The idea that Muslim woman have an innate inability to fully express themselves because they are Muslim is can be an oft repeated and churned out matter in our social psyche . To be seen and not heard. One word comes to mind - untrue.
These are exciting times; I am fortunate to surround myself with artistic and strong Muslim women who evade these misconstrued perceptions of what they are and supposed to be. They are owning and reclaiming their visibility and audibility. Some of them, you can find on what is supposed to be first Muslim women's UK TV show dedicated to poetry and spoken word, Lyrically Speaking.
It launched on Sunday 18th December 2016 on the Islam Channel with the aim of not shying away from race, colourism, colonialism, mental health, politics and global affairs.
The producer of the show, and an up and coming spoken word artist herself, Shahina Khatun, told me that:
"There's a lot of excitement around the show, it's the first of its kind". I was inspired by my lifelong passion for poetry, recently pursuing it more seriously. I recognised the power of poetry in giving me and other women a voice. I found that there were very few, if any platforms at all for Muslim women to engage in creative expression, especially taking into consideration their religious sensitivities and needs. So I thought, I want a platform, and then I may as well create that platform myself. Hence the creation of 'Lyrically Speaking".
Khatun also explained that the purpose behind the show is not only to celebrate the power and beauty of the art form but to enable Muslim women's voices to be heard on important issues in a creative way and to remind both Muslims and non-Muslims alike that poetry is intrinsically linked to Islam and its history. And that Muslim women are central to that narrative.
Most of us may be familiar with the likes of Rumi and other poetic voices within Islamic history, but how many of us are aware of Nana Asma'u (1793-1864), the daughter of well-known Nigerian leader Usman Dan Fodio. She was not only a scholar and erudite in Latin, Greek and Fulani, much of her oral teaching was through spoken word. She wrote a large collection of poetry in Fulani which primarily was aimed at the aristocracy and in Hausa intended for the larger populace.
The Huffington Post recently named her as one of the 10 most important Muslim women every person should know.
But it is not a historical emblem, Muslim female performers fit into an on-going and cyclical motion of sorts. In the last ten years or so, we have seen within the UK and the US a proliferation of Muslim women in every facet of the arts, whether it be Muslim female rapping duo in the form of 'Poetic Pilgrimage', acoustic spiritual singers such as the 'Pearls of Islam' or the up and coming spoken word artists such as London based Saraiya Bah, Muslim women are certainly making a statement that will and shall be heard.
For Khatun, 'Lyrically speaking' aims to ensure that happens.