I was reading an interesting story in the New York Times earlier this week on the first Muslim country-western singer, Kareem Salama, when I came to the following sentence and did a double take: He was born about 95 miles northwest of Tulsa in Ponca City, Okla., a town with just one other Muslim family. “They are more redneck than I am, I mean good old boys,” he said, the twang unmistakable. “They go hunting every weekend and drive big old trucks.” Mr. Salama highlights universal themes about love, home and family values. His songs are spiritual without being overtly religious. One inspired by the writings of an eighth-century Islamic scholar, Imam Muhammed Al-Shafi’ee, endorses the idea of tolerance and avoiding violence: “Gentleman, I’m like incense, the more you burn me, the more fragrant I get.”
I went over to Kareem's web site for more details: "I was born and raised in Ponca City, a small town at the edge of Green Country in Oklahoma, but my parents were born and raised in Egypt. When I was young I loved water painting but I was also an amateur boxer for years. I enjoy classical Western poetry but I enjoy classical Arabic poetry as well. I have a degree in Chemical Engineering but now I’m finishing my last year in law school. I like country and blue grass music but I appreciate good R&B music as well. Oklahoma, like me, is a place where cultures meet and dance. Oklahoma is a hybrid of Southern, Western and Native American culture and thanks to my mother’s insatiable desire to learn and experience new things she made sure that I and everyone in my family was immersed in all of it. As a child, I went to Indian Tribal Powwows, heard country music artists at the county fair and watched my favorite cowboys at the rodeo every year."
I emailed Mr. Salama to congratulate him for his success and when he replied it turned out that he and my daughter Carolina attended Washington School at the same time. His family is now living in Richmond, Texas and he may be going on tour soon if he decides to accept an offer to record for a label in Tennessee. I hope to see him in concert soon and wouldn't it be great if the Ponca Theatre could bring him to town for a show? “We hope to establish an American Muslim identity,” said an admirer of Mr. Salama's music, “and what is more American than country music?”