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Simon & Schuster Publishing ‘Compelling’ Muslim-Themed Children’s Books

Last week it was announced that Simon and Schuster will publish a line of Muslim-themed books for children called Salaam Reads.

Zareem JafferyThe undertaking appears to have been prompted by one Zareem Jaffery [pictured right], an executive editor at the publishing house, who says the “aim with the Salaam Reads imprint is in part to provide fun and compelling books for Muslim children” that will also be “entertaining and enriching for a larger non-Muslim audience.” She convinced Simon and Schuster that the time was right to get with this program, the program being to make Muslim children feel at home by reading about Muslim children just like themselves and to make familiar, and palatable, Muslim religious observances and beliefs to non-Muslim children, by showing how kids of four different “faith traditions” — “Musa, Moises, Mo, and Kevin” (can you spot the Catholic?) – become friends, pal around together, and find out about each other’s faiths, without anything to trouble their carefree, innocent friendship as each learns, in turn, about the religious practices and beliefs of each of the three other members of the group.

All this sweetness and light, however, will almost certainly be based on a lie, or rather on a series of lies. Of course, none of the books has yet been published, but we can confidently predict what in them will not be included, and what will. Just imagine, for a minute, how the two most important Muslim holidays, Eid Al-Adha and Eid Al-Fitr, are likely to be presented by Salaam Reads. At both of these feasts, an animal — a lamb, a goat, a cow, a camel — is sacrificed, its throat slit, and then it is left to bleed to death, often in full view of smiling and excited onlookers. You can find photographs of such scenes online, at Muslim websites. If the aim of Salaam Reads is to convey a truthful picture of Islam, then it ought to show how almost all Muslims practice it, and that includes the way those animals are killed, which is part of the violence that suffuses Islam. But do you think those responsible for Salaam Reads will provide any such pictures or photographs of these animals, dying or dead? When it comes to sharing knowledge of this aspect of the Muslim faith, Salaam Reads will not only avoid showing the practice, but in the text will provide only a vague brusque admission that “animals are sacrificed” at the two Eids, while carefully not hinting at how.

Ramadan will undoubtedly be given a lot of attention in the Salaam Reads series. After all, this month of fasting and prayer is comfortingly akin to the Christian observance of fasting and prayer at Lent. The treacly analogizing in a Salaam Reads book for middle-schoolers will likely go something like this: “Ramadan and Lent are both times for prayer. And just as Christians fast during 40 days of Lent, Muslims fast for a month of Ramadan. But there are differences. When Christians fast for Lent, they don’t give up all food – even the well-known giving-up of meat is not total, for it is abstained from mostly on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday. And individual Christians often choose to give up some particular food they especially like – such as chocolate or honey-glazed donuts or ice cream — or abstain from some activity that the one abstaining finds particularly pleasurable, such as shopping or watching television. When we Muslims fast, our fast is total, and goes from dawn to dusk.” (All this slyly implying the moral superiority of Muslim Ramadan to Christian Lent.)

You will likely find the following: “And at Ramadan we Muslims give to charity.” That is a most misleading phrase. What I am certain you will not find anywhere in the Salaam Reads books is the important information that for Muslims “zakat” (giving to the needy) means “giving to needy fellow Muslims,” and only to them. This is quite different from the Christian practice of giving to one’s fellow man, not just to one’s fellow Christians.

And readers will be treated to the heartwarming, cloudless and practically identical family lives of Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin. These practitioners of the “three abrahamic faiths” will be shown to have so much in common. Perhaps not the quintessential It’s-A-Wonderful-Life home for all four families, but in all four families there will be one wife for one husband (thereby airbrushing out the actual arrangements of tens of millions of Muslim families all over the world), and in Mo’s Muslim family, his mother and sisters will not be off-puttingly niqabbed, but dutifully and demurely hijabbed. There will be no mention of plural wives, nor any discussion of the total authority of the Muslim father over his wife (wives) and children. No discussion of what can and has happened to Muslim girls who defied that authority and refused to wear the hijab – see the case of Aqsa Parvez, and of so many more like her.

And in Salaam Reads publications will be no mention of what Muslims are instructed to think about, and how to behave toward, non-Muslims, which are very different from what one would gather from the cheerful palling around of Muslim Mo with non-Muslims Musa, Moises, and Kevin. No Qur’an 60.4: “enmity and hatred have appeared between us [Muslims] and you [non-Muslims] forever until you believe in Allah.” Nothing about the many other verses instructing Believers such as Mo to be merciful with other Believers, but stern with the disbelievers, such as Musa, Moises, and Kevin. Nothing about the Islamic doctrine known as Al Wala’ Wal Bara’ (loyalty and disavowal), whereby a Muslim is required to love what Allah loves, and hate what Allah hates, and to be kind to Believers and harsh or angry with the Disbelievers.

The five pillars of Islam, incumbent on all Believers – shehada, zakat, salat, Ramadan, hajj – will be listed and discussed (as noted above, “zakat” will be translated as “charity,” instead of as “charity to fellow Muslims”), for they are relatively innocuous. The duty of Jihad, incumbent upon Muslims and so important that it has been described by some Sunni scholars as the “sixth pillar of Islam,” will either not be mentioned or, if mentioned, will be given the usual misleading maquillage, presented prettily as the individual Muslim’s “struggle to master himself, to be a better person” (part of the confusing folderol about the “greater jihad” and the “lesser jihad”), when Jihad’s main meaning, in Muslim minds, is the “struggle” to remove all obstacles to the spread, and then the dominance, of Islam, all over the world.

Salaam Reads will certainly be sure to include Quran 5:32, in its popular but incomplete and misleading form:

“The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.”

But Salaam Reads will not include the modifying verse Qur’an 5:33:

“The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land.”

And I can just imagine the four boys – Musa, Moises, Mo, and Kevin – visiting each other’s churches, synagogues, mosques as part of Interfaith Outreach, and one of the non-Muslim boys proudly proclaiming that in this great land of ours, the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, and Mo then replying, “You know, some people seem to think that Muslims don’t respect freedom of religion, but nothing could be further from the truth. Why, more than a thousand years before the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion here in our home, we Muslims observed freedom of religion as guaranteed in the Holy Qur’an: ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’” (2.256) What that phrase actually meant in practice is that all non-Muslims have three choices under Muslim rule: death, or conversion to Islam or, if you were a Christian or Jew, and thus of the People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitab) you could be “tolerated” as long as you agreed to a life of indignity and humiliation as a “Dhimmi,” and agreed to pay a special tax, the “Jizyah.” If, in the Salaam Reads series, the word “Jizyah” appears at all, it will no doubt be defined as “an amount non-Muslims pay the Muslim state to protect them.” But protect them from whom? From the Muslims themselves. The exaction of the “Jizyah” is classic extortion.

Muhammad is the central figure in Islam. He is the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil) and the Model of Conduct (uswa hasana). But I’m fairly sure that in the Salaam Reads series, there’s a lot you won’t be told about Muhammad. You won’t learn of Muhammad’s consummation of his marriage to little Aisha when she was six, or about the assassination of the poetess Asma bint Marwan or the killing of the elderly Jewish poet Abu ‘Afak, who had mocked Muhammad in verse. You won’t find out about Muhammad’s raid on the Khaybar Oasis, where this “Perfect Man” seized loot from the inoffensive Jewish farmers, and in the afternoon took for himself as a sex slave a Jewish girl, Safiyya, whose husband, father, and brothers Muhammad had had killed that very morning. You won’t hear about the slaughter of 600-900 members of the Banu Qurayza in Medina after they had surrendered.

When the Salaam Reads books start to come out, see if you can find anywhere in their texts “kitman” and “taqiyya.” You won’t find those words printed on the pages. But not to worry: they’ll both be staring you in the face.


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Hip Hop: A Free-Market History by Brandon Maxwell

Hip hop is not just music. It’s a culture. It includes dance, apparel, perfumes, jewelry, cinema, radio, television, books, magazines, and even beverages. That is, there are very few trades that hip hop hasn’t touched. And while hip hop’s lifeblood may be the complex grouping of rhythms, beats, vocals, tones, and lyrics, it was abetted at every stage by the free market.

Twenty-four million people around the world listen to hip hop each day. A half-million people see hip hop live in concert each month. And 28 million people purchase hip hop in stores each year. It is a $10 billion industry and growing. And yet its story resembles one familiar to Freeman readers: Leonard Read’s description of the vast complexity that goes into making a simple pencil.

Pass the Mic

Hip hop did not become a commercial and cultural powerhouse overnight. The free market acted as a catalyst. The market’s processes—competition, refinement, and augmentation—shaped the genre and the culture over time. They complemented the recording, mixing, and mastering process and aided hip hop in discovering new listeners. And, as is the way of the market, it helped listeners discover hip hop.

Hip hop’s free market venture first began 35 years ago in the northernmost borough of New York City with a handful of bored, mostly lower-income kids. They improvised lyrics over funk and soul music generated by DJs at block parties. As simple as it may seem to point out, none of this would have been possible without a variety of tools devised and made available through commercial means.

As spoken-word artists matured, New York City witnessed the advent of “emcees” (noun) bidding to “emcee” (verb) over personalized beats. With this development emcees needed additional tools, like samplers, synthesizers, and drum machines accompanied by tape players and record needles. “Rap” as a subgenre was born.

Likewise, emcees began to compete with each other. They contended not just for esteem, but for listeners in and around the neighborhood and city. This early competition elevated certain performers and improved the product overall, eventually allowing a select few to become famous. Throughout this process, as they competed with each other, emcees and DJs had to keep their customers satisfied. The audience could refuse to show up, walk out, heckle, or maybe even come up onstage and perform better themselves.

And consider the bedrock of hip hop: the beat. Going through old records—some forgotten, others much-beloved—artists found beats and breakdowns, extracted them, and turned them into the basis for an entirely new industry. To put it another way: They made gasoline out of oil refinery “waste.” And they made it possible for one person, or a handful, to put together music that would have required an expensive array of musicians just a few years before—and might not have been conceivable without the availability of new instruments like samplers and drum machines.

More Tools, More People

But these were far from the only tools hip hop purveyors and enthusiasts would need. On the contrary, hip hoppers would still have to have millions more tools, arbitrageurs, and entrepreneurs to carry them on their journey from block party boredom to billboard dominance. The process involved the collaboration of millions of people around the world and across time, very few of whom had any idea that they were, in fact, involved in the same endeavor—and no single one of whom could have created this force on his own.

Consider the millions of television sets and radios and the hundreds of radio stations it took to propel hip hop beyond its Bronx origins. Ponder the millions of power lines and hundreds of radio waves it took to transmit hip hop to those television sets and radios. And contemplate the number of television and radio station employees it took to ensure everything was transmitted properly. All of this is to say nothing of the level of productivity necessary to give millions of people both leisure time and disposable income to use on filling that time.

East Coast, West Coast, Dirty South

As hip hop spread across the United States, new emcees emerged, each meticulously tailoring variations on the music for a different audience. The result of these subtle adaptations was that hip hop gave rise to diverse qualities and styles, with each style suiting a different demographic or geographic location. That is, while hip hop could be heard in different cities across The United States, its sound in New York City, which found inspiration in energetic artists such as James Brown, did not often mirror its sound in Los Angeles, which found inspiration in the laid back funky basslines of Zapp and Roger. Its sound in Los Angeles was considerably different from the sound that emerged in the Deep South, which experimented outside of the usual 4/4 time signature. And its sound in the Deep South could be contrasted with the Midwest sound, which used faster tempos.

But in order for each different geographic location and demographic to continue to access hip hop over the decades, yet more tools were required. These tools consisted of millions of record players, tape players, CD players, mp3 players, and computers—not to mention millions of pairs of headphones, ear buds, and ¼-inch jacks, each meticulously designed to be used in conjunction with one another. It would require thousands of retailers across the world to transport and carry these accouterments. Thousands of companies would have to promote, advertise, and vend records, tapes, CDs, and mp3s. And as each new innovation appeared, it opened up new creative possibilities for entrepreneurs alert to the opportunity and for artists seeking new modes of self-expression. (And made it even easier for one person to play both entrepreneur and artist simultaneously.)

Production Value

Before arriving at this juncture, hip hop had to first achieve a polished and professional sound. This meant people had to design and build recording studios, which in turn meant the involvement of construction companies, masons, engineers, and architects. Construction workers use numerous power tools, thousands of nuts and bolts, hundreds of pounds of concrete, and dozens of beams for structural support—all of which had to be transported to a location. Once constructed, these recording studios would then be outfitted with mixing boards, microphones, monitors, preamps, limiters, compressors, and sound insulation—each item manufactured by a different company excelling in a distinct area of sound and recording (with components coming from all over the world).

In addition, a great number of people would be needed to assist in the actual recording process, with each individual wielding a select set of skills—e.g., producers and often separate engineers for sound, recording, mixing, and mastering.

And what about people who want to record from the comfort of their own homes? Can the free market help?

The evolution of the digital audio workstation (DAW) alone is a testament to the free market and Adam Smith’s division of labor. Dozens of individuals and companies have had to carefully work together in order to conceive a way to allow individuals the freedom to record from the comfort of their own homes.

The first precursor to Pro-Tools (the software most used in modern digital recording) was conceived in California by two college undergraduates. The result was a worldwide revolution in recording and an affordable way for millions of aspiring emcees to create quality music without commissioning the use of otherwise expensive mixing boards, effects processors, and analog tape machines.

Markets vs. Magistrates

Could hip hop as we know it today have been possible in a country devoid of a free market economy? Could any one man or government have rightfully determined and differentiated the kind of hip hop the West Coast wanted to hear from the kind of hip hop the East Coast wanted to hear? Could any one legislator or body of legislators have predicted the way hip hop would evolve—including the countless variations, textures, and styles? Could anyone have known beforehand that there was this unsatisfied—even undiscovered—hunger for a new kind of music, let alone offshoots in fashion and other industries?


A free market does not inhibit, it liberates. A free market has no prejudices or preferences as to who benefits or who doesn’t. The market, rather, is a system that people animate with their creativity and service. The quality of the product rests solely on the shoulders of the entrepreneur—nobody else. And yet it is driven by communities.

The free market affords individuals and companies a platform to advance mutual interests. And in return, it offers consumers a variety of choices, options, and avenues, which sustainably advance yet more mutual interests.

It is because of these mutual interests that hip hop has become a household name. It’s even easier to access than water in some countries. And yet, it remains only one facet, one story, in an invisible agglomeration of individuals and businesses voluntarily collaborating across every hour of every day.


Brandon Loran Maxwell  is a freelance journalist, playwright, and regular contributor to Street Motivation Magazine, Los Angeles’s largest independent hip hop and urban publication.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured photo is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.