The hip-hop group “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic“ was conceived of by dancer Amirah Sackett in 2011, a moment Sackett referred to as “a really tumultuous time in history as far as Islam is concerned.” Just seven years earlier, France banned students from wearing hijab to school, the headscarves that in Islamic tradition represent modesty and morality.
Although much of the Western rhetoric surrounding the hijab, niqab and burka focuses on the importance of freedom and empowerment, Sackett noticed that by forbidding women to wear certain clothing, France wasn’t liberating women, but controlling them.
Determined to shift the terms of the conversation, she teamed up with dancers Iman and Khadijah to create WMDC, a three-woman performance group that executes flawless hip-hop numbers in niqab and high-tops.
“I wanted to flip the script,“ Sackett told Bust Magazine. “I wanted to educate others and reflect the beauty that I know and love in Muslim women. Yes, there are oppressed women in the Muslim world. Women are oppressed the world over. These are our mutual struggles.”
WMDC dancer Khadijah explained her personal relationship to the hijab as a 13-year-old woman. “I wear hijab because I like wearing hijab,” she said. “I feel as much beautiful as when I don’t wear it. When I didn’t wear hijab I felt like boys were more attracted to me and I didn’t like the way they treated me. Now that I do wear hijab I feel like they respect me more and they look at me as a regular person.”
In 2011, Islamophobia was rampant not only in France, but in countries around the world. Unfortunately, five years later, some things have not changed. As of April,The Huffington Post documented 124 anti-Muslim acts in the United States, just in the first few months of the year 2016.
One of the most recent offenses involved presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump telling, for the second time, a false story about U.S. Gen. John Joseph Pershing shooting Muslims in the Philippine-American War with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.
At a time when hate and intolerance have become a common theme of political discourse, Sackett’s work is as important as ever. The women of “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” reject stereotypes and preconceptions regarding what a hijab or niqab is and who is wearing them. After watching just a few seconds of the dancers’ hypnotic motions, it becomes perfectly clear that the formulaic image of the defenseless, oppressed woman beneath the hijab is, in many cases, pure fallacy.
Rather, they’re wildly talented artists and activists who are out to change the world. And dance. Watch the routine in full below: