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Muslim Women are rocking the poetry scene

Muslim Women are rocking the poetry scene

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday July 03 2018

Providing another example of the immense talent of Muslim women in our society, Rakaya Esime Fetuga, a Black Muslim woman, has won the 2018 Roundhouse Poetry Slam competition which aims to give a stage to the “next big names in spoken word and the freshest voices around”.

The final, held on the 28th of June, saw a number of impressive candidates competing in the poetry slam, including several Muslim women.

Ms Fetuga was chosen as the winner by a panel of three judges: Saul Williams, Cecilia Knapp and Yomi Sode.

After being announced the winner, Ms Fetuga Tweeted: “I’m incredibly honoured to have won the Roundhouse Poetry Slam 2018! I have so many wonderful memories in this building and now, the gleaming vision of last night to add to them. Thank you”.

She also spoke about her history of volunteering at the Roundhouse: “When I was a little kid my mum…took us to see plays, like the Minotaur, in the cave-like undercroft…In my teens I crept from the arched passageways of that softly-lit, brick maze in a circus theatre show with CSU – as a ghost called Violet with a billowing white hijab. Lol…Later I volunteered as a FOH assistant and would usher audiences in to see spectacular music, art and circus acts on the same stage that I performed poetry on yesterday”.

She added: “It’s all very surreal. I love what the @RoundhouseLDN does for young people and am so happy to have this new connection to the place and the people. الحمد الله [All praise is due to Allah alone]”.

Speaking to MEND, Ms Fetuga said: “The Roundhouse Slam was a beautiful celebration of storytelling. Winning the competition was the frosting on a red velvet night – for which I’m so grateful. I met and listened to the poetry of a host of talented young writers, brilliant established poets and a lyrical veteran, Saul Williams, whose film ‘Slam’ inspired some of my biggest inspirations and mentors, Sukina Douglas and Muneera Williams. Women, women of colour and Muslim women of colour truly shined this year. Every one of the finalists was unique in themselves and in their poetry. I performed poems about some of the various places, experiences and cultures that contribute to my identity. Seeing how my solitary reflections resonated with the audience that evening was so touching, such a gift”.

Last year’s Roundhouse Poetry Slam was blown away by Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, whose poem on the double standards facing Muslim communities and their need to prove themselves worthy of humanity, went viral. She’s since travelled internationally to perform her poetry.

This Year’s Young People’s Laureate for London, Momtaza Mehri, is also a Muslim woman. As Laureate she will be engaging young people across London with poetry through: residencies and commissions; co-curating a Poetry Lab for talented young poets and supporting the Young People’s Laureate Tour taking place in six outer London boroughs.

Warsan Shire is a writer, poet and teacher who was the first ever winner of the Young People’s Laureate for London and the African Poetry Prize. The line of her poem on the refugee crisis: “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land” has been shared online thousands of times (if not many more.) Her poetry has also been featured in a Beyonce album.

Asma Elbadawi has been commissioned by the BBC on multiple occasions for her poetry, after being selected for BBC1 Extra’s Words First programme. A talent basketball player, Elbadawi was also instrumental in the lifting of the FIFA hijab ban.

These spectacular achievement highlights how powerful the voices of Muslim women are, and provides a stark affront to cases where others have presented them as weak and oppressed. Indeed, far-right groups have commonly sought to portray Muslim women simultaneously as being suppressed but also a threat to the western ideals because they don hijabs, burkas, niqabs or burkinis, all whilst not taking into account the voices of Muslim women.

Reports have also shown that Muslim women are often significantly discriminated against, suffering from what the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee in 2016 termed a “triple penalty”, namely being discriminated because of their gender, ethnicity and religion. The report highlighted that nearly a quarter of employers surveyed admitted being reluctant to hire Muslim women.

Therefore, whilst groups seek to suppress and hijack the voice of Muslim women, it is commendable and heartening to note the achievements of young Muslim women, such as of Rakaya, who demonstrate how powerful the voices of Muslim women can be, incapable of being suppressed and hijacked.

Likewise, the Muslim community also has a responsibility to nurture such voices and promote the development of Muslim creative artists. Too often young Muslims are deterred from pursuing careers in the creative arts for careers considered ‘traditional’ – lawyers, doctors, engineers etc. It is imperative that British Muslim communities capitalize on opportunities offered by the media industry aiming to improve BME recruitment. Only by being part of the narrative can British Muslims change the portrayal of Muslims as being monolithic, backwards and illiberal.

You can watch the performances here.


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