NEW YORK CITY— On Monday, July 17, Syrian American Mona Haydar dropped her latest rap single, “Dog”, featuring Jackie Cruz from the popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black.
The poet turned rapper, originally from Flint, uses her lyrics to call out men who use money and privilege to abuse women.
The song begins with the serious line, “If you think this song is about you, I don’t know what to tell you.”
In the behind-the-scenes video for the making of “Dog”, Haydar told The Secret Life of Muslims (TSLM) that “Dog” was inspired by stories from the Muslim community.
“I didn’t feel like young women were being educated to know that their salvation is never in a man’s hands,” Haydar told TSLM. “As a Syrian American, for people who look like me it’s a scary world. I have been given a little bit of a platform. I want to use it to pull my sisters up.”
Cruz saw Haydar’s first rap video, “Hijabi”, and asked if she could sing in Haydar’s next rap song.
“I said, ‘Yo! Can I please do the hook?’” Cruz told TSLM.
In her initial social media release, Haydar alluded to statistical references that show up in the music video for “Dog.”
“In the time it took to view this video, 27 women have been assaulted or abused,” reads the first statement. It’s followed by, “One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.”
Online, the caption for the music video reads, “Confidential survivor hotline: (708)792-3298” to encourage anyone who comes across Haydar’s work that may have experienced any kind of abuse to find safety.
In an interview with Refinery29 Haydar said she felt it was an important time to be speaking up and speaking truth to power.
“It’s the job of the artist, the activist, of any conscious human being, to put their energy towards re-taking that narrative, saying, ‘This is what’s true for me’, and to tell our stories in the most beautiful way so that the truth can be known.”
Haydar’s lyrics discuss the concept of global patriarchy.
“Spiritually violent, deviant but hiding it; you can’t sell enlightenment, laugh at your entitlement,” Haydar rapped in her latest single.
“What she represents is herself,” said longtime friend and fellow Muslim American Christina Rountree. “That’s what I love about her. She’s never held back. She doesn’t say, ‘Oh I’m a Muslimah, so I can’t do that.’ Or, ‘I’m a Muslim, so I probably shouldn’t go to a concert or anywhere alone.’ She’s always done her thing. She’s always done it unapologetically. And I think that is what we need right now in America for Muslims.”
Rountree is a Metro Detroit artist and musician who had the opportunity to appear in “Hijabi”, which was released back in March. “Hijabi” is about racism and colorism and talks about being a Muslim woman in the face of such adversity.
“I wore hijab for seven years,” Rountree said. “I recently took it off. I wore it for the music video for the first time… She [Haydar] said I didn’t have to; she said it wasn’t a requirement. It [Haydar’s song] inspired me to wear it; to come back to the reason I put it on in the first place.”
Haydar filmed “Hijabi” at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Another longtime friend of hers was personally contacted to be featured in “Hijabi”, along with other friends.
“She just said she needed some people for her video,” said Tazeen Ayub, a Metro Detroit artist who has known Haydar for more than a decade.
“I think that she is very authentic in terms of her lyrics and her music,” Ayub said. “She is trying to convey experiences her and many Muslims have gone through. She displays it in a way that’s most authentic to her. She’s always been an artist and a poet; she’s always been someone who wants to grow, and I think that comes across in her music.”
Ayub, a Muslim American, said that artistic expression is a way to connect people.
“Its usually coming from a place of deep-seated emotion,” Ayub said. “Whether its positive or negative. And the only way to get that out is through expression.”
After the release of “Dog”, well-known Islamic scholar Imam Abdallah Adhami made a comment about Mona and her artistry.
“Powerful, earth-shattering, beaming with courage and glistening with the light of truth while affirming it to the whole world,” Adhami said in a post on Facebook. “Mona exudes the dynamic modesty, the haya, of the righteous woman, recalling the rich legacy of female poets and orators throughout Islamic history.”
Before the end of its first week, “Dog” had roughly one hundred thousand views on Facebook; Haydar’s video for “Hijabi” has reached 1.4 million views.
As with any viral video, “Dog” has attracted negative comments and trolls stalking the comment sections on Haydar’s social media; however, she is not one to take hateful comments with passivity.
“I am in gratitude for entertainment provided to me via the comments on my videos,” Haydar tweeted on Tuesday.
Her public persona shows humility and kindness as she tactfully responds to criticism and prejudice with ease.
“I’m a real person whose profile you are commenting on,” Haydar wrote in response to a hateful commenter on her Instagram. “That’s not a very nice thing to say. Please feel free to take your conversation about me to your own spaces.”
In 2015, Haydar and her husband, Sebastian Robins, decided to do some positive activism after the San Bernardino shooting to help dispel myths about Muslims. The couple set up a coffee and donut display with large signs that read “Ask a Muslim”, which caught the attention of news outlets across the nation.
An image of them with their display went viral. Since then, college campuses and other groups across America have continued “Ask a Muslim” to keep educating people on how Muslims are complex and multi-dimensional people, just like everyone else.
Haydar currently lives in New York City with her husband and two sons, while attending graduate school.