Muslim Hipsters: Notes for Shamaj discussion on 26.02.14

Fatima and I will be discussing the controversy around the #Mipsterz video ‘Somewhere in America’ on Wednesday at 6pm on Betar Bangla. Listen live here:


Jay Z – Somewhere in America lyrics

Interview with Layla Shaikley – Fashion Director on the video

Winnie Detwa – #Mipsterz conversation

Rap Response

When we call her a Mipster

The Stream – Beyond the #Mipsterz debate

The video seems to me to be a cry for relevance by similarity, a look at how Muslims and non-Muslims are alike and therefore just as relevant as each other: we are just as creative as non-Muslims, we are just as fashionable, we also ride skateboards and listen to Jay-Z. We should also consider that this is an American video and the narratives around Muslims in the US are to do with terrorism and having to prove how American they are, so ‘normalisation’ in America may be on different terms to normalisation here in the UK.

Why has this particular video gone viral? Probably because the grounds of our relevance as portrayed in the video are:

1) relevance/similarity  through creativity

2) relevance/similarity through skill and athletic strength

3) relevance/similarity through accumulated wealth (the scenes with the watches) and financial gain.

4) relevance/similarity through coolness/youthfulness

5) And because the video depicts women.

Number 1 is often just ignored. Muslim creativity is celebrated most commonly in terms of scientific, mathematical or technological advancement but not so much in terms of aesthetic or athletic creativity. Number 2- skill and athletic strength are often male focused so a focus on female sporting skill alongside creativity creates a discussion on whether these are equally worthwhile. Number 3 – we usually associate wealth with materialism and vanity i.e. all negative things despite the fact that many muslims are entrepreneurs and middle class. We are money savvy and have the capacity to be wealthy and we do display this through our houses, cars, schooling etc and yet it’s still controversial for a woman to display this on her body.

Number 4 – Normally, being cool and youthful also equals potentially shallow. The view of the Mipsterz video as something solely shallow is only true if you fail to see the creativity that is the backbone of this “coolness” and the individuality of those portrayed in the video. The video isn’t footage of a highschool popularity contest based on mindless convention rather, it displays creativity and individuality in a group of Muslims who look vastly different to each other.

Is it bad to follow trends? – are Muslims really exempt from this?

I think the creation and spread of trends is part of our human capacity to see others and learn about ourselves. To identify something worthwhile, interesting or intriguing about others is part of what allows us to know each other and to tell our own stories. It’s when we emulate other people mindlessly that we let ourselves down.

I think we can draw comparisons to musical trends. When a sound speaks to someone, it’s not uncommon for them to try and recreate that sound, to perform it for other people and for those people to build on it. I see fashion trends the same way.

However, wielding trends as a tool can be dangerous and oppressive. Creating a pressure for others to conform to anyone else’s appearance but their own is damaging to their sense of self. This is particularly true of adolescent Muslims, which leads me to my next point…Are we ashamed of Muslim youth?

I think the women featured in the video are of varying ages but the image they convey is a youthful, light-hearted, irreverent one. Do we have a problem reconciling this image with the studious, immigrant, pious image of Muslims that we’re most used to? In my mind, the young, cosmopolitan Muslim should be just as valued as the settled, suburban Muslim. We’re never all at the same stage, we’re always growing, moving and changing as individuals and as a collective. The image of Muslims in Britain needs to welcome all of these stages.

Is being a hipster creative or vain?

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. We display both our creativity and our wealth in our homes, how we decorate our bedrooms, which cars we choose to drive and the food we choose to serve at dinner parties. Part of these expressions is pride and vanity. We shouldn’t be reprimanded for expressing this on our person too.


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