Hijab-wearing Women Rock!

Remona Aly

God gave rock and roll to you! So Canadian rock band Kiss blared out in the early 90s, a cover of the original song by British group Argent. My relationship with this ‘divine’ gift started out as a timid 12 year old about to enter her teens. I’d finger through the depths of my brother’s vinyl collection and emerge a seasoned fan of U2, Faith No More and Led Zeppelin. Years later in November 2009, I’m charged with adrenalin and apprehension as I set out in my coolest headscarf to see the best live band in the world: Muse on their Resistance Tour. I look around, and spot not one of my species – an ‘undercover Muse-lim’ as one friend dubs me. I get several bemused looks which soon turn into nods of musical camaraderie. Surely there must be others of my kind?

Hijabi rock fans may seem as unlikely a concept as Charlie Brooker finding cynicism overrated while crooning ‘What a Wonderful World’ yet the Muslim women I meet prove that wrong. Twenty-six year old Elest has just bought her third pair of NewRocks, heavy black boots blazoned with metallic buckles. Listening to rock music since the age of 10, Elest’s playlist features The Killers, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Japanese Rock. “Hijabi girls are stereotyped as quiet, insecure and oppressed,” frowns Elest, her lower lip piercing glinting against the soft contour of an olive-coloured hijab, “I like to topple that image as often as possible.”

She’s not the only one. Shabana, solicitor and mother of three, has listened to rock music for as long as she’s worn a head scarf. While she’s dragged her husband to a Jon Bon Jovi and Red Hot Chilli Peppers gig, her son has been more willingly influenced by taking up the electric guitar. “People are always surprised to find out about my rock collection,” Shabana grins, “They take one look at my headscarf and assume I’d be into choir music!” I know the feeling. So does Arub, architecture student and Kerrang subscriber who says that she and nearly all of her hijab-clad friends would rather listen to Linkin Park than shallow pop. “Rock appeals to us because it rebels against the norm, it sells on the angst of not belonging – something women in hijab relate to. It’s poignant, liberating and empowering. Rock gave me the confidence to be who I am and not try to fit in with the rest of the crowd. It’s the natural choice for a hijabi.”

Arub’s words strike a chord. When I decided to don a headscarf at the age of 18, some had me believe I’d belong even less to a country that I was born, bred and buttered in. But defying the norm and being a minority can ignite a blast of confidence: I was surer of my identity and strangely, of my Britishness, despite others’ qualms. If it is an organic pick for the likes of me, I feel the relevance of rock instinctively as lyrics from my album collection pulsate in my head: ‘I will never know myself until I do this on my own/I will break away, I’ll find myself today’; ‘Don’t be afraid of what your mind conceives /Stand up for what you believe’. The Orwellian cries of discontent, the call of rebellion, the claim for independence: there is an affinity between rock music and those like me, Elest, Arub and Shabana – women secure in both their faith and music taste. In the words of my favourite Devonshire three-piece, ‘Let the revolution takes its toll’, as hijabi headbangers cause an uprising: we’re not some rare breed keeping rock under wraps.

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