THE BLOG

Unlikely Emcees

02/03/2015 17:11 GMT | Updated 02/05/2015 10:59 BST

Courageous, oppressed, fresh, blasphemous, eclectic, brainwashed, arrogant. These are some of the words used to describe me and my hip-hop group Poetic Pilgrimage. How could opinions about one group be so polarised? Well, since our conversion to Islam in 2005 just three weeks before the 7/7 terror attacks, there has been much intrigue into our choice to convert. Yet as a group we have been given the opportunity to perform on stages across the world and to perform for audiences of various backgrounds. Yet wherever we go, we are always asked the same question "Why have you chosen hip hop as a form of communication?" After years of being interviewed, we've realised that actually they aren't looking for an answer to that question but rather - "women, Muslim, hip hop - surely that is a contradiction?"

And yes, for many, this seems to be the case. For instance Sukina (my band member) and I often joke about performing to new audiences and how it takes about three songs before they get over the shock of hijabis running across the stage, telling them to throw their peace signs up.

But more than simply prejudice, I choose to believe that it is the lack of knowledge and understanding of Islam, and the lack of representation of Muslim women in mainstream media that lead them to view Muslim women as meek and therefore Poetic Pilgrimage as something strange. In an era where people are increasingly exploring the notion of what it means to be British and to be European, we find that we are able to recount more occasions where it has been implied that we are oppressed, brain washed, or setting back the struggle of women as a consequence of our conversion to Islam. It seems that even brightly coloured hijabis on stage rapping over reggae, on themes such as humanity, peace and love, have to battle against a barrage of anti-Islamic and Muslim women victim sentiment that is so often propagated.

When we explain why we converted to Islam there is at first the assumption that the men in our family force us to cover; the next natural assumption is that we converted for a man and it is at his request that we cover. Why else would two women of Jamaican heritage choose to wrap themselves in so much cloth when the Hijab has now become a symbol shrouded by politics.

The sad thing is that the assumptions lie on both sides. Most of the criticism we get from Muslims is based on a theological debate about the permissibility of music (whether it is Halal or Haram or basically forbidden) and the concept of preserving women's decency. These are issues that have split scholars for more than 1400 years. If it were not for the differing opinions of early Muslims and even their conversations with other communities, the Islam we know now may look very different than what it does today.

But of course, the fresh breeze of diversity and difference is sometimes muted by people's culturally biased interpretation. Poetic Pilgrimage is no exception and our work has been removed from mix tapes, kicked off tours, and generally accused of leading the heedless to the gates of hell by Muslim promoters, and largely other Muslim women.

We had to become thick skinned very early in our career. Coming from a Caribbean culture, we are used to being celebrated for being women, and now in some circles we are celebrated and in others we are condemned, by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It really is a balancing act, but an act that has allowed us to renew our intention on a regular basis and our reason for existing as a group as well as our contribution to the genre of hip hop.

We are not here to try to convince others of the acceptability of women performing, nor are we here to convince "feminists" that we are liberated. We are practising Muslims and the traditional scholarship that we follow, allow us to be Hip Hop Hijabis.

While I am not convinced our story is one that is unique, but it is a story rarely told. Al Jazeera English are regularly in the habit of telling such stories like ours, shedding light on those whose voices are seldom heard. This is the reason why films like Hip Hop Hijabis and Al Jazeera English are so essential; it casts a spotlight on real people beyond their stereotypes. In our case it shows the daily struggle that Muslim women in the arts face and the tightrope that we walk in trying to manage our identity - as both proud western Muslims and as music makers.

Hip Hop Hijabis will air on Al Jazeera English on Sunday 8 March at 22.30 GMT