Students revive ‘Hijabi Monologues’ to create outlet for hijabis on campus
“Being a hijabi, I know the sense of betrayal that I felt after this election and I wasn’t probably alone.”
Experiencing and witnessing hatred towards Muslim women during the election and after the recent presidential inauguration, University of Michigan LSA sophomore Fatima Haidar said she felt she had no choice but to act.
Haidar, alongside LSA sophomore Alyiah Al-Bonijim, decided to create an avenue for students and community members to voice their stories, feelings and frustrations about what it means to be a hijabi in America.
After less than a month of organizing and planning, the two students revived the Hijabi Monologues: a two-hour series of personal stories, songs, poetry and spoken word. A crowd of more than 250 packed the Rackham Amphitheatre, reaching full capacity within minutes after doors opened on Friday evening.
In their opening statement of their theme, “Halfway Hijabi,” Haidar and Al-Bonijim explained the importance of coming together during a difficult time and fostering a safe space for the speakers. Al-Bonijim discussed the controversy surrounding the hijab in wake of the election and said she hopes the event will eradicate some of the misconceptions of the hijab.
“We came up with the name ‘halfway hijabi’ because we feel being Muslim in America often feels like we have a dual identity,” she said. “With increasing xenophobia and Islamophobia, hijabi women have become the battleground for Islam-based politics because we are easily identified as Muslim. We are here to claim our voices and our space in the discussion of the hijab.”
Speakers of a variety of backgrounds, nationalities and identities shared their relationship with the hijab. Haidar said she wanted the audience to understand that what a hijab may mean to one woman may mean something completely different to another.
“There is no one image of a hijab that anyone can fully represent,” she said.
Muslim women have been at the center of post-election tension. In December, the Ann Arbor Police Department issued a report of a female student forced to remove her hijab, provoking large student protests — though AAPD later determined the incident did not occur. A similar crime alert labeled as “ethnic intimidation” a few days later — in addition to a spike in hate crimes around the country — fed a series of protests and vigils after the election.
LSA junior Noor Sulieman, an Iraqi-American hijabi Muslim, began the night with her journey with the hijab as one of personal rebellion against society.
“Nothing in me, not my religion, my hijab or my heritage makes me any less American,” Sulieman said. “I would only argue it makes me more American. The type of American that works hard every day to push this country toward the path of social justice and equality for all.”
LSA freshman Maria Tout, a Lebanese-American immigrant, spent her childhood in Ypsilanti. On a visit to Lebanon at age 10, Tout admired the hijabi women around her and made the personal choice to wear the hijab, a decision she has stood by ever since.
“I didn’t have to,” she said. “Nobody wanted me to. It was only me.”
Being the only hijabi in many of her classes at the University can be difficult, Tout admitted, especially when her peers expect her to have a reaction to politics.
“Everyone would be like, ‘It’s Maria, let’s ask her how she feels,’ ” she said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody. The caring and support seemed unreal.”
Ross sophomore Mariam Doudi, a first-generation Sudanese-American from Dearborn, said growing up as a Black-Arab Muslim, she struggled to fit in with either Black or Arab communities.
“My whole life I have been defined by my physical attributes, contributing to a lifetime of insecurity in terms of not belonging,” Doudi said. “On top of all my struggles that I have as a Black Arab, comes the fact that I am a hijabi. I am fighting two battles.”
Doudi said President Donald Trump’s recent immigration ban on seven Muslim-majority countries made her feel personally attacked.
“I was shocked to see that Sudan was on the list because we are not a country where terrorists come from," Doudi said. "We are one of the most generous and hospitable people that I have ever met.”
Midway through the event, two performers led a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah," eliciting a standing ovation from the audience. The second portion of the night featured an open mike session.
Alum Sarah Khan’s monologue centered around a disclosure of her depression and anxiety in what she said was the first time she spoke in public about her struggle with mental health. Khan said she used to fear discussing mental health in her community.
“Having depression means sometimes hating my religion because my religion hasn’t fixed me and sometimes hating my religion because I can’t hide it,” Khan said. “I can’t hide my scarf, something that feels like a second skin to me. I have been harassed so many times for it.”
Khan said being a member of the Muslim community while having depression can be burdensome.
“Here I am, a brown Muslim woman trying to figure out how to survive in a world not built for my existence and trying to fix myself piece by piece,” Khan said. “I am so burdened with the responsibility of speaking for Muslims that I can barely focus on my own spirituality.”
In Canton high-schooler Khadega Mohammed’s spoken-word piece titled “Once Upon a Time,” Mohammed told of a time in the United States, before Sept. 11, when Muslims were not seen as terrorists, she did not have to endure random screening checks at airports, did not fear attacks upon entering her mosque and her mother did not fear for her safety every day.
“Your 9/11 is our 24/7,” she said. “America would not be America without me, without Muslims, Blacks and Hispanics and minorities. Once upon a time, we were not a threat to your Americanism. Once upon a time people chose love over hate.”
Being a Black Muslim woman is tiring, Mohammed emphasized, in her second piece titled “Breathe.”
“I wish my skin color didn’t define whether I’m a Trayvon or a Zimmerman,” she said. “I wish the scarf on my head didn’t stereotype if I’m a devout Christian or a Taliban.”
LSA juniors Angela Hong and Komel Khan attended the event to gain awareness about the meaning of hijab, and to hear the stories of University students striving for social change through their activism.
Hong said she was appreciative that the event coordinators were able to find speakers of all different identities.
“I felt like all of us could identify at least some part of ourselves in the speakers,” Hong said. “It’s really difficult to become open and to talk about life experiences in front of a large crowd, but I felt like everyone presented it in a way that was very relatable.”
For Khan, the monologues were empowering and uplifting, reminding her that she has the power to speak out and make a difference.
“I saw a lot of love from the speakers and from the audience,” she said. “I saw a lot of sadness. It helped me realize that although there are differences in faith or lack of love, we all, regardless of our identities experience the same emotions, the same feelings of love and sadness. From tonight, I just want to remember that I can be vocal about my different identities and to know that there is support from the University.”
Correction appended: This article has been updated to correctly identify a student's ethnicity