BY BEATRIZ PREECE, Staff Writer
Last weekend’s UM-Dearborn performance of the Hijabi Monologues opened an intercultural dialogue celebrating the cultural differences that exist in America.
What does it mean when a woman belongs to a religion and she chooses to wear the outer garments of her faith? Is she different or the same as the rest of the society where she lives?
A ‘hijabi’ is a Muslim woman who chooses to wear a hijab, a traditional headscarf. Whether a woman was born into Islam or chose to convert, the hijab’s cultural meaning is linked to the religious identity of Muslim women. While American society automatically ties Arab ethnicity and Islam together, not all Muslim women are of Arab descent.
“There are many assumptions that have nothing to do with the reasons why a Muslim woman decides to wear a hijab,” says Aayat Ali, director of the Hijabi Monologues. “No one knows the real story of these women or why they chose to put on a hijab. For some it is a practice that was passed on from their families, but for others it is a spiritual journey which they took at one point in their lives when they felt the most connected with their faith, so decided to put on the hijab,” she continues.
According to Sara Jawhar, a Communications/Psychology junior and a Muslim who does not wear a hijab, “Not enough of what it means to be a Muslim woman in American society is shared. Some people look at a hijabi and immediately think ‘violence’ or ‘oppression.’ That is why Muslims need some form of artistic expression to share their stories in their own words.”
The Hijabi Monologues was not only well-written, well-cast, and entertaining, but the stories in the monologues challenge the stereotypes that the Muslim American women who wear hijabs face. The post-show dialogue facilitated by creator Sarah Ullah provided a place for the audience to work through their reactions and experiences with stereotyping.
The issue of diversity in relation to the hijab and the women who wear it was raised by the first monologue, “I’m Tired.” The hijabi who tells this story is emotionally exhausted, because every time she steps out of her house she is looked upon as a representative of a world religion with billions of followers. If she is quiet in a classroom setting, it is interpreted as being the result of Muslim male oppression, Islam, and her clothing. She deeply dislikes being under constant scrutiny, and regardless, she is not able avoid being labeled as a freak.
This and the rest of the stories in the monologues are pulled out of the fabric of the American society.
The women portrayed in the monologues are no different from any others in America; all faces similar themes and perils such as love, loss, betrayal, humor, and more, regardless of race or religion. For this reason alone the Hijabi Monologues are important to be told, because they address the common humanity that exists among the differences.
The history of Islam and western culture goes back many centuries to a time of dark wars. Unfortunately, this theme is picked up again all too well with the political conflicts of recent years. The results are deeply seeded stereotypes about Muslim intolerance and violence which erect cultural barriers that are disempowering and alienating.
We are all hyphenated Americans. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures. Cultural diversity is a subject of great interest because the U.S. is home to a multitude of racial groups, each with their own cultural accents and religious beliefs.
We must learn about each other’s stories in order to understand our own realities as a country, to learn to coexist together, to provide opportunities for empowerment, and live in peace.