Islamic poet takes audience on journey through death, afterlife

Islamic spoken word artist Boonaa Mohammed (left) performs poem about afterlife, as taken from the Quran, at Loyola University Chicago.

By Meghan Tribe

Boonaa Mohammed took the stage on Wednesday night at Loyola University Chicago alongside a wooden coffin covered in a clean white sheet. He rhymed and rapped, ushering the crowded auditorium from “the bugs and maggots” of their graves to 50,000 years of celestial trial for their deeds and, ultimately, through the gates of Jannah, the eternal paradise for Muslims.

About 300 college students from the Chicago area gathered to hear Mohammed’s spoken word performance, “When the World Ends,” hosted by the Loyola Muslim Students’ Association in partnership with the Al Maghrib Institute. His performance, accompanied by Quran recitation, gave his young audience a different insight into the topic of death and the afterlife, a subject rarely undertaken.

(Ellen Kobe/Medill)

“It was engaging, you weren’t bored and your mind didn’t wander away,” said Sabeena Gul, 22, a junior at Chamberlain Nursing School in Addison, Illinois. “You wanted to pay attention.”

Noha Mohamed, co-president of Chicago chapter of Al Maghrib Institute, said it is events like this that help reach college students and young adults. “[These] aren’t normally topics that are covered in your local mosque,” Mohamed said. “You know your religion, […] the surface stuff that you do every day. But how much of it in-depth do you really know?”

Mohammed’s performance was brought about through collaboration between the Al Maghrib Institute and the Loyola Muslim Students’ Association. Al Maghrib Institute is an international Islamic studies institute founded in 2002 that provides weekend-long religious seminars on a host of topics open to the public. The Institute also works with artists like Boonaa Mohammed on certain projects to help meld and enhance education within its various topics, Noha Mohamed said.

Boonaa Mohammed, a Canadian-born Islamic poet and writer, has been involved with the Institute for many years. One of the goals of the Institute, according to Mohammed, was “to teach Islam to busy college students in a way that was conducive to their schedules.” Mohammed, a student of the Institute, credits the knowledge he gained about Islam for giving him direction and guidance in life. “Knowledge is such an important thing, and knowledge is something that no one can take away from you. I think anyone who is striving to teach knowledge […] I’m on their team.”

Sharifah Abdallah, president of Loyola’s Muslim Students’ Association, said in her four years at the school, Mohammed’s performance was “hands down” the “most powerful” event she’s been to. The event has sparked many discussions among those who attended and sent “a strong message through the arts,” Abdallah said. “Lectures are effective to an extent, but other things move us.”

Samiyah Anwar, 18, a freshman at Benedictine University, said she heard about Mohammed’s performance and decided to travel to the event. According to Anwar, most events she’s attended focused on the here and now, not about the afterlife. “I thought that was really different,” Anwar said. “I’ve never been to spoken word before, so this was a new experience. It was really good, inspiring, [and] strengthened my faith.”

Photo at top: Islamic spoken word artist Boonaa Mohammed (left) performs poem about afterlife, as taken from the Quran, at Loyola University Chicago. (Meghan Tribe/Medill)