I walked up the grand staircase which led to Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern in Stockholm, one of Sweden´s most historical theaters, to experience the making of history by five Muslim Hijabis. I consider “Svenska Hijabis” (Swedish for “Swedish Hijabis”) a triumph against islamophobia. Here is why:
“Bro, why didn´t you stand up for me?!” one of the actresses said, in Swedish.
“Bro, why didn´t you stand up for me?!” another chimed in.
“Bro, why didn´t you stand up for me?!” each actress repeated at different times until they screamed the words at the top of their lungs.
Those words resonated throughout my body until I could feel each word hopscotching across the goosebumps of my skin. Perhaps it was because of the powerful message behind them or that I could relate. There were times when I too had been discriminated against and wished I had asked witnesses, “Why didn´t you stand up for me?! Is it because you agree with them? You think that because I dress differently, I deserved it?!´´
Believe it or not, the concept of ´´Svenska Hijabis´´ was birthed in the beginning of this year, a team consisting of Director America Vera-Zavala and first-time actresses, Benin Al-Najjar, Ruhani Islam, Maryam Dinar, Sarah Ameziane and Shama Vafaipour. These five actresses are not only Muslim hijabis in real-Life, but also shared their true stories on-stage. Yes, “Svenska Hijabis” is basically an autobiographical play, told through beautifully-choreagraphed, poetic and artistic means.
“In the beginning, there were a lot of nerves, but since it is a subject that I really care about, the nerves just disappeared. I felt I needed to be heard and send a message to society,” said Benin Al-Najjar regarding her acting debut.
Director America Vera-Zavala had announced a general concept of the play on Facebook and these five Muslim Hijabis volunteered to be a part of it.
“This started off as a play in a community theater so we, as the actors, were very much involved in the decision-making process of the context. From March to August, we had a lot of meetings, where we shared our experiences and juggled around ideas with one another. By August, America had a script ready! We then practiced until we were ready for our premiere in October,” said Shama Vafaipour.
I was in awe of how wonderfully the play came together in such a short period of time. Benin and Shama both agreed that it all happened rather quickly.
Breaking stereotypes about Islam, these five actresses took on Stockholm with their premier in October, 2016. From then on, they have gained media attention all over Sweden. The play concept, is, after all, revolutionary.
These five Muslim hijabis share their life struggles from discrimination to dreams. There were times that they exchanged dialogue, but mostly, they spoke directly to us, members of the audience. These monologues helped the audience feel included and try to understand the actresses´ perspectives and feelings. For women who have had no previous acting experience, to take on the stage the way that they do, is inspiring.
On-Stage images printed inside the programs
“We want to raise awareness about the fact that we do get discriminated against on a daily basis. Islamophobia has grown and is everywhere so when we create this consciousness, people more or less understand what we are going through. Even though there may be people who still refuse to accept that this problem exists, this is a good way to introduce Islam, hijab and feminism,´´ said Benin.
“Svenska Hijabis” has even toured around Sweden from Sundsvall, Uppsala, Linköping to Gothenburg!
How bold! Bravo!
Readers, if you understand the Swedish language and are living in or visiting Sweden, then go book your tickets to “Svenska Hijabis,” now. Go and be a part of this making of history!