I was on an airplane. People’s discomfort with me, the way I looked and how I dressed—what it represented to them was palpable. The microaggressions were everywhere. As I boarded, it was like a slow motion soul train where I was the only one dancing and everyone was staring. From the stewardess forgetting to ask me what kind of beverage I wanted, to the body language of the person sitting next to me, I started to wonder about myself: Hey! Maybe I am actually a terrorist and even I don’t know it. I asserted myself gently to the flight attendant and asked for what I wanted (a lovely caffeinated, sugary, fizzy beverage, which I only allow myself to have on airplanes, so you know I wasn’t going to pass that up!). As the carbonated sugar and caffeine hit, I started thinking of all the Muslims who have this experience. I started wondering what I could do to make sure they loved themselves enough to believe they could never be the horrible things they read, see, and hear about their people. I wanted to make sure that eerie thought I’d just entertained about myself never went through the mind of another young Muslim woman. Then my thoughts went global. This wasn’t ultimately a "Muslim woman thing.” This was about all women—about loving all femme-identifying people, the people who are most typically exploited by the broken systems of our world. I had another sip, pulled out my notebook, and wrote the second verse of the first single from my forthcoming EP. Little did I know what would happen next!

“Someone should tell her husband that she hasn’t had a beating recently enough if she’s doing things like this.” 

When I released the video for “Hijabi (Wrap my Hijab),” over a million and a half people watched it in the first two weeks. You can watch it below.

The backlash has been overwhelming. The comment above is mild compared to some of the stuff in those comment sections. I’ve even received some threats, largely from non-Muslim Americans who believe that I am trying to bring Sharia to America. And the funny thing is, many Muslims criticize me too, rejecting the song because they feel I am doing something impermissible against Sharia and Islam. Some folk who treat Islam with suspicion at best and violence at worst, as well as some of the most reactionary Muslims just found out that they have at least one thing in common: they both think they hate me. I did not expect such a massive response. I certainly did not expect for it to affect people to the extent that it seems to have done. The video is relatively simple. Here’s how it goes: You see me, then the camera cuts to me and my “hijabi ladies” sitting in a stairwell full of beautiful natural light. Then I start in with the rapping. It's simple. I'm seeking to claim space for the wonderful diversity and beauty of women who wear hijab, and to represent us as vibrant, peace-loving, powerful humans who want to help us all live, and love better. 

Muslim women who wear hijab often make news for doing seemingly unremarkable things. A Muslim woman who wears hijab recently was featured in a Playboy magazine article. Another is in a current Covergirl ad campaign. I was in a Microsoft commercial. People don’t expect to see Muslim women who cover, known affectionately in the Muslim community as “hijabis,” anywhere but on TV crying about their home being bombed or some other horrible tragedy halfway across the world. Muslim women are seen as powerless, oppressed, and without agency, so when a Muslim woman sheds light on the untruth of this stereotype, some people make a fuss about it. This fuss may be rooted in ignorance, or even curiosity, but it’s also often a marker of misogyny and racism. We can do so much better. Supporting humans for doing good in the world—for speaking out for justice, inclusivity, and love—these are remarkable things which should make headlines. A music video with me at the center shouldn’t strike people as strange, but it does, because of the way people like me are represented in public. This disharmony must be rectified by our direct acknowledgement and challenge. 

The fact that I was getting ready to bear my second child when we made the video seemed to startle people as well. There were people who commented that rubbing my eight months pregnant belly in the video was offensive. A whopping nine out of ten people who were offended by this very normal thing were men. 

Hey guys: Pregnant women rub their bellies. That’s just what we do. 

People who have a problem with that should perhaps take that up with their mothers who rubbed their bellies while those criticizing were inside them, or if that is too much of a stretch, perhaps take it up with the God who made women capable of growing and nurturing life within their bodies. We must resist the war on women’s bodies, Muslim bodies, black, and brown bodies, among others, with a very simple affirmation: All bodies are good. All bodies are beautiful. 

Then there were the good people who felt that the video wasn’t inclusive enough. But it isn’t meant to be all-inclusive. How could it be? I would have had to include around 7.5 billion people in order for the video to be truly inclusive. The beauty of art is that it is capable of igniting the imagination. Displaying some array of human beauty in the video allows the mind to play with the idea of diversity and how vast and wonderful the world is. I dreamed up this song and video as a celebration of joy—in direct resistance to despair and fear. This video is a part of my art. I encourage all those who did not feel included in the video to create their own works to represent what they need to put out into the world. I’d love to watch those videos, see your diversity, listen to your hopes, dreams, and fears. We’re all in this together. The work of an artist is to tell the stories most intimate to their own experience such that they might inspire the person paying attention to feel something real. The feeling I hope people walk away with is nothing more than what is evoked by this prayer: May all beings be well and happy, may all beings be free from strife, may all beings return to love, peace be with you, forever more. 

Mona Haydar is a performance poet, activist, life- enthusiast and liberationist. In 2015, her #AskAMuslim stand inviting healing dialogue went viral. She is working toward her Masters in Divinity.

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