Meet Omnia Hegazy—she’s a singer, a songwriter, a beautiful young woman with a lilting voice and mesmerizing dance moves that draw from her Muslim heritage. And she’s the first star of the new Moral Courage Channel, which has just debuted on YouTube in connection with the Moral Courage Project at New York University.
The channel is the brainchild of executive producer Irshad Manji, the NYU professor whom The New York Times once described as “Osama’s bin Laden’s worst nightmare” and the author of Allah, Liberty and Love and The Trouble With Islam Today. According to its YouTube site, the channel is dedicated to “the willingness to stand up when others want you to sit down. It is living with integrity.”
Hegazy’s story, the first in channel’s series of original episodes, is a prime example of this kind of radical temerity. “A lot of Muslim men could learn how to deal with a woman,” she tells the camera with a slight smile. “And a little bit of skin. To be frank.”
Her lyrics—such as those on her song “Grace,” from her digital album The Jailbird—have stirred up hate mail (one email told her to burn in hell for all eternity) as well as praise, especially from other Muslim women. “Why should you just be free while I stay here to suffocate?” She sings. “I’m not an object, but a woman, don't you see? / It would do you some good to learn the way to talk to me.”
Hegazy hopes her songs, by appealing to people’s emotions rather than just preaching at them, will convince Muslims to respect a diversity of opinion—and to reconsider the message that Islam gives to women today. “You get the sense that I have to hide, my body is poisonous, it makes men do bad things. Instead of teaching men self-control, we teach women that we need to cover up and protect ourselves. There’s the wrong emphasis here.”
Watch executive producer Irshad Manji talk about the channel's launch: