Northwestern McSA presents poet and storyteller Boonaa Mohammed as fall entertainment speaker


Caroline Megerian/The Daily Northwestern

Boonaa Mohammed speaks to an audience at the McCormick Foundation Center on Thursday. He performs a spoken word poem titled “Signs” and sings along to a background vocal track of his song “99 Beautiful Names.”

Isabelle Sarraf, Reporter

Spoken word poet and performer Boonaa Mohammed told the story of how he navigates his life as a black Muslim man in a world where racism in a Muslim context is traditionally ignored during the Northwestern Muslim-cultural Students Association’s fall entertainment event Thursday at the McCormick Foundation Center.

Mohammed said he wishes non-Muslims knew about the racism that exists in the North American Muslim community because as a black Muslim, he is assumed by many to be a convert. Throughout the night, Mohammed wove together spoken word poetry and innovate rap songs — even performing some unreleased material.

Mohammed’s latest song “Black Hearts” discusses how racism is embedded in our society.

“Racism is a disease, and it flows like the sea,” Mohammed sang during the event. “Some of you is in denial trying to paddle up this creek. Why looking down on me when we all came from tin? Arrogance is the sunnah that you learned from Iblis.”

Mohammed spoke about how his very first day of high school was Sept. 11, 2001. He joked that being one of the only Muslim students at his school made him the “spokesperson” for Islam.

Though he grew up in a home that was non-practicing, Mohammed said joining the Muslim Students Association during college brought him closer to Islam. He was already a poet and performer before college, but he said that being around positive influences in his Muslim Students Association community allowed him to incorporate Islam into his art.

“I want to be as accessible to as many different Muslims as possible,” Mohammed said. “Sometimes a lot of Muslim artists feel like you can’t make good music without instruments, and I’m trying to reinvent that notion.”

Mohammed is also the founder of Safina Media, an Islamic media production company that he said he created in order to provide a platform for stories told through an Islamic lens. Mohammed said he sees film and media as the future of storytelling, yet he wishes there were more creative avenues for Muslims to build their craft.

Mohammed said he scrolled through Netflix one day to see how many films there were about Muslims and Arabs and realized none of them were written by Muslims or had anything to do with the spiritual aspects of Islam he highlights in his poetry. He added many films he’s seen written by non-Muslims only feature the negative aspects of Islam.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re going to be on the menu,” Mohammed said. “Very rarely do we get to tell our own stories.”

Communication junior and McSA Director of External Relations Asha Abdalla said she was pleasantly surprised by the way Mohammed integrated comedy into his poetry and performance.

She said his narrative was compelling and felt familiar.

“Coming from a Muslim background,” Abdalla said. “I feel like I related to a lot of what he said because hearing his story was very easy to connect to.”

McCormick sophomore and McSA Executive Vice President Mariam Tolba said she was inspired to invite Mohammed to campus hearing his poetry online. She said that she was moved by his desire for Muslim voices to be represented more in the production of media.

Tolba emphasized the importance of bringing a Muslim performer to campus because Muslims are a significant minority at Northwestern.

“If we’re not speaking out about what we face or what goes on, someone who doesn’t have that experience will speak about it and it might not be true,” she said.

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Twitter: @IsabelleSarraf