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Mos Def Got His First Exposure to Islam at 13 — How Faith Became the Cornerstone of His Life

Edduin Carvajal
Oct 09, 2020
10:30 A.M.

Rapper Yasiin Bey, best known as Mos Def, included an Islamic message in his music for years. His religion has been a critical element in his life and career.


Mos Def's birth name is Dante Terrell Smith. However, he announced in September 2011 that he would change it to Yasiin Bey.

The rapper explained that Mos Def was a name that the streets taught him, one that was given to him by his culture and environment. After doing "quite a bit" with that name, he decided that it was time for him to expand and move on.

Mos Def on September 16, 2017 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images

Mos Def on September 16, 2017 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images



For that reason, he changed it to Yasiin Bey, one of the names in the Qur'an's 36th surah, which, at the same time, is reportedly one of the most important verses in the religious book. About his new name, Mos Def said:

"[I don't want] to deal [anymore] with having any moniker or separation between the self that I see and know myself as."


Naming himself after the 36th surah of the Qur'an is not the only thing that Mos Def has done to prove his involvement with Islam. As Beliefnet reported, the rapper and actor has been involved with this Abrahamic monotheistic religion since he was a teenager.

Mos Def grew up with his mother in Brooklyn. His father, who used to be a member of the Nation of Islam before joining the community of Imam Warithdeen Muhammad (the son of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad), lived in New Jersey.


It wasn't until Mos Def turned 13 years old that he learned from his father how to perform Wudhu, a ritual ablution that Muslims carry out before praying. That was the rapper's first exposure to this religion.

Six years later, when Mos Def was 19 years old, he officially took his Shahada, also known as the declaration of faith of the Muslims. From that point on, his faith has been a part of his life and career.



Back in 1999, the rapper released his first solo album, "Black on Both Sides." His first sentence on it is, "Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem," which can be translated to, "In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful."

Mos Def's songs included a lot more than just his religious beliefs. While other rappers wrote about money, women, and drugs, Mos Def was all about making socially conscious hip-hop.

Apart from writing about Black pride in "Umi Says" and the environment in "New World Water," the rapper explored different genres, including blues.


If that wasn't enough, Mos Def has made clear several times that people don't get through life without worshiping or being devoted to something.

The rapper added that some might be devoted to their jobs, others to their desires. However, the best way to live one's life, said Mos Def, is to "try to be devoted to prayer, to Allah."


He also pointed out that Islam is the religion that advocates the most for human rights in the world, as the religion's sole interest is the welfare of mankind.

Mos Def elaborated by saying that Islam is about speaking out against oppression anywhere and when possible, as the followers of this religion are "charged" to be leaders of humanity.

[Mos Def’s latest] album was an exclusive listening installation at the Brooklyn Museum.



In 2013, the rapper made headlines for moving to South Africa on a visitor's permit and overstaying. In 2016, he tried to leave using a "world passport" but was stopped by authorities.

He was eventually allowed to leave South Africa with his world passport, but is banned from reentering. Also in 2016, Mos Def announced his retirement from the entertainment industry.

In late 2016, he started his farewell concerts in New York but came back from retirement in 2017 when he performed at the ONE MusicFest in Atlanta.


During a backstage interview, the rapper confessed that he would keep "creating" and that he was not going to disappear. In 2019, he fulfilled his promise by releasing his newest album, "Negus."

Mos Def took everyone by surprise as his album was an exclusive listening installation at the Brooklyn Museum. Museumgoers got to listen to the 28-minute album through wireless headphones while enjoying an audiovisual exhibition.

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