Damali Stennette was wearing her hijab when a Christian preacher singled her out from the Bruin Walk crowd.
The preacher said, “You are evil, and everything that will come out of your womb is evil because you are Muslim.”
Stennette, a fourth-year anthropology student, said she chooses to continue wearing the hijab despite occasional harassment because Islam, like her race and gender, is an integral part of her identity.
“I’m already a woman, and I’m already black,” Stennette said. “I could take off my hijab, but I’ll feel vulnerable regardless.”
Stennette will share her story and other accounts of struggles she has faced as a black woman who wears the hijab in her spoken word performance at the Hijab Monologues on Tuesday.
Stennette will join six Muslim UCLA students as they to explore their personal relationships with the Muslim custom of wearing the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf, said the show’s founder and director Merima Tričić.
Stennette said the show, which combines the traditional monologue format with mediums like dance, poetry and stand-up comedy, displays the diversity of every woman’s experience wearing the hijab. She added that the show reinforces she is not alone in her struggle against Islamophobia.
Tričić said she came up with the idea for the show at the start of her college career, when she began wearing the hijab. She realized Islam was only discussed in a lecture format and wanted to set up a creative platform on her campus to educate non-Muslims about Islam and the traditional headdress, the fourth-year political science, study of religion, and world arts and cultures student said.
One such stereotype, Tričić said, is the perception of Muslim women as oppressed.
“If you go on Google and type in ‘Muslim women,’ I guarantee you the first three or four pages is all these sad women in black with jail bars on their face,” Tričić said.
Tričić said she started wearing the hijab because she wanted to establish herself as a Muslim woman in academia. When people imply she is oppressed by her religion, Tričić said she occasionally responds by listing historical examples of female Muslim scholars, teachers and warriors.
For Stennette, too, the hijab is the opposite of oppressive.
She said she once passed a group of students dressed in formal wear, noting that males were fully suited and buttoned up to their necks while females generally showed much more skin. Stennette said she wondered why Muslim women are considered oppressed when some Western standards of dress place an emphasis on women’s bodies.
“(My hijab) allows people to get to know me and see me for who I am rather than my body,” Stennette said. “There are a lot of women who feel a sense of freedom from being covered.”
In addition to female performers engaging in dialogue about their hijabs, the Hijab Monologues also includes male performers who will speak about Muslim men’s treatment of Muslim women.
Wali Kamal, a fourth-year applied mathematics student and cartoonist for Al-Talib who plans to attend the event, said the word “hijab” in Arabic connotes a general code of conduct and modest dress that applies to both genders. While the focus of the Hijab Monologues is on women, male and female Muslims’ narratives about modesty are two sides of the same coin, he said.
Tričić said in light of recent events on campus, such as a chalk writing in South Campus saying “Stop the Jihad” and the David Horowitz poster incident, she is concerned some students might abuse the event space for nonconstructive purposes.
“I’ve had a student on campus yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ at me and make explosion noises,” Tričić said.
Tričić said despite prominent encounters with Islamophobia, she receives more positive than negative reactions to her hijab. Once, a woman sitting next to Tričić on an airplane apologized to her about Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and ordered her snacks and soda, she said.
Tričić said above all, she hopes the event will educate non-Muslims about a reality of Islam untainted by media bias. While screening and editing performance pieces, Tričić was conscious of making the material as accessible as possible by elaborating on Arabic words or concepts foreign to non-Muslim students. Students who don’t understand Islam or the hijab are welcome to ask the performers questions after the show, she said.
Tričić also said she encourages students to set aside fears of being politically incorrect in order to fully use the opportunity to learn about Islam directly from Muslim people. She said several non-Muslim audience members have approached her after past Hijab Monologues to tell her they enjoyed the event because they learned things from their Muslim peers that they would have been too afraid to ask about directly.
“I want to show people I’m human,” Stennette said. “I hope UCLA students learn that Muslim women are regular people who cover a little bit more of our bodies.”