Day in the Life: Seeing The Hijabi Monologues
On Tuesday evening, I went to a performance of The Hijabi Monologues that was hosted by the US Embassy. It was a great experience as I had been following the project for the last few years. The project grew out of conversations between friends Sahar Ullah, Zeenat Rahman, and Dan Morrison in 2006 who were students at the University of Chicago at the time. All the stories shared in each monologues, which currently runs about about 12, are based on true stories. Ten were written by Ullah, and two have been recently added in order to better portray the generational and ethno-cultural diversity of America’s Muslim community.
According to The Hijabi Monologues Facebook Group:
The Hijabi Monologues is about the power of storytelling.
It is about creating a space for American Muslim women to share their voices; a space to breathe as they are; a space that does not claim to tell every story and speak for every voice.
Through the power of storytelling, generalizations and categories are challenged. Through stories, strangers touch and connect. Through stories, the story-teller and listener are humanized.
Hijabi Monologues: Our stories. Our words.
Here in Ottawa, not all of the pieces were performed and there were only two performers. Los Angels-based activist May Al Hassan and Kamilah Pickett, who is now based in Washington D.C., performed about six pieces, including one written by Kamilah Pickett herself.
Pickett summarized the intent of the monologues as follows:
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.
Kamilah Pickett’s monologue, entitled “Ten Things About Me”, was one of the monologues recently added. It is written from the perspective of an African American Muslim woman who wears hijab. In an interview, she said:
I figure that my viewpoint would be different than the other stories simply because I am African American, so there is a different perception that goes along with that,” Pickett said, explaining that most Americans see the hijab as a foreign concept. “As an African-American who wears a hijab, I kind of turn that whole viewpoint on its head.
In her own words:
Kamilah was born in Detroit, raised in Atlanta, and has lived in DC for the past six years. She’s had some really cool jobs and gotten a few really cool degrees along the way, most recently a Juris Doctor. And she’s twice the G she appears to be – don’t let the hijab fool you.
Kamilah is smart and “sassy” and a wonderful performer but like most of the other performers of the Hijabi Monologues, she is an amateur actor and a volunteer. She is currently studying to be a lawyer in Washington D.C. I really enjoyed Kamilah’s performance of her own monologue as well as of the others she performed. She is a natural comedian. During the question and answer period after the performance, she was asked about her experiences performing the Monologues to an “indigenous” African American community member. She said she hadn’t really thought about this experience but then shared her predicament as an Black Muslim woman who wears hijab and therefore is subject to discrimination on two fronts. I can relate to this and speak of it often in my Being Black, Being Muslim pieces.
All the monologues struck me as being very genuine. The fact that they included swearing, which although it is not something Muslim women who wear hijab are expected to do, we often do do, was refreshing. One of the stories, performed by May Al Hassan, was about a young woman who grew up being bullied because she was overweight. She ends up getting into a romantic relationship with an older neighbour who she is drawn to because he actually finds her attractive. This leads to an unwanted pregnancy. She hoped that her neighbour would marry her, as she had been expecting, but instead he doesn’t return her phone calls. After telling her best friend about her plight, this friend then goes and tells the whole school. Eventually, this young woman’s parents find out. Her father can’t handle it and goes back to his home country for several months. Her mother stands by her but the young woman still ends up running away from home and eventually has a traumatic miscarriage. It’s a brutal story but it rings true and I was really glad to see that the writers and performers didn’t shy away from discussing taboo subjects like pre-marital sex. It happens, just like in any other community.
Another dialogue, Knock on the Door, came from the real life experience of Leena al Arian, sister of freelance jounalist and producer for Al Jazeera English Laila al Arian, and the daughter of Palestinian American Sami Al-Arian, who is still under house arrest as an accused terrorist supporter. The story of how her father was taken one morning is both poignant and illuminating of the impact of the war on terror on people’s daily lives.
I am glad that the US Embassy brought the Hijabi Monologues to Ottawa but it would be great to see a Canadian version of the Hijabi Monologues that could be performed more regularly as it is a great way to open up dialogue within the Muslim community on various topics as well as shatter stereotypes about Muslim women who wear hijab in North American society.
Interview (2008) of Hijabi Monologues creator and writer Sahar Ullah available online
Video Clip of the monologue My Son’s Wedding Feast available on Youtube
Re-narration of Muslim-Western Experiences (article available online)
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