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Illinois Muslim Woman Seeks Understanding through Theater

September 6, 2011

CHICAGO - Shortly after the World Trade Center attack in 2001, Rohina Malik was accosted by a man on the streets of a Chicago suburb who screamed and swore at her to take off her veil. That incident planted the seed of an idea that has grown into a one-woman play about the effect of 9/11 on Muslim women and how it affected their decision to wear the hijab.

Malik wrote "Unveiled" and has performed it professionally theaters and at churches and synagogues in Illinois and other midwestern states to promote understanding between faiths. She recalls the reaction of a man from rural Illinois, who had never met a Muslim woman, and had watched the play in a theater full of veiled women and college students.

"He told me that he swore at Muslims and he thought that Muslim women wore the veil to celebrate 9/11. He started to cry and he said 'I'm sorry.' And it was one of the most powerful moments of my life."

Malik is performing "Unveiled" in San Francisco, its first time on the West Coast, for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on Sunday. She then returns to Illinois, and plans to continue performing at community centers and houses of worship to keep the dialogue going.

Malik takes on the characters of five women, including a Pakistani seamstress, an African-American convert who, because of the negative reaction to the veil stops wearing it, and a very angry London rapper who digs in her heels.

"You can call me oppressed, but I won't be undressed; I'm not your Bollywood erotic, harem-girl exotic, not your Arabian night Kama Sutra delight..."

In the play, she also portrays a character who tries to explain her faith to an angry young man who spit at her.

"Don't spit at me. Listen to me! This is not Islam. I believe in Jesus too! He is my prophet, and he would never accept this behavior."

After Howard Sachs watched Malik's performance at the 16th Street Theater in Oak Park, he invited her to perform "Unveiled" at his synagogue, Beth Emet in Evanston.

"I think it's just, really a just incredibly powerful message. And how do we get to know each other better? Well, we have to do things like this."

Malik holds question-and-answer sessions at most performances and says she'll continue the show as long as it takes to create understanding between the faiths. Malik can be contacted through Facebook.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL