by Tom Coash
excerpt from Veils
Setting: In front of a video camera
Character: INTISAR, 20, Female, a veiled African-American Muslim student who is doing a year studying abroad at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
INTISAR is speaking to a video camera, making a video about veiling for the web site YouTube.
9/11, 2001, right? My mother was forced to strip to her underwear in the back room of an airport. I was thirteen and we were flying home from my aunt’s wedding. Halfway there our plane was diverted to a small airport. Nobody knew what was happening. We didn’t know of the hijackings or that all flights were being grounded. We were on the runway for more than an hour when airport security came on the plane. Searching, apparently, for anybody who looked dangerous and proceeded to escort my Mother and I onto the tarmac, everybody staring. In a back room full of security, they had our suitcases open, belongings strewn all over, and my mother was requested to submit to a body search. When she refused, the requests became uglier, strip or be arrested. She looked at me, afraid, tears running down my face, and she took her clothes off. Of course they found nothing. What was there to find? They looked at me and she said “You will NOT undress my daughter.” They didn’t but they made me take my veil off. Why is that? What did they think I might be hiding under a dang scarf?!
It was my first veil. When a girl reaches puberty. I hadn’t even had it a month. Delicate, light blue. Like the sky we had been flying through. A proud moment. Becoming a woman. A rite of passage. I hadn’t had it a month and a person of supposed authority forced me take it off. Raghead.
Later I sat crying next to my mother as we waited for my father to drive 400 miles to rescue us. She said “Why are you crying?” “Shame.” “Daughter..another person cannot inflict shame on you. Only you can inflict shame on your self. When those men looked at my body, my naked skin, they were the ones who felt shame. Because God was not in their hearts. Keep God strong in your heart and you will never feel shame.”
I want to answer a few questions about this, my veil, my hijab. No, it is not hot. No, I don’t wear it in the shower. Can you believe somebody actually asked me that? No, my father doesn’t make me wear it. No, I am not oppressed. And, no, I do not wear this veil to bed. I wear my Phillies World Series T-shirt, thank you very much.
They kept asking my mother where we were from. Like we weren’t American. Like we were foreigners. She would say “Overbrook Park.” “Where is that?” “Philadelphia.” And they would look at her like she was making a joke. What was she supposed to say? Africa? Fula? Futa Toro? Where my great, great, great grandmother was stolen out of her bed, raped, and dragged to America in chains? And the first thing they did, when she got to the Land of the Free, was strip her naked and put her on the auction block…she wasn’t hiding anything either.
The right to wear clothes, to cover yourself, is important to my family. This veil connects me to my God, to my family, and to our history of struggle. When I put on this veil, I know who I am. There is a simplicity. A clarity. I know who I am and who I want to be. This veil is not hiding away. For me it is a release. Without it I feel naked. I am naked.
“Tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms.”
That seems pretty clear to me. God says wear a veil, you do it, right? I believe in this. I am strong in my heart. I’m not hiding anything.
copyright © 2010 Tom Coash. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
A New Haven, Connecticut, playwright and director, Tom Coash spent four years teaching playwriting at The American University in Cairo, Egypt. Coash has won numerous playwriting awards including Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Hammerstein Award, The Kennedy Center’s Lorraine Hansberry Award, and a Jerome Playwriting Fellowship. Veils is the recipient of a development grant from the InterAct Theatre.