Deeyah Speaks Out


Norwegian star on being an outspoken Muslim woman

She is often referred to as the ‘Muslim Madonna’ but for Norwegian singer Deeyah speaking up for suppressed women across the globe holds more weight than coveted number 1 singles. After spending more than a year out of the musical limelight following a number of death threats after the release of her controversial video for the song ‘What will it Be’, Deeyah is back.

In an Exclusive interview with web portal Ethnic Now, Deeyah talks about her work with women’s rights groups, and reveals why she believes in standing up against censorship.


The following is an excerpt from Deeyah’s Exclusive interview with Ethnic Now.

The full interview can be read at


Since your last release in the UK where have you been and what have you been up to?

I have been spending most of my time in the US where I have been writing new material for two separate solo albums. I’ve been doing a lot of work with Freemuse (Freedom of Musical Expression) and ICAHK (International Campaign Against Honour Killings) over the past few months and will continue doing more work with them. I am also in the process of putting together a mixtape that will feature Muslim and Asian female artists from Europe and the US. The purpose of this mixtape is to promote the female talent out there. 

You are the most popular female Muslim artist on Myspace with over 100 000 registered friends. When we see most music pages on Myspace we tend to see mostly just info relating to the artist their tours, events releases and etc but reading your page and blogs there seems to be more posts from you about women’s rights and human rights issues than promotional material about yourself, your music. You’ve posted a lot of stories about women’s rights abuses like honour killings, why is this?

I think internet sites like Myspace are a great way of reaching people directly and raising awareness about issues that are close to my heart. I started posting blogs and bulletins on Myspace covering stories that I believe need more attention and that wouldn’t normally get very much attention. What I like about sites like Myspace is the direct connection with people out there and the fact that there is no censorship or barriers in the distribution of information.

I actively want to promote the great work that the International Campaign Against Honour Killings does. There are more than 5000 women who lose their lives in the name of honour and honour based violence. Honour based crimes, despite what a lot of people think, is a practice not rooted in religion or any one particular country or people. It is based on tribal traditions and rituals that pre-date Islam. This is something that unfortunately is still going on and even more awareness needs to be raised about this issue. Not only are women in 3rd world countries suffering from this horrific practice but young women in the West are affected by this. The ugliness of this issue can not be excused or avoided, work has to be done to highlight these stories and changes made so this does not continue happening in this day and age.

In your controversial music vide What Will It Be, were you surprised that the video was banned by certain Asian TV channels?I was surprised at the extent of complaints that the TV channels received. I was disappointed that the channel was sent violent threats for airing the video. I am sorry that the channel had to endure this sort of treatment from some of their viewers. I know that the channel staff and executives actually support me and the video I did and for this I am grateful. 

Why have you decided to compile an album of artists who have been censored for their music and views?

I became aware of the essential work that Freemuse does after doing an interview with them a year or so ago. Freemuse stands for “FREEdom of MUSical Expression” and is an independent international organization advocating freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. I will be executive producing a compilation album with Freemuse that will highlight the music and stories of various artists from around the world. The reason I wanted to work on this project is because I believe strongly in the artists rights to freedom of expression and I was touched by the powerful stories of some of the artists that will be featured on this album. These artists have been banned and censored for their social and political views and some have been chastised simply for being musicians and women in societies where individuals and especially women are not allowed to perform publicly.

Do you ever feel that you are in any way shape or form in danger by extremists because of your outspoken views on the role of women in modern day society?

Although I still receive threatening and violent messages on Myspace and my official website, I’ve been spending time away in the US so I feel more comfortable knowing that I will more than likely not be in an area or situation that could prompt a physical altercation compared to me being in the UK. In the past when visiting the UK I have had people with me who watch over me and can be helpful if something was to happen. They are with me more as a deterrent.


While you support the freedom of choice for women, how do you react to people who accuse you of promoting the objectification of women?

I do not believe I promote the objectification of women. The only thing I promote through my music, visuals or in what I speak about is the right of choice for women and for individuals irrespective of gender, culture or race. I do not believe that femininity is disgusting or impure.

We all have our own levels of comfort and limits on what we feel is and isn’t appropriate and this will obviously vary from one person to the next.

To some a woman wearing jeans and a tank top can be offensive and objectifying, to others it can be a woman in a suit jacket and skirt or a bathing suit– while to someone else a woman wearing a burka can be the biggest symbol of desire, temptation or even objectification. The bottom line is that this is all subjective and a matter of perspective. The level of respect a person is worthy of is not, in my eyes, determined by what they wear. The view that a woman is somehow not capable of being both feminine and intelligent I find quite patronizing.

The social taboos and hypocrisy attached to sexuality in our culture is prevalent and the source of a lot of pain and problems.

In our society as long as perceived illicit sexual behaviour is kept discreet and not perceived to challenge the social and patriarchal family values, anything goes as long as you are a man. We are always up in arms about women who step outside of what is considered “acceptable” behaviour yet through our silence and double standards we legitimize abuse, violence, honour crimes, gay bashing and continue to promote the segregation and seclusion of women. We as women bear the sole blame and consequences and the weight of the perceived dignity of the entire community. We are taught from a young age to live for others and to sacrifice our dreams and hopes just on the basis of “what will THEY say?”. Our choices are directed by THEM as in the community and if anyone steps out of line with that everyone’s claws come out in an attempt to discredit and shut the person who doesn’t say or do what is considered acceptable or appropriate obedient female behaviour.

Once again, I have never once in my life said that I expect people to dress like me or follow my choices, but rather that women need to have the right to decide for themselves how they want to live their life — that women should have the right to make their own choices whatever they may be from the choice of career, life partner to something as small as dress. Most societies objectify women in one way or another whether it be covering and hiding us or pressurizing women to feel like they have to look a certain way in order to be desirable. Yet we put no pressure of responsibility and expectation of control on men and their behaviour.

I fully support the complete and true choice of a woman if it is free from any pressure, intimidation or imposed expectations by others. This means I have nothing but respect for women who choose to wear the hijab, the burka, a miniskirt or bikini or whether she decides to become a doctor or a dancer. Whether she marries someone from a village in Pakistan or someone in Italy. I will always stand up for the right to free choice and expression.

Being a musician and a public personality, how do you hope to highlight the issues you feel strongly about?

I feel music can give me the voice and ability to bring attention to issues close to my heart. Art asks questions even if they are unpopular or uncomfortable questions and to me music is one of the most truthful and universal forms of expression.

I am writing and recording 2 separate solo album project at the moment which musically highlights my influences and my musical background. Lyrically this is the first time I am writing and recording a body of material that touches on issues I believe strongly in while also commenting on the state of the world we’re living in today the post 9/11 climate of fear, paranoia, hate, war and politics. Some of the songs on the new album tackle racism and anti-Muslim feeling that is building around the world which is constantly being fuelled by Islamic extremists who give our religion a bad name. I do think it is important to deal with the problems within our community in order to more effectively address the pressures and prejudices from outside.

Other than highlighting my views on war, human rights, racism and social issues through my music I am doing work with a few Muslim and Asian women’s shelters and organizations in bringing attention to the situation of our women. Since I started publicly speaking about some of my experiences I have received countless emails from young Muslim men and women who like me were born and raised in The West who find themselves being misrepresented, misunderstood and discriminated against not only by Westerners but also by other Muslims. A lot of these kids echoed my own feelings growing up in a Western country talking about the feeling of not belonging while feeling alone in our experiences. As a result of this I have decided to start an organization that will be launched soon. The name is BTC which stands for Be The Change (the name is based on the Mahatma Gandhi saying “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”).

I initially intended for this organization to be for young Muslims and young people of immigrant background living in Europe and the US. However I have decided to try and create a platform where like minded people can come together to air their concerns and issues regardless of race or religious background. One of the main purposes of this organization is to provide an open, judgement free and supportive environment for progressive people. Essentially BTC is a pro-active movement focusing predominantly on campaigning and promoting human rights and women’s rights issues, freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination. We often forget that each and every one of us has the power to affect change and make a difference in our personal lives as well as in society at large–and this is what BTC is all about.

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