The Muslim Women of Hip Hop

Although still a male-dominated realm, women have been an important part of the hip hop world both as artists and consumers. Anaya McMurray, in her journal article* Hotep and Hip-Hop: Can Black Muslim Women Be Down with Hip-Hop? explores the relation of Black Muslim women to hip hop music and asks the question, “Can Black Muslim women be a part of hip hop and Islam?”**

McCurray says that unique spaces in the discourses surrounding Islam are often ignored, consequently ignoring certain groups of Muslims, including Black Muslim women. Black Muslim women have become “agents in negotiating Islamic faith and hip-hop culture.” She aims to examine the ways in which Black Muslim women create unique spaces and negotiate Islam and hip hop in their music, as well as ways in which society represents Islam and hip hop which marginalize Black Muslim women. She does so by discussing the works of Erykah Badu, Eve, and herself as Black Muslim women hip hop artists.

When speaking of Erykah Badu we find out that the Islam McMurray tells us Badu follows is that of the Nation of Gods and Earths, or Five Percenters. Five Percenters are those who follow the teachings of Clarence 13x, a former member of the Nation of Islam. Five Percenters do consider themselves Muslims but not in the religious sense – in the political sense. Therefore, many mainstream Muslims do not consider them Muslims. And in reality their beliefs have very little in common with Sunni or Shia Islam. McMurray tells us how Badu does create a space for Muslim women in her songs by rapping about Five Percenter practices – practices which encourage men and women to remain within their respective, traditional roles. Beliefs which seem quite sexist but ones which Badu says are quite flexible, in her music. However, as Five Percenters have so little in common with mainstream Islam, and in fact consider themselves a part of a political movement rather than a religious one, using Badu to represent Muslim women in hip hop struck me as false advertising. She does not, from my understanding, represent the religion but rather the political movement.

The situation of Eve is not so clear. She has been quoted as saying that she finds Sunni Islam beautiful but cannot follow it properly. McMurray argues that, according to her calculations, Eve is a Muslim woman, though even McMurray admits she cannot be sure. McMurray reads Eve as a Muslim woman. Eve refers to Allah in her work as well as thanks Allah on her CD credits. Additionally, McMurray tells us that her own personal communications indicate that she is Muslim. McMurray makes an interesting observation about people’s assumptions about Eve and her religion. In one song Eve says “I thank Allah every night and pray there’s no turning back.” In many online lyrics sources this line is written as “I thank the Lord every night and pray there’s no turning back.” McMurray tells us that people, on all sides (within and without) just cannot fathom Eve as a Muslim so would never assume that she would use “Allah.” She tells us that people have never even asked the question of her being Muslim despite her use of “Allah”.

The author then presents her own creation of a unique space which proves to be the most fascinating of the three. She proves to be an intellectual rapper referencing not only academics such as Tricia Rose, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and Fatima Mernissi, but also the Qur’an. McMurray states that it is her Islamic spirituality which guides her lyrics. For her Islam is a key source of inspiration for her work, in which she commonly critiques patriarchy.

McMurray presents another image of Muslim women. In her paper, she states that the images of Badu, Eve and herself challenge the traditional images of Muslim women and women in hip hop. She states that “Our images challenge the misrepresentation that all Muslim women are Middle Eastern and/or that Muslim women cover at all times, and don’t have the freedom to pursue careers in music and entertainment.” Additionally, she states that “we challenge the assumption that women who are not visibly marked as belonging to another faith are by default Christian.”

McMurray critiques the Muslim community, the hip hop community, and mainstream society for making assumptions about women in hip hop in general, and Black Muslim women specifically. Though at times her examples of Muslim women may seem weak, McMurray makes some very important points worth consideration about the space for Black Muslim women in hip hop. Muslims don’t see Black Muslim women in hip hop as Muslim because of what they wear and/or their controversial lyrics; many rappers don’t see them as Muslim because they would rather see women in hip hop as objects; mainstream doesn’t see them as Muslim because Christianity has been so important to the mainstream Black community. Therefore, Black Muslim women in hip hop are left in a difficult position where they have to struggle to create and maintain a space. Further critiques of their unique spaces would be interesting to see.

*Reference:
McMurray, A. (2008). Hotep and hip-hop: Can Black Muslim women be down with hip hop? Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, 8(1), 74-92.

** Unfortunately I cannot post the article here but I have provided the reference so that if you have access to academic journals you can look it up. If you are interested in reading it and cannot access it please email us and we can email it to you.

  • ammena

    interesting, thanks sis

  • Duniya

    I’m glad you like it.

  • ZAYNA

    Wow, I find this so interesting and love your attention to the details of the article.

  • Duniya

    Thanks Zayna!

  • Coolred38

    I find that even those of us who work so hard to tear down the stereotypical depictions always presented as THE Muslim Woman…still act a bit surprised to learn that so and so is a Muslim…or even might be. Hard to get rid of that Muslim Woman image…even when its in our best interest to present Muslim Women as Everywoman…Eve a Muslim…who would have a thought it…lol.

  • Meena

    “Our images challenge the misrepresentation that all Muslim women are Middle Eastern and/or that Muslim women cover at all times, and don’t have the freedom to pursue careers in music and entertainment.” Additionally, she states that “we challenge the assumption that women who are not visibly marked as belonging to another faith are by default Christian.”hollla this quote says it much more eloquently than i could

  • Forsoothsayer

    allah is just the arabic word for God – used by Muslims and Christians alike. The use of it is no conclusive sign of being Muslim.

  • Anonymous

    I absolutely agree with coolred’s comment. Yeah, that internalized “ideal Muslimah” is a long-lasting lens through which to see all other Muslim women through indeed. Although if I want to see a totally non-standard Muslim woman, all I have to do is to look in the mirror, I still get surprised by other stereotypes-busting Muslim women–Muslim women in hip hop, who’da thought? This is why I really enjoy reading this blog.

  • Zeynab

    Forsoothsayer, you’re right that Christians and Muslims alike use the term “Allah.” But a non-Arab’s use of the word “Allah” strongly implies subscription to Islam.

  • Duniya

    anonymous:That’s why I loved this article. It defied our OWN stereotypes of Muslim women – because we, as Muslim women, have them as well. And like you, all I have to do is look in the mirror to defy stereotypes. Great point!forsoothsayer:I concur with zeynab. Though it’s not just non-arab but also a non-Muslim-country-living person’s use of the word implies Islam. A society in which Muslims are a minority the term is almost exclusively associated with Muslims. For instance, in Pakistan, a country predominantlyMuslim, many Christians do use the Allah, but in India next door, you’d be hard pressed to find a Christian saying Allah.

  • ~Aishah Schwartz

    Nicely written! I started a project dedicated to highlighting Muslim women, it’s here: http://mwawomenmakinghistory.blogspot.com

  • Anonymous

    First and foremost, the five percenters are not Muslim. Embracing a part of a culture or certain aspects of a faith does not make you an adherent of that faith. A Muslim is one who acknowledges that Allah is the Creator of all the worlds, that Muhammad is the last Prophet and that the Quran is the final divine revelation. There are other obligations (prayer, fasting, giving charity, making hajj) but the above (faith/iman) is the minimal requirement for someone to claim to be Muslim. The Five Percenters more than likely do not pray to Allah, fast or give zakah or probably know how to do so properly. All my life, I have advocated that Islam practiced in its true form respects, honors and protects women, and spoken honestly that it is generally not done so throughout the world. It is so offensive to me when writers and the media rush to present women who do not cover or appear in any way to follow the basic tenets of Islam as an example that Muslim women can be modern, free, and independent. So often, the examples are frumpy middle- to upper-class Cacusasian women who have married a foreign-born Muslim and presented as if they have done something wonderful or remarkable, or in this case, half-dressed entertainers. Umm HussainHillside, NJ – Writer- Henna Artist- Textile Artist- Legal Assistant- Administrator, Dar-ul Khalil Arabic Institute- Former Minister of Information, Masjid Deenulah, Newark, NJ- Original Member, Muslim Organization Committee (First Unified Eid in Newark, NJ 1978)

  • Zeynab

    Umm Hussain, I take issue with a few of your statements. “The Five Percenters more than likely do not pray to Allah, fast or give zakah or probably know how to do so properly.” Frankly, I’d never heard of the Five Percenters until this post. Do you have a thorough knowledge of the Nation of Islam, its offshoots, and their tenets and practices? If you do, then feel free to share them with us. “It is so offensive to me when writers and the media rush to present women who do not cover or appear in any way to follow the basic tenets of Islam as an example that Muslim women can be modern, free, and independent. So often, the examples are frumpy middle- to upper-class Cacusasian women who have married a foreign-born Muslim and presented as if they have done something wonderful or remarkable, or in this case, half-dressed entertainers.”Well, you’ve just insulted Muslim women who don’t wear hejab and white reverts: not cool. There is no possible way you can judge those who “do not cover” by what they’re wearing; Islam is INSIDE a person, not ON them. Secondly, calling white reverts frumpy is unacceptable (and your own opinion). Please keep this to yourself. I understand that you may be vexed about media coverage of Muslim women (aren’t we all?), but that’s no reason to take it out on white reverts. It’s best to speak up in positive ways that don’t backbite your own sisters (whatever race they may be).Please make sure to take a look at our comment policy next time; these kind of statements are not acceptable here.

  • Yasmine

    What? Erykah Badu a muslim? Oh man.. that is cool.. I love her.. just absolutley love that girlie.. anyhow I agree with forsoothsayer to some extent. If one submits to Allah (swt) then they are muslims. Being a muslim does not signfy that one has to be a good muslim because we all know its not easy and as long as we strive to submit we are identified as muslim.lol @ Zeyna.. great points but I believe he also had some good points about the media potraying liberated muslims those who do not cover… thats a shame.. :(

  • svendster

    SalaamsVery interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing. I like Eve’s humility about her spiritual struggles, it makes her far more interesting and compelling.

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