Q&A with a Muslim Influencer: Kuhyar Karimian (The Sound of Reason)

Our guest influencer for this issue is Kuhyar Karimian, most popularly known as Ku, from the Music group, The Sound of Reason. (@soundofreason)

Welcome Ku! It is the first time Battuta has delved into the halal entertainment industry, so it is pretty exciting for us to interview you. I will begin by quoting a line from your song entitled “Traveler.”

“In the rearview mirror of my life, the future comes so clear to see….” Taking you back to the beginning; Who is Ku?

Ku, born Kuhyar Nathaniel Karimian, was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. My father was Persian, and my mother was half German, half British. I was raised Christian by my mom, but I later converted to Islam in high school. I started The Sound of Reason in 2005 with my childhood friend, Francis Fitzgerald. In total, we released two fulllength Albums and 1 Single. We traveled the world performing our music for about eight years, finally ending it in 2013.

What has your journey been like?

My journey has had many ups and downs, sometimes more downs than ups. I had a rough childhood, both at home and at school. I really don’t like to reveal too much about my home life because deep down I know my parents were good people just trying to make it, but for me as a kid growing up in that environment, it felt like a war zone. I just remember constantly being in fear.

Life at school was pretty much the same, a war zone. I would get bullied and beat up regularly at school. And I had no one to tell or seek help from. My parents worked, so they weren’t home and had no interest in my life. So I was alone. It was hard going from war zone to war zone. I was also awkward and looked funny because we were poor and I wore incredibly thick glasses, to such a point that they looked like novelty joke glasses someone would wear to a costume party. I had no friends. I never understood why I was alive, to be in pain all the time. My first real friend was Francis, whom I met when I was 13 or so. He was also kind of an outcast. I truly love him like a brother. He’s been a source of support and goodness in my life ever since I met him. I don’t know where I’d be without him. I’m sure he was a Godsent. I’m sure of it.

All the concerts/tours must have allowed you to visit many new places. How many cities/ countries have you seen so far? Any eye-opening moments during your travel?

While traveling the world, we performed in many different countries, including Spain, Germany, England, Scotland, France, Dubai, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, and many more. One significant takeaway from traveling to so many places and experiencing so many cultures is you come to see how Islam is practiced in so many different ways. So much variance, so much color. It humbled us for sure. It makes you more accepting and embracing of other people and their take on Islam. Seeing so many versions, you can’t help but become less judgemental, less condemning, and more open to variation (within reason, of course).

Losing luggage due to backlogs and malfunctioning at the airport has characterized travel this year. What would you do if you experienced such inefficiencies? What are your favorite travel tips?

Qadr Allah. No use in stressing over things we cannot control. We do not control what happens to us. We control how we respond—pack light. Go over your checklist of essentials before leaving the house.

Your songs and lyrics resonated with many, so why did The Sound of Reason have to end?

Well, we wrote about important things to us as idealistic youth. The focus was social commentary based on an Islamic understanding of the world, without being overtly Muslim or preachy, so that it can be listened to by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“Help me change the world,” “Comfortably Crashing,” and “Empty World” are all examples of this on our first album. We wanted to make good music with Muslim morals without outright saying words like Allah swt or Islam, which would confine our music only to a Muslim audience. We also had many political songs like “Palestine,” “The Revolution will not be televised,” or “Rise.”

We also had some very heavily religious tracks like “Living to die,” “It’s all a dream,” and “Traveler.” Just contemplating the afterlife, the meaning, and the purpose of this life. I still love those tracks because the content is timeless.

Then my version of a Muslim love song, “Cover,” was inspired by a verse I read in the Quran ( Surah 2: 187) that spoke of how a husband and wife should be like a cover unto each other. The tafsir explained that we should not only cover and protect our spouses from the harshness of the world, but we should also cover up and conceal our spouse’s shortcomings to the outside world. I loved that idea. So, I wrote “Cover.” That’s still one of my favorite tracks.

We wrote most songs together and we each wrote a few songs alone. We even wrote a few portions of our songs for other people outside of our group. For example, we have a song entitled “Traveler” which was inspired by a hadith where the Prophet PBUH said “Be in this world as a traveler”. I wrote the 3rd verse of that song for Isam from Outlandish, but sadly that never came together. There are dozens of songs that never made it out of our studio walls.

Our fan base was primarily in the U.K. and the United States. In 2013 as we were traveling to the United States to do a concert, we were stopped for a “random search”, as we were every single time we traveled. This time they said that they saw a picture on our Facebook page of us with a bunch of fans at one of our shows and apparently, somewhere in the photo was a “person of interest” to the U.S. government. We obviously had no idea what photo or what person they were talking about as we take tons of photos with tons of fans all the time, and don’t know who most of them are. However, this was enough for us to get banned from entering the United States indefinitely. Traveling to the United States for concerts was our main source of income at the time, so when we couldn’t do that anymore, we weren’t able to financially survive anymore. That was pretty much the end for us. Years later, the U.S. government reversed its ban on us, apparently it was all a case of mistaken identity with that mystery person, and we are now able to travel back and forth to the United States without a problem, but so much time has passed, and The Sound of Reason has been retired for many years now.

Are you at peace watching the waves at the beach, the serene yet majestic mountains, or both?

I love the mountains and waves at the beach. I love nature in general—swimming in Oceans, hiking mountains. In fact, my name Kuhyar in Persian means “Friend of the Mountain.”

Tell me more about the halal entertainment industry?

The first lyrics of our song entitled “Share the World” goes like this:

“I’m so down, and tired I, wonder if it’s worth the time; it’s kind of hard to get by, getting paid with smiles.”

That was pretty much our experience, especially with Muslim organizations. They would promise one thing and then, after the concert, say, “sorry, we can only pay you half of what we agreed on.” We got robbed, tricked, and scammed by so many Muslim organizations, Muslim promoters, and managers. Indeed a cutthroat industry. Sadly, it was the non-muslim shows that never scammed us.

It was also very eye-opening as we saw the behind-the-scenes of all these “Muslim events” and Nasheed superstars. Some superstars portraying themselves as devout, pious Muslims are the exact opposite. And when we were alone with them after the concerts, they would show us a different side of them. It was unfortunate to see many of them use the title “Muslim artist” as an act.

The same goes for the people behind some of the world’s most significant Muslim events. In real life, away from the cameras and fans, many are terrible human beings taking advantage of the “Muslim Arts” to make tons of money despite not having any Muslim characters themselves. It wasn’t very encouraging for me and Francis to witness this, as we are both converts and looked up to many of these people thinking they were who they portrayed themselves to be. The same applies to the Muslim Superstar Sheikhs. Very sad. However! Some are exactly as amazing as you would imagine! We made friends with many incredible people, artists, musicians, shuyukh, etc. Some of them are, in fact, more impressive in person behind the curtains.

Adversity brings out the best in people. Do you agree with this statement? How do you handle adversity?

Yes. I agree. It’s a harsh reality. Adversity has the potential to refine and improve one’s character. But it also has the potential to break a person. But that is life. A test. Not an easy one. And sometimes, there are so many downs. You think you’ll never see another up again. I’ve been there many times. That’s where “Shoulder to lean on” came from, from pain.

I had a very rough childhood, riddled with medical problems since birth. I spent much of my life in the hospital. But then, after I embraced Islam, I started to connect with the Muslim community and found that many people were also struggling in life, going through adversity and pain. I became the go-to guy for those in need, especially the outcasts. Many of these Muslim youth had been outcasts by their family and the community because they were “sinning .”I would be there for them because I knew how much it hurt to go through struggles alone. And I could not accept that others go through the same pain I did.

My phone was always on, night or day, always on, and I would regularly get calls in the middle of the night. Someone needed me to come to get them because they did something they knew they shouldn’t have, and there was no one else they could call. Alhamdulillah, I think that’s why my life was filled with pain so that I could truly understand and empathize with others when they would go through pain. There’s nothing more annoying to someone who is genuinely living a tormented life than to get advice from someone that’s never been through that level of pain. They only respond to someone that’s been there, seen the dark, lived in it, and survived it.

So that’s what I spent my teenage years, and early 20’s doing. That’s why I wrote “Shoulder To Lean On,” which goes as follows:

And when you’re low, you know that you can hold on me

In a heartbeat, I can be there,

The fears and tears you cry, I’m by your side so dry your eyes

And let me provide peace of mind in time. I know you’ll be fine

And if it’s heartbreak, I can take some off your plate,

Replace the lies and hate with smiles of faith...

Concern about eating Halal and Tayyib foods is at an all-time high. I came across the concept of “Eat your water” and “Natural immune boosters” on your Instagram page, which I think everyone should also pay attention to. Please walk us through this concept.

My health journey has taken me on many diets, testing and trying different things and listening to my body to see how it responds. My lack of hydration led to many health problems. Still, I felt so much better when I started incorporating water-dense foods. The same goes with eating immunity-boosting foods. I believe a Muslim’s ideal diet should go beyond just how meat is slaughtered. Foods can not only impact one’s health but also one’s mood, energy levels, mental state, hormones, and much more. I think it should be every Muslim’s duty to take the time to research the impacts of different foods and diets and to try to be the healthiest they can be. Allahu Aalim.

You wear the Kufiya on your arms in many of your concerts. Where did this love for the Palestinian terrirories originate from? I also know you released a song entitled “Palestine,” how did that go?

Where I got my love for Palestine, well, it’s actually from my love for any oppressed people. Anyone who is innocent and being unjustly oppressed, I have a love for. Particularly the Palestinians, because of how their circumstance came to be. I empathize with the oppressed.

The song “Palestine” ended up being one of our biggest releases but was also why ALL major radio stations in Canada and the United States refused to play our music. Because of that one song.

Francis and I had a long talk about whether or not to add Palestine to the album, knowing there was a chance we would get blacklisted from the mainstream media for having it. We decided to go for it in hopes that the support from the Muslim world and the proPalestine community would be enough. Sadly the gatekeepers to the mainstream media were NOT pro-Palestinian, so we got blacklisted immediately. Qadr Allah. So because of it, we were restricted to mainly doing Muslim events and now and then a nonMuslim event. I contemplate that choice a lot. Would it have been better to remove that song initially, give ourselves a chance to gain popularity in the mainstream, AND THEN come out with a song like Palestine once we were already there? Allahu Aalim. Maybe it wasn’t the most strategic move. Still, at that time, we were very young and idealistic and refused to censor our morals or values for anything.

So, surely with hardship comes ease. Indeed, with hardship comes ease. (Quran 94: 5 - 6) If you are grateful, I will give you more. ( Quran 14: 7 ) Hope and gratitude permeate the very essence of Islam, which is complete submission to Allah swt. How have these states of mind impacted your life?

Despite knowing and believing in these verses for decades now, the older I get, the more I realize how far I am from fully embodying these concepts. I sometimes get discouraged, saddened, and even embittered when hardship befalls me, especially when multiple problems befall me one after the other, etc. Sometimes there are so many hardships for such extended periods that you start to think there will be no end to it.

It’s hard. I understand people who feel hopeless. I’ve been there and still struggle with it today. And as simple or generic as this advice might be, the one thing I felt helped me when I reached my lowest point was praying—pouring out my heart to Allah—telling Him how lost and hopeless I felt. I then try to find the lesson I need to learn before I can move on from this test.

Gratitude and complete submission to Allah are a lot harder than simply agreeing with the concept. If you find yourself trying to force yourself into acceptance, I think you might not be addressing the underlying problem. Accepting Allah’s will, I think, is more about surrendering... Gratefully surrendering. Not simply accepting fate but loving it. I believe there is a hadith that states something to the effect of a Mumin is someone who says Alhamdulillah in good times and challenging times. This is a heavy concept. And I’m still working on it myself every day.

When I first approached you for an interview, I distinctly remember your response was, “Sure! Although I am not much of an influencer anymore.” You and Frances set out on a journey to change the world for the better, and that is no easy feat to be handled alone. The Sound of Reason may not exist anymore, but your songs and lyrics do, and that is your legacy. We at Battuta are also on the same path of changing the world one person at a time, and we felt joining hands could make the journey a little easier. Looking at the Ummah now, the lyrics to your hit song, Light the Globe, seem so relevant. What is the light that you seem to refer to?

We were thinking of light in terms of Noor. Like, the divine light that is inside of all of us. The light of truth, goodness, and positivity. If we were all to be the best version of ourselves, the light of our noor (good character, good actions etc.) would brighten up the world (make it a better place).

“Light the globe ( your light ) (yeah c’mon)... Keep on shining your light yeah… Starts with your light (Light the globe)...”

The best takeaway from this Q&A will be to ask ourselves about our relationship with the Most High, Allah swt. No one is perfect, but if we are mindful of Allah at all times, our mannerisms will be the same, both in public and private. Our relationships will also improve for the better insha’Allah. Our Prophet PBUH described the Ummah as one body; if one part hurts, the whole body hurts. The logic behind if you seek to be happy, help others is very evident. Don’t judge; just help. Thank you for your sincerity and for taking the time to respond to our questions. Please feel free to share any final thoughts.

The Journey was a difficult one, both financially and business-wise. Still, the experiences we had and the friends we made along the way were priceless. A rough ride, but simultaneously, an incredible ride.