Tupac Amaru Shakur was widely respected and loved by segments of the Black community especially those of us who grew up in the hood. ‘Pac,’ as he was affectionately known, articulated our pain, our struggles, our internal conflict, and gave a track list for our anger. When he was rapping or just being interviewed he would often sound as if the saliva in the back of his throat was boiling. Emotive, introspective, and fearless encapsulate the rapper who was the son of Black Panther Afeni Shakur, stepson of Mutulu Shakur, and godson of Assata Shakur. Sadly, Tupac Shakur was gunned down at the age of 25 September 13, 1996. The death of Shakur and the circumstances around his murder were shrouded in mystery and subject to much speculation. However, more has been revealed in the past twenty-five years about those involved and their motives. In this piece we want to discuss the Islamic lessons that can be derived from the death of Tupac Shakur. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and by changing our culture prevent such tragedies in the future.
The Dead-End of Materialism
Glasses Malone recently released a track titled Tupac Must Die that tells the story of Tupac’s death from the perspective of his killer. As a kid Glasses grew up around old heads on his block who were friends with Tupac’s alleged killer Orlando Anderson and so he was around to hear the stories. According to the streets, Orlando Anderson was a serious member of the crips who was under surveillance by the Los Angeles police department for multiple murders. The song and its video depict the day’s events leading up to Pac’s murder. Earlier that day, Anderson entered a Footlocker in Compton where they encountered members of a rival gang, the Bloods, including a member of Suge Knight’s Deathrow entourage, Treyvon ‘Tray’ Lane. Treyvon was sporting a golden death row chain. There was an altercation in which Orlando robbed Treyvon of his gold chain. Personifying Orlando’s attitude, Glasses raps:
“This chain, just a casualty of all the action. Now my trophy ass whopppin how you win it and To keep it real, my nigga, I look better in it and aint no price you could pay to get it back. Never catch me goin’ out like that”
In the nineties, wearing a chain was the ultimate status symbol and thus having your chain stolen is the ultimate sign of humiliation. The Muslims’ ask ‘why do we give so much value to a gold chain that we are willing to hurt and even kill to get it? Do we own the chain or does the chain own us? The reality is that a gold chain or any other possession is only worth the value that human beings decide to give it. When we determine each other’s value based on trinkets like gold chains then we are worshiping that item and are enslaved by it. The jewelry around our necks and wrists are decorated shackles.
Materialism is a disease of the heart whereby we decide to measure our self-worth and who we are as people based upon storefront items.
In Sahih Bukhari it is narrated that the prophet (saw) would say: Had the son of Adam be given a valley of gold then he would try to use that valley of gold to attain another valley of gold. And if he was given a second valley of gold then he would use those two to attain a third valley of gold. Nothing would fill the mouth of Adam except for dirt (nothing would end that greed except his death). And Allah forgives those who repent.
This hadith addresses the state of the human when he is trapped in materialism. In other words greed is a form of poverty because no matter what you get or how much it will never be enough. Once we have one gold chain, we have to get another, and it never stops. The worship of jewelry in the black community makes it the “paraphernalia of the suffering.”How do we break out of this cycle? The Quran in surah 57:20 teaches us:
Know that the life of this world is only a frolic and mummery, an ornamentation, boasting and bragging among yourselves, and lust for multiplying wealth and children. It is like rain so pleasing to the cultivator for his vegetation which sprouts and swells, and then begins to wither, and you see it turn to yellow and reduced to chaff. There is severe punishment in the Hereafter, but also forgiveness from God, and acceptance. As for the life of this world, it is no more than merchandise of vanity.
The Qu’ran is calling for us to recognize that these materialistic objects we attach so much value to in the hood, whether it be a gold chain, a Rolex watch, or Jordans, that we can’t take any of the objects with us when we die. They will all fade away and perish when we die and so will the glory we got from them. The only currency that matters to Allah on the day of judgment is our good deeds. The Qu’ran in Surah Al-Lail mentions a tyrant by the name of Abu Lahab and makes it clear that none of the wealth or status can save him from the wrath of Allah on the day of judgment
As fate would have it, Orlanda Anderson would visit Las Vegas to watch the Mike Tyson fight. Tupac, Treyvon lane, and other bloods affiliated with death row records would also be in attendance that night. While at the casino, Treyvon Lane recognizes Orlando Anderson and tells Tupac that that is the guy who stole his gold chain. Describing this scene, Glasses Malone personifies Orlando Anderson’s in the lyrics raps:
Turn around, see a rapper on approach but I ain’t shook
Mobbin with that nigga from the mall that we booked
Number one can get the jab, number two can get the hook
But Suge right behind along with four more opps
Niggas jumped me like rope, kicked me rocks
Casino guards made em stop and I pray the law don’t end the act
Cause I ain’t goin’ out like that
Tupac runs up to Orlando and punches him in his face as more members of his entourage begin to stomp, kick, and beat brother Orlando Anderson. This brutal beating set in motion the plot to kill Tupac Shakur. Glasses Malone captures Orlando’s mindset when he raps: “Now I meet up with the homies, let them niggas know the deal because he rap, fuck that nigga think he ill? Imma show him that this crip shit for real.” There are several motives underlying Orlando’s quest for revenge against Tupac. In the song portraying Orlando Anderson, Glasses says “If word get back to the city everybody gon try me” and “I ain’t goin’ out like that.”
Brother Orlando is concerned as to what his homies will think if words get back to his hood that he got jumped by Tupac and his crew. Orlando was faced with the question: ‘Do I murder my black brother or do I let it go?’ If I were there to speak with brother Orlando Anderson, I would remind him that he has been created for a higher purpose than Cripping and that the destruction we cause to each other plays right into the enemy’s hands. The greatest weapon against the system is to fear Allah(swt). Murder is a very serious sin with serious consequences on the day of judgment. It also happens to be a crime but not for the same reason that it is a sin. The criminal legal system has made killing another black man illegal not because it values black life but because it can ‘kill two birds with one stone.’ By killing another black man you help them get rid of one of us and in turn they can put you in prison thereby getting rid of you. It’s basically two for one. However, Allah has made murder a sin because he values our lives and wants us to value our lives. The Quran says that “Whosoever killed a person … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind” (5:32).
The Harm of the Ego and the sin of Murder
In Islam, there is a spiritual disease that emanates from the ego. It manifests when we are willing to transgress the boundaries of Allah(swt) purely to maintain our own sense of pride. In Islam a sin is described as an injustice against one’s own soul. Murder in Islam is a very serious sin because it is heartless and incompatible with civilization and morality. Yet, it is the ego that has caused many to murder. In hoods across America, many of us are inflicted with a spiritual disease where we are constantly out to show that “we are the hardest nigga on the block.” What is the reward for being “the hardest nigga on the block”? This is a fool’s goal that results in back and forth murders and shootings; retaliation in service of our base desires. Ultimately, this is a fool game as the same bullets that can kill someone else can also kill you. No human being is immune to gunshots and we will all taste death. Many killers have been killed.
Thus, the wise man would seek to worship, revere, and honor the entity that is truly invincible and that is Allah(swt). One of Allah’s attributes is Al-Aziz meaning that Allah is the most invincible. Allah cannot be harmed. Neither sleep nor slumber can overtake Allah and Allah brought us into this world and can take us out. We can transgress Allah’s boundaries but we will be held accountable for it if not in this life but in the next. You can use a forty, draco, mac-10 and all the guns in the world to take out your brother in this life but none of those weapons will mean a thing. You will be forced to stand in front of Allah and answer for your actions and transgressions against his creation.
In the hood, we often praise and revere killers. We refer to them as hittas, street legends, real niggas. But what does Allah book call them and what status does Allah assign to such individuals? Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) accordingly once said that “no human being is killed unjustly but a part of responsibility for the crime is laid on the first son of Adam who invented the tradition of killing (murdering) on the earth” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
So let’s turn to the story of Cain and Abel in the Quran. In the Quran, Cain and Abel both made sacrifices to Allah but Allah accepted Able’s sacrifice but did not accept Cain’s sacrifice. This made Cain upset and overwhelmed with envy with a blow to his ego and pride. Cain made up in his mind he would kill Able. Able told his brother:
“If you should raise your hand against me to kill me – I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you. Indeed, I fear Allah, Lord of the worlds. Indeed I want you to obtain (thereby) my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers” (al-Ma’idah, 28-29).
Cain proceeded to kill his brother Abel.
“And his (selfish) soul permitted to him the murder of his brother, so he killed him and became among the losers” (al-Ma’idah, 30).
Allah(swt) states that Cain became one of the losers and Cain earns an extra sin for every murder commitied by humans because he introduced murder to the world. So murderers are not people to revere or look up too, they are losers pure and simple.
Now we return to the story of Orlando Anderson and Tupac Shakur. After getting jumped by Orlanda Anderson, brother Orlando had a critical decision to make. He decided to pick up the gun as Glasses Malone raps: “Forty glock, veil, choice of weapon for revenge.” Receiving word that Tupac would be at a club, brother Orlando Anderson made his way to the parking lot: “Posted in the parkin’ lot upon arrival we gon shoot…” The rest is history. Brother Orlando would eventually shoot into Tupac’s car, fatally wounding the legendary rapper; twice in the chest, once in the arm, and once in the thigh. One of the bullets punctured Shakur’s right lung. He would die six days later. Orlando Anderson would be killed in an unrelated gang shootout two years later outside a gas station in Compton, California.
As I mentioned earlier, many killers have been killed. There is a saying that if you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword. In our times, we can say if you live by the gun, you can die by the gun. This reality shows why this pursuit of being the “hardest nigga” is all an exercise in futility. In Surah, 41: 15:, Allah says:
As for ‘Aad, they were arrogant upon the earth without right and said, “Who is greater than us in strength?” Did they not consider that Allah who created them was greater than them in strength?
We can act as hard and arrogant as we want to, ultimately Allah will show us that He is superior to us in strength.
So what lessons can we learn from the circumstances surrounding the death of our brother Tupac? Materialism and ego are false are a dead-end. They are false gods and serving them delivers us into the hands of our true enemy. Let’s move past giving value to gold chains, shoes, and cars to such an extent that we will fight and kill our own brother. These objects can not love us back. Let’s fight our egos so we don’t have to fight each other.