After years of absence from the spotlight, Mélanie Georgiades, the former French rapper Diam’s, speaks about her conversion to Islam. By Afia R Fitriati.
Until roughly six years ago, she sported cropped hair and was an icon of rebellion, rapping away hit songs such as ‘Un Peu de Respect’ (‘A Little Respect’) and ‘I Am Somebody’.
Then, starting in 2007, Diam’s gradually withdrew herself from the public eye for a ‘spiritual retreat’. In 2009, a paparazzi picture in Paris Match magazine showed her wearing a hijab and a black abaya outside a mosque, seeming to confirm the rumours that were circling: that the rebellion queen had submitted herself to Islam. Her new veiled-up look especially caused a stir in France, a country that has banned women from wearing the niqab, or face cover.
Last week, Mélanie had her first media interviews in nearly four years. In them, she spoke about her journey to peace, her new covered-up appearance and misconceptions about Islam.
To France’s national TV channel TF1 and Europe 1 radio network, Mélanie reveals that at the peak of her fame, ‘I had millions of love, money, but I was not happy.’ In spite of her success, the Cyprus-born woman was suffering from deep depression. She spent weeks in a psychiatric hospital and had a brush with drugs, until she one day found Islam. ‘I heard one of my Muslim friends saying ‘I am going to pray for a while and will come back,’ so I told her that I want to pray as well,’ she recounted during the interview. ‘It was the first time that I touched the floor with head, and I had a strong feeling that I have never experienced before, and I believe now that kneeling in prayer shouldn’t be done to anyone but Allah.’
From that moment on, there was no turning back for the woman who sold one million copies of her album in 2006. ‘[Islam] has completely healed my heart, because today, I know what I do on Earth,’ she says.
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When she was asked why she wears the hijab while many Muslim women don’t, the half-French, half-Cypriot said that she wears it out of her own will. ‘Some people [are of the opinion that] a woman who wears the veil does it out of pressure. But no! They can also [wear it] for love of God.’
Some critics view Mélanie’s new attire in less than favourable terms. A spokesperson from French women’s rights organisation Ni Putes, Ni Soumises (Neither Whores, Nor Submissive) said, ‘It’s very sad to see her convey a message to a generation who expects her to speak of equality between men and women.’ Djemila Benhabib, a Canada-based writer, said that ‘Diam’s veil is a step backward, a defeat.’
The ex-megastar is not unaware of such criticism. As she explained in the interview, ‘I know the way I’m dressed now will surprise some… Not everyone is respectful and tolerant. It does not bother me to talk about it, but it depends on how it’s done. I know this is not common, even unprecedented, since I was a rapper. I understand. But I have gained so much in peace and serenity now. [As for] the malice and hatred, I have more time to counter.’
One thing is certain: the young mother formerly known as Diam’s is happy with her new life. ‘I used to write a lot of anger. [Now] I have happiness in my heart.’ She says. ‘I no longer need a nickname.’