People & Places

Muslim Girls Making Change bring slam poetry to Rutland

Muslim Girls Making Change
Muslim Girls Making Change slam poetry group. Youtube image
Before a packed crowd at the Vermont Adult Learning center in downtown Rutland, three members of a Burlington based slam poetry group offered up a bracing portrait of what it means to be Muslim women in post-9/11 America. Muslim Girls Making Change wasted little time in tackling stereotypes and misconceptions about their faith, identity, and fashion. Their poems also addressed the civil war in Syria, police violence in America, and the immigrant experience.

Their first poem, “What hijab means to us,” began with a litany of assumptions often made about the headdress worn by millions of Muslim women throughout the world.

“Aren’t you hot in that?
Do you shower with that on?
What’s underneath that thing?
Why do wear that?
You were prettier before
Can I see your hair?
Does your dad make you wear it?”

Launching into what they called “hijab 101” the three high-school juniors dispelled some of the myths and explained what the veil means to them.

“People don’t seem to realize it’s my choice
No, my parents aren’t forcing me to wear it
I chose to put it on
This hijab has been a part of me
Remember I do it for the creator not his creation
This hijab is my form of liberation.”

In recent years the hijab has become a potent symbol, particularly in Europe. In 2010 the French Parliament passed a bill that bans any sort of garment that completely covers the face, including some forms of Islamic dress. An earlier law banned the wearing of all religious symbols in public schools.

In numerous town meetings and public forums on the question of refugee resettlement in Rutland the role of Islam in American society has been raised. In mid-September Rutland First brought a former member of the Customs and Border Protection agency to discuss resettlement and national security. Philip Haney told the group that “progressive leftists” and Muslim extremists were seeking to alter or abolish the constitution.

Muslim Girls Making Change
Muslim Girls Making Change perform in Rutland. Photo by Adam Federman/VTDigger

The Rutland First Facebook page has been used on occasion to espouse racist or anti-Islam sentiment and at a rally before the Haney talk a protester held up a Rutland Welcomes sign with the word Jihad scrawled across it.

It is clear from their poems that Kiran Waqar, Hawa Adam, and Lena Ginawi (a fourth member, Balkisa Abdikadir was unable to make it) are not afraid to take on difficult subjects.

Ginawi, who described herself as somewhat shy before she took up slam poetry, said it has given her greater confidence. “For me I used to be shy,” she said. “In middle school I was the girl in the back of the classroom who didn’t say anything.” But she added, “I am who I am right now.”

Hawa Adam, a junior at Burlington High School, said writing and performing has “made us braver.”

The young women, who’ve known each other since middle school, took up slam poetry in March and, with support from the Young Writers Project, traveled to the Brave New Voices festival in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Their poems range from the personal to political and historical. “Wake Up America” chronicles a series of crimes committed against Muslim Americans since 9/11. An assault on a Muslim woman wearing a hijab in 2004. A bombing at a mosque in Arizona in 2007. A 2010 knife attack on a New York City taxi driver because he was Muslim.

“These are the things we see, hear and experience daily,” the poem concludes.

Muslim Girls Making Change first came to Rutland in the summer to perform at Grace Congregational Church. According to Michelle Folger, regional manager of Vermont Adult Learning, they were so impressed that they invited the group back. In her opening remarks Folger said there was so much interest they had to turn people away.

For Muslim Girls Making Change that’s a good sign. Their voices are being heard.

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Adam Federman

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  • Janice Prindle

    Thank you, Adam, for a great piece.
    For others interested in learning more about Middle Eastern culture, you have an opportunity Sunday night at 7 pm. Grace Congregational Church in Rutland is hosting “Hafla for Humanity,” a performance of group and solo dancers, showing a range of styles. (“Hafla” in Arabic means dance.) It’s free, it’s family-friendly, and there will be a chance to participate (optional!)
    The arts are a wonderful way to learn about our Islamic neighbors.

  • Marcy Green

    Thank you for covering our event! These girls deserve recognition for tackling a very controversial subject with the utmost bravery!

  • Gary Trachier

    Okay folks, what’s up? The two posts (Brindle and Green) before this are succinct, positive, and supportive of this article and the MGMC girls, yet both have received a 2:1 ratio of down- to up-votes. That’s pretty significant, and suggests a strong, underlying feeling against the subject matter – Muslims and/or Islam. I don’t want to speak, though, for those who down-voted the comments.

    The MGMC group was interviewed and performed on Vermont Public Radio a short time ago. I was very impressed by the poise, candor, and bravery of those young women to take on a difficult topic in such a public way. I challenge those who have have down-voted those comments to show the same bravery and respect for your fellow Vermonters, to step out of the shadows, use this forum to share your thoughts, and to open your mind and learn from others. We are in the midst of a crash-course on the Islamic faith and culture. Let’s have an open and honest discussion. Remember to listen and learn.

    • Thanks to VTDigger for this excellent article. Thanks to the three young ladies for their brave, intelligent and creative approach to educating all of us. Thanks to Janice, Marcy and Gary for their supportive comments of our new Vermonters. My only question is, What kind of Vermonter would give a thumbs down to comments which are supportive of creative and intelligent young Vermonters? We need more Vermonters like the young ladies who performed their Slam Poetry in Rutland! Keep up the good work ladies.

      • Bob Moyer

        I think there are is a percentage of very unhappy, shallow regular Digger readers who are generally anti-everything, resentful of the world. Helps me explain Trump’s appeal to a certain demographic.