Rajae El Mouhandiz

I carry my ancestors’ DNA, I am their 4.0 version. And that makes me a dignified, rebel child with super hero blood.

 

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Photo Credit:  Taco van der Werf Photography

 

Who are you?

I’m Rajae and I was born in Morocco. My mother is Algerian and my father is Moroccan. My parents were born from ancestors who were strong tribes men and women who lived under colonial oppression. My grandfathers were heroes, they defended their flock in N-Africa during the French and Spanish occupation. One fled from Algeria to Morocco by foot to escape the bloodshed & the other, my Moroccan grandfather was killed by the Spanish occupiers because he organised & financed the resistance in his region. Both my parents never overcame the loss of their parents. This is our history.

My father managed to find work in Europe. When I was 9 months old we moved from Morocco to Amsterdam in Netherlands where I grew up. My parents divorced when I was 3 and I was raised by my mother and siblings. I am what they call a hybrid, an immigrant and a pioneer. I carry my ancestors’ DNA, I am their 4.0 version. And that makes me a dignified, rebel child with super hero blood.

I started my artistic journey with classical ballet at the age of 4 and playing instruments from the age of 7. At 15, I left home and at 16, I studies classical music at a Dutch music conservatory. At 20, I dropped out, because I missed my roots and had fallen in love with jazz, pop and soul music and so my focus directed to songwriting, composition and poetry. I worked very hard to manage on my own. One year later, I was recording in London, then NY, California etc… At 25, I started my own record label and published my first album in 2006, second in 2009, a new single in 2013, together with my first short film and currently I am crowd funding for my third album, which I will record in Morocco. My plan is to move my artistic home base back to Morocco and further develop the Maghreb Pop, Soul and Jazz sound. I wanna amplify this message; from Morocco to the world. I want to replace pressed albums with the production of t-shirts, bracelets and other merchandise, 100% organically crafted in Morocco together with a group of women in Morocco who make a decent living by producing sustainably manufactured artisan products and they are supported to further educate themselves. My team and I will also make sure their children will have access to good schooling. In the label of the merchandise, you will find a personal message and a unique download code to my albums, video’s & artwork. In a time when everyone is downloading and the focus is on digital publishing, one has to stay creative and think mobile, hybrid and find a way to return the investment of production costs. My model is based on 5 Islamic principles Dua, Zakat, Iqra, Nia and inspiration.

Apart from music, I have supported myself and further developed my skill set by working in creative and corporate communication since 2005 as a creative producer and pr professional. I have a big heart for women and the arts, especially Muslim women in the arts. Therefor I am advocating for more support of Muslimas in the arts. I have committed to a couple of very effective and wonderful projects. In the past I was active with ASMA society and the WISE group. Currently I am part of a group of 60 international female Muslima artists who are co-curating the international online MUSLIMA exhibition. I’m also developing my second short film about my Maghribi grandfathers and I’m producing the Hijabi Monologues in The Netherlands with a Dutch theater/production company a creative/production and the British Council Ireland. This production will premiere in the fall of 2014. Then a few weeks ago I gave my first public speech by giving my first TEDx talk; How art and music create a new hybrid global culture. Last but not least…. a few days ago I heard that I have been nominated by the Muslim500 list for the fifth time.

You must think that I am a workaholic. Yes I am, but coming where I come from it’s the only way I know how to live and keep a smile on my face. When I’m free I recharge my battery by resting, eating home cooked meals and eating a piece of good chocolate cake with soy latte or fresh mint tea.

I hope to one day live in a world where a girl does not have to think about why she can’t…. As Muhammad Ali said; “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

 

Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it means so much to you:

I love all of these quotes very much, because they apply to real life and several phases of growing up as a woman and as a soul in this temporary Dunya.

I also love them because they are universal and can inspire anyone, anywhere at any age.

Rabia Al Adawiyya:

“In my Soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel.
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.
Is there not a region of Love, where the Sovereignty is illuminated nothing,
Where ecstasy gets poured into itself and becomes lost,
Where the wing is fully alive but has no mind or body?
In my Soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church that dissolves,
That dissolves in God.”

“I am fully qualified to work as a doorkeeper, and for this reason:
What is inside me, I don’t let out:
What is outside me, I don’t let in.
If someone comes in, he goes right out again.
He has nothing to do with me at all.
I am a Doorkeeper of the Heart, not a lump of wet clay.”
“Give the goods of this world to Your enemies-
Give the treasures of Paradise to Your friends-
But as for me- You are all I need.”

“I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames in Hell
So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.”

Maya Angelou

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”

“Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.”

“A woman who is convinced that she deserves to accept only the best challenges herself to give the best. Then she is living phenomenally.”

“There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”

“Talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it.”

Anais Nin

“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.”

“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Muhammad Ali

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

“The Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”

 

Islamic Perspective:

For me, Islam is not only about being a lifelong student of the holy Quran and the Ahadith. It’s core to me is a code of honor, it’s a constant reminder to not fall for the illusions of the Dunya (world) and to keep reality and perception pure, simple and universal:

Here are 4 Islamic principles that I remind myself of every day.

  • Have good intention and think positive (NIYA)
  • Learn/listen to/from others & show compassion/empathy
  • Be ONE with humanity and nature & give back to society, share, multiply, make people Smile from within
  • Be strong and defend those who are powerless or vulnerable

What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?

(This Verse 2:255 is called Ayat al-Kursi)
Because this Ayah kept me safe always

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Allah — there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting and All-Sustaining.
Slumber seizes Him not, nor sleep.
To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth.
Who is he that will intercede with Him except by His permission?
He knows what is before them and what is behind them;
and they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases.
His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth;
and the care of them burdens Him not; and He is the Most High. The Supreme (in glory).

What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?

The Prophet (s) said, “Seek knowledge even in China,” – Muhammad (Pbuh)
=Knowledge other than Islamic knowledge: GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.

 

The “Ten”:

1. What is your favorite book?
Hmmm, I have a huge collection, I can’t choose titles, or genres, just like music, because I have an eclectic taste. Here are some names of writers and poets……poetry by Rumi, Rabia’Al Adawiyya, books by Maya Angelou, Anais Nin, Elif Shafek, Orhan Pamuk, Malcolm Gladwell, Paulo Coelho, Fatima Mernissi, Hazrat Inayat Khan and many many more. By the way, I really love the writings and podcasts of Deonna Kelli, a wonderful Muslim American writer, I know she is writing her memoires and I can’t wait until I can order it. She is one of those female Muslim voices whom I hope will gather a large following. She has a style of writing that is refreshing, because she doesn’t preach, she simply explores life, her journey and her identity and to me that is beautiful and truthful. I also love the loveinshallah.com book and community. I feel blessed to live in a time when we as Muslims can simply be and express as we are…..

2. Who inspires/inspired you?
My ancestors! They paved the way for me to be able to tell you this. Rabia’Al Adawiyya is one of my earliest female role models, I have been her fan since I was a little girl. Muhammad Ali inspires me on a daily basis, Malcolm X too, he raises my spirit, especially in these times living as a Muslim immigrant in this concrete jungle in the West. Good folks and innocent children in my direct surrounding inspire me with their realness. I’m also a big fan of lots of musicians and artists out there who work hard to produce and share their music/art with the world independently. Especially those who keep their clothes on and their message pure.

3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
My mother taught me to never take no for an anwser and to have faith in Go(o)d. She taught me to take risks and to be and stay independent always. She was an orphan, she came to Europe with her children, she could not read or write, she left an abusive marriage in a time when women were shunned who divorced and she managed on her own and still does. I pray every day for Allah to protect and bless her.

4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
I would tell her to brace herself for the cold and hard life she’s about to face in her next 20+ years. The inevitable is coming in 2 years… young girl, but you will learn to smile again and will achieve a lot in life. You will be your ancestors 4.0 version and you will be cheered for from all over the world. Other than that one can not look back and give advice…. Life happens and you learn to deal with it one day at a time.

5. What are your hopes for your daughter(s) and/or son(s)?
My hope is for them to have strong roots, I hope they will surround themselves with art and books and I hope I can raise them to feel confident and safe + most of all loved and appreciated as they are, regardless of their gender or cultural mix. I hope they will travel a lot and gather friends from different backgrounds and I hope they will realise how lucky they are to live a privileged life. I hope they will give back to others who are less fortunate. I hope they will dream big and stay humble.

6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
My life is one big miracle, I barely made it out of the womb, my childhood was hard and my teen years even harder. At 15 years old I left home and that was the end of my childhood and the birth of my dreams and destiny. But is has a happy ending. Music and art saved my life. Allah took his time to work on me. Now at 34 I am a rock, made of diamond and this is only the beginning of a lifelong journey. And so on, Tralalaaaa.

7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I regret being unwise sometimes and acting before thinking in some situations. I regret having acted cowardly and stubborn against a few people who were dear to me in my teens and childhood. I regret not being strong enough to deal with the energy of my family. I wish I was less of an introvert, I wish I had spent more time in Morocco as a teenager, it would’ve given me more sense of my identity.

8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
I stay grounded by working hard, eating well, sleeping just enough and having little expectations from others. When taking care of yourself from age 15 you learn to be still and your spirit grounds, because there is no space or time to fall hard. So you have to be careful and take risks at the same time, all the time…. You have to deal with things most people deal with when they are at the end of their journey here. But you learn to place all your trust in God. And because of this musical gift, Allah has shown me that I need to be brave, and sing like a birdy, timeless, poetic, one day at a time I overcame and grew into an artist who observes life and it’s emotions and records, sings and shares this inspiration to remind others to feel and love and be true, happy or blue 😉

9. How do you bring about real change?
By trying over and over, falling and rising, trusting, learning, rushing and stopping, being patient and taking leaps. Daring to be different and daring to live your dreams and repeating what you do well, day by day, year after year, until no one can ignore your presence anymore. Until your idea is no longer the idea of a pioneer, but becomes mainstream.

10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
For my courage, kindness, music, melodies, lyrics and message.

 

Video Message from Rajae:

 

More about Rajae:

Website: www.rajae.net
Twitter: @rajae
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rajaeofficial
Rajae’s TEDx talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvYTiPQAyAE&feature=youtu.be
Crowdfunding video with english subtitles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJBRD7X51HU
Crowdfunding site: http://voordekunst.nl/vdk/project/view/1611-crowdfunding-rajae-a-chance-for-a-change
Rajae’s Muslim500 page: http://themuslim500.com/profile/rajae-el-mouhandiz