The Hip-Hop Hijabi

Nov 22, 2013 at 7:39 AM ET

Asmaa Elamrousy is a devout Muslim and hijabi, covering herself from head to toe and hiding her hair under a tightly wrapped scarf. But there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s also a rapper who pounds her fist into the air demanding equality and international justice.

“You shouldn’t be scared or have fear of judgment,” says Asmaa, who tested her hustle and flow in front of an audience for the first time at the annual Arab Americans Got Talent competition in Brooklyn, New York. “You should say what’s on your mind.”

Asmaa, 19, was born in Egypt and raised in Staten Island. Her interest in rap stemmed from the sibling rivalry with her older brother Ahmed, as they exchanged insults that escalated into rap battles. Ahmed then introduced Asmaa to her current idols, Lupe Fiasco and Lowkey, rappers she could identify with as an Arab and a Muslim who don’t, as she puts it, just “rap about sex, money, drugs.”

“I’m not doing anything wrong, anything haram [forbidden],” explains Asmaa. She says she doesn’t perform in bars and clubs that serve alcohol, nor does she objectify herself sexually, but she knows that some Muslims still might bash her for rapping. “Hijabis are supposed to be quiet,” she says. “They’re not supposed to go out there and sing or rap, as there is a debate over the traditional saying, ‘sawt al maraa awra [a woman’s voice is exposing].'”

But Asmaa received a lot of community support at the second Arab Americans Got Talent competition, especially from last year’s winner Omnia Hegazy, a singer-songwriter who says she faces criticism because she sings about controversial issues within the Arab community, such as child marriage and women’s rights. “They say, ‘Well, Arab-Americans are discriminated against, and you should be helping us look good, so let’s deal with it within our own community,'” says Omnia. “But I think what makes us not look so great is the fact that we ignore them.” She hopes that more Arab-Americans will follow in her footsteps. Arab-Americans are one of the least represented groups in the American music industry.

Asmaa is still debating whether music will stay a hobby or become a profession for her. She doesn’t want to disappoint her parents. “They’re supportive in a way,” says Asmaa, who wants her parents’ approval but also to show that hijabis can rap just as good as the men, if not better. “Anything a man can do, a woman can do it better,” she says. “I really believe that.” Asmaa hopes to prove her claim one day by forming an all-hijabi rap group.

Additional Camera and Production: E.D. Cauchi, Ines Novacic

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