Just under a month ago, I submitted a short piece to Young Muslim Voices not knowing whether it would be accepted or not. I was quietly confident, but, at the same time, worried that my piece would be thought as perhaps a tad too controversial and taboo to be performed on stage. It was my truth though, and a truth concealed and shared by more Bengali Muslim women than we could imagine. I felt trapped by my silence, suffocated by my untold story. I realised that I’d been waiting forever to tell my story and perhaps from the moment my story began. Releasing my story into the world… I felt like Alia Bhatt in Highway. It was a stunning moment of catharsis. Like screaming into the sky, hands outstretched, in the pouring rain, every fear, pain, hurt, rage, sorrow washed away.
Also, I was shitting my pants. I didn’t submit it anonymously. My name is there for everyone to see. What if nobody could separate me from my story… ever? Or what if they gave me sympathetic nods like I’m not the bravest person I’ve ever met? But I can’t be bound by their feelings. I’ve got things to do. If I dare to even dream of achieving change then I can’t be shackled to the “what will other people say?” dogma.
I kept a close watch on my emails, searching for a confirmation or getting ready to brace myself for a rejection – and unconvincingly graciously at that reminding myself that it would be God’s plan. And, finally, I received an email. My story had been accepted and would be performed on stage. I can’t remember what I was doing or seeing or feeling. I couldn’t process anything.
The first person I told was my sister. Now that I think about it, it makes me smile knowing that my story is, after all, for my sister, my half-sisters and all my other Bengali and Muslim sisters.
Okay, so now that I’ve dealt with my feelings, let’s get right down to business – you know, the whole *first imma cry, then I’ll boss up* shebang. The first performance was last Monday, 30th of September, at the Streatham Space Project. I received complimentary tickets for the show, so I went to watch straight after work.
Shazia Mirza opened the show and I – gosh, okay. Okay. Do you know how relieving it is to watch stand-up comedy centring on the British Muslim experience? I felt included and heard and, most importantly, I got the jokes. I felt safe and content knowing that other people, in that very room, understood too. It was an experience to share with my community and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of belonging, that feeling of unity; all that I had felt and took for granted in my youth and only realised that I missed in the past few years. Right there and then, I completely empathised with first-generation Bengali Muslim immigrants… support is a beautiful thing, and love, understanding, and compassion are wrapped underneath it’s familiar covers. I will never forget my roots ever again; the fabric of community is now forever embedded into my very being. In short, I was Sansa Stark when she won Winterfell back, bitches. They are my people, and I can never abandon them.
I can’t reveal too much about the content of the performances, but I can say that they were all breath-taking, each story uncovering layer under layer of what it means to be Muslim, how our culture intersperses with identity, the challenges and the strengths and all the things that we’re thinking that we don’t talk enough about, or at all, but dearly need to be talked about.
‘Your perfect girl’ made me cry, and I was trying to hold a tight rein on my tears, barely succeeding for the other performances, but I just… could not stop it. I was crying before I knew it. I felt as though it was being addressed to little anxious and frightened 11-year-old me. Wonderful poetry, words of affirmation that we can read aloud to ourselves every day.
And then came the performance of my piece and my heart was beating wildly, I didn’t know how to be… I literally clutched my heart which had somehow plunged and lodged itself into my stomach and I was trying, miserably, to pick it up and drag it back up where it belonged. You know, like when a guy tries to move out of the friendzone, and you attempt to push him back in, closing the door like he’s an overflowing wardrobe. I was panicking. I’m only human!
A huge shoutout to Noof McEwan who read my piece like he was Daenerys Targaryen addressing the Unsullied in Astapor. I wrote it, I know, I read it, but hearing my writing performed, I felt even more empowered. Slowly, the surety of my words instilled a sense of hope in me; it reaffirmed my purpose. And, also, Noof McEwan *whew* very hot. Served everything. Thank you.
Sanah Ahsan, poetess, queer Muslim, and mental health advocate closed the show, her poetry a sudden reminder for the audience to pause and reflect, to challenge our thinking and broaden our perspectives.
I will never forget this night. It was an honour to see my writing performed on stage. I had always dreamt of this day and I don’t think it’s even completely sunk in yet. I know that many young Muslim people will feel represented by the work that Young Muslim Voices do. I know I felt represented that very night. I know you will too.
The second show is taking place on Monday the 14th of October at the Rich Mix in Shoreditch at 7:30pm. My fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, and my fellow Londoners, if you’re interested, then please buy yourself (and a friend) a ticket to the show via this link. The proceeds will go to Muslim Hands UK, a charity dedicated to tackling the root causes of poverty around the world and delivering long-term support to communities.
I hope to see you there.
Connect with me: