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‘Unveiled’: A post-9/11 portrait of Muslim women

1 December 2011 General 25 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Theatre Project presents Rohina Malik’s provocative play

By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

Not long after 9/11, playwright and actress Rohina Malik attended her best friend’s wedding wearing a hijab.

“There was an American wedding going on in the same place as our Pakistani wedding,” Malik said. “A guest from the American wedding saw me and had a really strong response to my veil. It got really ugly very fast. I knew afterward that I wanted to write about it.”

What Malik ended up writing was “Unveiled,” a provocative one-woman play that she will perform at Theatre Project. She portrays five Muslim women living in the West, post-9/11.

Since a sold-out premiere run in 2009 at Chicago’s 16th Street Theater, the London-born Malik has performed “Unveiled” throughout the country.

During the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she did the show in San Francisco. At a Q&A session after one performance, Malik spotted a young man crying.

“He was from a very white neighborhood in Orange County,” the playwright said. “He told me that right after 9/11, they literally chased an Indian man out of his community. Fear and ignorance can be a deadly combination.”

On another occasion, a teary college student stayed behind to apologize to Malik for believing that Muslim women wore the veil to celebrate 9/11.

“Unveiled” is about fighting myths, stereotypes and intolerance.

“One of the characters is a hip-hop rapper who says the veil is a problem, except when it’s on a nun’s head,” Malik said. “One is wearing a veil because she is spiritual; it’s about God and faith. The Muslim woman is supposedly wearing one because she has been forced by a man, she’s oppressed, or she’s anti-American. It’s really crazy.”

Malik, 35, makes another point about veil-wearing, one that some non-Muslim women might not have considered.

“There is a feminist interpretation,” she said, “where the veil is a way of saying, ‘I’m going to cover up my body so you can’t look at me as a sexual object.'”

The daughter of an Indian mother and Pakistani father, Malik decided to wear the hijab for spiritual reasons when she was 19. “No one forced me to wear it,” she said. “My family opposed it.”

The veil serves as a thread to link the play’s characters. So does tea. Each of the women drinks a particular variety.

Those characters include a Pakistani-born dressmaker (she relates a wedding reception incident like the one Malik experienced) and an African-American Texan who has reconnected with Islam. The rapper is a West London teen who tells of how her mother tried to bleach the girl’s dark skin.

From all of these stories, Malik aims to provide audiences an opening into a culture greatly misunderstood in the West. She also wants to be entertaining. “A lecture about the Muslim community can be so boring,” she said with a laugh.

Malik developed a love for theater attending a school in London with a vibrant drama department, where she overcame shyness through acting.

“Everybody was laughing, not at me, but with me,” she said. “That had a really big impact on me. I remember the racial tension in my class between white students and the minorities. Theater taught me how art can bring people together.”

After her family moved to Chicago when she was 15, Malik found herself in another theatrically active high school and wrote her first play. Today, playwriting is her primary focus; she recently had pieces workshopped and commissioned by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

Performing “Unveiled” remains a big part of Malik’s schedule.

“There has been a sprinkling of negative reactions to the play,” she said. “I’ve had people walk out, calling it ‘Islamist propaganda.’ Some Muslims have been offended by the strong language. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive. And most people stay after to continue the dialogue. It doesn’t end when the play ends.”


If you go

“Unveiled” is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. $10 to $20. Call 410-752-8558 or go to theatreproject.org.

Original post: ‘Unveiled’: A post-9/11 portrait of Muslim women


  1. I don’t think most people would have a problem with the veil or hijab if not for the supremacist behavior of some Muslims.Why else would non-Muslims be forced to wear the veil in Islamic countries? The reason there has been push back against the veil in Europe is because of the forced wearing of the hijab. There have been reports in France of women both Muslim and non-Muslim being harassed and intimidated by Muslims for not wearing the veil. There have been acid attacks on unveiled women in Pakistan. While there have been reports of women being murdered in Iraq by Muslim extremists for wearing Western clothing.The problem with extremists trying to force the veil on women is well known.No one is concerned about the nuns habit because non-Catholics are not forced to wear it, not even Nuns have to wear it anymore.

  2. i have no problem with people wearing whatever they want. just don’t expect the rest of society to bend over backwards to accomadate you. if someone doesn’t want you in their store with your face covered or for you to be a sales person at their hip trendy clothing store, then don’t sue them.

    yeah what’s up with acid attacks? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-15971319

  3. I dont know what Islamic countries you’ve been in that force non-muslims to wear the veil . But in the 3 muslim countries ive been inso far I wore my shorts and t-shirt while I took the tour of their beautiful cities. Went to resorts that swimming in our bathing suits were normal. Respecting the mosques we were asked to put on a cashmere shawl they provided to cover ourselves. No harm done to me or my friends. One moron or a few brainwashed morons will not be a basis on the assumption that muslims in general demand women to cover or else they will cover you with acid. Hence the millions that are all over the world who work, own businesses and travel and live average lives like the rest of us. Considering I have many muslim friends here in New Jersey, New York and LA many women I know of which are still single some veiled and some not are to me very free to do whatever they want. I haven’t ran into any family members of theirs forcing them to an oppressed lifestyle as many claim they have.

    Also m2 when you refer to them wanting society to bend over backwards to accept their ways Personally it doesnt seem that way. Most of them are satisfied with living their lives at modest means… shopping is a normal thing amongst any woman and if you were denied because of the way you dressed I think you’d be annoyed too. Whether its a punk rock girl with purple hair and piercings walking into a European-Chic-High End Boutique in Soho NY getting followed by the sales lady or a colored girl with her friends walk into Lord and Taylor to shop for a graduation dress and be followed by security. This I know a fact because I was with these girls shopping during college, not a great feeling for anyone! We never asked anyone to bend over backwards to accept us in their stores. The women who cover their faces from what Ive heard have done that on their own level of spirituality has nothing to do with the religion. So if their spirituality level matters to them more I dont think the trendy clothing store is of any importance to them like you may think.

    Knowing different types of people on a personal level makes us less ignorant and better people. Assumptions makes people look like fools especially when they think they know it all.

  4. Well don’t have laws about fredom of religion and religion not being a cause for not being hired or receiving medical care or education etc just come out and say Muslims don’t have the same rights as the rest of the citizens of the country

  5. Good points, Hera.

  6. I met her! And watched her show. Shes amazing mashallah

  7. @Hera, if you argument “there has been push back against the veil in Europe is because of the forced wearing of the hijab” is to be considered valid, then can this “push back” be used as excuse of “forcing hijab”? Do you understand the shallowness of your argument?
    Acid attacks are not restricted to Muslim and are not directly tied to hijab. http://www.theworld.org/2011/07/acid-attacks-uganda/. Is some serious research is burdensome, then just read a wikipedia article.

    @m2, so next time when you do not like a person’s clothing, will you ask him to leave the store? Have you ever read any history book? Remember when blacks were denied services in white stores, due to their skin color. Is discrimination now Ok it it is related to what people wear?

  8. M2,
    Yes a bunch of gang members burn a man’s face with acid. Obviously the man refused to give his daughter to this man bcuz he saw this guy for what he really was, a punk. Srry, if you automatically think this is Islamic. Perhaps you think of Anders Breivik as a model Christian?

  9. Yes, fear and ignorance can be a deadly combination. Save your tears for those Christians being mercilessly persecuted in muslim societies.

  10. @Hera:

    Oh yeah? And tell me, in what Muslim countries are women being forced to wear veils? And what does that have anything to do with this post about Muslims in AMERICA? It just goes on to demonstrate your hypocritical belief in collective guilt. The same goes for you, anon and m2.


    Oh, so its okay for people to be rude to women because of what they wear? Treating someone fairly doesn’t sound like “bending over backward to accomodate them”. By the way, what do Asian acid attacks have ANYTHING to do with the topic of this post about Muslims in AMERICA? More collective guilt?

    Dubai? Christians can build churches. Lebanon? Strong Christian heritage, and Christians can practice their religion. Iran? I’ll admit, they aren’t treated fairly, but the people protest against their government there. Egypt? Muslims and Christians are united during the revolution. Saudi Arabia? U.S. puppet. Now, what were you saying?

  11. I think it is too easy to blame Spencer, Geller and the other crazies – there is a circus going on there – muslims have had a bad rep for many years for gross intolerance, one could form that opinion just from reading the news items reporting lynching of various minorities with impunity, or from talking to the immigrants who have fled to our shores.

  12. Other things we notice – mosque burnings and vandalism are sometimes the work of members disgruntled with something going on at the mosque, who are exercising their “right to strike evil with the hand”.

    Next time someone frowns at your hijab, just compare it to a stack of burned christians, or ahmadis or other victims of muslim violence.

    Remember that Playland fracas? The muslimas thought they had a right to beat up park attendants.

  13. skhan,

    “what do Asian acid attacks have ANYTHING to do with the topic” nothing to do with this article. it struck me as ironic that i had just read an article on acid attacks and then hera mentions it. i often commit more about the commits then the articles.
    “Oh, so its okay for people to be rude to women because of what they wear?” how did i say that? lol. i clearly state /i have no problem with people wearing whatever they want./ ya’ll crack me up with the words you put in my mouth.
    “Treating someone fairly” i guess it depends on what fairly is by your definition. as for bending over backwards i’m referancing the many lawsuits brought by muslim as reported on this website. see i think it is fair for an employer to say we are trying to project an image, and your dress, regardless if you claim it to be religously mandatory or even just suggested. see disneyland, ambercrombie and finch (two) lawsuits. i think it’s fair for a mattress store manager to ask a masked woman to leave. i think a school board should be able to tell a teacher she can’t take two week off in the middle of the school year and expect to find her job waiting for he upoun her return. i think electrulox should be able to set a work schedule (within the labor laws) they see fit, and not be force throught lawsuits to make accomadation for ramadan, or any other religious rituals. i think a beverage deliver company should be able to set the delivery drivers schedule without having to take friday prayers into consideration. i think hertz is not unreasonable or rude or unfair to say their shuttle drivers have to at least clock out to perform prayers.

    “hypocritical belief in collective guilt” lmao. where do you come up with collective guilt. every man and woman is responsiple for their own actions and no one should collectively punish anyone, i think that’s even in the un charter on human rights. if only the god of abraham was as just as international laws and the un. talk about the ultimate collective guilt/punisher.

    so when does one seperate the religion from the actions of the practitioners? yes this acid attack it simply a criminal act, and not based in islam, nor did i claim it was. but as mr bennet once said, i doubt terry jones ever read the koran or if he could even understand it. that’s what perplexes me so. why make “divine revealation” so hard to understand. do you think the average “asian” living in afghanistan or pakistan understands the koran? how about somalis or even saudis? did you seriously ask “And tell me, in what Muslim countries are women being forced to wear veils” ???????


  14. salaam,

    “Well don’t have laws about fredom of religion and religion not being a cause for not being hired or receiving medical care or education etc just come out and say Muslims don’t have the same rights as the rest of the citizens of the country” no we should have laws about freedom of religion. they just need to be better clarified and balanced. the problem is these laws are too broadly written, you know kind of like the koran. “reasonable accomadations” is open to vast interpretations, kind of like killing someone for “mischief”. but salaam thank you for at least not putting words in my mouth, and thanks i forgot about the two women suing hospitals (although both those hospitals are quite large and should have been able to accomodate them with female doctors). as for the education part, are you referancing the spainish girl who was told to remove her headscarf? hey that’s not in america, you can’t mention that. lol.

    m. bennet,

    so what’s up with all these acid attacks?



    i don’t think salaam’s comment has anything to do with the article. aren’t you going to yell at him?

    as for the article. congradulations to the playwright. let me know if she comes to tampa, i’ll go see it. it was sad the first article about her that she asked to be called by the english version of her first name, mary i thought it was? children and appearently some “asian” can be quite cruel.

  15. sharia law is torturous, i don’t know why muslim can’t admit that?


    “2.5 The punishment of lashes or Rajm (stoning to death) is prescribed in the cases of Zina (fornication or adultery) for unmarried and married respectively. In this case, was Zina really proved? It should be noted that merely going-out with ghair-mehram or staying with father-in-law does not constitute Zina.”

  16. You can google to see the pictures of women victims of acid attacks in Pakistan. Some of the pictures are horrific and heartbreaking.At least some of these attacks are related to attempts to force women to wear the veil.We know this because women who have had acid thrown at them or on them have reported it. Iran, Iraq and Gaza are places where women including non-Muslim women have been forced to wear Islamic clothing.If the veil is as liberating as some Muslims say it is why are women attacked in Islamic countries who choose not to wear it? Most people would not care how Muslims dressed if Muslims were content to let other people choose to dress as they wish.


    The reason acid attacks on women in Pakistan are a concern is because Muslims are immigrating to America. Immigrants usually bring their culture and customs with them.Some immigrants have brought forced marriage, honor killing and female genital mutilation with them into the Western world. I would hate to see acid attacks become as common in America as they are in Pakistan.

  17. Thanks for the interesting link, Corey. Women can be threatened and attacked for wearing or not wearing the thing.

    Ellen – you were not molested while touring because everybody knew you were a tourist.

    I like the way these women say “we must teach you what the hijab means”. We know what it means.

  18. Tunisian women free not to wear hijab: Ennahda

    Ennahda, the Islamist winner of Tunisia’s elections last weekend, will not force women to wear the hijab because similar attempts to do that in other Arab states have failed, the party’s leader said Oct. 28.



    I’m against anyone being attacked for wearing or not wearing the hijab. But as the above story shows women have been forced to wear the hijab sometimes through threats, intimidation and violence.That is clearly the case as the new leader of Tunsia felt the need to reassure women that they would not be forced to wear the hijab.The hijab unlike the miniskirt, tee shirt, bikini or jeans seems to be more about politics and the subjugation of women then about modesty and freedom of religion. If the hijab was really about modesty and religious freedom, women both Muslim and non-Muslim would not be forced to wear it. If there was not the element of violence and coercion associated with the hijab and veil unlike almost any other item of women’s attire people would not care if someone chose to wear it.

  19. As i posted on another thread, salafis just burst into a Tunisian university and demanded that all females to wear nikab and all classes to be sex segregated. With threats of course.

    I can’t understand why so many muslims are enraptured with the idea of theocracy, glorious sharia, perfect Islamic state ideas – what utopian dreams. Theocratic utopian dreams, the cruelest of all.

    I think they will have to do it. They will have to go islamic just to satisfy their own curiosity.

  20. anon talks salafi, but then use it to refer ALL MUSLIM. what an ignorant.. 😀 yes, some coercive crooks are out there to force muslima wearing hijab. but there is different interpretation on what hijab is. wahabbist say: niqab (full cover from head to toe), salafi say: exclude the face and hand, some sunni say: exclude the head as well is alright, as long as the body is perfectly covered (based on urf interpretation).

  21. ellen,

    sorry i missed your comment to me first time around. so what countries did you go to. not saudi arabia or iran, right. yes i’m sure most american muslims are happy to go about their lives without asking society to accomodate them. well wait is that making an assumption. as for those i see as asking western culture to bend over backwards see my list of lawsuits above. not to mention the people and organizations who back them. you’ve heard of cair, right. i’ve been reading this website for about a year now and i’ve never once seen any muslim come out and critisize any of these suits. they all seem to support them, oh no another assumption they’re hard to avoid. so are we creating case law to where a burqka wearing woman has to be admitted to a bank without being ask to expose here face. are banks going to have to have female security personel on staff at all times incase a spiritually high level muslim needs some customer service? you think bank fees are high now. how about first responders. will there have to be a male and female in every police car, ambulance, etc?

    “Knowing different types of people on a personal level makes us less ignorant and better people. Assumptions makes people look like fools especially when they think they know it all.” i agree. not sure if you called me a fool there or not, but if you will permit me one more assumption, i’m assuming that is not what you are saying. so anyways speaking of assumptions. are you saying that because of your experience while on vacation that that must be the universal truth. interesting.



    again sorry i missed your comment first time around. “@m2, so next time when you do not like a person’s clothing, will you ask him to leave the store?” well i personally don’t own a store. but i do support the rights of private property owners, even public establishments beiing allowed to set a dress code. same with employers.
    “Have you ever read any history book? Remember when blacks were denied services in white stores, due to their skin color.” yeah i’ve read a few history books. yes i’m familiar with jim crow laws, in fact last night at the bar i was talking to a guy about coney island hot dogs here on 9th street. been there since 1913, one the one side of the building there is a little window that’s boarded up. that was for serving blacks during segregation. i live in the south, i can give you 100s of stories, from joe waller, to my grandmother being told at the trainstation that the guy couldn’t sell her a ticket because she was in the blacks only line. yes i’ve read brown vs the board of education, i’ve watched “eyes on the prize” know all about segregation
    “Is discrimination now Ok it it is related to what people wear?” ah, yeah. would you discriminate if someone came in your store with a ski mask on in august, well here in florida it never gets cold enough for a ski mask. how about some one wearing a six shooter on their hip?

  22. picking fatwa (opinion) from one side of Muslim sect is not enough to support your ignorant statement, m2. 😉

  23. gone,

    “picking fatwa (opinion) from one side of Muslim sect is not enough to support your ignorant statement, m2.”

    which of my ignorant statements are you refering to? i’ve been told not to assume anything, but if you are refering to my torture statement. i’m not talking about any fatwa. i’m referencing the koran. you know the 24th surah which says you should whip people. and of course there are several hadiths that are even worse. i’ll repost high up incase you don’t get back until some new article post and scroll this one of.

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