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Silk Road Rising Presents "The Four Hijabs"

Equity in the Arts
The Four Hijabs

Silk Road Rising, a theater company dedicated to telling stories through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses, and one of The Lark's partners on the Middle East America Initiative, recently produced a new animated short film called The Four HijabsThe Four Hijabs, inspired by ideas in Dr. Manal Hamzeh’s book Pedagogies of DeVeiling: Muslim Girls and the Hijab Discourse (Information Age Publishing, 2012), identifies and explores the multiple meanings of four different hijabs mentioned in sixteen Qur’anic verses, and interprets these hijabs through Arab-Muslim feminist lenses. The Lark is thrilled to share this video, created by our artistic partners, as it provides an accessible entry point to engage with complex ideas. For more information, visit www.fourhijabs.org.

 

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

Working with my friend and colleague, Dr. Manal Hamzeh, on what has become The Four Hijabs, has been one of those invigorating and inspiring intellectual journeys that can only materialize through collaboration. Combining Dr. Hamzeh’s scholarship with my playwriting, our shared passion for gender justice, the extraordinary talents of director Liz Wuerffel and animator Anna Hayden-Roy, and a gifted team of actors, we have together created a timely work of art: an animated short that challenges conversations about bodies, genders, self-presentation, and the reading of sacred texts. And while our chosen specificity is Islam, our broader landscape is patriarchal power and politics—an ideology embedded in virtually all world religions.  

There's a great deal in Manal Hamzeh’s scholarship that motivates me as a playwright. Her book Pedagogies of Deveiling: Muslim Girls and the Hijab Discourse introduced me to ideas and paradigms that presented entirely new opportunities for dramatization. By identifying four discernible hijabs—the visual hijab, spatial hijab, ethical hijab, and spiritual hijab—and interpreting them through Arab Muslim feminist lenses, Dr. Hamzeh lays bare the reductiveness of a “to veil or not to veil” binary and our obsession with headscarves. Moreover, her intersectional feminism, her anti-racist politics, and her tireless commitment to uncovering truths, in all their complexities, align us as engaged thinkers, creators, and activists.  

In developing The Four Hijabs, I confronted the challenges of adapting sophisticated theoretical concepts into a character and dialogue driven animated short, the source material for which relates to sixteen Qur’anic verses that have been distorted and appropriated to advance sexist practices. Essentially, we had to uncover the lived experiences, the behaviors and personal characteristics, informing each of the four hijabs. Our solution was to embody and empower these concepts and verses as self-aware characters, each seeking to undo their own misrepresentation. How often does scripture get the chance to resist its appropriators? It’s feminist agitprop meets spiritual reclamation!  

Please note that I do not take a “position” on the hijab, nor do I seek to define it monolithically—as political and religious positions, “pro-hijab” and “anti-hijab” feel both reductive and essentializing. As a non-Muslim man, it is not my place to endorse or condemn the choices of Muslim women. Rather, as an artist, I'm interested in the dramatization of ideas and theories, of discursive arguments and contested categories. How do we dramatize what might otherwise be served by polemicism or didacticism? How do we debunk stereotypes and unpack assumptions theatrically? Where do the visceral and the intellectual converge and collide in the telling of stories? These are the questions that define my artistic palette. And that is why working on The Four Hijabs has not simply been an artistic opportunity—it’s an artistic escapade.

- Jamil Khoury, Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising

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