More alike than you think

“Hijabi Monologues” present a snapshot of Muslim women’s experiences

By Joyell Nevins

The theatre can be a place to escape, a place to be entertained. It can also be a place to expand horizons and be educated—not necessarily a comfortable experience, but an important one. “Hijabi Monologues,” a set of stories by American Muslim women, encompasses all these aspects. The “Hijabi Monologues” are being produced at the University of Dayton March 8-9 by ArtStreet, the Theatre Program and Studio Theatre, in collaboration with the University’s Center for International Programs and Women’s Center.

“Muslims are constantly ‘othered’ by other communities,” says University of Dayton law student Rabiah Gul, who helped bring the show to Dayton. “Yet we all have common things that we share. Most of us laugh about the same things; most of us cry about the same things. We’re different from each other, but similar.”

Hijab is an Arabic word for headscarf, and “hijabi” is a slang word in the Muslim community for a woman who wears a headscarf. In “Hijabi Monologues,” you’ll meet a woman who has lost her son, a woman who had a pregnancy and miscarriage outside of marriage, a woman getting hit on and even a woman attending a first football game.

And although being a Muslim woman shapes their experience, it does not define their experience. The focus is not on the scarf itself. In the show’s mission statement, it points out “we are a theatrical production that allows hijabis to not have to talk about hijab.”

Nor are the “Hijabi Monologues” meant to be a detailed discussion of Islam. Gul points out that the show is about people’s experiences, not the religion.

“Hijab is not the center, it’s just part of the framework,” Gul says. “It’s not ‘let’s discuss religion’, it’s ‘let’s hear the stories.’”

Gul first performed with the “Hijabi Monologues” in New York City when she was an undergrad, both on campus and off-Broadway. For a contest that encouraged women to submit their own monologues, Gul wrote a piece that described her completing wudu, the process of washing and purification before prayer.

Muslims pray five times a day, and have to wash certain body parts before each of those times (face, arms, head, feet). However, when Gul was attending classes during most of the day, that meant she was often performing wudu in a public bathroom. Try explaining to a stranger why your feet are in the sink, and you can imagine assumptions that are made.

Exposing and breaking through assumptions is something the “Hijabi Monologues” strive to do. There are 11 monologues in all. UD’s production has each of the monologues performed by a different student and with an individual student director.

Gul noted that in both UD’s production and the New York production, the majority of actresses in the shows were and are non-Muslim. One of the requirements of the show, though, is that all of the actresses must wear a hijab during the performance.

After each performance in New York, there was a time of dialogue with the audience and one of the cast members posed the question, “who do you think is Muslim amongst the actresses?” Most of the guesses were … wrong.

“The whole point is, you can’t tell who’s Muslim and who’s not [by how they look],” Gul says.

That’s one of the reasons ArtStreet Director Brian LaDuca is enthused about “Hijabi Monologues” as part of the White Box Theatre Festival.

“The xenophobia, or fear of people from countries not your own, that is becoming pervasive across our current political landscape is palpable. It’s something that those who live in fear tend to lean into as a shield for deflection rather than opening up and taking time to hear, learn and listen to other people’s stories,” he says. “I firmly believe that any time stories can be shared and performed that might lift and even change perspectives is needed. ‘Hijabi Monologues’ has that kind of creative power.”

The show will be performed in the White Box Gallery space, in conjunction with the current installation REFLECTION: 2016 Citizens of the World. The instillation highlights photography that displays students’ reflection of the world in which they live. It depicts themes ranging from hope and strength to challenge and achievement, and strives to showcase the diverse experiences that influence, shape and impact UD students.

REFLECTION is a collaboration between the Center for International Programs, the Institute for Arts Nexus and ArtStreet. It is the fifth in a six-installation series by the Institute focusing on climate—the environmental, political, religious and even campus climate, and our elemental response to it.

“ArtStreet is a brilliant group of very creative and very open-minded people,” Gul says. “They are fearless.”

“Hijabi Monologues” are presented at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 and Wednesday, March 9 in the ArtStreet White Box Gallery, 330 Kiefaber St., on the University of Dayton campus. The performances are free and open to the public. REFLECTION runs in the same space from March 2 to April 7. For more information, please visit udayton.edu/artstreet or like “Hijabi Monologues HQ” on Facebook. #HMUDayton #HijabiMonologues 

Joyell Nevins believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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