Residents from across the city and artists from across the world converged on the Harold Washington Cultural Center for the latest CommUNITY Café. London hip-hop duo Poetic Pilgrimage riveted the audience with a powerful blend of music and poetry, touching on topics like inner beauty and accessing the Divine in the big city. After performing, both Sukina and Muneera of Poetic Pilgrimage sat down for an exclusive IMAN interview. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
So you just wrapped up your CommUNITY Café performance; how was the experience?
Sukina: Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), the show was amazing. Everyone was so involved and the other artists were extremely talented; they had their own styles and their own vibes. It was beautiful, such a great experience.
What role does artistic expression play in your identity as a Muslim?
Muneera: Being an artist, I express how I feel. I try to live as a Muslim, have the character of the Muslim and walk in the footsteps of the Prophet (peace be upon him). There are times that I fail, but those are my intentions. Throughout the Muslim community, you have different people playing different roles: some are calling others to Islam, some are just trying to live…and that includes being an artist, something that isn’t seen as what Muslims typically do. People should do what their essence is, and what we do is make music. We communicate with hearts through our art.
I don’t think our music is saying “come to Islam,” but there are Islamic sentiments in the music because we are Muslims. We just try to find a balance in what we do in society. Sukina works at a community center that’s Islamically driven, but doesn’t exclude the larger society. Maybe that’s the task for Muslims living in the West, not to exclude the people but to include them. At the same time though, we are not apologetic or ashamed of who we are as Muslims.
Sukina: I wrote that piece at a community space in London called Rumi’s Cave during Rabi-ul-Awwal, the month that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was born. It corresponded with January this year. It was so grim, gray and cloudy outside, but everyone was still striving for God: going to different events, mawlids, gatherings, just everything. So I just pondered, what inspires people in this city when little to nothing is really “calling you to God?” Despite that environment, we’re still here striving and seeking.
I’ve realized the virtue in the struggle in seeking God that we may go through in places like London. One of our teachers was speaking with us about Mecca and Medina. Of course those are the holiest of places, you know, it’s easy to remember Allah there. Who travels there and isn’t remembering God? But in a place like London that’s all about worldly life, you shine like a star in the spiritual darkness there when you remember Allah. He is omnipotent and closer to us than our jugular vein, whether that’s in London or on the South Side of Chicago. So we just have to learn to access Him where we happen to be, wherever that is. We didn’t sign up for an easy ride. So, when you have those moments where you’re feeling close to God, it’s beautiful because you’ve struggled for it.
Poetic Pilgrimage’s appearance at CommUNITY Café was part of their Building Bridges Artist Residency, co-sponsored by IMAN and Old Town School of Folk Music and funded by Doris Duke Foundation For Islamic Art.
Check out their ‘Hip-Hop Hijabis’ documentary to learn more about Poetic Pilgrimage as they express the world as they see it through art and rhyme.