Unmasked: A platform for cultural expressions for Muslim youth (Video)

By Nikita Mandhani

Amarah Alghaban clutched the mic as she recited a verse from one of her favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, about the plight of Palestinians.

“And these are not two equal sides: occupier and occupied.
And a hundred dead, two hundred dead, and a thousand dead.
And between that, war crime and massacre, I vent out words and smile ‘not exotic,’
‘not terrorist.’”

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Alghaban and other Muslims gathered at the Aqsa school in Bridgeview, just southwest of Chicago, on Jan. 16 to share their artistic talents and love for the arts in an event called, “Unmasked.” The event was organized by Yara Daoud, a Palestinian-American who grew up in the predominantly Middle-Eastern community in Bridgeview.

“I was always into liberal arts, poetry art, and there wasn’t any outlet for that, for this community,” she said. “I decided to do this event for the youth so they can have that outlet.”

Daoud said the proceeds from the event would go to Syrian refugees living in refugee camps in Jordan through the Zakat foundation, to show the Muslim youth “that while they are expressing themselves, they can also be helping others in need.”

Several youngsters took the stage one by one, reciting slam poetry, singing rap songs, playing music and talking about their culture and religion. The walls were decorated with paintings by Yemeni artist Abeer Sateh and art by young Muslim girls of the community.

“They were amazing,” said one of the rappers, Hasan Hussein, referring to the performances at the event. “A couple of them were actually my friends. I have never seen them speak on stage to an audience. I was proud of them.”

Attendees wrote inspiring messages and prayers for their community and for the Syrian refugees on sticky notes and posted them on the wall.

In light of recent anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S., Muslim-Americans are grappling with questions of identity and discrimination based on their faith. Unmasked gave them a place to share their opinions and experiences.

“Identity,” said Al Abdel Hamid, a guest speaker at the event. “That’s something that the Muslim community is struggling with.

“For me, I would say that unmasking yourself as a young Muslim youth in America is to take off the mask of what everybody else says who you are and being who I am,” he added.

Alghaban, whose father was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon, reflected on the tribulations of the Syrian refugees. Connecting their struggles with her father’s story, she continued to recite the verse,

“I wish I could just run barefoot in every refugee camp
and hold every child, cover their ears
So they wouldn’t have to hear the sound of bombing
For the rest of their life the way I do.”

Amarah Alghaban performing at the event: Unmasked (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)