Back in September, the Bush Theatre in London played host to a production called The Hijabi Monologues. The show featured Muslim women telling stories and performing vignettes about life as a hijabi.
The play, which was originally created by Sahar Ishtiaque Ullah, aims to reposition the narrative surrounding hijabis, who are at once the most talked about symbol of Islam and the most voiceless. The Hijabi Monologues has previously been performed in the United States, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Milli Bhatia, who directed September’s run at the Bush Theatre, told the Evening Standard that the goal of the play was to tackle misconceptions: ‘The play shows a diverse range of women and the focus is on knowledge and empowerment. Hijabi women are one of the most visible targets for hate crimes and many of them don’t want to be seen just as symbols – the voices in the play challenge prejudices and assumptions.’
If you’re at all familiar with the former staples of London’s West End, you’ll have gathered that Ullah’s production is a riff on The Vagina Monologues, an extremely #nineties show that saw women talk frankly and funnily about stuff like body image, dating and sex.
The Hijabi Monologues follows a similar format. Ullah’s own stories are accompanied by the stories of other Muslim women, and they broach subjects that are supposedly taboo among hijabis, like dating and racism. While people are often concerned about the ‘oppressed’ Muslim woman, they very rarely bother to listen to what they actually have to say. The Hijabi Monologues forces this dynamic to shift.
As such, there’s a story about being stared at on the tube. There’s another about motherhood. And there’s even a series of vignettes called Hitting on a Hijabi 101.
The Hijabi Monologues went down a treat at the Bush Theatre – all shows were sell outs. But don’t worry, we’re not telling you this as a total tease. Thanks to the show’s success and, let’s face it, its wider cultural importance, the performances have been put on YouTube – in full – so the issues discussed in the play can live on.
We’ve included Sahar Ullah’s Hitting on a Hijabi below.
You can explore the rest of The Hijabi Monologues over on YouTube.