Hip Hop Hijabis: Muslim Women Changing the Game

In my sphere of the world, there are a lot of debates on the strides being made by women in the hip hop industry and how severely women are underrepresented. Unfortunately, when women finally do make it to the top, their lyrics are no better than what’s being pumped out by men. It’s all about sexiness and money and materialism. More than that, it’s just plain old annoying.

But every few years a rose (or in this cases, a couple of roses) cracks through the pavement to remind everyone why they love this genre in the first place. Enter Muneera and Sukina, the uber-talented members of Poetic Pilgrimage who now have a short documentary about their work on Al Jazeera English. If you live stateside, you can see this piece of work online here and I absolutely recommend that you do. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and overall it’s eye opening to the plight of Muslim women in different parts of the world.

Mette Reitzel is the guiding hand behind this work that introduces the world to two Jamaican-British, feminist, and artistic converts to Islam. After watching the documentary, it’s almost hard to believe that this might have never come to pass and the world would have been deprived of something this significant. Reitzel says that it all started out as a slow-moving independent project with just herself and her team. In fact, the film’s broadcaster, Al Jazeera, hadn’t even stepped in with any kind of aid until after a majority of the project had been filmed.

Another hurdle Reitzel faced, and in my opinion conquered, was gaining access to the world that surrounds Poetic Pilgrimage.

However, we also needed the trust of the people around them in order to film the events and activities they were taking part of, and this was at times more difficult. That is why there isn’t a scene of Poetic Pilgrimage conducting workshops with young Muslim girls, which is an important part of their work and would have helped illustrate the cultural and generational divide that is only alluded to in the current cut.

While certain aspects may not have made it to this cut – Reitzel hopes for a longer piece in the future – there’s no point in the doc where the audience feels short changed. As a whole, the piece makes you more curious about Poetic Pilgrimage. After watching the doc and checking out several links that Reitzel had sent me for my research, I went on a Google rager to find out as much as possible about these ladies who are helping the entire community by bringing a positive image of Muslim women to the forefront.

What I got most from this documentary is that Sukina and Muneera, while they live an incredibly different life from my own, are two of the most relatable Muslim converts I’ve come across since my own conversion, and I’ve never even met them! But it’s the root of their story that forms that connection. They’re just two people with an idea to make a difference and effect change, and they’ve chosen to do so through a platform that isn’t exactly widely accepted in the Muslim community. It’s no secret that in some stricter circles, music is considered a tool of the devil — and to have two women performing to music, well, you might as well just carve ‘666’ onto the tables, right? But Poetic Pilgrimage doesn’t let this kind of thinking stop them from doing what we can clearly see they were put on this Earth to do. For them, it isn’t just about having fun and being on stage. It’s about not sitting quietly and letting things happen. It’s about Muslim women taking up space and making noise.

Something I truly appreciate about their work is the diversity of the topics covered. It’s not about how they’re the best and they slaughter everyone in the game, nor is it along the lines of “respect me because I came up out of x,y,z struggle.” It’s about what’s going on in the world. It’s about all of the unpleasant things happening to people that no one wants to talk about, much less hear about. It’s about what’s important. There is a shortage of people, especially women, taking this kind of bold stance and shining a light on that which the rest of us have turned a blind eye.

Some hip hop purists might be shocked to see two women in hijab burning up the stage, and they might even be turned off by it. But it only takes the first few bars of a single song for that negative stereotyping to melt away and for their true artistry to reveal itself.

Image from The Telegraph