Controversy erupted again this week following the release of rap video “Wrap my Hijab” by sister Mona Haydar. A tribute to Muslim women who wear the headscarf, the video exclusively featured Muslim women singing lyrics such as: “You poppin off at the lip, And run ya mouth like a treadmill, Not your exotic vacation, I’m bored with your fascination” and featured a hijabi equivalent of the recent Beyonce pregnancy photoshoot. Reactions on social media ranged from proud supporters, to those who felt that such behaviour was not befitting for a Muslim, male or female.
For those keeping tabs, this has been the latest in an emerging subculture catering to Generation “M” – a new demographic of young Muslims. As demonstrated by the original Mipsterz video of 2014, or the more recent music tracks released by Deen Squad; the young Muslim is identified as having a mixed cultural experience, being proud of their faith, enthusiastic consumers, dynamic, engaged and demanding. Breaking into the media, entertainment and fashion industries, they are arguably attempting to forge an identity during a particularly trying time, influenced by the global geopolitical situation and racial tensions.
One of the key motivations expressed by the creators of such materials is to show a more representative image of Muslims in the West, and in effect, to actualise a new Muslim subculture. In this way, the redefining of Islamic norms around a new generation and a new society, is presented as part of the religion’s beautiful way of applying to every time and place.
But we need to ask ourselves some questions about this reasoning?
1) Representation at what cost?
The rise of Islamophobia and general intolerance towards the Islamic faith has motivated calls for greater attempts at showing the wider society what Muslims are actually like. To avoid being tarred with the same brush as ISIS, the drive to get Muslims into the mainstream media, be vocal in their condemnation of such acts, and show how Muslims are “just like everyone else”, has increased. The idea is that more representation leads to greater awareness of what Muslims are actually like, and that this in turn leads to greater tolerance.
But the question is, at what cost is representation to come at, if one must sacrifice what makes them worthy of representation in the first place?
As evidenced by this video, what is being represented other than that a Muslim woman wearing hijab is able to rap? Is it showing the beauty of the Islamic faith, or enlighten viewers as to how Islam actually liberates women from the demands of men, fashion and society? It may be destroying “stereotypes” of how Muslim women should not behave, but is that a stereotype or the truth? Are we not adopting mediums such as music and dance, that we know are more acceptable to our target audience, rather than being true to our own beliefs?
Yes, perhaps after watching a video such as “Wrap my Hijab”, a non-Muslim may not perceive Muslim women as submissive to men (in the traditional sense if not the objectified, sexualised sense at least!). But will they have any greater awareness about Islam as a religion; for we have to remember that our aim must always be to show what Islam is and can bring to someone’s life, not simply our own practice of it.
2) Is a new subculture necessary?
The other reason put forward by supporters of this material is that millennials, who have been born and brought up in the West, need a subculture that is reflective of the mix of ethnic and religious influences they have experienced. Arguably the existence of subcultures serves to enable minorities to assert the influence in some small way, having been pushed to the side, and so is no real show of acceptance or establishment in the mainstream. But for now, lets question where this emerging Muslim subculture comes from.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with identifying with aspects of any culture, be it Eastern or Western, we must ensure that the parts we engage with are remaining within the guidelines of Islam. There are numerous aspects of western culture – from lewd music and dancing, to glorified celebrity culture and the sexualisation of men and women – that we do not need our youth to “islamisise” in order to have as part of their identity. This is what we have been surrounded by growing up in the West, but ultimately trying to find alter to these elements to create a more “halal” alternative is impossible, because these elements are contrary to Islam in the first place. Whether the creators of these things are Muslim or not, this does not change Islam’s position on these issues.
The idea of a representative culture equalling acceptance and confidence in an identity is an idea that stems from a society where the objective is to fit in. But from Islam, we know our practice of the Deen will inevitably make us different to others around us, and this is part of the test of being Muslim. This is summarised in the hadith of Muhammad (saws):
“Islam came as strange and will return as strange, so blessed are the strangers” (Sahih Muslim)
The secret to confidence in the Islamic identity is not to be found in creating a Muslim equivalent culture – rather it is to be found in the knowledge that whatever we are doing is for the sake of Allah (swt) alone and that the actions that are perceived as strange today, will be considered the most desirable on the Day of Judgement. On that day, we will all be wishing we had not tried to change our Deen to fit in with the mainstream, but had been confident and grateful for the fact that we had the truth.
Our Muslim youth need to take pride in our Islamic faith and its impact on our lives. We must succumb to the pressure to reform it in a desire to be accepted. Rather, we must take comfort in the hadith of Muhammad (saws):
Whoever sought the pleasure of Allah though it was displeasing to the people then Allah becomes pleased with him, and will make the people please with him, and whoever sought the pleasure of the people though it was displeasing to Allah then Allah becomes displeased with him and will make the people displeased with him (Tirmidhi)
In the absence of a holistic Islamic framework, maintaining our identity in secular societies will always be a challenge. We must recognise our belief system for the way of life it truly is, not aspects merely to be implemented at our own discretion.