You Have to Do You

Continuing to celebrate Women’s History month, this week’s subject is an activist. She challenges stereotypes about Muslims, in particular Muslim women. And she not only believes “you just have to do you,” she lives it. She is a Somalian-American, a poet, a rapper, a feminist, and so much more. She is Mona Haydar.

Photo of Mona Haydar in her hjabi, a strong woman who lives by the phrase you just have to do you
By Y3t4r5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Women our future is winnable 

We gotta be indivisible.

Mona Haydar from  her song “Barbarian”

Early Life & Education

In 1971, her parents immigrated from Damascus, Syria to the United States. She was born in Flint, Michigan, in 1988, one of seven siblings.

She graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint. Then in 2011, Haydar went to Damascus, Syria. She studied Islamic spirituality at Jami’ Abu-Noor. When the Syrian conflict erupted, she returned to the U.S.

In 2012, Haydar lost a close friend to suicide. This made Haydar question how she lived her own life. She left Flint where she had been working as a substitute teacher and moved to the Lama Foundation  in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. 

The Lama Foundation is an off grid, inter-spiritual community and retreat center. There she met her husband. They married and had their first child there.

She also lived in the Redwood forest of Northern California. Then she went to New York City, where she completed her Masters in Christian Ethics at Union Theological Theological Seminary in 2018. 

Developing Her Voice

Haydar started writing poetry as soon as she was old enough to write. According to her website, “I am mood. I am dude. I am Mona.” is from one of her first poems recorded in a kindergarten journal.

At 14, she performed spoken word poetry at open mikes and poetry shows in downtown Flint. She credits African-American women in the Flint hip-hop community who mentored for helping her to develop her sound. They taught her to use her voice to oppose white supremacy and Western culture. Her sound “is deeply rooted in her intersectional identity and sensibilities.” She transitioned to rap in 2015.

You can’t be afraid of breaking out. You just have to do you and people will catch up.

Mona Haydar, NPR.org

Early Career

Her first flirt with fame happened in 2015. She didn’t understand why people didn’t ask Muslims about their religion. Haydar and her husband, Sebastian, set up a stand in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They invited people to “Talk to a Muslim.” They offered coffee, donuts, and flowers and answers to “replace trauma with love.” Her social media post about that project went viral, and their efforts reached an international audience.

She stood with the indigenous peoples of the U.S. In 2016 at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. She was 6 months pregnant with her second child. That year she also appeared in the 2016 Microsoft holiday campaign “#SpreadHarmony”, shot by Jake Scott. She and her work have appeared in diverse places like Glamour and BBC, and Psychology Today and People Magazine.

Debut Song 

In 2017, Haydar’s debut song went viral.Billboard named “Hjabi (Wrap My Hijab)” one of “The 20 Best Protest Songs of 2017” and one of the “Top 25 Feminist Anthems.” Her debut song dispels myths and stereotypes about women who choose to wear a hjabi. Haydar sees her practice of wearing a hijab as an expression of feminism and independence.

Her Music

Suicide Doors

Haydar doesn’t shy from tough topics in her music. Her single, “Suicide Doors,” opens discussions of mental health. The song is a tribute to the friend she lost to suicide and an expression of her grief. It acknowledges that suicide and mental health issues aren’t just a “white” problem.

Barbarians

When I was sitting in the class, we were studying what it is to be barbaric, a barbarian … and at the same time, I’m studying The New Testament, I’m studying the words of Paul, I’m studying what it is to be ‘other’ inside of the Roman Empire…Doing all that work while the current sitting president was making comments about Mexicans, comments about Muslims, comments about trans people, I felt like if there was ever a moment to speak love into the universe, it was here.”

Mona Haydar from NPR.org

 in 2018, Mona and her family moved to Marrakech, Morocco.

Strong Women

Mona Haydar is a strong woman. So are real life women: Molly Brant, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, and Dr. Patricia Bath. There are strong fictional women too. Like Miranda and Beryl in My Soul to Keep. Please celebrate women’s history month with me. Leave a comment below about a strong woman you know or know about. Fictional or Real-Life doesn’t matter. It takes all kinds of role-models to help us develop our own version of strong.

You Have to Do You

In the current fear-heavy world of corona virus self-isolation, Hadar’s messages are especially relevant. We can be afraid and be strong women. As she said, “our future is winnable.” Believe that.

Hadar’s music and life exemplifies a strong Muslim woman. She raps about complex issues with respect and love. She is a role model and mentor for us all. You just have to do you.

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