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African-American Muslim Poet Pulls No Punches in his Poetry

New Yorker Amir Sulaiman does not soften his blows in his poetry. As a Muslim African American, Amir Sulaiman feels he is called to use his poetry to shed light on the problems facing both Muslim and black youth today. VOA's Sondang Sirait and Ade Astuti caught up with the outspoken muslim poet as he toured Chicago, Illinois. Wayne Bowman narrates their report.

Amir Sulaiman is a poet with a message. This New York native explores issues of race and religion through his verse. "Hi, my name is Amir Sulaiman. I'm gonna do some poetry. I'm not dangerous, I am danger. I'm not angry, I am anger.

I've been writing for a long time, ever since I was young. When I was writing poetry I thought it was something that everyone did. So, when I was a boy, you know like you play football, you go to school, you eat, you drink, you sleep, you write poetry. So, I thought it was something that everyone did. And then later, I learned that everyone doesn't write poetry. And so I realized that it was a talent or a skill. And so, I wanted to really nurture it as a gift that's been given [to] me from Allah."

As an African American Muslim, Sulaiman speaks to the hopes and fears experienced by both African Americans and Muslim Americans. "I am someone between insane and black…"

It's also a message about the alienation felt by some in both communities.

"Those two things: my Islam and my ethnicity. These things are primary - that is my art, that is everything. So, nothing that I write, that I can think of, escapes this reality. So, these two things, more than anything else have shaped my consciousness."

Sulaiman now takes his poetry across the United States, performing in both large and small venues. Whether he's performing in front of thousands of people, or dozens, his poetry and message seem to resonate with his audience.

This activist poet is not well-received by everyone. Some feel he can be too explosive at times. But Amir Sulaiman feels he is sending out an important message that many people, regardless of race or creed, can relate to.

"We must pray, fast, live, dream, fight, kill, and die free. Silencing me is like silencing a fire alarm, hoping that your house won't burn down. The alarm is not what causes the fire in the house. My poetry is not what causes this thing in the people. It's an expression of it."

Sulaiman says he does not speak for himself alone in his poetry, but that many people recognize his voice as their own. He calls that "a great blessing," and "an equally great responsibility."