Syrian-American rapper Mona Haydar describes herself as a poet, an activist, a God-enthusiast, and a feminist.
The Flint native is known for her 2017 breakout hit “Hijabi,” a song about Muslim women choosing to wear the traditional headscarf as an expression of their faith. Haydar recently released her latest EP, Barbarican.
Haydar says that she’s “always found the world just beautifully poetic,” and that she became passionate about songwriting as a young child. But her love for music clashed with some aspects of her religious upbringing.
“I felt it, like, deep down in my heart that it was a part of me, but I also grew up in a culture where music wasn’t necessarily permissible, at least of the variety that I wanted to take part in,” Haydar explained.
Haydar’s love for her religion prompted her interest in the field of sacred knowledge — she has a Master's degree in Christian Ethics and is now working on another Master's in Theology. Through her academic pursuit of religious studies, Haydar discovered that Islam itself does not deem music impermissible, but instead that that viewpoint is simply one of many different interpretations of the faith.
Since then, Haydar has actively pursued her musical dreams. Her experiences as a Muslim woman of color in the United States, a nation that she says is still defined by the structures and systems of oppression that helped to build it in the first place, play a major role in shaping her music.
“The EP is a lot about decolonizing our minds, for me at least as a woman who comes from a colonized background," she said. "It’s about resisting standards of beauty that are not affirming of all people, of all body types, of all skin colors, of all shapes and sizes that we come in as people, as humans. Barbarican is a love note to the world, that whoever you are, wherever you are, you should love yourself.”
Listen to Mona Haydar’s conversation with Stateside’s Mercedes Mejia to hear more about the artist’s roots in Flint and the tragic experience that led her to write one of her most personal songs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.