Sahar Ullah interviewed by Elli Winkelman

Published on by rothschild

Q) What's the best thing about the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship?  What advice would you give to this year's fellows?  What's your first piece of advice for social entrepreneurs?

A) There are many wonderful things about the program.  For me, I immensely benefited from the pool of experience of the other fellows from which I could draw in terms of thinking about developing my own organization.  I also benefited greatly from the business classes since I have a mostly humanities background.  This gave me an opportunity to learn how to develop my project more effectively.  

Q) Have you thought about spinning off or encouraging other series of monologues? What about a Hijab/Tsniut Monologues?  (Tsniut is Jewish modesty.)

A)  Well, there have already been so many spin-offs of the Vagina Monologues prior to Hijabi Monologues (HM), including South Asian Monologues, Birthright Monologues, etc.  After seeing our particular show, others have been inspired to also take on similar storytelling projects.  After each show, we always encourage the telling of localized experiences in the voices of the people--whether it is through HM or the community's own unique project--so yes (to your question). 

As a note regarding Jewish modesty, here is a comment one audience member made--

As a woman and a Jewish American, I found the performance extremely enlightening, inspiring, and important. Orthodox Jewish women also cover their hair and their bodies out of piety and modesty, and I used to think that they were oppressed until I became friends with a woman who is both Orthodox and a feminist. After that, I realized how judgmental I was being towards women of my own faith. During the Hijabi Monologues I had a similar experience. I understand now that just because a woman chooses to veil her hair, it doesn’t mean she is choosing to veil her personality or her rights.

Before the show, I thought about the many different ways that Jews perceive the hijab. The diversity of the skits reach out to many different kinds of people. A woman I know through Hillel thought the Hijabi Monologues was a beautiful idea and eagerly hung flyers for the event. She loved the idea of “de-mystifying” religious women and giving them a voice. A woman I know (who was raised in a small suburb and has likely never seen a woman wearing a hijab in her life) said that she can’t help but feel a little nervous about the idea of the hijab. I think the humorous, down-to-earth skits would have shown her that women who choose to wear the hijab aren’t crazy alien terrorists out to destroy America—they are real women with the hopes and fears similar to her own. And then there are Jews who definitely assume that anyone wearing a hijab is anti-Semitic. The skit about the neo-nazi on the bus really busted this stereotype. I definitely encourage any effort to perform the Hijabi Monologues in small towns and before interfaith audiences.

The performance was absolutely inspiring. I also thank Cristina for teaching me about the beauty of Muslim culture, bringing the Monologues to OSU, performing such a brave piece, and encouraging Muslims and non-Muslims alike to respect our differences and celebrate our similarities.

Q) You've said that Vagina Monologues and Hijabi Monologues kind of do the opposite: VM takes the private and makes it public, HM takes an object of public discourse and reminds people that it's really about other people.  Do you see the two shows at play or in tension in other ways?  Do the shows have the same audience?  How have VM fans reacted to HM?

A) In some ways, the projects speak to each other in that they are concerned about women's experiences.  In other ways, they may diverge in terms of the stereotypes each is trying to engage.  After an HM performance, we usually have a Q&A period--the purpose is about connecting and building communities.  VM fans have been very supportive--and have volunteered as organizers and sponsors. 

Q) What's been your HM journey?  What else are you doing now?


A) Oh, this is a looooong story.  The journey continues.  Currently, I am still creative director and I am trying to collect more stories. 

Q) What's hijab all about?  What are the boundaries of modesty?  Is there a point when modesty goes too far and becomes invisibility?


A) These are issues I still think about--and many others have written volumes on it.  Here's a list of readings about hijab that you might find helpful:

Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil by Katherine Bullock
Muslim Veil in North America: Issues and Debates edited by Sajida Alvi, Homa Hoodfar, Sheila MocDonough
Politics of Piety by Saba Mahmood
“Wearing a headscarf in a secular society” by Gulsum Gurbuz and Mustafa Gurbuz

There are also the various writings by Amina Wadood and Leila Ahmed. 

Published on AdR Fellows

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