Sofia Baig, a rising star among Canadian Muslim activists, takes the stage Sunday at a two-day gathering intended to celebrate Islamic cultural expression.
“So pardon me while I rip the clip from my lips and throw – blow them away like ashes,” the 20-year-old Montreal poet recites in “My Weapon,” from her debut CD Daughter of the Sand to be launched at the festival.
“My mouth won’t ever cease fire,” she raps. “So load the clip and watch as they shoot out of my lips, rain hell on all of them. I want these words to explode and hit.”
Her message, she said in a telephone interview, is one of peace.
“(The poem) is telling people: Instead of picking up your gun, instead of taking your bombs and instead of shooting people, and killing people, and raping people, use your voice as a means to change the world in a positive manner,” she said last week.
“I’m not trying to propagate violence in any way at all.”
The fifth-annual MuslimFest, at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre, is a youth- and child-oriented event organized by the Mississauga branch of SoundVision, a Chicago religious book and music company.
“Everyone is welcome,” organizer Taha Ghayyur, formerly head of Young Muslims Canada and now with SoundVision, said yesterday. Wider advertising is expected to boost attendance to 12,000 people from last year’s 10,000, he said.
The emcee and all five top-billed performers other than Baig are converts to Islam. One is the former David Wharnsby of Kitchener, now Dawud Wharnsby Ali, a singer of the Islamic religious song form nasheed.
Baig stands out as the only woman. Her father is Muslim from Pakistan. Her mother grew up in the Philippines of Spanish and Chinese parents, and converted to Islam upon getting married.
Baig never knew her mother’s family but saw her father’s relatives often. All were religious Muslims, she said, more so than her father, and they rejected her for her mixed race.
“When I was younger, there were times when I did feel there were racist comments thrown at me,” she said. “I felt very ostracized.”
Outside the family she felt accepted, she said, both in the francophone suburb of Châteauguay where she grew up and at Sacred Heart, the private English-speaking Roman Catholic girls’ school she attended downtown.
“I felt like I was one of them,” she said of her classmates.
But identity issues continued to trouble her and on Sept. 11, 2001 – when she was 13 – she chose to identify herself as a devout Muslim by donning a head scarf for school.
Over her parents’ objections, following the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States, she chose not the loose-flowing Pakistani dupatta but the Middle Eastern hijab covering the neck, ears and hair. “It was like an ongoing struggle for me, being so diversely mixed,” she said, not fully able to explain her choice even now.
“What are you going to say to people, `I’m Pakistani, Chinese and Spanish, and I’m Muslim?’ You can say that, but if you don’t really know what that means to you, it’s just empty words.
“I didn’t want to feel empty.”