By Christopher Wallenberg
Rohina Malik was attending a friend’s wedding some 15 years ago when the realities of post-9/11 America rocked her world. A Chicago-based theater artist and practicing Muslim, she was heading inside the banquet hall when a man, a guest from a different wedding next door, saw her hijab and began berating her with hateful language, telling Malik to “take that [expletive] off your head” and shouting that “you A-rabs are all terrorists.” She defended herself, and the situation quickly escalated. The police came and arrested the man for attempted assault.
“The thing that really scared me was it never occurred to him that I was pushing a stroller and had two small children,” says Malik, a Pakistani immigrant who was born in London, speaking by phone from her home in the Chicago area. “It was a moment where I really felt so dehumanized. I always knew I had to write about it, but it was so painful that it took me a long time to finally do it.”
That personal experience was the inspiration for one of the powerful vignettes in Malik’s solo performance piece “Unveiled,” in which five different Muslim women tell stories about facing incidents of bigotry and hate, and of their choice to wear the hijab, the traditional head covering worn by Muslim women. They also serve and discuss different kinds of tea popular in the regions from which they come.
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