A one-woman play, rapping, Unveiled- it sounds borderline ‘blasphemous’, but what a wonderful production.
Showing at the Theatre Project in Baltimore, Muslim mothers, teachers, even Girl Scout troop leaders gather their girls to share the bitter after taste of vignettes from Muslim women lives post 9/11 with a diverse audience. The stories resonate, American- Muslim history is on display and tears roll down cheeks invoking emotions that many have suppressed but were brewing, deep in hearts. Like soothing chamomile tea, that calms, but is mildly sour and often fruity on the way up and bitter on the way down.
Malik’s dialogues are plucked right from the mouths in Muslim living rooms, tea parties and Islamic center multi-purpose rooms: hate crimes, inter-racial marriages, colorism, convert/revert dilemmas, civil rights and the many dramas and pressures that come with being an veiled or unveiled woman and the obsession of mainstream media with the portrayal of hijab.
A minimalist stage is set with a simple table a teapot and tea cups. A spotlight shines on the chair.
Chai, Shai, lemony cups of the magic potion is shared between the audience and Malik’s characters. A Pakistani designer, a Moroccan-American lawyer, a British South Asian rapper a Southern African American grandma, and an Arab-American restaurateur are the women in Rohina Malik’s one woman show.
In one scene, Malik is Noor, a crime survivor, serving Shai bin Naui Naui and is Mama, Baba, and Joe, too. Switching characters and accents within a scene, every scene, provocative, rich with Muslim-isms, and laced with Islamic phrases, references and terminology, familiar to Muslims, educational for others.
Drawing from her own experiences, imagination and as well as women in the many communities that formed her upbringing, Rohina Malik is a Pakistani-American playwright from Chicago, born and raised in London. Married, with four children she travels around the country to schools, universities and theatres to perform Unveiled; motivated by the rising hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and her personal exposure with aggression. After Sept. 11, at her best friend’s wedding, she was accosted by a man who disparaged her on her appearance; her attire morphing her into the enemy, the terrorist- something we can all relate to.
The diversity of women are presented as an antidote for the stereotype. “A hate crime never begins with violence, it has to begin with an atmosphere, degrading language and stereotypes, if we don't challenge it then the end result can be deadly,” says Malik in a post-performance discussion, setting a stage where people can come together. Many go back to their churches, masajid, synagogues and form an interfaith groups, she shares. “The main message is get to know me; that’s how we can rid of large stereotypes,”declares Malik, who is also the artistic director of Salaam Arts, a non profit she formed to aid religious tolerance and a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists.
Premiering for the world at Chicago’s 16th Street theatre in 2009, for the first time the play is now available in written form, so performers can perform it on their own.
A group of middle school aged girl scouts from Virginia brave the cold to watch the play. After the performance, they wait in line to get Malik’s autograph. Samia and Iman are empowered by Malik’s message of standing up for one’s beliefs.” It touched me; it was about the hijab, and how you stand up for yourself instead of holding back,” expresses Samia. Muslims bullied for 9/11 resonates with Iman, Malik’s performance of people’s reactions gave her perspective.
Others, like Tala, were impressed with Malik’s ability to “express what she thought from different points of view”. She played the abused and the abusers in the same scene and that was interesting to Nur.
Sharp Shabana, the rapper with her British accent is a favorite amongst the girls.
On a personal note, I took my daughters to see the play, so they could witness what their mother and countless other sisters experienced and are still experiencing after 9/11 so they don't take their Islam and their right to practice their deen for granted. Malik didn’t let me down as a Muslim woman; she was uplifting, mature and emphatic. This play should be shown to every Islamic school, Muslims Student Association, community center audience, sponsored by Muslim organizations in a theatre, because it is American Muslim history dramatized.
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