Mutah Wassin Shabazz Beale (also known as ‘Napoleon’) was brought up by his grandmother in a Christian household. His parents had converted to Islam before his birth but were killed by people connected to ‘the Nation of Islam’ when he was three. The Nation of Islam is a US-based religious and political organization whose teachings differ significantly from mainstream Islamic thought.
Failing to understand the difference between the religion of Islam and the Nation of Islam, Mutah grew up hating anything connected to Islam. Despite two of his uncles being Muslim, he didn’t know much about the faith. But, he says, the painful deaths of his parents fuelled the emotional warfare in his mind when it came to faith and religion. “Growing up, hearing these accusations about Islam ― I didn’t want anything to do with it.”
At the age of 15, he moved to LA where he became a member of a hip-hop group founded by rapper Tupac Shakur called the Outlawz. On the outside, the group was part of the biggest movement in rap. “We appeared on 40-50 million record sales with Tupac, especially during his last days.”
But Beale says people had no idea about what went on “behind the scenes”. “It was violent, fights going on in the studio and so on,” he recalls. “It was streets ― so the stuff I was trying to run away from, found me in the music industry.”
Tupac himself was killed in 1996 in a drive-by shooting.
“It was different races ― Arabs, white and black Americans, Pakistanis and Indians — from all walks of life and everyone was praying together, calling each other brother, which instantly struck a chord with me,”
Everything changed for Beale when he found religion.
In 2002, he was intoxicated in a recording studio and got into a fight with his younger brother. A muslim person in the studio stopped the fight. “We spoke for a while, and we exchanged numbers. He’d call and invite me to the mosque from then on,” he says.
At first, he declined the invites – still mistrustful of Muslims after the death of his parents – but when he finally did, he says it changed his life.
“I remember I took a loaded gun with me and a group of friends.” But when Beale got to the mosque in South-Central Los Angeles, he says he saw a vividly different representation than he was expecting.
“It was different races ― Arabs, white and black Americans, Pakistanis and Indians — from all walks of life and everyone was praying together, calling each other brother, which instantly struck a chord with me,” he says. It contrasted with his experience growing up going to a church, which he says was very segregated by background.
He became curious and got some literature on Islam to read. He instantly recognized the names of prophets mentioned in the Quran from the Bible. “There were names my grandmother told me, like Prophet Abraham, Jacob. When I read about Prophet Mohammed, his companions and the last revelation, I knew this was from my Creator. I accepted the religion of Islam shortly after that.”
About five months later, Beale went on to perform Hajj. “I spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia and that was at the time [when] there was no social media, so I was able to sit back and reflect. It was an amazing experience.”
After coming back home, Beale didn’t feel ready to jump back to his old lifestyle. He worked on a solo album “without any cuss words and eventually decided to leave it [music] altogether”.
“When I go back to America and they say, ‘women in Saudi are oppressed …’ and I let them know it’s the opposite. To me, the women got it good here, they spoil you,”
In 2010, Beale moved to Saudi Arabia where he co-founded coffee shop MW Café and the Smokey Beards Texas-style restaurant in Riyadh.
He recently published a biography titled Life is ЯAW. He also runs a podcast titled MU2Q where he also interviews other members of Outlawz.
The rapid changes in the Kingdom over the last few years as the government pushes the Vision 2030 reform programme makes it “feel like home” but he says that many people still don’t know how safe the country is, especially for women.
“When I go back to America and they say, ‘women in Saudi are oppressed and they can’t even leave their house without permission’ and I let them know it’s the opposite. To me, the women got it good here, they spoil you,” he says. “If I want to get work done faster at government offices and public venues, I bring my wife with me, and they will put me in front of the line because I am with a woman.”
He recently returned to the US for a visit and says he feels things have become very different in the land of his birth.
“Not to say there isn’t any good there, there is, and so are the American people. But I was speaking to a friend of mine, Tiny, who also recently converted to Islam, and he told me about a recent school shooting in Arizona, at his daughter’s school and said we are so lucky to be raising our kids here [in Saudi Arabia],” he says.
In Saudi Arabia, he says he feels there is a focus on family structure and child safety.
“A typical day in my life, I’d say, begins with me taking my kids to school. It’s such a blessing to raise them here,” he says.
Adapted from The National