BOSTON – A play written by a Pakistani British Muslim woman,”Unveiled,” depicts the negative portrayal of hijabi women post 9/11 in a bid to create dialogue amid soaring Islamophobia.
“In this moment we’re living in, we so rarely hear from everyday Muslims,” Rohina Malik told Boston Globe on Thursday.
“We see all the negative stereotypes of Muslims in the media. When you turn on any TV show or film, Muslims are never normal characters. They’re almost always portrayed as the villain, the terrorist, the bad guy who wants to blow something up.”
A Chicago-based theater artist and practicing Muslim, Malik’s own experience of facing hate assault shortly after 9/11 attacks inspired her to address the rising hateful dialogue in the US.
She was attending a wedding when a man started assaulting Malik, telling her to “take that [expletive] off your head” and shouting that “you A-rabs are all terrorists.”
“The thing that really scared me was it never occurred to him that I was pushing a stroller and had two small children,” said Malik, born in London to Pakistani parents, speaking by phone from her home in the Chicago area.
“It was a moment where I really felt so dehumanized. I always knew I had to write about it, but it was so painful that it took me a long time to finally do it.”
Written in 2008, the play tells the stories of love, compassion, culture, and tolerance from the eyes of Muslim women. Titled “Unveiled,” it portrays five Muslim women immigrants, four from the US and one from the UK, and the way their lives change after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The common thread among the characters is their hijab and the typical tea from their native countries, which they serve during the course of the play.
The show helped Malik counter intolerance and bigotry and foster understanding and healing.
She referred to a moment from the show’s original run at the 16th Street Theater in suburban Chicago, in which a young man from rural Ohio came to “Unveiled” with a group of college students.
“After the show ended, he was crying and he said, ‘I want to speak to Rohina.’ He was sobbing and he was like, ‘I hated Muslims. I thought you wore the veil to celebrate 9/11. I was ignorant. And I’m so sorry.’ That was a very powerful moment for me,” recalls Malik.
Since its debut in April 2009 at the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, Illinois, Malik has been invited to perform “Unveiled” at theatres, churches, mosques, and synagogues across the US and Canada.
“As an artist, I feel like we’ve got to take action,” Malik said.
“That’s why I’m trying to instill in my four kids that you can sit on the couch and complain, or you can get up and do something. And giving a lecture or speech can speak to people on an intellectual level, but it can’t really impact their hearts the way storytelling can.”