'Hijabis' talk about identity in America

By Paula Friedrich, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 4, 2013

After organizers were forced to turn patrons away due to an overcrowded Rackham Amitheater, Thursday night’s performance of “The Hijabi Monologues” started with two words: “I’m tired.”

“Do you know what it's like to represent a billion human beings every day you walk out of your house?” LSA junior Zeinab Khalil asked in her opening line.

Khalil’s monologue was the first of 14 performed by undergraduate and graduate students, recent graduates, professionals, Muslims and non-Muslims. The goal of the night was to take the focus off the hijab and onto the hijabi — the woman wearing the headscarf.

“The Hijabi Monologues” calls itself the “inverse” of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” — taking a similar format to the feminist play. But instead of focusing on making a normally private topic public, the play talked about the individual meaning of being a Muslim woman in modern U.S. society. Actresses performed pieces about serious topics like the death of a son, but also told more lighthearted stories, like the fun of taking a cat named “Sexy” to the vet.

“We’re basically trying to normalize women who wear the headscarf,” said Rackham student Imaan Ali, one of the performers. “We have the same worries; we have the same crushes on celebrities if we’re young. We suffer the same way; we cry the same way; we laugh the same way.”

Public Health student Amena Qureshi, a performer at the event, said popular media and misinformation can perpetuate stereotypes about women who choose to wear the hijab, but events like the “Monologues” can begin to open up conversation about the relationship between religion and identity.

“We’re just as educated and motivated as any human being, but we also choose to show our religion blatantly and honestly,” Qureshi said in an interview.

But the monologues weren’t all about the discrimination women who wear a headscarf often face. Topics touched on football games and ineffective pickup lines, seldom mentioning the hijab itself.

“None of the stories actually discuss it or discuss wearing it per se as much as they discuss worries that really bring out the idea of this complex human being,” said Rackham student Nama Khalil, director of “The Hijabi Monologues.”

After the intermission, Khalil and her co-director, LSA sophomore Mobashira Farooqi, introduced the beginnings of their new project: “The Kufi Diaries,” pitched as a male version of “The Hijabi Monologues.” The event will similarly be comprised of stories by University students. A kufi is a hat that is a religious symbol rooted in Muslim tradition.

Thursday’s performance featured the first two kufi stories, but Farooqi said they hope to stage a performance of a completed production in Fall 2013.

LSA freshman Shukria Fairooz said she particularly enjoyed the humor in the play, especially in the monologue titled “Shy Girl” about a quiet hijabi who ends up beating up a boy after he was rude to her.

The Muslim Engineering Students' Association, the Muslim Students' Association, the Muslim Graduate Student Association, the Center of Engineering Diversity and Outreach, and Rackham Student Government sponsored the free event.

Corrections appended: A previous version of the article misstated Nama Khalil's opening lines and that a Kufi is rooted in African Islamic practice, and misspelled Khalili and Mobashira Farooqi's names.