Janine Ybanez/HIGHLANDER
Janine Ybanez/HIGHLANDER

This Thursday just before sunset, students lined up outside of the Barn to hear thoughts on a controversial topic: the hijab. The Middle Eastern Student Center (MESC) held its first ever “Hijab Monologues” to clear controversy on the UCR campus. The question of the night was: “What inspires women to wear their hijabs in the face of adversity?” UCR students came to share their personal perspectives on and unveil misconceptions about the headscarf, as well as to inspire unity and build a common understanding among UCR students.

As students began to pour into the Barn, they were greeted by a sign-in desk that provided students with option of participating in an open mic session after initial performances were done. The room smelled like fresh barbeque as guests and performers had the option to order food just before performances. A blend of Turkish, Algerian, Bosnian and Pakistani hip-hop played on the speakers to help set the cultural mood. As students lined up at the cash register to use their $5 UCR Dining voucher provided by the MESC, performers huddled to the left side of the room going over the night’s game plan.

As everyone began to settle in, the lights dimmed and the night began with MESC Director Marcela Ramirez taking the stage. She quickly laid out the ground rules for the night and set the tone by having the audience “make it rain.” Following her instructions, the audience rubbed their hands together, snapped their fingers and stomped their feet to imitate the sound of light showers, hail and hard rain. Ramirez encouraged the audience to show their support for the performers, all students who had come of their own volition and were not professionals.

As the lights dimmed, the night began with a monologue by UCR student Nadia Rauff. “I would have never have guessed you were Muslims … you look like civilians,” Rauff, a Muslim woman, recalls as she expressed how wearing the hijab automatically distinguished her as a Muslim versus a “civilian.”

“I have learned to be the conductor of my own cause!” exclaimed Najoa Bouzidi as she analyzed the lack of understanding of her culture in her poem “Who Am I.”

Haala al Haadity expressed the idea of completely wanting to annihilate the stereotypes of Muslim women who wear hijabs being shy and timid. To her, the hijab means “an education, a willingness to be educated, understanding why you are doing what you’re doing,” and most of all, “putting on the hijab for God.”

“I chose this road myself … my hijab doesn’t cover me in feminine oppression,” declared Fatima Ibrahim in her spoken word. Showrunner Merima Tricic took the stage wearing a martial arts uniform. “The hijab is a danger to the opponent,” read Tricic from a 2010 ruling for martial arts. Tricic continued to illustrate how wearing the headscarf could exploit the weakness of a woman who chooses to wear the hijab in national competition. Tricic reciprocated by making her greatest weakness her biggest strength, encouraging her fellow women to fight on.

Although the scrutiny of the hijab is something that seems to be aimed toward Muslim women, this did not stop the night from having a variety of performers. “(The) majority of problems are started by men,” Arbazz Mohammed recalled as he presented the audience with a proposition to teach men how to be better people.

The performer under the alias Cornelius Mumford gave a spoken word performance filled with passion and energy. The room then lit up with a comedic performance by Muaath Al Araj. He explained the “first glance,” the interrogation of Muslim parents and the difficulty of approaching women wearing a hijab. He ended wishing that the “hijabi odds will forever be in your favor.”

Ramirez collected the audience with a community breather, as Miriam Salen took the stage in the open mic portion of the event to present a monologue from the perspective of a Muslim woman who chose not to wear the hijab. After a brief disclaimer for the contents of her performance, Salen went into her monologue. She expressed her feelings of being considered a “Muslim by name,” and how her level of faith is judged on a constant basis. She expressed the idea that the hijab is a “social construct of what it means to be cultured.”

No matter the gender or view, each performance ended with a round of applause. The willingness to go on stage and express thoughts on such a topic was definitely something to be admired, and the audience knew this. None of the students were professionals, allowing for brief pauses of nervousness — only to be responded to with snaps of encouragement from the audience. The defining idea that echoed throughout the night was that religious preference is not something indicative of a person’s nature. To the speakers, the hijab is a symbol of strength, faith and expression of choice.