Extraordinary stories from the most interesting artists, writers, athletes, and thinkers on the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience.

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Amir Sulaiman

Season 4

EPISODE 4 - Amir Sulaiman

This week on the podcast, AR sits down with Grammy nominated poet and recording artist, Amir Sulaiman. Hailing from Rochester, New York, Amir's poetic journey has traversed continents, resonating with audiences globally. Amir helped write and produce the second and third season of the award-winning series Ramy on Hulu, collaborated on albums with Dave Chappelle and Robert Glasper, and is now a writer for Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther series, Ironheart. In this episode, they discuss the amazing turns Amir’s career has taken, and his unique perspective on poetry and the role of the poet in society. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): Welcome to This Being Human, I’m your host Abdul Rehman Malik. On this podcast I talk to extraordinary people from all over the world, whose life, ideas, and art are shaped by Muslim culture. 

Amir Sulaiman: That is essentially what we're doing with story, is we're trying to find and articulate meaning. Because by way of meaning, the human being can endure anything. Without meaning, the human being can't endure anything. A prick of a thorn is a great tragedy. Any hardship that happens without meaning is devastating. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): Amir Sulaiman is a dear artist friend whose career I’ve watched from his beginnings as a firecracker spoken word poet to now being a sought after writer in Hollywood. When we first met, his poetry had a massive effect on me. I had the pleasure of bringing him out to London to perform in the early 2000s, and since then we’ve had a series of profound conversations about everything from fatherhood to community to the divine.  

It’s been amazing to watch Amir’s poetry lead him to an expansive artistic career—he helped write and produce the second and third season of the award-winning series Ramy on Hulu, collaborated on albums with Dave Chappelle and Robert Glasper, and is now a writer for Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther series, Ironheart.

In this interview we talk about all of these amazing turns his career has taken. We also get into how he uniquely views poetry and the role of the poet in society. It’s another profound conversation I know I’ll keep with me for years to come, and I’m happy that this time, you all will have a chance to listen in.


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I wanted to maybe start our conversation talking about your performance on Jimmy Fallon with Robert Glasper. And I watched that performance with a group of people, And I have to say, Amir, it was one of the moments that I felt so proud to be your friend. 

Amir Sulaiman: Oh man, that’s great.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I think all of us in the room cried as you performed. And we were also quiet. And maybe it was because, on such a culturally iconic program like Jimmy Fallon, you began with the Bismillah, you began in the name of God, merciful, compassionate. And then you went into this poem. And there's a line in that, in that poem that is the line that I think I've gone back to when I think about your work, because in some ways it feels emblematic of your work. You say, “we don't play music, we pray music.” 

Amir Sulaiman: So, you know, this is my first late night, you know, show experience. And so, you know, I'm a little shocked and excited and like, wow, this is amazing. But on the show, we only have like, I think we have like two minutes, maybe less than two minutes? So it was all about how to compress all of this into the shape for the show. I had to cut out most of the poem. And so, obviously I'm looking for the heart of the poem. Like, what lines can I say that represent, you know, the whole poem, one. And then also, you know, to your point, it was like, what also can I say here from this poem that represents me and what I'm doing? Because this is my first introduction in this kind of way to this type of community and platform. So there was a lot of thought put into what am I going to say? And so I'm exploring in the actual full piece how, you know, this isn't. Like poetry, for us, it's not a game for us. Like, this isn't. We enjoy it and it's pleasurable and it's fun and we use it to party and we use it to divert our attention away from some of the challenges or just the explicit horrors of life. And, you know, but it's not empty. It's not just a diversion, you know, for Black people, and for Muslim people. Some Muslim traditions, what poetry is, it's a serious matter. And it's a serious folk matter. In America, in the West in general, poetry is also a serious matter. But it's almost very. It's for, quote unquote, poets and it's for academics. But as a folk, you know, thing, not as much. But where we do find that poetry is in the music. And so it was just a testimony to what soul has been poured into this music and its musical tradition, this crossroads that where I exist. You know, between, you know, Rakim and Rumi, you know, as we say. This crossroads where I exist is a product of people, individuals, and peoples’ effort not to be distracted or divert their attention away from reality, but to penetrate more deeply into reality and to articulate on behalf of people things that they know, but maybe they can't articulate, or things that they know, but they can't quite conceptualize. They don't know that they know them. Until they hear it out loud. And they say, uh-huh. Like the line itself, as you mentioned, this experience that you had with those people who came together, which is actually very touching for me, to witness the performance. That when they hear that line, you know, they're like, aha, yes, that's it! They knew it. But to hear it is so deeply satisfying. I remember Baldwin said something about this, and I don't dare to try to quote it because I'm going to goof it up. But he was just talking about the power of finding the words. Like finding the words. And sometimes, as a writer, of course, finding the words is very satisfying and very meaningful. But even as a audience member, as a spectator, as one receiving a language, to hear the words, it's like, yes, that, exactly! That's it. He said it. I don't know, it touches something very deep in us that as soon as we hear it, it's like a knot is untied or a light turns on in the heart. And I think that's why we love to hear music, you know, and we hear poetry. And someone says something about love or about mourning or about God or about. And you hear it and say, that's exactly what mourning feels like. That's it. They, he said it, he said it. And somehow that helps us. You know, it's a mystery to me, really. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): Amir Sulaiman collaborated with multi-Grammy award winning musician and producer Robert Glasper on his 2022 album, Black Radio III. They met in 2020 at Dave Chappelle’s Summer Camp, an outdoor stage the comedian held in his hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed comedians, musicians, and all kinds of other artists to perform in front of live audiences and find community while the rest of the world was shut down.


Amir Sulaiman: We were in Yellow Springs, the only show on Earth. And so everyone was coming like, you turn around like, oh, there's David Letterman and oh, there's Erykah Badu. And oh, Kevin Hart's here. And it was just, you know, because it was the only place. That's Seinfeld! And so it's really amazing. And everyone was very tender, because of just the uncertainty of the time. And this was the only time that even they had been around other people. And so they shot a documentary about the experience, which actually hasn't been released yet. They did some screenings, like they toured the documentary, but it's not on a streamer or anything. But Rob was scoring this and so I did the poem “We Must Win” in the documentary. So he's scoring the documentary and so he sees Amir Sulaiman and points and goes, yo, who's this? And and so he just hits me on Instagram like, yo, bro, I saw your stuff. It's amazing. I'm getting ready to do, Black Radio III. I would love to open up with the poem. And so he gave me some ideas. You know, it's the first album in X amount of years, and he was like, so much has happened, you know, George Floyd and Covid and, I was such a fan already, so I was. It was amazing to get that message. And then I just wrote it straight away and I just sent it to him. And he just put it on the album. There was no edits. There was no like, take twos. It was just like, just like that. And we had never even met each other. But then after we met, we just did so many performances and we would always do these improv performances. So, you know, I would just come on stage and he would start to play and I would just start to speak. And so we've done like countless hours of just improv. We've developed a very deep, you know, musical, psychological, spiritual, connection where we've gotten to know each other in a very intimate, artistic way. So yeah, we've, since then even, we've bonded more deeply by just creating. And so he's listening to me and he's playing and I'm listening to him and I'm speaking. And so the album, I think the reason it sounds like that is because, we're making it up as we go and we're really listening and engaging with each other in that kind of artistic intimacy. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO): Amir also had a chance to collaborate with Dave Chappelle himself. Chappelle, as you probably know, is an iconic comedian and, shall we say, cultural disruptor. He released a vinyl record with his straight-to-Youtube piece, 8:46, in which he reacts to the murder of George Floyd. The album was nominated for multiple Grammys, including Outstanding Variety Special. And it features Amir’s poem “We Must Win” on the B-side.


Amir Sulaiman: I remember he was saying like, he didn't want it to be on Netflix. He didn't want it to be behind a paywall. You know, so it was just on YouTube, you know. And I saw him struggling again to find the words, you know, and he talked about it a little bit in that special where, you know, he's supposed to have something to say, you know, and people are saying, like, their expectation and I felt that pressure as well, just, you know, because of my profession and his profession, it's like, again, we have to find the words quickly. You know, we have to find the words before everyone else, and we have to find the words better than everyone else, so to speak. Well, that's our intention. That's our service to the community. That's what we're here for. So I'm watching him and hearing him talk about his experience. And I'm feeling such an affinity for that feeling of frustration and/or desperation and/or confusion and/or the feeling that you're letting people down because you don't have the words. I don't know what to say. So he has this little. They call it The Shack. But it's like this little…I don't know, space that, after the shows, in the cornfield, we'll go there and it's kind of like the afterparty type of space. And I don't know if it fits 100 people and there's like a DJ booth and a bar and you know, and people hang out after the show there, the performers and the guests or whatever. So we're there and a good brother of both of ours, Moustafa, we're having a conversation. He was like, do you have a poem? Like, now? Like, that's relevant? And I was like, yeah, man, I always got a poem. But that was a little bit of my poetic poet hubris a little bit. But I was just like, what kind of question is that? But so anyway, he said something to Dave over like, I see him walk over to Dave, say something and then Dave is like, yeah, turn off the music. Like, stop the music, everybody be quiet. Amir's going to recite a poem. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Wow.

Amir Sulaiman: And so I'm in this little space where, you know, this person's there, that person's there. Jon Stewart was there, I remember most vividly. And other comedians and performers and so on. And then I go into this poem, which is not, definitely not, a party poem. It's not. It’s a very different energy than what was happening. But I remember reciting that and everyone, you know, connected with that moment again, that sense of, yeah, those are the words. And I remember even in composing that poem, although it's a product of, you know, struggle and so on and so forth, that line “we must win,” was designed to be encouraging in one way, you know, saying, you know, we can do this. But also, it was just a statement of fact, like a mathematical reality, like a mathematical consequence. Like the only way this ends is with us winning. And when I'm saying us, I'm meaning that justice inevitably will prevail. Love inevitably will prevail. Humanity will inevitably prevail. Like, that's what I want you to know. So “we must win,” meaning we can't give up and to encourage us, but also to remind us of just the fact of the matter, that we must win. And so when he heard that poem, he said, hey man, I'm looking to release 8:46, the special, on vinyl. And he was like, I would love for you to be on the B-side of that, which was also profound, because obviously he has access to all these other great comedians and musicians and so on and so forth. And so, I was particularly honoured that, although we had really just met whatever that day or the day before or something like that, but that, with the pool of, you know, artists and articulators that he has, that that's what he felt was the response to his call, and it just made so much sense. And so, yeah, that was really one of those huge landmark moments, not just on the celebrity part of it and, not even on the Grammy part of it, but just that we both felt like, man, this is a cultural artifact that we did and we preserved and we put out into the world. And that has meaning now. And the sense was like, this will even, maybe even mean more for a generation, maybe outside of this moment that we have like this, we captured something in this recording that will serve, you know, even people, you know, like our children, our children's children. So, yeah, that was a really beautiful and profound moment for me. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I have a small favour to ask you. If you enjoy this show, there’s a really quick thing you can do to help us make it even better. Just take five minutes to fill out a short survey. This is the Aga Khan Museum’s first-ever podcast and a little bit of feedback will help us measure our impact and reach more people with extraordinary stories from some of the most interesting artists, thinkers, and leaders on the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience. To participate, go to agakhanmuseum.org/tbhsurvey. That’s agakhanmusic.org/tbhsurvey.  The link is also in the show notes. Thanks for listening to This Being Human. Now, back to the interview.


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I was thinking about conversations that you and I have had over the years and I remember, you know, before I met you, I had seen your poetry. And you, you know, speaking your poetry and performing your poetry on, you know, the iconic show from HBO, Def Poetry Jam. And I remember your poem titled “Danger,” a poem which I later heard many, many times live and in your and in your presence. And, you know, there's this feeling, as you were saying those words, of your audience, certainly myself, being at the edge of my seat and feeling in your words, urgency and that fire rising in my chest as you spit the words. It's the same feeling that, you know, I had when we were on tour, which was that you'd visit the same words every night, the words that you had written perhaps years before. But every night there was the same urgency. How do you maintain the sense of urgency and presence in words that become familiar to you because they are oft repeated, oft recited, or oft referenced? 

Amir Sulaiman: For me, you know, the poems are very much alive you know. It's not like visiting a statue, it's more like visiting a friend or an enemy or, you know, it's like, even you and I. So I know you, obviously, have known you for many years, but every time we engage, you are different than the last time I talked to you, you know? And I'm different. And although there is a familiarity, I know who you are. At the same time, I don't know who you are. So, the best way for me to engage with you is to listen with a curious heart and make space for you to surprise me and not to imprison you in what I know about you, but to allow. So it's, it's a, it's a knowing and not knowing. It's being a familiar but an openness to being surprised. And yeah, each of the poems. It's like it lives in my mind. It has actually a residence, like it has a home? Each poem. It's like there's a city of poems. And so I can, in my heart, find like the address to “Danger” or to “Dead Man Walking,” or to “We Must Win.” It's an address. And so I know I go here and I turn right and I turn left. And as I knock on the door, this is who I'm going to find. I'm going to find “Danger” there. But when I interact with “Danger,” I know where “Danger” lives. I know what “Danger” looks like. I know what “Danger” sounds like. But I'm also open to, hey, man, what's new? You know, what's going on? Since the last time I saw you, I got married. Or since the last time I saw you, I had a kid. Or last time I saw you, this great thing or this horrible thing has happened. And so, even for me, as I'm reciting the poem. I'm as open as the audience is, maybe, to be surprised by the poem or not judging the poem. But more so just being receptive to what the poem has to offer. And so that became more of the practice, less of, I want to be a professional and do this great every time. More was, let me allow this poem to be alive and have an identity. And for it to be something. And then for me to inquire about it. Live. Now this is a little less predictable. You know? So in a way, it can be a little scarier as a quote-unquote performer presenting it, because I don't know. I don't know. That's what I mean, I'm being genuinely curious, you know? So how the poem feels, or doesn't? Sometimes it's overwhelming. Like it's taken me beyond where I feel like I have the capacity to go. Sometimes there's not as much there. There's sometimes that, you know. So, having that discovery, I find it more deeply satisfying. But also it's a little scarier to do that in front of people and like, you know, like the poem that I began my album with where, "She asks, what does it feel like when a poem comes out? It's like I'm writing my insides out and I gotta get it out before my pen dries out, before my ego finds out, can’t let my ego find out? Because when I'm writing my insides out, my every fear, my every flaw flies out in my ego. Where those fears are flaws hide out. So whatever I do can't let my ego find out." So that's how I'm feeling on stage. Like I can't let my ego interfere with this. I have to have the courage to have this moment genuine and authentically in front of other people. And that became the practice. That's what I would quote-unquote rehearse more than I would rehearse the poem. It's just sitting in that feeling and allowing that to exist. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: The imagery of a city of poems in your heart that you navigate to get to the right verses or the right stanzas and you revisit them is such a compelling image and it makes me think. Do you remember the first poem you wrote? The first poetic house that you built? 

Amir Sulaiman: Yeah, yeah, it was. So I was writing poems when I was very young and stories. I was very, very, very young. Like, even earlier than I remember. It was something that came very natural to me. I didn't know that everyone else wasn't doing it. So I thought everybody went to school and played football outside and then went home and wrote poetry. But it turns out it wasn't everybody's thing. But then I was started rapping and freestyling, you know, a lot at school and things like that. And I was, Mashallah, I was very skilled young. So this is like ten, 11 years old, 12 years old. And then I remember when I was about 13 or 14, I had this sense that because most of my rap, most my raps were about how good I was at rapping, like how better I was than everyone else that rap. And that was the through line to all of these raps. And, I started thinking I was like, well, I don't really think like that. I don't really talk like that. I don't go around saying things like this, generally speaking. So it felt a little empty to me. So I was like, what if I wrote about what I really cared about, because the other raps were just intellectual. They were like gymnastics. It was like, find this metaphor and simile and double entendre and rhyme schemes and all this stuff, but it was all just in my head. I had never sat down to think, what am I feeling right now? What am I feeling? What's important to me? What's scary? You know, just really consciously engaging those feelings purposely, other than the feelings approaching me. Like, oh, I feel sad now because such and such happened. I feel excited because I'm anticipating this or I'm fearful of that. For me instead to sit down and go and seek out. Quote-unquote, seek out. Or seek in, where am I right now? Or how do I feel right now? So just at, checking in, at that point, I didn't realize how profound that would be in my life, just as a way of being a human. And then also checking in deeply enough and long enough to be able to write it down. You know, to have that type of process. And so I wrote this poem. It was called “A Day in the Life of a Paradox,” and I remember the experience of writing it and then reading it after I wrote it, and I was like, oh, this is a whole nother world! You know, it was really amazing. And I found it more deeply satisfying and gratifying. To really engage and explore, with more definition, my interior life. And bringing my interior life out, into my exterior life where I could go and now say these words to other people. Man, it was like. Yeah, it was like magic. It was. Yeah, I was just amazed by it, you know, even at that, you know, as a young teenager, I was really amazed by it. So then from there, I just, you know, I just kept on that path. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And now, fast forwarding decades later, a Grammy-nominated poet and musician, a collaborator with some of the most significant cultural personalities of our time. And now you are also in the writer's room writing screenplays and shaping our visual media. And I'm particularly thinking about the upcoming Black Panther spinoff TV show, Ironheart, because it kind of feels appropriate that that young teenage activist Amir is now writing superhero shows. I mean, were you a fan of the comic books growing up?

Amir Sulaiman: Yeah. Huge, huge fan and collector of, particularly of Marvel comic books. And obviously, over the last, whatever, ten, 15 years, the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And so, you know, that was super exciting. I've always loved, not just the characters, the Marvel characters, but just, stories and films and television. And, you know, even as a young person, that was my favorite pastime, is just like to go to a movie. I would go to movies by myself as a teenager. And then when I got, as an adult. And I was like, you know what, man? I should make a go at that. But I didn't know where to start or anything. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik (VO)Amir’s introduction to Hollywood happened almost by accident. He was in Oakland, California struggling to teach himself how to write a script for a feature film he wanted to make. His comedian friends, Mo Amer and Azhar Usman, were in town and about to head down to LA to get to work on the second season of the acclaimed show Ramy on Hulu. They called Ramy Youssef himself, the show’s creator, and told him that he needs to meet Amir. The answer came back: how would Amir feel about consulting on the upcoming season? He said yes, of course. But what was supposed to be a one day gig ended up lasting much longer. Amir found himself in the writer’s room, co-wrote the first episode of season 2, and stayed on for season 3 as well.

Amir Sulaiman: It was radically different from my experience as a writer, because poetry is a very solitary writing experience. So if you take like writing poetry, writing film, and writing television, they're on this spectrum. So, you know, poetry. I don't have to think about anyone other than the people that I may want to speak to. So the distance between my heart and the finished product landing with the audience, it's very short, there's no people in between me and that. I write the poem. I decide how I'm gonna edit the poem, what I'm going to keep, what I'm going to leave. And then I go on stage and give it directly to the audience and that's it. The film writing is also pretty solitary, but you have to think about the way that I'm writing. I have to think about actors and directors and producers for them to see what I'm seeing exactly. So I need to make sure that when the director has this script, he understands it. You know, poetry, I don't, everyone doesn't need to understand all of it. You know, it's fine. You know, it's just the nature of, it's part of the beauty of it, you know, leaves more open to interpretation. But, television writing, a writer's room is you're writing in a room with all these other people. So the very, for me, intimate, delicate part of, let me just like get my ideas straight and like write them down, even if I have a draft and then I share it like a screenplay or a poem. There is none of that in television. It's a writer's room. It's like you're actually in that delicate, intimate part. You're doing it with ten other people. And so that was a very different writing process. It was very challenging, but very, eye opening to a different way of, you know, breaking story or just crafting something. And so being a part of and watching that process go from these kind of meandering conversations that we're having about our childhood and this thing that we saw or this current event, you know, just us chopping it up, you know, resulting in a ten episode season. And I'm like, oh, wow, this is how this works, you know? 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I'm excited to see this. I mean, certainly this Marvel creation that's coming on the back of the brilliance of Ramy. You know, we're ready for it. 

Amir Sulaiman: Yeah. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Amir, you know, just before we kind of kind of try to bring it all together. You know, there's been an incredible arc to your to your life and to your work from those childhood memories that you described and the ways in which that decision that you made to immerse yourself in poetry, in poetic expression, to be intimate and to share those intimacies with the world, have opened all of these doors, right? All of these doors have opened, these friendships, these connections. And you've championed, you know, poetry as this universal human expression. And I love the term that you use for it. You often call it "corner store folklore." It's the language that we pick up at the street corners, the poetry, the rhyme, the verse, the stuff that we produce ourselves and the stuff that we memorize. And I remember when you first mentioned that term to me, it immediately was sensible, right? It made sense because it took me back to my childhood, visiting my my grandfather in Pakistan and knowing that in our little neighborhood, the auntie who made the jalebis, you know, at the crossroads and the uncle across the way, who was the barber and the old man who would come and sell us kulfis, you know, in the summer sun. On demand, they could recite poetry. As you're in these writer’s rooms now and as you're on the stage at the Grammys and as you're working in all of these amazing places, what does the idea of poetry and its universality and that corner store folklore mean to you at this moment in your life? How are you viewing your craft? Because your craft has become expansive. 

Amir Sulaiman: One of the things that has informed much of the culmination of all these parts of myself and my way of engaging language and story, is that the universe is a poem. That, you know, even linguistically, you know, universe means one song or one poem, one verse. And that in our spiritual tradition, in Islam or Christianity or Judaism, for that matter. God is describing himself as speaking the universe into existence, as opposed to building the universe like a house, or crafting the universe with his hands. Like, crafting Adam with his hands. But it's a sense of "kun faya kun" that he says be and it is. Or, in the beginning there was the word. Or he says, let there be light. Or abracadabra in the Aramaic, you know, of creating by way of speech. And I find that, you know, profound in that the universe is being spoken into existence. That the universe first is a word and that we are all in this poem. We're part of this poem. We are all lines or metaphors in this poem. So the idea is, you know, not so much, who am I? But the question more is like, what do I mean? You know, because the nature of poetry and really the nature of language is it's a symbol, you know. So if I write S-U-N on a paper and I say, what is this? You say, the sun, but it's not really the sun, you know, it's something that signifies the sun. But what God is saying is the sun itself is a verse. So the sun isn't even the sun. It means something. It's expressing something. So not so much what is the sun? But what does the sun mean in the context of this great poem called the universe? And likewise myself. What do I mean? What do you mean? What do us coming together mean? Or us coming apart mean? And so really, more than the search for identity is the search for meaning. And that is essentially what we're doing with story, is we're trying to find and articulate meaning, because by way of meaning, the human being can endure anything. By way of meaning. Without meaning, the human being can't endure anything. A prick of a thorn is a great tragedy. Any hardship, that happens, that happens without meaning. It's devastating. It's devastating. So even we see in our lives, particularly more and more in modernity, that people are suffering so deeply, but nothing is quite, quote-unquote wrong in their life. Where people are suffering a much greater deal, but they have meaning and so they can withstand it. But even people that are living a relatively outwardly soft life, you know, easy life, they are devastated inwardly because they don't have meaning. And so the universe is a poem and my belief is that it is a love poem. That we are in love. So much so that there's not a way to find yourself out of love. The only way to avoid being in love is to deny the lover. And only a fool would do that. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Amir, tell me about a joy or maybe a meanness that came to you recently as an unexpected visitor. 

Amir Sulaiman: Well, what I can say is that, again in these very strange months that we've been living in. And being in this month of Ramadan. In this month of deep reflection and connection to the beyond. To the one who is sending these guests. That to know God, and to know God as good, and to know God as all powerful, that there's no power or might or ability except with God. Once I'm experiencing all of life as as an act of God. Like, for example, you know that God is giving and taking all the time. That we are from God, and we're all returning to God. And some moments that will cause me, you know, a negative feeling, quote-unquote, bad thing, this meanness that we're talking about or shame or things like that. You know, there's actually something I've saved on my phone where this little girl, she wants pancakes, and she's crying like, I can't stop thinking about pancakes! And the mother is saying, we had pancakes yesterday, we had pancakes the day before. We had pancakes for dinner. But you have to eat something. And she's like, I don't know why I can't stop thinking about pancakes! So her hands are on her head and she's really distraught about these pancakes. You know, and the video is kind of funny in the way that, you know, she's just so into these pancakes, right? But I'm thinking, like, for her, she's having a, this is a real tragedy for her. Like this. It's funny to us because of perspective. It's funny for us because we know how unimportant pancakes actually are. Because of our vantage point. So sometimes when I think about elders or friends of God or saints or God himself seeing my going to and fro and my lamenting and my great hardships that I'm imagining for myself and how it is. Oh, you're only feeling that way because of how little you know about reality. You know, it's just funny how little you know. And so it's, um…to trust in the one who is sending these guests, that all of these guests are to give me something good. But to more actively and immediately seek that out in these moments and know that anything that feels like something harmful is happening to me, that it is only someone good who is doing it. And so this is just an act from my beloved and therefore it is good. So, maintaining that, of course, is a challenge because, of course, we will shrink into our little selves and react to the world in our tiny way, immature way. But maintaining that has been one of the guests to have come this Ramadan and, holding it like between my molar teeth, you know, holding it tight. It's been the work, you know, been the practice.


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Thank you so much, Amir, for being on This Being Human. 

Amir Sulaiman: Thank you for having me. Thank you. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: To learn more about Amir’s work, you can visit amirsulaiman.com. This Being Human is presented by the Aga Khan Museum. Through the arts, the Aga Khan Museum sparks wonder, curiosity, and understanding of Muslim cultures and their connection with other cultures. This Being Human is produced by Antica Productions in partnership with TVO. Our senior producer is Imran Ali Malik. Our associate producer is Emily Morantz. Our executive producers are Laura Regehr and Stuart Coxe. Mixing and sound design by Phil Wilson. Our associate audio editor is Cameron McIver. Original music by Boombox Sound. Shaghayegh Tajvidi is TVO’s Managing Editor of Digital Video and Podcasts. Laurie Few is the executive for digital at TVO.

In this episode, Amir talks about….

  • Collaborating and working alongside celebrities such as Dave Chappelle. 
  • Performing on Jimmy Fallon. 
  • The importance of connecting with audiences through poetry. 
  • The first poem he ever wrote. 


"Even for me, as I'm reciting a poem, I'm as open as the audiences may be to be surprised by the poem or not judging the poem, but more so just being receptive to what the poem has to offer."

"The universe is a poem and my belief is that it is a love poem that we are in love so much so that it's not a way to find yourself out of love. The only way to avoid being in love is to deny the lover and only a fool would do that."

 "This crossroads where I exist is a product of people, individuals and people's effort, not to be distracted or divert their attention away from reality, but to penetrate more deeply into reality and to articulate on behalf of people, things that they know, but maybe they can articulate or things that they know, but they can't quite conceptualize."


Learn more about Amir: 
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Explore Amir’s work