moses). So we should speak gently to our government officials as well. So I try to use pleas, and be respectful also.