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Hijabi Monologues: Lifting the veil on Irish Muslims

BY Grania McFadden

Who are we? What do we stand for? Two shows this evening explore identity. What's it like being a Muslim woman in Ireland?

There are now more than 49,000 Muslims living here, and their experiences are being explored this evening when an Irish version of the Hijabi Monologues is staged at Crescent Arts Centre.

The event – free, but you'd better book – combines performances of professional and non-professional actors who perform monologues of real people, among them a refugee, a mother and a Muslim academic in the USA, dramatising their stories.

The show aims to break down stereotypes and assumptions around Muslim women here. Some refuse to see beyond the headscarves or hijabi they choose to wear, sticking labels on them which are very often negative.

But the real-life experiences of many Muslim women are very different. Some choose to wear the hijabi; for others it's a question of faith, culture or tradition.

"The Vagina Monologues was about something very private and putting it in the public sphere," explains one of the performers, Yameema Mitha. "This is the opposite because the hijab is a public statement. So it's about keeping it in the public by trying to get beyond that."

Many generations are depicted here – from young girls to wrinkled grandmothers. Their experiences and emotions are different. All have different stories to tell. What they do have in common is that they – like us – live on the island of Ireland.

We share many hopes and fears. The women whose stories we will hear are not representative of their gender in Ireland. But who is? What they will do is to challenge our views and prejudices.

Someone else who challenged prejudices was poet John Hewitt. And three of Ireland's foremost poets will mark his birthday – in the Belfast pub named after him. Peter Fallon, Paula Meehan and Sinead Morrissey will read from his work in a night promising beautiful words, quiet reflection and a toast to the man himself – even though he didn't drink.

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