Europe’s controversial stance and inflammatory language surrounding the burqa puts Muslim women, veiled or not, in a tight spot. Instead of donning a low profile, some Muslim women are turning to music to speak their minds.
European Muslimahs are defying stereotypes by promoting their art and pushing themselves front and center. Take Diam’s, a French recording artist who shot to fame with her 2006 album Dans Ma Bulle (In My Bubble). Born in Cyprus, Diam’s raps about discrimination, poverty, and social ills in France, where she was raised. She catapulted to stardom when her 2006 album sold more than a million copies, receiving international praise, including an MTV award for Best French Act in 2006.
Her follow-up album took three years to materialize, as Diam’s coped with depression and turned to Islam while travelling in Africa. Many media outlets speculated her motives, claiming she turned to Islam to overcome fear and doubt. Feminists in France criticized her conversion. An article titled, “The Rebel submits to Islam” does a good job of detailing some of the criticism Diams faced after embracing Islam. As Bitch Magazine reports, the French women’s rights group Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores nor Submissives) was straight-up bitchy when interviewed by the French daily Le Parisien regarding Diams’ conversion.
“With this new image, Diams’ represents submission, tradition and isolation,” says Safia Labdi, the organization’s president. “Diams’ has had a hard time. She was lost, and found herself by wearing the veil. This is something that we unfortunately see with a lot of young girls.” (sic)
In the article titled, “French rapper Diams’ is keeping it real,” the notion that she accepted a submissive role by accepting Islam (which French feminists and other critics accused her of) is addressed: “People close to Diams’ have said critics who equate her changed lifestyle with an acceptance of submissiveness would think again if they saw who ‘calls the shots’ when she is in the company of men.”
In her music, Diams addresses the haters in The National: “I am the enemy because I’m a convert and I wear a veil,” and defends her silence towards the media:
“I don’t want to be watched. I want people to accept that what counts is my writing, not the color of my tracksuit … thanks to God, I realize success is fleeting, that the press and television should serve only the cause of peace. To all those paparazzi who like to photograph my cellulite: gentlemen, go and film what is hidden from us in Africa.”
Rising stars Poetic Pilgrimage, a duo out of the U.K., similarly rap and perform spoken word pieces about identity and immigration, while also addressing the media and the criticism they face as Muslim women who choose to wear the veil. Their music stays true to their background as spoken word-artists, using the power of rhyme against African- and Caribbean- inspired musical beats. They defy not only the stereotype of the oppressed Muslimah, but of the young modern rap artist obsessed with bling, sex, and materialism.
The duo told Al-Ahram news that their choice to wear the veil is about empowerment:
We try to make hijab appear the coolest thing in the world to our young fans,” they told me. “We have received a number of emails from a lot of young girls in the UK, USA, and Canada telling us that they did not like putting on hijab until they listened to our Rap music about hijab and the way we Rap about it. We tell them in our music that hijab is cool and they should not be ashamed of it.” (sic)
Their conversion story mirrors the ones we heard growing up about the Ansar: hatin’ on the new religion and then growing to love and accept it. The Caribbean sisters told the newspaper “We hated Islam-astaghfirullah,” and they used to speak out against Islam through an organization called Nuwaubian. They cite the literary work of Moroccan feminist Fatima Mernissi and the biography of Malcom X as major reasons behind their conversion. The track “Modern Day Marys” calls on Muslim women to uphold their religion:
Sisters be defenders of your deen/ You’ll find all types walking up right,
Remember sisters who struggle before you/ Walk with no fear in your hearts at all/ Unless its toward our Lord/ I’m trying to step like a modern day Mary.
Modern day Marys armed with a microphone.
Hajar, only 13, sings about Islam and the empowerment of Muslim women. She’s part of Koor al Wahda, a male and female choral group from the Netherlands made up of six adults and six children. Koor al Wahda, which means a Ball of One, sing mostly Arabic and Dutch songs that express praise and love for Allah and The Prophets.
Hajar released a solo video, titled “Lieve Zuster”:
She’s singing about the need to be strong and confident in the face of criticism and advises women to seek freedom and protection in Islam. Like Diams and Poetic Pilgrimage, she offers reassurance to Muslimahs who might feel marginalized in Europe’s anti-burqa environment and hijab bans.
These women should be applauded for using their talent as a way of addressing the bias in the media and those that wish to shun their way of life with racial slurs, or discriminatory laws. They provide a much needed voice to the women most affected by Europe’s Islamophobia, and in doing so, are showing the world that Muslimahs-veiled or not are not only talented but confident in who they are.