Hip-Hop Hijabis

A musical journey of faith that follows Britain’s first female Muslim hip-hop duo on tour.

This is a universal story about friendship, love and idealism, and two young women finding their place in the world.

Muneera and Sukina are Poetic Pilgrimage, Britain’s first female Muslim hip-hop duo. And this is their personal, spiritual and physical journey.

As a tour of the UK takes the women into diverse communities, they remain undeterred by the fact that some Muslims consider music and public female performances to be forbidden.

Instead, their music guides them to new discoveries about their faith, as they learn that they share their journey with other Muslim women around the world, and explore their desire to reconcile their conversion to Islam with their strong feminist sensibilities and Jamaican roots. 


By Mette Reitzel

The ‘war on terror’ has taken many forms since 9/11 reinvigorated the age-old dichotomy of ‘the West’ against ‘Islam’. It is hard to say how effective it has been but the dramatic events of the past few months indicate that it is far from over. With every drone strike and every hostage killed, with every attack on so-called “Western icons of freedom” and every re-printed cartoon, the seeds of mutual mistrust are watered and the polarisation embedded even deeper into the contemporary sub-conscious.

In this context being a British convert to Islam becomes a contradiction in terms for some. And when the convert is an outspoken female hip-hop artist with Jamaican roots, the confusion is complete for many.

By inhabiting the intersection between cultures whose values on the surface seem so conflicting, Poetic Pilgrimage challenge a plethora of dearly held convictions from all sides of the cultural spectrum. Many Western feminists believe that promoting women’s rights from within an Islamic framework is a futile exercise, while in the eyes of some Muslims, female musicians are hell-bound. Within the Afro-Caribbean community, a Muslim convert may be considered a “sell-out”, while cynical music industry insiders suspect that their conversion is merely a clever marketing ploy in a saturated market.

Poetic Pilgrimage being interviewed at Colourful Radio in London [Al Jazeera]
Poetic Pilgrimage being interviewed at Colourful Radio in London [Al Jazeera]

Even Sukina and Muneera initially harboured similar ideas and since becoming Muslim they have consistently been confronted with these and other preconceptions. As a result they have spent considerable time and effort researching, discussing and articulating their own personal positions to a level of detail that most people never have to. In this way their story is an example of how geo-political forces impact the daily lives of individuals in a very personal way.

Some of their own doubts were appeased when they learnt that hip-hop and Islam share a genesis as being the voice of the oppressed, which included historically progressive rights for women. They concluded that many of the problems faced by Muslim women across the world are the result of cultural misinterpretation rather than an inherent misogynist bias; and they set out to “release [their] faith from the hands of thieves”, as Sukina puts it in her poem, ‘Aborted Daughters’.

Interpreting ancient religious texts is obviously an incredibly sensitive and complex matter and my intention as a filmmaker is not to resolve these questions or even to advocate a particular theological viewpoint. But I, and my team at Faction Films, do feel a responsibility to help ensure that different perspectives are represented in this important, and often heated, public debate. 

Muneera and Sukina pray in Morocco [Al Jazeera]
Muneera and Sukina pray in Morocco [Al Jazeera]

And one thing is clear. The inquisitive spirit that led these two young women to explore Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Ethiopian Christianity and Afrocentrism before finally choosing Islam is still very much alive. Sukina and Muneera continue to question and challenge ingrained attitudes and beliefs within the Muslim community, but also within themselves and Western society at large.

Expressing these observations through rhymes, poems and songs is their way of making sense of the world, and as a side effect they are creating a bridge between two seemingly opposed camps. In the polarised milieu of armed conflict, where fear-mongering voices from both sides would prefer to neatly divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’, such dedication to uncovering the hidden nuances and natural cultural overlaps, becomes a bold statement in itself.

Watch an interview with the hip-hop duo on The Stream