For the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Rolling Stone spoke with artists and entertainers who identify as Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent about how the aftermath of that day shaped their lives and careers in America.
Americans born to an Egyptian father and Italian mother, sisters Omnia and Leila Hegazy, who together make up the band Hegazy, they were no strangers to confusion around dual identity. There were times when they felt neither Egyptian enough for their Muslim community in Staten Island, nor Italian enough for their neighbors.
However, it was after 9/11 — when both women were still in middle school — that they felt the abrupt betrayal of their beloved neighborhood and friends, as the young girls experienced harsh discrimination and prejudice from their community and “very quickly [we] became the bad guys.” At one point, Omnia recalls wanting to wear the hijab immediately after the attacks, but was convinced by her father not to out of fear for her safety. “We definitely stuck out,” says Omnia. “It was not an easy three years. A lot of bullying, being called terrorists, being called bin Laden’s daughter, Sadam — the list escapes me now.”
Pressured to prove their loyalty and patriotism, Omnia and Leila remember their parents putting up an American flag on their lawn to ease their neighbors’ minds. After being bullied and ostracized by the neighborhood children, they say, they spent most of their free time indoors, and turned to music and songwriting as their outlet for expression. Their dynamic relationship with their faith would vary throughout the years following the September 11th attacks. Over time, the sisters would shy away from their faith and cultural identity in response to being overly tokenized. Yet they ultimately embraced their identity and decided the “wardrobe choice” of wearing the hijab didn’t define their devotion.
Hegazy does not make religious music, and they’re very clear about that distinction, but they carry their Muslim faith as a core part of their identity. In recent years, their lyrics have become more socially aware with political messages and calls to action. Imparting their Rolling Stone interview, they left us with this hopeful message: “If you accept the humanity of American Muslims, you also have to accept the humanity of Muslims in other countries. We’re all a part of one human race.”