What is your background as a spoken word artist? When did you begin writing and performing poetry?
When I was about 12 years old I would sing along to the songs I heard on the radio, mostly rap. I would position myself in front of the mirror, grab a brush as my microphone and “perform,” as if I was really on stage. I didn’t begin writing my own poetry until 2005, while I was visiting family in Atlanta, Georgia during a rough time. They had an Eid celebration hosted by a poet who was fierce. There, I saw young Muslims with incredible talent get on stage and perform. They were modest, God-fearing and super talented. It was such a new experience for me. I knew that day that I had found my voice. They gave me permission to be a fierce poet, and an even fiercer Muslimah. I left Atlanta a changed woman. That night I wrote an entire album from the energy the Muslim artists had brought. I began performing shortly after that and people continue to love it. They give me incredible feedback mostly and say I inspire them. That is the true blessing.
On your blog you say that your dad took you along to his “fiery speeches and lectures” but that you “just looked forward to the road trips and the free food we ate at the various venues.” At what point was there a ‘click’ for you, when you knew that you were also like this, that you also had the urge and means to inspire?
This actually transpired when I was working as a secretary for my dad at his masjid. I had to deal with people from all walks of life with unbelievable circumstances. The majority of the time I was dealing with people in crisis and as my dad’s secretary I had to intercept, and help find fast solutions to solve their problems. Alhamdulillah, I had a natural ability to make people feel comfortable enough to open up and share with me. I always listened intently to their words, deciphering the real message (what they were not saying) and then offered solutions based on that. Alhamdulillah, people were coming into my office on the verge of suicide in some cases and left with new found hope. It was then, I realized I had my dad’s passion and zeal and my calling was to help save and motivate the masses.
You must look at our own uniqueness and find strength in your journey. Your personal path was written for you to do something great, something phenomenal.
How is poetry and spoken word different or not different from straight forward lecturing?
Spoken word and lecturing, to me, is the same. I have a message or a story that I want to tell. Whether it is lecture-style or spoken in poetry, I deliver it so that it pierces the heart and penetrates the soul. I’ve been to many lectures where the information may have been excellent but the delivery was so boring that the audience was lost. Having watched my dad give fiery lecture after lecture, my expectations when I hear a lecture are high. I want it to be good and beneficial, but I’m looking for it to move my soul. If either one is lacking it just does not hold my attention long enough and it becomes useless to even attend. I look at each of my performances this way. Whether it’s my radio show or performing a poem or lecturing, I want people to walk away so pumped up, ready to make a move towards change. I am not satisfied unless the majority of my audience has been moved in such a way that they cannot go home the same person as they were when they came.
In the piece ‘My Journey’ you write “Two choices speak up or sit in the corner over there, because she told herself all her life its immodest to speak her opinion, impolite to raise her voice, or share her inner wisdom, so she stagnates herself suppresses what she has to offer, but her core, her inner most being is burning,…” Have you personally experienced this dilemma? How has your family – especially your mom and dad – felt about your own journey as a woman who stands and speaks up?
I was very passive when I was younger, I wanted to be liked so I would bite my tongue and let people walk all over me. I would agree to do things I really didn’t want to because I thought I was being a good Muslim. I wouldn’t dare critique anyone else other than myself. It came to a point in my life where I was getting sick all the time from not being unable to say “No.” I remember thinking one day, this makes no sense. It doesn’t matter if people don’t validate me because I say no. What’s most important is my health. Slowly but surely I started pulling back and getting the courage to be more assertive. Alhamdulillah, now I’m much better at expressing my needs and wants and keeping everything in my boundary lines. People respect you more when you speak up for yourself. My parents are extremely supportive of me speaking up about my journey. In fact, my mother used to tell me from when I was a little girl that I was supposed to be on stage, that I had a lot to say. The day I stopped fighting my power and inner wisdom and accepted that Allah swt placed me here to inspire the masses and spark change, was the best day – I truly found myself.
Have you experienced any adversaries – people not supporting you, as a Muslim woman, to stand and speak up?
Alhamdulillah, I must say I haven’t had any adversaries thus far about my art or my profession, but I know it’s inevitable. You cannot please everyone and I do expect to have my share of naysayers just like anyone else. You have to be bold and courageous, believing in your work in order to sustain yourself should the naysayers come after you. Alhamdulillah, my blessing is that I no longer seek validation from humans. I seek validation from Allah (SWT). When I want to make a move or a decision I plug deeply into Allah (SWT), making Istikarah, seeking His guidance and approval, and when He gives me His stamp of approval I move with confidence and clarity. You must find your comfort and repose through the Creator. It’s the only way to sustain yourself in a world that could break you down if you let it.
Tell us about Q.U.E.E.N. What are you doing with this program currently and what is your vision for it?
Q.U.E.E.N. Quest for Unity through Empowering and Enlightening the Next generation is an initiative I started to save our young women ages 11-18 from becoming statistics. I founded Q.U.E.E.N. in NY in 2009 and relocated to Atlanta, GA in 2011. Q.U.E.E.N.’s goals are to empower our young women by developing character and leadership building skills, finding and developing their natural talents and gifts, helping them find their voice, passion, and purpose, and raise consciousness and awareness of those who are less fortunate, in extreme poverty, and destitute. Q.U.E.E.N. creates a safe, nurturing, supportive, and stimulating environment for young Muslim women to express themselves, and find their place in this world, and to help contribute to the world around them. Q.U.E.E.N.’s vision is to unite all young Muslim women across the globe, and to have a chapter in all major inner-city states and eventually in every country. Q.U.E.E.N. girls are taught lifelong skills such as cooking, sewing, writing, and individual talent development. They are also given leadership roles and are held responsible for weekly tasks and goals. Insha Allah, Q.U.E.E.N.’s future endeavours include, but are not limited to: soup kitchens, visiting the sick, charity events, fundraisers, and trips to Africa to help those who are less fortunate. We strongly encourage young women over the age of 18 to volunteer with us as peer mentors as they will be develop and grow along with our girls.
What are some of your thoughts about Muslims, especially young Muslims, and expressing themselves through various forms of art?
Young Muslims must express themselves. We live in a world full of boundaries and guidelines. We can’t keep telling our young people “No, no, no. Haram, haram, haram” expecting them to not dibble and dabble into the very same things we are trying to stop them from doing. If young Muslims are encouraged to express themselves, especially artistically, they will develop a sense of passion and belonging. Right now they feel like outsiders, this is why the Muslim girls take off their khimars at school and the young Muslim brothers prefer to have non-Muslim nicknames. They feel like they don’t belong and are trying to find their way. Giving them a platform to find their way and express their thoughts and concerns artistically is lifesaving. They can begin to find power in their voice, becoming trendsetters and leaders instead of followers. Young Muslims, I encourage you, to step into your Light now. Find out what it is that you like, that makes your heart sing, that makes your soul dance, and then go and do it. If you have to get creative and find a way to make it halal, then seek out daleel, do proper research – by all means, do it.
It is not okay to stifle our children’s creativity because all that suppressed energy has to come out and it will unfortunately in destructive ways, which could cost your child’s soul. Expressing yourself creatively and artistically is the difference between living and existing. None of us should merely exist, we should all be living. We were not created to be free floating atoms, aimlessly flaring about. We must stand up and make a choice to be Great. We must realize we were sent here to this place to do a specific job. No one else can do the job you were written to do. You must look at your own uniqueness and find strength in your journey. Your personal path was written for you to do something great, something phenomenal. The sooner you stop stifling yourself, the sooner you begin to peel back your layers and express yourself creatively, and the sooner you will begin to move up your ladder of success. Step into your light, step into your greatness no matter what your current circumstances are, regardless of your age or status. If no one else ever did it, let me be the one to tell you, I give you permission to be great, better yet Allah (SWT) has given you permission to be THE BEST!
To learn more about Hujrah’s work, including her recently released spoken word CD “Warrior of Love: I’m Here Now” visit her website http://www.hujrahwahhaj.com/, but the best way to connect with Hujrah and follow her prodigious works is through her Facebook page.
Brooke Benoit is an American artist who is home-educating her 5.5 children in Casablanca, Morocco. Her current most-used mediums are dirt, seeds, worms, balsa wood, and glitter paint.
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of SISTERS Magazine– The magazine for fabulous Muslim women.