On the face of it, Sufia Ashraf might seem like any conservative Muslim girl anywhere in the country, clad in a black burqa that covers her thin, diminutive frame from crown to toe. But there’s little else about this 22-year-old graphic designer, lyricist and freelance writer that’s ‘conventional’. Sufia is a singer, a rap artist, who sings songs about Islam wearing her burqa.
What say Sarkozy?
“What is Islamic terrorism?” asks one number, going on to say, “This is quite an erroneous term/ Give me back my faith/ Don’t hijack my faith/ Don’t hate me for an idiot’s mistake.”
Rap and Islam! Most people would think that they have as much in common as chalk and cheese. But for Sufia, there is no contradiction — in fact, for her music is a way of telling people what Islam is all about. “After the Mumbai attack people started ostracising Muslims and there is no point blaming them,” she says. “That’s when I thought that liberal Muslims should come out and explain what lslam was all about.” Initially, her act raised many an eyebrow but slowly, she feels, people have started listening to her.
It all started, says Sufia, in college as an attempt to create a different identity. “When I started rapping I was not trying to awaken someone. It was more about creating a different identity. But along the way, somewhere I started talking about myself. My attempt was to enlighten others about my religion. And for me it was an attempt to go back to my religion in its true form,” she explains.
It was during her post-graduation at the prestigious Stella Maris College (Chennai) that she found a band of like-minded youngsters and ‘Peter Kapy’ was born — named after ‘Peter’, Chennai lingo for a person who speaks and behaves like an Englishman, and ‘kapy’, or coffee. Interestingly, only two of the eight members of Peter Kapy are Muslim. All concerts are done non-commercially, with money pooled from friends and sympathisers. Post-26/11, ‘Peter Kapy’ has staged seven concerts in the city.
Many of us might feel wearing a burqa would cramp her style, but not Sufia. ‘It is simple — when you are in a band you wear a T-shirt. I like Islam so I wear the burqa. Burqa is my identity. My first love won’t clash with my second. Many who fail to understand me advise me to shed my burqa. I told them I feel empty, naked, without it. I follow a line in holy Quran strictly, ‘To you, your religion, and to me mine.’ I just want to convey Islam is as liberal as any other religion.”
The daughter of a small businessman, this second generation Malayalee (she’s a native of Kannur district in north Kerala) settled in Chennai, is lucky that her family has stood by her music.
“See I am only expressing the way I want to. People usually think that someone who tries to be different and someone who breaks rules are the same. It is not true, I work well within my rules and norms,” she says. But, yes, it has been a tight-rope walk and has made Sufia rather shy of publicity. (It took a lot of persuasion to get her to talk to this paper.)
What happens after marriage? “If I get an understanding partner I’ll pursue my music. Otherwise…It is all in Allah’s hands.”