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Karter Zaher and Jae Deen: Halal Hip-Hop

Taken aback by their track Muslim Queen, Rahma Zein El Din reaches out to Karter Zaher and Jae Deen - the two Canadian-Muslim rappers who are changing the face of Hip-Hop.

Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries are both disgusted and saddened by the constant negative stereotypes and the daily misleading messages distorting the image of Islam, but at the end of the day we don’t face direct prejudice. Few of us here imagine the lives of Muslims who live as the minority and find the need to explain themselves; wearing a headscarf does not mean a submissive and weak woman, a man with a beard does not mean a supporter of violence and being a Muslim does not mean a terrorist. The latter statements have been weakened with terrorist groups such as ISIS claiming to fight in the name of Islam, when in fact if anything they are waging a war against it. We think to ourselves that there is little we can do but Hip-Hop artists Jae Deen and Karter Zaher felt there is. In an attempt to both comfort Muslims abroad who feel subjected to prejudice and at the same time reveal the true meaning of Islam to those who misunderstand it, the duo have produced uplifting beats with catchy lyrics that work.“There are terrorist groups who are hurting the image of Islam and many people around the world don't even know what Islam truly is and that is why we feel like our music can make a difference. It can actually alter the minds of these people and restore the true beauty of Islam,” says a blue-eyed Karter Zaher.

The two artists living in Ottawa, Canada, have fun with their tunes and aim to keep growing with their music, “I come from a Middle Eastern background. My biggest role model was Tupac, his music was a really big influence on my art. I also was raised listening to a lot of Arabic music. In fact Amr Diab is also a big inspiration to me,” tells us Zaher. Jae Deen and his infectious smile were born and raised in Ottawa with his parents having migrated from Ghana. “My biggest role models growing up were Hip-Hop legends such as Jay-Z, Kanye West and 50 Cent,” he says.

The two like-minded friends bringing variety to the Hip-Hop world, with their diverse backgrounds and unique intentions, share the same goals and felt collaborating with one another was only natural. “The aim of our music is to mainly inspire the Muslim youth.The youth struggle to keep balance between their lives and their Muslim identity. Many may feel uncomfortable with what they believe in because of how the world has portrayed that belief. Our job as artists is to say, ‘This is your religion, and it’s something to be proud of. You're a beautiful person, you're a Muslim, and Muslims can be cool and Islam can be inspirational through positive actions and words,'” explains Deen. Indeed, the artists have shown us that Islam can be cool, with one of their songs about your typical holy Friday turned up, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park for them as Deen continues. “The reaction has been amazing. Many Muslims, especially the youth, support what we are doing. But with love comes the hate, and we also get a fair amount of that. The hate comes from the closed-minded individuals in our community who believe that music, in any way, shape or form, is haram. In terms of the non-Muslim reaction, it is also great. We have people who message us on our social media, saying that they're not Muslim, yet they listen to our songs daily.”

With the two focusing on Islam and being in Ottawa it seems much harder to make it then if they were in a predominantly Muslim country, but the two artists played it smart launching online first. “Our videos went viral, reaching views from all over the world. Our city recognised that and they realised that what we're doing needs to be supported. We have a big following even in our home town,” says Deen.

Zaher explains that the two only intend to keep going, “we're not going to stop doing what we are doing because we know our intentions are pure and we know what our objectives are. Even if people are going to hate on us, it is not going to stop us from proving our ultimate objectives. Which is peace, love, unity and respect.”

Their track, Muslim Queen, has gotten over 200,000 likes on YouTube, and is a cover of Fetty Wap's originally-titled Trap Queen; a song that is very different to say the least. “Fetty Wap's affiliates actually heard Muslim Queen and reached out to us. We definitely have a lot of support from non-Muslims as well because at the end of the day, the music speaks for itself,” tells us Zaher. Another one of Zaher’s track is directed to veiled women who face scrutiny wearing the veil and going about their daily life, “there is discrimination towards Hijabi women all over the world, and that's why I did Hijabi Queen; to uplift the spirits of my sisters in Islam. It is truly an honour for me to be in a position where I can motivate my people.”

Following a successful collaboration, the two plan to keep moving forward as Zaher ambitiously tells us, “we are currently focusing on Deen Squad for quite some time, but as we evolve, inshAllah, we will take on more projects, as we definitely want to expand to bigger countries and be a helping hand to the youth.” We expect that the two will soon make it big being an alternative and modern way to explain the true nature of Islam, and though their music will be unlikely to be blaring in the underground clubs we expect their way with lyrics will take them far. Preaching Halal Hip-Hop without the curse words, the girls, the drugs and baes may be hard but the two have so far managed.