Sena Hussain is the openly gay vocalist for all-female Canadian punk band Secret Trial Five (ST5). ST5 are a part of the growing underground Muslim punk scene dubbed ‘Taqwacore’. Taqwacore first came to the world via Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel, The Taqwacores — the name a blend of the Arabic word ‘taqwa’ which translates to ‘piety’ (religious devotion). ST5 was formed after 9/11 after Sena developed a passion and urgency to make music with a political message.
What is spirituality to you? Describe your spirituality.
SENA HUSSAIN: Spirituality to me is an energy inside you that takes over when you need hope. My spirituality is forgiving of the mistakes I’ve made, loyal, dependable, and relentless when I need it to be.
How big a part does spirituality play in your life?
SH: It definitely plays a big part. It’s what inspires me to speak out against injustices in the world amidst the hopelessness that is created by them.
Are spirituality and religion the same thing for you?
SH: No. I think religion gives people a means of finding their spirituality, for those who have a difficult time doing so on their own.
Tell me about growing up. What was life like for you? Did you have a religious upbringing?
SH: I was born into a religion, Islam, went to Sunday school and the whole nine yards. I had a good childhood; my parents tried really hard, although like most families, we had our problems. We weren’t forced into the rituals of Islam, nor did we have to follow the rules to the letter. So I would say I had a moderately religious upbringing.
What was your first exposure to punk rock? How did you find out about it? What do you love about it?
SH: I started listening to hip-hop in my childhood through to my late teens. I started becoming more and more aware of what was happening around me, and I started listening to music with a message. After 9/11, I started to see how our rights seemed like a joke to our Western governments, especially with the racism and discrimination Muslims started to face. Around the time of the invasion of Iraq, I started listening to Anti-Flag, which piqued my interest in punk. I then started getting into the older stuff, like Black Flag, Misfits, Crass, Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, etc.
In my experience — being female and brown/ethnic — I find the punk scene to be predominately male and white, and at times I feel like a minority in a minority. Have you ever felt this way?
SH: For sure. But I do feel that people in the punk scene are generally more aware of issues surrounding racism, so I tend to be more comfortable around those kinds of white people than your everyday, run-of-the-mill white person who may or may not know their head from their ass.
How does your spirituality and/or faith influence the music and art that you create?
SH: It gives me the energy to keep at it. It gives me hope that we are sending a strong message out there that could have some influence on impressionable minds.
Your band, Secret Trial Five, is part of the relatively new Taqwacore scene. Tell me about Taqwacore. What does it mean for you personally and what does it mean for Secret Trial Five?
SH: Taqwacore to me is a genre of punk that specifically deals with the political climate surrounding Muslims post 9/11. For Secret Trial Five it gave us a community in which to bounce off ideas, talk to, strategize, tour with, and relate to.
Why is the Taqwacore scene important?
SH: Because it is a specific response to a specific form of hate. It’s important because it’s made up of some folks who are Muslim, who are lending their own voices and experiences to the growing anger and frustration towards the war. We also speak out against the stereotyping, racism, torture, murder, and discrimination towards Muslims.
Another 1,000+ words of this conversation can be found in a forthcoming issue of the limited edition zine series, Conversations With Punx: A Spiritual Dialogue.
Photography: Rafal Gerszak