For those of you who missed the show last weekend, there is streaming video available on the Kennedy Center website. The performance lasts about one hour. I arrived two hours early with some friends to get a good seat because I remember at an performance earlier this year, people were turned away because the restaurant was at capacity. We were the first ones there, prayed maghrib outside of the Kennedy Center with some others, and got seats in the first row of unreserved seats just behind Dalia Mogahed and Imam Johari AbdulMalik.
Sahar Ullah the creator and main writer for the performance explains in her opening that the Hijabi Monolgoues is:
“The inverse of Eve Ensler’s the Vagina Monlogues. Where Ensler takes something private and personfies it by giving it a voice and puts it in your figurative faces, we’ve taken something (headscarf) public, something everyone seems to have an opinion about and push it out of your figurative faces by giving the entire woman a voice.”
The performance includes several short dramatic stories and skits including the arrest of Sami al-Arian written from the perspective of his daughter Leena al-Arian, Ullah’s first college football game experience, the death of son told from the mother’s perspective, a ten things about me list, girls kicking it and making fun of the many ways Muslim and non-Muslim guys try to hit on you, public school experiences, and a story of love, sex, and an unwanted pregnancy.
The story of Leena al-Arian watching FBI agents ransack her home and arrest her father was emotional and powerful. The University of Miami/Florida State football game, ten things about me, and sisters’ chatting was funny. The play definitely reflects a more liberal sensibility, which is a reflection of the writers. The casting was diverse in terms of backgrounds including Southeast Asian, Arab, and African American Muslim women. I know some sisters felt there could have been a more inclusive presentation with more conservative voices and stories to balance the more liberal ones but I say to those wishing for their own experience to be reflected to write a story and be willing to present it. It’s far too easy to sit back and complain, get up and make a more conservative version, maybe call it the Niqabi Monologues.
Kamilah Pickett, in her ten things about me story mentioned as number ten that she often felt as though she was not living up to someone else’s vision of her. Not Muslim or demure enough for Muslims and not liberal enough for non-Muslims. She left us with an interesting quote, that her hijab is a “piece of cloth not a magic wand.” I loved that quote because it is so true. Many people focus on the outward when it comes to Muslim women, if she has hijab on, it’s all good and if not then something is thought to be wrong. But for many women hijab/niqab is only a piece of cloth, it has little or no bearing on how an individual woman lives her life. For others, hijab is a way of life, a way of being, so much more than a piece of cloth, emcompassing not only a manner of dress but an attitude, an outlook on life, and an integral part of her self-identity and religious obeservance.
When I converted to Islam, it took me some time, I’m not exactly sure how long, before I began observing hijab. In my pre-Islam days, I test-drove a few styles of hijab and fabrics and even after my Islam, I continued to experiment with styles and levels of hijab. I did as in most things pretty intensive study of hijab, the arguments for and against, from classical and modern sources and spoke to sisters. There was one lecture by Yahya Ibrahim about the hijab, which I enjoyed listening to in those early days, I think mostly because he had a clear manner of speaking, always had two or three main points that he covered in less than 30 minutes, and he grew up in Canada so I didn’t have to struggle to decipher his accent. Sisters encouraged me to read the verses in the Quran and hadith for myself, which along with reading the stories of the sisters in places like Turkey who have struggled to maintain their hijab in the face of blatent oppression, all of which affected me powerfully. Now, I find it rather annoying to hear most men speak about hijab as though they know anything about it particularly when most of them go around indistinguishable from non-Muslims while advocating the opposite for Muslim women.
When I began to observe my understanding hijab, it created conflict and still creates some conflict although to a much lesser degree in my family. I am a walking dawah billboard, always open to the “is that what Islam teaches you?” smart remarks or “so why do some women cover their faces?” and the apologies from others, sometimes complete strangers, for their own crude behavior.
A few weeks ago, I had to renew my driver’s license and the MVA agent told me just as I had been told six years early when going for my learner’s permit that “the scarf has to come off.” This time, I didn’t even lose a beat and I was like, “No it doesn’t, I never take off my scarf, I’m Muslim, and I wore it for my last photo,” and the woman was then exceedingly nice to me I think as a gesture to make up for her foolish behavior earlier. The thought occurred to me that I didn’t begin wearing hijab for a human being and I would not stop wearing it for a human being. Last summer, one of my co-workers asked me if I ever get hot wearing hijab and I said to her, don’t you ever get hot wearing your normal clothing? And I told her, that “my life is oriented towards a greater purpose, much more important than being as cool as possible, I observe hijab because I believe my Creator and Sustainer wants me to” and when I put it to her like that, she said it made sense to her.
Some of the women I went with raised the points that there were no positive representations of Muslim men, most were the loser stereotypes that hit on you or even the immigrant father that did not know how to handle his ummarried daughter’s pregnancy so he just “left for a few months.” In contrast to the Hijab Protector non-Muslim men in one of the stories, who were given a more positive portrayl. Perhaps, a little apologetic, “see we’re just like you” at times but also some very Muslim-focused inside stories and jokes. I believe overall a good first step at introducing Muslim women writing and speaking for themselves.