Wearing the hijab, abstention from alcohol and praying five times a day are not tenets widely found among rappers, but that is not stopping a London-based duo.
In a male dominated-genre, Muneera Williams and Sukina Owen-Douglas are breaking through the hip hop scene with electrifying performances under the name of “Poetic Pilgrimage.”
“There’s this dichotomy,” Owen-Douglas, 33, told the Telegraph as she expalined the paradox her and partner often encounter.
“Some days I’d walk down the street in my hijab with my headphones on listening to the Wu-Tang Clan. I’d catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and laugh. Someone would see me and probably think I can’t speak English properly, but I’m actually listening to rap.”
The Muslim duo is aware that they are shattering stereotypes.
“They think we’ll do some poetry, or sing, or be really soft. But I used to rap really hard, and I think it was because of these stereotypes.”
“I wasn’t overcompensating, but we were trying to be like, we can rap just as hard as the guys. We’re not these kind of fragile, petalled flowers.”
The two have been rapping for almost 10 years now, since they left their hometown of Bristol to study at the University of London.
They fended off stereotypes from both camps, Muslim peers who believe music is frowned upon and non-Muslim peers who choose to ascribe them the image of how a Muslim woman ought to be.
“It’s really because we’re women, or we’re doing music,” Williams, 34, said.
“There’s this idea [in Islam that] our voices are beauty, and we shouldn’t show our beauty.”
During performances at Muslim community centers, Williams and Owen-Douglas were on occasion asked to sit down throughout their performance. In another event, organizers asked them to perform behind a screen.
Although happily married, Owen Douglas said that people often tell her Muslim husband that his wife should not be showing off her voice on stage.
To which he responds: “He’s always like, have you heard my wife rap? That’s not beautification – she’s scaring people.”
As to critics outside the Muslim community, they too seem to preach a certain image the women should be wearing.
“We get expectations of what we should be,” Williams.
“People are always like, you should write a song about the Quran. They want us to be their poster girl and not say anything against [Muslims].”
Poetic Pilgrimage are crafting their own music and exuding their own image. They are incorporating their Caribbean heritage and their Islamic faith – to which they converted 10 years ago- into their music.
Poetic Pilgirimage songs preach about embracing one’s self, female empowerment, and social and political issues. And their conversion into Islam did not erode their Caribbean or British heritage, they say.
“My national dress isn’t a Shalwar Kameez – it’s H&M,” Owen-Douglas assertes.
“Some people think the…west and Islam can’t meet. But we can’t ever have that stance because that’s who we are.”SHOW MORE