Review of "Unveiled"
"Do you know what it is like to be treated like you're not human? I do." With that statement, Rohina Malik got to the heart of the message in her play, "Unveiled." The one-woman play was written by Malik and performed by her on Nov. 28 in Northeastern Illinois University's (NEIU) Auditorium Theatre.
A full contingent of theatergoers were in attendance and it was a diverse crowd of people. The venue itself was not the most ideal, however. The sound was a bit muddied, and the hall had a high-school cafeteria-like feel, with tiled floor and concrete walls. NEIU has much better venues for plays on its campus, and I was struck by the question of why they were not used in this instance.
The play was performed as a gathering of five Muslim women for tea and sharing stories from their lives- as Muslims-and not just Muslims, but female Muslims who choose to wear the veil in this post-911 Western world. Although all the women are veiled, in the telling of their stories, they reveal themselves enough to justify the play's title. The stories touch on harassment, discrimination, hate crimes, violence, and even the murder of one of the characters' husbands. In one case the misunderstanding comes from a woman's own family members in London, a mother who objects to her daughter's decision to wear a hijab. It turns out choosing to wear the veil can be controversial, even within one's own family, when it draws attention to one's own "Muslimhood." This can invite unwanted and even dangerous scrutiny from the uncomprehending and prejudiced dominant Western society.
We learn a lot in this play, and Malik does a service to her faith, her art, her community, and to us, the wider listening and watching audience, here in the post-911 USA. We learn a little of the faith of Islam from her quotations from the Koran. We learn about the Sufi poet Rumi, and his poem "Dance." (Here it is in its entirety: "Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.") Just that reference, if it causes us to discover and explore Rumi, and Sufi poetry in general, is well worth the price of admission!
We learn a bit of the humanist philosophy contained in Islam-but most of all, we learn of the philosophy of Malik, who has a voice and a message for us. All true artists do. The message I took away at the end, is that she has a love for the characters she performs; they are human, Muslim, veiled, women, and also share Malik's love for humanity. As one of them said, "Allah created tribes so that you get to know each other." At the end of the night, Malik gave us the message that the power of mercy, love and forgiveness is greater than the power of war, hate and violence. We have to believe that is true, else how could any of us go on?
Although all the women in the play are veiled, by exposing their common humanity, (common with us, that is) Malik succeeds in 'unveiling' them, which, I suppose, is the point.
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