Mos Def, real name Dante Terrell Smith, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

Mos’ father exposed him to Islam at the age of 13 and he took to it like a fish to water. At 19, Mos performed the Muslim ritual of Shahada, officially solidifying his status as a member of the Muslim faith.1 Throughout his career as a rapper, film star and social activist, Mos has made Islam a central aspect of his life and work. His justification? Everybody’s got their something…

You’re not gonna get through life without being worshipful or devoted to something. You’re either devoted to your job, or to your desires. So the best way to spend your life is to try to be devoted to prayer, to Allah.2

Now, Mos speaks out often about what he thinks is an unfair reputation of Muslims in America. For example, he appeared on Bill Maher’s Real Time with Bill Maher, to defend global Islam against unfair blame for 9/11 or the rise of anti-American sentiment. He argued relativity, that Christian and secular terrorists exist, and have existed, and even claimed in no uncertain terms that 9/11 was not what the public was told it was. He even questioned the existence of Osama bin Laden.3

His unbending faith and willingness to speak openly about it have garnered Mos a spot on the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center’s list of the world’s most influential Muslims.4 It’s safe to say he’s quite devout. One of his most poignant lyrics:

I could give a damn if any fan recall my legacy/I’m tryin’ to live life in the sight of God’s memory.5

Politics? Most definitely

Mos claims that everything is political–even the apolitical are political.6 His politics seem to revolve around the state of black Americans. To Mos, black America is still enslaved, victimized, kept in a state of fear and subjugation. The police are terrorists,7 the politicians are imperialists, colonists, using their power and might to enslave more people in other parts of the world.8

It’s probably this sentiment that caused him to play a benefit concert and speak out about the imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal.9 Mumia was charged with murdering a police officer. However, Mos and scores of other activists disagreed, rather decrying Mumia as a victim of police brutality.

Despite his obvious contempt for “the system,” Mos was not immune to the charms of Barack Obama. And while Mos admitted that he didn’t agree with everything Obama said during his 2008 campaign, he still thought he was a sign of hope and change.10 During a concert, Mos acted out a little skit where he played Obama leaving Air Force One. He said:

That’s right whitey! Deal with it! I don’t mean the whiteys in here, you know what whiteys I’m taking about. Crazy whiteys.11

Mos’ politics are the politics of a people not at home in their own country. It’s a difficult perspective to understand if you’ve never been there, and from the outside, comes off as hate, paranoia and even racism. However, it is the sentiment of millions of Americans and Mos, being one of their most intelligent and eloquent, adds a touch of credibility to their argument.

  1. Rapper Mos Def talks about his decision to devote himself to Allah. Beliefnet. []
  2. Rapper Mos Def talks about his decision to devote himself to Allah. Beliefnet. []
  3. Mos Def Cornel West 3. YouTube. []
  4. Mos Def Gets Named One Of The World’s Most Influential Muslims. Complex. []
  5. Blackstar – Thieves in the Night. YouTube. []
  6. Mos Def on Politics (Part 1 of 3). YouTube. []
  7. Mos Def Cornel West 3. YouTube. []
  8. Mos Def Cornel West 3. YouTube. []
  9. Mos Def, Black Thought to Perform at Mumia Benefit. MTV. []
  10. Mos Def on Politics (Part 1 of 3). YouTube. []
  11. Black Star’s Mos Def, Talib Kweli Dabble in Politics at Reunion Show. Rolling Stone. []