Play “Unveils” Post 9/11 Experience of Muslim Women in America

‘Unveiled’- A review

Amena Ahmed, Staff Writer


Photo by Rohina Malik

Unveiled, a dramatization of the Muslim woman’s experience after 9/11 was performed to a full house at the NEIU auditorium on Friday, Feb. 10. Written and performed by Rohina Malik, Unveiled aims to bring out the spirit and strength of Muslim women and answer many of the buzzing questions surrounding Muslims and Islam: What does it mean to be Muslim? What is the life of a Muslim woman? Are they really forced to cover?
As the lights dimmed, the audience was taken up close into the living rooms, offices, and restaurants of five women. An intimate monologue ensued as each character lifted spirits with an ethnic tea and told her story. A Karachi-born fashion designer brewed chocolate chai as she recounted her best friend’s wedding and an unexpected verbal assault. A lawyer entertained a client with mint tea as she told of her first love, and the tumbling chain of events that ended in a hate crime that left her assaulted and her husband dead.
These women told of being harassed for being Muslim after 9/11. They spoke of finding strength in standing up to abuse, responding to hate with love, and overcoming tragedy. Laylah, a Middle Eastern restaurant owner, shared the story of the tragic day when she prayed to God that the first plane in the building she saw on TV was just a “mistake.” As the day continued, she realized it was not a mistake; on that day she lost her brother and her fellow citizens turned against her.
The women spoke of empowerment, especially in their decisions to wear what they chose. “Deal with my mind, not my body,” said young British rapper Shabana regarding her decision to don the hijab, the Muslim head covering for women. She overcomes her mother’s opposition, who says it is “ugly” and “dangerous” to look like that in modern society. Each of Malik’s characters was well crafted and distinct. The performance was equally skillful.
The stories raised universal issues, the biggest of which was society’s tendency to stereotype and scapegoat. “It addressed universal themes of human rights and freedom. It spoke to the tendency of people to have assumptions about a group of people. These are issues for everybody,” said audience member and former NEIU grad school student Cynthia Chernoff.
The stories traveled from character to character in fluid and powerful language, drawing a strong response from the crowd. The audience broke into applause in mid-performance as Shabana ended her last rap line. The narratives strung at sentimental notes as the women told of loss and depression. Hearty laughter was heard as Inez, an African American woman from the Deep South said, “I’m a strong woman. When I was born, my mamma told me, ‘You better hold your head up high ‘cuz you born with two strikes against you: you’re black, and you’re a woman!’ When at nineteen, I told [her] of my conversion to Al-Islaam she just looked at me and said, ‘Strike three!'”
The show was accentuated with enough non-English words, costumes, and traditional style to bring a real taste of the East. The audience was pulled into the Muslim experience as characters made references to Quranic verses and prophetic sayings, as well as tasteful selections of poems from historical Eastern poets, Rumi and Sa’di. Brought to the forefront at moments of climatic sorrow, the theme of strength from God also carried steadily throughout the show.
In the dialogue and dinner after the show, audience members were given the opportunity to speak with Malik. Asked about her inspiration for this show, she said, “It was a terrifying time [after 9/11], and I noticed that all the women I knew had a story to tell.” So did all the characters represent real people? Malik said that although the characters were fictional, each story was based on true events. And what about the burning question of women’s hijab? Malik spoke of her own decision to cover and how her family wasn’t thrilled. She says however, there are some places in the world where some women are forced into it. “With so many women I know, who chose to wear the veil, I see that their families opposed it. I find that to be more common.”
Malik says there is power and freedom in a woman being able to dress the way she chooses. “I consider myself a feminist in my hijab,” she said.
How important was it to bring it to NEIU? Yasmin Ranney, director of the Pedroso Center, says it was essential in giving students and staff a better understanding of the post 9/11 backlash. “For the majority of women, the veil is an expression of free will and free choice, and this is a concept that needs to be digested and understood.” The theme of the performance echoed most clearly as the last character, Laylah, pulled the show to a close with Sa’di’s poem: “Human beings are parts of the same body. We are one family. If one part of the body hurts, all the parts are in pain. If you are not concerned about the suffering of others, then you are not worthy to be called human.”


Published: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Updated: Saturday, March 3, 2012 01:03