A one-woman show

Like many Americans, Aizzah Fatima was disturbed by the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media. By creating the play, Dirty Paki Lingerie, which debuted in New York City this past weekend, she sought to shed light on the often misunderstood Muslim American woman.
The one-woman show does not disappoint, and despite the title’s reference to Pakistanis it speaks to anyone who can relate to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. In fact, the pursuit of one’s deepest desires is the running theme of the sketches that take us through the lives of 6 Pakistani American women, all brilliantly portrayed by theater trained Aizzah Fatima. The writer, actress, and IT Professional at Google is herself a testament to the multilayered identity of Muslim American women.

At a time when “creeping shari’a,” “terrorism” and “disloyalty” are buzzwords in the discourse regarding Muslims, the play’s characters reveal a different aspect of Muslims in America – the intimate lives of Muslim women and their various paths to achieving their desires. As an actress, Fatima came across limited roles for Muslim women in theater and film. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal she said, “Terrorist No. 2’s girlfriend is an actual title of a character I once auditioned for.” In a candid conversation after the debut show she explained, “I decided to confront the stereotypes with a show based on actual women and their stories I have come across.” While stereotypes cannot be changed by one show alone, in this collaborative work with the accomplished director, Erica Gould, Fatima is successful in one thing – she gets people talking.

Dirty Paki Lingerie’s characters deal with relatable issues in modern life: how to balance your career with that of your spouse, the harsh societal judgment of female sexuality relative to men, and the digital age of texting instead of having real conversations. We meet Selma, a young hijab-wearing, politically aware feminist and medical student who looks forward to wearing sexy lingerie for her husband to be. We also meet Raheela, a 35-year-old Pakistani American professional confronted with a risqué proposition via Google chat and her frustration with the “everything but marriage” guys. With a touch of humor, we come to know the persistent Mrs. Shah, a 60-year-old mother and Pakistani immigrant, who seeks marital bliss for her daughter in the matrimonial section of the Urdu Times. Within the debate on the concept of marriage the audience can recognize her struggle to reconcile her generation’s cultural traditions with her daughter’s American identity.

Originally intended for a non-Muslim audience, Fatima’s recent experience presenting her work at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) annual convention revealed that her play is also a great catalyst for crucial open discourse of gender and sexuality in the diverse Muslim community. At the convention, Zeba Iqbal of the Council on American Muslim Professionals (CAMP) moderated a panel titled “Muslim Professionals Unplugged: Conversations that Matter to Generation X and Y” in which Fatima along with Aamer Hayat and Asma Uddin lead an important discussion on nurturing spirituality, gender relations, work/life balance, identity development and integration.

All in all, Dirty Paki Lingerie has sparked great conversation among a diverse crowd. With four more runs in New York City in July, the show is sure to pull more people into the ongoing discussion about gender and sexuality and the reality of the multitude of Muslim American identities.

Catch Dirty Paki Lingerie in NYC in the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 W. 36th St, New York, NY 10001 on the following dates:

Thursday, July 21 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, July 27 at 6:15pm
Thursday, July 28 at 6:30pm
Saturday, July 30 at 8pm

For tickets and reservations, click here
B. A. Shah is a South Asia security analyst. She lives in New York City.

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